Game 20: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Ah yes. The final piece of the Ballpark Tour 2014 post series.

I was able to post about 27 of the 30 ballparks I visited in 2014. Three of them were just too much to write about in the moment: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I don’t have time right now to post a lengthy post game report as I did the others, but dragging/dropping my photos takes next to no time at all.

So here you go. My photo post from my trip to Baltimore.

Commencing photos now.

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My favorite ballpark. Amazing tour. Major rain delay. “Here we go, O’s” can sound remarkably like “Here we go, Royals” if you say it fast enough. We got free shirts.

-apc.

Game 17: Yankee Stadium

I posted in my book update that three ballparks along my tour were too meaty to do justice in a postgame blog. And while I didn’t have time to write about them then, it takes no time at all to upload a photo post from each of them. This is the first of those three. The other two are Fenway Park and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Commencing photos now.

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Still feels weird to look at myself wearing a Yankees cap. Stay tuned for more on my Yankee Stadium experience when the book comes out next year.

-apc.

Book Update

Can you believe it’s nearly baseball season?! I can’t. As much as I bemoan the winter months, I’m shocked at how quickly we’ve pushed through them. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp! It’s crazy how fast the offseason has blitzed by. It’s as if the 2014 MLB season lasted a month longer than normal here in KC…

Anyway. I want to update you all on where I am in terms of my book.

The writing is ongoing. I’ve had a couple setbacks, but I also seem to get more and more excited daily as my vision for this book has taken its final shape. Let’s start with the setbacks and end with the exciting bits.

The first bit of bad news is that my publisher went out of business. The House Studio was a part of the Nazarene Publishing House and had to close their doors at the beginning of December. I held out hope that they might re-form under a new group and retain my project, but alas, that’s not the case. So I’m back on the prowl for a publisher. I have a couple leads, and self-publishing is always a last resort option. I figure I’ll let that play out when I’ve completed my first draft and can submit it around to various publications. We’ll see what works out – this could end up being a good thing in the end. I’m hopeful.

The other bit of bad news is probably more neutral news. I’m in my final semester of classes in seminary and I’ve discovered that as my classes have gotten tougher, my workload has increased and my time to write a book on the side has decreased. The book has to take a backseat to my academics. Seminary is hard work. Imagine that. I call this “neutral news” because with every class I attend, book I read and paper I write I’m gaining more and more insight into themes this book will revolve around. So while it’s a slight delay in the writing process – I’m about 6 months behind schedule – it’s leading to better content on the back end, so I feel great about taking my time. I don’t want to throw together some sloppy piece of work. Writing is an extension of self, and I want something I’ll be proud of in the end, so bear with me!

Okay that’s the bad/neutral news.

Here’s the good news.

First, the ballpark tour was an incredible success. I had no rainouts or missed flights or delays in my schedule, which is a borderline miracle in itself. I’ve never experienced a busier, more exhausting or more exciting season of my life than the 2014 baseball season, and I have all of you to thank. I also got to share experiences with old friends and new friends across the nation (and Toronto!), which was an incredible blessing. I think a lot of my emotions surrounding the Royals’ World Series loss was due to the realization that not only was the season over, but it was the end of a long string of wonderful relational moments as well.

In the midst of my travels, I experienced how difficult it is to be a beat reporter in baseball. I was able to post 27 of the 30 blogs as I went along. The only three I couldn’t complete in time were the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles which felt too meaty to do justice in a quick postgame blog. They’ve been placed on the “you’ll have to wait till the book is out to read about those games” list.

Which brings me to my next piece of good news: my outline is finished and a handful of chapters have already been completed. My outline for the book consists of all 30 MLB ballparks and a spiritual insight discovered in each place…and an October Epilogue! When my classes wrap up in May, my writing calendar opens up completely to this project, which is going to be SO refreshing. A draft is due to my seminary by December in order to graduate next May, so I can pretty safely say that’s about when the book will end up coming out as well: Spring Training 2016.

So there you go. An update on where my project stands for those keeping track at home. Believe me, I wish I could get this out of my brain and into your hands sooner. Thanks for your patience and for your continued support!

-apc.

Ballpark Tour 2014: Panoramas

I took SO MANY panoramas in 2014! I took at least one – often dozens – at each ballpark on my Tour this season. This series marks the best of those panoramas at each game. They have all been amateurishly edited and cropped for consistency.

All in all, I’m very pleased with how these turned out. Again, something magical is happening in the Bay Area, or maybe that’s just where my pano skills reached pro form. I’m also pleased with the shots of Citizens Bank Park and US Cellular Field.

I am a bit disappointed with myself that I didn’t plan ahead better for this series. I could’ve taken them all from the same location in every park or at least waited until other fans arrived and the game was going on – I feel like about half of these feature the grounds crew. Oh well. Too late. Spilled milk.

In case you missed past posts – check out my original Tour Itinerary and the first draft of my Ballpark Rankingus. Might be worth the read if ballparks are your thing.

Okay, enough writing. You didn’t come here to read words, you came to look at photos which are with 1,000 words each. So here’s 30,000 words on the 30 MLB ballparks in order my visit starting with Cincinnati on Opening Day. Enjoy.

Note: the date/name goes with the pano below it. It gets confusing after a bit of scrolling.

March 31: Great American Ballpark – Cincinnati Reds

Great American Ballpark

April 4: Kauffman Stadium – Kansas City Royals

Kauffman Stadium

April 7: Busch Stadium – St. Louis Cardinals

Busch Stadium

April 13: Turner Field – Atlanta Braves

Turner Field

April 14: Globe Life Park at Arlington – Texas Rangers

Globe Life Park at Arlington

April 15: Minute Maid Park – Houston Astros

Minute Maid Park

April 16: Chase Field – Arizona Diamondbacks

Chase Field

April 17: PETCO Park – San Diego Padres

PETCO Park

May 8: Dodger Stadium – Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodger Stadium

May 9: Safeco Field – Seattle Mariners

Safeco Field

May 10: O.Co Coliseum – Oakland Athletics

O.Co Coliseum

May 12: AT&T Park – San Francisco Giants

AT&T Park

June 3: Coors Field – Colorado Rockies

Coors Field

June 11: Angel Stadium – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Angel Stadium

June 25: Citi Field – New York Mets

Citi Field

June 26: Citizens Bank Park – Philadelphia Phillies

Citizens Bank Park

June 27: Yankee Stadium – New York Yankees

Tankee Stadium

June 30: Fenway Park – Boston Red Sox

Fenway Park

July 1: Nationals Park – Washington Nationals

Nationals Park

July 2: Oriole Park at Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

August 6: US Cellular Field – Chicago White Sox

US Cellular Field

August 7: Miller Park – Milwaukee Brewers

Miller Park

August 7: Wrigley Field – Chicago Cubs

Wrigley Field

September 3: Target Field – Minnesota Twins

Target Field

September 17: Tropicana Field – Tampa Bay Rays

Tropicana Field

September 18: Marlins Park – Miami Marlins

Marlins Park

September 21: PNC Park – Pittsburgh Pirates

PNC Park

September 22: Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays

Rogers Centre

September 23: Comerica Park – Detroit Tigers

Comerica Park

September 24: Progressive Field – Cleveland Indians

Progressive Field

So many memories from a crazy summer. I’m excited to share them with you when my book comes out next year.

