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, 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?

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.

Eats, Major Leagues

O’s vs. Pirates

At long last, a visit to the iconic Camden Yards.  Actually, its title is “Oriole Park at Camden Yards,” but until I got there, I’d never heard the “Oriole Park” part of it.  Camden Yards is the first of the new “old” stadiums, opened in the ’90’s, and it is a lovely park.  

The main entrance opens on an esplanade in front of the Warehouse, which is the view from home plate and which no batter has ever hit on the fly (except Junior Griffey in an All Star exhibition).

Because this is Maryland, and because the food most closely associated with Maryland is soft-shelled crab, I felt obliged to try their local specialty.  My crab salad roll had plenty of crab, not a lot of flavor, a price tag double that of a premium hot dog, and I couldn’t help feeling that this somehow violated the unwritten rules of baseball.  It didn’t help that I could  hear a juicy sausage calling my name.

On my trip last year, I always sat close in, or at least not in the outfield (inside the lines).  For this game, I decided to opt for a close-up view of two of the premier outfielders in the game, the O’s Adam Jones and the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen, so I got a seat in the third row in left center, right next to the bullpen.  It was a great spot for watching those outfielders, but not so good for watching the game – it was so low to the field that there was no sense of the spatial aspect of the diamond, and as dusk descended, I found it harder to pick up the ball coming off the bat.  That gave me an enhanced appreciation for the skill of the outfielders.



Speaking of them, you will notice that Jones wears his pants at knee length (though without stirrups) and McCutchen in the current all-the-way-down style.  McCutchen isn’t as readily recognizable now without his dreadlocks, but, unlike Samson, his loss of hair has not sapped his strength.  In the sixth inning, he hit a long one that looked like a goner only to have his counterpart Jones track it down at the wall for the the third out.  Earlier, as a base runner on third, McCutchen had to hit the deck to avoid a foul ball and stayed there momentarily to rip off a few push-ups, much to the delight of the crowd.

The game was a snoozer, thanks in no small part to the play of two former Mariners, Wade Miley and Seth Smith.  Miley started the game, but couldn’t get through the third inning, looking as though he was throwing BP for the Pirates.  Smith struck out twice in an O-fer that contributed nothing to the effort.  My red eye from Portland the night before caught up with me and I thought it would be embarrassing to be found sound asleep in the stands long after the game ended, so I left a little early with the Pirates up 6-1.

Miley in the bullpen

Bad move.  O’s pinch hitter Trey Mancini came in to launch not one but two dingers, the first to put the O’s back in the game and the last a walk-off to win it 9-6.  Oh well. . .


The Lake District

We recently had a very pleasant stay in the Lake District of England, perhaps one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen.  

We were there on what the English call a “walking holiday.”  We stayed at Monk Coniston, formerly a monastery and later part of the 4000 acre estate owned by Beatrix Potter, now a part of the National Trust domain.  Here’s the view from our room.

Our holiday was hosted by HF Holidays, which operates many similar properties, mostly in the UK but in other countries as well.  Each day, we were given a choice of an easier, medium or hard hike, each led by an experienced, essentially volunteer, guide.  The easy walks were generally 5-6 miles, mostly through the valleys in the area, taking in villages, pastures and the intense greenery of the region.  The medium walks were a bit longer with more elevation gain and the hard ones longer and tougher still.

Pictures really don’t capture the beauty of the Lake District.  The hills (western Americans just can’t realistically call them mountains) present real hiking challenges that can include use of hands climbing and descending, but the view from the ridges is spectacular.  In addition, walking is such a part of the culture in the UK that walking paths are a given – everywhere – on ridges, through pastures, towns, over hill and dale. 

Brexit presents a serious problem for the region, since many of the farmers receive EU subsidies for their efforts (it’s tough, if not impossible to make a living there just raising sheep).  There has recently been a World Heritage designation for the area, and that may ease the pressure a bit, but the housing is too expensive for most to survive on traditional livelihoods.

Two interesting side notes.  Since there aren’t many fountains in the woods, folks pound copper (only) coins into fallen trees for luck. 


