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).

 

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.  Follow to get notifications of new blog posts.

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

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.  Follow me for notification of new blog posts.

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.

 

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT – follow for notification of new blog posts.

me.

 

 

BallPark Tours 2015 Schedule

Ballpark Tours 2015 Summer Lineup

A Few Seats Left – Sign up now!

 

Leaving from Saint Paul, Minnesota.

For more information and signup instructions click here.

 

Minor League Meander … June 26 – 27 – 28

Omaha – Sioux Falls – Des Moines

Omaha Storm Chasers / Round Rock Express

Sioux City Explorers / Amarillo Sox

Iowa Cubs / New Orleans Zephyrs

A three-day jaunt to Iowa  and Nebraska with a lot of Pacific Coast League action,

plus you’ll get your first look at time clocks!!!

$475  (per person/double occupancy)

 

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

 

Bleacher Bums XXXIII … August 5 – August 11

 Rock & Roll Adventure

Schaumburg – Chicago – Cleveland – Detroit – Chicago

Miners/Boomers – Giants/Cubs – Twins/Indians – Bosox/Tigers – Angels/Chisox

6 nights – 6 games – Free time in Chicago & Cleveland – Microbrewery Escapade(s).

Great downtown hotels, time to take in the sites and a chance to see the Twins on the road.

$1275 (per person/double occupancy)

Rates for each trek are per person (double occupancy) & include travel by air-conditioned coach bus, rooms, tickets, commemorative tour shirt and BPT Hoopla!!!

To read about blog posts from past trips, click here:

 

 

Final Day – BallPark Tours Ramble

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

Day Five – Sunday, June 22

What the properly attired fan is wearing these days.

What the properly attired fan is wearing these days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some observations:

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

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

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

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

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

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.

BallPark Tours Ramble – Diverse Amusements

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

 

Day Three – Diverse Amusements

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Cup soccer was popular at Ball Park Village.

World Cup soccer was popular at Ball Park Village.

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

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

Great spot for lunch.

Great spot for lunch.

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

A few observations on the game:

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

Day Four – On to Kansas City

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

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

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

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

Wow!  I coulda "shoulda" had a V8!

Wow! I coulda “shoulda” had a V8!

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

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

Some observations:

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

Impromptu Car Show at the Holiday Inn.

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

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

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

BallPark Tours Ramble – Day 2

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

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

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

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

Seats at Busch Stadium on Day Two.

Seats at Busch Stadium on Day Two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few observations from the game:

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

Breakfast is served.

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

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

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

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

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

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.