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, Major Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Twins v. Angels

We came to Minneapolis for a wedding, but could not allow it to interfere with baseball. Add to that the fact that the Angels are in town, giving us the chance to see two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, and it’s clear the stars are aligned.

But remember, baseball is a game of managed failure. Not long after we arrive, the notice on the Jumbotron advises that Ohtani has just gone on the DL with an ulnar collateral ligament strain. Probably more serious than it sounds.

OK, so the game must go on. We have the prospect of a pitching duel between Garrett Richards for the Angels and Lance Lynn for the Twins. It’s a pleasant evening with light breezes and no sign of the sprinkles that had been forecast earlier.

Target Field is nice. That word applies to so much in Minnesota, and it certainly does to this stadium. It is relatively compact and gives you a feeling of being part of the ballgame.

We find our seats and head off in search of food. That’s when I make a rookie mistake. I’ve been to Target Field before and so I know better, but I mindlessly went to the establishment food place and got the cheddar bratwurst and an “Italian” salad. Looks pretty good, huh?

My mistake was in failing to make a complete circuit of the ballpark before buying and simultaneously forgetting that when I was here last, I had a Kramarczuk’s brat, the best I’ve found at any major league park. And I didn’t remember it until I’d already downed the first one. Not only that, but the picture I took of the Kramarczuk grill didn’t turn out either. It would have made you weep. Failure engenders regret, and in this case, the regret nearly led me to have another brat, but that would have led to yet another failure (of the digestive system). Managed failure.

The evening was made memorable by the unusual promotion – it was Prince Night. And the giveaway was a blow-up purple guitar, seen here in all its glory. Yes, Prince was from Minnesota and yes, his color was purple, but what does that have to do with baseball?

The game did indeed turn out to be a pitcher’s duel with the score tied at one after two innings and continued that way till the sixth when Grossman hit a solo dinger to put the Twins up 2-1. Then the Angels stormed back with two of their own by the ever-dangerous Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton to reach the final of 4-2 for the Halos.

One surprise was Mike Trout going 0-4, striking out twice, once with the bases loaded. Didn’t matter in the end, though, except to his batting average. Oh yes, and as you can see from this picture, the Twins have extended their screens to mid-outfield. Farther than I’ve seen anywhere else.

MINNEAPOLIS

Since this rag is supposedly about travel as well as baseball, I should mention that Minneapolis is a beautiful city. We spent the better part of a day in the Minneapolis Institute of Art – known as Mia. It is a terrific museum with an eclectic collection, including a significant body of Asian art, both ancient and contemporary. I was particularly taken with the woodblocks of Japanese artist Kawase Hasui. They also have works by many of the impressionist and modern masters. A very impressive place.

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Eats, Major Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Marlins v. Phillies

In my quest to visit all 30 major league ballparks, I had originally planned to get the two in Florida on my summer road trip. But after spending some time with the maps, it became clear that Miami was just too far to go in the time allotted. So I looked at schedules and concluded that May (not being part of hurricane season) afforded the best opportunity to cover the two in the Sunshine State.

I began the trip by flying to Key West for no good reason. Oh, I had reasons (1. As a kid I had a pen pal there [remember snail mail?]; 2. It’s the southernmost point of the continental U.S.; 3. I was curious), but none were sufficient. Key West is simply kitsch – not as concentrated as say, Wall Drug, but there is little reason for the town’s existence other than parting tourists from their dollars. Not a lot of the charm or architectural preservation you’d expect in a sleepy tropical town.

So I left and drove though the Keys to Miami. I’ve been here many times before and must say it is not one of my favorite cities, but it does have a new ballpark, so that makes it worthy of a visit.

Contrary to the modern trend, it does not bear the name of a sponsor. It is simply Marlins Park. Nor is it retro. Rather, it is futuristic, the outside resembling a sleek white spaceship more than the traditional ivy-covered brick ballpark. In fact, there isn’t one brick in sight. It was built in 2012 on the site of the old Orange Bowl and is one of the smallest parks in the Bigs.

It has a retractable roof and huge sliding windows, so rainouts, which plagued the Marlins at their old park, are non-existent. On this night, the windows were open till just before game time and then closed. The grass, however, is natural (to the extent any big league stadium grass is natural!) and perfectly groomed. In keeping with the latest trend, the protective screens extend beyond the dugouts and the Jumbotron is trapezoidal. The closed in nature of the park made the extra-loud relentless music of the p.a. system especially oppressive.

