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.

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

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.

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.

Eats, Minor Leagues, Rants

Jackson, Tennessee

This game rounds out the survey of the four major levels of professional baseball, from Single A through the majors, because we (I was joined by brother Tom) saw the Jackson Generals (Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate) hosting the Tennessee Smokies (Cubs affiliate) in a Double AA Southern League game.  That raises a question I’ve been pondering – when written, is it properly Triple AAA or Triple A?  The former seems redundant, but I think that’s the way I’ve always seen it.

The AAA game in Louisville seemed of a piece with major league play.  The Eastlake Single A teams were young and eager and colt-like.  This Double AA game was closer to AAA than to Single A in the bearing of the players and the apparent knowledge of the game.

Anyway, the Generals play in The Ballpark at Jackson, a tidy little field right next to I-40 and a part of a large sports complex.  We arrived at 5 for a 6:05 start (have to check out the food, you know) and we were the first fans there!  The total attendance for the evening was well under 200.

The very first thing we noticed on entering the park was the extremely loud and annoying music.  It did not stop.  It played as the announcer named the upcoming batter.  It played between innings, it played all the time.  I couldn’t hear Tom talk and he was sitting right next to me.  It made me crazy!

Okay, back to the park and baseball.  The second thing unusual about the park is that it has the longest screens I’ve ever seen – they extend to about the halfway mark between third and the outfield wall as you can sorta see in this picture.

The third thing is fans – no, not the folks in the seats but these fans, which were placed throughout the stands, but none were pointed at us.  It was hot and I wish they had been.

The fourth thing is the scoreboard, of which there was only one, and it was on the Jumbotron in right field, facing west, so it could not be read with the sun beating on it.  That meant we had to pay attention (I guess we could have kept score the old fashioned way, but we weren’t prepared for that).

The fifth thing was being carded when I ordered a beer and then having to wear a bracelet (hospital style) for the rest of the evening in case I wanted another beer.  Weird. 

Finally, to the food.  Yes I have a picture, though it isn’t very helpful.  It is a catfish po’ boy, which might have seemed appropriate in Louisiana but a bit out of place in Tennessee.  We also had what was claimed to be authentic Tennessee barbecue pulled pork sandwich. The pulled pork wasn’t bad but it needed more sauce, and the po’ boy was also adequate but probably not memorable.

Actually, that wasn’t really the last thing.  The last and best thing, never seen anywhere else in the professional baseball world – wait for it – . . . HAMMOCKS!!!

Oh, and the game wasn’t half bad either.  The lead went back and forth until the Generals got their lead off man on in the bottom of the ninth, he was balked to second and scored on a walk off double.  So on the whole, a very successful evening.

Eats, Minor Leagues, Rants


The Ohio River must host more baseball stadiums than any waterway in the country.  Perhaps it just seems that way because I’ve seen several in the past year.  Louisville Slugger Stadium is a lovely “retro” style park with a seating capacity of 13,000 and plays home to the Louisville Bats, the AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, just up the river.  The Bats were at home against another storied franchise, the Toledo Mud Hens of the Detroit Tigers organization.

But before I got to the ballpark, I had to visit the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum.  It is this factory that gives Louisville its special place in baseball culture.  For much of the history of the game, Hillerich & Bradsby, the company that manufactures the bats, was the dominant player in the field (yes, pun intended).  They now face more competition, but still control about 60% of the market.  The tour was interesting, showing how bats used to be made by hand (with a lathe, of course) and how they are now made by computerized machines that can turn out a customized bat for a major leaguer in 45 seconds.

I felt stupid when I saw the Bats mascot because it hadn’t dawned on me that they would use the other common meaning for the word and have a flying bat as a mascot.  I should also note that this is the first mascot I’ve seen actually playing catch with a mitt and baseball.

What’s with the ceremonial first pitch[es]?  Last game and this one, they had about 5 first pitches.  Hasn’t anyone pointed out that after the first one, there cannot be another first???  This being the south, they had to have young ladies in fancy dresses as a part of the ceremony.

Once again, I got to see a former Mariner, Brendan Ryan, this one playing shortstop for the Mud Hens.  He’s generally a good defensive player (though he made one error here), but he still can’t hit a lick.  His average is below the Mendoza line – in AAA!  Nevertheless, the Mud Hens batted around in the first inning, scoring five runs, and never looked back, winning easily 7-2.

Once again, the 20 second clock was in evidence, which requires the pitcher to deliver the next pitch within 20 seconds of receiving the ball on the mound.  It was never enforced by the umpires, but all the pitchers seemed to comply.  The game lasted a mere 2.5 hours, so maybe the Bigs should consider it.

