Wednesday, March 15, 2017

US Bank Stadium

All photos of US Bank Stadium available on Flickr.

I'll just get this out of the way - no, this isn't a post about football.  But what were we doing at the Vikings new stadium in March?  Why, it's the new winter home of the U of M Golden Gophers!  Although I am not at an NFL fan by any stretch of the imagination, I was admittedly excited to see the new billion-dollar behemoth opened last year on the site of the old Metrodome.  I was even more excited that we didn't have to sit outside at Siebert Field in 20-degree weather.  Back in the day, the Gophers used to play a scattering of games in February and March in the Metrodome while waiting for their outdoor field to thaw.  Now that US Bank Stadium has been completed, the school once again has a temporary indoor home that gives them a huge recruiting advantage in the Big Ten.

We took the Green Line out to the stadium, and the first thing you see when you get off the train is a giant glass acute angled corner cantilevering out towards you, almost daring you to stare up at the sky and walk towards it.  The dozens of birds that smack into the glass on a weekly basis undoubtedly feel the same.  Contrasted with a crystal clear day and the black metal panel, the exterior is truly a spectacle and unlike any other stadium I have ever seen.  Once inside, the 30 stories of glass gives the inside an extremely airy feel and sense of urban context, despite being a 1.75-million square foot barn.  We didn't get to see that much of the interior because only a small portion is accessible for baseball games, but what I did see was quite impressive.  Everything is just so large from the trusses, to the jumbotrons, to the concourses, but all of the glass really makes a huge difference.  Being able to see the clouds above and the skyline in the distance made me feel like I was actually at an intimate baseball stadium.

However, since it is primarily used for football, naturally there are issues not unlike any other dual-purpose stadium.  The field is painted and cobbled and just generally looks like garbage.  Everything was a rush patchwork to get ready for an event that was clearly an afterthought for the football stadium.  Dugouts look like they were borrowed from a high school and the foul poles were noticeably askew.  There was not a spot of actual dirt anywhere, even on the pitching mounds.  The right field wall is also a 34-foot tall "baggie" reminiscent of the Metrodome where sections of seats were retracted back to make room for a decent size field.  I also have to say that the Gopher maroon and Viking purple are very painful to look at juxtaposed together all over the stadium.  The nice thing was that from where we sat along first base, we had a clear view out the tall curtainwall straight through to downtown.  Because it is a venue used only a few weekends a year for baseball, and because the design is so breathtaking, a lot of the shortcomings I expected and was willing to live with, as opposed to an everyday stadium like the Metrodome.  It was like the college kids were borrowing the keys to the adult's house, and they would try their best to put everything back the way it was when they're done.  You wouldn't want to live there but for what it was, it was a nice fantasy.

The game was a loss for the Gophers to the Missouri State Bears of the Missouri Valley Conference.  They would go onto lose Sunday as well to lose the series and drop to 9-7 on the year; not exactly a robust follow-up to their 2016 Big Ten Championship season.  Dylan Coleman hurled a masterful 7 innings for the Bears, striking out 7 with only 4 hits.  Unlike their former winter home affectionately known as the "Homerdome," the ball did not seem to carry very well here.  A lot of balls were crushed between the gaps and died before the warning track - and by warning track I mean a painted line on the turf.  The lone hit that was tagged was a homerun to left by Minnesota 3B Micah Coffey, and even that homerun was questionable as it did not appear to clear the wall, but the umpire was too lazy to run out for a better view.  Alex Jefferson had 2 hits and 3 runs including a HR for the visitors.

The main reason that I was in town was not just for the Gophers game, but so that Erik and I could plan and book our ball trip this year!  We are all set to be in Atlanta June 23-27 and could not be more pumped.  It'll be awesome to actually be watching ball on our 10th anniversary, and against the Crew no less.  The trip planning and the ballgame were both stark reminders that Opening Day is only 3 weeks away!  About a month ago we had a week of record highs in Milwaukee, and yesterday we got a foot of snow, so as always, it's anyone's guess as to what the weather will be that day.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 9
views from park – 8 (probably the best view you'll ever see from an enclosed stadium)