I’m trying to figure out what I should do with this collection beyond this post. Probably a coffee table book or something. Let me know what ideas you might have.

-apc.

APC’s MLB Ballpark Rankings

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After touring all 30 MLB ballparks this summer, I get asked almost daily which one was my favorite, and it’s always so difficult to say. I loved them all in one way or another. Even the ones at the bottom of the list had bright spots that I appreciated about them. Even Tampa.

Besides, how am I supposed to pick ONE favorite park? That’s like asking me to pick a favorite fruit or Jeff Goldblum* movie.

How does one compare Fenway Park and PNC Park? Or Safeco Field and Dodger Stadium? Or Marlins Park and US Cellular Field? These pairings have very little in common, but yet they each appear right next to one another on my initial rankings. Do I favor Boston’s history over Pittsburgh’s downtown vista? Do I favor Seattle’ retractable roof over LA’s classic 50’s flare? And how does one even attempt to compare Marlins Park to any other ballpark in the game, let alone perhaps the most basic concrete cookie-cutter park in existence?

Some gorgeous ballparks have terrible teams (San Diego or Colorado, for example) or lousy fans (New York or Los Angeles) while some really ugly ballparks field a championship contending team and have great fans (Oakland, for example).

It’s not an easy ranking to do, and the “right” answer isn’t immediately clear.

What was clear was that I was going to need to put together some sort of algorithm in order to effectively rank these ballparks. I needed to land on some systematic approach to ranking various categories from 1-30 and assign point values for each. I was also going to need to give certain categories more weight than others.

This is still all completely subjective, but it gives me a little bit more to lean on besides a purely arbitrary ranking. Here are the initial 5 categories that I’ve utilized to rank. I should add that this is NOT my “official” list – just a first attempt mock up. Here we go…

  • Ballpark Design (BD): 65% – This category should obviously hold the most weight, so I’ve given it nearly 2/3 of the score. This category includes architecture, views, features, and history. If you push me hard enough, I may pull out the history and re-rank with that as a separate category. We’ll see.
  • Surrounding Area (SA): 15% – If I learned one thing about ballparks this summer it’s this: the best ballparks are usually downtown, and they’re usually surrounded by some spectacular spots to hang out and grab some local food and a beer before or after the game. If it’s nothing but parking lot – the experience isn’t nearly as great. This category also includes transportation to and from the ballpark.
  • Gameplay (GP): 10% – I also acknowledge that my rankings are going to be based primarily on how much fun the single game I attended was. Rather than try to ignore this and eliminate the bias, I’m choosing to include it in my rankings. It’s not a significant percentage, but it’s enough to bump Oakland as high as #26.
  • Fan Rank (FR): 8% – Every city has diehard fans, but not all of them enhance the experience at the ballpark. This is probably the category that will get me the most flack.
  • Beer Rank (BR): 2% – The Washington Post did a survey on which ballparks had the best micro-brewery beer selection and ranked them 1-30. I haven’t tweaked these numbers at all, they’re directly from the article linked above. I’m not sure if 2% was enough to influence any one ballpark over another, but it’s a crucial part of the stadium experience.

I need to probably add a history, city, and food category, but this will suffice for now. Let me know what other ideas you have. For now, here’s what I ended up with for my initial results. First place received 30 points in each category. Last place received 1 point. I’ve broken it down into 7 tiers…

Tier 7: I Don’t Care If I Ever Get Back

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30. Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Rays – 2.55 (BD 1, SA 8, FR 2, GP 4, BR 7)

The only thing I liked about Tampa was the old man I kept score with during the last two innings who kept dropping f-bombs. He’s the only reason they didn’t finish dead last in Fan Rank.

29. Globe Life Park at Arlington, Texas Rangers – 3.91 (BD 3, SA 6, GP 1, FR 9, BR 12)

Freezing cold game. Rangers got pounded. No views. Like playing ball in an ugly castle courtyard.

28. Marlins Park, Miami Marlins – 5.97 (BD 6, SA 7, GP 3, FR 7, BR 8)

Modern design, unlike any others, but it just didn’t feel like baseball. The game was so boring that I left my seat to go find a TV with the K-State/Auburn game on it.

Tier 6: The Bronx Bummers

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27. US Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox – 7.25 (BD 4, SA 13, GP 14, FR 11, BR 21)

The last ballpark built in the concrete cookie-cutter era of park design. Very basic and unexciting. Good beer selection though and you can’t beat the L train dropping you off right by the park.

26. O.Co Coliseum, Oakland Athletics – 7.33 (BD 2, SA, 3, GP 30, FR 29, BR 13)

One of the ugliest ballparks in the game, and the only one that can really give The Trop a run for its money. This was the best game on the tour though – walk off double and on field fireworks after the game. Impressive tailgating and dedicated fans too.

25. Angels Stadium, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 8.28 (BD 11, SA 1, GP 2, FR 6, BR 15)

Right around the corner from Disneyland, this ballpark felt like an amusement park. Took 2 hours to drive there in LA traffic. The parking lots surrounding it aren’t lit well at all. All that, and they got torched by the Athletics.

24. Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees – 9.27 (BD 7, SA 20, GP 13, FR 5, BR 1)

Impressive? Sure. The monuments and history are certainly something. Otherwise, Yankees Stadium wasn’t all I had expected it to be. It’s too big for baseball. Big fan of the neverending popcorn bucket. Worst beer selection in baseball.

Tier 5: The Forgettables

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23. Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks – 10.21 (BD 9, SA 18, GP 5, FR 14, BR 2)

Cavernous interior space. Swimming pool beyond centerfield. Downtown Phoenix is pretty cool, and the fans seem pretty committed for such a young franchise. This might rank higher if the roof was open.