Also, since most walks include crossing pastures containing sheep, gates are a necessity.  The common type there (which I’d never seen elsewhere) is called a “kissing gate,” which will only allow one person through at a time.

Oh, and did I mention sheep?


Timor Leste

I recently traveled to Timor Leste (East Timor) to look at the work Mercy Corps is doing there, meet with staff and beneficiaries and government officials all in order to get a better picture of the broader program.
The first thing to say is that it is not easy to get there. I flew from Portland to Tokyo, then to Singapore where I had an overnight layover. That enabled me to catch the twice a week flight to Dili, all of which encompassed about 22 hours of actual flight time. The country is on the east side of Timor Island, part of the same chain of islands that makes up Indonesia. Knowing that, one might logically conclude that there would be regular flights from Jakarta, but, for whatever reason, the major carriers don’t serve that route.

The second thing to say is that it is a very unusual place. It probably shouldn’t be a country at all. The population is only about 1.1 million and most people get by on subsistence farming. That wouldn’t set it apart from many countries, but what does is the fact that about 90% of its GDP comes from oil. There are significant undersea oil reserves between TL and Australia. Years ago, the two countries made a deal that drew a boundary between them and put in place a revenue-sharing arrangement under which TL got almost 95% of the revenue from the oil produced in its area. The problem arose when, later, they realized that the line had been drawn close to TL, and the far greater volume of oil was on the Australian side of the line. So that agreement has now been scrapped and new negotiations are underway to redraw boundaries and square things up.

Unless that goes well for TL, its oil revenue could dry up in ten years or less. That would leave TL in dire straits. It could be planning for that, looking for alternative bases for its economic growth and development, but that doesn’t seem to be happening in a realistic way. For example, instead of focusing on the development of its people through programs aimed at reducing a very high rate of malnutrition and stunting, and on education for the next generation, the government is instead working on roads and other infrastructure.

MC is doing some interesting work in TL. In a bid to both increase incomes and alleviate malnutrition, it assists fish farmers (with help from a government-run hatchery) in growing and marketing tilapia, a quick-maturing freshwater fish that provides a much needed source of protein. Ironically, despite being on an island, TL doesn’t have much of a fishery or marine heritage.

In the very mountainous interior (which easily captured the number one spot on my BRI – bad roads index), MC works with villages in what is essentially a community organizing effort. The usual starting point is forming a village savings and loan association (VSLA) of 15-20 people who each contribute a modest amount, say $10 (TL uses the US dollar as its currency), to get started and then a similarly modest agreed amount each successive month. Once there’s a decent sized kitty, a few of the members can take a modest loan. The money is kept in a box with three locks, the key to each being different and each key being held by a different member of the group, so all three must be present with their key to open it. One member will keep the books and as loans are repaid (with 15% annual interest, a very modest rate by developing country standards). Eventually, the pot is divided among the members and they either start over, reform into a new group, or go their separate ways.

One of the members of one VSLA I visited used her loan to buy local produce, transport it to Dili, sell it, repay the loan and put the profit in her pocket.

MC has started over 200 VSLA’s in just one region there, and in varying degrees, that initial organizational effort has led to other community development activities, such as keyhole gardens (to demonstrate composting and watering best practices), manufacture and distribution of small metal seed storage units (to prevent rot and pestilence of seed stock for the coming year) and more efficient cook stoves that use less wood, create less smoke and are easier to use. All modest steps, but taken together, ones that improve incomes, enable more kids to go to school and improve diets.

Seed storage container

A different approach was taken by a man named Nixon Galucho. A former police officer, he was shot by the Australians during the civil unrest and spent a couple of years in jail. He decided to focus on his community and his first target was the hill behind his village of government-subsidized housing. He and his friends set to work to terrace the hill so as to prevent erosion in the seasonal rains. That also gave them more space to plant crops. Nixon is a passionate man who left behind the turmoil of politics to engage with his neighbors and has even shown other communities how to organize in order to achieve community goals.

Nixon Galucho

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!