Speaking of the scoreboard, notice the new feature.

This is the result of the new rule adopted by MLB with the goal of speeding the pace of play and making games shorter. It seemed to have that effect in this game.

Another feature not seen in other parks (thank goodness!) – the monstrosity in left center which comes to life when the Marlins hit a home run. Just to be sure their ballpark is the most unusual, the Marlins built into the wall right behind home plate not one but two large aquariums (made of bulletproof glass – and, apologies – I couldn’t get a picture). I guess having fish in the wall has something to do with the name of their team. Huh?

This game didn’t hold a lot of promise. So far, the Marlins this year have simply been bad. The Phillies, by contrast, under their new manager, Gabe Kapler, are over .500 and seem to be resurgent. This pattern held through five innings as the Phils scored one and held the Marlins hitless (indeed, runnerless) through five.

In the sixth, the Marlins got a little wink from God in the form of a bloop to right that none of the three converging Phils could reach that resulted in a double with no outs. So of course, the next batter bunted (badly) and the runner on second was nailed in a rundown. Hard to say that was a baserunning error, since the whole point was to get to third making a run possible on a hit or sacrifice fly. More like a batting error.

Then Lewis Brinson gets a single, so there’s hope. But Phils pitcher Zach Eflin, no doubt under instructions from the bench, made several attempts to pick Brinson off first. As these pictures show, the initial attempts were unsuccessful, but on the last, which was called safe, a challenge overturned the call.

This, while pinch hitter Justin Bour was at the plate, just hoping to move the runner along. Once there was no runner, he did the only thing he could – launched one out of the park to even the score.

No further action till the 10th, when the Phils loaded the sacks but couldn’t score. In the bottom half, the first two Marlins made outs, then Cameron Maybin hit a stand up triple to deep center – no something you see too often. After an intentional walk, another pinch hitter, Yadiel Rivera, got his first ever walk off hit to win the game.

So, a night of very interesting baseball in front of the smallest big league crowd I can remember (officially almost 13,000, but the after-game announcement said 5,000 – I’d be surprised if it was that big).

Oh yes, the food. In a city as cosmopolitan and diverse as Miami, you’d expect a plethora of choices. Not to be. Everything seemed standardized and somehow sterile. Nothing distinctive except for one small stand offering pincho, a sort of kebab. And the prices were more than major league high.

And another thing, during the game, there was a little piece on the Jumbotron featuring Marlins players promoting “Sandlot Day” with quotes from the eponymous movie (a baseball must-see). “You’re killin’ me Smalls.”

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Minor Leagues, Oddity

Bend Elks vs. Gresham GreyWolves

Who knew that there was more than one college wooden bat league in Oregon? Certainly not me.

 
So the family, gathered at Central Oregon’s incredibly beautiful Black Butte Ranch to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, ventured out to Bend to watch the Bend Elks take on the Gresham GreyWolves at Bend’s Vince Genna Stadium.

 

 

The first impression had little to do with baseball. While negotiating a complicated (not sure why) ticket transaction, some of us had an animated conversation with one of the staff about the moths that were everywhere, including a makeshift moth graveyard along the fence by the ticket office. These were not your regular house moths, but more like a miniature C-130 cargo plane with movable wings.

 

 

 

Next we got to our seats to find that they were already held by season ticket holders. They suggested we move down a couple since it was unlikely others would show up, and we did. Then more folks showed up who had been sold the same seats. A novel revenue generating program, it seems. The real owners were gracious and we managed to accommodate everyone without litigation.

 
Those folks were very nice, seemed well acquainted with the team and were particularly attached to the several Elks players from Oregon State, one of whom was Pat Casey’s son. Turns out the guy was one of Jacoby Ellsbury’s (now of the NY Yankees) high school coaches at Madras.

 
Shortly after the game got started, focus returned to the moths. The stands were completely screened from the field and many moths had taken up temporary residence on the screen, some so long that they died there. The first foul ball into the screen sent many of the moths to other landing spots, the dead ones mainly to rest on fans. An amusing sight.

 

 

 

 

Later, we were treated to a public address announcement congratulating us on our anniversary which had been surreptitiously arranged by our son.

 

Later still, Bend’s mascot, Vinnie the Elk was tossing T-shirts into the crowd and one landed right in our daughter’s lap with no acquisitive effort on her part. Not only a nice shirt (bearing the Elks logo, of course) but it fits as well!