22. Nationals Park, Washington Natinoals – 10.75 (BD 8, SA 15, GP 19, FR 13, BR 18)

Humid. Woof. Fans were making up new chants – even if those chants were basically the J-E-T-S chant with 50% different letters. Stephen Strasburg pitched a gem while I was there. Is there a time of year when D.C. isn’t ultra sweaty?

21. Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians – 10.91 (BD 5, SA 26, GP 16, FR 20, BR 28)

Awkward interior dimensions, distinct 90s ballpark vibe, and not in a good way. Passionate fans. Downtown Cleveland is super cool.

20. Rogers Centre, Toronto Blue Jays – 11.36 (BD 10, SA 16, GP 17, FR 8, BR 6)

Toronto is basically Canadian Chicago, and that’s a good thing. Another “wish the roof had been open” ballpark. This game was in the middle of the pennant race against Seattle, so it was extra rewarding to watch the Jays pile on the runs.

19. Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers – 13.08 (BD 13, SA 9, GP 15, FR 16, BR 25)

Conflicting game watching the Tigers win and move one step closer to clinching the AL Central over the Royals. Downtown Detriot is not great, but Comerica itself was a very nice space. Curmudgeony upper deck vendors too.

18. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies – 13.46 (BD 14, SA 4, GP 24, FR 12, BR 20)

Awesome game. Fourteen inning Chase Utley walkoff. Beautiful ballpark. Delicious hot dog. Ivy covered batters eye was my favorite part.

Tier 4: Middle of the Packers

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17. Turner Field, Atlanta Braves – 14.80 (BD 15, SA 11, GP 18, FR 19, BR 4)

How do you not love Hammerin’ Hank Aaron? Turner Field is on the way out, not sure why they need to do away with it. Also, they have a Waffle House out in left field. Overall, Atlanta was extra average.

16. Citi Field, New York Mets – 14.82 (BD 16, SA 12, GP 11, FR 15, BR 16)

AKA Not Ebbets Field. It’s a great ballpark, can’t beat taking the subway to the game. Felt generic. More stuff about the Brooklyn Dodgers than the Mets though.

15. Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros – 15.35 (BD 19, SA 10, GP 6, FR 10, BR 5)

Gorgeous ballpark. Roof was open. I stood with two of my best friends beyond the outfield wall and celebrated the Royals winning on the road. Yordano and Lorenzo both wore #42 on Jackie Robinson Day.

14. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds – 15.79 (BD 12, SA 21, GP 21, FR 27, BR 29)

Opening Day festivities skyrocket this ballpark very high on the list. Great fans lined the streets for the parade. Cardinals spoiled the game 1-0 for the Redlegs.

Tier 3: The Butter Fans

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13. Coors Field, Colorado Rockies – 16.13 (BD 17, SA 22, GP 12, FR 3, BR 17)

Sat 600 feet from home plate with my youth group. Gorgeous views of the mountains. Unfortunately, the fans don’t care much about baseball, they just like being outside on a beautiful night in the city. Fair enough.

12. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers – 17.36 (BD 24, SA 2, GP 9, FR 1, BR 24)

Fans arrive late and leave early to beat traffic. Can’t blame them, LA traffic is rough. Otherwise this ballpark is easily in the top 10, borderline top 5. Also, Vin Scully is the best.

11. Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners – 18.12 (BD 21, SA 19, GP 7 FR 4, BR 30)

See: Houston and Colorado. (Except Seattle is perhaps the most gorgeous city on the planet.) And, like these other two, she’s a beautiful ballpark…butter fans…

Tier 2: Great Venues and Great Fans

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10. Target Field, Minnesota Twins – 19.74 (BD 18, SA 24, GP 20, FR 25, BR 22)

That limestone is terrific. Minnie and Paul shaking hands out in centerfield symbolizes a city united over baseball. Twins fans are baseball fans and a quality bunch. Downtown Minneapolis is legit too.

9. Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals – 20.31 (BD 20, SA 17, GP 27, FR 23, BR 11)

Best Fans in Baseball? Eh, but 8th place ain’t bad. Love this ballpark, brick everywhere, arch out beyond centerfield. Opening Day at Busch was rainy, but still a victory.

8. Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers – 20.90 (BD 22, SA 14, GP 22, FR 24, BR 19)

The ballpark is a retractable roof but all throwback Fenway Green in color. Best old school logo in baseball. Quality fans. Delicious Bloody Mary’s.

7. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City Royals – 21.24 (BD 25, SA 5, GP 26, FR 18, BR 10)

This might look like a homer pick, but it’s not. Very underrated ballpark. If it was downtown it’d be right at the top. Was there from Opening Day to Game 7. Home sweet home.

6. PETCO Park, San Diego Padres – 21.77 (BD 23, SA 28, GP 8, FR 17, BR 23)

The green space beyond centerfield is the most unique space around the league. Repurposed Western Metal Supply Co. Building is beautiful. Too bad the game was awful.

Tier 1: Heaven on Earth

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5. PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates – 26.03 (BD 26, SA 27, GP 23, FR 28, BR 27)

Incredible view of downtown. Right on the water. Clemente. Mazeroski, Stargell. Wagner. Yellow bridges. Yellow everything. Completely packed. Last home game of the year.

4. Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox – 26.26 (BD 27, SA 29, GP 25, FR 21, BR 9)

Hard to believe that three ballparks beat out Fenway. The oldest ballpark still standing. The Green Monster is gorgeous and Yawkey Way is probably the greatest baseball stroll in America.

3. Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs – 26.84 (BD 30, SA 30, GP 10, FR 22, BR 4)

Wrigleyville, man – 100 year anniversary season of “The Friendly Confines.” #1 ballpark, #1 surroundings. Only thing the North Side lacks is a winning team, and it’s been a long long time. Maybe Joe Maddon is the difference…

2. AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants – 27.21 (BD 28, SA 25, GP 29, FR 26, BR 14)

The Bay Area treated me well. Oakland and San Francisco were the two best games I saw. Won a $50 Levi’s gift card when rookie Tyler Colvin launched a homer into McCovey Cove. If you go to AT&T Park, I highly recommend the Arcade seats.

And the winner is…

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1. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles – 28.02 (BD 29, SA 23, GP 28, FR 30, BR 26)

Congratulations, Orioles fans. You’ve made it big. The ballpark that changed the architecture game. Since 1992 retro parks have been the name of design game. B&O Railroad building is the perfect homerun target that no one has ever hit outside of Ken Griffey Jr. in the All Star Game. Down to the open air press box, every single cranny is modelled after ballparks from the past.

