Catch of the Day – Worth Another Look

Twenty-six years ago today (April 26, 1989), Giants’ left fielder Kevin Mitchell made a spectacular bare-handed catch of a long line drive – ironically off the bat of Saint Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Ozzie Smith, an eventual 13-time Gold Glove winner known for his truly acrobatic play in the infield. BBRT thinks it’s worth another look.  Hope you enjoy it.  Note: Mitchell was better known for his bat than his glove.  He was the NL MVP in 1989, leading the league in home runs (47) and RBI (125), while hitting .291.  

Oh, and just to show I wasn’t exaggerating about Smith being “acrobatic” in the field, here’s another little video snippet.

 

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A Sparkling MLB Debut – Complete Game Shutout AND Four Hits

Play Ball!On this date (April 25) in 1933, 26-year-old rookie southpaw Russ Van Atta took the mound for the defending World Champion New York Yankees, as they faced the Washington Senators in Washington’s Griffith Stadium.   Notably, this was not the Washington Senators later described as “First in War. First in peace. Last in the American League.”   This was the Washington Senators that had finished in the American League’s first division in each of the previous three years – averaging 93 victories per season – and would go on to win the 1933 AL pennant with a 99-53 record.  On the day Van Atta made his debut, three future Hall of Famers were in the Senators’ lineup: left fielder Heinie Manush, right fielder Goose Goslin and shortstop Joe Cronin.

Of course, Van Atta had some pretty good players behind him as well.  The New York lineup that day featured future Hall of Famers: Babe Ruth (right field); Lou Gehrig (first base); Earle Combs (center field); Joe Sewell (third base); Tony Lazzeri (second base); and Bill Dickey (catcher). The Yankees were the defending AL and World Series  Champions and, in the previous seven seasons, had never finished lower than third (capturing four AL pennants). Their eventual 91 wins in 1933, would land them in second place.

With nine future Hall of Famers on the field, it is somewhat surprising that the star of the game was a rookie pitcher making his very first major league appearance.

In his fifth season of professional baseball (after playing college ball at Penn State),Van Atta earned his chance at breaking into the Yankees’ rotation with a 22-win season for the American Association Saint Paul Saints the year before. He made the most of it.  

Van AttaIn his debut, Van Atta threw a complete-game, 5-hit shutout.  That in itself is a pretty spectacular first MLB appearance, when you consider he was facing the eventual AL Champions.  But Van Atta did more than that, he also went four-for-four at the plate, scored three runs, drove in one and recorded a successful sacrifice bunt.  (The Yankees won 16-0.)  Van Atta went on to have a pretty good rookie season overall.  He won 12 games and lost only four (tying for the AL lead in winning percentage), posting a 4.18 ERA and ten complete games.  He also hit .283 (17-for-60), with eight runs scored and seven RBI.)

It would, unfortunately, prove to be the premier season of what was a short (seven-season) MLB career. In the winter following his rookie performance, Van Atta injured his pitching hand breaking a window to save his family dog (trapped in a house fire) – and the feeling never fully returned to his fingers.  Van Atta left MLB with a 33-41 record (5.60 ERA).  But, oh, that sparkling debut. And he did save the family dog.

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April 17th – A Good Day for a Debut

The Ford Mustang debuted 51 years to the day before Kris Bryant's first MLB game.

The Ford Mustang debuted 51 years to the day before Kris Bryant’s first MLB game.

The Ford Mustang, like the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, made its debut on April 17.  The Mustang was launched on April 17, 1964 at the World’s Fair in Flushing, New York. The new “pony car” got off to a better start that Bryant – who fanned in his first three at bats and went zero-for-four on the day.

Still, there is plenty of evidence that the Cubs’ 23-year-old top prospect – who started his first day in the major leagues playing third base and batting cleanup – will have a long and successful career; like many of those who debuted on that day before him.  In addition to the Ford Mustang (still going strong), April 17th also saw the debut of some pretty good ballplayers – Mickey Mantle (MLB debut April 17, 1951); Roberto Clemente (MLB-debut April 17, 1955); and Frank Robinson (MLB-debut, April 17, 1956).\ among them.

Hang on to these cards!

Hang on to these cards!

First-game jitters aside, let’s look at the evidence.  Kris Bryant has proven himself at every level he ever played at.  He hit over .400 as a high school player (four varsity seasons for Bonanza High School in Las Vegas).  As a high school senior, he hit .429, with 22 home runs and 51 RBI – being named a Baseball America and USA Today High School All American.

Bryant went on to play – and excel – for the University of San Diego.  As a college player, Bryant was a Freshman All American (2011); Baseball America All American (2012); and a Louisville Slugger First Team All American (2013).  In 2013, Bryant led all collegiate players with 31 home runs and won the 2013 Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy (both recognizing the top collegiate baseball player in the nation) and the College Baseball News National Player of the Year award.  In three years with San Diego University, he played in 172 games, collected 225 hits (.353 average), hit 54 home runs and drove in 155 runs. He might have done even more damage, if it wasn’t for the 138 walks. Selected in the 18th round of the 2010 MLBH draft by the Blue Jays, Bryant’s college accomplishments moved him up to the first round (second overall) of the 2013 draft.

Bryant did not skip a beat in moving from the college ranks to the Cubs’ minor league system.  In his first season, he went from rookie ball to High A (three stops), hitting a combined .336, with nine home runs and 32 RBI.  Last season, he made a two-stage jump – Double A and Triple A – hitting a combined .325, with 43 home runs, 110 RBI and 15 steals.  Then, in 2015 Spring Training, he really opened up some eyes, hitting .425 with nine home runs (leading all players this spring) in just 40 at bats. He started the 2015 season at Triple A Iowa, where he hit .321 with three home runs and ten RBI in seven games before his call up.  All the evidence says this young man is here to stay.

Now, here’s a brief look at three players April 17th has delivered to big league fans in the past.

Mickey Mantle – April 17, 1951

MantleA promising young (19-years-old) outfielder debuted in right field for the New York Yankees on April 17, 1951.   Mickey Mantle, batting third that day (Joe DiMaggio was playing center and batting cleanup), had a single, with a run scored and a run driven in, in four at bats – as the Yankees topped the rival Red Sox 5-0.   His first MLB at bat resulted in a ground out, second to first.

Mantle’s credentials as a prospect were undeniable.  Signed right out of high school (as a shortstop) he hit .313 with seven home runs for the 1949 Independence (KS) Yankees at D Level and then, as an 18-year-old, he hit .383 with 26 home runs and 136 RBI in 137 games for the 1950 Joplin Miners (C Level).  Notably, Mantle slumped early in his rookie MLB season and was sent down to the Yankees’ Triple A farm club (Kansas City Blues), where he earned his way back to the major leagues by hitting .361, with 11 home runs and 50 RBI in 40 games.  Brought back up, Mantle finished his rookie MLB season hitting .267, with 11 home runs and 65 RBI in 96 games.  And the rest is history. In an 18-season MLB career, Mantle was an All Star in 16 seasons, a three-time AL MVP and a Triple Crown winner. He retired with a .298 career average, 536 home runs, 1,509 RBI, 1,676 runs scored and 153 steals. He played his entire career with the Yankees.

April 17, 1955 – Roberto Clemente

clementeApril 17, 1955 saw the MLB debut of 20-year-old Roberto Clemente. Clemente led off and played center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates that day – hitting a double and a single, and scoring a run, in four at bats.  His very first MLB at bat was a ground out third to first.  The previous season, Clemente hit .257, with two home runs and 12 RBI in 87 games with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Triple A affiliate Montreal (Royals). He had also played two seasons with the Santurce Cangrejeros in Puerto Rico before signing with the Dodgers. In the November 1954 rookie draft, he was picked up by the Pirates. He finished his first season with Pittsburgh hitting .255, with five home runs and 47 RBI in 124 games.

Clemente would go on to an 18-year MLH career – cut short by a tragic (December 31, 1972) plane crash while on a humanitarian mission to his native  Puerto Rico.  He was an All Star in 12 of those seasons, a four-time batting champion, a 12-time Gold Glover.  He ended his career with a .317 batting average, 3,000 hits, 240 home runs, 1,305 RBI and 1,416 runs scored. He played his entire MLB career with the Pirates.

April 17, 1956 – Frank Robinson

RobinsonApril 17, 1956 marked the MLB debut of Frank Robinson – with the twenty-year-old starting in left field and batting seventh for the Cincinnati Reds. In four plate appearances, Robinson collected a double, a single and an intentional walk. His first MLB at bat produced a ground rule double.

