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

Friday, September 9, 2016

Zephyr Field

All photos of New Orleans and Zephyr Field available on Flickr.

Two of the many things my wife and I have in common is that we are incessant planners and we love to travel.  Even before we left for our honeymoon in June, we were already booking our next adventure - New Orleans!  Luckily for me, a third thing we have in common is that we also both love going to ballgames.  So it came as no surprise to Megan when I alerted her that the New Orleans minor league team - the Zephyrs - was home while we were in town.  We found a break in the weather to attend Sunday night's ballgame - but first, we had some sightseeing to do.

Our extended Labor Day weekend started out Saturday with a fanboat swamp tour in the morning and a walking cemetery tour booked late afternoon, so it was an aggressive first day.  The fanboat took us around Lake Salvador, Lake Cataouatche, and the various protected swamplands in between.  We saw many, many alligators during our trip, most of which were lured right up to the boat by our fearless driver (and Megan's white shirt).  There was also lots of other flora and fauna on the trip, including bay leaf plants, Spanish moss trees, herons, owls, turtles, and spiders about as big as your palm.  There were lots of interesting things we learned on the tour, but the most fascinating to me was the fragility and ever-changing nature of the area.  A combination of weather patterns, sea level rise, and coastal erosion causes the outline of the lake and swamp to constantly move.  We were told that it is not uncommon for the entire swamp to be blown by several hundred yards after a hurricane, which understandably makes owning property in the area extremely difficult.

After watching half of the UW Badger football game (who were coincidentally playing LSU), the second part of our day was a cemetery tour.  New Orleans has burial customs unlike anywhere else in the country, tracing their roots back to its days as a French and Spanish port city.  Families are often buried together in large above-ground crypts and the most recently deceased are just placed on top of the old bones.  The reason for this is twofold: it is a traditional European method of burial, but also because most of New Orleans is actually below sea level.  Walking through cemeteries is not a scary or sad thing in New Orleans, but rather a way to get in tune with the spirits, and simply part of the circle of life.  Following the tour, Megan and I grabbed a to-go beverage at a bar oddly located a block from the cemetery and headed back downtown.  Oh yeah, the to-go beverage thing.  So, New Orleans has an open container law that allows you to drink pretty much anywhere you want at any time, even as a passenger in a car.  There are even drive-thru daiquiri shops throughout the city.  We made the rookie mistake the first day of having a drink in our hands almost at all times, simply because we could.  So unfortunately I don't remember much of the rest of our night on Bourbon Street, other than it smelled like (and pretty much is) an open sewer.

Our second day in the Crescent City was the day we made it out to Zephyr Field.  We started our day with two more quintessential NOLA stops - Jackson Square and CafĂ© du Monde.  If you go to New Orleans and don't see the nation's oldest cathedral and eat a sack of beignets across the street, you are doing it wrong.  Around 5pm we headed out to the ballpark.  The park itself is not actually in the city but in the suburb of Metairie, which is about a half-hour west near the airport.  Zephyr Field opened in 1997 and seats about 10,000 people.  We were actually at the second to last game in franchise history with the moniker "Zephyrs."  The franchise was relocated from Denver following their award of the expansion Rockies and has maintained the Zephyr name ever since, but following the season, the name will be changed to something more locally significant.  This is not surprising, as the owner is the same owner who changed the NBA Hornets to the Pelicans.  For us, it meant that the team store was practically giving stuff away.  It was tempting not to buy a 50% off cap, but I did get a Zephyrs program for only $1.

