Ballpark Tours 2016 – Day Five – I Saw Elvis at the Ball Park

Day Five of Ballpark Tours 2016 (and our time in Nashville) is now in the rear view mirror.  It’s on to Chattanooga for a Lookouts (Twins’ farm team) game.  But first, let’s reflect (another mirror analogy, even at this early hour) on Day Five of Bleacher Bums XXXIV. In the post on Day Two (click here to review), I introduced the journalistic rule – Don’t Bury the Lead – which falls only slightly behind Commit to Accuracy and Tell the Who, What, When, Where and Why.  So, let’s get right to the lead.

I saw Elvis at First Tennesse Park.

Large Elivis belts one out - and it was a big bvelt - at the Sound Game

Large Elivis belts one out – and it was a big bvelt – at the Sound Game

That’s right; it was Elvis Night at the Nashville Sounds Game. While it was generally agreed that most of the high-end “Elvi” must have been back in Memphis for Elvis Week, a pair of Elvis impersonators did entertain throughout the game, there were a smattering of Elvis “wannebe’s” in the crowd and “Booster,” the Sounds rooster mascot was appropriately attired.  And, as you would expect, the music was good.

Best line from The King? When the Sound Wave dance line came out, the larger of the two “Elvi” – dressed all in black (perhaps slated for a Johnny Cash tribute later) – commented something along the lines of “These girls area about six years older than Priscilla when I started dating her.”  Side note:  We did see a young man with a football in the crowd, so maybe the cheer leaders/dance line is starting to make some sense.

 Having dispensed with the lead, let’s look at Day Five of Ballpark Tours 2016 in a somewhat chronological order.

Music everywhere, as our tour group hit the honky tonks.

Music everywhere, as our tour group hit the honky tonks.

We had the day free in Nashville and, as usual, individuals and groups set out to explore and experience the host city. The most popular locations seemed to be the Honky Tonk Highway/Broadway Historic District and Printers Alley – both prime areas for music, food, beverage(s) and shopping (pretty much from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.) and both also an easy walk from the hotel.  Also high on the list were the Musicians Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

I opted for Honky Tonk Highway and Printers Alley, and found considerably more activity early in the day in the Honky Tonk Highway area.  There were literally dozens of opportunities to enjoy live music (no cover) and in the few spots I tried (yes, beginning before noon), the performers ranged from one guy with a guitar to a four-piece country rock band.  The music was a bit uneven, but overall pretty good – and there was no cover charge.

Grilled Bologna and Cheese. I took one for the team on this one.

Committed to doing the day in true Nashville fashion, I opted for a lunch of a grilled bologna and cheese sandwich (a Nashville specialty I am told), onion rings and beer, while listening to a two-player, harmonizing group at Honky Tonk Central (a bar restaurant “with three stories, three stages and three dance floors.”)  Now, where did I put my boots and hat?  BBRT recommendation – when it comes to grilled bologna and cheese, being a “specialty” doesn’t make something “special.”

Jenga - not really a contact sport.

Jenga – not really a contact sport.

Game time was 7:05 p.m. and by shortly after six p.m., most of the Ballpark Tours crew was “in the building.”  There was, of course, the mysterious “draw of the Elvi,” but many also heard The Band Box Bar, comfy lounge and “up at the lake” seating recreation area in right field calling.  Despite the availability of such energetic options as foosball, ping pong, bean bag games, shuffle board and mini-golf), the Ballpark Tour boys opted for cold beverages and a spirited game of Jenga – totally avoiding any likelihood of concussion syndrome.  I should add that the recreation area was pretty well packed and everyone seemed to be enjoying the opportunity for some pre-game competition of their own – of course, the adult beverage offerings of the well-appointed bar didn’t hurt (especially on another sweltering day.)

5 ballparkNow, to the game.  The Tacoma Raniers were in town – meaning we were seeing two first-place teams (Raniers 71-51, first in the Pacific Coast League Northern Division) and the Sounds 70-53, first in the Southern Division), playing for home field advantage in the upcoming playoffs.

The competition proved up to the stakes – with Nashville squeaking by Tacoma 2-1.  It was an enjoyable, pretty well played and competitive contest – although it didn’t start out that way.  After Nashville starting pitcher Jesse Hahn retired the Raniers in order in the top of the first (with two strikeouts), Nashville went to work in the bottom of the inning.  Raniers’ starter Forrest Snow walked leadoff  hitter/CF Arisdmedy Alcantara to open the inning, then gave up a single to RF Jaycob Brugman; struck out LF Renato Nunez; walked 1B Matt Olson; gave up a run-scoring single to C Matt McBride; struck out 2B Joey Wendle; hit DH Rangel Ravelo with a pitch forcing in a run; and, finally, got 3B Colin Walsh on a pop-up.   Eight batters to the plate, two hits, two walks, one hit batsmen and two runs.  It was looking like a long night.

The guitar-shaped scoreboard/video board and guitar-pick shaped signage honor "Music City."

The guitar-shaped scoreboard/video board and guitar-pick shaped signage honor “Music City.”

In the top of the second, the Raniers reinforced that assessment, scoring just once, but collecting two doubles and two walks.  A long night, indeed.

We were, however, wrong.  The pitchers settled down and not another crossed the plate all night. In fact, after the top of the second, we only saw three more base hits (and a total of 19 strikeouts) and only three runners got as far as second base.

Best of the "Elvi."

Best of the “Elvi.”

The final: Nashville – two runs on three hits and no errors; Tacoma – one run on four hits and no errors. Tight and meaningful game in a very nice ball park – a good way to end our stay in Nashville.  For those who track such things, we did have a 4-1 (second base to pitcher) play in the top of the fifth – as Sounds’ 1B Matt Olson and 2B Joey Wendle both went for a grounder off  bat of Tacoma 2B Mike Freeman, with pitcher Angel Castro covering first.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Majors

Segue time. Yesterday, I wrote about the solid season being had by Reno Ace’s left fielder Kyle Jensen, who drove in two runs to reach 105 on the season (in 116 games). Today, I’d like to note that, in Tuesday’s MLB action, Blue Jays’ 1B Edwin Encarnacion went two-for-five with a home runs (his 34th on the season) and three RBI – to become the first major leaguer to reach 100 RBI in 2016. The Jays, by the way, topped the Yankees, by a 12-6 score, in that game. Encarnacion’s line of the season is now .270-34-100. He leads MLB in RBI and is tied for first (with the Orioles’ Mark Trumbo) in home runs. The win, coupled with the Orioles’ loss in Boston, gave the Blue Jays a one-game lead in the AL East race.

Just a few other notes about our time in Nashville.

  • One of the best concession items proved to the “Hot Chicken” from the Hot or Not Chicken stand.  A generous portion of “puts-a-fire-in-your-mouth” chicken on a bed of waffle fries with ranch dressing ($10).
  • Rave reviews were given to the orange-vodka based “Field of Dreamcicle” and Whiskey and Coke Icees available at the right field Band Box Bar.
  • You can have cheesecake (Lavender Cheesecake, I am told) with your “cheesecake” during the burlesque show at Skulls Rainbow Room – very near our hotel. (Those who attended said the show is somewhat “rules-driven.”
  • 417 Union is a great place for breakfast downtown Nashville – and serves a Ballpark Tours-worthy Bloody Mary.  (I may head there right after I finish this post.  After that, it’s back on the bus for the run to Chattanooga.)

How Close to the Big Leagues – and other trivia

It’s totally unscientific, but looking at Monday’s Reno Aces/Nashville Sounds rosters – 17 of the 51 players listed (one of every three) already have spent some time in the big leagues (all or parts of 42 seasons and a total of 1,151 MLB games).  Note: I did not include Sean Doollittle, who is in Nashville on an MLB rehab assignment.  The level of major league experience ranges from three players with as few as three games to the eight MLB seasons and 444 games played (pitched) for former Pirate, National and Twin Matt Capps (MLB record 29-33, 3.52, 138 saves). Since the Twins declined a one-year option on Capps in October of 2012, Capps has not pitched in the major leagues.  He has been in the Indians’, Braves’ and Diamondback’s systems. This season, with the Reno Aces (Diamondbacks), the 32-tear-old reliever is 3-0, with a 5.18 ERA and three saves.

For those with an interest in these kinds of numbers, the oldest player on the Aces/Sounds rosters is 33-year-old Nashville pitcher Angel Castro – who got the win in our Tuesday night game.  Between 2006 and 2016, Castro played 366 games – minors and foreign.  He also appeared in five games for the Oakland A’s in 2015 (0-1, 2.25 ERA in four innings pitched). The youngest player on the rosters is 22-year-old corner infielder Renato Nunez of the Sounds (born April 4, 1994). The Venezuelan, signed as an international free agent in 2010 (at age 16) is in sixth season in the A’s system – and (as of August 15) was hitting .242, with 21 homers and 70 RBI for the Sounds.

For more on Ballpark Tours Bleacher Bums XXXIV: Day one, click here; Day Two, here; Day Three, here; Day Four, here.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.

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

Ballpark Tours 2016 – Day Four – Craft Beers, Out Stealing, Mort Sahl, Nashville Sounds, Eddie Mathews and more.

