Seeing Red…

Sunday, May 22, 2016–Reds 4, Mariners 5

As I cross the last ballpark off my list, I am glad to report that I chose the right ballpark to end my tour with. Cincinnati offers fans the opportunity to have a certificate printed—free of charge, no less—for a number of special events, such as a birthday or anniversary or attending your first Reds game. The list of events doesn’t include visiting every Major League team at home, but as I pointed out, this was my first Reds game, and the lady at the printer was happy to customize this little keepsake for me:


But I suppose you want to hear about the game. I know I shouldn’t be surprised to see something new, even after several dozen games. So, rather than simply rehashing all the action, I thought it would be fun to share all the things that happened today that I had never seen before in person.

Sea-Cin I saw an American League pitcher (in this case Mariners starter Wade Miley) get a hit, and that after two pitches spent looking like he was lost. I saw more than one occasion where the catcher threw the ball over the 3rd baseman’s head throwing it around the horn after a strikeout. Another thing I haven’t seen at the big league level is both starting pitchers getting base hits, because Cincinnati starter Alfredo Simon got one too. Or the ephus thrown for a strike (don’t know what that means? You could look it up). I also haven’t seen this much sun in any of the day games I’ve been to, so I fear my arms will be quite the appropriate color for the home team before too long.

Other game action to note, the Reds built up a 3 run lead in the 1st keyed by Brandon Phillips’s bases-loaded double, then padded the lead when Adam Duvall came just short of the second deck with his mammoth home run. But Seattle’s three-run rally in the fifth built on bunting, sacrifices and some clutch singles made the difference, as the bullpen kept Cincy quiet the rest of the way.

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Close to the action 

Friday, May 20, 2016–Tigers 5, Rays 7

Is it possible to be too close to the field? I would say that you definitely can. I’m not used to tickets 10 rows from shallow left field being within my price range, but it happened this time, so I figured, why not? Well, I had a good view of the singing hawker’s rear end on the second-inning balk that have the Tigers their first run, I was letting some of my neighbors back to their seats when Kevin Kiermaier hit a bases-clearing triple to put the Rays back up by 3 in the sixth. And then on top of that, the angle I’ve got doesn’t really let me see things like how the infielders are positioned and other details like that.

TB-DetThat’s not to say that there hasn’t been plenty to see, though. To begin with, it’s Polish-American day at the ballpark, which is really a big deal here. They had about 300 dancers in traditional costumes performing. The kids right in front of me were about four or five so they weren’t dancing as much as you might call it choreographed falling. And the stream of passersby abated so I was able to see some baseball, including Miguel Cabrera’s two monumental home runs.

In all, this turned out to be a very entertaining game, in which the outcome was in doubt until the final pitch, but you wouldn’t have thought so from the way Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez was struggling in the first. Steven Souza hit the second pitch of the game about 375 feet and two more runs came in before the Tigers came to bat for the first time.

As I mentioned, Detroit clawed back to tie it, but the three runs Tampa Bay picked up in the sixth did wind up being the decisive factor. Still, when two batters reached in the bottom of the ninth, the fans began standing in hopes their team would come roaring back. That hope ended with Victor Martinez’s grounder to short.

For the Birds…

Friday, September 4, 2015–Blue Jays 2, Orioles 10

So, you probably wouldn’t think this would be a very good game from the score, but scores can be misleading. This was a very tight and entertaining game until things unravled late for the Jays. The Orioles had an early 2-0 lead and Toronto had pecked away on some well-executed small ball to tie it in the bottom of the fifth. When Chris Davis hit a mammoth 2-run homer in the 6th, the game still seemed in hand. But then Matt Wieters hit a ball deep to the warning track in left. It seemed Ben Revere had a good bead on it, but the ball bounced off his glove and over the wall for another homer to make the score 5-2, and things just got more out of hand after that.

28_TorontoBut the real story for me is that I don’t think Blue Jays fans get enough credit. I mean, you never hear Toronto mentioned when American sportscasters talk about the places that have the loudest or most knowledgeable fans. The Jays put up a little bit of a fight with two out in the ninth inning. Two outs and down by two grand slams, the odds of winning are still very low. At a similar game in Boston—one where the home team let a close game get away from them late—Fenway was empty by the time the final out was recorded. When Troy Tulowitzki struck out to end tonight’s game, about two thirds of the fans were still there, still urging their team on, and still involved in all the action on the field (there was even an amused reaction when somebody threw a paper airplane from the second deck which somehow managed to make it almost to the pitcher’s mound).

