Archive for the ‘In The Show’ Category

Bus Leagues Road Trip: PNC Park, Part Deux

Just over two months after my first visit to western Pennsylvania with my brother Tim and two friends, I went back to the Keystone State, this time with my wife. Our anniversary was Friday, we both had a three-day weekend for Labor Day, and the free Pirates tickets I won in June were burning a hole in my pocket, so we each took a couple extra days off and planned a trip. She originally wanted to go to Amish country and see the sights, but I vetoed that plan as too expensive. So she opted for Plan B: two nights in Philadelphia, followed by a trip to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates.

Now, we try to keep it loose around here when it comes to the topics we cover. Generally, if something is even tangentially related to minor league baseball, it has a shot. But I’m pretty sure that there is no possible way to connect our time in the City of Brotherly Love, which was mostly spent touring historic sites, to the Bus Leagues. So I’m not going to bore you with those stories.

Okay, I’m not going to bore you much.

In fact, I’ll just do bullet points on some of the interesting stuff so we can get through this quickly and get to the Pirates stuff. I know that’s what you care about.

— We played it by ear in terms of a departure time and didn’t get on the road until about noon on Friday. Little did we realize at the time that our route, as planned by VZ Navigator, took us through the Bronx. We hit New York at about 4:30, just in time for bumper-to-bumper, Friday afternoon, rush hour traffic. Never again, I tell you. Never again.

— To get to our hotel in Philadelphia, we had to drive down a cobblestone road. My wife thought this was the coolest thing ever; all I could think of was the fact that parts were probably falling off the car from all the shaking.

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— I come from a small town of about 5,000 people and have never lived in a city with a population of more than 90,000. Let’s just say that Philadelphia (population 1.4 million, plus tourists) was just a bit overwhelming, even for a short stay.  Big city living is definitely not for me.

— We ate dinner at the Hard Rock Café on Saturday night and were served by a waiter who resembled, in spirit if not in looks, Vince from “Employee of the Month.” It’s like he watched the movie and decided, “You know, that dude has it together. I’m gonna act like that from now on.” I bet he drives an ’81 Honda.

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— If you go to Philly for the historic attractions, make sure to visit the National Constitution Center first, then move on to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. We did it the other way around, and while Independence Hall was amazing, the NCC was the place that really got me fired up with some good old-fashioned, “Proud to be an American” feelings. It would’ve been awesome to bring that patriotism into Independence Hall with me, rather than going in right off the street.

— I loved the interactive nature of the displays in the NCC, but two things rubbed me the wrong way: one, some of the information needed to be proofread: New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s first name was misspelled in one area, and another exhibit featured an apocryphal story about Muhammad Ali throwing his Olympic medal in the river after being denied service at a restaurant (pretty sure that story was made up at the time and has since been proven false); and two, no pictures allowed, which was too bad because there was an absolutely outstanding exhibit featuring statues of Declaration of Independence signers. (I did make my wife turn on the camera to snap the picture you see above; it was just too cool.)

— Didn’t get to see the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Second Bank of the United States (a pity, since it was right across the street from our hotel), or Citizens Bank Park. Maybe next time. I did, however, get pictures of the Rocky statue and the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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And that, friends, was Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania Pictures 174We left the Omni Hotel early on Sunday morning and proceeded west on I-76. The nice thing was that we were on 76 for 270 miles, which was good because I hate having to worry about changing roadways and which lane am I supposed to be in and that type of stuff. On the other hand, it sucked because we were on 76 for 270 miles. That’s almost five hours. And there were tunnels.

Pennsylvania Pictures 165(They have signs leading up to the tunnels to prepare travelers for entry. One of them said, “Remove Sunglasses,” which made sense to me because you don’t want drivers wearing shades inside a dark tunnel. My wife didn’t see it that way, instead taking it as a sign that the state of Pennsylvania was trying to impede here personal freedoms, which led to her yelling loudly at one point, “Stop telling me what to do, Pennsylvania!”)

We got to Pittsburgh at about noon, parked at our hotel right across the street from PNC Park, and walked over to take a look around before the 1:30 game. From reading up online, I realized that there were a bunch of things we had missed in June and I wanted to make sure I saw them on this trip. The highest priorities were the statues of Willie Stargell and Honus Wagner. We’d seen Roberto Clemente’s outside the centerfield gates, but had never crossed paths with Pops and Hans. Also, there was supposedly a statue of Ralph Kiner inside, just outside Section 135. This would have been really cool to see, if we could have found Section 135. Alas, Kiner was not meant to be.

What we did see as we came through the gate on the third base side was even Pennsylvania Pictures 208cooler.  We had been unable to find Stargell and Wagner right away, which was sort of disappointing.  Immediately inside the gate, however, was a statue of Josh Gibson.  Further investigation revealed more Negro League greats – Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, Satchel Paige.  It was unexpected because nothing I had read had mentioned this area, but I wasn’t complaining.  Just one more thing that the people who designed PNC Park did right.

