Ed Linke – Getting a Head Start on his Best Season

April 15, 2006: BaseballWhen Ed “Babe” Linke took the mound for the Washington Senators on this day (July 26) in 1935, he had no idea he was soon to start a unique double play – with his head.  In the bottom of the second, with one out, Yankee lead-off hitter and left fielder Jesse Hill smashed a line drive off Linke’s forehead.  The ball hit the right-handed hurler with such force it ricocheted back to Senators’ catcher Jack Redmond, who caught it on the fly and fired to Senators’ shortstop Red Kress, catching a surprised Ben Chapman (Yankee center fielder) off the bag for a 1-2-6 double play – completed as Linke lay semi-conscious on the mound.  Linke was carried off the field on a stretcher and spent two days in the hospital before returning to the Senators – to begin the most successful pitching streak of his six-year MLB career.

At the time of the beaning – including that game – Linke’s record on the season was 3-6, with a 7.52 ERA. (He would complete his MLB career at 22-22, 5.61.) However, for the remainder of 1935, after being felled by the Hill liner, Linke went 8-1, 3.03 in 11 starts and three relief appearances.  During that time, he also threw seven of his 13 career complete games – including a ten-inning, two-run (one earned) performance against the Indians on August 18 and a twelve-inning, three-run (two earned) outing against the Tigers on September 11.

The 23-year-old Linke finished up the season 11-7, 5.01. (The following year he would go 1-5, 7.10; and would be out of the major leagues by age 27.) The knock on the noggin’ didn’t seem to hurt Linke’s batting eye either, Hitting .259 at the time of the injury, Linke finished the season at .294, with one home run and nine RBI.  Clearly, Linke got a head start on his best season on this date 79 years ago.

 

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Hall of Very Good Announces 2014 Inductees

hOVGThe Hall of Very Good (HOVG) – a fine baseball blog that appeals to BBRT’s taste for the game and its history – recently announced its 2014 inductees: Luis Tiant, Tony Oliva and the San Diego Chicken. The trio joins 2012 HOVG inductee Tommy John and 2013 inductees Dale Murphy and Steve Blass.  (I had the chance to chat with both Oliva and Tiant at the 2014 All Star Fan Fest. They are great ambassadors for the game.)  BBRT readers should enjoy the full story on the 2014 HOVG inductees and you can find it here.  And, while you’re at the HOVG blog, take a look at some of the other posts.  I think you’ll find them entertaining and informative.

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BBRT’s Favorite (sm)All Stars

Undersized until a teenage growth spurt (when I was twelve-years-old, I was usually guessed for eight or nine) brought me up to average size, I have always had a special place for the major league’s smaller (or smallest) players. This affinity for (sm)All Stars was fueled in part by my Dad’s 5’ 1” stature.  In our household, we always rooted for the little guy.

Jose Altuve

Jose Altuve - Houston's (sm)All Star -  alongside Manny Machado.

Jose Altuve – Houston’s (sm)All Star – alongside Manny Machado.

Being nothing if not consistent, BBRT’s favorite 2014 All Star is MLB’s smallest player – 5’ 5”, 175 lb. Houston Astros’ second basemen Jose Altuve.  Altuve, a sparkling fielder, came into the All Star break leading all of baseball in base hits (130), number-three in average (.335, second in the AL), number-two  in stolen bases (41, leading the AL, with only three caught stealing). The shortest player in the major leagues, Altuve has inspired a new unofficial unit of measure to document how far a home run has traveled (a 400-foot home run travels 73.8 Altuves).  See the website at www.howmanyaltuves.com for an Altuve calculator.

Altuve, overlooked by many teams because of his size, was signed by the Houston Astros as an undrafted free agent in 2006. Right from the start, he showed solid defense, a quick bat and speed on the base paths. After rapping .343 in the Venezuelan League in 2007, Altuve came to the U.S. and proceeded to hit .284-.302-.301 in three minor league seasons (2008-10), while also showing “plus” defensive skills.

Then in 2011, Altuve had a breakout season.  He started the year at High-A Lancaster, hitting .408 with five home runs, 38 runs, 34 RBI and 19 stolen bases in just 52 games.  That performance earned him a promotion to AA Corpus Christi, where he hit .361 with five home runs, 21 runs, 25 RBI and five stolen bases in another 35 games. His next stop was Houston (in July) and he finished up the season with 57 major league games, a .276 average and seven steals in ten attempts  – and that was just the beginning. In 2012, Altuve hit .297 (with 33 steals), earning his first All Star berth.  He came back with .283 and 35 steals in 2013 – before his sterling start to 2014.

Now, at just 24-years-old, the diminutive Altuve has made two All Star teams and his cleats are in the Baseball Hall of Fame – honoring a late-June streak during which notched multiple stolen bases in four consecutive games. Altuve was just the third player since 1900 to achieve that feat and the first in 97 years.

For Trivia buffs, on May 1, 2012, when Altuve faced New York Mets’ 6’ 11” reliever Jon Rauch (MLB’s tallest player ever), the 18″ height difference between hitter and pitcher was reported to be the second largest ever – exceeded only by the 25-inch difference between 3’ 7” Eddie Gaedel (sent to the plate on August 19, 1951 by the St. Louis Browns in a Bill Veeck publicity stunt) and Detroit Tigers’six-foot tall pitcher Bob Cain.

Bobby Shantz

SHnrtzAltuve, however, is not BBRT’s favorite (sm)All-Star. That recognition goes to a player my dad often  referred as “Little Bobby Shantz.”   The 5′ 6″, 139-pound southpaw side-arming hurler was not an imposing figure on the mound.  He was, however a three-time All Star who, in 1952, went 24-7, 2.48 for the fourth-place Philadelphia Athletics – leading the AL  in wins and winning percentage and capturing the MVP award (making Shantz the smallest-ever MVP winner – the lightest and tied with Phil Rizzuto for the shortest).

In his 16-season MLB career, Shantz moved between starter and reliever (171 starts and 366 relief appearances) and went 119-99, with a 3.38 ERA. He pitched for the Philadelphia/Kansas City Athletics (1949–1956), New York Yankees (1957–1960), Pittsburgh Pirates (1961), Houston Colt .45′s (1962), St. Louis Cardinals (1962–1964), Chicago Cubs (1964) and Philadelphia Phillies (1964). In 1957, he helped the Yankees finish atop the AL, going 11-5 and leading the AL in ERA at 2.45 (21 starts and nine relief appearances).

An agile athlete, Shantz also won eight consecutive Gold Glove Awards (American League, 1957–60; National League, 1961–64).  In our household “Little Bobby Shantz” was always a favorite (sm)All Star, who held out hope for the little guy.

 

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T-Mobile All Star FunFest – My Volunteer Stint

Yesterday, I completed my first five-hour shift as a volunteer at the T-Mobile® All Star FanFest – a 400,000+ square foot “playground” for baseball fans; part of the Twin Cities All Star Game activities. Today, I can hardly wait to get back for my Monday and Tuesday shifts. Billed (accurately) as “the world’s largest interactive baseball them park, FanFest is open July 11-15 (9 a.m.-8 p.m.) at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  (Tickets: $30-$35.)

Plenty of shopping opportunities - but lots of give-aways and free activities.

Plenty of shopping opportunities – but lots of give-aways and free activities.

FanFest features more than three dozen attractions – and offers something for baseball fans of all ages.  There are numerous historic displays (National Baseball Hall of Fame, Negro Leagues, Women in Baseball, World Baseball Classic, Hometown (Minnesota) Heroes and more.  There are also plenty of interactive displays. Attendees can take part in clinics and test their skills at fielding, hitting, pitching and base-running. For more sedentary activity, there are trivia competitions and you can “picture” yourself on your own Topps baseball card or behind the MLB Network news desk (both for free). You can collect free autographs from past, current and future baseball stars (in my first hour, I garnered Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Fergie Jenkins and Louis Tiant).  Giveaways abound, ranging from souvenir baseballs to foam fingers to balloon hats. In addition, attendees can purchase official All Star Game souvenirs (MLB Clubhouse Store) and visit a host of dealers offering baseball memorabilia from all eras and baseball-related products of all kinds.