There you go. Feel free to tell me where I got it right but more likely where I got it wrong. Again, this is just my first stab at these rankings, you never know how things might change between now and my book release.

-apc.

* – Okay, obviously Independence Day is the right answer. Jurassic Park is a distant second. Maybe Tom Hanks would’ve been a better option here.

Game 30: Progressive Field, Cleveland

“So, what team do you play for?”

“The Indians.”

“Here in Cleveland? I didn’t know they still had a team?”

“Yeah, we have uniforms and everything, it’s great.”

Is there a sports movie out there that better resonates with the culture of a franchise than Major League does for the Cleveland Indians?

Rookie of the Year is about the Cubs, sure, but it’s a kid playing baseball and that’s not realistic. Same with Little Big League with the Twins only it’s a kid manager instead. And The Sandlot is about a group of kids, only one of which makes it to the pros and it only shows one play of him stealing home for the Dodgers.

The Kevin Costner Trio – Bull Durham, For Love of the Game and Field of Dreams – don’t chronicle an MLB season either, each for different reasons. Bull Durham is about a minor league team; For Love of the Game centers on one specific game at the end of a season; and Field of Dreams focuses on the 1919 Chicago Black Sox and a corn field in Iowa.

Other films are terrific, but don’t have anything to do with an MLB franchise: A League of Their Own, The Natural, The Rookie, for example. All great films, but only The Rookie has anything to do with the MLB and Dennis Quaid only faces a single batter and throws three pitches.

There’s also Fever Pitch……moving on.

The only two that you might be able to argue are Moneyball and Angels in the Outfield. Both chronicle an entire season with an actual MLB team. Moneyball certainly resonates, but the fact that it is based entirely on a true story and came out well after the events took place makes it less compelling for fans. Angels in the Outfield is fantastic. Danny Glover and a young Joseph-Gordon Levitt headline the against-all-odds-bad-franchise-miraculously-turned-winners plot line. It’s close, but not quite.

And then there is Major League.

Again, the point I’m making is not that Major League is the best movie ever. What I’m saying is no other baseball movie resonates with a team more than the Cleveland Indians.

The 1989 flick features Tom Berenger as washed up catcher Jake Taylor, Charlie Sheen as California penal system product Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, and Wesley Snipes as speedster Willie Mays Hayes. The clubhouse of misfits is predicted by every major newspaper to finished dead last. Naturally, they beat the Yankees in the last game of the season to finish in first.

The reason it resonates? Obviously there are many.

First, the city of Cleveland is very prominent. The movie is actually shot at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland – the “Mistake by the Lake” as they call it. By contrast, Angels in the Outfield wasn’t even shot in California, but at Camden Yards in Baltimore instead.

The Indians go form being nobodys to the talk of the cities. The movie continually cuts to the people of Cleveland themselves left to comment on the team. The construction workers comment, “Who are these f—ing guys?” and the grounds crew workers comment, “They’re sh—y,” and the face-painted Wahoos in the bleachers are continually called back as a way to remind us why baseball exists at all: it’s for the fans. Major League does a great job incorporating the fans and the city into the script.

Secondly, it’s not true, but it also isn’t inaccurate.

The whole “terrible for over four decades” piece is spot on. The last World Series victory for the Indians was in 1948 – 41 years before the movie came out. They still haven’t won it all since then either giving the Tribe the second longest draught behind the Chicago Cubs.

The whole “our ballpark is crumbling” piece is also spot on. Municipal Stadium was the worst. It was built in the 1930s as a multipurpose prototype. It held over 70,000 fans and was rarely, if ever, full. Even high traffic games of 30,000+ were half empty. It was billed to be Cleveland’s version of Yankee Stadium. Turned out to be cold and breezy right next to Lake Erie. It also had an asbestos roof.

It was so bad that during the 30s and 40s – back when the Indians were still competitive – they would play their weekday games over at tiny League Park, despite it being a much older venue (1891), and would only play at Municipal on weekends.

Tribe fans never knew a time of winning at Municipal Stadium. It was a venue synonymous with losing.

The city of Cleveland recently renovated the old League Park site that had been just sitting there since it closed in 1946. League Park hosted players such as Bob Feller, Satchel Paige and Cy Young. Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run there. The only unassisted triple play in World Series history was turned there.

The dimensions were awkward because the neighbors wouldn’t sell their property: 505 ft to straight away centerfield and 290 ft to right. To eliminate the number of home runs, they installed a 40 foot wall with a 20 foot chain link fence on top. A sixty foot wall. Crazy.

Some pics…
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The whole “going from worst to first” piece isn’t far fetched either. Because by 1995 they were playing in the World Series. They went again in 1997. They won the division 5 of 6 years between 1995 and 2000. Young players like Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga and Albert Belle and old veterans like Edsie Murray, Omar Visquel and Dennis Martinez in those days, and – wait, vets and rooks? That sounds just like Major League! Shoot, Kenny Lofton and Willie Mays Hayes might as well have been the same guy. It was like the movie came true.

But those American League pennants and division championships weren’t played at Municipal. In 1994, the Indians had left their massive and disappointing home for Jacobs Field, and they won right away.

Jacobs, aka “The Jake,” can even be seen as a Major League reference to Jake Taylor. (These days, it’s Progressive Field, aka “The Prog.”)

It’s like the movie was playing out in front of Cleveland’s very eyes. Just at a new and improved ballpark.

The Prog is alright, I guess. There are a couple unique features I liked: the left field wall is 19 feet tall so the ball plays differently out there than normal. For example, yesterday, Alex Gordon picked one up off the wall and gunned down Roberto Perez trying to sloooowly leg out a double. I liked the “Indians” script on top of the video board in left field, and I liked the smaller dimensions of the park. It’s only 320 and 323 to the left and right field corners.

But while the playing surface felt small, the ballpark did not. It didn’t feel as intimate as other parks. I’m not sure there was a foul ball to the upper deck the whole night (there probably were a couple, but not nearly as many as usual). I also wasn’t crazy about the video board itself or the asymmetrical overhang on only the third base line. Made for odd angles from my perspective behind the plate.

Progressive Field is clearly one of the oldest ballparks of the retro renaissance of ballpark design. It feels like the early 1990s…instead of the 1890s which is how “retro” is supposed to feel. It wasn’t bad. Just alight.

As a whole, the city of Cleveland has had some pretty crummy luck as a fan base. The Browns were so bad they packed up and moved to Baltimore (before being reestablished a few years later). They had their hearts ripped out by LeBron James and the Cavaliers a few years back. He’s “coming home” now, but who knows if he can actually bring them a championship. He is the Chosen One, afterall, right? The fans deserve a winner.

