Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Fitting Farewell

Yesterday, barring a miracle, I made my final visit to the soon-to-be old Yankee Stadium with Lee Mazzola. Speaking of miracles, I discussed with another friend a couple of weeks ago the fact that this would be my last game there, unless Lee happened to invite me to a playoff game. Then, of course, I realized that there probably weren't going to be any playoff games. Now, especially after yesterday's game, I think we can safely remove the word "probably" from that statement.

Lee and I haven't had much luck attending Yankee games together, particularly at the stadium. I would somehow like to figure out their overall record in home games we've been to together, but I'm assuming it's significantly below .500. I'm not going to say that yesterday was typical, but the outcome certainly was. In fact, I think we even had a complacent feeling that this one was in the bag when the Yanks led 6-2 after 6 innings. But, one Robinson Cano error on a routine double play ball, an unsuccessful Damaso Marte/Edwar Ramirez bullpen effort, and an unfortunate A-Rod clutch "failure" later, and we wandered out of the stadium shaking our collective heads after a 7-6 defeat. Making matters worse was the fact that, as one stadium vendor had frequently reminded us, the Yanks are opposing Roy Halladay today.

Nevertheless, we made the most of the day and the subsequent evening, as we always do, particularly when Jon Pauley is involved. Still, yesterday seemed a fitting farewell to the old stadium, not to mention the Yankees' season, and their streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances.

Monday, August 25, 2008

18th & Vine

The neighborhood of Kansas City commonly know as 18th and Vine is considered by some to be the birthplace of jazz, or at least a newer style of jazz born in the 1930s. It is also in this neighborhood, at the Paseo YMCA, that Rube Foster and other future executives of the Negro National League met to discuss the organization of the league in 1920. This quaint little section, located just east of downtown, is now the home of two fine museums, each celebrating their respective, and uniquely American, traditions.

18th and Vine
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was founded in 1990 to preserve the history of African-American baseball. Negro League baseball existed prior to the formation of the Negro National League in 1920, but it was Foster's vision to create the league that is now considered the first lasting professional league for African-American players. Unfortunately, health problems resulting from a gas leak that nearly asphyxiated him took his life in 1930, and that first league folded the following year. However, a new Negro National League was formed in 1933, followed by the Negro American League in 1937, and African-American baseball flourished until Major League Baseball became fully integrated in the late 1950s. Rube Foster, honored primarily for his accomplishments as the chief pioneer of the Negro Leagues, but also for his playing and managerial careers, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.

The museum is an impressive tribute to this rich history, which dates back to the mid-19th century, well before the official organization of the Negro National League. In addition to the standard baseball artifacts, many of the exhibits include the artwork of the period, so unfortunately, the taking of photographs is not permitted. However, it costs just $8 for admission to both the Negro Leagues Museum and the neighboring American Jazz Museum, so I highly recommend a visit if you ever have the opportunity. One of my favorite aspects of the Negro Leagues Museum is a time line of events of the Civil Rights movement that places the history of African-American baseball in its historical perspective.

A few other interesting facts I learned there:
  • J.L. Wilkinson, the original owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, was the only white member of Rube Foster's trusted inner circle. In 1930, his Monarchs became the first professional team to play night baseball. He was elected to the Hall of Fame, with 16 other Negro League and pre-Negro League greats, in 2006.

  • Buck O'Neil, the first African-American coach in Major League Baseball history, and honorary Chairman of the Board of the museum until his death in 2006, was never allowed to set foot on a Major League field.

  • King Solomon White, also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, wrote the first definitive history of African-American baseball, titled Sol White's History of Colored Baseball, in 1907.

  • The nearby Paseo YMCA (shown below with "God Bless Buck" graffiti on the boarded-up door), the original Negro National League meeting place, is the future home of the John "Buck" O'Neil Education and Research Center.

Paseo YMCA
Finally, I'll finish with a trivia question: Of course, everyone knows that, in 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers, with Jackie Robinson, became the first major league team to integrate; and most everyone knows that, later that year, the Cleveland Indians became the first integrated American League team, by signing Larry Doby. What may not be common knowledge, though, is who was the third team to integrate (also in 1947) and who was the player?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

East St. Louis Toodle-Oo

Friday afternoon, upon arriving in Kansas City, I ventured down to 18th and Vine, the birthplace of jazz, and also around the corner from where the original organizational meeting of the Negro National League took place in 1920. This historic district is now home to two fine museums, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum. Not surprisingly, I spent more time in the Negro Leagues Museum, so I'll write more about that later. But, I will say that, while viewing the Duke Ellington display at the Jazz Museum, I decided that I need more jazz in my music collection. The particular composition that caught my ear was "Sugar Rum Cherry", his interpretation of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy", from an album called Three Suites.

Yesterday, my trip brought me to its final destination, the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis, for a day game between the Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. This was, in fact, Fox Sports' Game of the Week, but I doubt my face appeared on national television, as my seat was not nearly as good as for the games at Miller Park and Kaufmann Stadium. Actually, I was very happy with it, though, as it was in the shade, and the weather was sunny and in the low 90s, and I had neglected to wear or bring any sunblock. I think I need some lessons in boy scouting after this trip, because my preparation has been seriously lacking at times.