I’d like to share a little bit about my first day as a volunteer at FanFest.  I’ll also include a link at the end of this post that will take you (if you are interested) to the story of how I came to be an on-the-floor volunteer for this All Star event.

July 11 – My First Actual Work (fun) Day

With my Friday shift starting at noon, I decided to arrive at FanFest early (about 9:30) and take in some of the activities.  It was a wise choice.  Before I had even worked my first shift, I:

  • Had a great conversation with Jim “Mudcat” Grant (we discussed his excitement not only over winning game six of the 1965 World Series for the Twins, but hitting a home run in that game);
  • Collected autographs from Grant, Fergie Jenkins and  Louis Tiant;
  • Purchased a trio of pins from the Pin Man, who offers one of the most complete selections of baseball-themed pins I have ever seen – and at reasonable prices. (I collect pins from ball parks or baseball events I attend and was able to fill in a couple of pins from events I attended before I started the collection).
  • Visited displays focused on the Negro Leagues, Women in Baseball, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Minnesota Baseball Heroes.

I also had one of the best hot dogs I’ve ever tasted  – a Kansas City Royal Dog (pulled pork at the bottom, a layer of spicy relish, an all-beef hot dog, three pickle slices – all topped with coleslaw – messy, but delicious).

My assignment was at the MLB Network booth.

My assignment was at the MLB Network booth.

Then it was off to my assignment (led there by self-announced Yankee fan and Zone Supervisor Jim Barletto).  My first duties were at the MLB Network exhibit, where fans (for free) could get a photo of themselves at the MLB Network news desk (by themselves or with the MLB Network’s Harold Baines or Twins’ Mascot TC the Bear.) My job was pretty simple, moving chairs behind the news desk (to accommodate different size groups – from one to four) and ensuring people exited on the correct side of the “set.”

Other volunteers at my attraction worked to bring people into the exhibit or help them into one of the many different-sized MLB Network blue blazers for their picture.  In my five- hour session, we had fans of all ages (from as young as eight days to more than 80 years) – but they all seem to have one thing in common, smiles.  Everyone was having fun.

The people watching was pretty good.  While the majority of attendees were sporting some type of baseball apparel (with just about every major league city represented), there were also those in suits and ties, dresses and heels, and even a Goth look or two. There were also lots a freshly painted faces – everything from butterflies to baseballs – foam fingers and balloon hats. Again, the visitors to  our activity still had plenty in common – baseball, a spirit of fun and anticipation over how their photo souvenirs would turn out.

I scored a few top-notch autographs

I scored a few top-notch autographs

After finishing my shift, I took another hour to tour the FanFest floor (you really need to devote several hours to truly take it all in.  I had a personal Topps baseball card made (free), as well as a Greetings from Minnesota photo (in an American League All Star Jersey with Target Field as the backdrop – also free).  That, by the way, is one of the great things about FanFest, once you get in, there are a host of free activities and giveaways.

As I said, I have two more shifts to work and plenty more to see, so I’m anxious to get back.

Now, if you are interested, here is a link to the story of how I came to be a FanFest volunteer.

 

BBRT June Review

With July upon us, it’s time for BBRT’s monthly reflection on the MLB season to date.  Let’s start with a look at who stands where.   If the season were to end today, the play- off teams would be:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Division Leaders: Blue Jays, Tigers and A’s – no change since May 31.

Wild Cards: Angels and Mariners – as of May 31, the WC leaders were the Angels and Yankees. The Mariners moved passed the Yankees into the WC spot thanks to an 18-10 June (while the Yankees went 12-15).

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Division Leaders: Braves, Brewers and Dodgers – The Braves and Brewers held their spots, while the Dodgers moved from 7 ½ games out to the West Division lead (posting a 19-10 June record, while the Giants went 10-17).

Wild Cards: The Giants and Nationals. A June slump dropped the Giants from the division lead to a WC spot, while the Nationals’ 18-11 June enabled them to overtake the Cardinals (15-13 for the month). *Note: You can find the complete standings through June 30 and each team’s June record at end of this post.

Teamwork

Lots to celebrate in Oakland

Lots to celebrate in Oakland

June’s Hottest Teams The AL’s hottest teams in June came primarily from the West Division:  the Oakland A’s had the best June record in all of MLB (17-8/.654), which was bad news for the Seattle Mariners (18-10/.643 and Los Angeles Angels (15-10/.600), who also played .600 ball for the month.  The only other AL team to top .600 for June was the Royals, who finished the month at 17-10/.630. The AL East, which boasts three of the AL’s top five opening day payrolls, faded during June, with only the Baltimore  Orioles playing above .500 (16-12/.571) for the month.  Texas had the AL’s worst June record at 9-17/.346.

In the NL, the Brewers, Dodgers and Reds tied for the best June results (18-10/.643). The Central Division – home to the Brewers and Reds – was MLB’s toughest; with every team finishing above .500 and the Pirates joining Milwaukee and Cincinnati above .600 (17-10/.630).  The only other NL team above .600 in June was the Nationals, who finished at 17-11/.607. The NL’s worst June Swoon?  The Rockies at 8-20/.286.

Rays’ Hurlers Team Up to Break Single Month Strikeout Record

The Tampa Bay Rays’ pitchers were missing bats in June – recording 287 whiffs (in 259 innings), the most ever for any MLB team in a single month (the Cubs had held the record – 286 – set in August of 2002).  For the month, nine members of the Ray’s staff averaged at least one strikeout per inning. Contributing for the Rays:

  • Starters:  David Price (54 Ks/39 2/3 IP); Erik Bedard (34 Ks/31 IP); Jake Ordozzi (34 Ks/30 IP); Chris Archer (31 Ks/37 IP); Alex Cobb (29 Ks/33 2/3 IP); Alex Colome (3Ks/5 2/3 IP).
  • Relievers: Brad Boxberger (23 Ks/13 1/3 IP); Jake McGee (16 Ks/11 2/3 IP); Grant Balfour (15 Ks/12 1/3 IP); Joel Peralta (15 Ks/11 IP); Cesar Ramos (12 Ks/12 IP); Kirby Yates (12 Ks/9  2/3 IP); Juan Oviedo (8 Ks/11 IP); Josh Lueke (1K/1 IP).

The Rays, by the way, took the record chase right down to the wire. Brad Boxberger notched the record-breaking strikeout (versus Ichiro Suzuki) in the bottom of the twelfth inning of a June 30 4-3 win over the Yankees.  It was Boxberger’s only whiff in two innings of work that game.

Playing .600 Ball for the Season

Through June, only two teams are playing .600 or better baseball – the Oakland A’s (51-31/.622) and the “no-longer-surprising” Milwaukee Brewers (51-33/.607).  The AL Rays and NL Diamondbacks are tied for the worst record in MLB (35-49/.417).

If you’re talking bang-for-the-buck, the A’s are baseball’s biggest bargain – boasting MLB’s best record (as well as the most runs scored at 422 and third-fewest runs given up at 288), with the fourth-lowest opening day payroll (in the AL, only the Astros have a lower payroll than the A’s).

2014's biggest disappointment?

2014′s biggest disappointment?

Perhaps the biggest disappointment – in terms of payroll versus performance are the last-place Phillies (36-46), with MLB’s third-highest (and the NL’s second-highest) opening day payroll and the fourth-place Red Sox (38-45) with MLB’s fifth-highest (AL’s third-highest) opening day payroll.

