Eats, History, Major Leagues, Rants

Nats v. Phillies

One of my partners said he was going to be in Washington D. C. and had the audacity to suggest that I join him for a game at Nationals Park.  What could I say?  I’m a complete pushover, so of course I was there.

The park is relatively new and looks larger than it is, with a seating capacity of just over 41,000.  If you count the boxes, it has five levels, which I think is unique in the big leagues.  It also has some history because of the long string of presidents who have attended big league games in Washington.  It also has a tapered screen, which I haven’t seen anywhere else, and they used a temporary screen along the foul line fences during BP, which was removed for the game.  That’s a new one, too.

On this night, folks were invited to bring their dogs (as in canines) to the game.  The rationale for this utterly escapes me, but it isn’t the first time I’ve seen it.  What was new, however, was a couple of squares of real grass on the concourse to provide the pups a natural place to do their business.  Think of the career opportunities – Washington Nationals pooper scooper intern!

As usual, we arrived early to check out the place and sat in centerfield to watch the Phillies take BP.  What we saw was remarkable and depressing.  An old guy (mid-60’s at least) was there with his glove along with some (unrelated) kids.  When one came our way, the old guy headed for it and used his glove to block a kid from getting to it.  When the kid’s dad confronted him, he was completely unapologetic for his behavior, yelling at the dad that he had the same rights as the kids.  I guess baseball has its dark side too.

The Nats jumped to an early lead, but soon fell behind on a couple of homers.  The Phils Tommy Joseph hit an extremely high pop up that looked to go foul down the left field line.  But it didn’t.  It also just managed to go over the left field fence.  If the total distance traveled in the air could be measured, I’m sure it would have been one of the longest dingers ever hit.  I certainly have never seen one that high actually leave the park.

The food was fairly standard, with the exception of one counter that sold only grilled cheese sandwiches, appropriately named “Throwin’ Cheese.”

And of course the in-game diversions.  Here we had the presidents race, oddly enough won by our founder, and the city’s namesake, George.

A good time was had by all and, in the end, the Nats rallied to take the game 4-3.

History, Major Leagues, Travel


The schedule just didn’t quite work.  A little too late a start from Milwaukee, a couple of wrong turns on secondary roads and not enough caffeine meant that I didn’t cover the too-many miles necessary to get to Omaha for an early Storm Chasers game.   That was the only option since there was only one professional baseball game in the entire state of Iowa on Sunday and it was another early one in Sioux City, which is a bit out of the way.  So we’ll just see what tomorrow brings.

The drive west from Milwaukee through Madison and southwest to Dubuque goes through rolling farm land that, this time of year, is very picturesque.  Did I mention corn?  Crossing the mighty Mississippi at Dubuque, the land begins to flatten out a bit, but the farming continues unabated.

The Mighty Mississippi at Dubuque

OK, back to baseball.  Just a word on dugouts.  Look at the pictures of the near-cellar Brewers and of the first place Tigers in their respective dugouts.  Who looks more excited, more into the game, more supportive of their teammates?  The position and posture of the players in the dugout doesn’t seem to correlate with division standings.



And another thing.  I always thought the home team occupied the first base dugout and the visitors were relegated to the the third base side.  Apparently not.  When we first noticed a home team on the third base side, we looked into it and found that, while it used to be that teams east of the Mississippi (see above) were on the first base side and those in the west on the third base side.  Not true any longer.  In an almost but not quite even split, 13 big league teams have the third base dugout at home and 17 use the first base dugout.

History, M's, Major Leagues, Rants, Travel

Culture (and baseball)

No game today, so the focus is on the other aspect of the trip – travel (sort of).  I went to the Henry Ford Museum here in Detroit,  prepared, in my ignorance, to sniff haughtily at the industrialist’s self-aggrandizing tribute, but came away impressed.  Ford was a complicated man – not all of the complications are on display, but many of the interests are.  For example, he had quite a furniture collection.  It is not all there, but forms a link in the story told, going much further back and also forward to the present showing how various types of furniture evolved.  There are many agricultural machines, trains, airplanes and, of course, cars.  Most surprisingly, there is a fairly comprehensive exhibit devoted to the history of the civil rights struggle – both racial and gender.  Most interesting to me was a wide ranging presentation of the industrial revolution in its myriad aspects, including a variety of engines of all sizes and applications.  It is well worth visiting.