On our way up to our seats, we saw the famous prize wheel that was really the reason we were there in the first place.  My wife wanted to take her chances at winning a visor, so of course we waited in line to spin it again.  She didn’t get what she wanted – it landed on a Willie Stargell plate (with a sticker on it that says it may be poisonous to food).  For my turn, I gave it a whirl…and ended up on the square for free tickets.  There’s no way I’m traveling from Pittsburgh to New Hampshire three times in less than three months, so…somebody else will get to enjoy a Pirates game this month.  Two’s my limit.

Our seats for this game were in the infield grandstand, on the 300-level, which provided an even better view than I could have imagined:

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If someone wants me to believe that this is not the most beautiful ballpark in America, they’re going to have to convince me.  Outstanding.

Also outstanding was the way St. Louis centerfielder Colby Rasmus covered all that ground out there.  I know ballpark crowds aren’t the best judge of fly ball depth, but there were at least three or four times where a batter hit one deep, a roar went up from the crowd, and Rasmus just cruised back and handled the play effortlessly.  He also came very close to throwing a runner out at the plate, playing a line drive in front of him and uncorking a great throw that was just a second or two late.

Rasmus’s counterpart and fellow top prospect-turned-rookie Andrew McCutchen had a good day as well, finishing 2-5 with two runs scored and coming about as close as Rasmus to gunning someone down at home.  He was also one of the players featured in a video Q&A on the scoreboard in between innings.  The question was, “What would you do if you were president?”  A few different players gave the usual answers – “lower taxes” is the one I remember – but McCutchen got on the screen and started laughing.  “Oh, man,” he said,” Can I just sit back in the Oval Office, put my hands back, be like, man, president.”

I think Andrew McCutchen might be awesome.

Oh, and one of those runs?  The game-winner, scored when he came around from second on Garrett Jones’ drive into the left-center field gap with one out in the bottom of the ninth, a ball that Rasmus wasn’t able to outrun.  McCutchen crossed the plate with the Pirates’ second run of the inning, erasing a lead the Cardinals had gained on a Rick Ankiel homer in the top half, and immediately impressed me again when he led the charge to meet and celebrate Jones near second base.

I think Andrew McCutchen might be one of my favorite players.

The Pirates had lost eight straight leading up to that game and were merely postponing the loss that would give them a record seventeenth consecutive losing season, but for that moment, they might as well have been Little Leaguers celebrating after a big, well-earned win.  It was nice to see them display such heart in a game that meant relatively nothing in the grand scheme of things.

A few other notes from the game: Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass started throwing hats from the booth into the stands late in the game – a lady in the row behind me dove for one, missed, and I had to catch her; Neil Walker picked up his first major league hit in the eighth inning; my wife got a sunburn – on one side of her body; I’ve seen the Pirates play twice this year, and Paul Maholm has started both games.

On our way out, I took a few more pictures of the Negro League statues (it had been too sunny earlier to get good ones) before we went out the left field gate to see the Willie Stargell statue.  It was just as impressive as Clemente (which we saw from a distance but didn’t visit up close):

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I tried to get a picture of just the statue, but it was a madhouse.  Even while these kids were posing, a father was getting ready to jump in and take a picture with his daughter.  So, I get a picture of Pops with a couple of random kids.

After I took my pictures, we walked the hundred yards back to our hotel to relax for awhile before going out for dinner and finding the Wagner statue.  We decided to go to Jerome Bettis Grille 36, mainly because it was within easy walking distance.

We had to wait for about fifteen minutes for a table, but it was well worth it.  The waiter was friendly, the food delicious, and the atmosphere good.  As my wife said, “I like that it’s Jerome Bettis’ place, but it’s not like, ‘Look at me, look at me.’  It’s not showy.”  And it was inexpensive, too, which was a big deal because cash was running low by that point.  The only thing I noticed that might be worth criticizing was the service – a table of six people next to us had their food brought out over a period of about ten minutes, so some people were eating while others sat and watched.  Our waiter said that when it gets really busy, the kitchen can have a hard time keeping up.  Really, though, the food was so good that it didn’t matter.  I would’ve waited.

On our way back to the hotel, we asked a guy at a valet booth about the remains of Three Rivers Stadium.  He pointed back in the direction from which we had come, where Heinz Field loomed, and said, “Well, there’s that parking lot over there, and they left up one of the gates.”  He went on to tell us a little bit about the demolition – Heinz Field was built so close that they had to take special precautions when Three Rivers came down – and answered a question I had about Forbes Field (home plate is still located in one of the buildings on Pitt’s campus), and we were on our way again.

