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.

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.

Flip-floppin’ it Richardson style!

Friday, July 2, 2010–Yankees 1, Blue Jays 6 (11)

You may remember a few years ago our former Guv. Bill Richardson made his push for a presidential bid and finished a distant fourth in the early primaries. Of all the things he caught flack for, perhaps the silliest was when he declared that he was a fan of both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Learning from Bill’s mistake, I will make my own statement right up front: I am a fan of neither one nor th’other. I don’t have a “true” team in the majors, I am a hometown homer all the way.

My preferences tend towards the National League over the American League, western teams over eastern teams, and underdogs over the big boys. In other words, both the Bombers and The Nation have three strikes against them in my book¹. Nonetheless, for this particular leg of my ballpark tour, I did catch some of that residual Richardson flack. Two days apart, I went to games at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, and (for as long as I was there, at any rate,) did what I always do—root, root, root for the home team.

After seeing the home team getting pounded in Boston, dad and I hopped on a train to New York. From the train, you can’t see New England for the trees, and the only really spectacular view came as we crossed the harbor in Mystic, Connecticut. Also on that train, we met possibly the worst behaved three-year old on the planet. Fussing and crying over any and everything imaginable. Essentially, it was a three-hour long tantrum. I asked dad if I was ever that bad.
“You had your moments, but never that kind of sustained awfullness.”
“Well, still, I’m sorry.”

The attendance for the game (a Friday afternoon tilt) is listed at 45,792. And if the Yankees expect me to believe that, they might think I’m interested in buying the Brooklyn Bridge. I try to take things into account when judging the crowd at a particular game. Is the team winning, who’s the opponent, is it a day game, is it a night game, what’s the weather like? In taking these and other considerations into account, I try to get a sense of the quality of the fans. The official attendance is only part of the story. Knowledgable rooting, convivial atmosphere and energy are just as important to me.

The Cubs were on a 7-game skid, the Royals (aside from just being the Royals) were playing a Thursday day game. The Marlins were a distant 3rd place team playing another 3rd place team, in a stadium 20 miles from the team’s fan base. What I’m getting at is this: the only time I have been totally underwhelmed by the fan support in a game I was personally in attendance for was at the place where I was least expecting it–Yankee Stadium. I’d be shocked if there were more than 35,000 butts in seats, and the butts that did show up were not attached to very passionate fans. It was a beautiful day, 4th of July weekend, a division opponent and it’s the Yankees, for crying out loud.

A.J Burnett started for the Yankees, against Brett Cecil for the Jays. Both pitched well, but neither got a decision. Derek Jeter walked leading off the bottom of the first and A-Rod drove him in with a sac fly. That was it for the scoring until Joba Chamberlain gave up a run in the 8th. In the interim, by far the most entertaining thing was listening to the two guys behind us. A Yankees fan was trying to explain baseball to a visitor from Spain who wanted to see America. It’s only when you try to explain baseball to someone with no knowledge of the game do you realize just how complicated a game it is. Our visitor was trying his best, but still had a long way to go. By the middle of the tenth, he was solid on the concept of a foul ball and a double play, but the infield fly rule was still a total mystery. Aaron Hill put the game away with a bases-loaded triple in the 11th, giving the Jays a 6-1 margin, which wound up being the final.

Here’s the scorecard.


¹ That’s also why—even though I’m not a Giants fan either—I find it gratifying that a small market, NL team that happens to be the farthest west of all the cities in the Majors was the defending champion at the time I wrote this.

Stellar boredom

Sunday, August 17, 2008–Astros 3, Diamondbacks 0

I took the train out to Houston, and that turned out to be quite a trek on its own. I guess people already know this, but Texas is a big state, isn’t it? I had to catch a greyhound to El Paso, and then get over to the Amtrak station. I got lost because I trusted some road signs over my memory of the Google Maps I had memorized of Downtown. I dozed off sometime on the train and awoke to visions of green, gently rolling hills and a fog. It was exactly what I imagine Ireland might be like. Never mind the fact that I was actually somewhere between Marfa and Sanderson. I arrived in Houston about an hour before sunrise and spent the morning wandering around aimlessly, and moseyed on over to the yard around 11 am.