view to field - 4 (all seats on 2nd level)
surrounding area – 8 (downtown)
food variety - 1 (not much was open)
nachos - n/a
beer - 7 (for only having one beer stand, definitely not bad)

vendor price - 8
ticket price - 9 ($10 GA)
atmosphere - 3 (eerily quiet)
walk to park – 8
parking price/proximity - n/a (metro)
concourses - 9
team shop - n/a

best food – popcorn I guess?
most unique stadium feature – glass walls and roof
best jumbotron feature – n/a; only showed box score
best between-inning feature – Goldy Gopher steals children

field dimensions – 328/400/300
starters – Dylan Coleman (MOSt) v. Brett Schulze (MN)
opponent – Missouri State Bears
time of game – 2:45
attendance – 1271
score – 7-2 L

Brewers score that day – 5-3 W

Brewers are currently 10-8 in Cactus League play.

Erik - 2 (+0 worked)

Peter - 1

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

MLB Institutes New Batch of Rule Changes

Last week, a series of rule changes went into affect across the Major Leagues, effective immediately.  So immediate that anybody playing in a Wednesday spring training game had to play under a different set of rules than the day before.  These rules include but are not limited to the following:

  • Managers can now motion to the umpire to issue an intentional walk instead of the pitcher having to throw all 4 pitches.
  • Managers are required to decide within 30 seconds of a play whether or not to review it, and umpire reviews are now on a 2-minute time limit. 
  • Managers are also now allowed to challenge through the 7th inning, which is an additional inning than the former rule.
  • All markings used on the field used for defensive positioning are banned.  This is primarily in response to a lone incident last season in which the Dodgers used lasers to guide their fielders.
  • The "Carter Capps Rule" - a pitcher lifting his back foot during his delivery is now a balk or a ball, depending whether runners are on base or not.
  • "Hazing" has been severely limited - forcing players to dress as women or in any offensive costumes has been banned.
  • Base coach boxes will now be more strictly enforced.
Most of these rules make a lot of sense.  Everybody wants plays to be called accurately, but not at the expense of an extensive NFL-length replay delay, so the new replay rules are a good middle ground for that.  And while I will miss seeing Eddy Sedar hobbling two-thirds of the way to home plate to throw up the stop sign, it's probably best for his own health that he is confined to an area.  The rule that really irks me though is the intentional walk rule.  I'm all for improving inefficiencies in the game - a major criticism of the game for a long time as been the slow, deliberate pace, so I understand the spirit of the law.  But I would argue this rule affects gameplay itself, so I am opposed to it.  This would be like in basketball in that final minute of the game where you need to foul a guy to put him on the line, but instead of actually fouling the player, the coach just walks up to the referee and says "I would like to foul him."  It eliminates the potential for a steal, or a passed ball, or any sort of player error during that sequence to affect the game.  I can think of at least three times that Miguel Cabrera alone has gotten a hit off of an intentional walk pitch gone astray.  Most importantly, I think eliminating or changing a part of in-game strategy, however small it might be, is a slippery slope for the future.  Who knows what could be next after this?  They're already testing a rule in the minor leagues now in which a baserunner would be placed on 2nd base to start extra innings.  The game could look completely different in 10 years.

It's reasons like this that I have not been a huge fan of Rob Manfred thus far.  His biggest platform seems to be that he wants to speed up the game, but he also wants more offense, which is a complete oxymoron.  I want him to stop messing with the game and start focusing his efforts on more important issues like player safety and the Oakland/Tampa stadium situations.  Nobody is going to start watching baseball because it the games are 4 minutes shorter.  NFL games are nearly 4 hours long now, and the popularity of football is only going up.  People either love baseball or they don't and that's just the way it is.  What I worry about most is that Manfred will eventually bring the DH to the National League, and I will not go down without a fight on that one.  I've already written angry letters to my fair share of elected officials this year and I'm not afraid to add one more to the list.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Tour 2017

For my first post of 2017, it's tempting to reflect on how tough a year 2016 has been, both nationally and globally.  Even in the less important baseball world, I'm still coming to terms with the Cubs being World Champions.  However, for Erik and I personally, it was a fantastic year.  We both got married, and we had an amazing Tour 2016 trip together to Montreal (I did end up getting stranded in Canada for 30-some hours, but we don't need to talk about that).  I took incredible trips to Iceland and New Orleans with my wife and I became a proud first-time uncle.  And 2017 is shaping up to be even better!  It's with great anticipation that Erik and I count down the days until our big trip to the new Braves ballpark, which coincidentally should fall on the same weekend as the 10-year anniversary of The Tour.