 

 

 

 

Other Team Notes

  • The Colorado Rockies, with a 36-47 record, have scored the second most runs in MLB this season (418).  They have, however, also given up the most runs (436). Gotta love that mountain air.
  • Only two teams have reached 100 home runs through June, and they are both in the AL East (Toronto 108, Baltimore 100).  Colorado leads the NL with 98 round trippers.  The Jays boast six players in double digits for long balls: Edwin Encarnacion (25), Jose Bautista (15), Brett Lawrie (12), Juan Francisco (12), Melky Cabrera (11), Colby Rasmus (11).
  • The Dodgers, led by Dee Gordon with 40 steals, top MLB in that category with 81 through June.  Houston, led by Jose Altuve with 37 thefts, leads the AL with 70 steals.  Both league leaders are second basemen.  The A’s lead the major leagues in stolen base proficiency at 84 percent (48 steals in 57 attempts), followed closely by the NL Nationals at 83 percent (44 for 53).
  • Washington lays claim to MLB’s lowest team ERA through June at 3.07. Oakland has the AL’s lowest mark at 3.19.  Key contributors  for the Nationals include starters Jordan Zimmerman (6-4/2.95), Tanner Roark (7-5/2.98) and Doug Fister (6-2/2.83). The bullpen has also pitched in, featuring a  quartet of hurlers with at least 25 innings pitched and an ERA of 2.00 or less: Drew Storen (1.03/26 1/3 IP); Rafael Soriano (1.09/33 IP); Aaron Barrett (1.93/28 IP); and Tyler Clippard (2.00/36 IP).  The A’s boast two starters with ERAs under 3.00 – Scott Kazmir (9-3/2.61) and Jesse Chavez (6-4/2.98) – and a trio of workhorse relievers (127 2/3 IP among them): Daniel Otero (2.10/51 1/3 IP); Francisco Abad (2.20/32  2/3IP); and Lucas Gregerson (2.27/43 2/3 IP).

 

Individual Achievements

 

 Clayton Kershaw – A Remarkable Month

The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw had a remarkable June, leading MLB in wins (6-0), ERA (0.82), strikeouts (61 K’s in 44 innings) – and even tossing a no-hitter.  Kershaw’s outings for the month:

Date                                        IP          H        R         BB       SO

June 2 – CHW (5-2 win)          8          4          2          0          9

June 8 – @COL (6-1 win)        5          3          1          0          9

June 13 – ARZ (4-3 win)          7          8          1          1          7

June 18 – COL (8-0 win)          9          0          0          0          15

June 24 – @KC (2-0 win)         8          6          0          1          9

June 29 – STL (6-0 win)         7          5          0          2          13

Dodgers' ace dominated in June.

Dodgers’ ace dominated in June.

On June 18th, Kershaw put the exclamation point on his blazing June, tossing the second no-hitter of the season in an 8-0 win over the Rockies.  It was also the second 2014 no-hitter by a Dodgers’ pitcher (Josh Beckett no-hit the Phillies on May 25), and the 22nd in Dodger franchise history (the most of any franchise).  The only base runner in the no-no was Drew Stubbs – safe on an error by LA shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

Kershaw struck out a career-best 15 batters in the no-hitter – tying the record for strikeouts in a no-hitter by a southpaw.  (Lefty Warren Spahn, tossing his first no-hitter on September 16, 1960 – at age 39 – struck out 15 and walked two in beating the Phillies 4-0.)  Only right-hander Nolan Ryan logged more strikeouts in a no-hitter (17 in 1973 and 16 in 1991). Kershaw’s 15 Ks were also the most ever in a no-hitter with no walks.

Another West Coast No-No

Just seven days after Kershaw’s no-hitter, the Giants’ Tim Lincecum no-hit the Padres in San Francisco.  Lincecum walked just one (Padres’ third baseman Chase Headley, with one out in the second inning) and struck out six in the 4-0 victory. Lincecum became only the second pitcher to throw two no-hitters versus the same team. (He no-hit the Padres on July 18, 2013 – walking four and striking out 13 in a 9-0 win.)  The other hurler with multiple no-hitters against the same team is the Cleveland Naps’ Addie Joss, who no-hit the White Sox on October 2, 1908 and April 20, 1910. (Both no hitters were 1-0 wins, with the 1908 no-no being a perfect game.) Lincecum also became just the 27th pitcher to toss multiple no-hitters; a list led by Nolan Ryan with seven no-hit performances.

Jose Altuve Leads the MLB June Hit Parade

Altuve topped .400 in June and flashed some leather.

Altuve topped .400 in June and flashed some leather.

Houston Astros’ 2B Jose Altuve raked MLB pitching in June, compiling a .411 average for the month (39 for 45) and moving into the AL batting lead with a season mark of .344.

Over in the NL, Troy Tulowitzki continued to hold his batting lead at .353 – after posting a June average of .354.

A look at the home/away splits of the two batting leaders is interesting.  Altuve’s numbers are relatively balanced.  Through June 30, he hit .347 at home and .341 on the road.  Tulowitzki clearly prefers home cooking –and the Rocky Mountain air – with his numbers through June showing .447 at home and .266 on the road.

June and Season Home Run/RBI Leaders

White Sox rookie 1B Jose Abreu led all of MLB with 10 June home runs, while putting up a .313-10-22 line.  Next on the June power list was Baltimore CF Adam Jones with nine June homers (.348-9-20).

Over in the NL, Phillies’ RF Marlon Byrd, Pirates’ CF Andrew McCutchen and Reds’ 3B Todd Frazier each notched eight June home runs.

Abreu’s ten June home runs moved him into a three-way tie for the AL and MLB lead at 25 homers on the season.  The other co-leaders are Baltimore LF Nelson Cruz (.281-25-66) and Toronto 1B Edwin Encarnacion (.278-25-65).  The NL leader in round trippers (through June) is Miami RF Giancarlo Stanton with 21 (.313-21-60).

Two NLers sit atop the RBI list for June with 25 runs plated during the month: Rockies’ 1B Justin Morneau (.327-3-25) and Pirates’ CF Andrew McCutchen (.343-8-25).  Leaders on the season (through June) are Baltimore LF Nelson Cruz with 66 driven in (.281-25-66) in the AL and Miami RF Giancarlo Stanton in the NL (.313-21-60).

June and Season Pitching Leaders

As noted earlier, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw dominated in the month of June, recording MLB’s most wins (6-0), most strikeouts (61) and lowest ERA (0.82).  In the AL, June saw seven pitchers tie with four wins for the month, with the Orioles’ Bud Norris and the Angels’ Garrett Richards managing their four victories without a loss. Richards also took the June ERA crown at 1.05, while the Rangers’ Yu Darvish led in strikeouts with 57 in 43 innings.

For the season, the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka leads the AL and MLB in wins (11-3); while the Reds’ Alfredo Simon (10-3) , Cardinal’s Adam Wainwright (10-4) and Dodgers’ Zack Greinke (10-4) share the NL lead.  MLB’s lowest ERA goes to the Red’s Johnny Cueto at 1.88, while Tanaka has the lowest AL ERA at 2.10. Strikeout leaders through June are Tampa Bay’s David Price in the AL (144 in 124 innings pitched) and, in the NL, the Nationals’ Steven Strasburg (123 in 104 2/3 innings).

 Oddities

Trending – Pitchers as Pinch Hitters

Just a few more reasons why BBRT hates the DH – and a further argument against the “pitchers can’t hit” point of view. On June 16th, the Cubs and Marlins went into the 13th inning at Miami tied 4-4.  With two outs in the top of the inning and the Cubs’ LF Junior Lake on first – after a single – Cubs’ reliever Carlos Villaneuva was slated to bat.  Cubs’ manager Rick Renteria, running short of players, called upon pitcher Travis Wood (a .250 hitter) as a pinch-hitter. Wood delivered a double down the left field line to score Lake with what proved to be the winning run.

Just six days later, in the American League (which benefits on offense from the DH), a pitcher was again called upon to save a game (at the plate, not on the mound) in extra innings.  With the Oakland A’s down 7-6 to the Red Sox with two outs in the bottom of the tenth, A’s manager Bob Melvin called upon pitcher (closer) Sean Doolittle to pinch hit for pitcher Fernando Abad.  Unlike Wood, Doolittle did not come through, making the final out on a ground out to second.

Pitchers coming off the bench to hit in late innings – trending?  On May 27, with Milwaukee and Baltimore tied at six with two out in the bottom of the tenth, the Orioles intentionally walked Brewers’ 1B Mark Reynolds to get to pitcher Francisco Rodriguez.  Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke went to the bench for a pinch hitter – pitcher Yovani Gallardo – who proceeded to lash a game-winning, walk-off, RBI double to deep left center.