OK, you knew I couldn’t leave baseball alone.  Here are a couple of pictures of players wearing stirrups (Steve Cishek on the left and Francisco Lindor on the right).  They cover the calf but have just a loop under the instep.  These are fairly rare in the big leagues these days, but not so long ago, they were the only style used.  The origin isn’t entirely clear, but no doubt started because players originally wore knickerbockers that stopped at the knee. Some say that the outer socks were wool and “not healthy” so the white “sanitaries” worn beneath protected the players from the colored socks that often gave the teams their names (Red Stockings, Red Sox, White Sox, etc.).  More likely, it was the combination of the itchy wool and bleeding color that made the sanitaries necessary.  Nowadays, the overwhelming style is long pants that come to (and often below) the shoe tops so that no socks are visible at all.

It’s also time for an argument.  One of the questions in the new interactive display at the Hall of Fame is whether the National League should adopt the designated hitter like the American League did some forty years ago.  Purists say that having pitchers hit makes the National League more strategic, others argue that the DH provides more offense and that fans don’t want to watch pitchers embarrass themselves with their pathetic swings.

But the interesting subargument (to me) on this issue is whether a player who has spent most of his career as a DH should be admitted to the Hall of Fame.  None has to date, but this is David Ortiz’ last year playing and I see little chance that he won’t be voted in.  So why isn’t Edgar Martinez getting more votes (he’s never received more than 45%)?  His numbers are comparable to Ortiz’, but he played in Seattle and wasn’t as showy as Big Papi.  The argument was evident in Cooperstown.  I think Edgar goes in.

Oh yes, and the best baseball license plate so far (in Ohio) – BOO NYY.

Eats, History, Major Leagues


What is it with Ohio?  Both their major league ball parks are named after (or more accurately, when one considers the the economics of the transaction) by insurance companies.  Cleveland’s is now known as Progressive Field, formerly (and with a semblance of human connection) Jacobs Field or “The Jake.”  The original name honored team owners Richard and David Jacobs, and the stadium bore that name until the naming rights were sold to Progressive Insurance.  Guess what name they picked!  It is part of a sports complex that includes Quicken Loans Arena (just rolls off the tongue, don’t it?) where the NBA Cavaliers play their home games.

This game was the second consecutive inter-league contest, but, this one being hosted by the American League team, the DH was used, whereas in Pittsburgh, the pitchers batted (how many of you picked that up in the last post where I mentioned that Liriano homered?).  It was also the only day game on my schedule.  The Washington Nationals and their ace, Stephen Strasburg, took on the Indians and it wasn’t really a contest.  Strasburg came into the game with a 13-1 record, and he dominated the Tribe.  He left after seven innings with a 4-0 lead.  The Nationals relievers managed to give up a run to spoil the shutout, but Strasburg’s win was secured.

Indians starter Carlos Carrasco is unusual in that he works from the stretch, even with none on base.  That is the practice of relievers, but not of starters.  Most starters use a fairly precise windup, and many think they can generate more velocity from the windup than from the stretch.  One need only watch a few of the flame-throwing relievers in the game today to put the lie to that myth.  The only pitcher in the Bigs using an old style windup today is Ross Ohlendorf, and you can see a clip of that here.

One feature at Progressive Park that I’ve seen nowhere else is these wild looking suites.  I puzzled over them a while and couldn’t decide what the view would be and whether I’d like it.

Now to the food.  Cleveland is far in the lead.  They have cheap dogs (though you have to pay extra for toppings like kraut).  They have crazy dogs – one topped with pickle relish, peanut butter and sriracha sauce; one with pulled pork, cheese, greens, onions, BBQ sauce and coffee!; and the killer – pimento mac and cheese, bacon and Fruit Loops.  Huh?  There was a good variety of Mexican food.  And believe it or not, there was one stand selling a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches.

