Ballpark Tours 2017 – Day Four – Baseball and Bloody Mary’s – Fist Bump

Sunday morning, and the last day of our baseball extended weekend.  The bus was leaving the hotel at 8:30 a.m. and the early morning saw groups of happy Ballpark Tour-ers hitting local coffee shops for hot java, baked goods and the sharing of tales from the night before.  (Note:  Some of those memories were a little fuzzy, but all of them were quite enjoyable – fine dinners, music and dancing, rib-tickling comedy and ample libation.  You get the idea.

My Saturday night included a meal at a nearby true “family” Italian restaurant, where our small group met an octogenarian who overheard the baseball chatter and immediately issued us a baseball trivia challenge.  (His first words were, “I’ve got one for you gentlemen (didn’t know us well), can you name – by position – all the players who have won consecutive Most Valuable Player Awards? ”  With that the game was on and the challenges flew back and forth.

But, back to Sunday, we rolled into Appleton, Wisconsin and the Fox Cities Stadium lot about an hour before game time.  Good thing, too.  There was lots going on.  A parking lot full of tailgaters, grills smoking and beverages raised in toast as our bus cruised through the lot.  Inside, we found some great concessions, a Sunday Bloody Mary Bar, a poster give-away, free programs, baseball Bingo and even a visit by Curious George.

Free MRI’s?

D4NeuThe full name of the ballpark in Appleton is “neuroscience group field at Fox Cities Stadium.”  (Their lower case on the first letters of neuroscience group field.

Appleton’s Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are in the same division in the same league (Class A – Midwest League) as the Beloit Snappers (who we visited on Day One), but there was no comparison. While Beloit drew a quiet crowd of just over 700 (and we all thought that was a generous accounting), the Timber Rattlers brought in close to 5,000 (4,844 announced) and they were into the action.  (For more on our Beloit experience, click here.). I thought it might be the quality of play, but I checked the standings once I got home and Beloit was one game over .500, while the Rattlers were 21-under.  I guess that Snappers really need that new stadium, they are raising money for.

Timber Rattlers’ Sunday Bloody Mary Bar

d4BloodyWell, how can you not give five stars to a Bloody Mary you make yourself?  We were at Fox Cities Stadium (Appleton, WI) as the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers hosted the Cedar Rapids Kernels. We were also – through our good luck or, perhaps, great planning by our tour operator – there on a Sunday.  That means we were in the house for Bloody Mary Day.

At two locations in the stadium, the Timber Rattlers set up make-your-own Bloody Mary Bars.  For $9.25, you get a very generous pour of vodka in a Timber Rattlers souvenir mug.  Then, you slide to the left and get to work on your own creation. You have a lot of choices as you “Build Your Bloody”:

  • Six mixes – from Classic to Super Spicy Jalapeño;
  • Bitters, Worcestershire, Tabasco;
  • Pepper and celery salt;
  • Cheese cubes, beef sticks, olives, marinated mushrooms, celery sticks, dill pickle spears.

I went with horseradish mix, bitters, Tabasco, cheese cubes (three), olives (two), mushrooms (two), a dill pickle spear and plenty of celery salt to top it off.  Pretty much everyone on the tour agrees – a solid, five-star, Bloody Mary experience. Many of our tourers left with the beginnings of a nice “set’ of Timber Rattlers’ mugs.

Ballpark Tours "spindoctor" visits the Bloody Mary Bar.

Ballpark Tours “spindoctor” visits the Bloody Mary Bar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, to the game.

D4seatsWe had great seats, just behind home plate (and our tickets got us access to the bar and seating on the Fox Club Level).  The ballpark was beautiful (as MOST are) – bright green grass, sunshine, deep blue sky and a very informative scoreboard.  (If I had one complaint, it was a lack of vendors moving through the aisles, but the concessions stands were all very close.)

The game itself was crisply played – a 4-0 Cedar Rapids’ win, with no errors, a total of only 11 hits, and three or four nice defensive plays. I had a bit of an “Is this what the game has come to?” feeling, as – just as in Saturday’s Cubs/Nationals tilt – we saw too many strikeouts (23 in each contest).

D4CarrierThe star of the game – who was declared by our group as the King of the Cup Game (see the section of this post on The Cup Game) – was Cedar Rapids’ right fielder Shane Carrier.  Carrier – a 2016 eighth-round Twins’ draft pick – started the season with the Rookie Level Elizabethan Twins, where he hit .348, with five home runs and 32 RBI in 32 games.  (He went .275-6-29 at Elizabethan in 2016.) In the first 30 games since his promotion to Cedar Rapids, he had hit .214 with one home run.  He upped his game on Sunday.  In his first at bat, he pulled a home run to left field; in his second trip to the plate he launched a long home run to center; and in his third at bat, he banged a double off the wall in right.  He ended the day three-for-four with two runs scored, two RBI and ten total bases. Being from Minnesota, we will keep an eye on this 21-year-old.

Another Kernel who looked good was southpaw starting (and winning) pitcher Charlie Barnes – a fourth round Twins’ pick in 2017.  Barnes went 2-1, with a 1.19 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings pitched at Elizabethan before his promotion to Cedar Rapids. Yesterday, he went five innings giving up no runs, two hits and one walk – while fanning seven.  In his first professional season (at Elizabeth and Cedar Rapids combined), Barnes is 3-1, with a 0.85 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings.

d4concessSide Note:  I earlier noted the solid concession offerings.  A trio recommended by Ballpark Tour trekkers who tried them: Cajun Chicken Mac & Cheese Sandwich; Mad Dog & Merrill Piggy Burger (Burger topped with pulled port, Merrill BBQ sauce and Onion Tanglers; and Mad Dog and Merrill Pulled pork and Slaw. They run between $7.50 and $10 – and bring a fresh taste to the ballpark experience.  You can see the Cajun Chicken Mac & Cheese to the left. 

The Cup Game

A Ballpark Tours’ favorite pastime witthin the National Pastime is THE CUP GAME, which a group of eight of us played in Appleton.  Here’s the idea.  First, you need an empty beer cup.  (You can either ask a vendor for one, or buy a full one and empty it. I suggest the latter). Then you pick a batting order of Cup Game players (this determines the order in which you will receive the Sacred Cup).  As each hitter comes to the plate, the Cup is passed to the next Cup Game participant. 

If your player makes an out, gets hit by a pitch, is safe on error or fielder’s choice, you put a quarter in the Cup and pass it on to the next Cup Game participant. If your player gets a hit, you empty the Cup – you are an instant winner – and pass the empty Cup on.  If your player hits a home run, you empty the Cup, pass it on and get an extra quarter from each Cup Game participant.  Side note: The second time the cup came into my hands, the batter hit a home run – pretty much assuring me of a profitable outcome.

After the game, it was back on the bus, where the lively “Back of the Bus” crowd entertained with, literally, hours of group karaoke (think a flash mob singing 60’s-70’s-and 80’s rock to a boom box) and the front the bus kept wondering when the group at the back would finally tire out.  The trip home, back in Saint Paul by about 9:30 p.m., included a couple of rest stops (one for a fast food meal) and the usual BPT Awards ceremony. Awards go to those who achieve veteran status (three trips), the best rookies on the trip and, when so deserved, to those credited with memorable “missteps.”

So, that’s it for Ballpark Tours Bleacher Bums XXXV.  You can check out Day One, here; Day Two, here; Day Three, here.  Or look at past tours, using the link ats the top of the Baseball Roundtable home page.  You can also visit the Ballpark Tours website, here.

So long, for now.  You normally scheduled blogging will resume shortly.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; Baseball Bloggers Association.