It was a short (2-3 hour) bus ride from Memphis to Music City (aka Nashville).  We pulled out of Memphis at the very humane hour of 10:30 a.m., a well-rested and ready-to-go group.  Conversations on the bus focused on the previous day’s game, past Ballpark Tours Trips and – given that this was a fairly veteran (in terms of BPT tour participation) crew, just the past.  I won’t fill in the details, but mentioning just a few of the names and topics that came up can provide some indication of the direction (or lack thereof) that the on-board conversations took:  Soupy Sales; Liberace; Mort Sahl; Tony Kubek; Tony Oliva; The Lovin’ Spoonful (and the Lyrics to Nashville Cats); Country Charlie Pride; Frank Sinatra and Elvis (together); Topo Gigio and Ed Sulllivan; Yankees’ outfielder Bernie Williams, his two guitar albums and Grammy nomination; Mike Trout versus Brian Harper – you get the idea.

The line of the day: “Remember when Liberace was on “I’ve Got a Secret.”  (You need to be old enough to remember the TV show.)

Village Pub

Village Pub and Beer Garden, Nashville.

As noted earlier, we pulled out of Memphis about 10:30 a.m. and, since we would arrive in Nashville ahead of check-in time, our intrepid tour leader chose a stop at the Village Pub and Beer Garden (1308 McGovack Pike) rather than have us wait in the hotel lobby. Great move – great place. Known for its local and regional craft beers, stuffed pretzel sandwiches and locally produced meat and cheese platters, it was the perfect stop for our group.   I went for the  Sausage Sampler Platter (bratwurst and Italian sausages cooked in beer, served on a bed of sauerkraut with garlic paprika Monterey Jack cheese, pepperoncini’s, stone ground mustard, and Silke’s dark bread), the perfect accompaniment for a cold IPA.  Also popular with our group were the Blackened Chicken Stuffed Pretzel and the Southern Meat and Cheese Tray – not to mention the many beer offerings and the fact that it was Moscow Mule Monday. 

4 inpu b As the beverages flowed, the smiles on our group expanded (and the volume of the conversation was amplified) – at least until the food began to arrive. Overall, it was a tasty and refreshing stop on our way into Nashville.

 

 

 

THOUGHTS FROM BBRT’S SURVEY OF TRIP MATES

What I like most about Ballpark Tours trips.

“Being able to have almost anyone keep my scorebook while I explore the ball park!”  (NM, Woodbury, MN)

“The people. Seeing everyone again is like ‘Getting the band back together.’ Lots of laugh and memories.”  (TF, Saint Paul, MN)

Finally, maybe too soon, it was on to the Hotel Indigo – an upscale, downtown Nashville hotel with well-appointed rooms, a nice bar/restaurant, fast and reliable internet and (this will set the tone) an armoire instead of a closet, slippers for each guest, a Keurig coffee maker and a full line of Aveda body and hair care products.  Enough said.  We’ll enjoy the stay.

I headed for the ball park about an hour before game time – just a 6-8 block walk.  I may take a different route next time, on this jaunt I passed mostly abandoned buildings (the area is being revitalized) and bail bonds businesses.

4 mascotFirst Tennessee Park –which  opened in 2015 – is home to the Nashville Sounds. The stadium, which holds 10,000, has very sleek design and, most notably, a unique guitar-shaped scoreboard/video board (a tribute to Nashville as Music City). It has a wide concourse that circles the entire field – offering great views from anywhere.  Out in right field, you will find another unique aspect of this ball park – The Band Box, with its full bar and host of free outdoor diversions, including shuffle board, foosball, bean bag games, ping pong and – for a five-dollar fee – miniature golf.  There is also ample seating (couches, lounge chairs, bar stools) and a very “I’m on vacation having a good time” vibe. BBRT recommendation:  If you get here, go there.

Nashville Sounds' Bloody Mary - a solid double, but not a home run.

Nashville Sounds’ Bloody Mary – a solid double, but not a home run.

It was at The Band Box that I grabbed my traditional Bloody Mary ($8.50).  It was a decent pour, nicely spiced (pepper, tabasco and just the proper amount of celery salt) and garnished with a lime.  In the Pacific Coast League, Nashville and Memphis are traditional rivals.  Nashville is ahead in the standings this year – and they also win the Tennessee BBRT Bloody Mary match-up. (Neither, however, is threatening the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers’ lead.)

 

 

 

 

JUNIOR GILLIAM WAY

4gilliamFirst Tennessee Park is located on Junior Gilliam Way. Gilliam – born in Nashville – was an infielder (2B/3B) with the Dodgers from 1953-66; 1953 NL Rookie of the year; a two-time All Star; and key member of seven NL pennant winners (four-time World Series Champions).  Before joining the Dodgers, he was a three-time Negro League All Star (Baltimore Elite Giants) and the 1952 International League Most Valuable Player (with Montreal).  Considered one of MLB’s true gentleman – and a gamer who gave his all for the team – Gilliam is not only honored by with Nashville’s Junior Gilliam Way, he also has a Los Angeles park named in his honor.

4bvallparkWe had good seats once again, down the third base line – and we saw a competitive contest, taken by the Reno Aces (over the Nashville Sounds) 3-2.  Shelby Miller – a 15-game winner for the Cardinals in 2013, but sent down after starting 2-9, 7.14 for the Diamondbacks this season – went 7 1/3 innings, giving up just two runs on ten hits.  He helped himself out with some key strikeouts (a total of nine K’s versus no walks). Miller, reaching the mid-90s, threw 72 of 100 pitches for strikes.  In addition, he got a hand (or arm) from Reno catcher Ronnie Freeman who shut down the Nashville running game, nailing all three Nashville attempted stealers (second, third and fourth innings). The Sounds were, apparently, testing the 25-year-old Freeman, in his first game at AAA since being promoted from AA Mobile.  He passed. There was one other attempted steal in the game.  This one, by Reno, was thwarted by Nashville catcher Matt McBride.   Not a good day on the base paths for either side.

4raceThere were mixed feelings about the Nashville Sound Wave (cheerleaders/dance line). Some of our group questioned whether baseball needs cheerleaders.  I’ll stay out of that one.  Everyone seemed to like the racing country stars – Johnny Cash, Reba and George Jones.

Reno scored one in the fifth on a long home run by DH Peter O’Brien (his 22nd of the season) and two in the sixth on a bases-loaded single by LF Kyle Jensen.  No surprise there, On the season, Jensen is hitting .287, with 26 home runs and 105 RBI in 116 games.  The offensive star for Nashville was leadoff hitter/CF Arismendy Alcantara (say that three times fast). Alcantara (who has played 86 games at the major league level over the past three seasons)  went two-for-four with a double, triple, RBI and run scored.  Overall, a close, well-played game and a nice, clean scorecard.  (Although, I might note that, while Reno starter Shelby Miller went 7 1/3 innings, the Aces used four pitchers to get the last five outs.)

I’ll have more on Nashville and Bleacher Bums XXXIV tomorrow.  We are staying in town and the Tacoma Raniers are coming to town – but I am now off to explore Nashville’s Honky Tonk Highway.  To read about Ballpark Tours 2016 Day 1, click here; Day Two, click here; Day 3, click here.  I will leave you with a final baseball commentary.

EDDIE MATHEWS – GOT YOU COVERED

4eddieOn this date (August 16) in 1954, the first issue of Sports Illustrated hit the newsstands.  One the cover was BBRT’s  favorite player of all time, Braves’ third baseman Eddie Mathews. The Braves’ third sacker – known as a basher (512 career home runs) and a brawler (he had some memorable conflicts with players like Don Drysdale and Frank Robinson) – was pictured hitting a home run.  He would appear on the cover again in June of 1958 and August of 1994 (40th Anniversary Issue).

A few quotes about Mathews tell his story:

Ty Cobb: “I’ve only known three or four perfect swings in my life, and this lad has one of them.”

Bud Selig:  “When you saw him play, you knew you were seeing greatness.”

_____

Braves shortstop Johnny Logan:  “I didn’t mind starting fights. Mathews was always there to finish them for me.”

Braves pitcher Tony Clonigner: “If you ever wanted to pitch inside, you didn’t have to worry about the batter making it to the mound with Eddie Mathews at third.”

Warren Spahn on Mathews’ fisticuffs with Frank Robinson: “He (Eddie) hit him with three punches that not even Muhammad Ali could have stopped.”

________

Eddie Mathews on competitiveness: “I’d take on the other third baseman. I wanted to beat him in every department: fielding, hitting, running the bases.  I played that game all my life, and it kept me going.”

Eddie Mathews at his Hall of Fame induction:  “I’m just a beat up old third baseman.  I’m just a small part of a game that is a tremendous part of America today.”

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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

 

I

Bleacher Bums XXXIV – Ballpark Tours 2016 – Day Three

3entranceDay Three of Ballpark Tours XXXIV  sees us remaining in Memphis, with a second Tacoma Raniers/Memphis Redbirds game slated for 6:05 p.m.

As usual on BPT “free days,” the group split up to pursue local history, culture and/or cuisine – and, thank you Julian, much of the travel was accomplished via hotel shuttle.  The most popular destinations seemed to be Graceland (It is Elvis Week here, after all); The National Civil Rights Museum; and the Sun (Records) Studio Tour.