 The one I fell victim to sold specialty dogs, including the one I chose – the Reuben dog.  Now the Reuben is one of my favorite sandwiches, if it is done well, so it would have been wrong for me to pass this one up.  It was a hot dog topped with corned beef, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing.  And boy was it tasty! The corned beef was cut in chunks rather than slices, and it wasn’t the best quality corned beef I’ve ever had, but the overall effect was pleasing.  Until I was nearly done.  That’s when I realized that, between the dog, the kraut and the corned beef, I had just consumed enough salt to last me a week (well, maybe a couple of days).  The rest of the day was spent drinking water.  Oh well.

Eats, History, Major Leagues

Hall of Fame

Once again, I ventured to Cooperstown to visit the Hall of Fame.  The actual hall where the plaques for each of the inductees is in a separate section of the building from the museum portion of the facility.  I wanted to see Griffey’s plaque and a new display on the second floor called “A Whole New Game.”

That new display features interactive video screens of two types: one has game highlights such as Joe Carter’s walk off homer in the 1993 World Series, Ken Griffey’s blast off the warehouse in Baltimore during the Home Run Derby, or Bo Jackson running up the outfield wall (which I had not seen and which is truly amazing – watch it here).  The other has questions for visitors to answer dealing with such topics as whether umpires should be eliminated by electronic systems for calling balls and strikes, whether the National League should adopt the designated hitter, whether the season should be cut back to 154 games with summaries of how others have answered.  It’s a good addition, and the content can be easily changed and updated.  But it doesn’t have an overall theme or unifying premise.

Which brings me to some observations made over my several recent visits to the Hall.  I am certainly not a museum expert, but it seems to me that there are several things that could be done to enhance its mission.  First, there should be traveling exhibits that go at least to the Major League cities so that a wider segment of the baseball world can see what the Hall is about.  After all, not everyone can come to Cooperstown.  Second, they should use interns to hang out at the Hall to talk with and record statements of visitors – people’s recollections of particular games, plays and players.  I’ve overheard many such conversations and they are almost as good as some of the displays.  Third, those displays should be less artifact based (e.g., here is Ted Williams’ bat or Ty Cobb’s cleats) and more interactive.  They could, for example, do a 3-D simulation of pitches from the umpire’s perspective to allow the visitor to call balls and strikes.  Or set up a game situation for you to decide, as a manager, whether to use a pinch hitter, call for a bunt, or send the runner.  Artifacts (not the real ones) could “come to life” by having different weight or length bats for visitors to hold.  Others could come up with many more ways to make the Hall more experiential.

But enough of that.  A couple of my favorites: This display shows Ted Williams strike zone with different colored baseballs, each with a batting average on it, showing what his average was when the pitch was at a particular location in the zone.  It is a testament to his prowess as a hitter.

This one is a quote from Hank Aaron that gets me every time.

Another quote about Aaron that captures something of the fever of baseball fans: Aaron’s teammate Eddie Matthews said “I don’t know when Hank Aaron will break Ruth’s record [715 home runs] but I can tell you one thing – ten years from the day he hits it three million people will say they were there.”

If you visit Cooperstown, and you should if you care anything about baseball, eat at the Doubleday Cafe, right on Main Street.  We’ve had several meals there and the food is consistently good, and is endorsed by locals we’ve asked.

Finally, Ken Griffey’s new plaque.

History, M's, Major Leagues


Ichiro Suzuki is one of my favorite ball players ever.  After nine pro seasons in Japan, he came to the Mariners and, in his first year there, was both AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP.  He got more than 200 hits in each of his first 10 years in the Majors.  He is now just four hits short of the magic 3000 hit mark in his major league career, a mark surpassed by only 29 others in the history of the game.

One of my partners, Andy McStay, sent me an article that I commend to you.  In it, Tommy Tomlinson does a great job of showing how Ichiro has approached the game in a systematic, analytical way that has enabled him to achieve milestones few others have reached.  You can read it here and if you like baseball, I recommend that you do so.

In addition, Ichiro has already, if you count his hits from Japan, passed the 4256 total career hits notched by Pete Rose, the major league record holder.  Some say it isn’t right to count Ichiro’s Japanese hits, and that may be right.  But if you consider that Ichiro got 1278 hits in Japan in nine years, where they played a 130 game schedule (vs. the 162 game schedule in the Majors) or about 1.1 hits per scheduled game, then translate that to a theoretical nine years in the Majors and he would have 177 hits per year for nine additional years or an additional total of 1589.  And that ignores the fact that he at a much higher rate when he did get to the Majors.  That calculation gives you a glimpse of the talent of the man as a hitter.