The Indians in their late-90s prime came close but never delivered. Tribe fans are a very passionate bunch. They cheer as loud as any group I’ve been around. They also seem close as a community – as a Royals fan, i understand this one; after enduring so much pain together, you can’t help but be close by the end.

They’re also loyal. Two examples of this: first, super-fan John Adams has been sitting out in the outfield bleachers since 1973 banging his drum for the team. Never missed a home game.

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There’s also this dude who’s been showing up dressed as a chicken this year because apparently there was a chicken in the bullpen earlier this year and the Indians won their next bundle of games. Ten, I think. I don’t really get it, he was so jacked up and he was talking so fast I couldn’t even understand him. Something about the lucky chicken being the only hope Cleveland has at this point.

That pic, by the way, was taken and tweeted by Joel Goldberg of Fox Sports Kansas City before last night’s game. That my dad with his hand raised. No idea who that other girl is.

I was there rooting for the opponent, so I was pretty annoyed by the group at times. As I left, I realized had they been playing any other AL team, I would’ve joined right in with their heckling. But they were talking about my boys! Don’t you taunt Hosmer! Get off Gordon’s back! And please please please stop chanting U-S-A when Aoki comes to the plate. (That was about the only thing they ever did that I was 100% not okay with.)

Interestingly, they dish t have anything bad to say about Lorenzo Cain. They probably recognize that he’s THE ABSOLUTE GREATEST.

Game Notes

Super frustrating night for the Royals. Jason Vargas was super bad. So bad that he may be last on the Royals playoff depth chart at this point. It’s between he and Guthrie.

Vargas had very little control, and for a guy who throws an upper 80s fastball, control is pretty dang important. He gave up 4 runs on 4 hits and 3 walks. He threw one pitch into the 5th inning and that one hit Michael Bourn who scored after Brandon Finnegan relieved Vargas.

Indians starter, Trevor Bauer, wasn’t much better, but he got luckier, honestly. The Royals hit him hard for the four innings he pitched, but couldn’t catch a timely break. The Royals outhit the Indians 10-7, but the Indians outscored the Royals 6-4.

The Indians, however. Got a very timely hit off Vargas in the first when Yan Gomes launched one over the centerfield wall in the first inning.

Salvador Perez continues to swing at everything thrown his way. He struck out twice with runners on first and second. Thanks Sal. Infuriating.

Moose hit two opposite field line drives with runners on base. Both were directly at the left fielder. The ball didn’t bounce the Royals way from the beginning.

This is not how I anticipated the Tour ending. In my mind, this game was going to be the grand finale. It was supposed to end with the Royals clenching a playoff spot or moving into first place. Detroit was supposed to lose on Tuesday and the Royals were supposed to finish the sweep on Wednesday. Instead, it will happen today if Seattle loses and KC wins.

Sometimes things just don’t go the way you think they will. To probably over-spiritualize it, you have one plan but God has another. Life isn’t a movie like Major League…even though this Royals season and this crazy Ballpark Tour have at certain points.

More on the Royals later. For now, it’s time to wrap this post – and this series up.

What a thrill it has been. I can now say that I’ve been to all thirty ballparks in the same season.

Now it’s time to get to writing the first draft of my book. I’m going to be taking all 30 teams and writing a chapter on each. Some chapters will focus on my experience at the game, others will focus on the team’s history, others will focus on what’s it’s like to be a fan of each team. I’m going to utilize this series as the notes/framework for the final product. So if you want a sneak peak, go back and read through all of the posts!

Okay. Signing off for now. More to come soon.

Thirty ballparks down. Zero to go.

Up Next: The Royals make the playoffs.

-apc.

Game 29: Comerica Park, Detroit

Disclaimer: I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m thrilled about last night’s outcome. The Royals desperately needed the Tigers to complete the 9th inning collapse. It was exciting, but the White Sox couldn’t finish the job.

Having said that, let’s see how good of a job I can do reporting on the Tigers and Comerica Park.

The Detroit Tigers have been around since 1894 as a part of the Western League. The rest of the teams in that league have either dissolved or moved to another city. The Milwaukee Brewers became the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles; the Kansas City Blues became the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins; the Grand Rapids Rustlers moved to Cleveland and eventually became the Indians; the Souix City Cornhuskers became the St. Paul Saints became the Chicago White Sox; the rest of the league was dropped in 1901 when the American League was created.

But the Detroit Tigers remain. They joined the American League that year, and in 1912, they built their home for the next 87 years: Tiger Stadium.

Tiger Stadium was located in the Corktown neighborhood just a couple miles west of downtown, and was demolished in 1999 and replaced by Comerica Park. The demolition of one of baseball’s iconic ballparks was a very sad day for the city of Detroit and baseball fans around the country.

Tiger Stadium used to stand with Wrigley Field (1914), Fenway Park (1912), Ebbets Field (1913), Comiskey Park (1910), Shibe Park (1909), Forbes Field (1909) and Griffith Stadium (1911) as parks built during the glory days of ballparks. Obviously Fenway and Wrigley still stand today. Forbes, Griffith, Shibe and Ebbets were done away with decades ago. Comiskey is a heartbreaker because it certainly would still be standing if it had only waited a few more years to see what Baltimore did at Camden Yards. Instead they’re stuck with The Cell – aptly named, really.

The Tigers were the last of the bunch to tear down their historic park, but they’re the only ones of the demolished group to survive to the retro-ballpark movement. They don’t have any excuses.

The old park site is still a green field at the corner of Trumbull Street and Michigan Avenue. We* stopped by and walked out on to the old infield. I toed the rubber where Bob Gibson pitched in the World Series of his historic 1968 season when he recorded a 1.12 ERA. He allowed 49 runs all season in over 300 innings.

* – By the way, I should mention that I invited my parents to join me for these last 4 games. That’s what I mean when I say “we.”

After a dominating Game 1 performance, Gibson lost his next two starts as the Tigers defeated the Cardinals for their third of their four championships. They haven’t won since leaving, despite winning the American League in 2006 and 2012, and the division the last three years (and potentially four if they can hold off the all-but-guaranteed-to-win-it-all Royals). I’m guessing we’ll be talking about some sort of Curse of Tiger Stadium about 50 years from now.

Here are a couple shots of what it looks like today. The first and last are what it used to look like.
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Notice the gate entrances in the old pics and the outfield flag pole.