And then, finally, Honus Wagner.  He was literally parked right in front of the main entrance to the ballpark, smaller than the other two but higher because he is on a pedestal.  The picture came out a little darker than I would’ve liked, but tell me this doesn’t look cool:

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With that, the sightseeing portion of our trip essentially came to a close.  We went back to the hotel, passed out by 9:30, and slept for about nine hours in preparation for the ten hour drive home on Monday.  It was a long drive, fortunately light on traffic (we specifically avoided New York City and its traffic), and absolutely nothing of note happened.

The end.

What’s This – A Contest?

Well, sort of.

My wife and I went on a trip to Pennsylvania this weekend, making stops in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  I’ll have much more from the stop in Pittsburgh, including words AND pictures, but for now, let’s just leave it at this: we signed up to spin the prize wheel again and I won free tickets.  Again.

(Well, the slip says, “Discounted tickets”, but when I went on the web site to check, it said they were complimentary.  They’re probably free but upgradeable for a few dollars. Just my disclaimer.)

Unfortunately for me, I don’t think I’m going to get to Pittsburgh again before the last home game on September 28.  Fortunately for you, the readers, I’m offering them to you.  All you have to do is be the first to send me an email at onemoredyingquail@gmail.com.  My wife and I are traveling home today, so I’ll send the web site and entry code to the winner later on tonight.

The winner will also have the chance to write a post for Bus Leagues about their experience.

Just for reference, here are the remaining games on the Pirates schedule (all promotions except tomorrow’s are listed on the team’s pocket schedules and subject to change; news of tomorrow’s promo was brought to us by bobblehead guru Eric M:

Tuesday, 9/8/09 vs. Chicago – 7:05 – Arnold Palmer Bobblehead giveaway
Wednesday, 9/9/09 vs. Chicago – 12:35 – Pirates Alumni Autographs
Friday, 9/18/09 vs. San Diego – 7:05 – Pirates Fleece Blanket
Saturday, 9/19/09 vs. San Diego – 12:35 – Pirates Gold Cap
Sunday, 9/20/09 vs. San Diego – 1:35 – Kids Day (Pirate Parrot Build-A-Bear Workshop Day)
Monday, 9/21/09 vs. San Diego – 7:05
Tuesday, 9/22/09 vs. Cincinnati – 7:05
Wednesday, 9/23/09 vs. Cincinnati – 7:05
Thursday, 9/24/09 vs. Cincinnati – 12:35 – Pirates T-Shirt Thursday
Friday, 9/25/09 vs. Los Angeles – 7:05 – Fans Vote Bobblehead
Saturday, 9/26/09 vs. Los Angeles – 7:05 – Skyblast III featuring Zambelli Fireworks and Foreigner in concert
Sunday, 9/27/09 vs. Los Angeles – 1:35 – Fan Appreciation Day
Monday, 9/28/09 vs. Los Angeles – 12:35 – 2010 Magnetic Schedule/Pirates Alumni Autographs

Sometimes? Redemption is not only three fights away…

I am in a bad spot at fantasy baseball. I am one of the lesser lights of the 30-team 34-man rostered league of legends known only as Lozoball. And as such? The Padres debuting starter had an interest for me today.

Now I know starting a story based on Fantasy Baseball is a dark and dangerous path. But as context goes? It’s what got me interested in the Padres starter making his debut. I mean, while the baseball literati would say there is no such thing as a pitching prospect, there are some who would say that once you show a skill, you don’t lose it.

And as such, when Cesar Carrillo, the 2006 #1 prospect for the San Diego Padres at long last made his big league debut after two lost seasons, was somebody that I was interested in seeing.

See, Carillo was the #2 prospect going into 2007. He hit Triple-A that season, for 2 and 2/3 innings. Before he complained of elbow tightness. And some genius (or in hindsight, “genius”) said that rest was going to be the elixir that would save the day. It wasn’t. I mean, his elbow was the elbow of a college pitcher.

So one Tommy John later? And we have someone who hasn’t exactly shown the best of skills in the minors on his returns. But somebody’s got to pitch for the majors. And Carillo got his turn. And got lit up. 8 runs, 4 hits, 3 dingers.

Sometimes, the light of hope does not shine. TJ’s usually not a career killer. But what he needs is something that the Padres can’t give him.

Why Don’t More Teams Hold Minor League Games At Major League Parks?

I’m not sure how common things like the “Futures at Fenway” and “Road to Wrigley” games are, but they’re the kind of events I would like to see major league teams sponsor more often.

What’s not to like?

–Players get the chance to ply their trade on a major league field.  For some guys, the prospects, it might be their first opportunity to check out the on-field atmosphere in the big leagues; for the guys that won’t quite make it that far, it’s a nice story just to be able to say they played in a major league park.