Ballpark Tours 2017 – Day Three – Back to Wrigley

Day Three of Ballpark Tours Bleacher Bums XXXV – saw our group headed back to Wrigley to watch a pair of division leaders (Nationals and Cubs) face off.  We were a bit luckier with the weather – 79 degrees and sunny. Today, we also got to see the home town Cubs bring home a victory (7-4) – which also meant we got to hear the crowd belt out the “Go, Cubs Go” victory song. Note: For the post on Day One, click here.  Day Two, here.

w3ballparkOur seats were on the lower deck just to the right of first base.  The overhanging deck did not turn out to be a problem in tracking game action, although we did have a restricted view of the video board. The Cubs get kudos for: 1) Not calling the multiple ceremonial pitches “first pitches,” but rather simply ceremonial pitches; and 2) Having only two ceremonial pitches.  However, it was perhaps the slowest version of the National Anthem I’ve heard at a ballpark (it is supposed to be sung/played at a brisk pace.). To be fair, the crowd loved it, so maybe I need to quite griping.

MORNING GLORY

In the morning, a number of BPT trekkers took in the multi-block Farmers’ Market on Division Street, just a half block from our hotel. Flowers, vegetables, great baked (read breakfast) treats, live music, arts and more.  A great way to start a Saturday.

Today’s ball game “seemed” to be pretty much decided early, as Nationals’ starter Edwin Jackson gave up hits to five of the first six batters he faced (two doubles, two singles and a home run). Ultimately, the Cubs scored four runs in the first – and it could have been worse. Nationals’ right fielder Bryce Harper, who had homered in the top of the first  (his 28th of the season) to give Washington a short-lived 1-0 lead, made a great one-hop throw to third base – cutting down Cubs’ LF Willson Contreras (yes, there are two L’s), who was attempting to go from first to third on a single by 2B Ben Zobrist. Remarkably,  starting with the final out of the first inning, Jackson righted the ship, retiring 12 of the next 13 batters (giving up just an infield single) – striking out eight. When he left (for a pinch hitter) after five innings the Nationals had closed to 4-3, and Cubs’ fans were getting nervous.

The Cubs tacked on some insurance with a two-run home run by Contreras (his 19th) in the sixth (newcomer Alex Avila hit a two-run shot in that disastrous first inning – his first hit as a Cub) and another run in the seventh.  Those were charged to a pair of relievers named Matt – Matt Grace for two tallies and Matt Albers for the other.  The Nationals scored once in the top of the eighth to keep it interesting and had Bryce Harper at the plate (as the tying run) with two out in the ninth. Cubs’ closer Wade Davis (who walked two and fanned two) struck out Harper swinging (with the crowd standing and cheering) for the final out and his 23rd save.

As with almost all games, there was plenty to see: a few sparkling defensive plays, three home runs, a couple of stolen bases – as well as three errors and too many walks (seven) and strikeouts (23). We saw a total of nine pitchers (five Cubs/four Nationals), the most effective of whom might have been Washington’s Sam Solis, whose 2017 ERA is 11.81, but who (in this contest) pitched 1 2/3 innings, facing six batters and striking out four.  Stars of the tilt: Cubs’ Willson Contreras (catcher turned left fielder) with a home run and a single in four at bats, a run scored and three RBI; Cubs’ catcher Alex Avila with a two-run homer in four at bats; Nationals’ RF Bryce Harper with a home run and a single in four at bats, two runs scored and an RBI; Cubs’ pitchers who gave up just two earned runs.

All in all, another pleasant and interesting afternoon at the ballpark.

BREAKFAST/BRUNCH

w3foodI should note that I joined with a group of trekkers that headed to the The Scout Waterhouse + Kitchen in the South Loop (1301 South Wabash Avenue) before the game.  The Scout is known as a friendly sports bar, with great pub food.  It did not disappoint – in terms of atmosphere, friendliness, service or food.

Our choices were Scout’s signature Foot-Long Triple Cheese Grilled Cheese (with tomato-basil dip); Fried Egg and Ham Foot-Long Grilled Cheese; Breakfast Burrito (pulled chicken, chorizo, multiple cheeses, scrambled eggs, black beans, corn, cholula sour cream – in a whole wheat tortilla), Pot Roast Benny (English muffin, Black Angus pot roast and poached eggs topped with chipotle hollandaise); and the more traditional scrambled eggs and smoked bacon.

w3cakeThe food was great, the service friendly and exceptional and – to top it off – the guys told our server I was celebrating my 70th birthday on the trip and she soon arrived with a birthday cake to share around the table. No wonder this place is so popular.w3waitress

 

 

 

 

THE NIGHT LIFE

Tonight, groups are heading out to a variety of ethnic restaurants, blues bars and comedy clubs. (Ballpark Tours always leaves ample unstructured time to enjoy local arts, food and culture.) Not sure where I’ll end up yet, but I am reporting on the day now (rather than tomorrow morning as is my custom on these tour diaries) because our bus leaves at 8:30 a.m. for a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game, so I won’t have time to blog tomorrow.

At any rate – more to come.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  

Ballpark Tours 35th Anniversary (Day Two) – and My 70th Birthday – At Wrigley

Ballpark Tours - Day Two Wrigley!

Ballpark Tours – Day Two Wrigley!

Day Two of Bleacher Bums XXXV (Ballpark Tours 35th Anniversary Trek) started with a rather overcast Chicago sky. Still, it looked pretty good to our hardy group of trekkers. After all, we were going to a ballgame. For a look at Day 1 – Beloit Snapper, click here.

 From about 11:00 a.m. to noon, small groups gathered in the Hotel Indigo lobby and began to make their way to the EL for the short ($3) ride to Wrigleyville. As always, the EL ride was filled with fans decked out in Cubs (and, in this case, Nationals) gear – and the conversations focused on beer and baseball (as in “Where should we go for a beer before the baseball game?”).

w2cubbyOur group answered that question with “The Cubby Bear” – one of the many sports-themed bars near Wrigley Field.  No surprise, it was packed.  We spent some time there – think loud music, laughter and lots of appetizers flying out of the kitchen – before heading to the ballpark.  If you are going to Wrigley, you also have to go to Wrigleyville (pre- and post-game.)

Our seats for the Friday afternoon game where on the upper deck, right-field corner.  While it may sound like a long ways from home plate, the site lines were fine.  The wind chill, however was another story.  It was darn cold – 63 degrees, overcast and windy – and I was in a short-sleeve pullover shirt.  (By the fifth inning, I actually made my way to the gift shop to look over the Cubs’ sweatshirts and hoodies.  I discovered, however, that I was not $75 cold yet.  Fortunately, in the sixth, a fellow BPT trekker, who had and extra Ball Perk Tours 30th Anniversary windbreaker, made me a much welcomed loan.

 

w2bloodyThe Bloody Mary – from the Jim Beam Patio (below and behind the Press Box) – was solid. A generous pour, just the right amount of celery salt and you could order it spicy or mild (go for spicy). My only recommendation would be that the Cubbies go beyond the slice of lime in terms of condiments.  A couple of olives or a dill pickle spear would add just the right touch of flavor.  Still, worth the $10.50 – especially considering the Cubs are World Champions.  (I, however, am looking forward to the Timber Rattlers Sunday Bloody Mary Bar – reviewed on these pages before – a true Baseball and Bloody Mary Bargain.)

 

Putting on a poncho in the wind was a challenge.

Putting on a poncho in the wind was a challenge.

It was a good ball game (although we didn’t get to hear the Go, Cubs, Go victory song), won by the Nationals 4-2.  With these two clubs, there were plenty of All Stars in the lineups and Nationals’ 2B Daniel Murphy’s star shone the brightest. Murphy bashed his 18th and 19th home runs of the season – going three-for-four with two runs and three RBI. We also got to see the Nationals’ revamped bullpen at work.  In July, the Nats (who, at the time, had a bullpen ERA north of 5.00) acquired Brandon Kintzler from the Twins and two A’s with closing experience in Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. All three pitched (seventh, eighth and ninth) giving Washington 2 2/3 innings of one-hit, three-strikeout  ball, For a look at the major July moves by contenders, click here.

The Cubs also benefitted from the long ball, a seventh-inning, two-run shot by SS Javier Baez, but it wasn’t enough. From BBRT’s point of view, I was pleased to see lots of infield work – and a pair of groundball double plays.

