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…

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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.

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.

More cowbell!

Sunday, August 16, 2009–Rays 5, Blue Jays 2

After leaving Miami, we took a little detour to the Seminole Reservation, where dad had heard about a multi-million dollar museum and cultural center in the middle of the Everglades. The Seminoles have a pretty good deal, an offshoot of their tribal lands is in Hollywood, right in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, so they have the only casino in Florida that isn’t on a boat or in the middle of a swamp. This Florida twist on tribal politics was probably the most fascinating thing about our trip.

We also spent a day at the Ringling complex in Sarasota. This consists of several museums in one large property right on the bay. The one that was a real eye-opener for me was the circus miniature collection. An artist had made a life’s work of creating figurines of circus performers and animals and then putting them together into a diorama showing a day in the life of one of the big traveling circuses from the turn-of the 20th-century. And far more than just showing life under the big top, this diorama also depicts other less glamorous aspects of circus life, the mess tent, makeshift changing areas, and the small (or maybe not so small) army of workers whose job it was to get everything off the train and into the air.

So, how big is this diorama of 3″ tall people? The walkway around it could easily accommodate a hundred people. Also on the complex grounds was a display of historical circus artifacts, as well as the Ringlings’ personal collection of art. I don’t know much about art, I just know what I like, so after cruising the collection, I wanted to check out the miniatures again before it was time to carry on up the coast. We got to St. Pete Beach midday and found a 50s style efficiencies hotel with the back porch looking out onto the gulf. We were cheerfully informed the next morning that we had slept through a tropical storm.

As ratty as the dome looks from the outside (and it looks ratty even when you first see it from the southern side of the bay), we were impressed with how nicely everything was kept up inside the Trop. With the large numbers of concessions stands that were actually open, the friendly greeters and ushers and the well-lit concourses, everything the Rays were presenting before the game to their guests gave it a much more Major League feel than three days earlier in the half empty shell of the football stadium in Miami. It also helped that the stadium was, not full, but not embarrassingly empty. The one thing I’ll probably never forget–for “only” $4, I had the chance to try a completely different kind of ballpark food: boiled peanuts. They are slimy and salty and quite possibly the most vile thing I’ve ever tasted.

Part of the pregame routine included a video on proper cowbell etiquette (ring the bell when Rays pitchers have 2 strikes on a batter, when the Rays score, or if they flash “More Cowbell!” on the video board), presented tounge-in-cheek in the style of a 1950s PSA filmstrip. It was great fun for us tourists, but I’m not sure Rays fans needed instructions. The effect of the cowbells in the dome brought a whole different level of energy to the game, and–because the Rays fans were so well versed on when to use them–not nearly as distracting as I feared it may be.

The game: It’s amazing how quick I lose track of the details. Of course, I bought myself a cowbell and rang it at all the appropriate times, and while there was a lot that seemed cowbell-worthy at the time, looking over the scorecard doesn’t show that much. The Rays beat the Blue Jays 5-2, and while I remember Greg Zaun’s 8th inning grand slam, but not  that it was a 1-1 tie from the middle innings on, with not much by way of baserunners or scoring threats until the Rays loaded the bases for the former Blue Jay. The Rays have a lot of sponsor-givaway promotions, such as free pizza if the Rays strike out ten opponent batters (and in the ninth, with nine Ks in the book, when Aaron Hill had two strikes on him, the crowd started chanting “Pi-zza, pi-zza!”). For this game, we could have used our ticket stubs for free pizza, ice cream, donuts, and maybe even a car wash.

Check out the scorecard.