Being that it is a milestone anniversary for us, we wanted to do this trip a little bigger and turn it into kind of a Southern League/ATL mini-roadtrip.  The individual team schedules are still trickling in, but ideally I'd like it to be bookended with the SL ASG in Pensacola, and a couple of games at SunTrust Park in Atlanta.  We'll just have to see how everything works out with our calendars.  We originally wanted to make it to the Rickwood Classic in Birmingham as part of the trip, but the Braves unfortunately are not home around that time.  The Brewers play in Atlanta at the end of June though, so that would be a nice consolation prize - for whatever reason, it rarely works out that we can see the Crew on one of our trips.

That's kind of it for 2017 on the ball front.  I'd like to make it out to Wausau and Madison this year to see the renovations, and of course the new team in Fond du Lac, but other than that no real ball trips planned out of state.  As of Opening Day on April 3rd, Erik and I will, for another brief moment in time, no longer have visited all 30 MLB stadiums, but we are excited to fill that void and rejoin the prestigious club yet again this summer.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Cubs Win World Series, Chicago Doesn't Burn Down

(photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune)

I may be speaking prematurely on the second part of that headline, but yes you are reading that correctly:  THE CUBS ARE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS.  It doesn't even feel right to type that sentence.  I don't normally do a lot of blogging in the offseason, but I felt that I had to record on the internet forever that this unbelievable event occurred.  Everybody out there knows the story - 1908, Curse of the Billy Goat, Steve Bartman, 108 years of blown opportunities and heartache.  It's the most remarkable championship drought in all of sports history for a team that has played almost its entire existence in perennial disappointment, and it's the reason that the team is so beloved by so many fans.  It's one of the fundamental American notions to always lift up and root for the underdog, and the Cubs are the ultimate embodiment of that.  Excluding Brewers and Cardinals fans, the Cubs represent so many of us, and a large portion of the sports-loving world will be celebrating today as over 5,000,000 people are expected to pack the streets of Chicago for the team's much deserved and long, long overdue Victory Parade.  Five million - that is twice the size of Chicago.  Think about that for a second.  This number is a true representation of just how much this team means to people.  If you were never a baseball fan before this series, and before this Game 7, and before all of the outpouring of emotion the last 2 days, then I'm sorry but you never will be.

As a Brewer fan and Wisconsin native, I was certainly rooting for the Indians.  Growing up and living most of my life in Milwaukee, I was just born and bred to hate everything Illinois (although I'll never understand why so many Milwaukeeans like the Blackhawks, but that's another story).  But I couldn't help but smile along with Kris Bryant as that final out was being recorded.  It's a story that transcends allegiances and sport, and it would be inhuman to not feel at least a little happy for such a fun team.  I'm sure Miller Park will be twice as obnoxious when the Cubs are in town next year and for years to come, but at least for now, we can finally say  that they earned that right.  To all those stubborn Brewers fans out there who hate Chicagoans and still might be stewing about this, just remember one thing: when you are enjoying the new renovations at Miller Park next year (more on that to come), Cubs fans paid for pretty much all of it.

To this day, there are several major historical events for which I can vividly remember exactly where I was: start of the Gulf War, 9/11, President Obama's first inauguration, and of course the Brewers clinching the NL Central in 2011.  Looking back twenty years from now, I imagine the Cubs winning the World Series will be on that list as well. 

PS - for those who are curious, the Brewers now slide into the 4th longest title drought in Major League Baseball, tied with the Padres and Expos/Nationals at 48 years.  If you count the fact that the last championship in the city was the 1957 Braves, then that's 58 years.

Monday, October 3, 2016

2016 MLB Playoffs

All photos of Brewers final homestand of 2016 available on Flickr.