3bbBeing as major fan of the blues, I headed toward the Beale Street Entertainment District, where the barbeque is sweet and the  live music starts at 11 a.m. and runs straight through to 3 a.m.  It’s also where I saw quite a few of my fellow tour participants.  I stopped to take in a few tunes at a handful of clubs before heading for lunch at my previously selected destination – B.B. King’s Blues Club.  I could not miss visiting the original B.B. King’s location. I was not disappointed. The house band was great – back in Minnesota they’d be headliners – and so were the Memphis-style dry-rub ribs.  I hung out at B.B. King’s for a couple of hours (or a couple of brews, depending on how you measure) before heading over to Autozone Park for the evening’s ball game (6:05 p.m. start),

3 seatsIt was another heavy, humid day – with storms predicted –which may have contributed to the very small crowd (as might the Redbirds sub-.500 record). We did not, however, get rained on. The announced attendance was 3,517, but I’d be surprised if there were more than 2,500. – and they were a quiet bunch, despite Memphis’ 6-2 win. We tried to get something going, but often all you heard was the “sound of one fan clapping.”  Good seats again, by the way, third-base side this time.

It was a cleaner game than yesterday, eight hits apiece, only four walks, and just one error. Once again, however, the pitchers lacked “command.” We saw six hurlers and every one had either a wild pitch (four in the game) or hit batter (two). Redbirds’ starter Jeremy Hefner got off to a shaky starts (giving up a two-run homer in the first), but settled down and ended up giving up just the two runs over 6 2/3 innings – six hits, no walks, five strikeouts.)  Both cleanup hitters, as they are supposed to, did some damage. Tacoma catcher Rob Brantley poled a two-run home runs (his 13th of the season) in the first. (Brantly’s line on the season is .244-13-38). The Redbirds’ number-four hitter – CF David Washington – hit a three-run dinger (his 23rd of the season at Memphis and 28th overall) in the fifth. His 2016 line with Memphis (at the end of the game) stood at .245-23-52.,

The game’s outcome really turned on the Redbirds’ half of the fifth, when Raniers’ starter Zach Lee’s inning went:  3B Jacob Wilson, hit-by-pitch; SS Alex Mejia, strikeout; 2B Breyvic Valera, single (his third hit of the game); 1B Efren Navarro, run-scoring single; DH Jose Martinez, strikeout; LF David Washington, three-run homer;  C Mike Ohlman, flyout.

For those the like to know such things, Memphis is a home power – now having won 14 of their last 20 home games and boasting a 36-25 home record and a 22-37 mark on the road.

Once again, we received a free Redbirds hat, hot dog and beverage.  I decided to give my hat “to a kid” and, as luck would have it, shortly after I picked it up, a youngster (I’d say about 12-years-old) came up and asked me how much the hats cost.  He walked away with a free one – mission accomplished.

I’ve already commented on the ballpark and the Bloody Mary’s, so this report from the road will be short.  (For Day One, click here.  For Day Two, here).  Next stop, Nashville for a pair of Nashville Sounds versus Reno Aces games – and more libation, laughter and music.

A Streak Ends

Yesterday (August 14), Francisco Mejia (switch-hitting catcher in the Indian’s system) saw his 50-game hitting streak come to an end. He went zero-for-three with a walk for Lynchburg in his team’s 6-0 loss to Winston Salem.  It was this season’s longest streak in professional baseball, and the fourth-longest all-time. Joe Wilhoit holds the record at 69 games – you can read about that streak here.

Mejia’s streak was split between two teams – Lynchburg (High A) – 26 games and Lake County (A) – 24 games.  During the streak, he hit  .386, with eight homers and 42 RBI.  Considered one of the Indians’ top five prospects, Mejia is .345, with nine home runs and 73 RBI on the season – and is .290-24-186 over four minor league seasons.

Well that’s it for Day Three – more reports from the road to come.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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

Ballpark Tours: One Busy Day – From Baseball to Fireworks to a Carraige Ride

Autozone Park - home of the Memphis Redbirds.

Autozone Park – home of the Memphis Redbirds.

A long bus ride, the Twins’ 1987 World Series video, an impromptu stop at the Saint Louis Cardinals’ Team Store, a baseball game in Memphis (TN), free hats and hot dogs, a light/power malfunction game delay, a 6-4-3 double play (finally) in the top of the ninth, impressive fireworks, a carriage ride home, a lobby bar … Day Two of Ballpark Tours XXXIV had a little bit of everything.  They do say, however, don’t bury the lead – so here goes.

Last night’s winning pitcher was the Tacoma Raniers’ Pat Venditte.  Why is that the lead?  Venditte got the victory (the Raniers won over the Memphis Redbirds 6-5 in a less than cleanly played contest) by virtue of two innings pitched, giving up one hit and two walks, no runs and fanning two – and pitching to six batters right-handed and two left-handed.  That’s right, our Ballpark Tours’ group got to see MLB’s most recent ambidextrous pitcher. Venditte, who was traded from Toronto to Seattle August 6 (and assigned to Tacoma by the Mariners), has plied his left-right trade in the majors for the Blue Jays and A’s – MLB stat line: 2-2, 4.58 in 34 games.  More on Venditte later, but when it comes to the second day of our ten-day baseball trek, he’s the lead.

With that, let’s take a look at Day Two in a somewhat chronological order.

THE RIDE

The Ozzie Smith statue outside the Cardinals Team Store.

The Ozzie Smith statue outside the Cardinals Team Store.

We go off to an early start from Peoria (IL), still lamenting: 1) Last night’s rainout; 2) The heat and humidity; 3) A not-so-friendly weather forecast for Memphis (our next stop).  Things picked up on the six-hour bus ride, thanks in part to the video of Game Seven of the Twins’ 1987 World Series win over the Cardinals. Our intrepid tour leader, Julian Loscalzo distributed the tickers for the Saturday and Sunday games on the bus – and we also each received vouchers for a Memphis Redbirds hat, hot dog and beverage for each game.  Freebies – almost as popular as the Twins (repeat) Game Seven win.  The day also included an impromtu stop at the St. Louis Cardinals Team Store – where we had a chance to check out the statues of Cardinal heroes from Hornsby to Musial to Smith.

THE HOTEL

We pulled into the Crowne Plaza Downtown Memphis – and, as usual, Ballpark Tours selected well-located (about a ten-block walk to the ballpark), quality accommodations. (The hotel completed a significant remodeling in May.)  The lobby bar, shuttle service (some preferred to avoid the ten-block walk) and breakfast buffet proved especially popular.  (And, I was even provided office space in which to work on this blog.)

THE BALL PARK- from blues to Bloody Mary’s

The Memphis Winslows.

The Memphis Winslows.

We headed to Autozone Park for the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariner’ farm club) versus Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals’ farm team) tilt about an hour before the 6:35 p.m. game time. I was glad I did, pregame there was a pretty good blues-rock band (The Memphis Winslows) playing in the right field corner.  I also had plenty of time to take in a few tunes, pick up a scorecard (free), purchase my traditional Bloody Mary and collect my freebies (nice hat, good hot dog, Diet Coke).

 

The family sedan of Bloody Mary's.

The family sedan of Bloody Mary’s.

I always review the Bloody Mary.  Autozone’s Park’s offering, available for $8.75 at the Brewhouse, was adequate (good pour and I was asked how spicy I wanted it).  However, there were none of the garnishes or extra spices (like celery salt) that make a Bloody Mary pop, at least in BBRT’s eyes. It was pretty much the family sedan of Bloody Mary’s. Stick to cold beer.

It was a hot and steamy night (sounds like the start of a mystery novel) and the threat of rain delayed the start of the game about ten minutes – getting the tarp on and off the field. We had great seats, lower deck in the first few rows just beyond first base.  (We had a perfect view of a catcher-to-first base pick-off in the bottom of the fifth inning).  The park itself, which opened in 2000, is slotted nicely into downtown Memphis.  Like CHS Field (Saint Paul Saints), you really don’t notice the ball park until you are practically at the gate and, once inside, you get the always pleasing panorama of a baseball arena.  Memphis also has one of the largest – and to my eye, clearest – video screens in the minor leagues – which, as you will read later, came in handy during a mid-game delay.  Like most minor league parks, there was plenty of between innings entertainment: Baby Races; Pizza Box Races; Tricycle Races.

THE GAME

Taijuan Walker - as seen from BPT's seats.

Taijuan Walker – as seen from BPT’s seats.

The game started off pretty well, zero-zero after three – and we were pleased to have a chance to see Taijuan Walker take the mound for the Raniers. The 23-year-old Walker, long considered a top prospect for the Mariners, went 11-8, 4.56 for the Mariners in 2015 – and was 4-7, 4.10 in 17 starts before an early August demotion (after a stretch of five starts in which his ERA was a lofty 5.96).

Things went a little south in the fourth inning, as the Raniers sent 11 hitters to the plate, scoring six runs on five hits, a walk and a hit batsman. Walker looked to be on the way to a victory – having given up no hits and fanning four in the first three frames (the only blemish was a hit-by-pitch). He had a six-run lead and just needed to go five innings for a win.  That was not to be. In the fourth, Walker gave up two runs on three doubles. The fifth would be even worse for Walker, who  retired the leadoff batter and then gave up two singles and a pair of walks (walking in a run) before the ambidextrous Venditte came. While Venditte did walk in another run, he got out of the inning and – as noted earlier – picked up the win.