Robinson had shown his potential in the minors, hitting .348 with 17 home runs (as a 17-year-old) in 72 games for the Class C Ogden Reds in 1953; a .332 average with 25 home runs at A and Double A in 1954; and .263 with 12 homers in 80 games at single A in 1955. In his rookie season with the Reds, Robinson hit .290, with 38 home runs, 83 RBI and a league-leading 122 runs scored.   He went on to a 21-year MLB career, in which he was an All Star in 12 seasons; NL Rookie of the Year; MVP in both the NL and AL; a Triple Crown Winner; a World Series MVP; and All Star Game MVP.  Robinson finished his career with a.294 average, 586 home runs, 1,812 RBI, 1,829 runs scored, and 204 steals.

Perhaps someday, we’ll see reports on a new April 17th MLB debut and Kris Bryant will be listed among the premier players that launched their MLB careers that day. Note:  They weren’t all hitters, Hall of Fame hurler Don Drysdale took to the MLB mound for the first time on April 17, 1956.

Note:  Mantle, Clemente and Robinson picked up the nicknames: The Commerce Comet, The Great One and The Judge.   Any suggestions for Mr. Bryant?

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Twins Opening Day – From Festive to Restive

As the game time approaches, the sun seems a little brighter, the sky a little bluer, the grass a shade greener.  Once the game begins, the ball hops off the bat with an especially sharp crack, the pitches seem to have more zip and whir-r-r than ever and the fielders move with a unique combination of grace and energy.  In the stands, the beer is crisp and cold and the hot dogs steam in the cool of early spring.  The fans cheer on their old and new heroes and follow this opening contest with pennant race intensity – the most intense among them logging each play in the new season’s first scorecard.   Baseball Is Back!

                                                      Baseball Roundtable … March 26, 2013

 

OD scoreboard

April 13 was the Minnesota Twins 2015 (Home) Opening Day and, as usual, the Twins did it up right – to a point.  

 

BBRT note: The Twins came into their home opener six games into the season and already five games out of first place, so the level of optimism may not have been quite as prevalent as at some earlier Minnesota home openers – but the excitement surrounding the thought that Baseball Is Back still ran high.  

As is tradition, the day started with free breakfast on the Twins Plaza – and what says spring and baseball more than hot dogs, chips and ice cream in the morning, especially when accompanied by blue skies, plenty of sunshine and Twins’ mascot TC the Bear.  Breakfast was served from 6-9 a.m., with additional festivities (music and concessions) planned on the Plaza and at the Target Field (light rail) Station beginning at noon  The Plaza started to fill up before noon (the gates opened at 1 p.m.) – with nearby eating and drinking establishments, as well as parking lots, drawing big crowds even earlier.  (A word of advice from BBRT, when the Twins have a sell out – and this game was sold out – on a work day, get downtown early if you don’t want to spend some time looking for parking.)

The mood was festive, with most of the crowd outfitted in Twins-identified gear, concessions stands on the Plaza doing a brisk business and DJ Madigan spinning plenty of upbeat tunes from the balcony above the crowd.  (The mood would later go from festive to restive, but we’ll get to that.  Let’s enjoy the moment for now.) Photos with the various statues of Twins’ heroes or sitting in the “big glove” seemed the order of the day.

The Twins hoodies proved a popular Opening Day giveaway - for all 40,000+ fans.

The Twins hoodies proved a popular Opening Day giveaway – for all 40,000+ fans.

By one p.m., the Plaza was full of happy fans waiting for another Target Field Opening Day tradition, the opening of the gates by Twins’ legends.  What better way to enter the ballpark then through a gate opened that day by the likes of Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek or Tom Kelly?  To top it off, once you got past the metal detectors, you were handed a free Twins hooded sweatshirt – a true Minnesota-focused promotion.  For a look at BBRT’s post on 2015 Twins’ promotions (and some unique items other teams are giving away), click here.  Day one of the 81-game home season was off to a great start.

Once inside the ballpark, fans rushed not to find their seats, but rather to secure a seat or place in line at one of Target Field’s many food and beverage locations. From Hrbek’s to Barrio to the Town Ball Tavern and from Red Cow to Kramarczuk’s to Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen, they were all kept busy – and for good reason, the food and drink options at Target Field remain exceptional.  (For BBRT’s recent post on 2015’s new Target Field food and beverage offerings click here.)

Shrimp corn Dogs - new ballpark food.

Shrimp corn Dogs – new ballpark food.

I made my way to Hrbek’s, where the new College Daze Bloody Mary – garnished with everything from cheese to pepperoncini to a slice of pepperoni pizza – was proving quite popular.  It seemed mandatory to have your picture taken with the new drink before consuming it.  I’m sure social media, like the tip of the pizza slice, was saturated.  My pre-game choice was the Shrimp Corn Dogs – jumbo shrimp (served on skewers) fried in jalapeno corn batter with a Chili Lime Aioli for dipping ($15).  Great shrimp flavor, just enough “zing” and a complementary tart sauce; and light enough to leave room for the obligatory Opening Day (old school) hot dog later in the day.

Then, with my freshly purchased scorecard in hand, I went in search of my seat – Section 213, Row 1, Seat 14 – and was pleasantly surprised.  I was just to the right of home plate, second deck, first row; and the view of the field was great.  It was also, particularly for Minnesota, a perfect day for an Opener.  Game time temps above 60 degrees, sunny, clear blue sky with just enough clouds to give it some depth.  And, as always seems to be the case on Opening Day, the grass was crisp green, the batting practice balls stark white and all the colors in the stadium (logos, bunting, base lines, etc.) especially vibrant.

As we all waited for game time, we enjoyed: a brief performance by recording artist Shawn Mendes; the introduction of both teams (players, coaches, videographers, trainers, etc.); the National Anthem (actress and singer Greta Oglesby), with two American Bald Eagles from the Minnesota Raptor Center present and a follow-up flyover by a pair of Minnesota Air National Guard F-16 fighters.

Meeting the team is an Opening Day tradition. The loudest and longest ovations went to Torii Hunter, Joe Maue and  Brian Dozier.

Meeting the team is an Opening Day tradition. The loudest and longest ovations went to Torii Hunter, Joe Maue and Brian Dozier.

BBRT would note here that the largest ovation during the introductions went to Torii Hunter (starting in right field), returning to the Twins after seven years (Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers). The 39-year-old Hunter previously starred in center field for Minnesota (six-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All Star while with the Twins) and the team won four division titles during his tenure.  The fans clearly loved his style and his smile – and the applause intensified when this quote from the returning Twin appeared on the scoreboard: “This is where I need to be.  This is home to me.”

BBRT: Hunter’s popularity was also evidenced by the large number of new and old “Hunter – 48” jerseys in the crowd.  Sitting next to me were a father and son (about 2 ½ years old) in matching new (no pin stripes, the little extra gold trim) Hunter home jerseys.  Although, I must say, the youngster cheered loudest for his personal hero – Brian Dozier.

Notably, another returnee to the Twin Cities joined Hunter in throwing out the first pitch, as the crowd welcomed back the newest Timberwolves’ player Kevin Garnett – a member of the T-Wolves during their most successful seasons and now back with Minnesota after playing with the Boston Celtics (2007-13) and Brooklyn Nets (2013-15). Note: Garnett was a member of the Timberwolves from 1995-2007); and a ten-time All Star and NBA MVP (2004) during that time. Minnesotan Tyus Jones, who recently helped lead Duke to the NCAA National Basketball Championship, delivered the baseball to Garnett on the mound, and Garnett threw the ceremonial first pitch to Hunter.  All three hometown heroes received rousing ovations – and the pre-game excitement continued to ratchet up.

We saw a few too many "meetings on the mound" on Opening Day.

We saw a few too many “meetings on the mound” on Opening Day.

I won’t go into much detail about the game – a 12-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals – it’s been well dissected in the traditional and social media. Let’s just say it started out pretty well for the home team, with the Twins scoring first (Kenny Vargas singling home the doubling Brian Dozier with two outs in the bottom of the first); was fairly crisply played over the first five frames (Twins trailing 2-1 after five); got a little shaky in the sixth, with starting pitcher Trevor May giving up a single and two doubles to the first three hitters and Hunter making a throwing error (still, after seven innings the Twins were down by only 5-3); came completely unraveled in the eighth inning, when Minnesota used four pitchers and Kansas City scored six runs on two hits, three walks, two hit batsmen, an error and a passed ball.  Ouch!  It was at this time that the fans – many heading for the exits – finished the move from festive to restive.  Needless to say, it was pretty quiet – and a bit lonely – in the bottom of the ninth.

