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, History, Major Leagues, Rants

Braves vs. Marlins

Next to last major league ballpark for me, SunTrust Park, where the Atlanta Braves play their home games. It was opened last year, replacing Turner Field. It is big, seemingly functional, and for my money, undistinguished. It has four levels and the seat prices are certainly lower than Houston. The main concourse is wide and the scoreboards well placed and visible, communicating lots of information.

It also features a “Memorial Garden” reminiscent of Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. But this one has a very cool display – 755 bats make up the record for home runs set by the Braves’ Hank Aaron.

I got to the stadium early and was surprised to hear over an hour of ballpark organ music. A nice relief from the usual blaring public address announcer or blasting music of another sort.

The Braves are in second place in their division, coming off the near no-hitter by Sean Newcomb, but they started poorly, giving up two runs in the first. Pitcher Julio Teheran later helped his own cause with an RBI single, and the Braves went on to win, 5-3.

I was pleased to see Dansby Swanson starting for the Braves at short. He was the number one overall pick in the 2015 by the Diamondbacks and started his professional career with none other than the Hillsboro Hops. The D’Backs traded him to Atlanta the next year and though he’s not a powerhouse at the plate, he’s been solid on defense. And, he’s back home in Georgia.

Swanson

For the first time on this trip, the game-time temperature dropped below 90. It was 83 degrees. I hope I don’t have to rename the tour!

You’ve heard me rant about the shift in a previous post. I observed in this game a new twist (I’d actually seen it in a few games on TV, to be honest). The Marlins played Freddie Freeman straight up at first, but once he got two strikes, the third baseman moved to the other side of second. It worked – Freeman grounded to the second baseman, who was playing not too far to the right of the first baseman, in shallow right field. (Unfortunately for the Marlins, it didn’t work the next at bat – Freeman homered.)

The food was not worth writing about and hardly worth eating. Almost no variety. Boring.

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Eats, Major Leagues, Rants

Astros vs. Rangers

We got in to Houston at a reasonable hour and, on a hunch, decided to stop by the stadium to get tickets in advance. I’ve never had a problem getting tickets on game day, so I thought this was a bit of a lark, but to my great surprise, we could not get two tickets together. Instead, we were offered the option of SRO tix, so I thought that would be a good departure from the norm and give me a different perspective on the game. The price was a shock – $27 each (the Astros seem to be taking advantage of their World Series victory by jacking up all their prices), but I figured we’d have free reign over the entire building. Come on, regular season games never sell out, but apparently because it was Friday night, the Astros and Rangers and the defending world champions, there was a big demand.

So we decided to arrive early and scope things out. Minute Maid Park (I can’t say that name without smirking) opened in 2000, replacing the old Astrodome. The first thing we noticed, of course, is that the building is air conditioned (did I mention that game-time temp was 96 degrees?). It has a retractable roof and natural grass, so it is like the Marlins Park in that regard. The glass wall is an interesting feature.

The second thing we noticed was that most of the SRO spots on the first level were obstructed, as you can see here.

So, after scoping out the food options (more on that later), we ventured to the third level and that looked much more promising, until we were told that SRO tix were only good on the first level. Back to ground zero. That began a series of less than pleasant encounters with ushers who said we couldn’t stand there. We countered by pointing out that we were behind the green line and there was always some additional reason given that we had to move along. Finally an usher said we could talk to the folks at “Fan Accommodation.” Once again we were told we could only get single seats, not together, for prices starting in the mid $90’s.

We kept moving around, trying to watch the game and find a place where we could see the scoreboard, with only limited success. Finally, we went back to the third level and grabbed unoccupied seats, got ousted twice and eventually landed in some that had been abandoned and were not further bothered.

We were quite simply hornswoggled. We were not told that SRO tix were only good on the first level, that all such views are obstructed, that we would be hassled by ushers and really wouldn’t be able to watch the game. It did not leave us with a favorable impression of the Astros, of Minute Maid Park or of Houston.

To top it off, several of the Astros starters did not play and their starter, Dallas Keuchel didn’t have his good stuff. The lackadaisical Rangers we saw just a day ago simply hammered the ‘Stros 11-2, starting off with a perfectly executed suicide squeeze play in the second inning. That added a note of sweet revenge.

One perhaps unsurprising feature was the crowd singing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” after “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh inning stretch.

Like the Rangers, they also have advertising on the foul poles. In addition to being a violation of baseball tradition (mine, anyway), they could pose a problem in determining if a fly ball is foul because of the white lettering.

I’ve heard it said that the reason baseball players get pulled hamstrings is because they only run forwards. Basketball players run all directions and that injury is uncommon in that sport. So occasionally you’ll see this sort of pre-game warm-up work going on in a big league game. I’ve never seen it in the minors.

On the food front, we were hungry by the time we got settled at our motel, so we had a late lunch/early dinner at R & K Barbeque. Very satisfying and filling. As a consequence, the only thing we ate at the ballpark was ice cream. Good, but like everything there, seriously overpriced. The food variety was not up to Rangers standards either.

Enough ranting. Next come the Baby Cakes.

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Eats, M's, Major Leagues, Rants, Travel

Rangers vs. A’s

So the accident in Reno cost me five games, but four days of hard driving put me back on schedule. I will just note a point I have made before – our interstate highway system is in poor condition, and it does not appear that much repair or maintenance is going on.

But back to the important stuff. Brother Tom flew in to join me as the Rangers took on the A’s at Globe Life Park. I should say first that it is an attractive ballpark. It is almost 25 years old, but is to be replaced with a new, air-conditioned park with a retractable roof in 2020. One of the principal reasons was illustrated at this game – 102 degrees at game time – and a sparse crowd supports the argument.

The Rangers have given up. They traded Cole Hamels to the Cubs, and their play was lackadaisical. Without knowing anything, it was easy to tell from the way the two teams carried themselves who was in the cellar and who was a contender.

The treat of the game for me was watching Rangers starting pitcher, forty-five year old Bartolo Colon, who has been in the game forever. He went seven innings, gave up six earned runs and took the loss but was still fun to watch. Talk about slow motion! The Rangers also have the aging Adrian Beltre, who is beloved in Texas, but did nothing during his stint with the Mariners. I’m only slightly bitter about that.

Colon

Beltre

The most remarkable feature of the game was five triples, four by Oakland and one by Texas. I’ve done some quick looking and can’t find any reference to that ever happening before. One of you stat freaks who has more time might find it. One of those triples illustrated my earlier point about the Rangers – it was a good hit by the A’s batter, but a hustling outfielder might have held it to a single. As it was, the loping outfielder seemed unconcerned that the runner was on his way to third. The Rangers have given up.

Here’s one of my pet peeves that you may have heard about – the shift (three infielders on the same side of second base). Why in the world don’t hitters learn to bunt the opposite way??? They would be guaranteed a single and eventually the defense would stop shifting. MLB is thinking about banning it by rule, but I say make the hitters fix it.

This ad is clever, but it offends my sense of baseball propriety to have an ad on the foul pole. (And, to my earlier point, notice how few spectators there are in the stands?)

The eats were mediocre but the prices weren’t. I had a BBQ beef brisket that was probably prepared last week. And there wasn’t a lot of variety. We’ll wait till Houston to see if we can make a sweeping generalization about Texas food. We did see one new item, but lacked the courage to try it.

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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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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, 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.

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