The most unique play of the day came in the bottom of the second.  Cubs’ second baseman Ben Zobrist led off with a walk (Tanner Roark pitching for the Nationals). LF Kyle Schwarber then fanned, bringing up RF Jason Heyward, who lifted a soft fly to medium center field – a can of corn for CF Brian Goodwin.  Oops! Goodwin totally whiffed on the fly ball – don’t know if it even got near his glove. RF Bryce Harper was there to field it on a bounce and fire the ball to Roark (covering second because 2B Daniel Murphy had also given chase).  Zobrist, who had help up (like all of us, expecting the fly to be caught), was forced at second (right field-to-pitcher); the first time I can recall writing 9-1 on my scorecard. (Probably would have been a TWIN-GO winner.)

w2foodaAfter the game, small groups from the tour headed out for a post-contest libation – while we waited for the EL lines to dwindle a bit.  Our group chose the nearby Raw Bar – the three-block walk just far enough to thin the crowds some.  Later, it was back to the Lodge, which has become a sort of gathering place for BPTers, meeting to discuss what type of cuisine and atmosphere to pursue for the evening meal.

I ended up with a group of four at Eduardo’s (half block from the hotel), where we dined on a four-cheese appetizer, seared-tuna salad, Spaghetti Boulegnese, prosciutto and arugula pizza, pepperoni pizza and a nice Chianti.  Another Ballpark Tours group semi-anonymously picked up the tab on the wine (for my 70th birthday, now a day behind me) and the restaurant gave us a free round of Lemoncello for dessert.w2food

All in all a great day.  And for Saturday – another Cubs/Nationals tilt.

More to come.

 

 

 

 

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Like/Follow Baseball Roundtable’s Facebook page, here.

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum; Baseball Bloggers Alliance

Ballpark Tours – The Moving Feast (or Fest)

Thursday morning August 3, 2017 and Ballpark Tours is on the road again – and so am I.

Those who follow Baseball Roundtable may remember last year’s Ballpark Tours (BPT) trek – ten days-ten ball games-seven cities; with Independent, A, AA, AAA and Major League ball and extra nights in Memphis, Nashville and Kansas City.

This year’s trip is less ambitious as BPT is celebrating its 35th anniversary by revisiting its first trip.  So, it A-Ball in Beloit and Appleton, Wisconsin, sandwiched around a pair of games at Wrigley Field and three nights in Chicago. Topping it off for me is that I will celebrate my 70th birthday (August 4) at in Wrigleyville.

So, at about 9:30 a.m., 46 touring baseball fans – most friends from previous BPT trips (this is my 29th such adventure) – board our coach and headed for a Beloit Snappers/Peoria Chiefs game. Lots of smiles, hugs and baseball stories and we renew old frienships and begin new ones.

WshnirtIt started out like a typical BPT jaunt, plenty of music and noise at the back of the bus, a more subdued (almost studious) atmosphere at the front.  Then, of course, there was the usual BPT hoopla – some provided by the tour operator (Thanks, Julian), and even more by the paying customers (think Tom Sawyer and the fence whitewashing scheme.)  As we board, we received out upgraded tour T-shirts and the chance to purchase some ultra-fine BPT 35th Anniversary swag.

Then it was off to Beloit, with a stop at the Leinenkugel Brewery on the way. (Ballpark Tours in big on brewery stops.)  Even before we got to the brewery tours and ice cold beer samples, the festivities began on the bus.  First, complementary cognac shots – in honor of my birthday – then the (now traditional) mid-bus Bloody Mary Bar, which opened at 10.30 a.m. And, of course, the walking-down-the-aisle proof that tequila is not just for breakfast any more.  As we rolled, on travelers shared check mix, chocolate chip cookies, cherries, donuts, chips and more.  Then to top it off, the associate pope (who often appears on these trips) shared crackers, cheese, “mystery meats” and even pickled herring.  (And, we haven’t even had a lunch stop, yet.)

There was also a baseball book exchange, the announcement of the “Guess How Many Runs are scored in MLB this Weekend?” contest and distribution of the baseball trivia “K-Kwiz.”  By this time, the tunes being played at the back of the bus were being joined by on-the-bus voices.  We were clearly on an early roll.

I found a good seat for the brewery picnic.

I found a good seat for the brewery picnic.

First stop, the Lienie’s Brewery (tours and tastings), where we were quickly informed to “Form a single file line” … “Listen up, I’m only gonna say this once” … and a number of tour-specific rules (from wearing safety glass to no photos to don’t step across the yellow lines). A little stern, but remember, the ultimate goal was free beer.  After (and during) the tours/tastings, we gathered for a covered (Oh yes, it was raining) picnic lunch (bring your own) on the brewery patio.  (Like we all needed even more to eat.)

Then back on the bus to Beloit (arrival about 6 p.m.), where we were served a pre-game tailgate dinner (hot dogs, brats, potato salad, chips, fruit, water, soda and up to three beers each).

Now to the game. Rain was still threatening and (in a less than wise decision), the Beloit Snappers front office choose to move the 7:00 p.m. start to 7:40.  (During the interim only a few drizzling drops fell.)

Once the game was ready to start, two youngsters from our group were called upon to throw a pair of “first” pitches.  A thrill for the kids and kudos to the tourmaster. Still, my question remains, how “first” pitches can you have? Last night, there were five.

The Snapper mascot attempted to quiet one of our touring fans. Good luck with that!

The Snapper mascot attempted to quiet one of our touring fans. Good luck with that!

The game?  The unusual Class A fare.  The Peoria Chiefs jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first five innings, and then the Beloit Snappers (snapping turtle mascot) stormed back to win it 7-6 in ten innings. (Weather delay, extra innings and a couple hundred miles to Chicago post-game … not the ideal combination.)

I might add that the Snappers walked their way to victory, Chiefs’ reliever Dewin Perez walked the bases full in the bottom of the tenth (around one out) and then gave up a walk-off sacrifice fly to Snappers’ CF/Leadoff Mike Martin.  In fact, during the contest, Peoria pitchers walked nine batters – four of whom scored.  (And, the tying run scored in the eighth on a wild pitch.)

A few other highlights:

 

 

  • An announced crowd of 715 – which looked like about 300 fewer and sounded like 700 fewer. (It was disturbingly quiet when the stadium music wasn’t blasting. Except, perhaps in our section.)
  • Home runs by Peoria 1B Juan Yepez (his seventh) and Beloit 1B Miguel Mercedes (his 14th).
  • A couple very nifty backhand plays for Peoria 3B Danny Hudzina. (In fact, there were a half dozen fine fielding plays, sprinkled among a pair of errors by Beloit SS Eric Marinez.
  • A four-for-four night by Snappers’ number-nine hitter SS Kramer Robertson (makes up for those two errors), who came into the game hitting about .220 and left hitting .248.
  • Several “final calls” on the 50-50 Raffle (the team’s 50 percent was earmarked for new ballpark – which by all “appearances” would be a good idea.
  • Some snapping-turtle-based heckling. (For example, as the Snapper fell behind, “It a turtle disaster” and, as they made their comeback You’ve got ‘em shell-shocked now.”

FieldlerBeing from Minnesota, our group cheered loudest for Peoria RF Matt Fiedler, an Eagan, Minnesota native, who also played for the University of Minnesota – where he was the team’s ace pitcher and one of its top hitters. As a Junior, in 2016, Fiedler was named Big Ten Player of the Year and was Academic All Big Ten.  on the mound, he went 7-4, 4.32 in 16 starts (4-0, 3.33 in the Big Ten). At the plate, he hit .366 with eight home runs.

In 28 games for Peoria, Fiedler has hit .273-2-7 … but he’s been hot as of late, hitting .389 over his past ten games. 

After Beloit, it was back on the bus for the run to Chicago – lights were outs and, thankfully, the eating had ceased.  We checked into the Hotel Indigo in Chicago’s Gold Coast at about 12:30 a.m. (I had aged a year during the day).  Great hotel as always – thanks Ballpark Tours.  Today – Wrigley and the World Champion Cubs.

More to come.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Follow/Like Baseball Roundtable’s Facebook page, here.