For being 20 years old, the park was actually in decent shape and not horribly outdated.  It's sad that 20 years is considered "old" in ballpark years these days, but that's a tangent I don't need to go on.  I sort of liked the masonry "fortress" type look that it has on the outside because it played well with the tall palm trees around the park, but the entry stair left something to be desired as it felt like you were coming in in a back hallway.  The park has 2 decks and a concourse with full view to the field, wrapping from pole to pole.  As is customary in minor league parks, there was a party deck added in both the left field and right field corners.  The one in left field was little more than a shed roof and some lawn chairs and looked to be in pretty bad shape.  The one in right field featured a legit swimming pool and a bar.  Having the bar not be a swim-up bar seemed like a missed opportunity.  I really couldn't investigate these areas too well as they were below the concourse level and had separate entrances, which also seemed like a poor idea.  Excluding those glitches, the team has tried in a few areas to make the best of the bones it has been given and make small improvements.  There was an area that looked like it used to be a storage room of some kind that was opened up and appropriately turned into a daiquiri bar.  There was also a fish fry stand with local varieties of fish.  However, in a city with a culture as unique as New Orleans, I had high expectations for things like concessions, marketing, entertainment, etc, but in most areas the team fell short in this regard.  I think that the Zephyrs are just one of those teams that doesn't draw big crowds and has kind of a middle-of-the-road stadium, and so they just kind of quit spending any more money than they had to.  With that being said, the stadium is certainly a timeless architecture that should stand the test of time.  While it is not flashy, I can see this park being around for easily another 50 years and becoming a gem of the community, assuming they are able to keep the team.  There is enough land and space to continue with renovations as the times change.

With 32oz pina coladas in hand, $12 front row seats behind home plate, and a late-inning rally by the home team, it was a minor league experience I won't soon forget.  The Zephyrs beat the Nashville Sounds by scoring 3 runs in the 8th inning and holding down the fort in the 9th to secure the 4-3 victory.  Former Brewer draft pick Cole Gillespie had the game-winning 2-run double.  Other notable players were Colin Walsh, Matt Olson, and Dylan Axelrod.  Walsh saw time for the Brewers this year, where he was infamous for having a .400 OBP despite never hitting the ball.  He picked up his customary walk but also decided to swing the bat once and got a hit.  Olson is one of the A's top prospects and went 1-4 out of the cleanup spot.  Axelrod was a former White Sox closer and got the start for NOLA, giving up only 1 run in 6 innings of work.  And speaking of NOLA, the Zephyrs actually had a guy on the team with the last name Nola who is also coincidentally from Louisiana.  He obviously drew the loudest cheers of the evening and gave the fans even more reason to cheer with an RBI single.

We spent the last day of our vacation riding the vintage streetcar around to different parts of town, eating a disgusting amount of seafood, and seeing some live funk and jazz music on Frenchmen Street.  The main purpose of our trip may not have been to see baseball as my trips with Erik are, but I was glad I got to sneak in one more new ballpark before the end of the season and cross another great city off of my travel bucket list.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 6
views from park – 2
view to field - 9
surrounding area – 2 (Saints and Pelicans training facilities, airport)
food variety - 6
nachos - 7 (BBQ pulled pork and cheese)
beer - 6 (only 1 craft beer stand, but good price)

vendor price - 8
ticket price - 8 ($12 entire lower deck)
atmosphere - 3
walk to park – 2
parking price/proximity - 6 (adjacent lot, we took an Uber)
concourses - 5 (entry sequence, hard to access outfield)
team shop - 7 (bonus points for everything being on sale)

best food – nachos
most unique stadium feature – pool in right field
best jumbotron feature – different item on sale every inning
best between-inning feature – post-game all fans run the bases

field dimensions – 330/400/330
starters – Daniel Gossett (NAS) v. Dylan Axelrod (NOLA)
opponent – Nashville Sounds v. New Orleans Zephyrs
time of game – 2:18 (0:35 delay)
attendance – 5070
score – 4-3 W

Brewers score that day – 10-0 W

Brewers 63-77, -26.5, -11.0 WC (4 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Reds, 4 @ Cubs)
Reds 57-82, -32.0, -16.5 WC (4 @ Pirates, 3 v. Brewers, 4 v. Pirates
Twins 52-88, -29.5, eliminated (3 v. Indians, 4 @ Tigers, 3 @ Mets)