Busch Stadium
The seat was pretty comparable to where I was in the Metrodome, except at Busch I was in left field, versus right field in Minnesota. Due to the new stadium design, though, this vantage point was considerably better, with the seats in this section angled for a better view of the field, and no people walking up and down the aisles to contend with. Well, in fact, I was in the last row of the section, up against the wall, so it was kind of a moot point anyway. This was great, too, because it allowed me to stand up and take all the pictures I wanted.

It's hard to say exactly why, but I think I like this stadium a little better than Miller Park, although it's a close call. One thing I find curious that is missing here is a Cardinals Hall of Fame, or any type of tribute to the rich tradition of this team, other than the retired numbers displayed above the VIP seats in center field. Miller Park didn't have this either, but the Brewers don't have the history that St. Louis baseball does. The Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, both teams that have existed for over a century, as the Cardinals have, are ahead of the curve on this one. Why the Cardinals aren't, I don't know.

What they do pay tribute to, in a classy but subtle way, are their pitchers who have been struck by tragedy in recent years. On the back wall of the home bullpen are "DK 57" and "JH 32" decals, to honor Darryl Kile and Josh Hancock, both Cardinals pitchers who died during the 2002 and 2007 seasons, respectively.

One thing I really appreciated about Busch Stadium was their out-of-town scoreboard. Rather than just the standard display of the score, inning, and uniform number of the current pitcher of games in progress, theirs included information on the current situation of each game, including number of outs, runners on base, and who was currently batting. Miller Park just gave the standard information, as did the Metrodome and Kaufmann Stadium, although I'll cut them some slack considering their age.

I have to admit that I left early again. It started to rain late in the game, then with two outs in the top of the 9th, with the Braves leading 5-4, it started to pour, and the game was delayed. With the rain looking like it was going to last for a little while, I knew the delay would be at least an hour, and I had more driving ahead of me for the night. I definitely crammed a lot into the end of this trip. So, I took off, and turned out to be correct that play didn't resume for a little over an hour, time that was much better served driving east into Illinois. As I listened on the radio, the Braves rallied to score three runs to extend their lead, and the Cards went down meekly in the bottom of the 9th to lose 8-4. So, this time, my decision paid off, as I didn't miss anything special.

This is the end of my trip. I'm sitting in the airport, waiting to catch a flight back to Boston, as I write this. I've now visited a total of 27 major league parks in my lifetime, including 19 of the current 30. I have to say that my 2004 trip worked out a little better, as the logistics of the games worked out quite nicely, but this was a very memorable trip as well. Hopefully, it won't be another four years before I do something like this again, although now that I've been to all of the parks in the Midwest, it will be difficult to work out another road trip such as the last two. Still, I look forward to more baseball journeys as I work towards my goal of making it to all of the current major league parks.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Point of Know Return

The trip reaches its western-most point today, and tomorrow heads back east, although, in terms of miles, it is well past half over. In fact, after two quick games (tonight in Kansas City, Saturday in St. Louis), I'll be on a flight and back in Boston by Sunday night. As always, there are mixed emotions about this. The good thing about getting older is that, after being away from home for more than a week, I tend to want to get back. This, of course, softens the blow of the end of vacation, but doesn't completely negate those end-of-vacation blues.

Kaufmann Stadium
Forget what I previously said about my seat at Miller Park being the best I've ever had. Tonight at Kaufmann Stadium, I sat in the 5th row, directly behind home plate...literally. My 9th row seat at Miller Park was actually just to the right of center. The ticket price for tonight's game: $37. I think you can still get a standing room only ticket, or a bleacher or outfield grandstand seat, for a little less than that at Fenway.

I also take back my somewhat critical comments of a couple aspects of the Metrodome. Kaufmann Stadium also has trough-style men's bathrooms, but, unfortunately, no mango hand soap. More importantly, though, there was some type of promotional game or gimmick between every half inning: trivia, a "Name that Royal" baby photo contest, text message contest, hot dog race, etc. The only difference between this and a minor league game is that the Royals actually did a pretty good job of not holding up the game in the process.

There was a Casey Fossum sighting at the ballpark tonight. During pre-game warmups, I spotted a skinny goateed player with very distinctive facial features, wearing the uniform number 49 for the Detroit Tigers. I was pretty certain it was Fossum, one of two major league players named Casey whom other people have called my look-alikes. I verified later that it was, in fact, Fossum, whom I've lost track of over the past couple of years. My other look-alike, Casey Blake, is a slightly higher profile player, who is a little easier to keep tabs on. He recently was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I designated this a no alcohol night, but I did drink a few of Kansas City's own Boulevard Pale Ales yesterday. This nicely hopped brew, which I'm considering the second best beer of the trip so far, was also available at the stadium, in addition to the standard Anheuser Busch products.

Bannister vs. Granderson
Detroit won the game 4-3, and it was a pretty exciting finish, that I have to admit I missed. I left early, with Kansas City trailing 4-1 in the top of the 9th. In my defense, I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow, but the leaving early to beat the traffic thing is also a product of getting older. Fortunately, the Royals comeback bought me some time as I searched the parking lot for my car. Losing my car seems to be a theme of the trip, and completely out of character for me, as I also couldn't remember where I parked in Madison the other day.

As I walked through aisles and aisles of cars that weren't mine, I was taunted by the cheers I heard from inside the stadium. But, at that point, I knew there was no turning back. Eventually, I looked at the photo I had taken of the outside of the stadium on my digital camera when I arrived, to realize that I was looking in the wrong location of the parking lot entirely.