Pat Venditte, Jr.

Pat Venditte was drafted by the Yankees in the 20th round of the 2008 MLB draft – out of   Creighton University, where the ambidextrous pitcher was a 2007 first-team All Missouri Valley Conference  player, the 2007 Most Valuable Player in the conference tournament and a third-team All American.  Since signing, he has been in the Yankees, A’s, Blue Jays and now the Mariners’ systems. In nine minor league seasons, his record is 21-23, 2.52 ERA, with 52 saves in 295 games. He appeared in the major with the A’s in 2015 and the Blue Jays in 2016 – going a combined 2-2, 4.58 in 34 games.

Throwing righty, Venditte delivers a mid- to high-80s fastball, as well as a slider and curve. Left-handed, he relies on a low- to mid-80s fastball and a slider.

The “Pat Venditte Rule”

Venditte’s ambidextrous offerings led to the development of a new set of rules – generally referred to as the Pat Venditte Rule – for dealing with the actions of  switch-pitchers within an at bat. Basically, a pitcher must indicate visually to the umpire which hand he intends to use to pitch to each batter – and he may not switch hands until that batter is retired, reaches base, the inning ends (i.e. baserunner picked off), a pinch hitter takes the batter’s place or the pitcher injures his arm.

Ultimately, the Raniers prevailed six-to-five in a game which we saw four pitchers for each team – 19 hits, 11 walks, two hit batters,  three wild pitches and one error; as well as a brief weather delay at the start of a game and an 18-minute mid-game delay  due to a power loss to parts  of the lighting banks. Note:  They put the Olympic swimming event on the video board during the delay and the U.S. relay team;s win got the most enthusiastic response of the night.  I did get to see my 6-4-3 double play (but not until the top of the ninth); Memphis’ left fielder Jose Martinez made a great sliding catch in the top of the first; Tacoma 2B Mike Freeman made a nice play, ranging to his right and making a jump/spin-move throw to first in the bottom of the second; and Tacoma catcher Jesus Sucre picked a Redbirds’ runner of first to end the fifth.

POST GAME

The ride home - in style.

The ride home – in style.

Post game the Redbirds put on a one of the best fireworks display we have seen on the tour – and, as one would expect in Memphis – it was set to music and video of Elvis.

Then it was back to the hotel – on foot, via shuttle or, for one group in true style, a horse-drawn carriage.

So, there is Day Two, I’ll report again from Nashville (tonight, in Memphis, it’s Elvis Night at the ball park). Now I’m off to explore Memphis.

 

In The Majors – A First First

Yesterday (August 13), Yankee prospects Tyler Austin (1B) and Aaron Judge (RF) made their major league debuts – and launched back-to-back home runs in the second inning of the Yankees 8-4 win over the Rays. It was the first at bat for each of them.  Judge and Aaron are the first teamates to hit home runs in their first MLB at bats in the same game. 

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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

David Dahl – It’s Raining Records

REdAt 9:00 a.m. on Friday, August 12, 32 baseball fans – myself included – set out on Ballpark Tours Bleacher Bums XXXIV – a trip designed to take us to ten baseball games, in seven cities in ten days.  From Peoria (IL) to Memphis (TN) to Nashville (TN) to Chattanooga (TN) to Marion (IL) to Kansas City (MO) to Des Moines (IA), we would be taking in professional baseball at many levels (Independent, A, AA, AAA and Major League).

It was a fine rolling start, featuring some typical Ballpark Tours’ hoopla including the distribution of our tour t-shirts, a baseball  book exchange, a Bloody Mary Bar at the back of the bus (open at 11:15 a.m.) and snacks (cheese, meats, crackers) to accompany the morning beverages. As lunch time came around, we stopped for a rest-area picnic, where tour participants broke out fare from chicken-salad pocket breads to smoked whitefish and double butter brie to sushi.

As we re-boarded and burned up the miles with baseball stories and memories from past Ballpark Tours’ trips, we also received copies of this trip’s Trivia Kwiz and forms for a contest to guess the number of major league runs scored during the upcoming weekend. Wow, apparently there is homework on this trip – but it’s baseball homework.

Shortly after the lunch stop, the unrelenting rain started and, when we pulled into Peoria (a six-hour bus ride), we found our first game had been postponed – just the second rainout in Ballpark Tours’ 34-year history. Undaunted, groups set out from the hotel – the very nice Staybridge Inn and Suites (my room had a queen bed, coach and coffee table, desk, refrigerator, microwave, stove and even an icemaker and dishwasher). Our destination(s)?  Local restaurants and pubs, on foot or via hotel shuttle.

PubLibation and laughter (as well as supper) were the order of the evening.  The group I joined headed to Ulrich’s Rebellion Room – a nearby Irish-style pub.  Despite the rain, and some disappointment with the cancelled game (and missed fireworks and lost bobbleheads), there were plenty of smiles, laughter and toasts to our national pastime. And, imagine, the response, when the group learned the pub didn’t close until 4:00 a.m. and the kitchen was open until 3:00. That’s hospitality.

I actually headed back to the hotel a little early, which gave me a chance to tune in to coverage of the day’s major league contests.  Of particular interest was the Rockies/Phillies game and the performance of Colorado’s rookie outfielder David Dahl.

David Dahl – For the Record

I kept an eye on Rockies’ rookie left fielder David Dahl Friday evening. Thursday, Dahl hit in his 17th straight game (in what was just his 17th major league game) – tying the MLB record for the longest hitting streak to begin a career.

Dahl, who had a chance to claim the record (at 18 games) all to himself, went zero-for-four in the Rockies’ 10-6  loss to the Phillies on Friday – striking out three times. Ironically, one of the strikeouts helped a Phillies’ rookie tie another record. Dahl led off the second inning against Phillies’ starter Jake Thompson and fanned on a curveball in the dirt, a wild pitch that also eluded catcher Cameron Rupp. Dahl reached first on the WP; Rockies; RF Gerarado Parra followed with a single; and catcher Nick Hundley was safe on an error (scoring Dahl). Thompson then struck out 1B Ben Paulsen, SS Daniel Descalso and P Jon Gray – to notch an MLB record-tying four strikeouts in an inning.

But, back to Dahl.  The 22-year-old rookie collected 24 hits in 70 at bats (.358) during his streak – including one double, three triples and three home runs.  Over the 17 games, he drove in ten runs and scored 17. Dahl moved up from AA Hartford to AAA Albuquerque before his call up, hitting .314 with 18 home runs, 61 RBI and 17 steals in a combined 92 games. Dahl was selected – out of Mountain High School in Birmingham, Alabama – in the first round of the 2013 MLB draft (10th overall). He carried a .310 average with 47 home runs and 74 stolen bases over five minor league seasons (367 games).  .

Dahl tied the record of Chuck Aleno,  3B for the Reds, who was called up May 15 1941. During his 17-game streak, Aleno hit .389 (28 for 72), with two doubles, two triples, nine RBI and 12 runs scored.  Aleno finished the year at .289-1-18 in 54 games, the most he would ever play in an MLB season, When he was called up, the 24-year-old Aleno was in his fifth professional season and was hitting .348 (19 games) for the AA Indianapolis Indians of the American Association. Aleno played 17 seasons of professional ball, part of four in the majors. His MLB career line was .209-2-34 in 118 games.

It’s back on the bus tomorrow with, hopefully some game action, Memphis Redbirds, to report.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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

Ballpark Tours – Bleacher Bums XXXIV – Baseball Heaven (on many levels)

 

ballpark tours

Bleacher Bums XXXIV – Tennessee Three Step

(August 12-21, 2016)

Ten Games – Seven cities – Ten Days

Independent – A- AA- AAA-  & Major League

There is really nothing like a Ballpark Tours trek. It is the perfect way to enjoy the national pastime – good times with good friends (old and new) who share a passion for baseball and adventure.  It’s would not be an exaggeration to say that once you get on a Ballpark Tours bus, every mile is a memory.

Note:  This is an unsolicited BBRT endorsement/recommendation.  I’ve been on 27 Ballpark Tours trips, and on every one I’ve made some great friends, had some great times and seen some great baseball.  I highly recommend the 2016 trek and, later in this post, there is a link that will take you directly to Ballpark Tours site.

This year’s jaunt, leaving out of Saint Paul, Minnesota promises to be a true southern adventure.   August 12-21, trekkers will enjoy ten games in seven cities in ten days.  And, if you’ve ever wanted to compare the quality of play at various levels (as well as culture of the game and the towns and cities in which it is played), this trip is for you. It includes professional baseball at almost every level – from the Independent Leagues through the Major Leagues. You’ll not only see the Minnesota Twins and defending World Champion Kansas City Royals, but some of the top minor league prospects of the Twins, Diamondbacks, Mariners, A’s, Cardinals, Rays and Astros.

BPT Kauff

In addition, you’ll be able to enjoy the culture, cuisine, history and arts of the cities along the way, including two nights each in Memphis, Nashville and Kansas City – talk about the opportunity for Blues, Brews, Barbeque and Baseball, not to mention a little Country and Bluegrass thrown in. As always with Ballpark Tours, you can expect good hotels, well-located – and all the usual high spirits, hi-jinx and BPT hoopla. For a look at some of BPT’s past trips, there are BBRT’s Ballpark Tours Daily Roundups, just click here.  To learn more (like pricing), just click here to go right to Ballpark Tours website.  Really anxious to sign up, here’s a downloadable order form – click here.  You can also click on the Ballpark Tours link (logo) on the lower right hand side of the page.