Erik - 13 (+24 worked)

Peter - 30

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Changes Brewing in Northwoods, Carolina Leagues

As of 2017, the Northwoods League and Carolina League will both be getting a little bigger.  It was announced a few weeks ago that the Northwoods League would be adding a franchise in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, which is about an hour northwest of Milwaukee.  The team will set up shop at a diamond on the Marian University campus, which will undoubtedly be rehabbed for the new tenant.  Including the new franchise in Bismarck, North Dakota announced earlier this year, this now makes a whopping 20 teams in the bulbous league.  I can't imagine the schedule and travel demands being able to accommodate any more teams, but granted I have said that before.  It wouldn't be entirely out of the realm of possibility to see another North Dakota or northern Minnesota team pop up to partner with Bismarck.  With teams now spread out across 6 states, 2 countries, and a 500-mile radius, the Northwoods League continues to establish itself as the country's largest summer collegiate league with by far the largest footprint.  I've now got my work cut out for me to make the long trek to the final cities I have yet to visit in the circuit.

Also, as anticipated, it was announced this week that two franchises will be shifting from the floundering California League to the Carolina League.  Nobody has confirmed where the franchises will be located, but Kinston, North Carolina has been widely speculated to receive one of them.  Kinston has already been a part of the league in the past with several iterations of the Kinston Indians, most recently in 2011.  I wouldn't be surprised to see either Savannah or Fayetteville get the other team.  Savannah recently lost their Sally League team and is now hosting a summer collegiate team, and Fayetteville has been in talks off and on for a new ballpark to draw a team.  This will now bring the total in the circuit to 10 teams and leave the California League with 8.  It's been no secret that many teams in the Cal League have struggled mightily with attendance and financial viability, and being on the west coast, many of the MLB teams are just too far away from the league to desire a team there.  The shift of these two teams to the east coast will help to solve the geography problem and place them in an area of the country that is already rich in minor league tradition.

Brewers 57-76, -28.5, -13.5 WC (3 @ Pirates, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 55-77, -30.0, -15.0 WC (3 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Mets
Twins 49-84, -27.5, -23.0 WC (4 v. White Sox, 3 v. Royals)

Erik - 13 (+24 worked)

Peter - 29

Friday, August 26, 2016

Werner Park

All photos of Werner Park available on Flickr.

Another "work" trip to Omaha for me this week meant another ballpark visit.  This time I was able to make it out to Werner Park, the home of the AAA Storm Chasers.  And when I say "make it out," I mean WAY out.  The ballpark is actually on the outskirts of Papillion, a suburb that is about a half-hour southwest of downtown Omaha.  If you are in Papillion and start driving west along Highway 370, just when you've passed enough farmland to think you couldn't possibly be going the right direction, you will see the ballpark emerge on the horizon above the corn stalks.  It wasn't until this trip that I realized just how big the Omaha area really is.  I stayed near the airport, and between visiting job sites in west Omaha and Papillion, I probably put nearly 100 miles on my rental car.  The intent with putting this park way out in the boonies was to have access to a huge swath of land to develop and invest into a "ballpark village" like so many parks are doing these days.  The tiny city of Papillion obviously jumped at this development opportunity, but so far nothing other than the stadium and some new infrastructure has panned out.  I hope that this is not a forecast for things to come because the Braves are doing the same exact thing.  From what I've read, the Storm Chasers have been doing well attendance-wise and are paying down their debt despite the lack of anything within 5 miles of the ballpark, so I'm hoping the small crowd on a gorgeous night for baseball was an anomaly.