Another season has already come and gone and what looks to be one of the most intriguing playoff fields in some time kicks off on Tuesday.  The Blue Jays are in it once again and with that lineup and all of Canada at their back, it is hard to root against them.  It's always exciting to see Terry Francona and Buck Showalter make the postseason and they have both fielded very under the radar clubs that are quite good.  You'd be hard pressed to name even half the players on each of their rosters, but the O's have the homerun leader in Mark Trumbo, a Cy Young candidate in Zach Britton who finished the season perfect in save opportunities and an ERA under 1.00, and the Indians had the best rotation in baseball at least until half of them got hurt in the last month.  The Big Papi swan song Red Sox and the Jonathan Lurcoy-led Rangers round out the AL field.  On the National League side, the Mets snuck in once again despite having 3/5ths of their rotation and their captain David Wright on the DL for much of the season, not to mention Terry Collins running Jeurys Familia to the mound seemingly every night.  It's an even year, so of course the Giants made it.  And even though the Cubs led all of baseball with 103 wins, the Cardinals missed the playoffs for the first time this decade, so I could not be more thrilled about that.  The Strasburg-less Nationals and the Vin Scully-less Dodgers round out the NL side.  Will this finally be the year the Cubs break the curse?  Will David Ortiz go out on top?  Will the real Bryce Harper finally show up in the playoffs?  There are lots of exciting storylines to follow and it should be an exciting postseason.

The Brewers finished at 73-89 in Year 2 of the Rebuild.  They certainly exceeded expectations for a lot of pundits and I had them pegged for about 70 wins when the season began.  The young players showed substantial improvement as the season went on, and they secured a top 10 draft pick - I consider both of these things to equal a successful season.  Jonathan Villar, Chris Carter, and Keon Broxton all emerged as steals on the free agent market for GM David Stearns.  "Market" implies that there was even competition to sign these guys - what Stearns was able to see in these players and the coaching staff was able to do with them is nothing short of remarkable.  Orlando Arcia got to dip his toes in the water a little bit and while he mostly struggled at the plate in his first couple of months, his defense has lived up to the hype.  The lone veteran Ryan Braun even had a fantastic bounce-back season, batting over .300 with 30 homeruns, and he deserved to be an all-star.  The rotation was one of the best if not the best statistically in the NL since the all-star break, and Kyle Davies had a breakthrough year.  Wily Peralta even showed vast improvement after spending most of the year in AAA.  The biggest disappointment on the team for me was Jimmy Nelson.  He really had a chance to take the reigns and be the ace this year and most folded at every opportunity.  Hopefully he can bounce back and come to spring camp next year ready to prove himself again.  Speaking of bouncing back, hopefully I can do better than my total of 33 ballgames this year, my lowest total since I've started keeping track 9 years ago.  I'm better than that!

I've made a lot of dumb preseason picks, but I may never live down that I picked the Minnesota Twins, the team with the worst record in baseball, to win the AL Central.  I also continued to pick the Cardinals and Royals this year with secret hopes that I would jinx them, so those were two picks I was happy to get wrong.

NL Wild Card - #4 Mets v. #5 Giants
NLDS - #1 Cubs v. WC winner
#2 Nationals v. #3 Dodgers

AL Wild Card - #4 Blue Jays v. #5 Orioles
ALDS - #1 Rangers v. WC winner
#2 Indians v. #3 Red Sox

World Series Prediction: Red Sox defeat Giants in 7
Rooting for: Blue Jays v. Nationals

Preseason Predictions
#1 Mets
#2 Cubs
#3 Giants
#4 Marlins
#5 Cardinals

#1 Blue Jays
#2 Rangers
#3 Twins
#4 Royals
#5 Red Sox

World Series - Giants defeat Blue Jays in 6

Brewers 73-89, -30.5, 4th NL Central
Reds 68-94, -35.5, last NL Central

Twins 59-103, -35.5, last AL Central

Erik - 13 (+30 worked)

Peter - 33

Monday, September 26, 2016

Jose Fernandez Dies in Boating Accident

Tragic news shocked the baseball world yesterday as Marlins pitching phenom Jose Fernandez was mortally wounded in a yacht crash off the coast of Miami beach late Saturday night.  Not all details have been released yet, but what is known at this point is around 3 AM, a capsized boat was found at a jetty just outside of Miami Harbor.  Three bodies were discovered and identified as Jose and two of his friends.  The boat was not his and this is not believed to be an alcohol or drug induced accident at this point, merely just a case of the driver not seeing the rocks on the dark open water.