Overall, Kaufmann has a lot in common with the Metrodome, as would be expected, considering they're both older stadiums. The concession areas weren't very congested, but, of course, the attendance was an especially woeful (for a Friday night) 18,361. The food selection was, not surprisingly, pretty limited as well. The major edge Kaufmann earns over the Metrodome, however, is that it is much more aesthetically pleasing, making it possible for it to survive as a modern venue with the renovations that are to be unveiled next year.

Baseball Lesson of the Day: Tonight's game ended with David DeJesus being thrown out at home plate, by Brandon Inge to Fernando Rodney covering, trying to score the tying run on a pitch that Rodney threw to the backstop. I spent considerable time looking at all the online box scores trying to figure out if this was ruled a wild pitch or a passed ball, when I realized it was neither. Since DeJesus failed to advance, and the game ended on the play, so the other runners are considered as not advancing as well, it is neither a wild pitch nor a passed ball.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How Many Ways to Balk?

When I included the "Baseball Lesson of the Day" at the end of my Miller Park post, I had intended it would be something I'd do for each park visit. After all, there would probably be some interesting scenario at each game to provide such subject matter. Well, for yesterday's game there was, but it was a little too much to write about in one paragraph. So, I've decided to write about it separately.

There were two guys sitting next to me at the Metrodome (a young man and his grandfather, I presume) who got into a discussion about how many ways there are for a pitcher to balk. My initial reaction was to think that there are infinite ways, but I suppose that was being too technical. I guess they actually can be broken down into categories. So, not really knowing the answer to this question, here goes, from the top of my head (you'll have to take my word, I didn't look this up).

The pitcher...
  1. Hesitates, or stops, in his delivery to home plate.

  2. While in contact with the rubber, fakes a pickoff throw to first base.

  3. Steps on the mound without the ball.

  4. While in contact with the rubber, fakes or throws to an unoccupied base.

  5. Moves from the windup to the set position without stepping off the rubber.

  6. While in the set position, fails to come to a complete stop before delivering to the plate.

  7. Fails to step directly toward the base when making a pickoff throw.

  8. Fails to step directly toward the plate when delivering a pitch.

  9. Delivers to the plate while the catcher is not in the catcher's box.

  10. Hesitates or stops in the process of coming to the set position.

  11. Drops the ball while in contact with the rubber.

  12. While in the set position, breaks his hands while not in the process of delivering to the plate, and without stepping off the rubber.

  13. While in contact with the rubber, makes any movement associated with his delivery to the plate without completing such movement (i.e. delivering a pitch).

  14. Delivers to the plate while not in contact with the rubber.
As you can see, there is quite a bit of gray area here. For instance, is #13 really just another way of describing #1. Kind of, but not exactly. #11 and #12 are pretty close as well. Regardless, these are the ways I could come up with so far. I'm not even going to discuss the infractions that can be a balk under certain circumstances, just the standard scenarios. I'll look this up eventually and update this with the complete list.

Color Me (Un)Impressed

First off, let me say that I wasn't expecting much of the Metrodome. But, I figured maybe it would exceed my expectations. It didn't. On the other hand, it certainly wasn't worse than I imagined. In fact, there were a few things I was actually kind of impressed with. So, I'm presenting this write-up on my visit to the Metrodome for yesterday's game as two separate lists of what impressed me and what didn't.


  • Heard on loudspeaker in bathroom that it was Robert Plant’s 60th birthday.

  • Mango hand soap in men’s rest room.

  • $1 Hot Dog Wednesdays promotion for first 20,000 fans (limit 2 per person).

  • Noticed several fans sitting around me playing Twingo (Scorecard Bingo). I didn't play, because at that point I didn't feel like searching for a card, but it seemed like a fun idea.

  • The managing job Ron Gardenhire has done with this team that has a no-name starting rotation and only two hitters (Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau) that potentially strike fear in opponents.

  • Justin Morneau’s MVP caliber season, with essentially no lineup protection. Mauer hits 3rd and Morneau 4th. Yesterday, Delmon Young batted 5th, behind Morneau. Other days it’s Michael Cuddyer, who’s having a terrible year, or Jason Kubel, who’s pretty good, but far from an intimidating presence.

  • Summit Extra Pale Ale: brewed by St. Paul's own Summit Brewing Company, $10 for a 22oz. bottle. A little pricey, but the best beer of the trip so far. On the lighter bodied side, but nicely hopped, providing just the right amount of bitterness. As an added note, the day before, in Madison, I had two pints of Capital Pale Ale, which was pretty good, but nothing special.

  • Wide selection of player shirts at souvenir stands. Besides the obvious (Mauer, Morneau, Joe Nathan), there are many non-stars, such as Mike Redmond, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Carlos Gomez, Denard Span.

  • The "Kiss Cam" inspired some interesting reactions: one 50+ year old guy practically mauled his wife when the camera focused on them, while another guy leaned over the woman sitting next to him to kiss a different woman.

  • The Hold Steady’s “Constructive Summer” played over the P.A. for one of Randy Ruiz’s at bats. I doubt he chose the song, but I was pleased, especially since I was wearing my Hold Steady t-shirt.

  • No sign of Chuck Knoblauch t-shirts.


  • Twins lineup is pathetic. With Joe Mauer sitting for a day game following a night game, Redmond (.635 OPS) bats 3rd and Ruiz hits 6th.

  • Very congested concession areas, with many of them closed. I understand this is an old stadium, and I realize that these areas are very congested at places like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, but at least it’s generally because those games are sold out. Today's attendance was 30,888, 68% of capacity.