The ballpark itself is rather unassuming from the outside.  It does not have any sort of main entry feature that draws you in other than just the signage, and the entire park is rather short compared to other contemporary parks.  Werner Park also lacks the weight that you would see with a lot of the massive masonry parks of today.  It has a little bit of stone at the base, but a lot of the exterior is exposed metal and stucco.  This is likely a cost decision primarily, but I also think it pays homage to "farm architecture."  The metal siding and the shed roofs play off a lot of the barns and sheds you might see in the area, and it helps the park to feel like it belongs as part of the landscape.  This is most obvious at the main entry where a taller piece clad in mismatched corrugated siding seems to abstractly represent an old patched-up grain silo or farmhouse.

Once inside, the park almost felt more like a spring training facility than a minor league park.  Aside from materials, it actually reminded me quite a bit of Camelback Ranch in Glendale.  The press boxes and suites on the upper level have their backs visible from the entry gate with a walkway behind them, and are detached from the buildings that surround the periphery of the stadium, just like at Camelback.  This creates a plaza in between these structures and makes a nice transition between the gate and the field.  The second level is also segmented and not one continuous roof, which adds visual interest.  I was pretty taken aback at first when I walked in because there are gobs of exposed PVC pipe under the second floor that you notice immediately, and weird areas of random rock landscaping instead of concrete, both of which were quite the eyesore.  I think both the visual elements and the lack of vendors and soft surfaces keep the plaza from being the great space that it has the potential to be.  The team store is right off of the plaza and was one of the better ones I have seen on any level even despite being about 50% Royals gear.  Concessions were a little disappointing, but the fact that I had to suffer through a plain cheeseburger and a Bud Light did not put too much of a damper on my evening.  Another disappointment was the inability to circumnavigate the outfield, which is always a sticking point for me.  Even if there is nothing out there but a berm and the scoreboard, it is always nice to get that different vantage point and walk around a little bit.  Overall it was certainly a memorable park, both because of and despite of its conscious architectural gestures.

The game got out of hand pretty quickly for Omaha, who are in the basement of the American North division of the PCL.  If this team's performance this year is any indication, the window of opportunity may be closing for the parent Royals, which I would be more than okay with.  Jason Vargas was making a rehab start for the Storm Chasers and does not look like he is ready to help the big club any time soon.  He gave up 3 ER in 3 innings of work, including Matt Chapman's 1st homerun of the year for the visiting Sounds.  Nashville broke it open with 7 more runs in the 4th, including a 3-run bomb by Jaycob Brugman.  The Chasers eventually decided they wanted to play offense and scored a few runs but ended up losing 12-3.  The only Chasers player I recognized besides Vargas was Orlando Calixte, and he went 3-5 with an RBI in the leadoff spot.

It will be well into the fall the next time I visit Omaha, so my attention will probably have to start wandering to the University of Nebraska-Omaha hockey schedule pretty soon.  I'm hoping my projects out there are wrapped up before next season, but I'd be lying if I said a part of me didn't want to go to a Creighton Blue Jays game in April.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 6
views from park – 2
view to field - 8
surrounding area – 1 (literally nothing)
food variety - 5
nachos - 5
beer - 4 (only 1 craft beer stand, primarily Budweiser)

vendor price - 7
ticket price - 5 ($15 just outside dugouts)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park – 2
parking price/proximity - 6 (adjacent lot $5)
concourses - 6 (nice entry plaza but can't go in outfield)
team shop - 9 (point deducted for being mostly Royals gear)

best food – burger
most unique stadium feature – entry plaza / materials
best jumbotron feature – crazy cap shuffle
best between-inning feature – a plethora of mascots

field dimensions – 310/402/315
starters – Dillon Overton (NAS) v. Jason Vargas (OMA)
opponent – Nashville Sounds v. Omaha Storm Chasers
time of game – 3:11
attendance – 3465
score – 12-3 L

Brewers score that day – 4-2 W

Brewers 56-71, -25.5, -11.5 WC (4 v. Pirates, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 54-72, -27.0, -13.0 WC (3 @ Diamondbacks, 3 @ Angels
Twins 49-78, -23.5, -21.0 WC (3 @ Blue Jays, 3 @ Indians)

Erik - 13 (+24 worked)

Peter - 29

Friday, August 19, 2016

Southern Wisconsin Absent From Northwoods League Championship

 All photos of South Division Wild Card Game available on Flickr.