I'm scouring through my photos and memory bank and I don't believe I ever got to see Fernandez pitch live.  He wasn't yet on the Marlins when we were in Miami in 2012, and he did not start any of the 3 games in Milwaukee this year.  Although I'm sure if I had seen him pitch, I would have blocked it out of my memory by now because he would have undoubtedly have embarrassed the Crew.  Beyond just his pitching prowess - an All-Star 2 of his 3 full seasons, 2013 NL ROY, and a 2.58 career ERA - he will always be known for his love for the game, his jovial personality, and his courage in defecting him and his family from Cuba.  As a young man of Cuban descent playing his home games in Miami, he meant so much to the fans  and community down there and it was always an event every 5th day he pitched, even in a stadium that does not draw many fans.  There are a lot of heavy hearts around Major League Baseball right now and there was a moment of silence held at all 14 games yesterday in his honor, with the Marlins game being cancelled.  It was also announced by the team today that the entire roster will wear #16 for tonight's game vs. the Mets.  Fernandez is a talent and a character that won't soon be forgotten and will never be replaced.

As a baseball fan, it certainly makes you realize that it should never be taken for granted whenever you are a witness to a great player right in front of you.  You never know when a player could be traded, or worse yet his life taken too soon, and you may never get to see him play again.  The main reason I went to the entire Marlins series this year was to see Ichiro play for perhaps the last time, but it never once crossed my mind that at age 24, I would never have another opportunity to see Fernandez pitch.

Brewers 70-86, -29.5, eliminated (3 @ Rangers, 3 @ Rockies)
Reds 65-90, -34.0, eliminated (4 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Cubs
Twins 56-100, -34.5, eliminated (3 @ Royals, 3 @ White Sox)

Erik - 13 (+30 worked)

Peter - 33

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mets Sign Tim Tebow

I'm a little late to the game on this one, but in case you missed it, the New York Mets signed former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL QB Tim Tebow to a minor league deal a couple of weeks ago.  Even though the Mets have been pretty good the last few years, they are in fact still the Mets, and this publicity stunt perhaps ranks near the top in one of the Mets-iest things the Mets have ever done.  You can say what you want about his workout in which yes he did hit some big dongs, or his impeccable physique, or his speed on the bases, but make no mistake about it - this is nothing more than a media grab.  Tebow's extended spring workouts in St. Lucie are drawing more fans than a normal Gulf Coast League team may see in an entire month, and the team is already selling Tebow #15 jerseys.  Although, knowing the Mets, they might just be old blue & orange Gators jerseys with the team name ripped off.

That's not to say I disagree with the move though.  The Mets have absolutely nothing to lose by this move, so what is wrong with a little media attention especially from a New York team?  The best case scenario is that Tebow catches lightning in a bottle, maybe get a call to the show, the Mets sell out some games, and maybe he even contributes to some wins in the process.  At worst it draws some fans and scouts to the Mets farm system and they paid next to nothing to give a player a chance to live out a dream.  I only wish that Tebow himself took it a little more seriously.  He is only showing up to workouts in between his ESPN obligations which he refuses to break, yet I guarantee if an NFL team called tomorrow he would drop everything and do that.  We're not talking about Jose Canseco type independent league stunt - when you sign with a major league team, you should at least give it some real effort.  Tebow is going to be taking the place of perhaps a equal or more deserving prospect on some roster next year, from someone who has probably been playing baseball his whole life instead of just 2 months, and he needs to realize and respect that.

Brewers 68-82, -26.5, -11.5 WC (3 v. Pirates, 3 v. Reds)
Reds 63-86, -31.0, eliminated (3 @ Cubs, 3 @ Brewers
Twins 55-95, -31.5, eliminated (3 v. Tigers, 3 v. Mariners)

Erik - 13 (+26 worked)

Peter - 30