Actually, with the way Detroit is headed, it might be way sooner than 50 years. No city has been hit harder by the down turn in the US economy than Detroit. The population has plummeted in recent years: $1.8M in 1950; $1M by 1990; $900K in 2009…and less than 700K today. Downtown is old and crumbling, the automotive industry is in a tailspin – just this morning an employee at our hotel told me that the Cadillac is separating from GM and leaving Detroit for New York. Another 700 Detroiters out of jobs and likely out of town. Hard times in Motown.

At least the baseball team gives them something to cheer about these days. Back-to-back and reigning AL MVP, Miguel Cabrera first and foremost, and a pitching staff featuring three Cy Young winners: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and newly acquired David Price.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Comerica is a beautiful park with lots of nods to the ballparks of the past. The massive flag pole in center was originally in play when the ballpark was first built, just like Tiger Stadium. Unlike most ballparks, they have a dirt path between home plate and the pitching rubber, a nod to a time when grounds keeping wasn’t as advanced and the amount of travel of pitchers and catchers would wear a track into the grass.

The brick beyond the 424′ centerfield wall is a nice touch. It features the names of past Tiger greats such as Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton, Hal Newhouser, and Charlie Gehringer face the field of play. Behind the wall are statues of these same players doing what they did best. Naturally, Ty Cobb is shown sliding spikes up.

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In the book, this chapter might end up being about Ty Cobb. We’ll see.

The craziest thing that happened at the game last night: two fans in our section got hit in the head by foul balls. One was sitting right next to us in our row. In the second inning, a ball off the bat of Semien popped over our heads just nipping the edge of the upper deck and caroming straight down at us. The guy didn’t take cover in time and it hit him just above the eye, splitting his brow, requiring a few stitches.

Then again in the 8th, with Rajai Davis batting, a ball came up over our heads bounced off the face of the third deck and came rocketing back off toward home plate and hit a woman in the same spot as our neighbor. She left with out any blood, but a noticeable black eye.

The fans are surprisingly close to the action at baseball games when you think about it, but in all the games I’ve been to in my life, I’ve never seen anything like that.

In more positive news, two other foul balls came our way and landed a few rows below us. Two different men caught them and handed it to young boys nearby. Bravo, gents. Well played.

I’ve never gotten a foul ball by the way. I’ve been to around 50 ball games this year, and haven’t even been involved in a scrum for one. I’ve had players and coaches toss me a ball, but I’ve never pulled an actual gameplay ball.

On to the game notes, because that’s what’s most exciting here.

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Game Notes:

This game was a lot of scoreboard watching, which might explain how multiple people weren’t paying attention and got hit by foul balls. Going into the game, the Tigers sat in first place in the AL Central. One game up on the Royals. A loss would allow the Royals to potentially move into first if they won.

They also sat with the same record as the wild card leading Athletics who played later and three games up on the Mariners who are fighting for the last wild card spot.

This game was a pitchers duel for the first 6 innings. Scott Carroll battled the Tigers potent lineup through 6 innings giving up the first run of the game off a Davis single to start the 7th, and a throwing error by the catcher as Davis tried to steal third.

The Royals, meanwhile, were winning big. The game finished 7-1, but the were up for the majority of the game, so Tigers fans knew this was a necessary win.

Things got away from the White Sox when they pulled Carroll after he let the leadoff man on in the 7th. Belisario came in and got the lead runner at second on an attempted sacrifice bunt, but an error by Semien on probably an inning-ending doubleplay groundball to third allowed the inning to continue. The Tigers would score two runs and take a 3-0 lead.

But the real drama came in the 9th. David Price had a 4-hit shutout going and Tigers manager, Brad Ausmus, sent him out to complete the game. Adam Eaton singled softly up the middle and the Sox’ rally was on.

Ausmus came out to talk to Price. With Joe “Every Save’s an Adventure” Nathan warm in the bullpen, it looked like Price was done and Ramirez-Abreu-Garcia, all righties, would face the righty Nathan instead.

Except the fans didn’t want it. The Tigers’ bullpen has been absolutely terrible all season, and the fans wanted Price to get the CG SO. They hollered and yelled and booed at the idea of trusting the anyone in the bullpen with this game, let alone Nathan. This is the same Joe Nathan who flipped of the fans a few months back. There’s some emotional strain in the relationship, it seems.

Ausmus, whether influenced by the fans or of his own accord, opted to stick with Price.

It was the wrong choice. Price gave up two more runs and the game was tied. Let’s be honest though, Ausmus faced a lose-lose situation. Nathan probably wouldn’t have done any better. Speaks volumes to how little the Tigers think of their miserable bullpen. I mean, there’s nobody out there better than a tired David Price? No one is better fresh than Price is after 8 innings? I really don’t know if there is.

Finally, Nathan came in and got Suarez to fly out to center with the bases loaded to end the rally.

The White Sox brought in Jake Petricka to face the Tigers in the bottom of the 9th. Due up: Kinsler-Hunter-Cabrera. It wasn’t shocking what happened next. Kinsler singled. Hunter walked. Cabrera singled and Kinsler scored. Game over.

The Tigers rely almost exclusively on starting pitching and power hitting to win ballgames, and this game was no different. The Tigers maintained their 1 game lead in the Central. Their magic number is 2 to make the playoffs and 5 clench the Central with 5 games left.

Also, just for the record…

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Twenty-nine down. One to go.

Final stop: Cleveland Indians.

-apc.

Photo cred for the last two here and here. All others are mine.

Game 28: Rogers Centre, Toronto

O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada,
we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada,
we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada,
we stand on guard for thee.

In the early 90’s, while other kids were slicing through defenses as Bo Jackson and Walter Peyton in Tecmo Bowl, I was bunting and stealing with Tim Raines and Vince Coleman and launching home runs with Matt Nokes and Darryl Strawberry in RBI Baseball.

There were only 10 team options on the original game: California, Boston, Minnesota, St. Louis, Houston, New York Mets, Detroit, San Francisco, and the American and National League All-Stars. Those were your only options. Before each game, after you selected your teams, the game would play the first few measures of the Star-Spangled Banner. It was always somewhat annoying because I was ready to play ball and was forced to sit through the song. I would still press A repeatedly, trying my hardest to speed up the game…it never helped. But I did it anyway.

A few years later, I picked up RBI Baseball 3, which featured every MLB team with expanded current rosters, past playoff team rosters, and much thinner ballplayers. I remember being so excited to play as the entire Montreal team because Tim Raines was the only player from the original game from the Expos and he was so fast. I also had a strange affinity for Marquis Grissom, Montreal’s centerfielder.