Fortunately, in baseball you don’t have a lot of time to dwell on today’s loss (or celebrate a win).  Unfortunately, the Twins have an off day today (Tuesday), but tomorrow they’ll be back at it and working to right the ship.  And, we’ll all have to keep in mind, it’s early and there is always something to see (and, these days, eat and drink) at the ballpark. For example, yesterday Twins’ third baseman Trevor Plouffe started a nifty 5-4-3 double play to end the fourth inning and homered to lead off the bottom of the seventh.  The simple fact is “Baseball Is Back” and we should all enjoy it!

Now, just so I don’t leave my Twins fan readers sharing only the frustration of a 12-3 loss.  Here are a trio of events from the first week of the season that caught BBRT’s attention:

  • On April 7, Oakland 3B Brett Lawrie had a tough night. Lawrie came to the plate four times in the A’s 3-1 loss to the Rangers and struck out four times – on a total of just twelve pitches. Lawrie faced three different pitchers, had a nice balance of six called strikes and six swinging strikes and whiffed on a combination of one fastball (the first pitch he faced), three curves and eight sliders. His final swinging strike also marked the final out of the contest.
  • TheYankees-Red Sox game of April 10 really aged New York first baseman Mark Teixeira. The 19-inning game started at 7:05 p.m. on Friday (April 10) and ended at 2:13 a.m. on Saturday (April 11). Teixeira (born on April 11, 1980) started the game as a 34-year-old, and finished it at age 35.
  • On Saturday April 11, Arizona Diamonbacks’ rookie pitcher Archie Bradley – in his first-ever MLB appearance – drew the unenviable task of facing reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. Bradley pitched six shutout innings for the victory (one hit, four walks, six strikeouts). You might think a rookie beating the reigning Cy Young Award winner in his first start is what attracted BBRT’s attention, but that would be wrong. Bradley was the fifth rookie pitcher to make his first MLB start against a reigning CYA winner and the fourth to earn a victory. What got BBRT’s attention was Bradley’s single off Kershaw in bottom of the second inning. Since Bradley didn’t give up a hit until the fourth inning, the young pitcher actually collected his first major league before he gave up his first major league hit.  I like that kind of stuff.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Big Day for Big Klu – Anniversary of Angels’ First-Game Hero

On this date (April 11) in 1961, the expansion Los Angeles Angels played their first official American League game and one of my boyhood heroes – Ted Kluszewski - started them off with a “bang” and a victory. As this boyhood hero of BBRT had done for much of his career, Big Klu made powerful contact with the baseball.

In the top of the first inning, Big Klu – batting clean-up – came to the plate with two outs and little Albie Pearson on first (after a walk). Kluszewski was 6’ 2” and pushing 240 pounds, while his roommate Albie Pearson was  5’5”, 140 pounds.  Kluszewski, facing Orioles’ right-hander Milt Pappas (a 15-game winner the previous season), collected the Angels’ first-ever hit, first-ever home run and first-ever RBI – blasting a home run to deep right field.  The very next inning, the 36-year-old Kluszewski (starting his final big league season) came up against Orioles’ rookie reliever John Papa with Angels’ right-fielder Pearson and second baseman Ken Aspromonte on base. Big Klu  hit his second home run of the day – bringing his RBI total to five, as the Angels won their premier game by a 7-2 score.

To no one’s surprise, Kluszewski put the ball in play in every at bat that day. The big slugger was known for both his power and his bat control. In fact, no one in MLB logged has more seasons of 40 or more home runs, coupled with fewer strikeouts than round trippers.

 

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Ted “Big Klu” Kluszewski (below) cut the sleeves from his jersey to enable a freer swing of his powerful arms – and, just perhaps, to intimidate opposing hurlers.

Kluszewski’s was one of my favorite players long before that Opening Day performance, thanks to the fact that he was Polish, powerful and patient.  In fact, from 1953 to 1956, he was one of the most feared hitters in baseball.  During that span, Kluszewski was an All Star every year.  Over those four-seasons, he hit .315, with 171 home runs, 464 RBI – and only 140 strikeouts (versus 248 walks). How impressive is that?  Only ten times in MLB history has a player hit 40 or more homers, while striking out fewer times than he hit round trippers. Three of those seasons (more than any other player) belong to Kluszewski – and they came in succession (1953, 1954, 1955). The string was broken in 1956, when Big Klu hit only 35 home runs,  but he also struck out only 31 times (against 49 walks).  Kluszewski, by the way, was also agile in the field for a big man – leading NL first baseman in fielding percentage every year from 1951 through 1955.

A few side notes:

  • Of the six players who have accomplished a season of 40 or more home runs with fewer strikeouts than round trippers, Kluszewski is the only one who wasn’t a Yankee or a Giant.
  • Only once has a player hit fifty or more homers and struck out less than 50 times – Johnny Mize in 1947.
  • The fewest strikeouts ever by a league home run leader is nine – by the Boston Braves’ Tommy Holmes, when he led the NL with 28 home runs in 1945.

Here’s the list of MLB seasons of at least 40 homers and fewer strikeouts than round trippers, with home runs, strikeouts, walks and batting averages for each season.  Hall of Famers are in red, league leadership in blue.

1929 … Mel Ott (NY Giants),  42 HR, 38 K, 113 BB, .328

1934 … Lou Gehrig (Yankees), 49 HR, 31 K, 109 BB, .363

1936 … Lou Gehrig (Yankees), 49 HR, 46 K, 130 BB, .354

1937 … Joe DiMaggio (Yankees), 46 HR, 37 K, 64 BB, .346

1947 … Johnny Mize (NY Giants), 51 HR, 42 K, 74 BB, .302

1948 … Johnny Mize (NY Giants), 40 HR, 37 K, 94 BB, .289

1953 … Ted Kluszewski (Reds), 40 HR, 34 K, 55 BB, .316

1954 … Ted Kluszewski (Reds), 49 HR, 35 K, 78 BB, .326

1955 …   Ted Kluszewski (Reds), 47 HR, 40 K, 66 BB, .314

2004 … Barry Bonds (SF Giants), 45 HR, 41 K, 232 BB, .362

A final thought on Ted Kluszewski, he carried his combination of power and patience (and fielding consistency) to the post season.  Late in the 1959, Kluszewski – then with the Pirates – was traded to the Chicago White Sox, who were looking for some additional power as they worked to clinch the AL pennant.  The White Sox made it to the World Series and, despite the Sox loss to the Dodgers (in six games), Kluszewski  (in his only post season) led all hitters in home runs (three), RBI (ten), and batting average (.391, tied with the Dodgers’ Gil Hodges) – without a single strikeout.  He also led all fielders in chances (62) and put outs (59) – without an error.

A 1956 back injury took its toll on Kluszewski, robbing him of much of his power and shortening his career (he averaged only 90 games a year and hit a total of only 34 home runs over his last five seasons). In his final season, with the 1961 expansion Angels, Kluszewski hit .243, with 15 home runs and 39 RBI in 107 games.  He retired with a .298 career average, 279 home runs, 1,028 RBI – and just 365 strikeouts in 6,469 at bats (492 walks).

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT.

When It Comes to Concessions – Target Field Outpaces the “Good Old Days”

As those who follow BBRT know, when it comes to the national pastime, I can be a bit “old school.”  I fondly reminisce about two-hour ball games, regularly scheduled double headers, high stirrups, complete games and the bunt as an often-used offensive weapon. Heck, I’m even old enough to remember watching “Willie, Mickey and the Duke” – before the trio of New York center fielders was immortalized in “Talkin’ Baseball.” (Note: To listen to Talkin’ Baseball, see the clip at the end of this post.)

College Daze Bloody Mary - made a big splash at Target Field Food and Beverage Preview.

College Daze Bloody Mary – made a big splash at Target Field Food and Beverage Preview.

There is, however, one thing I do not memorialize as part of the “good old days” – ballpark food. This Tuesday (April 7), BBRT was fortunate enough to be invited to Target Field for one of the newer rites of spring – the Twins’ sixth annual Food and Beverage Preview. The experience provided ample proof that, at least when it comes to concessions, the good old days fall short of today’s ball park experience.