For the first time since 2012, a representative of southern Wisconsin will not be in the Summer Collegiate World Series.  Kenosha struggled through a pretty rough season this year with not a lot of players returning from their 2015 title year, and Lakeshore and Madison were both ousted from the playoffs on the first day.  With the new playoff format, now in its second year, the number of playoffs in the ever-expanding league has doubled to eight.  To accommodate these additional teams without dragging the playoffs on an extra week, there are now back-to-back winner-take-all games to start the playoffs followed by a best of 3 championship series.  Much like the MLB format, it's certainly exciting to see more teams have a chance to make it, but it makes it hard on any fan who might want to see their team.  There's no guarantee that any playoff participant will have a home game, let alone make it past the first day of the playoffs.  And very often fans will not even know if or where their team is playing until late the night before, which means that even at a place like Madison that tops the Summer Collegiate attendance charts year after year, the stadium is half empty.  It even took an impromptu bobblehead giveaway to get fans to come out to the Duck Pond this year for their Wild Card matchup against the Battle Creek Bombers, and of course I made the drive out for it.

This was my first trip back to Warner Park since the playoffs last year, and for the first time in several years, nothing much has seemed to change.  The picnic area in the left field corner seems to have been spruced up a little bit, but I tried to go up there and the only way to access it was by going up a steep mound covered in used football field astroturf, which seemed incredibly weird and dangerous.  Some of the vendors have spruced up their branding, and as usual there were some new exciting things on the menu.  I ate a salmon burger from the BBQ stand and it was delicious.  I got my customary Great Dane Crop Circle Wheat that I always miss when away from Madison, and I was still disappointed to see that the souvenir beer cups had not returned.  I walked to my seat in the first row of the 200 level for a couple of innings, but as I mentioned, the stadium was uncharacteristically empty, so I made my way down to the 5th row for most of the game.

The game pitted Madison's Heath Renz against Battle Creek's Cody Puckett.  Renz had an outstanding season for Mallards, holding his ERA under 2.00 in 9 starts.  However he did not perform well on the big stage, giving up 6 runs over just 3 innings.  He got through the first two innings with relative eased, but then was schlacked for 6 runs in an inning plus, including a 3-run homerun by the Bombers' centerfielder.  The Bombers continued to pull away with runs in the 4th, 5th, and 6th, but Mallards LF Josh Stowers was on a mission to take the team on his shoulders and almost singlehandedly win the game.  He was 4-4 on the night with 2 towering homeruns and 6 RBI.  You would never know by the power display that he only had 3 homeruns on the entire season before tonight.  A couple of more runs late were not enough to catch Battle Creek, however, as they lost by a final score of 9-8.

Note to Madison area Culvers: if you are going to give out promotional coupons for free custard every time the Mallards score 5 runs, you need to have your restaurant a block from the stadium remain open after the game.

Brewers 52-68, -25.0, -12.0 WC (3 @ Mariners, 3 v. Rockies)
Reds 51-69, -26.0, -13.5 WC (4 v. Dodgers, 2 v. Rangers
Twins 49-72, -21.0, -13.0 WC (3 @ Royals, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 12 (+23 worked)

Peter - 28

Monday, August 8, 2016

Rivets Stadium

All photos of Rivets Stadium available on Flickr.

With only two weeks left in the season already, I finally got my butt in gear and made it down to Rockford to see the newest Northwoods League team, the Rivets.  Their stadium is actually just north of Rockford in the suburb of Loves Park and is very visible from I-90.  However, with easy freeway access generally comes large team-operated parking lots; I arrived just before first pitch driving down from work, and immediately lamented the fact that parking cost almost as much as my front row ticket. 