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; The Negro League’s Baseball Museum. Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Ballpark Tours 2017 Offerings – Every Mile a Memory

ballpark toursBallpark Tours (BPT) based out of Saint Paul, Minnesota, is celebrating its 35th Anniversary by offering a pair of trips that reflect a baseball-touring heritage launched back in 1982.  Ballpark Tours, which grew out of the “Save the Met” (outdoor stadium) organization, has taken busloads of fans on major- and minor-league baseball “treks” of three-to-ten days, ranging as far north as Duluth, as far south as Chattanooga, as far west as Denver,  as far east as New York City – and simply “as far away” as Cuba.  This year, in honor of the touring company’s 35th Anniversary, BPT is focusing on trips that reflect its earliest jaunts – short (3-4 day) excursions to outdoor ballparks in the upper Midwest – an ideal way to start (or add to)  your own baseball touring tradition. (Note: I’ve been on 28 BPT treks and brought home great memories from every one.)

Ballpark "Tourers" share a passion for baseball, fun and friendship.

Ballpark “Tourers” share a passion for baseball, fun and friendship.

A Ballpark Tours trip is the perfect way to enjoy the national pastime – good times with good friends (old and new) who share a passion for baseball, fun and adventure.  As BBRT has noted in the past “Once you get on the Ballpark Tours bus, every mile is a memory.”  To get the flavor of a BPT trek, you can browse reports from past trips by clicking here.  I’ve also included a few photos from recent trips at the end of this post.

 

 

 

Now, here’s a brief rundown (details courtesy of Ballpark Tours) of the 2017 Ballpark\k Tours offerings, for more info, prices and a sign-up sheet, click here.

 

Iowa Retreat – June 16-18

Principal Park - Des Moines - home of the Iowa Cubs.

Principal Park – Des Moines – home of the Iowa Cubs.

A minor-league jaunt that will take you to three ball games in Cedar Rapids (Cedar Rapid Kernels vs. Clinton Lumber Kings) and Des Moines (Iowa Cubs vs. Omaha Storm Chasers for two games.) You’ll get to see some of the top prospects of the Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals – not to mention the typical minor-league promotions, traditoinal Ballpark Tours hoopla and the opportunity to visit a microbrewery and take in the Cedar Rapids Baseball Hall of Fame.

 

 

Bleacher Bums XXXV – August 3-6

bWrigleyFour games, (two major league/two minor league) in three cities in four days – including two games at Wrigley Field, home of the World Champion Chicago Cubs (versus the Nationals). There will also be games in Beloit, WI (Beloit Snappers vs. Peoria Chiefs) and Appleton, WI (Wisconsin Timber Rattlers vs. Cedar Rapids Kernels). Plus, a great hotel and free time in Chicago, and a brewery stop

 

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

—BALLPARK TOURS – A FEW MEMORIES—

8sing

6parkfull

 

 

 

Progressive Field - lots of fireworks, early and late.

BPT Group 2

Pub

Ballpark Tours 2016 – Day Ten – Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

Principal Park - Des Moines - home of the Iowa Cubs.

Principal Park – Des Moines – home of the Iowa Cubs.

Ten days of care-free baseball travel are coming to an end.   For the past week-and-a-half, our band of 32 has gotten up each morning facing only three important questions:  1) Do I have a bus to catch?  2) Who is playing today?  3) What t-shirt and/or hat should I wear?

On the final day of our trip, we left Kansas City at 8:30 a.m. – after enjoying the Country Club Plaza’s breakfast buffet – headed for Des Moines and the 1:08 p.m. Iowa Cubs/Memphis Redbirds tilt.

BLEACHER BUMS XXXIV – What we did, as a group and on our own.

 – Our trip took approximately 230 hours and covered 2,500 miles.

– We saw nine baseball games (one rainout) in seven cities in four states in ten days.

– We tok in Independent-ball, A, AA, AAA and major league

– We visited barbeque joints, breweries, Irish pubs, blues bars and honky tonks.

– We enjoyed the Negro Leagues Museum, Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum and more.

– In addition to our Sugar Loaf coach, members of our group traveled via horse-drawn carriage, hotel shuttles, Uber and taxi.

– We ate, drank, shopped and celebrated on/in Beale Street, Printers Alley, Westport, 18th & Vine and the Honky Tonk Highway.

– In the ball parks, we enjoyed fireworks, Elvis Night and zombies – and even a spirited game of Jenga.

– Our ball park food ranged from hot dogs and brats to Fried Moon Pies and “The Bacon Explosion.”

– We set up on-board Bloody Mary and Mimosa stations.

– While traveling our “baseball highway,” we shared Chex Mix, Chicago Mix, cookies, candy, chips, cheese and crackers – and lots of baseball stories.

– “In port,” we ate everything from Crawfish Etouffee to barbeque to oven-fired pizza.

– Meals in our on-the-road lunch stops covered everything from meatball sandwiches to Maid Rites (and more, even Chinese at one stop).

– We guessed how many runs would be scored, answered a baseball trivia quiz and played the cup game.

– We purchased nearly every souvenir imaginable … lapel pins, jerseys, hats, bats.  You name it, we bought it, and now we have to store it.

– We even took part in a baseball book exchange.

– We renewed old friendships and forged new ones.

– We had FUN, FUN, FUN!

10 maid

The stop at Maid Rite proved popular for several membes of our touring group.

Our Sunday morning bus ride included a rest stop at an Amish store that included a Maid Rite restaurant.  For those of you unfamiliar with Maid Rites (called by some loose-meat sandwiches), they are basically seasoned, crumbled hamburger on a bun –  delicious and increasingly difficult to find.  (Unless you are on a Ballpark Tours bus.)  Even though I had enjoyed a multi-plated breakfast buffet, I couldn’t resist a junior Maid Rite.

We arrived at Principal Park in Des Moines about 45 minutes prior to game time.  The park is located at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers – and you get a great view of downtown and the gold-domed state capitol building beyond the outfield fences.

 

 

Just your average Bloody Mary.

Just your average Bloody Mary.

On entering the park, I was pleased to find a bar serving Bloody Mary’s right near the gates.  Check one item off the BBRT list.  The Bloody Mary was $8.00 – and just average.  A good, pre-made Bloody Mary mix, but no added condiments or spices.

We had great seats – between home plate and third base.  All the seats in the park – which holds 11,500 – appear to be close to the action. The weather, by the way, was as good as the seats – mid-70’s, sunny with a light breeze, perfect for the last game of our tour.

The scorecard ($1) was one of the best on the trip.  It included a handout that provided: team rosters and numbers; the day’s starting lineups; full stats on each player; current PCL standings; the upcoming schedule; and “News and Notes.”  Kudos to the Iowa Cubs.

The "Out of Towners" were taking on the "Local Boys."

The “Out of Towners” were taking on the “Local Boys.”

A bit more about the ball park before I get into the game itself.   The scoreboard is a unique blend of old and new.  It has a large, clear video screen that provides plenty of information on each hitter (including their Twitter addresses), as well as replays of key plays.  Beneath that is a set of center field bleachers and an old-school, inning-by-inning line score (you know, the kind where you post the runs, hits and errors by hand) that labels the two teams ”OUT OF TOWNERS” and “LOCAL BOYS.”

Principles on Display at Principle Park

Some of our group thought the park should be named Principle Park, since the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is proudly displayed as you enter the ballpark.  The sign, I learned, was the idea of the team’s majority owner Michael Gartner – a former journalist.  

A brader park sandiwch the size of a catcher's mitt.

A breader pork tenderloin  sandiwch the size of a catcher’s mitt, served on a bed of fries for $11.

The concessions earned approval from our group as a whole – in particular the juicy Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, the massive Pork Tenderloin Basket and the Bacon Explosion (summer sausage stuffed AND wrapped with bacon).  The walk-in beer cooler – fans can walk into the cooler and select their cold brew – is thought to be the only one of its kind at a ball park.

So, how about the game?

It was a close contest (2-1 after seven innings), eventually won by the Memphis Redbirds 4-1.  The Redbirds got to Cubs’ starter Jake Buchanan early, scoring twice on a single and two doubles in the first inning. He then settled down and held Memphis scoreless until giving up an unearned run in the seventh.