  • Trough style men’s bathroom reminds me of my days at Penn State.

  • Crammed pretty tightly in seat, and had to look through people walking up and down the aisles to view the game. I'm aware this is another issue common to older stadiums. I should have known better, and have spent either more money or less money than my mid-range priced seat. I ended up watching most of the game from cheaper seats, where I was further away, but could see the game unobstructed and sit more comfortably.

  • Minor league-esque promotions: T-shirt slingshot, Grounds Crew Buddies, Twins mascott, T.C.

  • For the 7th inning stretch, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was followed by that trite country anthem to post-9/11 America, Lee Greenwood's “Proud to Be an American”.

  • Urban stadium, but not much going on in the surrounding neighborhood.

  • Complete lack of Chuck Knoblauch t-shirts.

The Twins won 3-1, but I have to say it was a pretty boring game. Francisco Liriano labored through 5 innings, throwing 107 pitches, but managed to give up only one run to earn the win. Huston Street pitched an impressive 1 1/3 innings in relief. I'm not sure if he's lost the closer's role, but Brad Ziegler has saved three of their last four wins. It was also a pleasure seeing Joe Nathan's one inning, for his 34th save. He's having by far the best year among closers, despite Francisco Rodriguez's record-setting saves pace.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back in the High Life Again

It's exactly one month short of ten years since the last time I was in Milwaukee, which, of course, was for a baseball game. Back then, my oldest friend, Rob, and I attended a September 1998 matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers at the old County Stadium. Miller Park was under construction at the time, so we got a sneak preview of the new stadium.

The excitement surrounding that game was Mark McGwire's expansion of his own recently established single-season home run record, which was far from safe with Sammy Sosa right behind him. This year, however, the Brewers are in the thick of a playoff race, with the second best record in the National League. Going into last night's action, they were leading the wild-card race by two games over St. Louis, and trailing the division leading Chicago Cubs by 5 1/2 games.

Miller Park
Last night's game was CC Sabathia's 9th start since coming over from Cleveland in the early July trade that is looking to be the most significant mid-season trade in recent memory. Sabathia is already the most popular player in town. He received a noticeably louder pre-game ovation than both Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Very interesting, considering his tenure with the Brewers is all but guaranteed to last no more than four months before he moves on as a free agent.

My seat was in the 9th row, directly behind home plate, possibly the best seat I've ever had for a major league baseball game. Miller Park, of course, is as nicely built as any of the newer stadiums. The only factor preventing it from being among my favorites is its non-downtown location. The beauty of parks such as PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Camden Yards in Baltimore is enhanced by their downtown location and skyline views from within the stadium. Another drawback of being located outside the heart of the city is an inability to soak in a certain pre-game neighborhood atmosphere. On the other hand, not having to drive into the city is certainly an advantage, although considering this is Milwaukee, I doubt if that would be a major inconvenience.

I actually had pretty good luck finding decent beer at the stadium. Leinenkugel, the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin-based craft brewer had a very significant presence. Of course, not surprisingly, I learned that Miller owns Leinenkugel, but the beers are still pretty good. I enjoyed two pints of Sunset Wheat and one of their Red Lager, for $6.75 each. The Sunset Wheat was a quite refreshing summer brew, although I have to admit that, by the second, I was starting to feel that it was a little too tangy for my taste. The Red Lager was solid, certainly better than Killian's Red, but far from something to write home about.

Food options, of course, included quite a few of the German variety. I opted for the local flavor, however, as I couldn't resist the urge to try a pulled pork sandwich called the Stormin' Gorman, for $6.50. It did not disappoint. Later, for $4.50, I opted for a Chicago Style Hot Dog, with "the works": pickles, relish, onions, hot peppers, tomatoes, mustard. Quite good, but a little spicy. Good thing I was on my second Sunset Wheat at that point.

I decided I wanted to buy a Corey Hart t-shirt, because of a certain fascination I had in college with a singer of the same name, when I wore a spiked haircut and rarely removed my black Ray-Ban Wayfarers. I was disappointed that I couldn't find one in my size. I was able to find mostly child sizes of his shirts, somewhat ironic considering he's 6'6". Even more ironic was the fact that a female friend of mine from Boston, who weighs about 100 pounds soaking wet, texted me to say she wanted a Prince Fielder shirt.

Miller crowd
There was definitely a buzz in the air at Miller Park on this particular night, and considering tonight's crowd of 41,991 was their 16th consecutive sellout, and franchise record 32nd of the season, it seems that it wasn't just because CC Sabathia was pitching. The Brewers won 9-3, powered by CC's 5th complete game in his 9 starts with the Brewers. Based on this, and considering that he's now 8-0, it's understandable that he's become such a fan favorite in this town. I still find it questionable that he took the mound for the 9th, already sitting on 111 pitches and with the team leading 9-2. But, the fact that he's become quite the Milwaukee folk hero, and that there is actually talk of his MVP candidacy, is easily the story of this baseball season, in my opinion.

Baseball Lesson of the Day: With runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the 6th, J.J. Hardy struck out swinging, but the ball got away from Houston catcher Humberto Quintero. Both runners advanced, and Hardy ran to first, but the home plate umpire quickly indicated, correctly, that he was out. A father and son sitting next to me pondered this play. The father suggested to his son, "I think he can't go to first because of the runners, but I'm not sure". At that point, I turned to them and explained, "With two outs or less, and first base occupied, the batter is out". The father's reply, to his son, "See, you should listen to your dad more often".