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

For those who want more detail – here are the teams featured on this year’s trek.

Independent- Frontier League

Gateway Grizzlies at Southern Illinois (Marion) Miners

Class A – Midwest League

Quad Cities River Bandits at the Peoria Chiefs

Double A – Southern League

Montgomery Biscuits at Chattanooga Lookouts

Triple A Pacific Coast league

Tacoma Raniers at Memphis Redbirds

Reno Aces at Nashville Sounds

Major League – American

Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

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

Ballpark Tours 2015 – Winding Down

Welcome to the final post from BBRT’s annual Ballpark Tours baseball trek. This year’s trip (Bleacher Bums XXXIII … A Rock and Roll Adventure) took us to Schaumburg, IL (minor league), Chicago (Cubs/Giants), Cleveland (Twins/Indians), Detroit (Tigers/Red Sox) and back to Chicago (White Sox/Angels). For reports from earlier in the trip: Day One, click here. Day Two, click here. Day three, click here. Days Four and Five, click here.

Day Six – White Sox Rock Angels

At "The Cell" we sat in the lower deck, right field.  BBRT suggests lower deck seats at U.S. Cellular - it's where the action is.

At “The Cell” we sat in the lower deck, right field. BBRT suggests lower deck seats at U.S. Cellular – it’s where the action is.

Day Six saw us back in Chicago (Hotel Indigo again, see Day One) for a White Sox/Angels contest at U.S. Cellular Field – known by locals as “The Cell.”  Let me begin by saying you’ll find the Sox fans more serious than their Cubs’ counterparts, and you’ll also find far fewer “baseball tourists” at The Cell. (On the way there, I had a conversation with one Southside local who wondered why we wanted to go to a Sox game).

The game wasn’t particularly compelling – with the White Sox topping the Angel 8-2. It did have its moments though:

 

  • Sox’ RF Avasail Garcia, went two-for-four with two home runs (lighting up the A.S. Cellular scoreboard) and four RBI.
  • We broke a BPT 2015 trend, seeing only five pitchers – after seeing 45 pitchers in the first four major league games.
  • White Sox Cy Young candidate Chris Sale went 7 1/3 innings for the win (his tenth), giving up just two runs on five hits and two walks – with seven strikeouts.
  • I finally saw my 6-4-3 double play in the fifth inning, off the bat of Angels’ C Chris Iannetta. (Alexei Ramirez to Carlos Sanchez to Adam LaRoche).
  • Sox CF Adam Eaton made a great running catch in deep center field – off the bat of Albert Pujols.
Avasail Garcia lit up the sky and the scoreboard with a pair of home runs.

Avasail Garcia lit up the sky and the scoreboard with a pair of home runs.

BBRT Survey

BBRT conducted an on-the-bus survey regarding a handful (minus one) of baseball issues.  Given the venue in which the survey was taken, it’s safe to assume the respondents were all baseball fans with some knowledge of and passion for the game.  In general, the group supported the DH as is (AL only), doesn’t want to see Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame, is split on the use of a clock in MLB and supports challenges and replays as part of the game.  Here are the detailed results.

When asked if Pete Rose should continue to be banned from baseball:

Maintain the ban           57%

Lift the ban                  35%

No opinion                   8%

On-board opinions on the DH:

Keep as is – DH in AL, not in NL         48%

Eliminate DH (both leagues)                  22%

DH or no DH, just make both leagues the same 17%

Use DH in AL and NL                         13%

On the proposed rules on the use of a clock in baseball:

Support            48%

Oppose            44%

No opinion         8%

On MLB’s challenge and replay system:

Support            57% (13% stipulated only with adjustments)

Oppose            39%

No opinion       4%

U.S. Cellular Field

The Cell has a bit of a blue collar feel – not a lot of frills, but good sight lines (at least from the lower deck).  BBRT would recommend holding out for lower deck seats for a couple of reasons: 1) The Upper Deck is steep and high; 2) The Sox restrict the ability to move between decks and there is more going on (in terms of food and entertainment on the lower level).  A few other observations:

  • The White Sox three video boards (left, center and right field) provide plenty of information for fans. (I also found the left field – old school – video board enjoyable.  Basically, black and white (yellow, actually), it reminded of the Twins-O-Gram at old Met Stadium.
  • The White Sox are keeping pace with MLB’s trend toward the honoring of former greats, with the White Sox Legends Sculpture Plaza. In the concourse between Sections 100 and 164, you’ll find tributes to: Louis Aparicio; Harold Baines; Charles Comiskey; Carlton Fisk; Nellie Fox; Paul Konerko; Minnie Minoso; Billy Pierce; and Frank Thomas.
  • If you go to the ballpark not just for the game, but also for the food, US. Cellular is a little slice of heaven. You’ll want to make a trip around the concourse just to see what the offerings are. They range from sausages of every ethnicity (with plenty of tasty toppings) to Corn off the Cob (highly recommended by BBRT) to unique items like an Avocado/Bacon Grilled Cheese  sandwich with Tomato-Basil Bisque.  For sheer volume, the Nachos in a Helmet should keep you busy for the whole game.  Not only are the choices plentiful and tasty, U.S. Cellular has some of MLB’s most reasonable concession prices.
  • BBRT also recommends the two-tiered, open-air, right field Bullpen Sports Bar. A great place to enjoy a beverage and the game in the company of passionate baseball fans.

The Cell’s Bloody Mary

The Cell's Bloody Mary - appropriately spiced and priced.

The Cell’s Bloody Mary – appropriately spiced and priced.

U.S. Cellular’s Bloody Mary – purchased at the lower-level, right-field corner Infinity Zone Bar was the best and cheapest (at $8.25) of the trip.  Rather than just vodka and a prepared mix, this one included Worcestershire sauce and celery salt added by the bartender (and you did have a choice of levels of spice), a pair of olives, a lime wedge and a lemon wedge. Not quite as tangy as Detroit’s pickle-brine flavored mix, but appropriately spiced and priced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trip Home

After the White Sox game, it was back on the bus for the trip back to Saint Paul.  Along the way, we made a stop at the Mihas Brewery (Monroe, WI) and Beer Memorabilia Museum – which has added a distillery since our last visit.  There was plenty of beer tastings, as well as the opportunity to sample spirits (tequila, rye, vodka and more). We had about a two-hour stop in the town of Monroe population about 10,000.  For most trekker the schedule went:  1) Taste a few of Minhas’ beers; 2) Lunch in nearby “downtown” Monroe (which has a surprising number of choices, from home-style cooking to deli sandwiches to barbeque to Mexican specialties). I was in a group that chose Poncho and Lefties Outlaw Grill; 3) Sample the spirits at the Minhas Distillery (I especially enjoyed the tequilas); and then back to the bus.

Wrapping Up – with a Brewery and a Distillery

sixlazynuttThe final few hours, were spent swapping stories from this year’s trip (and previous trips) in a bus filled with laughter.  We rolled back into Saint Paul by about 9:30 p.m. and the 2015 Ballpark Tours Bleacher Bums XXXIII trip ended in much the same way it started – with lots of hugs and handshakes.   The final touch – a round of applause for tour operator Julian Loscalzo – who once again delivered a memorable baseball (and social) experience.

A visit to the Minhas Distillery had us in high spirits for the ride home.

A visit to the Minhas Distillery had us in high spirits for the ride home.

The Babe would have approved.

The Babe would have approved of our Ballpark Tours journey.

Ballpark Tours Bleacher Bums XXIII - our rolling group traded miles for memories, and it was a good trade.

Ballpark Tours Bleacher Bums XXIII – our rolling group traded miles for memories, and it was a good trade.

Ball Park Tours 2015 – Day Four and Five – Cleveland to Detroit

Welcome to ongoing coverage of the Ballpark Tours 2015 … Bleacher Bums XXXIII … Rock N’Roll Adventure.  Looking at Day Four (last half) and Day Five in this post  For Day One. click here; Day Two, here; Day Three, here  I do apologize for any typos, editing on a moving bus.

 —— BPT Day Four – Cleveland ——

 The Game

Pre-game action included a fire in a nearby building. Indians' bats ptoved hotter.

Pre-game action included a fire in a nearby building. Indians’ bats ptoved hotter.

Day Four included a morning/afternoon visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (included in the Day Three report) before the Saturday night Twins/Indians contest, as well as a second consecutive night of Rock N’Blast post-game fireworks.  It turns out that FIREworks was the theme of the evening.  It started with a pre-game fire in a building near the ballpark; moved on to the Indians’ explosive offense; and finished with another round of what BPT trekkers agreed was best ballpark fireworks display the group has ever seen. (At least the best since the night before.)

On a baseball tour, the game – of course – is the thing.  So, let’s start there. The Indians shellacked the Twins 17-4 in a contest that wasn’t even that close. The Cleveland bats were so hot, in fact, the Indians did not even have to worry about their number-one key to the game – Stopping Torii Hunter.

 

Scoreboard old the story.  Today's Indians' strategy. Stop yesterday's hero -Torii Hunter.