When I first started attending MLB games, standard fare consisted of hot dogs (not always hot), beer and soda (not always cold), peanuts, cotton candy, Cracker Jack® and, if you were lucky, maybe ice cream or licorice. The culinary tour that was part of the Target Field Food and Beverage Preview (concentrating primarily on new items for 2015) made it clear we’ve come a long way from the days of hot dogs and beer.  (And, while this post is primarily aimed at the Twins fans who follow BBRT, the raising of the bar – pun intended – in terms of concessions is MLB-wide.) New Target Field offerings for this season range from Hot Indian Foods’ Chicken Tikka to Hrbek’s Shrimp Corn Dog  – and beverages to be launched include such “soon-to-be favorites” as the College Daze Bloody Mary (garnished with, among other things, a slice of pepperoni pizza) and Barrio’s Trinity Margarita.

I have neither the space, nor the time, to touch on all the food and beverage items that were presented on Tuesday, but I would like to share a comment or two on some of most  interesting – and some of my personal favorites. For the Twins’ concessions guide, listing many items, with locations and prices, click here.   I would add that it’s a family tradition to complete all our concession stand purchases prior to the first pitch – a necessity if you are going to keep an accurate scorecard. After the Food and Beverage Preview, it’s clear I have to move up my arrival time.  I will still also partake of the “old school” vendor-delivered hot dog and beer, however.

So, let’s look at some 2015 Target Field concessions.

College Daze Bloody Mary

Perhaps the biggest splash (pun intended) among the new offerings was made by the College Daze Bloody Mary (available at Hrbek’s, near section 114).  It’s a new take on the “Bloody Mary as a meal” (fans of Hrbek’s Bigger Better Burger Bloody Mary need not worry, that meal-in-a-glass is still available). The new Bloody Mary is topped with a cold slice of Pepperoni Pizza, a beef stick, pickle spear, celery stalk, Pepper Jack and Cheddar cheese cubes, pepperoncini and, of course, an olive.  As you can see from the placement of the pizza in the photo near the top of this post, this Bloody Mary is truly “over the top.”  It certainly attracted the most photographers (and plenty of tasters) at the Food and Beverage Preview.

A Dog Eat Dog World – Shrimp Corn Dogs and BratDogs

Shrimp Corn Dogs at Hrbek's - among BBRT's favorites.

Shrimp Corn Dogs at Hrbek’s – among BBRT’s favorites.

Hrbek’s also has a few new food items that are worth a try.  My favorite was the Shrimp Corn Dog – four jumbo shrimp (on a skewer) fried in jalapeno corn batter with a chili lime aioli for dipping (and a side of fries).  They have great shrimp flavor, just enough “zing,” and are a little lighter than some of the other fare.

Closer to traditional baseball food was the BratDog – an all-beef hot dog, stuffed into a bratwurst, wrapped in bacon, topped with sauerkraut, caramelized onions and peppers and served on a pretzel roll.  This one will stay with you throughout the game.

Hot Indian Foods – International Fare for the American Game

Hot Indian Foods' Chicken Tikka - a new taste at Target Field.

Hot Indian Foods’ Chicken Tikka – a new taste at Target Field.

For those looking for international fare, Hot Indian Foods, which has both a food truck and a location at the Midtown Global Market, is new to Target Field.  Hot Indian Foods is serving up Chicken Tikka – yogurt-marinated chicken simmered in a creamy tomato curry and served with garlic and coconut toasted rice, crispy poppadum (Indian bread) and hot Indian slaw. They also have a vegan curry dish (Aloo Gobi), similar to the Chicken Tikka only with potatoes, cauliflower and squash replacing the chicken. Look for the Hot Indian Food cart near Section 120.  BBRT tried the Chicken Tikka and would recommend it for those seeking a unique taste at the ball park. My personal preference might have been for a bit more “heat,” but this is Minnesota.

Burgers Beyond the Basics

Red Cow, noted for its burgers, is also new to Target Field (food cart near section 126). They will be offering three gourmet burgers.  BBRT would recommend making the leap to the Blues Burger (with apricot jam and locally produced blue cheese). If you’re a bacon lover, you might prefer  the 60/40 Bacon Burger  (a patty of 60 percent certified Angus beef and 40 percent ground bacon – topped with cheddar cheese, Summit beer mustard and candied bacon). More conventional taste? Go for the Ultimate Red Cow Burger (lettuce, tomato, onion and Red Cow sauce).

This One’s Out of the Park

Watch for this sandwich!@

Watch for this sandwich!@

When Sous Chef Keith Andres leaned from the window of the Taste of Target Field Food Truck and handed me the fried pickle, beer-braised bacon, peanut butter (on a pretzel bun) sandwich, I had to look to see if Elvis was in line behind me.  The King would have loved this sandwich – multi-textured with the tangy crunch of pickles, the smoky flavor of the bacon, the creamy sweetness of the peanut butter and the fresh pretzel bun. It was my first sample from the 2015 Twins Food and Beverage Preview and it set a positive tone for the afternoon.

First watch for this truck!

First watch for this truck!

As guests and media arrived for the Target Field Food and Beverage Preview, we were greeted – appropriately – by the Taste of Target Field food truck, which focuses on its mission of “Bringing the taste of the ballpark to you.”  The food truck carries a host of Target Field favorites that bring the ball park to the community. Depending on the day, you will find offerings like Kramarczuk’s sausages,  cheese curds, Tony O’s Cuban, malt cups, fries and more.  Ironically, and unfortunately, the new Fried Pickle Sandwich is not available inside Target Field.  If you spot the food truck, BBRT highly recommends you run right over and order this treat.  You can track the truck on twitter @TastyTwinsTruck. A game day hint, try looking near Fulton Brewery.

Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen – On the Move at Target Field

KoreanAndrew Zimmern’s Canteen is not new to the ballpark, but is moving to a new, larger location – from a concourse cart to a concession stand near Hrbek’s (section 114). The Canteen will be offering a trio of signature sandwiches: the Bacon Sandwich, Smoked Meat Sandwich and BBRT’s favorite – the Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich, with grilled pineapple, chili lime slaw and spicy dressing. It offers just the right blend of “hot” and “sweet.”   I highly recommend this one.

 

 

Schwan’s – Focused on Building a new Legend

Schwan's Caprese Burger - beef, balsamic and basil a great combination.

Schwan’s Caprese Burger – beef, balsamic and basil a great combination.

If you have seats in the popular Legend’s Club, you’ll probably want to visit the new Schwan’s stand (near Section R). Among the offerings are a pair of flatbread sandwiches – Buffalo Chicken Flatbread (chicken, celery and mozzarella cheese, topped with hot sauce) and the Italian Fire-Baked Flatbread (salami, ham, pepperoni, Italian cheese, lettuce and tomato, topped with vinaigrette).  Two new burgers will also be available at the Schwan’s stand – the BBQ Bacon Burger and the Caprese Burger (beef patties, fresh mozzarella cheese, balsamic-marinated tomato and basil). BBRT recommends the Caprese Burger – balsamic and basil make this one unique.

 

 

 

The Left Field Corner – A New Hot Spot

Barrio - a new hot spot in the left field corner.

Barrio – a new hot spot in the left field corner.

Well-known Latin restaurant Barrio is also a new presence at Target Field.  The new Barrio – in the left field corner – was one of the more popular stops on our Food and Beverage Preview tour – perhaps the complementary Trinity Margaritas had something to do with that.  We were also impressed with the upscale decor, the standing tables, multiple big screen TVs, and great view of the field.

The Barrio will feature Pork Carnitas Tacos, Guacamole and chips and, of course, top-flight Margaritas and craft beers.

For the Salad Lovers

Garden Goodies cart, with its fresh salads, has two new offerings – a Mardi Garden Salad  and a Wild Rice and Turtle Bean Salad.

The Spirit of the Northland

Dui NordThere are also some new locally crafted spirits at Target Field.  Near Section 111, you’ll find a stand featuring two local distilleries: Du Nord (Minneapolis) and Panther Distillery (Osakis). Du Nord’s menu includes a Moscow Mule, Gin and Tonic, Gin Daiquiri and Spiked Hot Chocolate (It can be cool in April on Minnesota). Panther Distillery’s line-up includes an Apple Fizz, Manhattan, Whiskey Sour and Whiskey Coke. (BBRT tried the Moscow Mule – and it’s a winner.)