Meanwhile, I had the great pleasure of speaking with (or, more precisely, shouting over the loudspeaker at) my neighbor Laura who is visiting from Pittsburgh and would like to do an every-ballpark-in-the-majors trip of her own in a couple years. We got to talking about keeping score—a pastime we both enjoy—as well as comparing notes on ballparks we’ve both been to. It was a lot of fun to be able to have the kinds of discussions I just can’t have with people who don’t keep score, such as whether a run should be earned or unearned, or “have you noticed that every one of Jimenez’s strikeouts was looking?” However, there was one moment of irony about that… Wieters grounded out to end the top of the eighth, but because I was showing Laura my custom-designed scorecards, we both missed the play and don’t know how to score it. Oh well.

Here is that scorecard we were making such a fuss over…

Tomahawked

Saturday, August 18, 2012–Braves 2, Dodgers 6

If I had come for the sole purpose of seeing the Civil Rights Game, and if I had missed the banquet or the round-table discussion on issues of race in sports (as I did), I expect I would have been very disappointed by the presentation on the field at tonight’s game. Fortunately, that was not my sole intent. There was a short presentation as Don Newcombe, members of the band Earth Wind and Fire, and Congressman John Lewis—winners of MLB’s Beacon Awards—were recognized on the field. Aside from that, there wasn’t much about civil rights for anyone who was actually in the stands. This led me to the conclusion that there was probably quite a bit more said on the subject during the telecast. I guess that’s a good thing, ’cause the broadcast would’ve been dreadfully dull otherwise.

Aaron Harang started for the Dodgers, and it looked like the Braves would get him for a big first inning. When David Ross struck out with the bases loaded, the large clump of Dodger fans around me breathed a large sigh of relief. In the bottom of the second I noticed something odd about Atlanta’s scoreboard. After Hanley Ramirez hit a home run off Ben Sheets to tie it up, the scoreboard registered the hit right away, but didn’t register the run until Ramirez had circled the bases. It’s a nice little nod to the most esoteric sensibilities, a run doesn’t really count until the runner touches the plate. I don’t know if Atlanta’s scoreboard operators are the only ones who do this or not, but it’s the first time I noticed it.

Then, two pitches later, when James Loney hit a ball that bounced just above the yellow line in right for another homer, I got another chance to test this theory. Again, the run was not awarded until Loney touched home. On the very next pitch, Louis Cruz hit another homer, much to the consternation of most of the fans. Sheets had given up three taters… on four pitches.

From the second through the fifth, the main highlights were defensive. On back-to-back plays, Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis made outstanding plays—going up the middle and making a nice jump throw to rob Martin Prado, then diving to his left to take a sure single from Jason Heyward. Not to be outdone, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla dove even deeper into the gap to rob Shane Victorino in the 6th. But the fans could sense trouble when Sheets walked two batters, and when Ramirez hit his second homer of the night, there wasn’t much of interest after that. Well, except my little obsession over the scoreboard: sure enough, all 3 runs were added one-by-one as the runners crossed the plate. In all, the Dodgers only got four hits, but all of them went over the fence.

Here’s the scorecard. I made this one at home—from one of my own templates—because the Braves’ printed scorecard is simply too small for any practical use.

The Arch-rivalry

Monday, May 14, 2012–Cardinals 4, Cubs 6

Ten minutes before first pitch, and I wasnt so sure if this rivalry was all it was cracked up to be. I mean, where were all the fans? Still in line getting a beer? I’d expect that sort of thing in Philly, and saw it first-hand in Milwaukee, but this was the Cardinals and Cubbies. I literally scheduled this entire trip around this game because I wanted to see a real rivalry game, and the place is half-empty for the national anthem? What gives? I was feeling pretty down on fans of both teams, the entire city of St. Louis, and the rivalry in general. That was until I met Taylor.

