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.

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.

Snakes alive (even when the fans aren’t)

Saturday, May 6, 2006–Diamondbacks 8, Reds 9

Dad and I went on an Arizona roadtrip in May of 2006. It’s a trip we wouldn’t be making this year. We went to a D’backs game, Flagstaff, el Cañon Grande, Meteor Crater and Walnut Canyon. Many of the places we visited (except the ballpark) had a bit of an astronomical flavor to them, the planetarium show at the science museum in Phoenix, Lowell Observatory and the Meteor Crater visitor center. This made me want to get out into a truly dark Arizona sky and do some serious stargazing. This was especially true as we were hearing a docent giving a sundown talk about how Flagstaff was the first “dark sky” city, with lighting fixtures to minimize light pollution. “But we can’t do anything about the biggest source of light pollution… The moon.” We were gone while the moon was waxing, so we’d’ve had to stay up way too late to get any dark skies. Drat.

I’ve been a bit surprised at how much my memory differs from what actually happened, and how arbitrary it seems which games I remember well and refer to the scorecard simply to check for accuracy, and which games I couldn’t tell you the starting pitchers of without the card. Common sense would say that the more exciting and entertaining games would be the ones to remember, and for the most part, that’s true. So why has my memory so spectacularly dropped the ball on this one?

Do you remember Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez spent some time with the D’backs in ’06? I sure don’t, which is remarkable, considering he was their starter that day. Memory doesn’t serve very well for the Reds’ starter either. Until I saw on the card that Dave Williams took the bump for Cincy, I could have sworn it was Aaron Harang again. The way the mind puts objects into categories seems to have failed me here. Looking at the scorecard, I see a high-scoring slugfest, with several lead changes, and a bottom-of-the-ninth comeback that came–literally–within inches of being a walk-off win for the D’backs, and yet I remember this game as being fairly dull and listless. What gives? I think it was the fans. The attendance is listed as 27,707, and it seems like there were more there, and yet for all the noise and enthusiasm they were generating, it may as well have been half that.

I remember vividly a discussion about patterns with my father. The Reds scored 4 in the third and the D’backs answered with 5 in the bottom half. When the Reds scored 4 in the sixth, Dad  proclaimed that the snakes would score 5 more, and then went on to say the 4-5 pattern would be repeated in the ninth, and the final score would be 12-15, D’backs. I disagreed, feeling that while such a score line would be very attractive and symmetrical:

004 004 004
005 005 005

this isn’t how baseball works. “Patterns rule the Universe, dude,” was his answer. I’m sure I must have been gloating when the first two Arizona batters were retired, and I guess he might have been ribbing me as they put together a rally for two runs, but the pattern did indeed break there to make it 8-7 Reds.

The only play I remember is the final play of the game. Arizona had the bases loaded with one out, and I was trying to get the fans in my section to make some noise. Just this in itself should tell me something’s funky about my memory, I must have thought the game was exciting at the time.  Nonetheless, the crowd’s apparent apathy–for a 1-out, bases-loaded, winning-run-in-scoring-position situation–had me back in my seat and sitting on my hands for the final pitch. Johnny Estrada hit a screaming line drive, right into the glove of Reds first basemen Scott Hatteberg, who then trotted over to first for the game-ending double play. Had it been hit a few inches to either side of Hatteberg, it would’ve scored two and delivered a win for the home team.

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.