A Taste of the Islands

Goose Island Pub, adjacent to section 229, will carry a selection of Goose Island craft beers.

 

Of course, lots of past favorites remain.  Just to mention a few that are close to BBRT’s heart: Tony O’s Cuban Sandwich; Garlic Helmet Fries; Mac’s Walleye and Chips; Kramarczuk’s sausages; Izzy’s Hand Scooped Ice Cream; and the Bigger, Better Bloody Mary Cart.

My advice,  Get to Target Field early – and hungry.

Oh yes, I did promise “Talkin’ Baseball.”

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Opening Day – A Gift About to be Unwrapped

 

“You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”

                                                            Joe DiMaggio

Opening Day ... A Gift Waiting to be Opened!

Opening Day … A Gift Waiting to be Opened!

For players and fans alike, Opening Day is indeed like a birthday present.  However, history shows us that unwrapping that present can be exhilarating or exasperating for players and fans alike.

It can be as exhilarating as Bob Feller’s 1940 Opening Day no-hitter – still the only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history.  Or it can be as exasperating as Ron Karkovice’s five strikeouts in five trips to the plate on Opening Day 1996 – still the MLB record for Opening Day whiffs.   As we move closer to Opening Day 2015, BBRT would like to look at some of the most exhilarating and exasperating Opening Day record-setting performances – leading off with Feller and Karkovice’s memorable Opening Day “achievements.”

Opening Day No-Hitter – 1-0 and One of a Kind

On April 16, 1940, fire-balling Bob Feller opened the season against the White Sox at Comiskey Park.  After nine innings of work, Feller and his Cleveland Indians had a 1-0 win – and the 21-year-old Feller (coming off a 24-win season in 1939) had his first no-hitter (walking five and striking out out eight).  Feller’s Opening Day performance was a pretty good indicator of what was to come.  In 1940, he would go on to lead the AL in wins (27), ERA (2.61), strikeouts (261), games pitched (43), games started (37), complete games (31), innings pitched (320 1/3) and shutouts (4).

Five Strikeouts – A Victim of Circumstances

Circumstances were clearly working against Ron Karkovice on March 31, 1996, when he set an MLB Opening Day record by striking out five times.

First, future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (who retired with the second most strikeouts in MLB history) started on the mound for the Mariners – and he was on his game, whiffing 14 batters in seven innings (including Karkovice in the second, fourth and seventh).

Second, the White Sox could muster only two runs on four hits over the first nine innings – taking a slim 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth (at that point in the game, Karkovice had only a mundane three strikeouts to his credit – or debit – for the day).

Third, the Mariners tied the contest in the ninth, and the game went to 12 innings before the Mariners prevailed 3-2.  In those three extra innings, Karkovice struck out against Norm Charlton (tenth inning) and Edwin Hurtado (twelfth inning) to set the Opening Day record.

Of note – at least to BBRT – is the fact that, despite five strikeouts in five plate appearances, Karkovice did not leave a single runner on base.

Seven RBI – Bringing the Boys Home

Being a Twins’ fan, one of my favorite Opening Day records is seven RBI in game one of the season – shared by the Twins’ Brant Alyea and the Cubs Corey Patterson.

On April 7, 1970, as the Twins downed the White Sox 12-0 in Chicago, LF Brant Alyea drove in an Opening Day record seven runs – going four-for-four, with two home runs. It was Alyea’s first game as a Twin and the start of the hottest month in his career.  In 17 April games, he hit .415, with seven runs, 23 RBI, four doubles and five home runs. For the season, Alyea appeared in 94 games, hitting career highs in batting average (.291), home runs (16) and RBI (61).

On Opening Day 2003 (March 31), the Cubs CF Corey Patterson tied Alyea’s record – driving in seven runs, going four-for-six with two home runs, as the Cubs topped the Mets 15-2 in New York. Patterson, a career .252 hitter (12 seasons), seemed to always be ready for Opening Day. In seven Opening Day appearances, Patterson hit .440, with seven runs, 12 RBI and three home runs. The season he tied Alyea’s Opening Day RBI mark, Patterson played in 83 games, hitting .298, with 13 home runs and 55 RBI.

Three Can Be a Lucky Number – Most Home Runs in an Opening Day Game

On April 4, 1988, Blue Jays DH George Bell became the first major leaguer to hit three home runs in an Opening Day game. (The number of three-home run Opening Days is now up to three.)  Bell’s power outburst was no surprise. He was coming off a 1987 season in which he hit 47 homers, drove in 134 runs and was the AL MVP. (Bell would go on to hit 24 home runs in 1988.)  Bell hit all three of his home runs off Royals’ starter Brett Saberhagen (the game was in Kansas City), and drove in four runs as the Blue Jays prevailed 5-3.  Bell hit 265 home runs in a 12-season MLB career.

Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes was the second player to hit three home runs in an Opening Day game.  On a windy April 4, 1994, Rhodes (leading off and playing CF for the Cubs in Chicago) hit three solo shots off Mets starter Dwight Gooden (in the first, third and fifth innings), as the Cubs lost to the visiting Mets 12-8. Rhodes, who had five plate appearances, also had a single and a walk.  At the time, Rhodes had played a total of 107 MLB games in four seasons – hitting a total of five home runs. His MLB career consisted of 225 games in six seasons, with a .224 average and just 13 round trippers (with a high of eight in 1994). Rhodes did go on to hit 474 home runs in eleven seasons in Japan.

On April 4, 2005 the Tigers Dmitri Young joined Bell and Rhodes on the short list of batters with three home runs in an Opening Day game – as the Tigers topped the Royals 11-2 in Detroit. Young started at DH and went four-for-four with four runs and five RBI.  Young hit a total of 21 home runs in 2005 – and 171 in 13 MLB seasons.

BBRT finds it interesting that two of the three three-homer Opening Days belong to DHs.

Fifteen Strikeouts on Opening Day

Who holds the record for pitcher’s strikeouts in an Opening Day game?  Walter Johnson? Bob Feller? Christy Mathewson? Sandy Koufax? Nolan Ryan? Bob Gibson? Randy Johnson? Tom Seaver? None of the above.

On April 18, 1960, Camilo Pascual (known for his sweeping curve ball, but also possessing a fastball “with movement”) took the mound at Griffith Stadium for the Washington Senators (against the Boston Red Sox). In 1959, the Senators had finished in last place in the AL, but Pascual had gone 17-10, 2.64, and led the league with 17 complete games and six shutouts. As the Senators’ Opening Day starter in 1960, Pascual picked up right where he left off – tossing a complete game three-hitter, walking three and striking out a (still) Opening Day record 15 batters.  Behind this sterling effort, the Senators beat the Red Sox 10-1.

In an 18-year MLB career, Pascual went 174-170, 3.63 (often pitching for second division clubs), was an All Star five times, a twenty-game winner twice and the league leader in complete games, shutouts and strikeouts three times each.

Two “Kings” of Opening Day

Perhaps no one looked forward to Opening Day more than Ted Williams – the king of the Opening Day batter’s box.  A career .344 hitter, the “Splendid Splinter” was even better on Opening Day.  Williams played in fourteen openers and was never held hitless.  He compiled a .449 Opening Day average (22 hits in 49 at bats), with three home runs, eight doubles, one triple, nine runs scored, 14 RBI and eleven walks.  His Opening Day on-base percentage was .550 and his season-opener slugging percentage was .837.

The Washington Senators’ Walter Johnson can be crowned king of the Opening Day mound.  On his first-ever Opening Day start (April 14, 1910), the 22-year-old Johnson tossed a 3-0 one-hit shutout against the Philadelphia Athletics.  Sixteen years (and 13 Opening Day starts) later, a 38-year-old Johnson fulfilled his last Opening Day assignment with a 15-inning, complete-game, 1-0 win (6 hits, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts) over the A’s.  Johnson holds the record for Opening Day pitching victories with nine (against five losses) and also threw a record seven Opening Day shutouts.

Jimmy – The Key to Opening Day Victories

While Walter Johnson holds the record for Opening Day wins at nine, it did take him 14 Game One starts (and five losses) to get there.  Jimmy Key (pitching for the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles) holds the record for most Opening Days wins without an Opening Day loss – at seven. Key had seven Opening Day wins in seven Opening Day starts.  In those seven victories, he threw 44 1/3 innings, had a 3.05 ERA, gave up 38 hits and just five walks, while striking out 23.

