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.

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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.