Taylor—who was seated right next to me—was certainly the loudest Cub fan in my section, and quite possibly the whole ballpark. And as the seats did eventually fill up (this time with the hometown loyalists as a clear majority), she probably became the most hated girl down the right-field line. I’m sure she couldn’t care less. Seeing how she’d get swept up in every play (and for some at-bats, every pitch) was very entertaining in the early innings as both teams squandered good scoring chances. But as the night went on, getting to see it through her eyes became a transformative experience for me. First the Cubs scored four in the 5th, and she was on top of the world. She so enjoyed seeing David Freese being thrown out at the plate in the 6th she nearly dislocated my shoulder pounding me on the back.

Despite the runner thrown out, the Cards did tie it in the 6th, and that’s when I became more aware of the Cardinal fans around me as well. Though certainly not as vocal as my neighbor, they were just as much into the game. The couple to the other side would lean in—simultaneously—for every pitch, and hold hands whenever the Cubs were threatening. Their relationship was him, her, and the Cardinals. And there were many others who were just as deeply invested. So, were there fans who were tardy to their seats? Yes. What’s more, they were probably the same ones who left after the eighth even though it was a one-run game. They’re there, but don’t really matter.  It’s the sheer number of fans of both teams who were there on time, did stay ’till the end, and truly do care that make this rivalry special.

The Cardinals let it get sloppy (or, as I was saying to Taylor, “they’re playing like the Cubs”) and gave up single runs in the 8th and 9th for the 6-4 final. Cubs starter Ryan Demptser got yet another tough-luck no-decision, his counterpart Jake Westbrook was lucky to escape with the same. Mitchell Boggs was pegged with the loss, Shawn Camp picked up the win, and Rafael Dolis caught two birds looking to get the save.

Here’s the scorecard.

Trouble brewing

Saturday, May 12, 2012–Brewers 8, Cubs 2

I always think of the Cubs and Cardinals as the great midwest rivalry, and I’ll get to experience that firsthand in just a few days. However, since the Brewers have pulled themselves out of the cellar, it does follow that Cubs-Brewers could also be an intense rivalry. After all, the two cities are less than a hundred miles apart and the teams are division rivals. After arriving in Milwaukee, I caught the last seven innings of yesterday’s series opener on television. That game had all the makings of a playoff preview: multiple lead changes, sensational plays to save runs and on more than one occasion a pitcher would wiggle his way out of a jam. It was finally decided in the 13th with Travis Ishikawa’s bases-loaded single to give the Brew Crew an 8-7 win.

So, in some ways, this afternoon’s game also had that real rivalry feeling to it. Yesterday, a number of batters were hit by pitches, so when Ryan Braun and Alfonso Soriano were both plunked in the early innings, warnings were issued and there was quite a bit of jawing, just like a real rivalry. Well… except for one little thing: the fans. The crowd was listed—near capacity—at over 42 thousand. My estimate is the split of Brew boosters to Cubbie loyalists was about 60/40. But something about those fans was just not quite right for a real rivalry. It’s a ballpark with a retractable roof, but there are large windows in the outfield to give the stadium some more natural lighting. And through the third inning, out the window beyond right field, I could see a pedestrian bridge with large numbers of people crossing to the park. Somehow, in a rivalry, I’d expect those people to have made that trip over that bridge and into the stadium about an hour earlier than they did. For the middle innings, the place was completely packed, but it took a while to get that way.

It seems odd to call a game with an 8-2 final a pitcher’s duel, but that was what it felt like for most of the game. The Cubs scored first on, of all things, a double play with a runner at third. The Brewers answered with an even odder play: the run scoring pickoff. Nyjer Morgan was at third with Braun at first. Braun took off for second way too early and was picked off. But he stayed in a rundown long enough for Morgan to score—it appeared the Cubs simply forgot he was there. After that and through the top of the 6th, both Shaun Marcum for the Brewers and Chris Volstad of the Cubs were in complete control.

Volstad blinked first. After giving up a run in the bottom of the 6th, he gave up a single and a double to put runners at 2nd and 3rd. He then intentionally walked Ishikawa to load up the bases for the kid just up from Triple-A, Edwin Maysonet. Maysonet proceeded to crush the ball down the leftfield line for a grand slam and his first 4 RBI for the season. From there, the game wasn’t close again.

Check out the scorecard.

Can’t anybody here play this game?

Thursday, May 8, 2012–Twins 2, Blue Jays 6

The very nice lady at the post office had a theory: The Twins were playing back to lull their division rivals into a false sense of security, and when July comes around, “that’s when we charge.” When I expressed doubt about these sentiments, her reply was, “well, we can hope, right?” If she is right, July can’t come soon enough for the Twins. As I write, they are 8-23, and if the display I saw in Minneapolis is typical, I’m not sure how they’ve even won eight.