Scoreboard old the story. Today’s Indians’ strategy. Stop yesterday’s hero -Torii Hunter.

(Hunter, the hero of Friday night’s Twins’ win was reported by the Indians’ PA announcer as having the most hits versus the Indians of any active player. Before Saturday’s first pitch, the Indians scoreboard posted “Stop the Hunter” as the number-one key to the game.)

Here are a few observations (clearly, not highlights).

  • The Indians collected 19 hits, including four doubles, a triple and two home runs (PH-RF Jerry Sands; CF Abraham Almonte). Twins hurlers also gave up eight walks, while fanning four. Indian pitchers walked three and whiffed 12. Betty White (Hot in Cleveland) probably could have scored for Cleveland Saturday night.
  • In keeping with the trend on this trip, we saw 35 players (19 Twins/16 Indians), including 11 pitchers. In the three MLB games on this trip so far, we have seen 35 pitchers take the mound (actually 34, Minnesota’s A.J. Achter appeared in both games in Cleveland). This is definitely not “crisp, clean” baseball.
  • The final Twin to take the mound did not come in from the bullpen. Shane Robinson came in from right field to record the final three outs for the Twins (bottom of the eighth inning).  A. J. Achter started the eighth and gave up three singles, a home run and a walk to the five batters he faced, before Twins’ manager Paul Molitor made the call to … right field (cell phone in Shane Robinson’s pocket?).  Robinson walked the first hitter he faced, then recorded a ground out to shortstop, fly out to center and a strikeout (Jerry Sands on a 64-mph knuckleball). Of the seven pitchers who toiled for the Twins, only Robinson and Kevin Jepsen did not give up at least one earned run.
  • The Twins did rap three home runs in the contest: Joe Mauer, Kurt Suzuki and Eddie Rosario,
  • It was Michael Brantley bobble head night – and he responded with three hits, two runs, one RBI and a stolen base. The star of the game, however, was Indians’ CF Abraham Almonte (acquired from the Padres on July 31). Starting his first game as an Indian, Almonte went four-for-five, with two doubles, a home run, three runs scored and two RBI.
  • To soothe Twins’ fans. Consider this – the Indians scored 26 runs in two games – and only got a split.  Conversely, the Twins gave up 26 runs in two games and still earned (earned may be too strong a word) a split.
  • Selective hearing? The PA announcer seemed to have a slightly unusual accent. Each time Indians’ catcher Roberto Perez came to the plate, I could have sworn he was introduced as “Rubber Toe Perez.”

Progressive Field

God seats. Game for Twins' fans - not so much.

God seats. Game for Twins’ fans – not so much.

I got to the game early to collect my Brantley bobble head (which I later gave to a youngster who hadn’t arrived early enough to grab one of the popular promos).  That gave me time to visit Heritage Park (right field corner), with its plaques of past Indians’ stars, as well as the Bob Feller display in the Terrace Club (second deck, left field corner). Both are well worth a visit, and will provide you with a sense of Cleveland’s long MLB history.

Our seats were in the upper deck between home plate and first base – great view of what turned out to be a less than great game. These seats were considerably less expensive ($29) than last night’s left-field, lower-level seats, but offered a better view of the scoreboards and game action. Pre-game entertainment included a live rock band on the concourse level (right field) and a building fire about a half block from the ballpark.

Cleveland knows how to do fireworks,

Cleveland knows how to do fireworks,

Then came the game (already described above) and, finally, the Rock N’Blast fireworks and laser display. As I noted yesterday, Cleveland knows how to do fireworks – and tying the display to the history of rock and roll made it “more Cleveland”  and a treat for nearly all the senses.

I shared my observations on Progressive Field and its Bloody Mary yesterday, so we’ll move on to Day Five and Detroit.

 

 

 

 

 

——Day Five Detroit—–

We departed Chicago for Detroit (Day Game versus Red Sox) at 9:15 a.m. and, apparently, a couple days in Cleveland were reinvigorating.  The “Back of the Bus” was in fine form. (Sorry, “front of the bus,” but loyalty is a virtue.)  Lots of baseball talk, the sharing of stories from past BPT tours and, of course, the classic rock sing-alongs.  On the way to the Motor City, we weren’t just rolling – we were rocking and rolling.  It was at this point that a new idea (stolen from Field of Dreams) was born:

Question: “Is this heaven?”

Answer: “No, it’s the back of the bus.”

We also had the announcement of the winner for Friday’s contest to guess how many total runs would be scored in MLB’s 15 games.  I missed by one – but that was good enough to earn a twenty-dollar bill.  (One trekker, who entered only the free, just for fun, competition actually hit the run total – 118 – right on the mark.)

The Game

I have a lot to say about Detroit’s Comerica Park, so I’ll keep game comments brief.  The Red Sox topped the home town Tigers 7-2 in a contest that was tight (3-2 Red Sox), until Boston broke loose for four runs in the top of the eighth – much to the disappointment of most of the crowd of 38,766. A few observations:

  • In the “It’s why we play the game” category – Boston was led by an unlikely hero. Number-nine hitter, CF Jackie Bradley, Jr., came into the game hitting just .121, with one home run and four RBI in 24 games. His output Sunday? Two-for-three – with a double, home run and five RBI.
  • A sign of the times: We reached double-digits in pitchers used for the fourth straight game. Contest-by-contest pitcher count for our major league games: 12, 12, 11, 10.
  • In the fourth inning, we were treated to a beautiful, full-tilt, back-to-the-infield, over-the-shoulder catch in deep center field by – you guessed it – improbably hitting hero, Red Sox CF Jackie Bradley, Jr.
  • The game featured just 13 hits, but – unfortunately – also eleven walks (only two of those eleven “walkers” came around to score).

Comerica Park

Count me, officially, as a fan of Comerica Park.  The park, which opened in 2000, seems to have something for fans of all ages – while also “displaying” a great respect for Detroit baseball history and tradition.

Comerica Park ...offers a unique baseball experience: lots to offer for fans of all ages.

Comerica Park …offers a unique baseball experience: lots to offer for fans of all ages.

First, our seats were in the lower deck, right field. Despite the distance, the sight lines were good and you still felt close to the action.  (If I had any complaint about the seating – and this seems true of most ballparks’ outfield seats – we seldom saw a vendor in our area.  This may not be an issue for most fans, but I prefer to remain in my seat, scoreboard at the ready, during the game.)

My suggestion for Detroit is that you get to the park early and walk the concourse.  You will not only find a diverse range of food choices (including, in-season, strawberry shortcake), but also solid evidence of Detroit status as a baseball city.  You will find displays of photos and memorabilia commemorating each decade of Detroit baseball throughout the concourse, as well as some of the most detail “legends” statues (Ty Cobb, Hal Newhauser, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Willie Horton) beyond the left field fence.  These are some of the most detailed ballpark statues I have seen – and well worth the time to take in.

Detroit baseball history documented throughout the park.

Detroit baseball history documented throughout the park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detroit's legends beyond LF fence.

Detroit’s legends beyond LF fence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Willie Horton – Detroit’s Home Town Hero

As I was looking at the Detroit Tigers’ legends statues at Comerica Park, I heard one fan (from out of town, I presume) questioning why Willie Horton was up there with the likes of Ty Cobb and Al Kaline.  That experience prompted me to share this story about Horton.  First, Horton is a Detroiter – moving to the city with his family at the age of nine and later starring at Detroit’s Northwestern High School.  A four-time MLB All Star, Horton was a star on the field for his home town Tigers. In 15 seasons with Detroit, he hit .276, with 262 home runs and 886 RBI … and he hit .304 in the 1968 World Series.  Horton, however, secured his status as a true home town hero (and Detroit legend) not on the field, but in the streets.

On July 23, 1967 – as the Tigers faced the Yankees in a Sunday afternoon double header (remember those) at home – race-related rioting, looting and arson was lighting up the city of Detroit’s streets (ultimately, there would be 43 fatalities, more than a thousand injured and more than 2,00 buildings destroyed).

After the close of baseball action, with smoke from burning areas of the city visible from the ballpark, players were warned to avoid certain neighborhoods, including the area where Horton had grown up.  Horton took the warning as a call to action, and followed his home town heart.  Still in uniform, Horton rushed to the streets of his old neighborhood, climbed on roof of his car (in an area later described in the media as a “like a war zone) and pleaded for calm.  Detroit has not forgotten that effort – or Horton’s still ongoing commitment to the city, his city.  And, there is more to that recognition than the Horton statue at Comerica Park. Every year, on October 18 (Horton’s birthday), per legislative  decree, the state of Michigan officially celebrates Willie Horton Day.

Two more Willie Horton facts: Horton is the youngest of 21 children in his family. Horton hit his first home run in Tiger Stadium at the age of just 16 – playing in a Detroit All City High School game.

  • Kids love the ferris wheel and tiger-themed carousel at Comerica.

    Kids love the Ferris wheel and tiger-themed carousel at Comerica.

    Plenty for the kids at Comerica, including a Tiger-theme carousel and a baseball Ferris wheel.

  • The Big Cat Court has some great food items – including (in-season) strawberry shortcake.
  • There are tigers – the striped cats – statues and images, in many art forms, almost everywhere you look, adding to the home town feel of the park.
  • Tiger fans are knowledgeable and loyal.
  • The Amsterdam 416 Bar, above the right field bleachers, is worth a visit.