Mike Mayers, who started for the Redbirds, went a solid five innings – giving up just six hits and one earned run, while walking one and fanning eight. (In his last three starts, Mayers has walked just one and fanned 21 in 17 innings). Overall, the game featured 18 strikeouts – eleven by four Redbirds’ pitchers and seven by three Cubs’ hurlers.

If I had to name offensive stars for the game – offense was pretty light – they would be the Redbirds’ SS/leadoff hitter Breyvic Valera and Cubs’ 3B/cleanup hitter Jeimer Candelario.  Valera had three hits (all singles) and an RBI. It was his seventh three-hit game of the season and he ended the contest hitting .363.  Candelario had two of the Cubs’ seven hits (all the Cubs’ hits were singles), giving him a nine-game hitting streak and a streak of 28 consecutive games reaching base.

We did see a nifty 6-4-3 double play, a couple of running catches in the outfield, a leaping catch at the  centerfield wall, a nifty bunt single and a single on a lazy fly lost in the sun (We all thought it should have been scored an error).

Let the Pitchers Hit

As regular BBRT readers know, I am not a fan of the Designated Hitter.  Well, in the Iowa/Memphis game, the pitchers came to the plate.  The rules dictate that if either team is affiliated with an American League team, the DH is used.  However, if neither team is affiliated with an AL squad, the pitchers hit.  Memphis and Iowa are Cardinals’ and Cubs’ affiliates, so we got to see the pitchers take a few swings. Overall, the hurlers went two-for-five and – as you will read in the Cup Game aside – that worked out pretty well for me.

All in all, a well-played game – although fielders did have trouble with the high sky and there were some adventurous plays on fly balls and pop-ups.

The Cup Game and an Unlikely Win

Every so often, our touring group likes to add a little excitement to the contest with “The Cup Game.”  It goes like this – a cup is passed, in a specific order, among the participants (we had nine this time) – changing hands with each new batter.  If the hitter at the plate does not get a hit or a walk, you put in a quarter and pass the cup to the next participant. If your batter walks, you pass the cup, but put in no money.  If your batter gets a hit, you get the contents of the cup, and then pass it on.  If your batter hits a home run, you get the contents of the cup and an extra quarter from each participant.  Finally, whoever has the cup when the last out is made, gets its contents.  

For most of the game, I found myself receiving an empty cup and passing on one with my quarter in it. Then in the ninth inning, the cup came into my hands with about $3.50 in it.  Unfortunately, Memphis pitcher Dean Kiekhefer was at the plate. Of course, it would be a pitcher. Well, Kiekhefer hit a slow roller down the third base line (How hard do pitchers usually run on these plays?) – and he hustled down the line to beat it out for an infield hit (and a pocketful of quarters for me). I say again, let the pitchers hit.

I should add that the Iowa Cubs are not long on promotions between innings.  They do fire a lot of t-shirts into the crowd, and there was a costumed hamburger race (featuring youngsters from the crowd who were really competing). Most of the remaining between-inning activities consisted of fans (youngsters) answering questions about agricultural products and production. (This is Iowa after all.) It was actually refreshing not to be bombarded with one between-inning contest after another.

So, there is our trip.  For the reports on Day One, click here. Day Two, here; Day Three, here; Day Four, here;  Day Five, here; Day Six, here; Day Seven, here; Day Eight, here; Day Nine, here.

Alas, when I got up this morning, there was no ball game to get to (but a blog post to write).  Life is so routine.  I think I’ll take in a Saint Paul Saints Game tomorrow.

By the way, Ballpark Tours still has a September Chicago/Milwaukee trip and a December Cuba adventure planned.  Click here to get to their site.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

Ballpark Tours 2016 – Day Nine – The Negro Leagues Museum and A Bad Beat Down

Day Nine – also known as August 19th to those not “on the bus” – sees us still in Kansas City, hoping to make up for leaving last night’s game (which, with the rain delay, went to 2:16 a.m. today) early.  Click here for Day 8 details.

This proved to be a very good day, starting with a 10:00 a.m. cab ride to 18th and Vine – and visits to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum ($10 admission for each museum, $15 if you visit them both. Less if you, like me, are over 65.)

9 NL museumIf you are a baseball fan, you can’t afford to miss the Negro Leagues Museum, which gives you a look at some of the richest – and some of the most poignant – times of our baseball history. Located in the 18th and Vine district, the museum takes you through the history of the Negro Leagues – and individuals of color –  across baseball history.  The story is told with a wide range of films, audio visual exhibits, photographs and memorabilia of all kinds. It is indeed a history lesson. You’ll learn a lot not just about baseball, but also about American history, race relations and attitudes.

Satchel Paige pitches to Martin Dihigo, with Josh Gibson catching - on the Field of Legens.

Satchel Paige pitches to Martin Dihigo, with Josh Gibson catching – on the Field of Legens.

While the museum includes exhibits honoring Negro League greats, its centerpiece is the Field of Legends – a museum-sized baseball field manned by nearly life-sized bronze statues of key figures from the Negro Leagues’ history.

There is so much here – honoring players and teams – that it is impossible to do it justice in the space of this blog.  My recommendation, take the time to take this trip through a very important part of both the past and future of our national game.

 

 

 

 

 

9 jazzFrom the Negro Leagues Museum, we made our way to the American Jazz museum (housed in the same building) – where we were able to get and eyeful and earful of the greats from this unique American music genre. The museum included plenty of listening stations to enjoy the greats (and even separate the music into the parts that make up the whole) and visual impressions of the history of jazz (from photographs and films of jazz greats to album cover art to jazz club neon). If you are a fan of jazz, this visit is a must.

9foodAfter our museum visit, we took the advice of the locals and headed to Danny’s Big Easy – practically across the street from the museums – for Cajun food.  There were four of us in our group and the reaction was unanimous – WOW!  Great, and we really mean great, Cajun food; as well as a server whose “life is a party and you are all invited” attitude made the experience even more enjoyable. Among the items we had: Crawfish Etouffee; Jambalaya; Catfish Po’ Boy; mac ‘n cheese; wings; specially seasoned house fries; and hush puppies.  We washed it down with wine, but when one of our group asked about a beverage called “Living Easy,” they brought us a free one with four straws.  (Also of interest was the fact that they had Kool-Aid on the menu for three dollars.)

We were at Danny’s Big Easy for lunch, but in the evening, the bar/restaurant features a variety of entertainment – Blues, Zydeco, Jazz, R&B, Funk, Reggae, Salsa and more.  We were wishing we didn’t have a ball game tonight; we could have spent the evening at Danny’s.  Five stars, without a doubt.

Later, I learned that other tour participants took in such attractions as the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (just about a block from the hotel) and the National World War I Museum (2 1/2  miles away, but within range of the hotel’s shuttle service). In addition, small groups took advantage of both the Westport and Country Club Plaza area shopping and dining opportunities.

A great night for baseball. The game  not so much.  Unless you were a Royals' fan.

A great night for baseball. The game not so much. Unless you were a Royals’ fan.

And then, there was the game.  I’ve already touched upon Kauffman Stadium (see Day Eight, here). Let me just say that tonight was a great night for baseball – clear skies, temperatures in the 70’s and seats in right field near the fountains.

After two innings, it looked like a pretty good game, with the Royals’ Ian Kennedy and the Twins’ Hector Santiago locked in a 0-0 duel.  In the bottom of the third, however, the Royals turned three doubles (SS Alcides Escobar, 3B Cheslor Cuthberth and LF Lorenzo Cain) and a single (2B Christian Cuthbert) into three runs – and the rout was on. The Royals held the Twins scoreless (Kennedy went eight innings and gave up just four hits and no walks, while fanning six), while tacking on one run in the fourth, four in the fifth, one in the sixgth and one in the seventh.  The final: Twins – no runs on four hits and no errors; Royals – 10 runs on 17 hits and no errors.  Of the Royals’ 17 safeties, nine were for extra bases: six doubles and three home runs (two for RF Alex Gordon, one for C Salvador Perez).  Our Minnesota-centric group suffered greatly,  We did, however, win a challenge on a close play in the bottom of the sixth – they can’t take that away from us.