I sat next to a very friendly guy who was telling me about the Twins latest roster moves and the fuss that was being made about how the team was considering moving the fences in  because there weren’t enough home runs being hit, and then added “but the opposing teams don’t seem to be having that problem.” I explained that the only player for either team I knew really well was former Isotope Josh Willingham, I told him about the time Hammer hit one over the scoreboard at Isotopes park, and he was suitably impressed. He told me about the giant neon Twins sign in center field—twin baseball players representing Minneapolis and St. Paul hold hands across the river “When we hit a home run, the sign lights up and the twins shake hands,” I think he told me this doubting that I’d actually witness this spectacle.

This was just ugly baseball. In the third inning alone, Yunel Escobar scored from second as Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla fell asleep trying to turn a double play and Bret Lawrie went first to third on a passed ball that Ryan Doumit couldn’t find. And it wasn’t over yet. Edwin Encarnacion is credited with an RBI single in the fourth. It was actually a fly ball that went half a mile in the air before landing—completely untouched—three feet in front of the plate. Even the baserunning was ugly, Eric Komatsu reached on an infield hit, took second on a throwing error and then got caught in no-man’s land trying to get to third.

How bad was this game? Even the umpires were falling asleep. At one point, they had to have a conference to confirm that Jose Bautista had indeed been hit by a pitch. At another, first base ump Tim Tschida was so unimpressed that he simply shook his head rather than making a signal on an appeal play. The only saving grace for the home team was in the sixth, when Josh Willingham hit a laser beam into the leftfield porch. I got to see the twins shake hands. “Your boy!” my neighbor exclaimed, clapping me on the shoulder.

At the top of the eighth, in the part of the game where most Major League teams ask fans to sing along to Sweet Caroline, the Twins have chosen a song that might be meant for the lady at the post office: Don’t Stop Believing.

Here’s the scorecard.

Welcome home, Jim

Friday, August 26, 2011–Indians 2, Royals 1

As I have stated many times before, I pick the games for these trips weeks or even months in advance, so I have no way of knowing that a one-time icon of the Indians’ franchise would be returning the same day I picked for scheduling reasons.  The Tribe made a deal with the Twins to bring Jim Thome—the Indians’ all-time leader in home runs and a number of other offensive categories—back to Cleveland, probably while I was on the train from Pittsburgh.  That means that if I hadn’t come to Cleveland specifically to see a baseball game, I coulda sold my ticket (with this as my view) for about three times what I’d paid for it. I heard that before the trade was announced, there were 10,000 unsold tickets, but by the time first pitch rolled around, it was sold out. Here was a sign the Indians had printed up for fans to wave and greet him.

But I did come specifically to see a baseball game, so let’s get to it. Thome came up to bat for the first time to lead off the second inning. The fans were giving him a standing ovation from the moment the top of the first ended and he had stood in the on-deck circle waiting for the between-inning promotion to end. When he was announced, the cheer from the Cleveland faithful was the loudest I’ve ever heard, and when Thome hit a weak groundout to the pitcher on the very first pitch he saw, the noise scarcely subsided until he’d returned to the Indians’ dugout.

While Thome was the emotional story of the night, the baseball story was a tense pitcher’s duel between two guys who started the season in Colorado. Ubaldo Jimenez went 7, struck out ten, and only gave up one run, a homer by KC’s Eric Hosmer. And until the bottom of the 7th, it looked like Felipe Paulino would make that run hold up, the only threat the Indians mounted through the first six frames ended when Koske Fukudome was thrown out at the plate. In the seventh, with two batters on, Jack Hannahan hit an RBI single to tie it, and Paulino’s night was done when he walked the next batter to load the bases. Tim Collins, the new Royals hurler, then walked Ezequiel Carrera to force in another run. That would close out the scoring for the night.

Here’s the scorecard.

Raise the Jolly Roger

Wednesday, August 24, 2011–Pirates 2, Brewers 0

Allegedly, the train gets to Pittsburgh right around midnight most of the time. I guess the occasional earthquake plays havoc with train schedules just like everything else. I did not get settled in until 5 a.m. yesterday for a game with a 12:30 first pitch.