Also during this trip, I took a trip to Space Center Houston and went on a tour of NASA’s Mission Control. One thing I didn’t realize until I was there that the visitor’s center is run by a private corporation that collaborates with NASA. I was expecting a museum, and found something that was ¼ museum and ¾ theme park. I’d prefer if they flipped that ratio, or at least separate the two, there were several summer camp groups that day, and the kiddos were a bit too noisy. Still, going up the stairs to the Apollo Program Mission Control sent chills up my spine. But you logged onto theballparktour.wordpress.com and not bobs_nerd_exploits.wordpress.com, so you probably want to hear about the game.

I get my tickets to these games months in advance, so it’s the luck of the draw as far as pitching matchup goes. As I was walking around downtown Houston in the morning, I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Randy Johnson vs. Roy Oswalt, undoubtedly the highest-profile pitching matchup I’ve seen on the tour. It’s the one I talk about when I want to impress other baseball fans, “Oh yeah, I saw Oswalt and Johnson go toe-to-toe,” but the game wasn’t really all that exciting. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a well played game, it just doesn’t stick out in any way, and considering the expectations I had, it was rather disappointing.

I was sitting near a cluster of “Fantasy Baseball” players, all of whom seemed to have a particular dislike of what outfielder Ty Wigginton was doing to their fantasy leagues. I’m sorry to say I don’t remember wherefore the abuse, but it didn’t let up even when Wigginton hit a three run homer in the bottom of the first. Oswalt was stellar: 8 innings, no runs on one hit. Johnson was pretty good too, settling down after giving up Wiggington’s homer in the 1st. Here’s the thing about pitcher’s duels, they’re gold… if you listen to them on the radio, can see the pitching artistry on TV, or feel like forking over the small fortune to get seats right behind the screen. From where I sat–in the third deck, offset from the plate just enough that I couldn’t really catch the movement of the pitches–this was an incredibly boring game. Looking at the card, I see that a D’back runner was thrown out at the plate, but I don’t remember the play.

The real noteworthy event of the day was the ceremony to retire the #7 of Astros legend Craig Biggio. After the 2-story number 7 was unveiled in the rafters in right field, Biggio was presented with a brick-and-sandstone tractor to help with groundskeeping at the high school where he now coaches. How very Texas a gift.

Here’s the scorecard.

A scorcher in KC

Thursday, August 9, 2007–Royals 1, Twins 0

What can I say about this one? It was hot. This was another overnight travel game, take the Amtrak out to KC, wander around the city for a while, see a day game, and then get back on the overnight train back home. I got there about 8 in the morning, and it was already in the 80s. I misread the map, so what I thought would be a hop, skip and jump over to the Negro League Baseball Museum, actually turned out to be quite a hike. One thing I really like about the museum is that as soon as you walk in, you can see the “field,” a miniature baseball park with statues of some of the greatest Negro League players, but you have to go through a number of other galleries outlining (among other things,) the obstacles black players faced (until much more recently than I’d really like to believe) before you can actually step onto the diamond yourself.

I tend to chew up museums and spit them out: even when I am interested in what’s on display, I notice I’m usually at the gift shop, window-shopping and waiting around a good fifteen minutes before whomsoever I accompany. Not so with the NLBM. True, I did go to this museum by myself, but my point is I left due to time constraints, not because I was “finished.” I only had time to really study about two-thirds of the galleries, and decided I’d come back after the game if time allowed. And if I hadn’t lost my cell phone and had to make a vain search of my seat and the Kauffman Stadium lost-and-found, I would have had a chance to get back–and still not see everything I wanted to before they closed.

It was a Thursday afternoon game, for a last-place team, so there were only 14,569 fans in attendance. I got the seat in the front row of the overhang, directly above the radio announcer’s booth. I had to move because there was a handrail right between the plate and my eyes. I didn’t have a problem finding another seat. I know I’m not talking about the game very much, because there’s not much to say about the game, a 1-0 Royals victory over Minnesota. The story was the heat. Being from the desert, I don’t usually have to deal with the concept of “heat index.” On August 9th, 2007, I did. It was 97° and the heat index was in the 120s. At that time, I was employed as a ballpark hawker at Isotopes Park. That’s an outdoor job, lugging heavy stuff around and climbing lots of stairs, in a ballpark in the desert. Nonetheless, I was more miserable sitting in the stands for this game than I’d ever been humping the snacks around the yard in 107° temperatures in the high, dry Albuquerque air.

The game: John Buck was the cover boy for the program, and I got to read all about how he was going to turn the team around. Because it was a day game after a night game in scorching heat, Buck didn’t play. Jason LaRue started behind the plate, and was the big producer. He drove in the only run in the game with a sac fly in the 3rd, then gunned down Torii Hunter in the 9th on a swinging bunt for the penultimate out.

