Eats, M's, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Rants

Hillsboro vs. Spokane

It is a bit ironic that the Spokane Single A team is affiliated with the Texas Rangers.  Why?  Because their moniker is “Indians.”  Do you suppose, in the mythology of the Old West, the Rangers chased the Indians all the way to Spokane?  Maybe so, and maybe the resultant fatigue explains the Rangers last place standing in the AL West.

But on to more relevant matters – like food.  New this year (I think) is a mac & cheese hot dog.  Add a little hot sauce and you’ve got a (baseball) gourmet delight.

Ron Tonkin Field is a nice venue, but for one thing – artificial turf.  Come on, people.  This is professional baseball.  Yes, I know Tampa and Toronto have artificial turf, but this is Oregon – green is everywhere, but green plastic just doesn’t cut it.  The ball bounces too high, sliding is risky at best and, most importantly, uniforms don’t get dirty.

Ugly, ain’t it?

The game was never in doubt.  The Hops scored early and added on with a mammoth solo dinger by Francis Martinez (it cleared the 30 foot screen above the right field fence) and a later three-run shot by Jake McCarthy.

Here’s a shot of Martinez in his defensive position at first base. He’s a big guy, so in one way it wasn’t surprising to see him unleash that blast, but the program lists him as a 2013 Free Agent and I’m guessing that his .182 BA (substantially below his weight) is the reason he’s still playing Single A ball.

All this on the day when former Hop Brad Keller started for the Kansas City Royals against the Mariners.  He performed well, but the M’s won their seventh straight, 1-0.

One other little irrelevance – this picture doesn’t show it very well, but the Hops Canadian catcher (his music when coming to bat was “O Canada”) most times took a one-knee down receiving position. Not like Tony Pena, who stretched one leg out straight and was clear down on the ground sometimes, but quirky nonetheless.

This was a family outing for us and after the game, the little ones got to run around the bases.  We can only hope they didn’t catch anything lethal from that artificial turf.

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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, 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!

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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.

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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, 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.

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