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.


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.

Down the Capitol Corridor

Saturday, July 24, 2010– Orioles 2, Twins 7

After my day in Philadelphia, I continued down the east coast to Baltimore. How exhausted was I by this point? I remember nothing about this game. About a month later, when I was back home, I went to and looked up the video highlights of the game. In the second, Luke Scott hit a bomb to center for the home team and Dennard Span leaped halfway up the wall to make the catch, arm extended at least four feet over the top of the wall. I know, I saw it on the computer screen. Not only do I not remember the play, but even seeing the video didn’t bring it back. Nonetheless, I look at the scorecard and see that I dutifully penciled in “P8!” in the appropriate box, so clearly I was there and relatively awake–but mentally, I was out of it.

It doesn’t help that it wasn’t a very good game. Brian Matsuz walked the bases loaded in the first, but somehow got out of it only allowing one run. After getting robbed in the second, Scott hit another ball a few feet higher over the center field wall, a two-run homer in the fourth to give the home team a brief lead. Delmon Young put the Twins on top to stay with a homer in the 5th, and then Minnesota tacked on another in the 6th and 3 more in the 7th to put it away, without many threats from the O’s.

I got all that from the scorecard, but what I remember is more impressions of the stadium itself. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the progenitor of the newest wave of baseball-only, “retro” ballparks, and was hailed as one of the nicest in the country. What I found was that everything you see in the main seating bowl (and consequently, everything that can be seen on television) is kept up immaculately, however, many of the concourses and other public areas have not aged as gracefully.

This might have been the most evenly split crowd I’ve seen, it certainly seemed that there were nearly as many Twins fans as Oriole rooters (and not very many fans of either team). I might be wrong about this, but I know the Twins fans had more to cheer about, and they definitely were. What I remember best are the “kiss cam” hijinks. This is a ballpark staple where cameras scan the audience looking for couples, and hopefully the couple in question will notice themselves on the jumbotron and kiss. First, a young lady threw herself theatrically into the arms of her companion. Later, a young man took several back-and-forth glances between the woman sitting to his right and the man to his left, before puckering up and turning to the left. They cut away from this to a close shot of a young couple: she gave him a kiss on the cheek, and he looked away with a pained expression. The game was so awful, this got the loudest reaction of the night, fans of both teams were booing.

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.

Wicked Smhat

Wednesday, June 30, 2010–Red Sox 4, Rays 9

In the summer of 2010, I embarked on my first international adventure, a trip that was part Shakespeare class and part “holiday” in London. That trip is a long and not alltogether happy story in itself, so I will not be writing about it here. However, it was what got me out to the east coast, because there are no Albuquerque-to-London flights. I knew I’d have to go somewhere else to “hop the pond.” Like, say, somewhere with a Major League ballpark… The way things worked out, I wound up crossing four ballparks off the list. I decided to leave from New York, but figured I didn’t have to go straight there. So, with my dad tagging along for the first leg of the trip, I went to Boston.

We walked from our guest house near the T station to the park two hours before the game. 8 blocks away, we saw the first t-shirt vendors. Four blocks away and we could hear the buzz. We walked around the stadium before going in, and were amazed by the atmosphere. It’s like a four-block-long carnival, with street vendors and live music and packed with people–and all this for a Wednesday night! Dad’s old college friends who put us up (and put up with us) our first night in Boston mailed us a newspaper clipping about people who buy tickets to games to take part in the festival, and don’t stick around for the game.

There is a seat in the right field bleachers that is painted red. This is where the longest home run ever hit at Fenway Park (502′) landed. We were six rows behind the red seat. So the action on the field was, in my dad’s words, “Far out, man.” Daisuke Matsuzaka was the starter for the Sox, opposing Matt Garza for the Rays. The game was off to an inauspicious start for the home team, Dice-k walked the bases loaded and got bailed out on a nice catch of a line drive by Mike Cameron. He was not able to work around a lead-off walk in the 4th, giving up a 2-run double to Kelly Shoppach and three runs in the inning. Meanwhile, Garza cruised through the first 7, and by the time the Sox figured him out in the 8th, the Rays had built their lead to 9-1.

The game was close until the top of the eighth, and the fans were in it to the point the ballpark seemed to be a single entity, experiencing the game. Then Jason Bartlett hit a three-run bomb and all the Bostonites (or is it “Bostonians”?) remembered they had to get to work tomorrow, leaving the ballpark nearly empty. Everyone we talked to who stayed behind were tourists, like us, come to see Fenway.