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Up From the Valley (Part 2)

In the second installment of this series, I'm profiling three players who came up through the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization. They're all fairly established players who appear to have reached their major league ceilings.

The third, and final, installment will include a few potential future stars, who may be on their way to being considered the most successful players to pass through Hudson Valley.

Toby Hall (1997)Toby Hall
Toby Hall was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 1995, after playing junior college ball, but did not sign, opting instead to play at UNLV. Two years later, he was drafted and signed by Tampa Bay. He played 1997 for Hudson Valley, and began climbing the organization's ladder from there, until reaching the majors briefly in 2000.

Two years later, he became the Devil Rays regular catcher, a role he filled for 4+ years, before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the deal that brought Dioner Navarro to Tampa. In the off-season following the 2006 season, he signed with the Chicago White Sox and has been the backup to A.J. Pierzynski since.

His statistics are far from overwhelming, but in his time as Tampa Bay's starting catcher, he was an above average major league backstop, solid behind the plate and not a weak spot in the lineup. His career totals include a .263 batting average, with 45 home runs and 267 RBI in 2313 at bats. It seems as if his future is as a backup catcher, but his opportunity to be a starter again may not have completely passed him by just yet.

Dan Wheeler (1997)Dan Wheeler
Dan Wheeler was drafted by the Devil Rays in 1996, but did not sign until the following May. He played at Hudson Valley in 1997 and worked his way up through the system, as a starting pitcher, until reaching the majors in 1999. The next three seasons, he saw very limited major league action (70 IP total) while shuttling back and forth between Tampa Bay and the minors.

Wheeler was released by Tampa Bay in the off-season following 2001, but picked up by the Atlanta Braves. However, he spent the entire 2002 season at Richmond, Atlanta's AAA affiliate, and was subsequently released again.

The New York Mets signed him after his release by Atlanta, converting him to a reliever, and he spent most of the 2003 and 2004 seasons in the majors, before a late season trade to the Houston Astros. He enjoyed his most successful seasons as a mainstay in Houston's bullpen in 2005 (73 IP, 2.21 ERA, 3 Sv) and 2006 (71 IP, 2.52 ERA, 9 Sv). After struggling in 2007, Houston traded him back to Tampa Bay, where he's enjoyed a resurgence this year (52 IP, 2.61 ERA, 4 Sv).

Now in his 9th major league season, Wheeler has developed into a dependable setup reliever and his career numbers are solid, as he's posted a 3.93 ERA in 458 IP, with 404 strikeouts and 29 saves.

Jorge Cantu (1999)Jorge Cantu
Jorge Cantu was signed by the Devil Rays as an amateur free agent in 1998, at the age of 16. He played at Hudson Valley the following year, then steadily rose through the system, and was called up to the major leagues during the 2004 season. He batted .301 in 173 at bats, and the following season became a full-time player for Tampa Bay, due to the retirement of Roberto Alomar, playing significant time at both second base and third base.

Cantu quickly became a star in that first full season in the majors. He batted .286, with 28 HR and 117 RBI, and even received one 10th place vote in the MVP balloting. In 2006, he began the season as the everyday second baseman, but slumped to .249, with 14 HR and 62 RBI.

He failed to make the opening day roster in 2007, and was subsequently traded in mid-season to the Cincinnati Reds, where he was given minimal playing time before being released in the off-season. He was picked up by the Florida Marlins, and has enjoyed a return to form in 2008, batting .282 with 21 HR and 68 RBI, as the surprising Marlins contend in the NL East.

At age 26, and in his fifth season in the majors, Cantu appears to have a bright future. Whether he'll fully realize the potential that was on display in his 2004 season remains to be seen, but his career numbers of .276, 66 HR, 277 RBI and 220 runs indicate that he should enjoy a productive career for years to come.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Frequent Spins (2008.6)

A somewhat abbreviated installment of Frequent Spins this time around, but at least it hasn't been 2 1/2 months between entries.

Asia - Phoenix
This album falls somewhere closer in quality to their sophomore album, Alpha, than to the much more satisfying self-titled debut. But, it also so perfectly combines progressive/arena rock with what I'm hearing as a hint of America-inspired soft rock, that it's almost brilliant. Ok, maybe that's a stretch. But, considering my recent inclination towards prog, you had to figure something new along these lines was going to catch my ear. Call it a guilty pleasure or whatever, but I've been enjoying this album, the first in 25 years by the band's original lineup of John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes.

The Baseball Project - Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails
Of course, I've already written about this one. Check out my August 6 post, Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails.

Brendan Canning [Broken Social Scene Presents] - Something For All of Us
My biggest complaint with this one is, do I file it under Broken Social Scene or Brendan Canning? Well, since I've taken to sorting my electronic music files in the same alphabetical order that Windows Explorer does (i.e. by first name in the case of solo artists), the difference isn't that dramatic. This album could very well be, to the BSS Presents series, what Ace Frehley's contribution was to the Kiss "solo" albums.

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
It's been written that The Hold Steady have lost a bit of their edge, and seem to have achieved their ambition of becoming a full-fledged arena rock band. I'm not sure I quite see this. Yes, the songs on Stay Positive are a little less edgy, the album title being kind of a testament to that. True, Craig Finn strays from his standard formula of weaving third-person tales about characters named Charlemagne, Hallelujah and Gideon. Regardless, while this record doesn't quite approach the brilliance of Boys and Girls in America, or even Separation Sunday for that matter, the quality of the tunes remains strong, although maybe they've reached a point where they're not as refreshing an indie take on classic rock as they used to be.

