Eats, Major Leagues, Oddity, Rants

A’s vs. Astros

From the sublime to the ridiculous. That is from beautiful Oracle Park to miserable Oakland Coliseum. Or maybe today it is RingCentral Coliseum (yes, all one word with a capital sort of in the middle). Or officially Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Whatever name you use, it is a sorry excuse for a big league ball park. Yes, I know I previously hung that title on Tampa’s Tropicana, but the Coliseum is like a morgue in the concourse. There is nothing in the stadium identifying the park – as you can see from the picture, the space above the Jumbotron where the park name would normally be has all the panels removed. The field itself is fine, but that’s where it stops. Whoever thought luxury boxes in the outfield (all empty, by the way) were a good idea is now selling used cars.

This game was important for the A’s since they’re looking for that second wild card, but you wouldn’t know it by the crowd – a modest 15,000, though I must admit they were enthusiastic. The ticket seller assured me I’d be in the shade on the first base side and gave me a bargain seat for $15. Naturally, it was smack in the sun and only going to get worse on a very hot day. So finally, after being directed to three different places, I found a helpful attendant who got me to the interior ticket office and I got a seat on the third base side for $25 more. Oh well, it was a good seat.

The heat – that was a factor in this game. It started out looking like a pitchers duel – no score through the very quick first three innings. Then the fun began. Alex Bregman hit a two-run dinger for the Stros in the top of the fourth, only to be outslugged by Matt Olson who hit a three run tater in the bottom of the fourth. It got crazy from there. Every run in the game came via the long ball – ten total home runs, five for each team, with two from each team hitting two apiece. Matt Chapman’s second, a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth, won the game for the A’s 7-6. Of course it was the warm evening that allowed those fly balls to carry. A true home run derby.

I know Oakland is a diverse city, but who knew there was an upswell of interest in baseball in the Indian community? Someone apparently thought so, because it was Indian (and I don’t mean Native American) Heritage Night. Here are some of the kids who danced in the outfield before the game.

Another oddity is the “Holy Toledo” sign in center field, a tribute to the late A’s broadcaster, Bill King. It lights up when the A’s do something special. Its lights are probably burned out after all those dingers.

I have to show you a picture of Yordan Alvarez, the Astros DH, who came up on June 9 and has been tearing up the league ever since. He came into the game hitting .339 with 17 homers. I spotted him a couple years ago in the low minors in Davenport, Iowa and predicted he’d go far. Look back at my Davenport post and you’ll see my prediction. Naturally, in this game he went 0-4!

The food selection was meager, but the prices were not. I had a polish dog which was indistinguishable from a regular hot dog except for its slightly bigger circumference and its price.

Auxiliary food note: if you’re in the area, go to Tucker’s Super Creamed Ice Cream in Alameda. It’s an old-timey ice cream parlor and the ice cream is first rate. The Chocolate Fantasy is to die for.

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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, Major Leagues, Oddity

Red Sox vs. Indians

My wife and I are “back East” visiting friends and relatives and, wonder of wonders, managed to find the Red Sox at home on a day we were in Boston. The only issue was whether we could get tickets.

To avoid the hassle of StubHub or Ticketmaster, we decided to test my theory that you can always get a ticket to a regular season game in any big league park. When we got to Fenway, I confess I had a moment or two of doubt, because the line for same day tickets was long and moving slow. We took our place in line and figured if we didn’t get in, there would be plenty of other diversions in nearby Boston, so the tension was not crippling.

When we finally got to the ticket window, I asked for two seats, unobstructed. (Those who have been to Fenway know that there are seats right behind a pole [in reality, a good-sized steel I-beam] and only those are labeled “obstructed.”) The ticket agent smiled (he knew a hick from the hinterlands when he saw one) and said he had some tickets right behind home plate that are reserved for players wives and, though he did say there were poles, assured me that the seats were unobstructed. Here’s our view – I’ll let you be the judge.

I can’t (or at least shouldn’t) complain, since it was a sell-out crowd of (mostly) rabid Red Sox fans and there we were, on a beautiful day watching two good teams. What could be better? (I will say we didn’t see anyone who looked like a player’s wife!)

Despite the fact that the Red Sox are the defending world champions, the only proper way to begin is to pay homage to the oldest big league stadium, Fenway Park.