Yesterday, I promised a bit more about Kauffman Stadium concessions.  I did observe that the funnel cakes were very popular with locals, as was the Topsy Popcorn (which I tasted and would agree had just the right “buttery” flavor). Also high on the list if you are visiting Kauffman should be the the Jamaican jerk sausage sandwich, served on a toasted baguette with mango habañero salsa, green apple slaw and coconut chutney – at the reasonable price of $13.  I’d follow that with the a Berrie Kabob dessert.

So, there’a a look at Day Nine.  It’s off to Des Moines at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow for an Iowa Cubs game – the last game on our ten-day tour.

For more on Day One, click here; Day Two, here; Day Three, here; Day Four, here; Day Five, here; Day Six, here; Day 7, here, Day Eight, here.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.

Member Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

Ballpark Tours 2016 – Day Eight – Called Up to the Show

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it still make a noise?

Why I ask, you ask!  Because Day Eight of Ball Park Tours Bleacher Bums XXXIV was defined as much (or more) by what we didn’t see, than by what we saw.

Let’s start by talking a little baseball – Twins baseball, because we are now in Kansas City, taking in a pair of Royals/Twins tilts. Yes. after just six minor league games, we’ve been called up to “The Show.”

Kauffman Stadium before the monsoon.

Kauffman Stadium before the monsoon.

We arrived, by bus, at Kauffman Stadium under ominous skies and even more ominous weather reports.  Predictions were that a major storm front would roll in about 9:00 p.m. (7:15 game time) with significant rainfall, high winds and plenty of lightening.  We were well-armed for the confrontation, with umbrellas, Ballpark Tours 30th Anniversary windbreakers and ponchos (many bought at the Chattanooga Lookouts game).

The game started on time, with the Twins’ Jose Berrios (2-3, 9.32) facing off against the Royals’ Edison Volquez (9-10, 4.95).   We didn’t expect a pitchers’ duel – and we didn’t get one.

The Royals struck first, in an ugly second inning. Berrios started the frame by fanning Royals’ DH Kendrys Morales.  From that point on, things fell apart. C Salvador Perez singled; LF Alex Gordon walked; SS Alicides Escobar singled in a run; 2B Raul Mondesi walked, loading the bases.  Then Berrios walked CF Jarrod Dyson AND 3b Cheslor Cutberth – forcing in two runs (no more exciting play in baseball than the bases-loaded walk) – before getting RF Lorenzo Cain to end the inning on a 6-4-3 double play. Three runs on two hits and four walks – not a good sign.

The Twins came back on a long home run by 2B Brian Dozier (his 28th) leading off the third.  But, the Royals countered in the fourth, producing a run on a walk (of course) and two singles.

Then in the top of the fifth, with storms threatening (and eventually arriving), the Twins rallied with: a double by CF Eddie Rosario; a run scoring double by C Juan Centeno; a strikeout by LF Danny Santana; a single by Dozier (who then stole second); and a two-run single by SS Jorge Polanco – tying the game at 4-4.  It was at precisely that time, with Joe Mauer coming up, that the skies began to open up, the tarps came out and game went into a rain delay.

That’s what we saw.  Here’s what we didn’t see.

Rainfall fallout in the lobby.

Rainfall fallout in the lobby.

First, having studied, the weather reports, we didn’t wait too long before heading back to the hotel on the bus.  (Our early departure was the rule, rather than the exception, among fans at the game.) From there, some of our  folks headed out on the town, while others watched on smart phones to see if the game would resume – the stakes were high, there had been some friendly wagering on whether we would see any more rainouts (after the Day One washout) on this trip.  The speculation was accompanied by adult beverages in the lobby, where discussions touched on such topics as that night’s game and suspended versus cancelled game rules, Pete Reiser, Kaufmann Stadium concession prices, Mike Trout and the Twins’ pitching staff.

Shortly before midnight, when the lobby was pretty much empty (bar closed at 11:30) – and after a three-hour-plus rain delay – play resumed.  Twins’ 1B Mauer walked to put runners on first and second (remember the Polanco double that tied the game); 3B Plouffe popped up; and RF Max Kepler was called out on strikes to end the fifth inning.  The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the 11th inning, when Kansas City pushed across a run to win it by a 5-4 score – AT APPROXXIMATELY 2:15 a.m.  Yes, we missed an exciting game.  Yes, some of us might (and that’s a big MIGHT) have stayed.  But it takes a village to do a baseball tour – and there are times that community interests must prevail.  Plus, we still have baseball on the slate for Saturday and Sunday.

Now, a brief look at the day (I have to wrap this post up early, a group of us are headed to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum this morning).

Breakfast and a show.

Breakfast and a show.

On Day Eight, we had an early morning departure from the Marion (IL) Holiday Inn Express (8:30 a.m.), so the free buffet breakfast was pretty well attended.  Two highlights from breakfast (which included the usual items like scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, cinnamon rolls, toast, biscuits and gravy, etc.): 1) They had a pancake machine.  (You know, the ones that shoot out pancakes like a copier – or, as I like to say “Breakfast and a show.” 2) One of our tour group walked to a nearby Krispy Kreme and brought back warm donuts. Glazed donuts and coffee, great start to the day.

The trip to Kansas City was about six hours – including a lunch stop – and much of it was spent retelling tales from earlier in the trip (and discussing the scoring possibilities related to the extra inning “gift” runners in the Frontier League).  The lunch break was near a truck plaza, so we had our choices of fast food offerings.  I selected Arby’s and it proved a good decision.  Remember that meatball sandwich I couldn’t get in Marion?  The limited time special at Arby’s was – wait for it – a meatball sandwich.   The baseball gods apparently were smiling down on our maroon coach.

Oh, a little coach story here.  We are traveling on a Sugar Loaf (name of company) coach and some of our participants overhead local residents at one of our stops talking about the bus, speculating that “Sugar Loaf” was a touring country band.  I guess we are traveling in luxury – and we did stop in Nashville. Next gig, Kauffman Stadium.

ADDENDUM TO DAY SEVEN

8singAn additional bit of information on Day Seven – for the full day, click here.  I noted yesterday that the Frontier League has adopted rules that have each team starting any inning after the tenth inning with a runner on second – and wondered about the scoring. After a deeper look, I have found that the “gift” runner is designated on the scorecard as (ITB) – indicating a runner put on via international rules.  I also found that, while the pitcher who allows such a gift runner to score can still take the loss, the ITB runner’s tally is not considered an earned run.

Also, here is a photo of the Ballpark Tours group leading the seventh-inning rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  Given that the entire Southern Illinois Minors field is artificial turf (even the “dirt” portions), it might have been more appropriate if we had lip-synched the tune.  

We checked into the Holiday Inn Country Club Plaza in Kansas City at about 4:00 p.m., with the bus slated to head to the ball park at 6:00 for a 7:15 game.  You’ve already read about the game – which is also how we found out about most of it.  So, let’s look at the ballpark.

8 foundtainArriving at Kaufmann Stadium, you first notice the higher level of security (as opposed to all our minor league stops) … bag searches and metal detectors were the order of the day.  Once inside the stadium, which opened in 1973 and underwent significant renovation in the late 2000’s, you notice the steep upper deck, massive “Crown Vision” scoreboard/video board in center field and the right field fountain area.

Our group also noticed the concession prices – reporting paying $11 for a beer and $7 for a bottle of water.  Sticker shock quickly set in (of course, we had just come off the $1 beer, hot dogs and peanuts in Marion). I’ll try to have more on concessions at Kaufman Stadium in my Day Nine post. I didn’t have a lot of time for sampling after visiting the Royals Hall of Fame, picking up my Bloody Mary, acquiring ($1) and filling out the lineup on my scorecard, finding my seat and then joining the hoards fleeing the storm.

NOTE: Spoiler Alert – Given our Saturday/Sunday schedule, I may have to combine Days Nine and Ten into one final report. 

A talk on uniforms of the past was part of the Royals HOF experience.

A talk on uniforms of the past was part of the Royals HOF experience.

