Eats, History, M's, Major Leagues

Rays v. Blue Jays

The first issue here is why this team is called the Tampa Bay Rays. The ballpark, Tropicana Field, aka “The Trop,” is located in St. Petersburg, which is not Tampa. Yes, the nearby water is Tampa Bay, but still, seems like St. Pete got the short end of the stick.

But on closer inspection, maybe not. The Trop is the only non-retractable dome in the Bigs and, with the exception of the old Seattle Kingdome, is the worst big league ballpark in creation. As you can see from this panorama, there isn’t a hint of the outdoors once you enter. It feels like a convention hall. Maybe St. Pete is smart to keep its name out of it.

Take another look, especially at the white roof. Following a fly ball with that background and the lights requires special powers, which apparently not all the Rays have, as evidenced by the high pop fly hit by a Toronto batter in the ninth that had everyone on the Rays from the third baseman to the right fielder calling for it. It dropped in front of the third baseman for a double (credit the hustling Blue Jay). OK, not really a double – scored as an error – and, to be fair, maybe the Rays could see the ball, but it hit part of the roof structure and ricocheted. Where else does that happen?!

The Jumbotron, such as it is, is partially obstructed by structural features. The separate display of batter stats is behind a walkway, so you have to guess at some of the numbers depending on how many fans are headed to the restrooms.

And another thing. Never have I seen the grounds crew dragging the infield “grass” as they did here. I guess it is important to get that artificial turf headed the right direction before the game starts. Only the Trop and Rogers Centre in Toronto still have artificial turf, so these two teams were on equal footing (get it?).

Now to the game. Blue Jays lead off man, Curtis Granderson, one of my favorite players, got them off to a good start with a double to center. Two sac flies later and he’d scored the first run. When the Rays changed pitchers to start the third, lefty Granderson was replaced by a righty to face the new left-handed pitcher.

Three former Mariners played in the game, two for the Jays: journeyman first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales and pitcher J. A. Happ. Happ didn’t have his good stuff (just like in Seattle) and took the loss with a ball/strike ratio close to 50/50. Morales made an error on what should have been a double play to allow a run.

The Rays ex-M’s fortunes were better, with Chris Miller belting a two run homer in the 8th to put the game away at 6-2.

I’ve been puzzling for a while over the custom, after a strikeout, of the catcher throwing the ball “around the horn” before getting it back to the pitcher. Most often, it goes from catcher to third to short to second and back to third, who throws it to the pitcher. Occasionally the catcher will go the other way to first, second, short and third. It is always the third baseman to delivers it back to the pitcher. Some say this got started as a way for players to demonstrate their ball handling skills. It just seems to be a strange artifact in today’s game.

And then there was food. The Trop features the usual variety at the usual big league prices. There was one variation – a stand that featured Indian style script and one dish called “chicken tikka,” which I took to be the Indian staple, though I didn’t try it. I also didn’t see any obviously Indian fans. I should have had the tikka, because the mac and cheese I did have was terrible. All (old) mac and very little cheese. Saved only by some hot sauce and dill relish from the condiment table.

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History, M's, Major Leagues, Rants

Mariners Opening Day 2018

I normally write only about games I attend in person, so this post is an exception, since I watched the game on my TV. Likewise, there is usually travel involved, and for this one there wasn’t (unless you count the trips from the couch to the fridge). Also, I try always to include some pictures, but who wants a picture of my TV screen (your TV is probably bigger than mine – no, I will not comment on the relative size of anyone’s nuclear button!). So, sorry about the broken rules and unobserved norms, but I’m old and not as well behaved as I used to be.

For reasons I cannot fathom, I feel compelled to write as a member of that subset of the wretched of the earth, namely, Mariners fans. So if you do not suffer from that affliction, what follows may be of little interest. It is both a love letter and a rant.

The first point has to be that the M’s won their 2018 opening game at home against the very good Cleveland Indians and their Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber. It was a very good game (final score 2-1) and puts the M’s in a tie for first with (among others) the World Series champion Houston Astros. That probably won’t happen again this year, but it may stave off mathematical elimination (which we often fear will happen by May 1 [yes, I know, that cannot really occur (except in a strike-shortened season), but anyone who follows the M’s knows the feeling]) for a day or two.

King Felix Hernandez started the game (his 10th straight opening day start, 11th overall) and I was curious to see how he’d do. He clearly was not the M’s best pitcher last year (that was James Paxton), and he had an injury-shortened spring training, so the decision to start him was based more on nostalgia than analytics. Felix also no longer has the same stuff he did in earlier years. But he is adapting by changing speeds and locations and messing with batters’ expectations. He threw too many three ball counts, but got lucky and allowed no runs. The key for him in retaining his royalty will be staying healthy – it is a long season.

That leads to another observation. When the M’s suffered a blizzard of injuries in spring training, my friend Jim Smith observed that they not only had that to worry about, but also had to confront the fact that Nelson Cruz (age 37) and Robinson Cano (age 35) both tested positive for old. Add to that their starting left fielder the (formerly) incomparable Ichiro is 44, previously starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is 36 and recently signed outfielder Jayson Werth is 38 and it becomes clear that they have something in mind. Management has obviously figured out that the baby boomers are moving to retirement homes and concluded that there’s money to be made in that business. But they have taken a lesson from their golfing buddies and gone them one better by developing their own clientele and combining the two into an entirely new venture . . . wait for it . . . SENIOR BASEBALL!

More seriously (read, depressingly) my friend John Nebel called my attention to an article in the Seattle Times that details the disastrous trades, mistakes, bad management and all around fecklessness by management that has kept the M’s out of the playoffs for 17 years. If you’re feeling particularly masochistic, you can read it here https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/mariners/analysis-why-the-mariners-will-end-the-drought-this-season-and-why-they-wont/.

A couple more thoughts. Cruz (Boomstick) won the game in the first inning with a mighty blast over the center field fence (on Kluber’s first pitch to him) after Cano got the M’s first hit just ahead of him. It looked great. But I can’t square that with his swing-and-a-miss motion at other times. How can such an awkward rusty-gate swing and the Boomstick thunder come from the same guy? I guess the obvious answer is that they’re not the same – one’s a miss and the other is a dinger.

Can we agree that Dee Gordon isn’t yet an outfielder? He should have had the easy fly ball that scored the Tribe’s only run. We know he’s fast and can hit, so I’ll try to be patient.

And don’t get me started about closer Edwin Diaz. I guess I should be pleased when a young guy honors tradition but channeling former M’s closers like Bobby Ayala, Jose Mesa (aka Joe Table) and Fernando Rodney is not my idea of a wise career move. He did get the save, but nearly at the expense of my suffering a heart attack.

Speaking of Rodney, did you see that in his first chance as the Twins new closer on opening day, he gave up a walk off homer to none other than Adam Jones, former Mariner and subject of perhaps the very worst trade (for Eric Bedard) in Mariners history? At least Rodney is no longer a Mariner. I wish Jones still was.

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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.

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History, Major Leagues, Travel

Iowa

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.

Brewers

Tigers

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.

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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.

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Eats, History, Major Leagues

Cleveland

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.

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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.

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