Trending – Walk-Off Grand Slams

On June 30, Tigers’ LF Rajai Davis hit a walk-off grand slam as Detroit topped Oakland 5-4 at Comerica Park.  It was the second walk-off grand slam in June and the fifth of the season (the single-season record for MLB is eight).  Here are 2014’s other walk-off, four-run blasts: April 5, by Mets’ 1B Ike Davis, as New York topped the Reds 6-3; April 18, by the Marlin’s RF Giancarlo Stanton, as Miami bested Seattle 8-4; April 25, by White Sox’ 1B Jose Abreu, as the Sox beat Tampa Bay 9-6; June 19, by Indians’ DH Nick Swisher, as Cleveland topped the Angels 5-3.

The nice thing about walk-off grand slams – they all come in front of the home town fans.

One-hitter Leads to a Loss

On June 4, Pittsburgh Pirates’ starter Francisco Liriano and a trio of relievers threw a one-hitter against the Padres in San Diego.  The only Padre hit was a first-inning bunt single by number-two hitter, SS Evereth Cabrera.  The Padres, in fact, didn’t get a ball out of the infield until the final out of the eighth inning.  Still, the Padres managed to defeat the Pirates and Liriano 3-2.

How did they do it?  How about with a total of nine walks, one hit batsman and one Pirate error?

The scoring went like this.  In the first inning, Liriano walked lead-off hitter RF Chris Denorfria, who stole second base and then took third on Cabrera’s  bunt base hit. Denorfia then scored on a short sacrifice fly, handled by Pirates’ 2B Josh Harrison.  Liriano then hit 3B Chase Headley with a pitch, moving Cabrera to second. Padres’ 1B Tommy Medica next hit a slow hopper to Liriano, who threw to 2B Josh Harrison for the force. Harrison attempted to complete the double play, throwing wildly to first, with Cabrera scoring on the error.

The third San Diego run came in the bottom of the fourth. Medica led off with a walk, Liriano struck out CF Cameron Maybin and got Ike Davis on a soft grounder back to the mound – with Medica moving to second.  Liriano then intentionally walked 2B Jace Peterson to bring up P Ian Kennedy – who also walked, loading the bases.  Liriano walked Denorfia to force in the final run of the game. The Pirates scored their two runs on seven hits, including four singles, a double, a triple and a McCutchen home run.

Just Like Little League – Moving Those Pitchers Around

On June 9, with the Astros up 4-3 on the Diamondbacks (in Arizona), Houston left-handed reliever Tony Sipp came on to start the bottom of the seventh inning and retired Arizona, giving up just one walk. Sipp came back out for the eighth and opened the inning by fanning left-handed hitting Diamondbacks’ RF Gerardo Parra. This brought right-handed, power hitting 1B Paul Goldschmidt to the plate. Houston manager Bo Porter brought in right-handed reliever Jerome Williams to face Goldschmidt, but with left-handed hitting C Miguel Montero on deck, he didn’t want to give up a favorable lefty-lefty match up. So, Porter sent Sipp to right field, moved RF Alex Pressley to left field and pulled LF Robbie Grossman. The best laid plans don’t always go as expected – Williams walked Goldschmidt.  Then Porter got back into the act, returning Sipp to the mound (to face lefty Montero, whom he fanned), moving Presley from left field back to right field and bringing in Marwan Gonzalez to play left.  After Sipp fanned Montero, he was replaced on the mound by Kyle Farnsworth, who struck out Diamondbacks’ 3B Martin Prado to end the inning.  The P-RF-P move apparently paid off, as the Astros held on to win.

Just six days later, it was nearly déjà vu all over again. This time, the Astros were at home, trailing Tampa Bay 4-3 in the eighth. Sipp came on to relieve Jerome Williams (with one run in and runners on second and third with one out).  Sipp got left-handed hitter RF Kevin Kiermaier on a fielder’s choice (2B-C).  Then with right-handed power-hitting 3B Evan Longoria coming up, Porter brought in righty Josh Zeid to pitch, moving Sipp to left field and pulling LF Robbie Grossman. Sipp returned to the mound in the top of the ninth, with Presley taking left field, and sandwiched a fly out and a strikeout around a single before again being relieved by Farnsworth, who fanned pinch hitter Sean Rodriguez to end the inning.  Seeing a pattern here?

Brotherly Love can be Powerful

On June 24, B.J. and Justin Upton tied an MLB record when the brothers both homered for the Braves in a 3-2 win over the Astros. It was the fourth time they homered in the same game as teammates – tying Vladimir and Wilton Guerrero and Jason and Jeremy Giambi for that distinction.  It looks like they’ll have plenty of time as Braves’ teammates to take sole possession of the record – and they may need it.

Last season, the Upton brothers roared out of the gate – homering in three of the first 20 games they played together. Then, however, there was a 217-game, 14-month, dry spell.  Hopefully, the wait for the fifth game in which they go deep as teammates will not be as long.  

Standings as of June 30

AL EAST

TEAM                W        L          PCT     GB       (June)

Toronto            45        39        .536                 (12-15)

Baltimore          43        39        .537     1.0       (16-12)

NY Yankees     41        40        .506     4.5       (12-15)

Boston             38        45        .458     6.5       (12-16)

Tampa Bay      36        49        .424     9.5       (13-16)

AL CENTRAL

Detroit              45        34        .570                 (14-13)

Kansas City      43        39        .491     3.5       (17-10)

Cleveland         39        43        .473     7.5       (13-13)

Chicago WS     39        44        .470     6.5       (11-18)

Minnesota        26        30        .464     8.0       (12-16)

AL WEST

Oakland           51        31        .622                 (17-9)

LA Angels        45        35        .563     5.0       (15-10)

Seattle             45        38        .542     6.5       (18-10)

Texas               37        45        .451   14.0       (9-17)

Houston           36        48        .429   16.0       (12-13)

 

NL EAST

Atlanta             45        38        .542                 (15-13)

Washington      44        38        .519     0.5       (17-11)

Miami               39        43        .476     5.5       (11-16)

NY Mets           37        46        .446     8.0       (11-17)

Philadelphia    36        46        .439     8.5       (12-17)

NL CENTRAL

Milwaukee         51        33        .607                 (18-10)

St. Louis           44        39        .530     6.5       (14-13)

Cincinnati         43        39        .524     7.0       (18-10)

Pittsburgh        42        40        .453     8.0       (17-10)

Chicago Cubs  35        46        .365     14.5     (15-13)

NL WEST

LA Dodgers     48        37        .565                 (18-10)

San Francisco  46        36        .519     0.5       (10-16)

Colorado          36        47        .434   11.0       (8-20)

San Diego        36        47        .455   11.0       (10-17)

Arizona            35        49        .404   12.5       (12-14)

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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Final Day – BallPark Tours Ramble

Note:  This is the last of four posts related to my annual BallPark Tours baseball trip.  For those who may find these reports a little self-serving, my apologies.  For those who enjoy them, my thanks.  These posts are intended to give you a look at what goes on during a BPT trip – as well as to entertain some of my fellow travelers. Back to the usual topics in a few days. For more info on BallPark Tours click here. 

Day Five – Sunday, June 22

What the properly attired fan is wearing these days.

What the properly attired fan is wearing these days.

The BallPark Tours’ crew was clearly fired up for the final day of the Show Me State Ramble.  The bus was slated to depart for Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium (from the Holiday Inn Country Club Plaza) at 11:30 a.m. (1:10 p.m. game time), but the hotel lobby began to fill up with individuals in baseball t-shirts, jerseys and hats by 11:00 a.m.

While we waited to board the bus, we traded stories that focused primarily on the previous evening’s activities – which took most people to the nearby Country Club Plaza shopping, dining and entertainment district. The 15-block area – walking distance from the hotel – featured 150 shops and more than three dozen restaurants – and provided ample opportunity to enjoy a final “night on the town.”

Once at the stadium, we were pleasantly surprised by our loge seats, in the lower second deck overhang along the third base line.  A great view, protection from the sun (another hot and steamy day) and a free Royals Baseball Insider magazine.  And, there were other surprises.