Paul Westerberg - 49:00
The title of this home-made recording has several meanings. It's intended to mark Westerberg's 49th birthday, is available online only for 49 cents (although Amazon is said to be the only outlet that's agreed to offer it at that price), and it was released on July 19th, also known, in Paul's strange world, as June 49th. You would think that it also means that it's exactly 49 minutes long, but this is not the case. It's actually one track, lasting 43 minutes and 55 seconds. The production is intentionally poor, songs weave in and out and overlay each other, and chaos generally abounds. But, it's just the kind of chaos that defines him and makes Westerberg so lovable.

Also spin-worthy
Nat Baldwin - Most Valuable Player
Aimee Mann - @#%&*! Smilers

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Miller to Busch and In-Between

I'm definitely not talking about beer here. In fact, my challenge will be to find good beer on my trip when half the parks I'm going to are owned by two of the three largest brewers of swill in this country. I didn't even think of how significant it would be to add Coors Field to the itinerary. My point is that the first park I'll visit is Miller Park in Milwaukee and the last will be Busch Stadium in St. Louis. I will not go on any brewery tours of Miller or Anheuser Busch, although I did visit the latter almost 20 years ago.

Here's my itinerary as it stands now (all times Central). I'll be at Miller Park on Monday, August 18, for a 7:05 PM contest between the Brewers and the Houston Astros. As of now, it's lining up for a C.C. Sabathia-pitched affair. It's 5 1/2 hours from Milwaukee to Minneapolis, so I haven't yet decided if I'll make it for the following night's game between the Twins and the Oakland Athletics (7:10 PM) or instead opt for Wednesday, August 20 at 12:10 PM. The way it looks now, if I choose the latter, I may get to see a Francisco Liriano start.

Negro Leagues Baseball MuseumFrom there, it's off to Kansas City, 6 1/2 hours from Minneapolis. I have tickets for Friday night's game, August 22 at 7:10PM, between the Royals and the Detroit Tigers, so there shouldn't be any problem fitting in a visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and maybe even a side trip to Nebraska on the way.

Why the possible side trip to Nebraska? Well, I've traveled to 40 of the 50 states in the union. In addition to Nebraska, I've yet to visit Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. So, I figured I could very easily hit my 41st state. Oklahoma and Arkansas also aren't far from Kansas City, but time might not permit me to get down there. To legitimately add a state to my list, I've decided that I have to do a little more than just drive into and out of the state, which admittedly I did with Kentucky when I was on a temporary work assignment in Charleston, West Virginia in the early 90's. The year before last, when I traveled to Alabama (state #39) for a week of training for my current job, I drove to Mississippi (state #40) and had lunch, which would satisfy my minimum requirement.

My final game will be Saturday, August 23, the Fox game of the week matchup between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, at 2:55 PM. Hopefully, I won't get ridiculed too badly for wearing my St. Louis Browns hat.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Up From the Valley (Part 1)

My Dad has been a season ticket holder of the Hudson Valley Renegades almost since their inception. Actually, he attended the first game ever, and most every game in their inaugural season of 1994, but didn't purchase season tickets until the following year. He keeps score of every game he attends, and frequently verifies his scoring decisions versus the box score in the following day's Poughkeepsie Journal. Yes, he's almost as ridiculous a baseball nut as I am, and maybe even more fanatical in certain ways.

The Renegades actually relocated from Erie, Pennsylvania to Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls, New York for the 1994 season, but as far as I'm concerned, their history began in that first year in Dutchess County. They were originally the Texas Rangers' Class A short-season affiliate, until the 1996 season, when they became a shared team between the Rangers and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Since 1997, though, they've been strictly the property of Tampa Bay.

As I was visiting my Dad last weekend, I came up with the idea to create a list of the ten most successful major league players who came through Hudson Valley. Now, we all know that the Devil Rays (or the Rays, as they're currently known) have had some tremendous young players come through their farm system. Unfortunately, because short-season A-ball is such a low level, most of them have skipped the Valley. Players who were drafted by the Rays, but never played for the Renegades, include Aubrey Huff, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, and Elijah Dukes.

I'm going to do this in three parts, profiling 3-4 players in each installment. I'll present the list in chronological order, with the first part representing the Texas era, while the second and third parts will be exclusive to players drafted by Tampa Bay. In parentheses next to each player's name is the year he was in Hudson Valley.

Scott Podsednik (1995)Scott Podsednik
Scott Podsednik was drafted by the Rangers in 1994, playing for their Gulf Coast affiliate that year and Hudson Valley the next, before being traded to the Florida Marlins. After playing two seasons in the Marlins organization, he was re-acquired by Texas, where he spent three more minor league seasons before being signed, as a free agent, by the Seattle Mariners. He made his major league debut for the Mariners in 2001, but didn't really make a splash until 2003, when he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting after being claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Podsednik lead the majors in stolen bases with 70 in 2004, before the Brewers traded him to the Chicago White Sox. In 2005, he became the first former Renegade to play for a World Series champion. After four full seasons as a solid everyday left fielder and leadoff hitter from 2003 to 2006, Scott's playing time has dropped off considerably over the last two years. He is currently a reserve outfielder, although on the disabled list, for the Colorado Rockies.