 

 

 

Comerica Bloody Mary

Not a World Series Champ, but Comerica's Bloody Mary makes the first division.

Not a World Series Champ, but Comerica’s Bloody Mary makes the first division.

The Comerica Bloody Mary ($10) uses McClure Bloody Mary Mix – a Detroit product – developed by the McClure (family) pickle company as a use for its leftover pickle brine. It also contains a sharp combination of spices, tomato paste and fresh-pressed cucumber juice. At Comerica, the drink is topped with a stick of three olives and a pickle.  It is a first-division Bloody Mary, unique in its combination of pickle-brine tartness and peppery spice.  One of the most “refreshing” Bloody Mary’s I have enjoyed at a ball park.  It truly awakens the taste buds. One suggestion, add a dash of celery salt.

 

 

 

 

Kalamazoo

BPT trekkers have been known to occasionally enjoy a refreshing beverage (Okay, maybe more than one and maybe more than occasionally). )

BPT trekkers have been known to occasionally enjoy a refreshing beverage (Okay, maybe more than one and maybe more than occasionally). )

We bussed to Kalamazoo after the game and BPT delivered again.  The Radisson Plaza there proved a great hotel. Comfortable rooms, great bars and restaurants, outstanding breakfast buffet (try the Greek omelet). My evening meal was a pulled pork sandwich with bourbon and Sriracha BBQ sauce, smoked Gouda and jalapeno slaw – with truffle, which cheddar fries on the side. We really rough it on these BPT trips.

Next, back to Chicago (White Sox/Angels).

 

 

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Ballpark Tours 2015 – Fireworks Friday

Our Ballpark Tours (BPT) Bleacher Bums XXXIII – Rock N’Roll Adventure – tour group rolled out of Chicago at about 9:30 a.m. on Friday, leaving Wrigley Field behind and heading for Cleveland’s Progressive Field and two days of watching the Indians take on the Twins.  For more on BPT 2015 Day One, click here; Day Two, here.

Progressive Field - lots of fireworks, early and late.

Progressive Field – lots of fireworks, early and late.

Clearly, the entertainment options available in The Windy City took the wind out of the sails for many of our group.  It was a relatively quiet bus ride.  We arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Cleveland about 5:30 (great hotel, large rooms, complimentary breakfast, ten-minute walk to the ballpark – see photo at the end of this post), so our group rushed to get settled in an off to view some baseball – not to mention $2 Budweisers in right field until 7:00 p.m.

We arrived close to game time, so there wasn’t a great deal of time to explore the ballpark (more on that in my next post). I will pass on a few observations on the ballpark later in this post – but first, the game:

  • We were promised post-game “Rock N’Blast” fireworks, but the Twins and Indians delivered their own fireworks much earlier. In the third inning, BOTH teams batted around.  The Twins sent 11 batters to the plate, scoring six runs; the Indians had nine batters step into the box, while scoring four times.
  • Overall, it was an exciting (especially for our group of Twins fans) back-and-forth contest. The Twins took a 6-0 lead early, then fell behind 9-7, and, finally won, 10-9 on a Torii Hunter homer in the top of the ninth.
  • The two teams used six pitchers each. So, in the past two games on the tour (Cubs/Giants – Indians/Twins), we’ve seen a total of 24 pitchers.
  • Going back to the fireworks theme, Friday’s game featured 29 hits – including seven doubles, two triples and four home runs. For those on the bus who love offense, this may prove to be this year’s best stop. A Twins’ win and 29 hits, that’s like dinner and a show.
  • Forty-year-old Torii Hunter started in right field and had a single, double, (game-winning) home run, three runs scored, two RBI and a stolen base for the Twins. Almost prophetically, the PA announcer had told the crowd before the game that Hunter had more hits against the Indians in his career than any other active player. He certainly stayed active last night.
  • Recent Twins’ call-up A.J. Achter got off to a rocky start in his first 2015 major league appearance (relieving in the bottom of the fourth) – giving up a walk and a home run to the first two hitters he faced (Indians’ DH Carlos Santana and C Yan Gomes). Achter then settled down and struck out the next four batters (before being lifted at the end of the fifth inning). Achter was 4-2, with a 2.82 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings in 40 appearances at Triple A Rochester this season. In six minor league seasons, he is 22-18, with 31 saves, a 2.91 ERA and 383 strikeouts in 365 innings. He pitched in seven games for the Twins last year, going 1-0, 3.27.

In Baseball, We Keep Track of Everything … Well, almost.

It’s often been noted in this blog that “In baseball, we keep track of everything.” That generic “we” – at least yesterday – did not include the umpiring crew.  Last night, with the Twins’ CF Aaron Hicks’ facing Indians’ right-hander Cody Anderson with one on and one out in the third inning, home plate umpire D.J. Rayburn “lost track” of the count. (It was either 2-2 or Hicks had fanned on a 1-2 pitch.) Apparently, Rayburn wasn’t the only one off track out there on the field.  The four-man umpiring crew met behind the mound, but couldn’t agree on just what the ball-strike count was.  So, the “powers that be” in New York were called upon (during an official delay of 1:58) to review the video and determine the proper count, which was confirmed from New York at 2-2. Hicks went on to hit a single to center, part of the Twins’ six-run third.  Ultimately, we ended up seeing an umpiring crew needing the help of reviewers some 460 miles away not to make a judgment on a close call, but to determine the ball-strike count. It doesn’t seem like keeping track should be quite that hard.

A Few Observations on Progressive Field

Progressive Field is a good place to watch a ball game.  Fine sight lines; a feeling of being close to the action; a nice city skyline back drop; solid and fairly priced concessions; and knowledgeable, involved and loyal fans.  In addition, Progressive Field’s downtown location is close to plenty of pre- and post-game food, beverage and entertainment possibilities.  The overall architecture does feel a bit industrial, however, when compared to newer designs. We arrived too close to game time to explore much of the park (although I have been here before), but I’ll provide more detail after Game Two of the series.

While Progressive Field is a good place to watch a ball game, it is not a good place for scoreboard watching. The large video board in centerfield is the primary source for almost all game-related info (and the Indians seem to provide less info than most teams) – and it is hard to see from the outfield seats.  There are narrow LED panels along the bottom of the upper deck, but they are hard to read – and the information keeps changing – so you need to be looking at the right panel at the right time to get the information you want.  (Scores from other games, for example, come up periodically and one at a time.) Also, any detailed information on the panels (like an inning-by-inning line score of the Indians’ contest is pretty small and hard to read.  I thought that might be my 68-year-old eyes, but a twenty-something tour participant said he had the same issue.

BBRT Note/Correction:  Since this post was written, I have taken in a game from Progressive Field’s infield section seats – with a view of the big center field video board and lower video panel.   On that board and panel, the Indians do provide more info on each hitter/pitcher and  an inning by inning line score – and show the score more like eight games at a time.  Still, that board is difficult, if not impossible to view from many outfield seats. (In fact, while we had tro strain to see it from our $45 left field area seats Friday night, we could view it easily from our $29 second-deck, infield section seats on Saturday. Also  even though the CF board shows the games about eight at a time, they do not leave the scores up – so you still have to be looking when they are posted.

It is also worth noting that , when it opened in 1994 (April 4, with President Clinton throwing out the first pitch), it was considered one of finest ballparks in the nations.  And, the Cleveland fans agreed. The Indians sold out every game from June 12, 1995 to April 4, 2001 – 455 consecutive home sellouts. 

The Terrace Club -  give it a try when in Cleveland.

The Terrace Club – give it a try when in Cleveland.

Final Progressive Field thoughts for now.

  • The Indians know how to put on a Dollar Dog Night. You can have up to six and there are plenty of vendors, both at concessions stand and traveling the concourse and seating area.
  • Cleveland also knows how to do fireworks. BPTers generally agreed that the post-game Rock N’Blast Show – fireworks and lasers set to rock music – was the best ballpark any had witnessed.

 

  • Two-dollar Bud night is very popular, get to the “Right Field District” early if your goal is to maximize this opportunity.
  • I’d recommend visiting the Terrace Club – in the left field corner.  It’s a glass enclosed bar and restaurant open to any ticket holders.  (It’s where I purchased my Bloody Mary for review.) Get there early enough to get a seat (counter or table) near the “glass” and you can watch the game VIP style.
  • You also may want to try the right field Corner Bar –a two story bar with more than three dozen beers on tap.
  • If it’s a night game, take a light jacket. It gets windy at Progressive Field.

Progressive Field Bloody Mary

Special note: I did drink responsibly.

Special note: I did drink responsibly.

The Bloody Mary ($9.75)  at Progressive Field (Terrace Club) beat Wrigley’s disappointing offering, but still did not crack BBRT’s first division.  On the plus side: a generous pour; I was asked if I wanted it spicy, and tobasco and pepper were added (the final product did have the appropriate “bite”); the Terrace Club proved a great (and classy) place to consume a Bloody Mary and still keep an eye on what’s happening in the ballpark.  Negative:  The only condiments offered were a slice of lime or lemon. I am told, however, that on Sundays, they offer Bloody Mary’s loaded with such items as shrimp and bacon. Wish I was going to be here then.