Not only is it the oldest, it is also one of the smallest and has some interesting quirks. First, the dugouts are further down the first and third base lines than in any other park, starting almost at the bag. Second there are “spitting circles” which I’ve seen in only one other stadium, “new” Comisky, or, as it’s known this week, Guaranteed Rate Field. You may recall that I was puzzled by these (since they are clearly not on-deck circles [Fenway has no on-deck circles]). When I asked about this three years ago, Dave Moore very authoritatively said that they were intended for use by players who chew tobacco as a place where they could spit the juice with impunity. I don’t know if he’s right, but it’s such a good story that I’m behind it 100 percent.

Mookie Betts in the non-existent on-deck “circle” near the “spitting” circle

Another feature that is a bit different at Fenway is the batter’s eye, the dark area on the center field wall that provides the background for the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand so that the batter can better see it. Fenway’s is sloped and triangular.

The Fenway Batter’s Eye

Rick Porcello pitched for Boston and it looked like he wouldn’t make it through the first (a mound visit in the first inning is never a good sign). He gave up two runs and was lucky it wasn’t more. But, characteristically, Boston kept plugging, eventually tying the score and then, in the fifth, cut loose with six runs, adding three more later to finish the game on top 12-5 behind two solo dingers by J. D. Martinez and another by Sandy Leon.

The most unusual aspect of the game came when Cleveland brought in it’s first reliever, Oliver Perez. Before he could get started, he knelt and took off his shoes, gave them to an equipment guy and then strolled the mound in his stocking feet until a new pair could be found. We later learned he had broken a toe cleat while “grooming” the mound. It didn’t help – he got shelled.

Finally, the eats. Modest and conventional offerings for the most part, but the Fenway Frank, at $5.50, is the cheapest big league hot dog I’ve found. It ain’t fancy, but it also wasn’t too bad.

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Eats, M's, Major Leagues

Spring Training, 2019

If one must be in Phoenix in March on business, it is important to observe the real business of that month in that city – baseball. So I did.

Spring training is different. Some say it is no longer necessary because the players work out year-round and don’t need to get in shape for the season. Others say with all the trades and shifting rosters, it is essential for teams to have the opportunity provided by the short spring training “season” to adjust to one another, work out the kinks, practice some things that won’t be easy to do during the regular season (does anybody bunt anymore?), and so on. Mostly, spring training is for pitchers, and by the third week of March, they’re mostly tuned up.

Games are different too, because winning is not the primary goal. For the regulars, it is about a hole in the swing, a new pitch, adjusting to the shift or dealing with whatever weakness the player or coaches may have identified. For the newbies, it’s all about making an impression that might get you to the Show, preferably on Opening Day, but if not then, certainly in the first call-up. So a pitcher may stay in and keep throwing even if he’s getting shelled because “he needs the work.” A slugger won’t necessarily get pulled for consecutive strike outs.

That said, the regulars rarely play after the fifth inning, and from there on the minor leaguers on the field are mostly anonymous because they have high numbers and no name on their jerseys.

I saw six games in five days and had company for each one. The first was a slug-fest between the Indians and the Royals, final score 17-7 for the Royals with 32 hits between the two teams. There was a vocal fan behind us who had a couple of memorable lines: on a grounder hit by Alex Gordon, he said “It’s all about launch angle;” and again, when Gordon appeared to slow down between third and home suggested “Get out of the kitchen and learn how to run!”

My only night game (a relatively recent addition to the spring training playbook) featured the Mariners against the Giants. Given the housecleaning the Mariners deemed necessary and the high likelihood that the Giants will finish out of the money, this seemed likely to be the first minor league game of the year. The draw was 45 year old Ichiro Suzuki, who looked bad striking out twice, preparing for Opening Day in Tokyo in what will be (we can only hope) his final big league (partial) season. You know when their hopes rest on journeyman shortstop Tim Beckham that it will be a long season.

The Giants provided a note of levity when they brought in switch-pitcher Pat Venditte in relief. I think he’s the only one playing now, and he changes pitching arms batter to batter. The rules provide that he must signal the umpire which arm he will use, so a switch-hitting batter has the last word. Venditte didn’t fool many batters, giving up the hits and runs that led to the Mariners 8-4 win. One observant fan, noting Venditte’s lack of success from either side, advised loudly “you’re gonna need a third arm.”

The next day saw us at Sloan Stadium, home of the Cubs, who took on the Rangers on a sunny but chilly day. The unusual aspect of this game was that Chicago started all of its regulars except Addison Russell and most played through the fifth inning. Yu Darvish pitched and actually looked pretty good. The other uncharacteristic feature of the game was the 1-1 score till the end when the Cubs pulled it out, 2-1. (Spring training games typically see plenty of runs.)

The best play of the game was turned in by Delino Deshields of the Rangers making a diving catch in center – twice! I was amazed until I realized that this was Jr., not Pops, who I had decided must have been playing since the ’50’s.