In parts of eight major league seasons, Podsednik has batted .272, with 404 runs scored and 234 stolen bases, the latter two numbers leading all former Renegades. He made the American League All-Star team in 2005 and finished 12th in the MVP voting that year. He remains, at least for now, possibly the most successful Major League position player in Hudson Valley Renegades history.

Ryan Dempster (1995)Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster was drafted by the Rangers in 1995, and pitched only one game for Hudson Valley that year, after spending a little time with Texas' Gulf Coast affiliate. He was promoted to Charleston the following season, before being traded to the Marlins. He made his major league debut with Florida in 1998, and had his best season as a starting pitcher in 2000, going 14-10, with a 3.66 ERA in 226 innings. He went 15-12 the following year, but his ERA ballooned to 4.94, and in 2002, the Marlins shipped him to Cincinnati.

His career appeared to be nearing an end at just 26, when the Reds released him while he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, following the 2003 season. He signed with the Chicago Cubs in the off-season, who converted him to the bullpen following his return from surgery in late 2004. The transition was a successful one, as he recorded 33 saves to go with a 3.13 ERA the following year. But, after two sub-par seasons, during which he struggled to hold onto the closer's role, the Cubs switched him back to the rotation for the start of the 2008 season.

That turned out to be another wise move, as he's parlayed the switch into an all-star game appearance this year, and is an integral part of a strong Cubs staff that has the team in first place in the NL Central. He currently has a 12-5 record with a 2.93 ERA, and 133 strikeouts in 150 innings pitched. His career marks of 71 wins and 87 saves are tops among Renegades alumni.

Craig Monroe (1996)
Craig MonroeCraig Monroe was drafted by the Rangers in 1995 and spent only part of the 1996 season in Hudson Valley, before being promoted to Charleston. He spent the next four seasons climbing Texas' minor league ladder before making his major league debut in 2001. After only 52 major league at bats, Texas released him and he was picked up by Detroit in the off-season.

Monroe enjoyed four solid seasons as a mostly everyday outfielder for the Tigers from 2003 to 2006, hitting at least 18 home runs and driving in at least 70 runs in each, and playing in the World Series in 2006. 2007 saw a drop-off in performance, then a trade to the Chicago Cubs. He was picked up by Minnesota in the off-season, but was released by the Twins this past week. Having cleared waivers, he is currently unemployed, but should find his way back to the majors after the September 1 roster expansions. He currently leads all ex-Renegades in major league home runs (112) and RBI (417).

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Yankees for Life?

In a July issue of USA Today Sports Weekly, there was an article that discussed who is the greatest living Yankee, a distinction that Joe DiMaggio used to insist be attached to his name. Since DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle are no longer alive, the torch seems to have been passed to Yogi Berra, with Whitey Ford a close second.

I tried to make such a list myself, and I did actually post one on Amazon's Unspun. Interestingly enough, now that others have contributed to the list that I created, Ron Guidry has moved ahead of Whitey Ford in the rankings. Now, I love Ron Guidry. In fact, he's my favorite Yankee from my childhood, evidenced by the fact that I once made a t-shirt by writing "Louisiana Lightning" on the front and "49" on the back of a white undershirt in black permanent marker. But, even I understand that Ron Guidry's career pales in comparison to Whitey Ford's.

Regardless, the list was difficult to make because it's hard to compare Reggie Jackson's 5 years to Don Mattingly's 14, for instance. So, I decided to go with a slightly different spin on that list here. I've ranked the top ten greatest career Yankees who are still living, the list being exclusive to players who spent their entire careers with the Bronx Bombers. I did, however, make one exception. Yogi Berra finished his career with 9 at-bats as a player-coach for the Mets in 1965, after he was fired as manager of the Yankees following 1964's World Series loss to the Cardinals. I decided to overlook this ill-fated return to the playing field, and allow Yogi to take his rightful place at the top of this list.

Yogi Berra1. Yogi Berra (1946-1963)
2. Whitey Ford (1950-1967)

Yogi and Whitey are the obvious choices, being the Yankees' only two Hall of Famers who qualify for this list. I put Yogi ahead of Whitey, as do most people, but the Chairman of the Board's place in the discussion of the greatest left-handed pitchers in baseball history can't be overlooked.

3. Derek Jeter (1995- )
4. Mariano Rivera (1995- )

Inarguably the two most important players in the Yankees' 1996-2000 run of 4 World Series championships in 5 years. I give Jeter the edge, as the Captain, and an everyday player who certainly has had his share of clutch moments. Howeever, I do acknowledge that being considered the all-time greatest at your position could be considered a strong argument for moving Rivera up on the list.

Bernie Williams5. Bernie Williams (1991-2006)
6. Don Mattingly (1982-1995)

Interestingly enough, Bernie Williams was barely mentioned in the article referenced above, while Mattingly was on the list of players who could make a case for the Greatest Living Yankee moniker. Bernie played a little longer than Donnie Baseball, but his cumulative numbers (runs, RBI, home runs) would be better even if he hadn't. Mattingly has the batting average edge (.307 to .297), but Williams more than makes up for that in the OBP department (.381 to .358). Mattingly may have won nine Gold Gloves to Williams' four, but Bernie played a more important defensive position, and, of course, played on four World Champions.