 

 

Diversions

Saturday (today), we had time (it’s a night game) to explore Cleveland.  As usual our bus travelers split off to take part in the pursuits of their choice. Popular destinations were the Cleveland Museum of Art; Cleveland Baseball Heritage Museum; the nearby Horseshoe Casino; and, perhaps most popular, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (a must for music lovers visiting Cleveland.)

A baseball from the Rock and Roll Hal of Fame ... an appropriate symbol for BPT's Rock N'Roll Adventure.

A baseball from the Rock and Roll Hal of Fame … an appropriate symbol for BPT’s Rock N’Roll Adventure.

I chose the Rock and Roll HOF (even though I’ve been there twice before). What a day. Those who know me will recognize how much I would appreciate free breakfast, rock and roll and baseball ALL in the same day.  I discovered two bonuses at the Hall: 1) They’ve lifted the ban on picture taking. 2) There was a special Everly Brothers (my all-time favorites) exhibit on the third floor.   BBRT side note:  One of the staff told me that after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame lifted the photo ban (you actually had to check your camera at the entrance and pick it up when you left), a number of artists pulled their display items.  She declined to name names, however.

 

Tonight more baseball, but first a nice late lunch/early dinner.  Given our schedule, late game, early a.m. bus departure for Detroit (Tigers/Red Sox), you’ll probably be spared a post tomorrow. But, I’ll be back.

Oh yeah – and here’s our room. Ballpark Tours delivers again!

bptclevroom

 

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Ballpark Tours 2015 – Day Two – Wrigley

101 years of baseball at this location.

101 years of baseball at this location.

Day Two of my 2015 Ballpark Tours (BPT) trek began early Thursday morning in Chicago’s Gold Coast area. On the docket for “trekkers?” A day of sightseeing, a night game at Wrigley Field (Cubs/Giants) and maybe brews and blues post game. For information on Ballpark Tours and a report on Day One of this year’s trip, click here.

Early in the day, the BPT touring party fanned out in small groups heading for (among other places) – an on-the-river architectural tour, the Art Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, Navy Pier and Magnificent Mile shopping – and those are just the excursions I heard about.  (Ballpark Tours always schedules free time for trekkers to take in local culture, entertainment, food, shopping, etc.)

Wrigleyville - Welcome to the neighborhood.

Wrigleyville – Welcome to the neighborhood.

By mid-afternoon – via the El, on-foot or by taxi – members of the group began making their way to Wrigleyville (Red Line Addison stop if you’re lucky enough to make a Cubs’ game). Our cadre headed for the Cubby Bear for pre-game food and beverage and – like most of the many Wrigleyville sports-oriented bars –  it was packed by 3 p.m. (before a 7:05 game).  BBRT’s suggestion – make it to Wrigleyville early and take in the atmosphere – sports bars packed with fans, bustling souvenir/memorabilia shops  and “hustling” outdoor stands and ticket sellers seemingly on every block.  Pre-game Wrigleyville is part of the Cubs’ experience.

As game time approached, the excitement in the bars and on the streets ratcheted up.  There was lots of Cubs’ Blue and Giants’ Orange.  This was a big series, with the Cubs trailing the Giants by just ½ game for the final Wild Card playoff spot.  Clearly, the fans (on both sides) were ready for meaningful baseball (and just over 41,000 would pack into Wrigley for the contest.

I got into the park early, collecting my promotional Cubbies Water Bottle – a give-away that I promptly gave away to a Cubs’ fan (didn’t need one more thing to cram into my suitcase). Now if it had been a bobble head …

On the way into Wrigley, I noted three things: 1) Lots of photo taking with the Ron Santo, Billie Williams and Ernie Banks statues; 2) Lots of street vendors selling water and peanuts; 3) Lots of Kyle Schwarber (#12) jerseys – more on that later.

For those of you who don’t track such things, there’s a great deal of messy construction in and around Wrigley Field this year (which will continue for quite some time), as the Cubs are restoring, improving and updating the century-old facility. The effort – deemed the 1060 Project – will cost about $575 million and should be completed by 2018. It includes improvements to Wrigley’s façade and infrastructure; upgraded restrooms, concourses, suites, press boxes and clubhouses; additional seating; a giant “jumbotron”; and even an adjacent hotel and office-retail complex.

Wrigley Field - new video board in left field may be a little too much.

Wrigley Field – new video board in left field may be a little too much.

Once inside Wrigley, we were witness to the most visible impacts of Phase 1 of Project 1060 – additional bleacher seating, a 3,990-square-foot video board in left field and a 2,250-square-video board in right field.  For BBRT at least, the changes take away some of the ancient lady’s charms.  Lost behind the video board in right field was the glimpse of Lake Michigan we used to enjoy – and cumulatively the expanded bleachers  and new video boards reduced the view of the Chicago skyline and Wrigleyville’s row house architecture. And, with all the usual video hoopla that comes with video boards – after spending all that money, you better maximize their use – Wrigley is no longer as much of a “step back in time” for fans.  BBRT’s take?  I like the tastefully sized right field video board, but find the massive left field video structure distracting and out of place with my image of Wrigley. Thank goodness they kept the ivy (Wrigley Field is the last remaining ballpark with ivy-covered outfield walls) and the manual scoreboard above the center field bleachers.

BBRT note: I set about informally surveying Cubs’ fans on how they felt about the changes and found out two things: 1) Cubs fans like the new video boards by about a 3-1 ratio (they appreciate joining the 21st century in terms of graphics and replay); 2) The Cubs make lots of money off visitors to Wrigley. On that second realization … I approached groups of fans in the ball park (concentrating on those in which at least one member was wearing Cubs’ apparel) for my survey and came fact-to-face with fans from California, Iowa, Ohio, Massachusetts, Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina and Louisiana before finding my first Chicagoan. Hopefully, changes to the park and adjacent area won’t cut into the attraction for fans from outside Chicago. 

Now to observations on the game.

Hunter Pence - MLB's highest stirrups?

Hunter Pence – MLB’s highest stirrups?

The Cubs jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings – and then held on for a 5-4 win, taking a half-game lead (for the final Wild Card spot) over the Giants – and sending the crowd into a rousing rendition of the “Go Cubs Go” victory song.  Good game, great fans in what is still a great place to watch a game. Some observations:

  • My obligatory score card got off to a bad start. Before the lineups were announced, I “inked” Cubs’ pitcher Jason Hammel into the nine spot.  “Clever” Joe Maddon, however, chose to bat the pitcher eighth, putting 2B Addison Russell in the nine-hole. Note: Hammel did lead off the second with a single – and later scored.
  • My Hammel lineup gaff hardly mattered. It’s hard to produce a “clean” scorecard, when the two teams use 35 players, including 12 pitchers and five pinch hitters.  Gotta love the National League and the double switch.
  • The Cubs’ 22-year-old rookie catcher Kyle Schwarber’s (#12) replica jerseys were all over the park. In the second inning, the 2014 first-round pick – and former High School and College All American – showed us why. He poled a three-run homer – and ended the contest hitting .342 with six homers and 18 RBI in 25 games.  Schwarber, who made his major league debut in mid-June, played in 147 minor league games in 2014-15, putting up a .333-34-102 line.
  • Kyle Schwarber is only one of many young players to watch on this exciting young Cubs’ team. Starting the game were: 3B Kris Bryant, 2B Addison Russell, RF Jorge Soler, SS Starlin Castro.
  • Giants’ RF Hunter Pence must have the highest stirrups in MLB.
  • The Giants’ offense was based on the “Brandon Principle.” Four runs on a pair of two-run homers – by 1B Brandon Belt (great baseball name) and SS Brandon Crawford.
  • It was a game of deep counts (on both sides). Twelve hurlers threw 315 pitches (136 balls, 179 strikes).

 

Ode to Cubbies/Giants

 

Young Cubbies take the day.

Put Champion Giants away.

Schwarber and Soler drive in five.

Two Brandons keep SF alive.

 

Still much to my dismay.

Not a single double-play.

And to top off my chagrin.                         

Also heard the Twinkies didn’t win.

Bad Bloody - somewhat saved by the Chicago Dog guy.

Bad Bloody – somewhat saved by the Chicago Dog guy.

Bloody Mary Review

When it comes to the traditional BBRT Bloody Mary Review, Wrigley won’t be flying the big “W” flag.  The $10 Bloody Mary, although featuring a generous vodka pour, suffered from a weak, very mild mix – and NO (that’s zero/nada) salt, pepper, tabasco or condiments (no pickles, olives, lime, celery, peppers, etc.). I actually ended up commandeering some celery salt, pepper and peppers from the Chicago Dog stand.

 

 

 

Decade Dogs

Decade Dogs - tastes for the ages.

Decade Dogs – tastes for the ages.

A final thought.  While in Wrigley, stop by the Decade Dogs booth featuring – on an alternating basis – ten specialty dogs to commemorate each of Wrigley’s ten decades.  On our day at the park, the featured item was “Mini Corn Dogs,” but you could also enjoy jumbo versions of the: Chicago Dog (a seven on a scale of ten according to one of our trekkers); Chili-Cheese Dog; Maxwell Street Polish; and (Ugh!) Veggie Dog.

 

 

 

 

And, now it’s on to Cleveland for the Twins, Dollar Dog Night and Two-dollar Bud Night. I’ll keep the Pepto ready for all three.

 

 

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me.