I remember opening that game, inserting the cartridge – probably pulling it out and blowing into if a dozen times – then selecting Montreal (subbing in Grissom off the bench), sitting and listening to the Star-Spangled Banner…

…but what was this other song?!?

You mean when I play as the Expos, I’m forced to sit through two anthems? Well, so much for playing as the Expos* ever again. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

* – As this tour is drawing to a close, it’s dawning on me how disappointing it is that Montreal doesn’t have a ball club anymore. That crazy fan base deserves one. Maybe if they host another exhibition series next year I’ll make the trip up for an epilogue/bonus Chapter 31.

Unless you chose the other Canadian team to play against. Then you only had to listen to one song and could play ball sooner. Brilliant!

That team was, obviously, the Toronto Blue Jays. And while I was busy playing them in RBI Baseball, they were busy ruling the baseball world in the early 90s.

The Jays won two consecutive World Series in 1992 and 1993 with contributions from Roberto Alomar, John Olerud and his helmet, Dave Winfield, Jimmy Key, Paul Molitor, Juan Guzman and, of course, Joe Carter, who hit a walkoff HR to take home the Series in Game 6 in 1993.

Things are done a little differently north of the border. The French Canadian influence isn’t nearly as heavy in Toronto as it is in Montreal but things remain just a tiny bit different from baseball on the other side of the border.

Baseball games are liturgical. There’s an order of events that takes place at every game that the patrons are familiar with. It usually goes something like this…

Around 15 minutes before gametime, there is a ceremonial first pitch or three. After some announcements about how charitable the team is, starting lineups are announced. Then “all rise and remove your caps for the playing of our National Anthem.” Then some kid gets called upon to shout out “Play Ball!”

Fast forwarding through goofy gimmicks like the Kiss Cam, Ball Shuffle, Flex Cam, Grounds Crew Inning, Trivia Contests, the Jump Around Cam, Condiment Races*, etc., to the 7th Inning Stretch where we all stand up and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and usually “God Bless America” too.

* – For those of you dying to know, Mustard won the 2014 Championship in KC. Relish led all season and then choked down the stretch. Ketchup fell on his face in the finale. You’ll get em next year, Relish,

Each team has it’s own flare to their liturgy. The Angels use the Rally Monkey. The Rays have their cowbells. The Nationals spell out N-A-T-S after each run scored. The Royals play “Kansas City” and sing “hey, hey, hey, hey!” after each home win.

But as a whole, a baseball fan from anywhere can enter a different ballpark without feeling disoriented to what’s going on. There’s an order that we’ve all learned over our years as baseball fans. And even beyond that, there’s a way for us as fans to engage in the rituals offered by the game. Chanting. Clapping. Rally caps. Throwing back home run balls. Booing Robinson Cano.

Toronto was disorienting at two major moments. The first we’ve already talked about: the Canadian National Anthem, “O Canada.”

The second occurs during the 7th Inning Stretch. Rather than rolling straight into “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the Jays have their own song with choreographed calisthenics that comes first called “OK Blue Jays (Let’s Play Ball!). It goes like this…

You’ve got a diamond
You’ve got nine men
You’ve got a hat and a bat
And that’s not all
You’ve got the bleachers
Got ’em from spring ’til fall
You got a dog and a drink
And the umpire’s call
Waddaya want?
Let’s play ball!

Okay (okay)
Blue Jays (Blue Jays)
Let’s (Let’s) Play (Play) Ball!

I’m not one to typically judge cultural differences, but that song is weird and you’re throwing off the entire rhythm of the game. Just do it the way it’s supposed to be done. Sheesh. (Just kidding. Kinda.)

All that to say, it’s an obvious connection to how different communities engage in a worship gathering. What are the rhythms of baseball as a whole, but how does each team orient their practices around these rhythms. Fascinating stuff.

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The Rogers Centre was once the newest and most impressive ballpark in the game. It was built in 1989 as the SkyDome and was the first retractable that worked. The Expos’ Olympic Stadium was supposed to open up but never worked properly, but the SkyDome preceded every other working retractable roof: Houston, Arizona, Seattle, Milwaukee and Miami, It was a modern marvel: 22 million pounds that could slide open at the flip of a switch and get 90% of the seats in the sun.

It was closed last night, which was disappointing, but otherwise Toronto was a terrific host.

The place is huge and embedded among the buildings of downtown Toronto. It has the feel of a basketball or hockey arena more than a ballpark from the outside. And the proximity of the surrounding structures made it impossible to get a picture of the entire park from outside.

It’s right next to the CN Tower, the skyline’s giant space needle. When the roof is open, the Tower can be seen looming above the outfield.

There’s a hotel inside the ballpark too, which is pretty sweet. Imagine sitting i your hotel room and watching the game happen outside your window. Almost wish I’d sprung for a room but it’s hard to beat $8 tickets behind the plate.

With the roof closed, the interior is cavernous. I read somewhere that the peak of the dome is something like 300 feet above the playing field, which allows for 5 levels of seats, not that anyone was sitting up top. It holds 49,282 fans.

The other thing I noticed that was a stark contrast to American teams: it was very evident the ballpark attendants do not care at all where fans sit. Everyone was right behind the plate, myself included. Our tickets were in section 521. We sat in section 120. Nearly every fan in the place was packed in the lower level and just kinda picked whatever seat they wanted with no argument from the staff.

In nearly every other park, you can’t just waltz down to the lower level without some sort of questioning or permission from a staff person. Even at the most sparsely attended games most section attendants require the correct ticket when it comes to the lower level seats. Chalk it up to good ole Canadian passivity, probably.

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The kid in this picture was terrific the whole game. Just going crazy after every half inning. Later, the woman standing next to him won $4,300 the 50/50 Raffle. But that’s all I have to say about that.

Toronto seems likes a great city. Of what I saw of it, it felt a ton like Chicago – right on the Lake, lots of sprawling suburbs, and you can even see the city from across the lake just like you can Chicago from Gary, Indiana. It’s a big city, and s beautiful one. But what really made it a great experience was the game itself. So let’s get to that now.

Game Note:

The Blue Jays are on the verge of elimination, but they opened up a series against the Seattle Mariners last night who are right in the midst of the Wild Card race. They are currently the first team out of the AL playoff race, and last night’s game pushed them another step out of contention.

Tonight’s matchup is R.A. Dickey against Felix Hernandez. This marks the third time I’ve missed seeing King Felix pitch by a day. Instead we saw James Paxton for Seattle and J.A. Happ for Toronto. Happ was solid through 7 innings. Paxton was not solid and didn’t make it through the 3rd.