7. Ron Guidry (1975-1988)
8. Jorge Posada (1995- )

Guidry is kind of the Mattingly of Yankee pitchers, except in addition to flaming out a little early, he was also a late bloomer. He actually had his second best year in 1985, at age 34, finishing second in the Cy Young voting to Bret Saberhagen. If he had won that award, and not tailed off after that, he may have been a more serious Hall of Fame candidate. Still, he was pretty terrific in his prime, and I don't think I've ever seen a better season by a starting pitcher than his 1978.

What can I say about Jorge Posada, other than to call him another core member of the most recent Yankees' dynasty? It's also quite interesting that he, Jeter and Mo all made their major league debuts in the same year.

Roy White9. Mel Stottlemyre (1964-1974)
10. Roy White (1965-1979)

A couple guys who could easily be forgotten here. All Mel Stottlemyre did was compile a 164-139 career record, with a 2.97 ERA in 2661 innings, for some of the worst Yankees teams in recent memory.

Roy White was a little luckier, having stuck around long enough for some late 70's glory. He put together a pretty good 15-year career, in which he accumulated 1804 hits, 964 runs, 160 home runs, 758 RBI and 233 stolen bases.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails

I may have discovered the soundtrack to my upcoming trip. Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey, with help from Peter Buck, have collaborated on a funny, sarcastic, reverent and, most importantly, entertaining tribute to the best game ever. They're calling themselves The Baseball Project, and the album is titled, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails.

For those of you who don't know, frozen rope and dying quail pretty much represent opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of base hits. A frozen rope, of course, is a hard line drive, while a dying quail is a popup that fortuitously drops in for a hit. Most of the songs on this hook laden roots-rock album, which name-checks hundreds of current and former players, are frozen ropes, though.

Oscar GambleOf course, there are references to a few bands as well, including Yo La Tengo, which is Spanish for the important phrase of on-field communication, "I Got It", and was apparently inspired by the futility of the 1962 Mets. Highlights include the album opening "Past Time", which offers a nod to, among other things, Joe Pepitone's sideburns and Oscar Gamble's afro. "Gratitude (For Curt Flood)" is a tribute to the oft-forgotten player who challenged baseball's reserve clause in 1969 by refusing to accept a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. "Long Before My Time" discusses the age-old dilemma of whether it's better for a player to go out on top or stick around as long as his skills will allow, even if he's a shell of his former self. "The Yankee Flipper" discusses the unfortunate antics of pitcher/rocker, and friend of the band, Jack McDowell.

Harvey HaddixFinally, "Harvey Haddix" is a wonderful tribute to arguably the finest and definitely the most under-appreciated pitching performance in baseball history. On May 26, 1959, Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings in a scoreless tie between his Pittsburgh Pirates and the Milwaukee Braves, only to lose the game in the 13th on an unearned run that scored as a result of the first hit he allowed.

This one is highly recommended to anyone whose adoration for rootsy indie rock is outweighed only by his/her fanaticism for America's Pastime. I look forward to listening to it while driving from Milwaukee to Minneapolis or Kansas City to St. Louis, and, since the title includes the Volume 1 distinction, I highly anticipate the next installment.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Midwestern Baseball Trek

It's hard to believe it was four years ago that I last went on a true baseball park trip, visiting five stadiums I had never been to: Jacobs Field (now called Progressive Field) in Cleveland, Comerica Park in Detroit, Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, and PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Following that trip, I had visited a total of 23 Major League parks, including 16 of the current 30. I set a goal after that to increase my total by at least one a year, until eventually I had visited them all. The trick would be that, in a year that a stadium closes, I would have to notch two new ones in order to keep up the pace.

Well, in the three seasons that have passed since, I've been to a total of zero new parks, while one of my 16, the old Busch Stadium, closed. So, now I'm down to 15. In a couple weeks, though, I'm going to hit four new ones: Miller Park in Milwaukee, the Metrodome in Minnesota, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, and the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. This will bring my current total to 19, essentially making up for my three idle years.

Next year, however, I'll have to hit three new ones, as both Shea and Yankee Stadiums are closing their doors. These shouldn't be too difficult to make up, though.

While I'm on the subject, here are the lists of current and closed stadiums I've attended games at. I actually had to look up several of the current ones to learn what their corporate sponsors of the moment are.

Fenway Park (Boston)
Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees)
Shea Stadium (New York Mets)
Camden Yards (Baltimore)
Rogers Centre (Toronto)
PNC Park (Pittsburgh)
Progressive Field (Cleveland)
Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati)
Comerica Park (Detroit)
Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)
U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox)
Safeco Field (Seattle)
McAfee Coliseum (Oakland)
AT&T Park (San Francisco)
Chase Field (Arizona)

Veterans Stadium (Philadelphia)
Memorial Stadium (Baltimore)
Three Rivers Stadium (Pittsburgh)
Municipal Stadium (Cleveland)
Comiskey Park (Chicago White Sox)
County Stadium (Milwaukee)
Busch Stadium (St. Louis)
Candlestick Park (San Francisco)

For my upcoming trip, I've purchased advanced tickets for three of the four games so far. Minnesota is the game I don't have tickets for yet, but they're not in much danger of selling out. It was asked of me, what happens if a game gets rained out? The answer is, I'm pretty much out of luck, but fortunately Milwaukee has a retractable roof and Minnesota is a dome. I have been lucky that none of my past efforts to expand my ballpark horizons have been rained on. So, I'll simply have to pray for Missouri to show me some good weather.

More to come on this one...