There are many stories about Ichiro, some of them in the article I referenced.  One I experienced happened in a game the Mariners played against the Red Sox in Seattle.  It was the only time I’ve had seats in the top level at Safeco, and they were on an extension of the third base line behind home plate, giving me an excellent view of this play.  Ichiro was batting with two outs and two strikes.  Mike Cameron was on third, and the two of them obviously had a signal that triggered the play.  In a situation that demanded, by both tradition and baseball conventional wisdom, that Ichiro should have been swinging for a single (or better) he instead, as Cameron broke for home, laid down a perfect bunt which he beat out for a single and earned a brilliant RBI.  It was a play I’ll never forget.

Unless the Baseball Writers wise up and elect Edgar Martinez to the Hall of Fame, Ichiro will be the next Mariner to get in.

History, M's, Major Leagues


Today was a great day.  The first player ever to go into the Hall as a Mariner, George Kenneth Griffey, Jr., was inducted today. This induction ceremony was what got me thinking about a cross-country baseball tour.  I saw Junior play as a rookie and could tell then he was going to be good, but of course had no idea just how good.  I followed his career with great interest through his years in Seattle and beyond.  Though I had been to the Hall several times before, I’d never attended an induction ceremony and the more I thought about it and about taking in games at all levels both going and coming, the more it seemed like I was obligated to go.

So we arrived three hours early for the 1:30 ceremony and that still wasn’t good enough to get seats anywhere near the stage.  We were graciously squired to the field on the edge of Cooperstown by a local friend (so we didn’t have to pay the parking charges of up to $50), and we were able to set our chairs on the flat area (the gentle rise way back was already covered).  The crowd was ultimately estimated at about 50,000.  We could see the large screen, but not the podium, and we couldn’t get near enough for pictures of the actual people.  This panorama doesn’t capture the size of the field or the crowd.

Here’s a picture of the stage before the reserved seats were occupied.

Interestingly, the Clark family owns the land on which the Hall is located and also owns some 10,000 acres in and around Cooperstown.  Jane Forbes Clark is the chairman of the Hall and is the last in the Clark line that started and has run it from the beginning.  She presided over the ceremony and is pictured with the inductees below.

Jane Forbes Clark with Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr.


Back to the crowd.  It was mellow.  My guess is that about 60% were Mets fans there to cheer Mike Piazza, the other inductee and 40% were Mariners fans.  Frankly, that surprised me because Seattle is clear across the country and New York City is relatively close, so I expected far fewer M’s loyalists.  But Junior is the first Mariner in the Hall and is one of the most beloved players of his time and that vibe was evident.  I thought it was interesting that Griffey is the highest draft pick (No. 1) to go into the Hall and Piazza the lowest (No. 1390).

Here are  a couple of good Griffey shirts, too.


For at least one (see picture below), this was not the first.  Others, like the couple we sat next to, were from other parts of the country (in this case Wisconsin) but just liked Griffey.

Attended first induction in 1939

The acceptance speeches were heartfelt and emotional, each paying tribute to family, teammates, coaches and mentors.  Despite the fact that he essentially grew up in the ball park, Griffey made a point of thanking the many players who mentored him when he made it to the Show at age 19 and in the early years of his career.  He concluded his speech by putting on a Mariners cap backwards, in his trademark style.

There was a tape of Lou Pinella, Griffey’s manager in Seattle, talking about what a great player he was but also telling the story of Junior paying off a bet.  It seems they had a running wager having to do with Junior hitting balls out to specific spots during  batting practice, and, because he had lost and thus owed Lou a steak dinner, he paid off in a special way.  He somehow managed to get a live cow into Pinella’s office!  He simply asked how Lou wanted it cut.

The weather was warm, but not stifling, and with lots of sunscreen and water, we survived just fine.  It would have been nice to be closer (admission is free), but the crowd was terrific and everyone, it seemed, had a story.  I may never do it again, but I’m glad I did it today.