When I made the plans for this trip, the Pirates were right in the middle of the race, and I was very excited to be a part—no matter how small—of a season that might see the Bucks’ playoff drought come to an end. Since then, the Pirates have taken a nosedive and now need a miracle to get back into the race. Nonetheless, it is still an attainable goal for the team to be the first Pittsburgh squad to finish a season with a winning record in 19 years. They’d need to go 9 games over .500 for the final 5 weeks of the season, which would be quite a feat, but doable for a team that plays well. Especially if they can put together a few more games like the one they played yesterday.

Aaron Thompson got his first Major League start, and—after giving up a leadoff single to Cory Hart, the first batter he faced—effectively cooled off the white-hot Brewers, (who had been knocking the ball all around the park the past two days) allowing only four hits in 4⅓ innings. Thompson was on a pitch count and did not qualify for the win, but still got a very nice hand for his efforts. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh scored a run in the 1st and another in the 4th, both scoring on sacrifice flies. That score held to the 9th. When the Pirates’ outstanding closer Joel Hanrahan—who has his own scoreboard entrance video, “Hammer Time”—allowed the first two Milwaukee batters to reach in the 9th, there was some unrest in the stands. Hanrahan then slammed the door, striking out the next three batters.

Something the Pirates do that I haven’t seen anywhere else is the “Kids Starting Lineup.” Before the game, nine members of the Pirates’ kids club are brought out onto the field and introduced and then take the field as if they were the home team. The “catcher” stole the show, he was 4 or 5 and needed a little help finding his way to the plate—help which was provided by the Green Parrot mascot picking him up and flying him over. The other noteworthy event: I nearly got brained by a hot dog. One of the between-inning promotions is the hot dog cannon. There are two of them, and I was watching the flights of the dogs on the right field line when I became aware that fans in my vicinity were bracing for impact from an edible missile from the left flank. I looked up but couldn’t see anything, so then I ducked. It landed two feet behind me.

Here’s the scorecard.

A rousing victory (sorta)

Monday, August 22, 2011–Nationals 4, Diamondbacks 1

Beginning today, I enter a semi-noctournal existence. My train to Pittsburgh gets into town right around midnight, the one to Cleveland drops me off close to 3 am. There are two reasons this is important. First, it’s why I haven’t committed to go to Detroit yet; I may want to call it quits before then. It also means that—for those of you who use that big ball of plasma to determine your daily routine rather than setting your internal clock by the whims of Amtrak—it may seem like I’m going to be posting things at some very odd times the rest of the way.

Ok. The game. This is one of the most average games I can think of. There were enough baserunners to keep things interesting, and the pitching was just good enough to keep it moving at a good clip. There was some good defence. Both Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Roberts (third basemen for the Nats and Snakes respectively) made spectacular diving stops to rob an opponent of  a double down the line. However, even these plays weren’t made when the outcome was at stake. So, was it fun? Yes. Was it exciting? Not exactly.

What really strikes me about this game is the crowd prompts. There are certain situations where stadium operations folk like to stir reactions from the crowd, such as the “charge!” fanfare or the exhortations for “more cowbell” in Tampa Bay. These have always troubled me, ’cause I figure the fans oughtta know when they should get excited. What was really strange about this game was that the prompts were coming at some very odd times, like every time an Az. batter had 2 strikes on him. I like to get the rhythmic clapping started at Isotopes Park when the ‘Topes are one strike from getting out of an inning, but not when there are 2 strikes on the leadoff batter.

More odd than this was when the fans were reacting to the prompts. Sometimes everybody would get the clapping going when prompted, sometimes they wouldn’t, and—at least by my judgement of what was an appropriate time—there was neither rhyme nor reason to it. Then, on top of that, there were times fans would, without prompting, get some cheer going throughout the stadium when there was no apparent reason.

Easily, the highest moment of tension came in the sixth,when Nats starter Ross Detwiler looked like he couldn’t throw a strike. After giving up a hit, he walked the next batter on four pitches to load up the bases. The Nats had a 4-run lead, but this is a situation that can very quickly get out of control. Nobody was warming up and he quickly fell behind Paul Goldschmidt and there was a lot of rustling. When Goldschmidt hit a perfectly routine grounder to third for an inning-ending fielder’s choice, the crowd didn’t need to be told to get loud about that.

Here’s the scorecard.