–Front offices get to see how some of the organization’s best players respond to the pressure of playing in front of larger crowds than they will see in the minor leagues.  More than 30,000 people were at Fenway on Saturday; you think Theo Epstein and Andy MacPhail weren’t keeping an eye on Lars Anderson and Jake Arrieta to see if they maintained their composure? (Official attendance for both games was about 16,000, but I’ve seen that 30,000 mentioned in more than one place.)

–Fans get the opportunity to visit a major league ballpark for slightly more than minor league prices, but certainly not major league prices.  I went to the Cape Cod League All-Star Game at Fenway a few weeks ago and it was amazing.  Not that I remember much of what happened (it was raining; the game was called after the top of the fifth) – it was just awesome to be sitting in great seats at Fenway Park for just $10.

Maybe the Red Sox and Cubs are special cases given the historic nature of the ballparks in which they play, but I’m not so sure.  I’d be willing to bet that many fans would be willing to spend up to ten dollars to see the future of their franchises in action in a major league ballpark.

Now Batting For The Baltimore Orioles…

Remember what I said before, when the Orioles called up Chris Tillman to make his major league debut?  I’m gonna go ahead and stand by those thoughts, because Brian Matusz has arrived.

Baltimore’s first round pick in the 2008 draft, Matusz  ate up the bus leagues this season.  He started out with the Frederick Keys in the Carolina League before a 4-2 record, 2.16 ERA, and 75 strikeouts in 66.2 innings convinced somebody that maybe he should be testing himself against stiffer competition.  So it was on to the Eastern League with the Bowie BaySox, where he only went 7-0, 1.55 ERA, 46 strikeouts in 46.1 innings, and allowed the league to hit .189 against him.  The only start he didn’t win was his last one, on August 1, when he was pulled after just an inning.

Totals between the two levels: 11-2, 1.91 ERA, 121 strikeouts in 113 innings.  I’d say he was ready for The Show.

Now Pitching For The Colorado Rockies…

The first “Now Pitching For” in forever, and I’m like four days late on it.  That’s how I roll.

Jhoulys Chacin burst onto our radar last season when he went a combined 18-3 with a 2.03 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 177.2 innings for Modesto and Asheville.  His performance earned him a coveted spot on the Z-Meter last May, and he hasn’t left since.  Well, until now, but this is like graduation day, really.

Chacin’s walks were up and his strikeouts were down at AA Tulsa this season, but that didn’t stop the Rockies from calling him up on Friday to take the place of reliever Ryan Speier, who was designated for assignment.  He made his major league debut on Saturday, pitching the ninth in an 8-2 Rockies win over San Francisco.  He walked one, threw a wild pitch, and struck out two.

The All-Golden Spikes Award Team

Thirty-two players have won the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best amateur player.  As luck would have it, that’s just about enough to put together a full team (thanks to Khalil Greene and Rickie Weeks, the only middle infielders who have won) – lineup, rotation, bullpen, and bench.  They even have a manager. It’s very exciting.

Before moving on, feel free to tip your cap to the six guys who didn’t quite make it: Alex Gordon (2005), Kip Bouknight (2000), Travis Lee (1996), Mike Kelly (1991), Augie Schmidt (1982), and Mike Fuentes (1981).  We hardly knew ye.

Starting Lineup

C: Jason Varitek, Georgia Tech (1994)
1B: Will Clark, Mississippi State (1985)
2B: Rickie Weeks, Southern University (2003)
SS: Khalil Greene, Clemson (2002)
3B: Bob Horner, Arizona State (1978)

OF: J.D. Drew, Florida State (1997)
OF: Pat Burrell, Miami (1998)
OF: Oddibe McDowell, Arizona State (1984)

DH: Robin Ventura, Oklahoma State (1988)

Starting Rotation
SP: Tim Lincecum, Washington (2006)
SP: Jered Weaver, Cal State-Long Beach (2004)
SP: Stephen Strasburg, San Diego State (2009)
SP: Alex Fernandez, Miami (1990)
SP: Ben McDonald, Louisiana State (1989)

Bullpen
RP: Mike Loynd, Florida State (1986)
RP: Jim Abbott, Michigan (1987)
RP: Mark Prior, Southern Cal (2001)
RP: Jason Jennings, Baylor (1999)
RP: Darren Dreifort, Wichita State (1993)
CL: David Price, Vanderbilt (2007)

Bench
C: Buster Posey, Florida State (2008)
INF: Dave Magadan, Alabama (1983)
INF: Tim Wallach, Cal State-Fullerton (1979)
OF: Mark Kotsay, Cal State-Fullerton (1995)
UT: Phil Nevin, Cal State-Fullerton (1992)

Manager: Terry Francona, Arizona (1980)