Tour participants soon discovered and passed on the word that a visit to the Royals Hall of Fame (left field corner) was well worth the time for several reasons:

  • It was air-conditioned;
  • The displays were interesting and informative;
  • Former MLB pitcher Marty Pattin (114-109, 3.62 in a 13-season MLB career with the Angels, Pilots/Brewers, Red Sox and Royals) and outfielder Jim Eisenreich (.290-52-477, with 105 steals in 15 seasons with the Twins, Royals, Phillies, Marlins and Dodgers) were signing autographs.  Note:  Our primarily Minnesota-rooted group was especially excited to see Eisenreich, a Minnesota native who also spent time with the Twins.
    Make Your Own Bloody Mary brings out the creativity among our BPT crew.

    Make Your Own Bloody Mary brings out the creativity among our BPT crew.

    Word that Sunday is “Make Your Own Bloody Mary Day” in the 309 Bar and Grill (just down the hall from our seats in Section 306) also  spread quickly – and tour participants put together some dazzling combinations, complementing generous vodka pours with selections from the available assortment of mixes, spices, vegetables (peppers, onions, asparagus, celery), olives, pickles, pepperoni and more. (All for $9.25 plus tax, basically a ten-dollar bill.)

BBRT Note:  In yesterday’s post, I proclaimed the regular Bloody Mary at Kauffman the worst on this trip.  However, if you are in the stadium on Sunday and make your way to “309,” your Bloody Mary experience will – like the 1991 Twins and 2013 Red Sox – go from “worst-to-first.”

BPT Kauffman2The final game of the trip was another low-scoring affair that didn’t go well for the home team – with the visiting Mariners besting the Royals 2-1.  The hits were even at seven apiece, but the Royals’ safeties were all singles, while the Mariners banged out three doubles and a difference-making home run (Mike Zunino, seventh inning). The Royals did take an early lead (second inning), scratching out a run on singles by LF Alex Gordon and C Salvador Perez and a sacrifice fly by RF Justin Maxwell.  Meanwhile, Royals’ starter Yordano Ventura gave up only a walk and a double over the first four innings. In the fifth, however, the Mariners tied the game on a pair of doubles (Zunino and number-nine hitter 2B Willie Bloomquist).  After that – other than Zunino’s 7th homer – it was pretty much a chess game, with the Mariners using four relief pitches to hold off the Royals and a pair of ninth-inning pinch-hitters.

Some observations:

  • I did buy some souvenirs for my family, and it would appear the Royals overestimated the return from the 2012 All Star Game, since I received my purchase in a 2012 All Star Game “logoed” bag. Waste not, want not.
  • The Royals’ fans, while once again (to their credit) did not attempt a “wave,” did bounce a beach ball around the seats behind the plate during the fourth-inning action.
  • As the relief pitchers walked in from the bull pen, I found myself missing the little golf carts (designed and painted to like giant baseballs) that so many ball parks once used to deliver relievers.
  • I made a “call,” although that was not necessarily my intention, in the second inning.  As Royals’ number-nine hitter SS Alcides Escobar came to the plate to face the Mariners’ Roenis Elias, the scoreboard informed the fans that Escobar had hit his first grand slam off Elias.  At the time, I said that if I was the pitcher and they put that message up in big letters on the scoreboard behind me, I’d probably nail the batter.  Elias then hit Escobar on the next pitch.
  • Zunino, who hit the game-winning homer and also scored the Mariners’ first run after a fourth-inning double, was an unlikely hero.  He came into the game hitting just .219, with 18 strikeouts in his last 35 at bats.
  • The Royals have lost four straight, by a total of five runs – including three 2-1 losses.
BallPark Tour Show Me State Ramble group - and our home on the road.

BallPark Tour Show Me State Ramble group – and our home on the road.

After the game, it was back on the bus for the long ride home – we got back to Saint Paul after midnight.  This leg of the trip started out strong, lots of laughter, some singing and occasional chants of “USA, USA!” when positive news of the USA-Portugal World Cup soccer match were reported by those following on their smartphones.  About midway through the ride, we stopped for a dinner break (again a strategic location with lots of fast food choices).  Then, in the parking lot of a KFC, the tour operator handed out this trip’s “awards” – special pins for stellar first-timers (the Rookie Award), Veterans Pins for those completing their third BallPark Tours’ trip and other awards for various notable performances over the previous five days.  Then it was time for a group photo (taken by the KFC hostess) and back on the bus.

During the last leg of our journey, the group, as usual, seemed to get quieter.  As darkness fell and the miles added up,  the books, headphone and “tablets” came out in force – at least among those who were nodding off (presumably with sweet dreams of 6-4-3 double plays)

One final thought.  This tour may be in the books, but I, for one, can’t “Wait until next year!”  For more on BallPark Tours click here.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.

BallPark Tours Ramble – Diverse Amusements

Note:  This is the third of four posts related to my annual BallPark Tours baseball trip.  For those who may find these reports a little self-serving, my apologies.  For those who enjoy them, my thanks.  These posts are intended to give you a look at what goes on during a BPT trip – as well as to entertain some of my fellow travelers. Back to the usual topics in a few days.

 

Day Three – Diverse Amusements

A key advantage to BallPark Tours is that tour operator Julian Lescalzo likes to give his clients a chance to enjoy more than just the ball parks in the cities they visit.  He provides “in-port down time,” so that his band of travelers can enjoy the local sights, tastes and culture.  By the way, if you are ever considering a traveling baseball adventure, BPT is the way to go – more info here.

On the morning of Day Three of the Ramble (a free day in St. Louis), our BPT band headed out in many directions.  Among the popular attractions were the:  St. Louis Art Museum: ride to the top of the St. Louis Arch; trolley tours of the city; Missouri History Museum; and, of course, the Saint Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum proved a great stop.

The Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum proved a great stop.

After breakfast and a 45-minute work out in the hotel exercise room, I made my way to Ball Park Village and the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum. Well worth the trip – and the ten-dollar (senior) admission charge ($12 regular adult charge).  There was, however, a bit of a burn.  They young woman selling tickets asked for my identification, saying “I’ll need to see your ID” … pause … “Not for the senior part.”  I told her she could have said it was for the “senior part,” just to make me feel better about myself.  She then went into an embarrassed explanation of the fact they don’t check for ages, just to make sure your ID matches the name on your credit card.  The longer she talked, the deeper she dug. She declined to have her picture taken for this blog.

The museum is loaded memorabilia from Saint Louis baseball history – not just Cardinals, but also from the AL’s Saint Louis Browns, the Negro League’s Saint Louis Stars and a host of other professional and semi-pro baseball operations.  Overall, there are more than 16,000 artifacts and hundreds of thousands of photographs, films and videos.  It is, in fact, the largest collection of baseball memorabilia outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I even had a chance to pose with a Stan Musial game-used bat (they do make you wear clear plastic gloves). If you ever visit the museum make sure to take time to watch some videos.  They cover a lot of ground – from Red Schoendienst and Ozzie Smith giving their views on turning the double play to past managers commenting on the DH.

World Cup soccer was popular at Ball Park Village.

World Cup soccer was popular at Ball Park Village.

I’d also suggest at least taking a stroll through Ball Park Village, which opened this March.  It’s right across from Busch Stadium and bills itself as the first-ever sports-anchored entertainment districts. Plenty of restaurants, bars and entertainment to enjoy.

From the museum, it was on to lunch.  Three of us took a $15 cab ride to Pappy’s Smokehouse (3106 Olive Street), one of Saint Louis’ top spots for barbeque (ribs, pork, chicken) Memphis-style.  We arrived shortly after noon and the line was already well outside the entrance.  We knew we were in the right place, however, when we offered a customer picking up a take-out order$500 for their bag of ribs and were told “Not even for that!”   I had a lunch of a half-rack, with sides of coleslaw and fried sweet corn ($15.99) – and used Pappy’s Original and the Holly’s Hot sauce.  Delicious and well worth the cab ride.  A talk with the owner revealed that, in 2013, Pappy’s served 100,000 slabs (240,000 pounds) of ribs and a total of 320 tons of meat (not to mention 41 tons of sweet potato fries).  I am a statistics guy after all. On a side note, our esteemed tour leader headed for the restroom after we finished eating and when he hit the button on the air blown hand dryer, the power went out in the entire restaurant.  It was still out when we caught our cab back to the hotel.

Great spot for lunch.

Great spot for lunch.