Next was the Brewers vs. the Padres at Maryvale Park, the Brewers home. No Manny Machado to boo, and the Brewers took and held the lead on three runs scored on consecutive pop-ups to left that were stylishly misplayed. Brewers pitcher, Brandon Woodruff, threw his fastball at 99 mph and his change at 81. That’s tough on any hitter. Ryan Braun should have been but seemingly wasn’t embarrassed on a clean double to right when he dogged it and got thrown out at second. No matter – Brewers won, 6-2.

On to Camelback Ranch, home of the Dodgers and White Sox, who just happened to play each other in their “home” stadium. Most of the parks in the Cactus League are shared by two teams. It would be interesting to learn how those pairings come to be (they’re not always from different leagues), but that is beyond my ken.

This wasn’t a very interesting game. The Dodgers scored two in the second and that was it. The new, trimmer, Kenley Jansen pitched the fifth, apparently to get in his work, but wasn’t terribly impressive.

One thing we noticed here and in the previous game was that sometimes the NL teams let their pitchers hit (bunt) and sometimes they use a DH, even occasionally changing within the game. I couldn’t figure out a pattern to it, and maybe there isn’t one. Ask your baseball expert friends and let me know.

The last game was also at Camelback, featuring the Dodgers against the Brewers in a reprise of the 2018 NLCS. Looked like the Dodgers had it well in hand (and they did) until the scrubs came in and Milwaukee charged back to take it 9-8.

I had dogs at each ballpark, but none were memorable save the legendary Dodger Dog, which was long, cold and terrible.

Other than that, it was a great way to start the year. We’ll hope for many more baseball adventures as the season unfolds.

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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, M's, Major Leagues, Oddity

Mets vs. Braves

Well, I finally did it – Citi Field, home of the Mets, was the last of the 30 major league parks that I had not yet visited, and now I can add it to the list. Someone told me he had a friend who went to 29, fearing that if he went to the 30th, there’d be nothing left to look forward to. Obviously, that’s not my view. There’s always a game tomorrow and, in the end, the particular ballpark isn’t that important.

I regret that there are a lot of parks I never saw: Shea, Veterans, Comisky and many more, but I did see the old Yankee Stadium and Candlestick, so I didn’t miss them all.

You can click here to read all about Citi Field. It opened in 2009, replacing Shea Stadium, and the most striking feature as you enter is the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, featuring quotes, film and pictures of the star. It gives the feel of entering a sacred space.

The park itself seems monstrous with (depending on how you count) five to eight levels (five without the suites), but the seating capacity is only 42,000, far less than Shea and many other parks.

The first thing I noticed looking at the field was this bird. I can’t tell what sort of bird it is, but I can tell you it was diligent. It stayed in one place in shallow left, apparently eating, all through the ground crew’s field prep and finally flew away only when the players took the field.

The Mets are in last place in their division and the Braves are just a half game out of first starting this game. In consequence of the Mets standing, I was struck by this sign. Either the coffee is lousy or the Mets aren’t drinking enough of it. I should also note that they have only one starter hitting above .250 (.265) and none above .300. One of their alleged stars, Jose Bautista, is barely above the Mendoza line.

There are two other Mets players I took note of, former Mariner Jason Vargas, who started the game, and former Oregon State standout, Michael Conforto. Vargas used his usual junk, but didn’t baffle ’em, giving up four runs and taking the loss. (Did I mention that his ERA was above 8.00 starting the game?). Conforto did nothing special either, and I think it’s fair to say the Mets are done for the year.

Conforto

The game time temperature was 85 degrees and rain was predicted, somewhere along about the third inning. It didn’t happen till the eighth and then not enough to delay the game. I thought I was in for my third consecutive rainout, but this one finished.

Heading to the ballpark, I nursed a faint hope about the food. In my scouting of the food stands, I noted a good variety – better than most big league parks – and their prices were pretty much in line with most. My stomach danced when I saw the sign for an “authentic” New York pastrami sandwich. I knew it would be typical ballpark fare – prepared last week and kept on a steam table ever since. But no, the chef pulled out the rye bread, slathered the Gulden’s mustard on it, and proceeded to slice a ridiculous amount of pastrami right in front of me. I thought he was fixing several orders, but no (once again), he piled it all right on my bread! And he shoveled the ends into the basket too. I couldn’t believe it! And when I tasted it, I realized I had come to New York heaven. The game was secondary. I was in post-prandial bliss. Take a look at this baby.

So the quest for the major league parks is over, but baseball goes on. Now I can focus on the game.

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