Finally, eats.  The prices here were very reasonable by ballpark standards.  A regular dog costs $3.75 and there are several options under $6.  There were the usual choices on burgers, pizza and the like, but quite a good variety of beer.  I had my new favorite, Leinenkugel Summer Shandy with a Grand Slam Dog.  I was going to be good but the devil appeared in pig’s clothing and made me eat that half pound wonder.  Ahh, life-giving pig fat!

Eats, Major Leagues, Rants

Yankees vs. Red Sox

Another day, another iconic stadium and rivalry. I first went to Yankee Stadium on my way to college in 1965 and saw the legends, Mantle and Maris (among others) along with the classic filigree along the roofline. Today it is a “new” stadium but with all the history and tradition of the franchise.

Unfortunately, (from my perspective at least), that also includes the somewhat gaseous “Monument Park” in center field. Yes, the Yankees have had a lot of great players, but here they are memorialized with brass plaques larger than those afforded the Hall of Fame inductees in Cooperstown. And you won’t be surprised to learn that the largest of them all commemorates that largest of personalities, George Steinbrenner. Ho hum.

On this occasion, a former Mariner, Michael Pineda, performed well. He kept the Red Sox off balance and mostly off the bases. Meanwhile, the Yankee bats roughed up David Price in just his third start since injury sidelined him in spring training. He gave up two homers (five RBI) to Gary Sanchez and three hits to Aaron Judge.
Speaking of Judge, you can see he wears number 99 on his jersey, one of very few in the history of major league baseball to do so. Why? It seems he was called up late in the season last year and for no particular reason, just stuck with his spring training number. There were flashes of the “Judge’s Chamber” on the Jumbotron, but I never did locate it in the stadium.  Truth be told, I’m not even sure what it is beyond the picture of a guy with a wig and gavel in a courtroom-like room.

This being New York, it seemed imperative that I indulge in a kosher hot dog. But that presented a dilemma – Nathan’s or Hebrew National. With nothing to go on but instinct, I chose Hebrew National and was not disappointed. Footlong with plenty of kraut and mustard and I was a happy camper. Especially for just $7.50. On the other end of the scale, beer was $12.50 (I concluded the old saying might apply – especially on a cool, cloudy night – absence [actually abstinence] makes the heart grow fonder). I’ll await a hot evening for that beer at a better price.
And now for the rant. It looked to me like less than a third of the fans were in their seats for the first pitch. And at least half were gone by the seventh inning. The young folks in front of me consumed a lot of beer and saw at best three or four plays the entire game. Chattering, taking selfies and otherwise depleting their phone batteries seemed to be their reasons for attending. Why bother? Go somewhere else that has cheaper beer and leave the baseball to us geeks.

Major Leagues, Rants

Cubs win, Cubs win!

The long drought is over and citizens of Cubs Nation the world over can rejoice.  As a baseball fan, I always hope for a seven game series and this, in my humble opinion, was one of the best (though not as good over all as the 1991 Braves-Twins epic).  Game seven was certainly one to remember.  The only problem with a World Series like this one is that one team has to lose.  It almost doesn’t seem fair.

All that said, I do have some questions that collectively could fairly be termed a rant.  1 – why did Maddon put Chapman in for 2+ innings in game 6 when they had a five run lead?  2 – why did he pull Hendricks so quickly in game 7?

Now I’ll drop the pretense.  I see no benefit to putting Chapman into game 6 – he wasn’t needed.  Doing that sent the message to the rest of the bullpen that they can’t be trusted to protect a five run lead.  It also gave the Indians another, longer good look at him, and throughout games 5-7, Maddon knew he was (he hoped) managing a seven game series.  And he also must know that big league hitters adjust – they can, as the Indians demonstrated in game 7, catch up to 100+ mph fast balls and hit them out of the park.  Chapman was out of gas in game 7, but if he’d only pitched the 9th, maybe that would have worked.

My real beef is Maddon’s pulling of Hendricks.  He had pitched masterfully, but just as soon as he walked a batter (with two out) on a very questionable call by the home plate umpire, Maddon hooked him.  Maddon, like too many others, is in love with velocity.  Hendricks doesn’t have it – he just gets guys out and managed to record the lowest ERA in the NL this year.  What happened?  Lester came in and gave up two runs!  Hendricks would not have done that.

Yes, Maddon won, but he was lucky.

So much for the rant.  It was a wonderful series and I can’t wait till next year.