If Kyle Davies (coming off the game where he had given up A-Rod’s 500th home run, no less) was paying any attention to who was in the stands, he might have thought I was stalking him in the summer of 07. He was the starter for the Braves for that game in Denver, and then after being traded to the Royals his time in the rotation just happened to come up the same day I picked for convenience with train schedules. As if this wasn’t enough, Later (maybe in ’07 or maybe in ’08) he was pitching for Omaha against the ‘Topes in one of the few games I went to as a fan. Anyways, on this day, he outdueled Matt Garza, giving up 3 singles in 6 2/3 innings. Garza, for his part, only gave up 1 run on 4 hits, but was pegged with the loss nonetheless.

Here’s the card.

Foul dealings at Shea

Monday, June 25, 2007–Mets 2, Cardinals 1 (11)

In 2007, we went out to New Jersey for a family wedding. I would’ve liked to have made it another 2-ballpark trip and see both New York teams, but the schedule only worked out to see the Mets this time round. Well, I did make it a 2-ballpark trip, in a way. Knowing that I had to see the original Yankee Stadium and doubting I’d get back to the Big Apple before the new one opened, we went on a stadium tour. We were let into the Yankee clubhouse, and got to see Derek Jeter’s mailbox. At the time, because the Yankees were out of town all the players (except Jeter) had a box full of fan mail waiting for them on the chair by their locker. Jeter, on the other hand, had so much fan mail that the locker next to his was unoccupied, and filled to overflowing with boxes of letters. So, why am I writing about Yankee Stadium on a trip to see the Mets? Well, the trip wasn’t really to see the Mets as much as it was to visit family. The Yankee Stadium tour was the only “touristy” thing we did this trip, aside from the game at Shea.

Shea was half as old as that other ballpark, but from how well the two were kept up, it might as well have been the other way around. Mom had to fly back home right after the wedding, but Dad and I stayed an extra day for the game. It was the first game the Cardinals were back in New York since the amazing game 7 of the League Championship series in ’06. This game wasn’t quite as good as that game 7, and certainly wasn’t as important, but it was plenty good enough.

From our seats towards the back of the Loge level, the overhang was so low over our heads, it was like watching the game in letterbox format. It was Mike Maroth’s first start for the Cards after he was traded from the Tigers. He was opposed by Jorge Sosa. Both were excellent, allowing a single run each, and neither got a decision. The game was a 2-1 Mets victory in the 11th, with Shawn Green providing the tiebreaker on a monstrous home run. If this description seems fairly sparse (it is), that’s because there wasn’t very much by way of drama. In fact, as far as good scoring chances went, the visitors held the edge, 2-0.

Both Mets runs scored on homers leading off an inning, but they never had a runner get to third otherwise. Aside from Green’s roundtripper, Carlos Gomez also hit a homer for the home team, in the 3rd. An odd little note about both of them (and there was a lot of chatter about this on the subway going back to our hotel, too) was that not only were they both fair by only 20 or 30 feet (Gomez to left, Green to right), but both batters had hit the preceding pitch foul but at home run distance.

Meanwhile, in the 5th, The Cardinals scored their lone run with two singles, a sacrifice and RBI groundout, they then loaded up the bases (including a hit by Maroth and an intentional walk to Albert Pujols) in the 7th, but the Mets escaped the jam with a groundout to the pitcher. What I really take away from this game, though, has nothing to do with the game itself, but the atmosphere of joy around the walk-off. I got hugs from several complete strangers and the subway was packed with good cheer. The corner grocery store on Queens Avenue where dad bought his midnight ice cream (and it really was nearly midnight) was abuzz with the news of the game, and as we were leaving, dad nonchalantly let it drop that we had just come from there.We took off the next morning from La Guardia, and no sooner than I asked myself if we’d be able to see the ballpark, there it was.

Here’s the scorecard.

Hitless wonders redux

Sunday, August 7, 2005–White Sox 3, Mariners 1

We went out to Chicago on a family outing in August of ’05. We’d been on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief out to California many times before, so we decided to see the other end of the trip and take it out to Chicago. Once you get past Trinidad, Colorado, there isn’t even the slightest hint of a mountain. We learned how Amtrak makes up the time for the invariably late trains leaving New Mexico–they go bombing through Kansas in the middle of the night at something like 95 mph.