Opening Day Can Be Painful

On April 9, 1990, Astros first baseman and clean-up hitter Glenn Davis (a 1989 All Star) opened the season in a bruising manner – tying an Opening Day (and MLB regular season) record for getting hit by a pitch in a game (three times). Davis came to the plate six times and never put the ball in play – but still made only one out.  For the game, Davis was hit by a pitch three times, walked twice (once intentionally) and struck out once. The Astros lost to the Reds 8-4 on Davis’ historic and painful day. The Opening Day action did help Davis lead the league in one category in 1990 (Hit By Pitch – eight).

Of note to BBRT, Davis finished Opening Day with a batting average of .000, but an on-base percentage of .833.

Whoa! Get Control of Yourself – 11 Walks on Opening Day

Cleveland southpaw Herb Score set the Opening Day record for pitchers walks on April 16, 1957 – when he took the mound at home against the visiting White Sox. Score walked 11 that day – but his performance was not as bad as that figure would indicate.  While the Indians lost 3-2 in 11 innings, Score went the distance (pitchers used to finish what they started – back in the day), giving up just seven hits and two earned runs.  In addition to his eleven walks, Score struck out ten. Score earned the Opening Day call with a 20-9, 2.53 1956 season in which he led the AL in strikeouts. (Score led the AL in whiffs in each of his first two seasons 1955-56.)

Eight Opening Day Homers – The Career Record

Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Adam Dunn share the career record for Opening Day home runs at eight.  While Griffey, Jr., Robinson and Dunn share the overall record, the American League-only record belongs to Griffey, Jr., who hit all his Opening Day shots for the Mariners.  Robinson hit Opening Day homers for the most teams: the Orioles, Angels and Indians in the AL and the Reds in the NL.  The National League-only record (seven Opening Day Shots) is shared by a couple of Hall of Famers:  Willie Mays (all for the Giants – in New York and San Francisco) and Eddie Mathews (all for the Braves in Milwaukee.)

Let’s Get This Party Started

Tom Seaver was the starting pitcher for his team on Opening Day a record sixteen times (Mets, Reds, White Sox) – going 7-2 with 7 no-decisions.

Now, let’s get ready to open another MLB season!

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

photo by: Sonnett

For Twins Fans – Some Powerful Records

Harmon Killibrew hit more home runs in the 1960s than any other player - powering the Twins to some big innings.

Harmon Killibrew hit more home runs in the 1960s than any other player – powering the Twins to some big innings.

The Minnesota Twins gave their fans a special Saint Patrick’s Day (March 17) present this year.  Not only did they defeat the Orioles 10-9 to bring Minnesota’s 2015 Spring Training record to a Grapefruit League-best seven wins and three losses, they also hit for the “Home Run Cycle” – hitting solo, two-run, three-run and Grand Slam homers during the contest – and in that order no less.  Third baseman Trevor Plouffe delivered a solo shot in the second inning; DH Eduardo Nunez hit a two-run homer in the fourth; first baseman Kennys Vargas rapped a three-run round tripper in the fifth; and shortstop Eduardo Escobar capped it off with a Grand Slam in the sixth.

All of this power may have taken senior Twins fans (like me) back to the 1960s, when the Twins’ punishing lineup often simply “overpowered” the opposition.  I’d like to dedicate this post to those powerful teams – and to all the Twins fans who remember them.  Here’s just a few examples of those ‘60s Twins exploits (or newer fans who would like to know more about them).

  • On July 18, 1962 … The Twins tied an MLB record and became the first AL team (and the first MLB team since 1890) to hit two grand slams in one inning. (It’s been done a total of seven times to date.) The Twins remain the only team to pull off the feat in the first-inning of a game. It was a Twins’ home game (versus the Cleveland Indians). The Twins scored eleven times in the bottom of the first, with the key blows being Grand Slam HRs by right fielder Bob Allison and, fittingly, left fielder Harmon Killebrew.
  • May 2, 1964 – The Twins tied an MLB record for the most consecutive home runs in an inning – four.  They were (and remain) the only team to accomplish the feat in an “extra” inning. The game, against the Athletics in Kansas City, was tied 3-3 as the Twins came to bat in the top of the eleventh. Right fielder Tony Oliva hit a go-ahead home run to open the inning. This was followed, in succession, by roundtrippers from first baseman Bob Allison, center fielder Jimmie Hall and (again fittingly) left fielder Harmon Killebrew.
  • June 6, 1966 – The Twins tied another MLB record by hitting five home runs in one inning. (The Twins are still the only AL team to accomplish this feat. It’s been done four times in the NL.) The Twins outburst came in the bottom of the seventh inning in a game against the Kansas City Athletics. The home runs were hit by pinch hitter Rich Rollins, shortstop Zoilo Versalles, right fielder Tony Oliva, first baseman Don Mincher and, of course, third baseman Harmon Killebrew.  For the full story on five-homer innings, click here.

One final thought related to the Twins’ Spring Training “team” Home Run Cycle.  Only once in professional baseball history has an individual player hit a solo, two-run, three-run and Grand Slam homer all in the same game.  His name was Tyrone Horne, the day was July 27, 1998 and you can read the story by clicking here.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

A Few Potential MLB Milestones for 2015

Alex Rodriguez could "hit" some statistical milestones in 2015.

Alex Rodriguez could “hit” some statistical milestones in 2015.

In this post, BBRT would like to take a look at some statistical milestones that may be reached during the 2015 season.  As we do that, it’s no surprise that the player most likely to make a “mark” or two in 2015 is the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez – who has a shot at some significant milestones in base hits, total bases, RBI, runs scored and home runs.  You’ll also find names on the potential milestone markers list like C.C. Sabathia, Joe Nathan, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Buehrle.

Base hits

The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez is just 61 hits shy of becoming the 29th player in MLB history to collect 3,000 safeties.  He should reach that mark by mid-season and has a chance (if he can collect 140 hits in 2015) to move into 20th place all-time.  (Cap Anson is now at number 20 with 3,081 hits.)

Runs Batted In

Alex Rodriguez needs just 31 RBI to become only the third player in MLB history to reach 2,000 runs batted in.  The others are Hank Aaron (2,297) and Babe Ruth (2,218). This is another milestone that A-Rod, if he stays healthy (he does turn 40 in July), should reach before the All Star break.

The Angels’ Albert Pujols – beginning the season with 1,603 RBI – has a chance to become just the 24th player to reach 1,700 runs driven in. (Reggie Jackson is currently number 24, with 1,702, two behind Frank Thomas for number 23.)

Runs Scored

Alex Rodriguez needs 81 runs to become the eighth major leaguer to cross the plate 2,000 times.  That may be a stretch for Rodriguez, but there are some milestones in between his current 1,919 runs scored (10th all time) and 2,000. A-Rod needs just four runs to tie Derek Jeter for ninth on the list, and 30 runs will pull him into a tie for eighth with Stan Musial.

Home Runs

Albert Pujols should move up the HR and RBI lists in 2015.

Albert Pujols should move up the HR and RBI lists in 2015.

Alex Rodriguez is also on the home run milestone list – not for a new round number, but for his place on the list. Rodriguez is currently fifth among all-time home run hitters at 654 roundtrippers.  He needs just seven homers to pass Willie Mays for the number-four spot.  Beyond Mays, there are the out-of-reach Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762).

The Red Sox’ David Ortiz is 34 home runs shy of becoming the 27th member of the 500 home run club.  While Ortiz did hit 35 dingers last season, it was the first time he reached at least 34 home runs since 2007. If he makes 500 this season, it will be late in the year. He’ll probably need to suit up for at least one more season to reach the half-century mark.

Albert Pujols starts 2015 with 520 home runs, good for 21st all-time.  He should vault up several spots this season (Willie McCovey, Frank Thomas and Ted Williams, for example, all sit at 521). If Pujols matches his 29 home runs of 2014, he will move into a tie for 15th place with Mike Schmidt.  (Pujols needs only 16 HRs to tie Mickey Mantle for 16th place all time.)

Total Bases

Alex Rodriguez is just 20 total bases shy of becoming the ninth player to reach 5,500 total bases – and 59 shy of tying Carl Yastrzemski for number-eight all-time. (Number seven is a ways off – Pete Rose at 5,752). Only three players have reached 6,000 total bases in their careers: Hank Aaron (6,856), Stan Musial (6,134) and Willie Mays (6,066).