This trip is about baseball, so let’s get to it – the Cardinal’s/Phillies tilt in the evening.  The Phillies topped the home town Red Birds (who are trying to chase down the surprising Brewers) 5-1. The game started out as a pitchers’ duel between the Phils’ A.J. Burnett and the Cards’ Jaime Garcia, with Saint Louis up 1-0 after four innings.  The run came in the third on a hit batter (3B Matt Carpenter), a single by CF Jon Jay and a run-scoring single by LF Matt Holliday. The Phils (now winners of nine of their past eleven) answered with two in the top of the fifth – on a lead-off double by John Mayberry, a one-out double by pitcher A.J. Burnett (ending the debate on why we didn’t see a pinch hitter), and an RBI double by SS Jimmy Rollins.  The Phils then broke the game open with three more runs in the sixth (RF Marlon Byrd led off with a home run, CF Dominic Brown doubled, Mayberry singled him home, Cards’ first baseman Matt Adams made a nice play to retire 3B Cody Asche, Burnett worked a walk and SS Jimmy Rollins hit a sacrifice fly.

A few observations on the game:

  • A.J. Burnett threw a complete game seven-hitter (Don’t see those much anymore) and gave the game ball to his grandmother, who was seeing him pitch in person for the first time ever.
  • There was about a 50-minute rain delay (that started at least fifteen minutes before the rain arrived). One BPTer remarked that the FORD in Ford Plaza (site of many pre-game festivities, might stand for Fear-Of-Rain Delay. Everything did look brighter after the rain.
  • It was Bob Gibson jersey night (first 25,000 fans) and I arrived early (about 5:00) to stand in a crowd outside the gates – in 90+ degree heat – to make sure I snagged my prize.  Turned out, they still had jerseys at 6:00 (7:15 game time).
  • I got my 4-6-3 double play in the bottom of the first inning.
  • Our seats were in the outfield (metal, bench-style), yet the tickets cost about twice as much as the previous game.  (Not a fan of baseball’s premium pricing strategies.)
  •  I don’t know why I notice these things, but the top six spots in the Cardinals’ line-up were Matt, Not Matt, Matt, Not Matt, Matt, Not Matt (Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Matt Adams, Yadier Molina.) The Matt/Not Matt order may be the latest version of the left/right strategy.
  • As USA Today, Fox News, MLB.com and other media outlets reported, players, umps and fans alike were set upon by swarms of annoying and not very tasty bugs. In the words of the MLB.com report, “From every which way, the small creatures swarmed upon Busch Stadium, and there was no escaping.”
  • The A.J. Burnett on the mound was not the one that pitched for the Twins.
  • The Cardinals need to revamp their score card – it only has lines for nine players, and this is in a league that does not use the DH.  Oh, and if any Cardinal executives are reading this, an on-screen replay now and then wouldn’t hurt.
  • My box score oddity for the game – a 3-1-3 out.  Phillies’ 1B Ryan Howard hit a grounder to first, off the glove of Cards’ 1B Matt Adams.  The ball bounced back toward pitcher Trevor Rosenthal, who stumbled, but managed to shovel the ball back to Adams at first as Ryan jumped over the Cards’ closer.

Day Four – On to Kansas City

Day four of the Ramble began with free breakfast (thanks again, Julian) – and an 8:00 a.m. departure time, as we hustled down the highway to make a 1:10 start in Kansas City.  The time passed fairly quickly, thanks to the early opening of the “Back of the Bus Bloody Mary Bar” and the stand-up (actually sit-down) comedy team of Chatterbox, Cliff and Brillo. We were regaled with stories on every topic from every era.  There were, in fact, “no awkward silences.” There was also a dice game with sports and entertainment books as prizes, an announcement of the early winners of the runs scored prediction contest and a reappearance of the “Jimmy” buffet.

BPT KauffThe arrival at Kauffman Stadium reminded many of our group of the old Metropolitan Stadium.  Located in the suburbs rather than right in the city, there was lots of parking – and lots of tailgating.  Brats were being grilled, Frisbees were flying and cold beer was disappearing across the parking lot.

It was of course, another hot and steamy day (a scorcher in Minnesota parlance) and so we all lathered up with sun screen. Then it was across the parking lot to the gates, where we had to have our bags searched, water bottles emptied and pockets emptied of cameras, cell phones, etc. – before raising our arms and being “wanded” by security personnel with hand-held metal detectors.  Kansas City must be one tough town. Then it was on to our (great) seats, lower level, behind the first base dugout – in the shade. 

The ball park itself, which opened in 1973, is the sixth-oldest stadium in major league baseball.  It’s been remodeled (2009), but still has that ‘70s feel (a little more toward stadium than ball park).  Still, it seemed more intimate then Busch (we were closer to the action), has a great scoreboard video screen and the fountains offer a unique look. What I am saying, I guess, is that it may have a ’70s look, but it works.  It’s a good place to watch a ball game.

Wow!  I coulda "shoulda" had a V8!

Wow! I coulda “shoulda” had a V8!

Once in the park, I scored by Bloody Mary at the Boulevard Pub (for rating purposes only). This one got a two on a scale of ten. Very mild mix (almost just tomato juice), a small 1/4 slice of line -no pepper, tabasco, celery salt, olives or other add-ons – at a cost of $9.25.  This trip, Busch Stadium won the Bloody Mary wars.

The Royals/Mariners game was a crisply played (that’s what we say now when a game goes under 3 hours – 2:42) 2-1 Mariners victory – featuring Seattle’s 6’ 10” Chris Young versus the Royals’ (undersized at just 6-feet) Jason Vargas. The Mariners scored first (in the third inning) on a single by the number-nine hitter (SS Brad Miller), a single by CF James Jones and a run-scoring base hit by LF Cole Gillespie. Meanwhile, Young was perfect through four innings. When he finally gave up a hit, it almost looked like he couldn’t stop. The Royals’ LF (and clean-up hitter) Alex Gordon led off the fifth with a home run, which was followed by a single from C Salvador Perez (thrown out 8-4 trying to stretch it into a double) and another single by RF Justin Maxwell.  Young then settled down and gave up only a walk over the next 2 2/3 innings. The winning tally was scored in the top of the ninth. Mariners’ 3B Kyle Seager rapped a two-out double.  Catcher Stefen Romero hit a hard hopper that was bobbled by Royals’ 2B Pedro Ciriaco (but ruled a hit), as Seager moved to third.  DH Jesus Montero brought Seager home with a single.

Some observations:

  • There were four 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 double plays.
  • My odd score card notation for the day: 2-5-1-2-3-6.  Yes, you read that right.  In the top of the ninth, with Stefeno Romero on third and Jesus Montero on first (Hmm, the Romero-Montero Show/), Montero broke for second and Romero (don’t get confused here) came down the line “a bit” from third.  It turned out to be a bit too far. (Any one catch the movie reference?) Royals’ catcher Salvador Perez fired to third baseman Mike Moustakas and Romero was caught in a run- down that went from Moustakas to pitcher Fernando Rodney, back to Perez, then to first baseman Eric Hosmer and, finally, to shortstop Alcides Escobar, who put on the tag.
  • There were only two “first pitches,” a low (high for me) for this trip.
  • The Royals fans, bless them, did not attempt the wave.
  • We almost saw a second consecutive complete game, as the Royals’ Jason Vargas went 8 2/3 innings.
  • The score card had plenty of room – 12 lines, each divided by two. (Try to visualize it, too hard to explain.)
  • The game, which proved “clean” from a score-sheet perspective, didn’t start that way.  Within the first three batters, we saw an error and a balk.
  • I made a bad pre-game decision to go “old school” and buy a hot dog from a vendor in the stands. Never saw a hot dog vendor. Did they go the way of rotary phones?
Impromptu Car Show at the Holiday Inn.

Impromptu Car Show at the Holiday Inn.

After the game, we checked into the Holiday Inn Country Club Plaza – very near a great (if, perhaps a tad upscale for a baseball trip) dining, entertaining and shopping district. There is a classic car show in town and, with some or the participants staying at the same hotel, we did enjoy an impromptu preview.