If you are visiting Kauffman, I would suggest that, before you take your seat, you visit the Royals Hall of Fame Museum (open until the top of the ninth inning). It’s located on the plaza  in the right field corner. You’ll find lots of great memorabilia, as well as plaques for the Royals (team) Hall of Fame members.  The biggest attraction seems to be the opportunity to have your picture taken with the 2015 World Series trophy – there was a long line of still giddy Royals’ fan waiting for that photo op. I was impressed with the big number five constructed out of 3,154 baseballs – one for every George Brett regular season hit.

Our seats were in the lower deck, down the right field line, good sight lines, but (as expected) further from the action than in the minor league parks we had visited. But then again, we had been called up to “The Show.”  There looked to be about 30,000 fans in the house (reported attendance was 28,463) and they were a loud and enthusiastic lot.  (Although it was hard to tell, since we were seated very near a set of speakers that blasted out the “Get Loud” music at almost painful decibel levels).

8 bloodyThe Bloody Mary – $10 at the Boulevard Pub – was adequate: good pour; spicy, but not over bearing (it could have used a touch more tabasco and a bit of celery salt); it included a lime wedge, but I do like more substance in a Bloody Mary (maybe a celery stick, olives or a pickle spear.) Still at $10, it was a better bargain than the $11 beer.  (One of our group reported paying $27 for two beers and a bag of peanuts.)

 

 

 

 

 

8 kabobOne popular concession item with our group was the “Berrie Kabob” – available for $7 at a nearby concession stand or from strolling vendors. They consisted of chocolate dipped strawberries, bananas and brownies (in various combinations) on a stick – and were delicious.  If you are looking for dessert, this one is a hit.

 

 

That’s it for Day Eight. For the reports on Day One, click here; Day Two, here; Day Three, here. Day Four, here; Day Five, here; Day Six, here; Day Seven , here.

The Day in MLB

A big day for home runs in MLB yesterday – a total of 49 round trippers in 15 games (only one in our game, but at least we were there for it). A few observations;

  • In Baltimore, the Orioles bashed four round trippers before they made their first out – in a losing cause. (They lost 15-8 to the Astros.)
  • The Cardinals tied an MLB record with their ninth consecutive multi-homer game, hitting a pair of long balls as they topped the Phillies 4-3 in 11 innings.
  • In Baltimore, both leadoff hitters started their team’s offense with first-inning home runs (George Springer, Astros/Adam Jones, Orioles). Not to be outdone, the leadoff hitters for the Cubs and Rockies (Dexter Fowler, Cubs/David Dahl, Rockies) matched the feat.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Members:  Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

 

 

Ballpark Tours 2016 – Day Seven – A Scorebook Challenge … and Barbeque

Rent One Park, Marian Illinois, home of the Southern Illinois Miners.

Rent One Park, Marian Illinois, home of the Southern Illinois Miners.

I was all set to focus my Ballpark Tours 2016 Bleacher Bums XXXIV Day Seven post on the key plays and players in the (independent) Frontier League April 18 extra-inning contest between the Gateway Grizzlies and home team Southern Illinois Miners (at Rent One Park in Marion, IL) – with a short aside on how our Ballpark Tours group led the crowd in Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch.

Then came the eleventh inning – and once again, I couldn’t bury the lead.  Very simply, the Miners topped the Grizzlies 3-2 in a manner that: 1) I’ve never seen before; and 2) defied both logic and my scorecard capabilities.

Here’s how it unfolded.  After eleven innings, the score was tied 2-2. The Grizzlies had two runs and eight hits; the Miners two tallies and nine hits. It was the announced that – in accordance with Frontier League rules (enforced after 10 innings) – each team would start their eleventh inning at bat with a runner on second (and no outs, of course). Note:  As events unfolded, we determined that the runner would be the player who made the last out the previous inning.

Trying to score the 11th inning. What is the designation for "gift" runner?

Trying to score the 11th inning. What is the designation for “gift” runner?

So, here’s how it ended.  In the top of the eleventh, the Grizzlies started with the player who made the last out in the tenth (1B Seth Heck) on second. Miners’ pitcher Adam Lopez (the fifth hurler for Southern Illinois) retired 3B Zach Lavy on a ground out (pitcher to first), with Heck moving to third.  Lopez then got DH Craig Massoni on a hard grounder down the third bases line, with Miners’ 3B Steve Marino making nice play, holding the runner at third. Lopez then fanned C Tyler Tewell to get of the rules-generated jam.  The questions seemed to be, how do you note the sidden presence of the runner on second on the scorecard – and, if he had scored, would the pitcher be charged with and earned run? Lopez dodged that bullet – and so did those of us keeping score.

In the bottom half of the inning, the Miners started with 2B Shane Kennedy on second base, which seemed a pretty fortuitous situation, since Kennedy already had two stolen bases in the game. Grizzlies’ pitcher Will LaMarche got Miners’ DH Toby DeMello on a grounder to first base (after a failed sacrifice attempt), but Kennedy moved over to third. Miners’ RF Nolan Early was intentionally walked to set up the double play.  (More than one person in our group – myself included – wondered why they didn’t walk the bases full to set up a force at home and create some margin for error.) The next hitter – 1B Alex De Leon grounded to short. The Grizzlies got the force out at second (6-4), but failed to get the runner at first.  The winning run – scored by the “gift” runner – came across.  Earned or unearned?  And, LaMarche, we assume, took the loss when a runner he had nothing to do with crossed the plate.

Overall, it was a pretty well-played game, with the Miners taking the lead with two runs in the fourth (on four hits and a sacrifice fly – leaving two on) and the Grizzlies coming back with two in the fifth (on four hits and two walks – leaving three on.) The rest of the scorecard was pretty clean – and the scoreboard showed all zeroes. If I had to chose an offensive star, it would be the Miners’ Shane Kennedy with three hits, two stolen bases and two runs scored (including the one for which he was”gifted” second base.) On the mound, Grizzlies’ starter Vimcent Molesky impressed, going 7 2/3 innings and giving up just two runs on eight hits, two walks (four strikeouts).  He wasn’t overpowering, but he was effective when he needed to be.

Now, let’s again take a semi-chronogical look at the events that led up to the game.

Our home away from home.

Our home away from home.

We pulled out of Chattanooga at 9:30 a.m. sharp, Thursday, a relatively quiet crew (a number of participants had found a small, nearby blues bar and literally soaked up some local culture and atmosphere after the Lookouts/Biscuits game.  The conversation, however, became more lively about two hours into our 5-6 hour drive to Marion, IL.  Two factors were probably involved – the normal process of waking up and the fact that a Mimosa and Screwdriver bar sprung into operation at the back of the bus.

 

A goold time at the 17th Street Grill in Marion Il.

A goold time at the 17th Street Barbeque in Marion, Il.

We arrived in Marion a bit early for check-in (about 2:00 p.m.), but our tour leader (as usual) had a plan.  We disembarked at Marion’s 17TH Street Barbecue – about two blocks from the hotel.  A great stop for ribs, brisket, sausage, chicken, pulled pork – plus a wide range of sides including collard greens, okra, coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, baked potatoes (white and sweet), hush puppies, garlic bread and more.  And, of course, the full bar didn’t hurt.  The staff was well prepared for us – and I heard nothing but rave reviews for the quality of the food, size of the portions, price and service.  A fun stop and, again, way better than waiting in a hotel lobby.

 

 

 

 

7bpouitThen it was on to the Holiday Inn Express, literally the width of one street from the parking lot of Rent One Park – home of the Frontier League Southern Illinois Miners.

I’ve already commented on the game.  Here’s a bit about the ball park.

  • The park, which seats 3,400 and was built in 2007, has a very modern (slate grey brick) look.
  • We had great seats, along the third base line.
  • The score/video board was a little difficult to read – we are a veteran crew.
  • It was Throwback Thursday – $1 beers, soft drinks and hot dogs. Our group took full advantage.
  • The concessions, overall, were good with several “build-your-own” offerings – burgers, chicken sandwiches and nachos, as well as “signature: sandwiches (pork chop, cajun burger,  steak, etc.)
  • The park was out of a promised specialty item – a meatball sandwich which signaged indicated was available Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. (It was Thursday). The worker at the concession stand indicated they had been out of meatballs all week,.
  • The parking was close, ample and only $3.
  • The prorgram/scorecard was free.
  • Our group was chosen to be “on the big board” and lead the crowd in the seventh inning rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” (Photos to come.)
  • A good time was had by all.