Stolen Bases

Another Yankee, Ichiro Suzuki, needs just 13 stolen bases to become the 24th player to reach the 500 mark. He is, however, 41-years-old, so 14 steals is not a given. Still, he’s never stolen less than 14 in a season (15 steals in 2014), so he has a chance to reach the 500 mark late in 2015.

The Dodgers’ Carl Crawford is also closing in on 500 steals – with 470 going into the season. Crawford, however, hasn’t reached the 30-steal mark since 2010 (23 last season).  With the Dodgers still facing log jam in the outfield, Crawford (like Suzuki) is a long-shot to hit this milestone in 2014 . (If I had to pick either Ichiro or Crawford to reach 500 this year, I’d go with Suzuki.)

Strikeouts

The Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia needs just 63 strikeouts to become the 31st hurler to reach the 2,500 mark for his career. If he comes back from last season’s knee surgery, the 34-year-old southpaw should easily reach that mark. Sabathia currently stands at number 38 on the all-time K list (2,437) – between him and number 31 are Jamie Moyer (2,441), Andy Pettitte (2,448), San McDowell (2,453), Jim Kaat (2,461), Mark Langston (2,464), Jack Morris (2,478) and Don Drysdale (2,486). If Sabathia can notch 65 whiffs in 2015, he can move into a tie with Christy Mathewson for 30th all time (2,502).

Victories

Mark Buehrle’s first win for the Blue Jays in 2015 will be his 200th career win,

Games Pitched

The Rockies’ LaTroy Hawkins (who appeared in his 1,000th game last season), now stands at number 16 for pitching appearances all-time.  The 42-year-old Hawkins,  who made 57 appearances last season, needs to take the mound in 35 games to tie Trevor Hoffman for tenth all-time. BBRT is betting that Hawkins – who has announced he will retire after the 2015 season (his 21st MLB season) – will make that top ten mark.

Saves

Joe Nathan could take a high five for his 400th saves  this coming season.

Joe Nathan could take a high five for his 400th saves this coming season.

The Tigers’ Joe Nathan – coming off a disappointing 2014 – needs just 24 saves to become just the sixth pitcher to reach the 400 mark. Even with his 4.81 ERA of 2014, Nathan notched 35 saves. If the 39-year-old has enough left in the tank to hold onto the closer’s position, he should make it.  The chances, from here, look to be 50-50

photos by: & ,

Twins Promotions – Enhancing the Fan Experience

Photo: Courtesy of MInnesota Twins

Photo: Courtesy of MInnesota Twins

From baseball bats to bobbleheads to backpacks, the Minnesota Twins promotional giveaways for 2015 seem to offer something for everyone – and that’s no accident.  BBRT had a chance to talk to the Twins Senior Manager of Promotions and Special Events Julie Okland about just what goes into setting up a major league team’s schedule of promotions. Turns out that, while there is plenty of brainstorming involved, there is also a lot of science behind the final schedule of giveaways, events, activities and discounts.

In this post, BBRT will look at MLB’s promotional schedule, with an emphasis on my hometown Twins.  I’ll also include a nod to some particularly interesting promotions from other teams – ranging from the Nationals’ Jayson Werth Chia Pet to the upcoming attempt by the Angels to set the record for the largest gathering of people wearing sombreros to the A’s Sonny Gray solar-powered garden gnome. I’ll include dates to help readers plan their ticket purchases, but keep in mind:

  • This is a preliminary report. As this is being posted, some teams have not released their promotional schedules or have released only partial schedules.
  • Promotional items and schedules are subject to change without notice. For a complete list and up-to-date details regarding 2015 Twins promotions (including dates, numbers of items, activities and eligibility) click here.  For details on promotions and events across MLB, visit each team’s website.

Now that the cautionary language has been handled, let’s get to it.

During the upcoming season, fans across MLB will have a lot to choose from when it comes to promotions. By the time the season is over, for example, Twins fans alone will have gone home from the ballpark with:

  • 40,000 hooded sweatshirts;
  • 40,000 bobbleheads (Brian Dozier, Paul Molitor, Phil Hughes, 1965 vintage);
  • 40,000 baseball caps, 10,000 bomber hats, 40,000 stocking caps;
  • 10,000 adult jerseys (Torii Hunter) and 10,000 kids jerseys (Danny Santana) – sizes limited on jerseys;
  • 10,000 drawstring backpacks, 10,000 reusable water bottles;
  • 10,000 ceramic steins (Fathers’ Day – Men 21+ only);
  • 10,000 plush toys (Twins mascot T.C. and Target mascot Bullseye);
  • 20,000 reusable grocery totes;
  • 45,000 magnetic season schedules, 60,000 poster schedules; and
  • 10,000 pairs of flip flops.

Fans also will have had a chance to enjoy such events as Fireworks Fridays and the Midwest Music Showcase (Wednesdays), along with unique activities and discounts associated with Knothole Kids Days, Student Days, Senior Days, Military Mondays, Dollar-A-Dog Days – and the list goes on.

It is, indeed, an ambitious schedule with something for everyone.

Okland indicated that setting up a new season’s promotional calendar begins as soon as (or even before) the gates close on the previous season.

“It’s really a year-round process,” Okland, who has been with the Twins for twelve years, said. “We’re constantly looking for new ideas, what’s trending with our fans, what’s worked for other teams. We’re always looking for that next big idea.”

Okland added that promotions and events have become increasingly important as the Twins, and baseball overall, find themselves competing not just for the entertainment and recreational dollar, but also for the potential ticket buyer’s time and attention.

The Basic Criteria

The overriding focus of the promotions and events schedule is to “enhance the fan experience,” whether through giveaways, unique activities or increased value, Okland said.

“The final decisions are based significantly on analytics,” she added.  “We look at such factors as day of the week, time, the opponent, anticipated weather, past successes and which fan segments each promotion will appeal to. We also coordinate with Ticket Sales and Services to ensure giveaways and promotions are balanced among our various ticket packages.”

The basic criteria for promotions and events outlined by Okland were:

  • Adds to the fan experience;
  • Safety (particularly for kids items);
  • Attractiveness to specific demographics (with an emphasis on kid-focused, but offering something for all demographics over the course of the season);
  • Usefulness, shelf-life and potential exposure;
  • Quality;
  • Price point;
  • Generation of incremental ticket sales.

All promotions must meet these criteria, but there are additional factors that come into play, Okland said.

Anniversaries, Holidays and Achievements

Anniversaries, holidays and specific player and team achievements play a role in the development of the promotions schedule, Okland said. Among the 2015 examples she cited were a vintage bobblehead (August 1) giveaway honoring the 50th Anniversary of 1965 Twins’ AL Championship team and a Fathers’ Day “Minnie and Paul” Ceramic Stein giveaway (first 10,000 males over 21).

Picking Players To Be Featured

When picking on-field personnel to feature in promotions, the Twins look toward players who had good seasons the year before, recently reached (or will soon reach) career milestones or have a strong connection with fans and the community.

“Brian Dozier and Phil Hughes had good seasons last year, and they are part of this year’s schedule of promotions,” Okland said.  Dozier is featured in two promotions – a Dozier baseball bat giveaway (May 31) and a Dozier bobblehead giveaway (July 25). A Hughes bobblehead is also on the schedule (July 11).

“It’s also Paul Molitor’s first year as manager and we wanted to get him out there,” Okland said.  “You’ll see him on our magnet schedules (April 17-18-19) and we’ll also feature a Molitor bobblehead giveaway (June 19).”   BBRT note: Molitor is the only individual featured on bobblehead promotions in two MLB cities this season.  The Brewers also will honor the Hall of Famer with a bobblehead giveaway (June 28, in a game against the Twins).

The Twins also are celebrating the return of Torii Hunter – a long-time fan favorite – with a Torii Hunter (adult) jersey giveaway on June 6.

Bobbleheads – Baseball’s Most Popular Promotional Item

While it is impossible to determine exactly how many bobbleheads will be given away at major league baseball parks this season (some teams have not yet released their full promotional schedule, others do not list the number to be handed out or use an “all fans” or “while supplies last” descriptor), BBRT can say with confidence that the 2015 MLB season will feature more than 125 different bobblehead promotions and fans will go home with well over than two million bobbleheads.  (Note: The Sports Business Journal reported that, in 2014, MLB teams handed out 2.59 million bobbleheads.)