Final thought for the day.  Four-dollar house wine at the Holiday Inn and one more game to go. Are we having fun yet?  Yep, we are having fun still.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

BallPark Tours Ramble – Day 2

Show-Me-State Ramble … Day 2 … June 19, 2014

The second day of the BallPark Tours Ramble (see day one here) took us to Saint Louis, the Crowne Plaza Hotel and beautiful Busch Stadium – but I’m getting ahead of myself.  We left Des Moines at 9:00 a.m., with an ETA of 4:00 p.m. for Saint Louis (game time: 7:15).  As we boarded our deluxe motor coach, it was clear our group had been a boon to the Iowa economy the night before.  Among the most often heard phrases as we got underway were:  “Where were we?  What time did we get in?  Did I dance? “My favorite though was “Do you remember ________________?” (Fill in the blank.)

It was eerily quiet (at least for a BallPark Tours’ trek) in the early morning hours, until Bob (aka “Chatterbox” – BPT loves nicknames) broke out the Bloody Mary’s.  Things then perked up, with actual reminisces of the night before, plenty of baseball talk, Chatterbox actually getting to the point, and smart-phone photo snapping of those hardiest of revelers who remained asleep in their seats. (As one traveler noted, “They’re so cute at that age.”)

There was a strategic, 45-minute lunch stop along the way – the bus parked within strides of McDonald’s, Long John Silver’s, Taco Bell and other health-focused fast food establishments.  Despite traveling through rain (an omen?), we made Saint Louis on time.  Our rooms, however, were not all ready, so we spent a bit of time in the lounge, waiting for our pass keys.  Once we got to the rooms, however, the wait proved worth it. The Crowne Plaza is a very nice hotel in a great location – maximum ten-minute walk to the ball park, even closer to the St. Louis Arch.  My room is large, with a working balcony (room for multiple chairs) and a view of the river.  Kudos to tour operator Julian.

Seats at Busch Stadium on Day Two.

Seats at Busch Stadium on Day Two.

Then it was off to Busch Stadium, which took me right past Ballpark Village – the nation’s first-ever, sports-anchored entertainment district, which opened this March. (More on that in a future post.)

What strikes you most as you approach the stadium is the “sea of red.”  They love their Cardinals here and team garb – much of it rejoicing in the Redbird’s 11 World Series championships – is everywhere.  Once in Busch Stadium, the outfield view is clean and colorful – blue sky, bright red seats, crisp green grass and, beyond the outfield, a view of the St. Louis arch.  Good place to watch a game, and I’m sure the 42,106 in attendance would agree.

Bob and Trish made a solid Bloody Mary and good conversation.

Bob and Trish made a solid Bloody Mary and good conversation.

After making my way to my seat – second deck down the left field line – I went in search of a Bloody Mary to rate (wanting to get the bad taste of my Des Moines Principal Park experience – see yesterday’s post – out of my mind).   Hallelujah, Bob and Trish at “The Cabana” – second deck behind Section 265 – saved the day.  They make a solid Bloody Mary, fairly priced at ten dollars, served in a “keepable” glass.  Bob asked if I wanted it spicy, whether I wanted celery salt around the rim and tossed in two olives and a slice of lime.  The drink proved to have enough bite, the celery salt added flavor that was missing in Des Moines and the olives provided a tasty finish.

Even better, Bob and Trish offered advice on local offerings in the areas of eating, drinking, live music, museums and more.  Hearing I was from Minnesota, Bob (a fan of Irish music) even provided a couple of recommendations for spots in Minneapolis/St. Paul.   Clearly, this pair enjoyed working “The Cabana” and had pride in their city and their Cardinals. If anyone in Busch Stadium management is listening, I nominate Bob and Trish for employee(s) of the month.

BBRT Note:  I heard later from other BPT trekkers that friendly service is the norm, rather than the exception, at Busch.  Lots of good experiences – congrats to the Cardinals.

The game got underway at 7:15, after about a dozen “first pitches,” and renditions of both “God Bless America” and the national anthem.  While the weather forecasts had threatened rain, it was sunny and 91 degrees at game time. BPT has had only one rain out in its long and storied history.

Pretty good contest.  Scoreless through three, with Jon Jay hitting into a 4-6-3 double play in the bottom of the first (BBRT loves the 4-6-3 and 6-4-3 twin killings.) The Phillies, who have won eight of their last ten games, broke through with two runs in the top of the fourth – on a double by catcher Carlos Ruiz, a single by 2B Chase Utley, an RBI single by 1B Ryan Howard and a sacrifice fly by LF Dominic Brown (all off Cardinals’ starter Shelby Miller). Howard, a Saint Louis native, was the star of the Phillies’ 4-1 victory (or would have been, if stars were awarded), adding two more RBI on a home run in sixth. Not far behind was rookie pitcher David Buchanan, who pitched the best game of his career (well, just six starts and a 3-3, 4.95 record). Buchanan, who had given up seven home runs in his first five starts (28 2/3 innings), went 7 2/3, giving up just four hits and one run.

A few observations from the game:

  • After yesterday’s game in Des Moines, it is clear (pun intended) that major leaguers get to play under much better lighting than minor leaguers.
  •  Second guessing is one of the best parts of being a fan.  In the bottom of the sixth, with the Cardinals trailing 4-0, there was considerable discussion of why Cards’ manager Mike Matheny didn’t pinch hit for pitcher Shelby Miller.  Miller promptly lined a rope of a double to left center.  (Just another reason why I hate the DH.)
  • I have an unusual notation in my score book for the bottom of the fourth … 4-1 (second base to pitcher for the out).  Yadier Molina led off the inning for the Cards with a grounder to the right side. Phillies’ 1B Ryan Howard and 2B Chase Utley both went for the ball – with Utley making the play and tossing to Buchanan (covering first) for the out.  I usually only see 4-1 on those scorecard Bingo games popular in so many parks these days.
  • While I am still not into mascots, at least the Cardinals’ mascot is actually a Cardinal. So many teams boast oversized stuff creatures that have nothing to do with the team name. Yes, Julian, that includes the Phillies’ Phanatic.
  • The BPT group did themselves proud when a good portion of the pre-game and early-game chatter focused on trying to name the players attached to the displayed Cardinals’ retired numbers.
  • Cardinals’ fans embarrassed themselves in the seventh inning (during the inning, not between frames) with ten minutes of the “wave” – and they weren’t even in leisure suits. Let me say it one more time, “Ban the Wave!”
  • The scoreboard operators violated a (and this is ironic) cardinal rule of fandom (don’t stand up and block the view) when, during the eighth-inning action, they filled the scoreboards with “Stand Up and Get Loud.”  In deference to the fans behind me, I declined to stand.
  • From an informal survey of the crowd, Cardinals’ fans paid too much for the Pujols jerseys to retire them now that he is an Angel.  Jersey of the Day – two rows in front of us, “Spezio.”
Breakfast is served.

Breakfast is served.

Mid-game, our illustrious tour operator passed out (bad choice of words, maybe distribute is better) coupons good for a free buffet breakfast in the Crowne Plaza’s Earth Grille.  I made it there this a.m. – the offerings included lots of fruit, cereal, toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy and hash browns.  Possibly a mea culpa for the delayed check-in?

Final thought, mostly for my fellow trekkers, and this may be part of the Kwiz tie-breaker.  It seems appropriate as we enjoy the hospitality of Busch Stadium.

What Baseball Hall of Famer was married to the daughter of Anheuser-Busch brewery owner August Busch, Jr.? 

That would be my favorite player of all time, Braves’ slugger (512 HRs) Eddie Mathews. Elizabeth Busch-Burke was the third of his four wives.

Well, breakfast and this post complete – on to Day 3 – Cardinals Hall of Fame on tap.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.

BallPark Tours’ Show-Me-State Ramble

Today was Day One of my nearly annual baseball trek with BallPark Tours – my 25th excursion with Julian Lescalzo’s traveling baseball festival.  This year’s trek (the first of two for BallPark Tours in 2014) has been labeled the “Show Me State Ramble” and is taking us from Saint Paul, MN to:

  • Des Moines – for an Iowa Cubs/El Paso Chihuahuas (now there’s an imposing team mascot) game.
  • Saint Louis – for two Cardinals/Phillies tilts.
  • Kansas City – for a pair of Royals/Mariners match-ups.

(For more information on BallPark Tours, click the BPT icon on the right-hand side of the page.)

As in the past couple of seasons, I thought I’d report on our progress occasionally, just  to give you a feel for the BPT experience.

Wednesday, June 18

Approximately 45 of us left Saint Paul on the coach bus a little after noon – renewing old friendships and making new ones (all based on a passion for our national pastime). The specially designed tour t-shirts were distributed (photo in a later post), as were the traditional baseball trivia “Kwiz” and entry forms for a contest based on predicting how many runs will be scored across MLB during our travels.  Beverages, snacks and lively conversation all flowed freely – and loudly – as we rolled on toward game one on the tour.

Jimmy Buffet made an appearance.   Thanks, "rev."

Jimmy Buffet made an appearance. Thanks, “rev.”

About an hour out of Saint Paul, we were introduced (courtesy of a tour participant who has earned the title “Lunchmaster”) to the newly constructed “Jimmy” buffet – which made the rounds of the bus smoothly and tastefully.  We were required to sing a couple verses of “Lunchmaster, Lunchmaster” (to the tune of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”) before being allowed to partake.

We arrived in Des Moines about 4:30, got our tickets and checked into the historic Hotel Fort Des Moines.  Once we were checked in, a good percentage of the group made their way to the Racoon River Brewing Company – conveniently located right next door to the hotel – and even more conveniently featuring (upon our arrival) a happy hour with microbrews Bandit IPA, Tallgrass Light, Homestead Red, Vanilla Cream Ale and Stonecutter Stout for just two-dollars a pint.  A good – and cost-effective – time was had by all.

From there it was on to the ball park, the 11,500 seat Principal Park, for a 7:05 game between the AAA Iowa Cubs and El Paso Chihuahuas (a Padres’ farm team).  Depending on your preference, you made the journey via a healthy (if somewhat hot and humid) walk, the free hotel shuttle or taxi. (I chose to walk to the game and shuttle back.)

It might have been the weather (hot and humid), day of the week (Wednesday) or the Iowa Cubs’ 34-35 record), but the park was less than half full (announced attendance 4,802).  And it was even Iowa Oaks night, when the team wore throwback Iowa Oaks uniforms and offered one-dollar hot dogs (of which our group consumed many). For those of you who care about such things, the Iowa team was known as the Oaks from 1969-81 (an Oakland A’s farm club 1969-71) and its most famous alumni from the period is new BB HOFer Tony LaRussa, who played for the Oaks (1969-71) and managed them in 1979.

Uninspiring Bloody Mary at Principal Park.

Uninspiring Bloody Mary at Principal Park.

 

I always like to review each stadium’s Bloody Mary offerings in this blog and the review will be brief for Principal Park.  First, the beverage of choice is available in “The Bottom of the Fifth” bar. Catchy name, but that’s as far as it goes.  As much as the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers’ Bloody Mary Bar was awe-inspiring (see here), Principal Park’s offering was uninspiring  – vodka, mix from a bottle, with no pepper, Tabasco, celery, olives or pickles.  Hoping for better in Saint Louis.

Now to the baseball, the game offered a little something for almost everyone, as Iowa took an early lead and held on to beat El Paso 3-1.  The Cubs scored first with speed, as shortstop/leadoff hitter Arismendy Alcantara (one of several “name game” tongue-twisters in the game) drew a seven-pitch walk, then stole second (his 13th steal in 16 attempts this season), moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on single by C/clean-up hitter Rafeal Lopez. Alcantara would pick up his 14th stolen base after a fourth-inning single.  They added to the lead later in the inning, when Lopez scored on a single by 1B Josh Vitters (who came into the game hitting just .214, but would collect three hits).  For those who prefer a power display, Vitters scored and drove in the Cubs’ third run with a fifth-inning home run to left.

Meanwhile, Iowa starter Dallas Beeler kept the Chihuahuas’ bats from barking, holding El Paso scoreless through six – thanks in part to (what later proved game-saving) a running/diving catch by Cubs’ right fielder Bret Jackson with runners on first and third and two outs in the sixth. Beeler, who evened his record at 3-3, left the game after being pinch hit for in the bottom of the sixth – and not too long thereafter, the fans who prefer a little “tension” in the contest got their wish.

BPTPrincipalThe seventh inning was pretty much uneventful, but when Cubs’ reliever Zac Rosscup (sporting a nifty 2.77 ERA) came in,  El Paso began hammering the ball. Although he gave up just one run on two hits, four of the five batters Rosscup faced laced the ball.  There was more excitement in the eighth, as Cubs’ closer Blake Parker came in to seek his 14th save. He got it, but brought the fans up out of their seats (which they were  stuck to by the humidity) by giving up two singles and a walk (after retiring the first two Chihuahuas he faced) to load the bases with two outs and a two-run lead.  He ran the count full on El Paso’s Jonathan Galvez (the club’s leading hitter at .316) before retiring him on a fly to right.  Good game. good night and – as we saw on some pale faces in the a.m. –  it was just beginning for  few of our group.

Now, about those names:  Three who took the field that BBRT found interesting – the previously mentioned Arismendy Alcantara, El Paso starting pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne, and Cubs’ LF Matt Szczur (pronounced See-Zer).

On a side note:  Manny Ramirez, signed as a player-coach on May 25, did not make an appearance and did not seem to be in the ball park. Appropriately, one of our intrepid touring group was wearing a “Manny being Manny” t-shirt (and she eventually showed up on the big scoreboard – much to our applause).

As is usually the case at AAA, a few players who have seen limited time in the big leagues were spotted on the field (like Iowa’s Ryan Kalish, Zac Rosscup, Chris Valaika, Josh Vitters, and Casper Wells.  The most notable former MLBer who played in the game was El Paso’s Jeff Francoeur (who appeared in a pinch-hitting role), whose nine-season MLB journey includes the Braves, Mets, Rangers, Royals, Giants – and soon, he hopes, Padres.  For all of the Twins’ fans in our group, former Twins’ catcher Brian Harper coached a perfect game at 3B

 

More tour posts to come – pardon any typos, hard to post on the bus.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Mike Lansing – Holds Yellow Jersey of MLB Cycles

On this date (June 18), 14 years ago, Colorado Rockies’ second baseman Mike Lansing earned the “Yellow Jersey” of MLB “cycles,” – complete the cycle in just four innings.

LansingLansing, hitting second in the order, hit an RBI triple to right in the first inning (getting the most difficult leg of the cycle out of the way), added a two-run home run in the bottom of the second, hit a two-run double in the bottom of the third (as the Rockies scored nine times to take a 14-1 lead), and then completed the cycle with a single to right in the fourth. Lansing then struck out in the sixth, before being pinch hit for in the eighth.  Lansing’s day?  Four-for-five, three runs, five RBI and MLB’s quickest-ever cycle, as the Rockies topper Arizona 19-2.

Drafted (in the sixth round of the MLB draft) out of Wichita State, where he was a 1989 All American, the  6’/175 lb. right-hander was primarily a second baseman in his nine- season major league career – although he also saw considerable time at third base and shortstop. He hit .275 with 14 home runs, 120 RBI and 90 stolen bases in three minor league seasons (193 games) before making the Montreal Expos roster in 1993.  In his rookie season, Lansing appeared in 141 games, going .287-3-45, with 23 steals.

Never an All Star, Lansing proved a valuable, reliable and versatile roster addition during his career (1993-2001 -Expos/Rockies/Red Sox) –finishing with a .271 average, 84 home runs, 440 RBI and 119 steals in 1,110 games. Lansing reached 20 home runs once (1997), topped 20 steals three times (1993-95-96), and hit 40 or more doubles twice (1996-97). Injuries took their toll late in his career and in his final two MLB seasons, he hit just .243.

In addition to his fastest-ever cycle, Lansing shares (with 54 others) the record for the most home runs in an inning (two). On May 7, 1997, Lansing hit a two-run and three-run homer in a 13-run sixth inning as the Expos topped the Giants 19-3 in San Francisco.

For the game, Lansing was four-for-five, with three runs and five RBI.