My first impression of the stadium was that, other than the name and new branding, it had not changed at all in the 10 years since I had last been there.  This was way back in the Year 1 B.B. (Before Blog) when it was known as Riverhawks Stadium, which I am just learning now was the park's inaugural season.  Through all of the name changes and tenants - most recently the indie-league Aviators and now the Rivets - many of the familiar architectural elements and finishes remain the same.  The primary material is still the imposing gray block, and the front gate still has the memorable steel truss towers, only this time with the new Rivets logo banner slapped on the side. 

The inside of the park was exactly the same as well.  It is sort of reminiscent of the what the Kane County park looked like before the renovations - the concourse is completely open to the field of play, aside from a small press box building.  There is no canopy or any structure between the service areas (concessions, restrooms, offices, etc) along exterior of the stadium, and the seating bowl, only a wide open walkway.  While I love that you are able to see the field from almost everywhere, having some public covered areas would be nice.  I do recall in my last visit here that a huge thunderstorm rolled just past us, and if it were only a few feet more in our direction, everybody would have gotten drenched.  There is an enclosed bar area near the main entry along with a team store, but both are about the size of a closet and even with the sparse crowd in the hundreds, would not have been able to fit everyone during a sudden rain event.  The stadium is bookended with a couple of large private party areas in left field, and a beer deck in right field.  The beer deck was basically just some picnic tables with a little shack that sold Miller and "craft beer," and it operated just about as well as it looked - it took about 10 minutes for my debit card to process and then when it finally did, it charged me twice.  The concourse unfortunately stops at the beer deck and does not extend behind the outfield wall, although you wouldn't be missing out on anything in an outfield concourse other than corn and staring at a bunch of empty seats.  The stadium still looks very new and is comfortable for a ballgame, but once you get into the details of it, you can tell that a lot of corners were cut and decisions were made strictly on cost.  Judging by the number of teams that have already left this city, that might have not been the best approach.

This game was the 2nd half of a pretty awesome feature of the Northwoods League the last couple years: the home-and-home rivalry doubleheader.  Rockford played in Madison at 11:35 AM and won 10-9, then both teams hopped on the bus for the hour drive down to Rockford for the 6:35 nightcap.  The league used to schedules these doubleheader games very close to each other and the 2nd game would always start late, so I see that has been corrected.  I still can't imagine what it's like for Thunder Bay and Duluth to have to drive 4+ hours and play two baseball games in one day.  Anyways, the game moved along at quite a brisk pace compared to a lot of games in the circuit.  The Mallards scratched across single tallies in the 2nd and 4th, but other than that Rivets starter Jake Perkins more than held his own by scattering 7 hits over 6 innings.  It was only when Nick Kamrada entered the game that things got out of hand.  He was all over the place, walking 4 in the 7th inning and giving up an unearned run.  It was clear even from watching him warm up in front of me and throwing the ball past the catcher several times that it was going to be a rough outing for the young man.  The Mallards would then load the bases in the 9th off of Quinton Forrestor and plate 2 on a Zach Jarrett double to put the game out of reach.  Rockford mustered only 3 hits.  Perhaps most the most disappointing part of the evening is that I was literally the only person sitting in the stands between the 1st base dugout and the foul pole and I did not get one foul ball.

The Northwoods League is supposed to expand yet again next year, and it should be interesting to see where the Rivets fit into that plan.  This was by far the emptiest stadium I've been to in the league, and they are dead last in total attendance by a substantial margin - both are pretty sad for a first year team.  And as I previously mentioned, it's not like this stadium has a great track record of retaining tenants either.  Hopefully my trip down to Illinois will not have been in vain.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 3
views from park – 2
view to field - 10 (not much netting, open concourse)
surrounding area – 1 (freeway)
food variety - 4
nachos - 5
beer - 6 (fair variety, cheap, but only one stand)

vendor price - 9
ticket price - 9
atmosphere - 2
walk to park – 1
parking price/proximity - 2 (the only Northwoods park I can think of that charges for parking)
concourses - 6 (not active but open)
team shop - 2

best food – burger
most unique stadium feature – entry
best jumbotron feature – cheering for the beer batter to strike out
best between-inning feature – very unique and random pop culture music selection

field dimensions – 312/380/312
starters – Westin Wuethrich (MAD) v. Jake Perkins (RCK)
opponent – Madison Mallards v. Rockford Rivets
time of game – 2:47
attendance – 329
score – 7-1 L

Brewers score that day – 7-3 L

Brewers 49-60, -19.5, -9.0 WC (4 v. Braves, 3 v. Reds, 3 @ Cubs)
Reds 45-65, -24.0, -13.5 WC (3 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Brewers, 4 v. Marlins
Twins 45-66, -18.0, -16.0 WC (4 v. Astros, 3 v. Royals, 2 @ Braves)

Erik - 11 (+19 worked)

Peter - 25

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Griffey Jr, Piazza Enshrined in Hall

This past Sunday, the 2016 Hall of Fame Class was inducted in Cooperstown.  Two big names made up the list this year - Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza.  One could argue that both were the best at their position over a 10 year period in the 90s and early 00s.  Griffey was one of only 3 players to hit 500 HRs and earn 10 gold gloves and had seven(!) seasons of 40 homeruns, including 5 consecutive in his heyday from 1996-2000.  He was also the first to go into the Hall donning a Mariners cap, although in my opinion if Greg Maddux was allowed to have the cap on his plaque be sans-team, Griffey should have been allowed to go in with his signature backwards cap.  Piazza was a 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner who hit 427 homeruns, including the most ever as a catcher.  He was also the highest round draft pick to ever go into the Hall - so high in fact that his record will never be broken, because the 62nd round doesn't even exist anymore.

The last few induction classes, including this one, have really started to stand out to me because they are mostly filled with players I grew up watching.  Sure, I wanted to see Jack Morris get into the Hall as much as the next guy, but the players I remember seeing at County Stadium, Miller Park, and The GAB as an adolescent have a special place in my heart because I associate them with the time in my life when I really grew to love the game.  The 2016 class in particular holds personal meaning to me because Griffey and Piazza were two of the most popular players of their generation by far, and helped baseball grow in popularity once again.  Every kid in the 1990s had a #24 Griffey Mariners jersey and wore their hat backwards on the ball field to emulate Griffey.  He even stayed incredibly popular when he was traded to Cincinnati and was largely a shadow of his former self.  This is the time period, while attending college at UC, when I got to watch Griffey the most.  A 2005 Reds Griffey bobblehead was even the first of what is now an extensive collection I own.  Even as an aging star who saw the field less and less between injuries, that sweet swing and childlike enthusiasm remained and kept fans coming back to watch a perennially awful Reds team.  And speaking of sweet swings, that powerful stroke from Mike Piazza is what I will always remember about him the most.  I can still vividly picture that upright stance, those wide shoulders, that mustachey growl, batting with his Dodgers catching helmet turned forward instead of the standard ear-flap helmet, and most of all, the 2000 Subway Series vs the Yankees.

There's no doubt that these were two of my favorite players in high school and college, and as the years pass it is going to be harder for me to pass on the opportunity to attend one.  I can't even imagine how insane the crowd will be when Derek Jeter goes in on the first ballot in 2020.

Brewers 42-55, -16.5, -10.0 WC (3 v. Pirates, 3 @ Padres, 3 @ Diamondbacks)
Reds 39-60, -20.5, -14.0 WC (3 @ Padres, 3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Pirates
Twins 37-61, -19.5, -18.0 WC (3 v. White Sox, 4 @ Indians, 3 @ Rays)

Erik - 11 (+17 worked)

Peter - 23