A review of 2015 bobblehead giveaways announced as this post is written indicates teams will be featuring at least: 73 current players, 35 formers players, two managers, one former manager and one team-owner/commissioner.  In addition, three teams (Giants, Diamondbacks and A’s) will be handing out Hello Kitty bobbleheads), one team is offering a “Peanuts” bobblehead (Yankees), three teams will send fans home with vintage bobbleheads (Twins, Brewers, Phillies) and a pair of announcers will be recognized in bobblehead form (Vin Scully, Dodgers and Harry Caray, Cardinals).

The season’s most unique bobblehead may be the Rays’ Evan Longoria bobblehead that plays the star third baseman’s walk-up music. A few other 2015 bobblehead notes:

  • The Rays will determine the player to be featured as their final bobblehead offering of the season through a fan vote.
  • The Reds will be distributing a bobblehead with three players on a single bobblehead base – the 1990’s “Nasty Boys” bullpen of Randy Myers, Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton.
  • The Yankees will be handing out a Babe Ruth bobble head.

For trivia buffs:  According to bobbleheads.com, the first MLB player-specific bobbleheads – featuring Mickey Mantle, Willie MMauys3ays, Roger Maris and Roberto Clemente – were produced in 1960 and sold during the 1960 World Series. Various sources indicate that the first MLB team bobblehead giveaway took place on May 9, 1999 – with the San Francisco Giants handing out 35,000 Willie Mays bobbleheads to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Candlestick Park.

 

Being Minnesotan Counts

Okland added that there is also a focus on promotions that are consistent with what it is to be Minnesotan – noting that past successes, in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, include Rapala fishing lures and outdoor grilling tools.  For 2015, fur bomber hats, stocking caps and a Twins BBQ branding iron reflect what it is to be Minnesotan.

Finding Sponsors

While the development of promotions is the first part of her job, Okland said she also must work with the Corporate Sponsorships Department to secure appropriate sponsors for each promotion. “Occasionally a sponsor will come to use with an idea – like, this year, Target asked to do the Bullseye plush (stuffed animal – August 29 & 30). For the most part, however, we develop the ideas and then work to secure appropriate sponsors.”

One example cited by Okland was the Twins’ May 7 Flip Flops giveaway (the Twins are the only team featuring a flip flop promotion this season), an idea she successfully sold to “The Beaches of Fort Meyers/Sanibel.” Okland noted that some sponsors do have preferences– like DQ®, which has joined the Twins as a sponsor for three decades of baseball cap giveaways.

Most Popular Items

Okland said traditional items – like bats, caps and bobbleheads – remain the most popular, with bobbleheads well in the lead and still going strong.

“Bobbleheads are the only items we’ve seen fans line up the night before for,” she said.

It’s Not All Just Giveaways

Okland added that efforts to enhance the fan experience are not focused solely on giveaways.

“We also work to incorporate activities fans that fans will enjoy beyond the game,” she said.

Fireworks are popular with Twins’ fans – and the team is hosting Friday Fireworks after all Friday home games between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Okland said.  BBRT’s review of scheduled events around MLB provided a solid indicator that fireworks are truly “not just for holidays” anymore.  MLB parks will play host to more than 150 post-game fireworks displays during the 2015 season.

Among the other popular fan experiences Okland discussed were:

  • Knothole Kids Days – with discounted tickets, player autographs before the game and a chance for kids to run the bases after the game.
  • The Midwest Music Showcase, with popular local bands performing at every Wednesday home game from May through September.

And, not all of the special events scheduled by the Twins take place inside the ball park.  The Twins also offer “Wine, Women and Baseball” for female fans. These events include a Skyline Deck or Skyline View ticket plus (at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel) pre-game wine tasting, light appetizers and desserts, “Pamper Yourself” stations and a complementary gift. (May 29, July 30, August 28).

Theme Days/Events

MLB teams, including the Twins, also develop “theme” events, days, weekends or series – again designed to enhance the fan experience, recognize specific groups or causes, build the team or MLB brand or appeal to specific demographics.  Among the Twins “theme” events already scheduled for 2015 are: Jackie Robinson Day (with MLB, April 15); Diversity Day (July 7); Armed Forces Appreciation Day (July 12); Softball Day (July 30); 1965 AL Championship 50th Anniversary Celebration (August 1); Back to School Weekend (August 29-30); Fan Appreciation Weekend (October 2-3); and Kids Appreciation Day (October 4).

Okland urged Twins fans to watch for upcoming announcements of additional theme events for 2015. One such announcement came during the Twins/Gophers recent Spring Training game, when the team noted that Friday, May 1 will be University of Minnesota Night at Target Field. (Fans purchasing a ticket in this special package will receive a maroon and gold Twins cap.)

Value Discounts

There are also plenty of “value” discounts available to Twins fans for 2015 including, among others:

  • Schweigert™ Dollar-A-Dog Days (Wednesdays), with one-dollar hot dogs;
  • More For Your Money Mondays – with a ten-dollar food and beverage credit with a Skyline Deck ticket;
  • Thirsty Thursday Nights – 5:30 to 6:30 (before Thursday home games), with discounted beverages and appetizer specials at the Town Ball Tavern, Hrbek’s, the Club level outdoor pub and the Gate 6 Bar.

Student Days (Wednesdays) and Senior Days (all weekday day games), with discounted ticket are also popular, Okland said.

Military Mondays have been very well received and we’re especially proud of that promotion,” Okland added, noting that, on Military Mondays, active military and veterans (with valid ID) can purchase half-price Home Plate View tickets for themselves and up to four guests.

Putting It All Together

Okland said that when you put it all together – giveaways, activities, events and discounts – MLB team promotions create additional excitement around the ballpark experience. That, she said, is good for the fans, the teams and the game.

Check Out that Promotions Schedule

As you can see, there is a lot going on at the ball park, BBRT urges all fans to take a look at your team’s promotions, events and discounts schedule.  Find what appeals to you – and add something new to your personal experience “at the old ball game.”

To close, here are a few 2015 MLB promotions that drew BBRT’s interest:

  • Among the most popular giveaways across MLB (besides bobbleheads) are t-shirts, magnetic schedules, caps, replica jerseys and reusable tote bags.
  • Bobbleheads may be all the rage, but players are being recognized in a wide variety of ways including: the Nationals’ Jayson Werth Chia Pet (August 5) and the Rays’ Evan Longoria Rubber Duck (April 19).
  • Ten teams are handing out a total of 14 Garden Gnomes – featuring ten players, one manager, two former managers and one mascot. Only the A’s, however, are featuring a solar-powered garden gnome (Sonny Gray, June 20).
  • Beyond the traditional baseball caps, a wide range of headgear will be handed out at MLB parks this year – fedoras, cowboy hats, stocking caps, floppy hats, beach hats, bomber hats, batting helmets and more. Only the Angels, however, are including a sombrero give-away in their schedule (as part of their Cinco De Mayo Celebration and an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people wearing sombreros).
  • Fans can score a replica of Fenway Park (Red Sox, April 27); the Astrodome, circa 1965 (Astros, April 18); and Petco Park (Padres, July 18).
  • The San Francisco Giants will be handing out a “snow” globe on April 15, featuring their three most recent World Championship trophies (2010-12-14) and the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • The Phillies will take us all back to our youth with a Wiffle® Ball and Bat giveaway.
  • Want to build a great pitching staff? In 2015, the Dodgers are giving one away, in the form of a series of Cy Young Award Collectors’ Pins: Don Newcombe (April 13); Don Drysdale (April 27); Sandy Koufax (May 14); Mike Marshall (June 18); Orel Hershiser (August 29); Eric Gagne (September 14); and Clayton Kershaw (September 20).
  • The Mets will pass out “Thundersticks” to all fans on September 19th and – no surprise – the crosstown Yankees will be at Citi Field. The Rays are hosting similar giveaways (for youngsters) on June 24th   and July 29, only they have chosen to use the less-aggressive term “Rays Cheer Sticks.”
  • No matter what you call it, dogs are increasingly welcome at the ballpark – Bark in the Park (Braves, Reds, Mets, Royals, Mariners, Rangers, Rockies, White Sox); Pups in the Park (Nationals); Pups at the Park (Dodgers); Pooches in the Park (Cardinals); Dog Days of Summer (Giants, Padres).
  • The Twins and Blue Jays have taken different approaches to their hoodie sweatshirt giveaways. The Twins’ promotion will take place on their home Opening Day (April 13), while the Blue Jays have scheduled their hoodie promotion for the final home game of their season (September 27).

Coming soon, some rookies and prospects BBRT will be watching in 2015.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT