Eats, M's, Major Leagues, Oddity

Spring Training – Mariners

Surprise.  Again.

Yes, same stadium, two days in a row.  Surprise Stadium is shared by the Rangers and the Royals, and this time the Royals were the home team against the Mariners.  And, yes, I am still a Mariners fan.  So we go from the sublime (the Cubs and Indians, fresh off their epic World Series battle) to the ridiculous (the M’s may have the longest current streak of not making the playoffs).  I can’t help myself.

I’ll start by saying that I was delighted when the M’s got Jarrod Dyson from the Royals.  The fellow I sat next to (a KC loyalist) did not share my happiness but agreed that M’s fans would be pleased.  He had a very good day against his former team.

At the outset, it looked like the varsity against the scrubs.  The Royals started many of their vets, including Jason Vargas (a former Mariner), Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas and their compensation for giving up Wade Davis to the Cubs, Jorge Soler.  Seattle, on the other hand, was missing 14 players who were competing for various countries in the World Baseball Classic, so their team was largely no-names and a couple of recently acquired guys who are supposed to make them great again (wait, were they ever great?).  Soler, by the way, didn’t look so good for the Royals.

But lo and behold, the scrubs not only won, they dominated and looked very good.  The Mariners played the best baseball we saw this week, with a couple of stellar defensive plays and very good pitching by Chase De Jong.  De Jong, so the rumor mill has it, may make the starting rotation even though he’s never made the big leagues.  He’s just 23 years old, but showed a lot of poise and definitely kept the Royals off balance during his four innings of work.

The M’s may also have the player with the most unpronounceable name Marc Rzepczynski (zep chin ski), a veteran who has bounced from team to team for several years.

Now for the mystery – the arm sleeve.  It is all the style these days for athletes in many sports to wear an arm sleeve on their dominant arm.  It supposedly helps in recovery from injury, prevents swelling, keeps the muscles warm, etc., etc.  But riddle me this – with the temperature hovering at 95, who needs to keep their arm warm?  I don’t get it.  And one sporting the accessory, Seattle’s Dan Vogelbach (acquired from the Cubs last year), isn’t yet making waves in spring training.

Oh yes, did I mention the monster dog?  A foot of hot dog delight!

Standard
M's, Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, Rants

Names

Today’s New York Times got me going.  First, there’s the article about the Hartford Yard Goats (read it Here), which has one of the best names in all of baseball.  Their stadium didn’t get finished, so they’ve played all their games on the road.  I hope it gets done because I want to take in one of their games next season.  I fear that it may not and they’ll move and have to choose a much less colorful name.

Then there was the story on Friday that the White Sox home field will change its name from U.S. Cellular Field (among the worst names in the Bigs) to, wait for it. . .Guaranteed Rate Field.  Now the logo of that company is a downward pointing red arrow, so you can just imagine what the fans and opposing teams will come up with.  Isn’t there a beer company they could sell to?  What are they thinking???

Finally, another NYT article by Benjamin Hoffman got me riled up.  He discusses the playoff prospects in both the American and National Leagues and manages to not mention the Mariners.  Reminds me that many people in the East don’t yet know about the Louisana Purchase.

Standard
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.

Standard
Eats, M's, Major Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Pittsburgh

I left the picturesque green of central New York to drive south and west for the beginning of the return trip.  We talk about Oregon being green, and the western third is, but rural upstate New York, in the summer at least, offers strong competition in that regard with its intense, almost jungle-like vegetation.  Its small towns add a touch of quaintness that makes a visit memorable.

Along the way, I found myself in Williamsport, Pa., home of the Little League World Series.  It isn’t going on now, but of course I had to take a picture of the stadium.


Pittsburgh’s stadium, PNC Park, like Cincinnati’s, sits on the banks of the Ohio River.  The view of the river from the park isn’t quite as good, but the River Walk, around the outfield, is lovely.  It looks over the river to downtown, which was illuminated by a sinking sun finally escaping a late afternoon cloud cover.  It will seat about 38,000 and though not full, there was a substantial crowd for this game.


I knew the Pirates would be playing the Mariners, but I hadn’t checked the lineup and thus didn’t realize that King Felix would be pitching for the M’s.  I was chagrined that I hadn’t brought my Felix towel with me and actually contemplated going back to the pickup to get it.  I needn’t have worried.  The anticipated pitching duel between him and Pirates starter Francisco Liriano did not materialize.  Liriano walked the first two batters he faced and through the second inning, had thrown more balls than strikes.  Felix was pitching home run derby, giving up one to Polanco (followed by Marte’s triple) for three runs in the first, and then was humiliated when he gave up another to pitcher Liriano in the second.  The M’s got a run in the second, followed by their own dingers by Gutierrez in the third and Seager in the fourth, when they chased Liriano and gave Felix a 7-4 lead that he and the bullpen held (though not without drama).


I also had the good fortune of a kindly ticket seller who found me a single seat on the 100 level, about 20 rows up from the M’s dugout, halfway between home and first. It really couln’t have been much better, especially for watching Felix.

The food at PNC was mostly standard fare and priced accordingly.  I chose a pierogi and pulled pork combo, mainly because it sounded unlikely, and it was.  The sandwich came with pre-packaged barbecue sauce, but the meat was tender.  The pierogis were doughy and uninspired.  There was also a decent variety of so-called “healthy” choices, more than I’ve seen elsewhere, and barbecue, reasonably priced but nonetheless avoided.  There was even a bargain “small” hot dog at $3.

One final note – one of the Pirates relievers is Arquimedes Caminero.  If he could team with Socrates Brito of the D’Backs and they could find a Plato somewhere, we’d have a philosophical crew the likes of which have never been seen in Major League Baseball.

The weather was cooler than it has been recently, so with the setting, the terrific seat and the M’s victory, it was a very successful start to the road trip home.

Standard
History, M's, Major Leagues

Ichiro

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.

Standard
M's, Major Leagues, Rants

Former M’s

Time for another rant.  Let’s just focus on Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays.  Former Mariner J. A Happ allowed only one hit to earn his 13th win of the season.  Why is it that the M’s have Wade Miley instead of Happ???

Oh yes, and there’s Michael Saunders.  OK, I’ll give you that he underperformed in Seattle, but for the Blue Jays, he’s hitting .287 with 19 home runs and an OPS of .913.

How do the M’s manage to do this so consistently?  Just consider the team you could put together from the field of former M’s – Adrian Beltre, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, Ichiro, Shin Soo Choo, Jason Vargas, and I could go on and on.

Standard
History, M's, Major Leagues

Cooperstown

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.

Standard