Possibly the biggest non-ballpark thrill was getting to pilot a DWCK on the Charles River. These are amphibious vehicles that drive tourists around some of “Bah-stan’s” land attractions such as the bar across the street from the cemetery where Samuel Adams was buried, “The only place in the world where you can drink a cold Sam Adams while looking at a cold Sam Adams,” before crossing over to Cambridge (where our tourguide instructed us in the proper pronunciation of the population, “wicked smaht”) and driving into the Charles River.

From there, he turned the wheel over to anybody on board who wanted to “Drive a Duck,” and after a 5-year-old and a 70-year-old each had a turn, I decided to go for it. (I’ll be honest, they were giving out stickers, and I wanted one to go on top of my laptop.) After telling our guide where I was from and wherefore I was in Boston, Dad outed me and said it was off to Yankee Stadium next, information that was soon relayed through the PA to the rest of my shipmates. I was hearing about it until we were back on dry land. Thanks a lot, dad.

Here’s the scorecard.

High-flying Fish in the Sunshine State

Thursday, August 13, 2009–Marlins 9, Astros 2

Nobody in our family ever really had much desire to go to Florida. What with the Jews for Buchanan phenomenon, the humidity and the fact that my parents are both biased towards the west coast. I knew I’d have to get out to the Sunshine state eventually, but there was no strong impetus until some of our family friends moved to the Orlando area. Dad and I went to visit them in August of ’09, and we turned it into a great circle tour of southern Florida, going down the east coast, through the Everglades and then back up the gulf coast before coming back to Orlando and heading back home.

Part of this trip included a visit to Kennedy Space Center. We went the day after going to Epcot, and I discovered–much to my chagrin–that much of the KSC visitor’s areas were also managed more as theme park than museum, with many of the same “crowd management” techniques Disney uses, executed with much poorer efficiency. However, unlike in Houston, we found that there were–off to the side–a number of quiet rooms with what were really the most fascinating exhibits. But, still, having lunch in the shadow of a Saturn V booster with an astronomical number of brats running around wasn’t all that much fun.

The day we went to the game began in Palm Beach, where we had great fun looking at the gardening. I don’t know if it’s a restrictive covenance or just local convention, but it seems like not a single plant is allowed to assume its natural shape. A line of trees along the road were green cubes sitting on top of arrow-straight trunks. It reminded me of a variety of cubical suckers a certain candy manufacturer sells that I particularly enjoyed at the time. We got out of the car and walked around the public fountain. It was nice to see that in this land of über-wealth, the water was just as green as it was at the hotel we stayed at in North Palm Beach (where I suspect a number of the Palm Beach landscapers commute from).

We didn’t spend very much time in Miami proper, we went over the causeway to Miami Beach and decided that it was New York City with palm trees, and none of the courtesy on the road. I do not intend that last statement as a complement to NYC. We hightailed it out of there and made our way to the Ballpark.

Until I had actually been to the Miami area, I’d been rather harsh on Marlins fans for not turning out in greater numbers for a team that has enjoyed better-than-could-be-expected success. That came to a screeching halt when I went to south Florida. That ballpark is 20 miles from the core of Miami and is almost comically unsuited for baseball. An enthusiastic crowd of 15,000 (almost respectable considering the distance, the lackluster opposition and the fact that it was a Thursday night game) got completely swallowed up by the 45,000 empty seats around them.

Again, I’m vamping because there wasn’t much to note about the game. Jorge Cantú hit a gargantuan two run homer in the first, the Astros made a bid to tie it in the 4th but came up a run short, and the fish batted around in the 6th to put the game away. If there were any moments of high drama or great tension, I’m afraid to say it’s faded into the ether–I guess the double that put the Astros’ potential go-ahead run in scoring position in the 4th was just too early in the game to stand out. Mike Hampton got pegged with the loss because he left trailing a close game, but he did everything he could, going 2 for 2 with an RBI and leaving his team in position to come back, but the bullpen blew up behind him.

I see a number of exclamation points on the scorecard, but I’m sorry to say that I don’t really remember these plays. Whether it’s because I was being more generous with the marks than usual and giving them on plays that were good but not outstanding, or if it is a case of forgetting truly spectacular plays because the game wasn’t very exciting, I couldn’t say.

Here’s the scorecard.

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 and not, 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.