So that is Day Seven – 8:30 a.m. departure for Kansas City (Twins/Royals) tomorrow.  For more on the ten-day, ten-game, seven-city trip: Day One, click here; Day Two, click here; Day Three, click here; Day Four, click here. Day Five, click here; Day Six, click here.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

Ballpark Tours 2016 – Day Six – Strikeouts and Moon Pies

We had a “chance-to-sleep-in” 10:30 a.m. departure from Nashville, which got us into Chattanooga a bit early for check-in.  Fortunately, our illustrious tour operator is always prepared – and we were booked into the Big River Grille and Brewing Works (just a few blocks from the hotel) for pre-check-in lunch and beverages.

A good time was had by all - but, then again , it was a brew pub (and 98 degress outgside).

A good time was had by all – but, then again , it was a brew pub (and 98 degress outside).

It was a welcome and satisfying stop.  Plenty of handcrafted brews, oven-fired pizzas and sandwiches and entrees made from scratch – plus a nice selection of wines and cocktails.  The oldest brew pub  in Chattanooga, Big River Grille and Brewing Works offered an extensive line of hand-crafted beers – from Southern Flyer Light Lager to Iron Horse Stout – as well as a nice selection of wines, and cocktails ranging from classic martinis to pomegranate peach punch.

 

 

 

They take beer flighnts seriously at Big River.

They take beer flights seriously at Big River.

 

In addition, the lunch menu covered everything from Lobster and Shrimp Enchiladas to a BBQ Brisket Stuffed Burger to a wide selection of oven-fired pizzas (on beer-infused, rustic-ale pizza dough.)  Needless to say, a good time was had by all – and, from comments I heard, everyone loved the food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

T6 roomhen it was on to check-in at the Read House Historic Inn – originally opened in 1872 and rebuilt in 1926.  It boasted beautiful (and historic) rooms, complemented by the most up-to-date amenities.  Sitting in the elegant, high-ceilinged, chandeliered lobby, you half expected Winston Churchill of Al Capone – both previous guests – to come strolling in.

After check-in and a little down time, it was off to AT&T Field (not to be confused with AT&T Park in San Francisco)  for the Montgomery Biscuits versus the Chattanooga Lookouts contest. Opened in 2000 (as BellSouth Park), AT&T Field’s placement at the top of “Hawk Hill” offers some nice views of surrounding hills.  It was about an eight-block walk from the hotel to the part – on a humid, 90+ degree evening – so we were pleased to see the outdoor escalator which carries fans the last, steep 100-feet or so.

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AT&T Field … the rain was on the way.

This really is a “blue collar ball park.” The only bells and whistles are on the Chattanoogo Choo-Choo, which (we were told) emerges from behind the right field wall for every Lookouts’ home run.  There were no long balls in our game, so the train remained unseen.  I’d suggest they run it either at the start or end of each game, so fans are guaranteed at least one view per contest.  Concession offerings were limited, but our group agreed the prices were right and the serving generous.

Now, to the game.

Starting for the Lookouts was 22-year-old southpaw Stephen Gonsalves – considered (by MLB.com) the number-four prospect in the Twins’ system (behind only Jose Berrios, Tyler Jay and Nick Gordon). Gonsalves didn’t disappoint, but Lookouts’ manager Doug Mientkiewicz did.

The 6’ 5”, 213-pound Gonsalves threw six strong innings, walking two and fanning nine – giving up no runs and NO HITS.  He was a pleasure to watch; mixing a solid fastball and effective slider. (I couldn’t get a line on his speed, a malfunctioning stadium  system consistently logged his fastball at 44-to-55 miles per hour. Gonsalves, however, is said to have a mid-90s heater.)  Mientkiewicz pulled the youngster (after 105 pitches) and brought in reliever Alan Busenitz to open the seventh.  Busenitz hit the first batter he faced (1B Jake Bauers) and walked the second (3B Patrick Leonard), before getting RF Justin Williams on a fly out.  The next batter, CF Cade Gotta, singled in Bauer to put an end to the shutout and the no-hitter. Busenitz gave up one more hit and two more runs – and the top of the seventh ended with The Lookouts up 5-3. Needless to say, there was a range of opinions about the appropriateness of pulling the starter with a no-hitter still in progress.

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One of our own took part in the usual minor league hoopla – winning at “What’s in the box?”

The Lookouts, by the way, got out of the gate fast – and never looked back. In the bottom of the first, after leadoff  hitter CF Zack Granite was retired on a great play on a grounder up the middle (by Montgomery 2B Juniel Querecuto), DH Ryan Walker doubled, 3B Niko Goodrum doubled Walker home, LF Travis Harrison singled home Goodrum, RF Edgar Corcino walked, and C Stuart Turner grounded into a double play.  First inning: two runs on three hits and a walk.

Chattanooga tacked on two more runs on four hits in the fourth; one run on two hits in the sixth; and one on two hits and a walk in the seventh. The final:  Chattanooga six runs on 11 hits and one error. Montgomery: three runs on two hits and no errors.

A few highlights:

  • Chattanooga pitchers were dominant – giving up just the two hits (and three runs) in the seventh and striking out 14 Montgomery hitters (versus four walks).
  • Lookouts’ lefty Mason Melotakis, who has had injury problems in the past (Tommy John surgery in 2014), came out to start the seventh, but threw only one pitch before being replaced by Zack Jones – as the game ended, we had not heard an update.
  • Zack Jones picked up his first save for the Lookouts, going two innings, giving up no hits, walking one and fanning four – and showing a glove-popping fastball.
  • The offensive star of the game was Lookouts’ 1B T.J. White, who went two-for-three, with a walk, a run scored and two RBI.
  • Gonsalves ran his record with Chattanooga to 6-1, with a 1.81 ERA in 10 starts. The lefty has fanned 72 hitters in 59.2 innings at AA.
  • There was a 44-minute rain delay in the top of the eighth – and when play resumed probably less than 100 of the announced attendance of 1,765 were still in the park.  The gift shop did a brisk business in $5 Lookouts ponchos.
  • After the hot walk to the ball park, we found the free shuttle on the late night trek back to the hotel.
  • There were no Bloody Mary’s

In the Majors

Yesterday (August 18), the Blue Jays’ A.J. Happ became the major league’s first 2016 17-game winner, as the Jays topped the Yankees 7-4 in New York. Happ went 7 1/3 innings, giving up seven hits, four runs, one walk and fanning nine.  His record now stands at 17-3, 3.05.  The 33-year-old Happ, in his tenth MLB season, came into 2016 with a 62-61 record and a career-high 12 wins in 2009

The Fried Moon Pie

6PieFor those not familiar with it, a Moon Pie is a confection – popular in the southern states – that is basically a portable “s’more.” The traditional Moon Pie consists of two round graham crackers, with marshmallow filling in-between, dipped in chocolate.  The dessert has been around since 1917 and, for reasons unknown, there is a southern tradition of washing them down with RC Cola.  In fact, at least two musical groups have had minor hits with songs based on the RC Cola/Moon Pie combination.  Moon Pies, by the way were born and are still produced by The Chattanooga Bakery.  They now come in Chocolate, Caramel, Banana, Vanilla and Strawberry.

Why are Moon Pies in this baseball blog? It’s because the Chattanooga Lookouts honor the community’s Moon Pie heritage with a Deep Fried (chocolate) Moon Pie – the popular dessert dipped in corn dog batter, deep fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  This specialty concession item is a recommended bargain at just $3.00. Warm, sweet and gooey – I’d rate this offering a home run.  But be ready for the post-Moon Pie sugar rush.  

For more on Ballpark Tours 2016, click here for Day One; here for Day Two; here for Day Three; here for Day Four; here for day five.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.