I went to see the White Sox by myself. They were, I have to say, a bit of an afterthought. We had to see the Cubs, and I figured since I was in Chicago anyways, I might as well kill two birds with one stone. The day before, we’d all gone to the Art Institute of Chicago. The only display that really stuck out to me was the installation of paper and candy. For some reason that escapes me now, there was a particular weight that was important to an artist, and so, in the middle of a room was a pile of paper in 2 foot squares and a pile of hard candies that had both been weighed out to this amount, and viewers were encouraged to take a little of each–the viewer participation was important for some reason. I took one sheet and tore it into the shapes of letters, leaving them (I’m sure to be swept up almost immediately) to say “so this is art then?” The next day, I went to the Sox game while Mom and Dad went back to the Art Institute.

The game was preceded by a lengthy tribute to Carlton Fisk, in which a bronze statue was unveiled. His son gave a very moving speech, Ozzie Guillen said something only mildly stupid, and Fisk had one good line in his speech, referring to his move from Boston to Chicago as “changing my Sox.” Sometime as I was listening to the game on the radio, the discussion was about different strategies for catchers when they go out to the mound. Some coddle their pitchers, some offer advice, some provide therapy, while others (like Fisk) will be more inclined to say something like “what the #%*@ do you think you’re doing out there?” After the game, I went and looked at the statue. It shows Fisk, standing up with his pads on, holding his mask on his hip and waiting for an answer to exactly that question.

Ok, what else? Oh, yes, the game itself. Jon Garland won his sixteenth game of the season, Paul Konerko (a former Duke) and Joe Crede had home runs, and the Sox beat Seattle 3-1. They did it on five hits. At the time, the Sox had the best record in the majors, and there was starting to be some very serious talk about the World Series. That talk turned out to be quite well justified, it was the year Chicago swept the Astros to win its first championship since 1917.

Aaron Rowand was the cover boy for the program, and the article about him talks a lot about his hard-headedness and the insane risks he takes to make nearly impossible catches. This was before he made a name for himself for breaking his nose going after a fly ball in Philadelphia. On this day, he robbed Richie Sexson of a double, driving head first and still accelerating into the deepest part of the center field wall for the final out of the 8th. It certainly saved two runs, and the lead. I remember thinking that Guillen should probably bench him during their annual series at Wrigley, as he could very easily get himself killed running into the bricks that way.

Here’s the scorecard.

By the bay

Tuesday, August 5, 2003–Giants 3, Pirates 0

What I’m going to be writing about is not so much details about this specific game as much as just how big a memory aid a scorecard really is. The act of keeping a scorecard has made this game more vivid in my memory than either of the Los Angeles area games I’d gone to the previous year, and I find this is the case even if I try to remember the game without referring to the scorecard. For this trip, my parents flew out to San Francisco while I took a more leisurely path. It started with an overnight Greyhound to Denver (a seed for an idea that was to bear great fruit a few years later…) and caught the California Zephyr through the Rockies, across Utah and Nevada, and then up and down again the Sierra Nevadas. I also got to learn a number of ways Amtrak trains get delayed, but that’s another story.

I start with some little tidbits from memory: Barry Bonds didn’t do the pregame stretches, making me wonder if he was even going to be in the game (he was, with a strikeout and single). The pregame music wasn’t the standard mishmash of hard and pop rock that I hear at most ballparks, this was the same “Best of Lynyrd Skynyrd” CD my dad occasionally subjects me to, played straight through without even mixing up the tracks. It took me a while to try the famous garlic fries, but I can safely say they taste a lot better than they smell (and this from someone who likes the smell of garlic.) 

I went with my parents and an aunt who lives in San Fran. I was discussing strategy with my aunt, and had one of those “I told him to do that” moments in the 4th inning. Starting pitcher Jason Schmidt came up to bat with two on and one out and squared up to bunt. I explained the advantages of the bunt, getting runners into scoring position, etc, etc, until he had two strikes on him “With two strikes, he probably won’t bunt…” Then I took a look at the average (a sluggish sub-.100) and corrected myself “well, in his case he might as well try it,” after which he promptly laid down a beauty.

I then had to explain what I meant by scoring position, “that put runners at second and third. You’re much more likely to score from second on a single than you are from first, especially with two outs. After that bunt, they can score two with a base hit…” here I was interrupted by Jose Cruz Jr.’s two run single to put the G-men up 3-0. That wound up being the final score.

Here’s the scorecard, if you’re curious.