Parched by the Padres

Sunday, May 1, 2005–Padres 2, Diamondbacks 5

The day we left Albuquerque to go on this trip was the same day the “runaway bride” media firestorm came to a head. So a few hours after we left the Albuquerque Sunport in its ordinary state–quiet and empty–the place became a media circus. Over the continental breakfast the following day, one of the morning news shows was making quite a big deal over the story, and there it was: our quiet, calm airport packed with cameramen and other such bloodhounds. We were glad to have missed it. We stayed at the La Quinta in Irvine, which is a repurposed grain elevator right next to the railroad tracks. The rooms that are actually in the former storage bins are these super-funky bare concrete octogons with all the standard hotel furnishings.

This was another trip to visit Grandma in Orange County, and then to go up the coast to Portland to visit a friend there, so we only spent one day in San Diego. It was a day game, so we got to the parking lot in the morning and ventured on foot and by public transit. There was some sort of street festival going on, and mom got a practical but very silly hat. The stadium is amazing. This is probably the best-known work of UNM Alum and Albuquerque resident Antoine Predock, and it is as beautiful as it is innovative. Too bad Predock can’t always get that “beautiful” part right. If this were an architectural criticism blog, I could devote a number of posts to atrocities Predock has perpetrated in his home state. Anyways, back to San Diego…

The Diamondbacks beat the Padres, 5-2. Javier Vasquez went all nine,  beating Woody Williams, and Phil Nevin hit a homer for the home team in the ninth. I get all this from the scorecard, and a lot more, but all I really remember–aside from the four or five deep fly balls that looked like sure home runs and didn’t even make the warning trackis the tight grip Padres management keeps on water.

You can’t bring a bottle of more than 16 oz. into the ballpark, there are no drinking fountains and the sinks in the bathrooms dispense only hot water and are designed to make refilling a bottle impossible. How many $6 waters did I buy? None, me and my folks went back to our octagon parched.

But here’s one niggling little detail. I was listening over my Walkman, and apparently the Padres broadcasters must have felt the game was as unmemorable at the time as I do now. At one point, they were so bored that they started talking about the view outside their window, and somehow the line came out, “what, the curtains?” If you know the reference, and notice that I’d remember it more than six years later, you know a lot about me already.

Check out the scorecard.

Hardly a gem in the Emerald City

Wednesday, August 25, 2004–Mariners 0, Devil Rays 9

The real story here was the trip to get to Seattle. Even a precies will be quite wordy. As with the trip to San Francisco the year before, my parents flew out to Seattle ahead of me and I took the train. First leg of the trip was to LA, and we hit our first snag when flash flooding in–of all places–Needles CA washed out some rails. That made me too late to catch the connecting train and so rather than going up the coast, I was put on a bus to Bakersfield, a train to Stockton and another bus to Oakland. Then, after a three-day visit with my family in the Bay Area (a story in itself which includes damn near breaking my foot), I was back on the train up to Seattle. Or rather Klamath Falls, OR. A fire in a tunnel had shut down another part of the line. So, I bussed to Eugene, then pulled into Seattle 4 hours late.

After that, the game was bound to be a bit of a letdown, even if it had been a good game. It wasn’t. Hardly notable at all, really, except that it happened to be the Major League debut of future All-Star Scott Kazmir for the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays. With the ’04 Mariners being what they were, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that it would also be his first Major League win, which it was, a 9-0 Devil Rays victory. It should have been 9-1: in the third, Edgar Martinez hit a fly ball to dead center that hit something right above the yellow line and bounced back into the field of play, a home run–but the umps didn’t see it that way.

The game was scoreless through the first five innings, with the M’s getting early opportunities and squandering good scoring chances in the 1st and 3rd, and a great chance in the 2nd. Ichiro lead off the 4th with a single, but was promptly caught stealing, and that seemed to deflate the home team, and when the Rays scored 4 in the sixth, it was all over.

The blow that deflated the crowd was a monster homer by Jose Cruz Jr. If that name sounds familiar, here’s why: he’d had the big hit for the Giants in the game at Pac Bell the year before, and had somehow gone from being program-cover boy for the Giants to exiled to Tampa. (If memory serves, he made a big error in the playoff series against Florida, but don’t quote me on that.)

The most enduring image of this game? As much as I enjoyed the guy in the skin-tight superhero outfit with a recycling emblem on his chest who collected the plastic bottles, I’d have to give the title to the roof. It started drizzling in the 9th. As soon as the game was over, they closed the roof and turned on the sprinklers.

Here’s the scorecard.