 

The only real baseball note centers on Bend’s catcher. Granted, his pitcher was throwing in the dirt occasionally, but this guy had a talent for lunging, scuffling and just generally rassling the ball like none other I’ve seen. The baseball was not top quality, but it was entertaining. Perhaps the moths were circling the flame.

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Eats, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Davenport, Iowa

We took a fairly easy drive (after getting out of St. Louis) north through the cornfields of Illinois, mostly on back roads. It is remarkable in such a populous state how few folks you see in its extreme western part.
Our destination was Davenport, Iowa where the Quad Cities River Bandits were scheduled to play in a Single A Midwestern League game against the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The Bandits are an affiliate of the Astros and the Kernels of the Twins.
When we arrived in town, we went directly to the stadium to buy our tickets and were told that there were none for sale. My jaw dropped and the clerk quickly explained that they had all been purchased by the Modern Woodmen, an insurance company whose headquarters are directly across the Mississippi River from the stadium and after which the stadium is named. The clerk said that the tickets would be given away free an hour before game time.
We were a little late for that and the parking lot was filling up fast. We stood in the ticket line only to be told to go to the gate where we would get them. The two ticket takers insisted they didn’t have tickets, but we had to and that we had to go back to the ticket window, and only after a couple of rounds of fruitless explanation that we were denied tickets there did a young lady step up (she’d been no more than five feet away during the exchange) to offer us tickets. Goofy!
The Modern Woodmen Park enjoys perhaps the most spectacular setting for a ballpark that I’ve ever seen, positioned as it is at the north end of the Centennial Bridge, right on the banks of the Mississippi. We enjoyed watching the pelicans fly up and down the river. It also had the unusual feature of a permanent ferris wheel in left field.

The Quad Cities include Bettendorf and Davenport in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois, and there’s a fairly long history of minor league baseball in the area.
Unfortunately, a very typical Midwestern shower arrived just as the game was about to start, so it was delayed by an hour. That, coupled with the need to make tracks tomorrow and the River Bandits 5-0 lead in the fifth caused us to leave after the game was official (five innings).
We did see one player who probably won’t be with the Bandits for long. A Cuban named Yordan Alvarez was big, had an easy swing and had three hits, including a long home run, by the time we left. In style and movement, he reminded me of the young Vladimir Guerrero, but with greater plate discipline and less wasted motion.  Keep an eye out for him.
And finally, the eats. The Bandit Dog, better described as a chili cheese dog with onions, seemed the most promising, but about the only thing it is likely to deliver is late night heartburn.

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Eats, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Outfield Ads

Eastlake, Ohio

Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio is quite large for a single A team, and after attending a game there, it is obvious that the Lake County Captains, who play in that park, enjoy more support from their parent team, the nearby Cleveland Indians, than most other single A teams. It has a seating capacity of nearly 7,300 and a natural grass field. Very nice.
Given the name of the team, it is not surprising that the park bears a nautical theme. The suites are dubbed the “Officers Club” and the toilets are on the Poop Deck. I could go on, but you get the idea.
To add to the ambience (this was “Heros Weekend”), the team wore jerseys covered in pictures of folks from the area who have served or are serving in the military. From even a short distance, they looked like camouflage outfits.

Then, to top it off, they had two “parades” before the game started. The first was graduates of a special reading program – there were three little kids. But the real attraction was about 60 motorcycles, many bearing hefty operators wearing leather vests, who rode around the warning track, parked in front of the dugouts and behind home plate, and. milled around until leaving just before the game started. Not sure how bikers and soldiers (and readers!) end up in the same show, but there you go.

On this very pleasant evening, the Captains hosted the Bowling Green Hot Rods, but it wasn’t much of a contest. The Captains’ hitting and defense were both superior, leading to a lopsided victory.
There was a good variety of food on offer at quite reasonable prices. A regular hot dog was $3.50 and my bratwurst (with onions and peppers) was just $6. Plus, they not only had the usual condiments, but some specialty mustards and, believe it or not, my favorite – Frank’s hot sauce.
In the fourth inning, a sharply hit foul ball found a not sufficiently alert fan and she was carried out on a stretcher after about a 20 minute game delay. A reminder of the dangers of the game.
Finally, I am back in the minors and thus have increased the chances of some strange outfield ads. This one struck me, given the not-too-distant history of the game, as wildly inappropriate. What sort of drugs? Approved by MLB? Really?

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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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