This one was a blowout.

The Blue Jays lit up the Mariners for 14 runs on 16 hits. Former Royal, Danny Valencia got them started early with a bases loaded triple in the 1st, and a 5 run 3rd made it a 9-1 game early.

Jose Bautista, aka Joey Bats, had a day: 3-3 with a HR, BB, and 3 runs scored. He also had a great day on defense. He threw out Logan Morrison from the warning track as Morrison tried to turn a single into a double, and he had a Web Gem snag diving across his body in right-centerfield.

The Jays hit two more homers – Kevin Pillar in the 6th and Anthony Gose batting for Bautista in the 7th.

Happ got into a bit of trouble in the first and allows Austin Jackson to score before working around runners on 1st and 3rd with 1 out. The Mariners hit two solo HRs late in the game – Seagar off of Happ in the 6th, but the other off the bullpen in the 9th by Denorfia – and scored another in the 8th to make it less embarrassing, but the Jays hit the ball hard all night and won 14-4. The Jays side of my scorecard was very busy.

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The Mariners fell further behind the Royals, Athletics and Tigers for the wild card spots. Either the Royals or Tigers will win the AL Central, and two of the other three will take the WC spots. Seattle is beginning to look like the team left out.

On the road back to the United States now. See you soon, Detroit.

Twenty-eight down. Two to go.

Up next: Detroit Tigers.

-apc.

Game 27: PNC Park, Pittsburgh

Welcome to the Steel City.

I once took a buzzfeed quiz titled, “What Color Lightsaber Would You Weld?” I got Orange. According to BuzzFeed, I’m a “conflicted” individual who “gravitates toward the light side” albeit “begrudgingly,” and despite being “morally good” I probably will have a “brush” with the dark side of the Force at some point. And while those quizzes can sound strangely accurate…what a bunch of malarkey, really.

What I know for a fact: the City of Pittsburgh would weld a yellow lightsaber.

The first thing you see the moment you emerge from the Fort Pitt Tunnel: yellow bridges everywhere. Not sure what the exact count is, but there’s somewhere in the vicinity of 8 million yellow bridges surrounding The ‘Burgh.

Okay, so technically the bridges are “Aztec Gold” but I wasn’t fortunate enough to have the 64-pack of Crayons as a kid. Proud member of the 24-pack here. The City of Bridges’ official colors are black and gold.

Pittsburgh is the only city to have three professional sports teams wear the same colors. The Pirates, Steelers and Penguins all rock the black/yellow.

Sunday marked the final home game of the Pirates regular season, and the Pittsburgh faithful came our strong to support the Buccos. PNC Park was packed with black and yellow fans – 38,650 of them – ready for their team to make a final push toward their second consecutive playoff appearance. It’s all but certain at this point thanks to collapses by Milwaukee and Atlanta. The National League playoff teams are nearly certain: Dodgers, Nationals, Cardinals, Pirates* and Giants. It’s just a matter of seeding at this point.

* – I picked the Reds instead of the Pirates in the preseason. Otherwise, my NL Picks were correct. *Throws down controller. Thumps chest.

Pittsburgh era are loving the team’s recent success under Clint Hurdle. It’s been a while (22 years and 40 lbs of Barry Bonds ago) since the Pirates have had success of any kind, let alone two seasons in a row.

The Pirates were established in 1882 and won seven championships: two in the National League in 1901 and 1902, and five World Series titles in 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971 and 1979.

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Four of the five World Series teams feature a star player who is now immortalized as statues out side of PNC Park.

IMG_9894.JPGHonus Wagner (top-left) – The Flying Dutchman. Probably the greatest shortstop of all time, he was the best player on the 1909 World Series team. He’s also the face on the most expensive baseball card of all time: the 1909 T206. Won 8 batting titles and was one of the original six Hall of Fame inductees.

Bill Masoroski (top-right) – Maz hit the only Game 7 walk off home run of in baseball history (Joe Carter’s for Toronto was in Game 6, but was a walk off HR, just not in an elimination game, by the way). In 1960, at home at Forbes Field, he launched a solo shot over the 406′ sign in left-centerfield. The outfield wall remains where Forbes used to be on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The Cathedral of Learning, a gorgeous skyscraper on campus, used to loom over the ballpark behind the left field corner.IMG_9798.JPG

Roberto Clemente (bottom-left) – According to my dad, Clemente collected his 3,000th career hit on the last day of the 1972 season. He passed away in a plane crash off the coast of Puerto Rico that winter en route to bring relief supplies to Nicaragua. The main bridge utilized walking to and from the ballpark is now named after him.

Willie Stargell (bottom-right) – Pops. Stargell was a big hulking guy who hit 475 home runs in his career. He was apart of the 1979 “We Are Family” a World Series winning Pirates. Once, in Montreal. Stargell hit a homerun that cleared the fence in right field left the yard at Jarry Park and landed in a public pool.

The day Pops died was the day PNC Park opened: April 1, 2001. Prior to PNC, the Pirates played at Three Rivers Stadium, which as the name suggests, was positioned at the point where the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet downtown. The days at Three Rivers are likely considered the glory days around Pittsburgh. Those 1970s were good times with the Pirates winning two championships and Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers – who shared the space – winning three Super Bowls. Today, Heinz Field and PNC Park sit on both sides of the parking lot where Three Rivers Stadium used to sit.

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PNC Park is breathtaking. The park sits on the river-walk of the Allegheny right across the Clemente Bridge from downtown. It has a distinct old ballpark feel after decades of cookie-cutter multipurpose life at Three Rivers. Old Forbes Field can be seen in the details – the nook in centerfield, the old-style vertical lighting system, and the blue seats are all Forbes-inspired. the scoreboard is modeled off Forbes as well with it’s red/green/blue lights signifying outs, base runners and top/bottom of the inning. It’s a fun flare that’s somewhere in between the manual Wrigley/Fenway scoreboards and the high-tech video scoreboards in newer parks.

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With the pennant race in full swing, I spent a lot of time watching that scoreboard update. Royals won, by the way.

I had really high expectations for PNC Park and it entirely lived up. You’ll find it near the top of my rankings when this whole journey is over.

The Pirates sure don’t like the Brewers, whom they played yesterday. The two are division rivals. They especially hate Ryan Braun, the Brewers’ right fielder.

Braun got caught using performance enhancing drugs last year ago, but his offense was especially egregious because of what had happened the year prior. A test had come back positive, and he got off on a technicality and ripped the MLB for accusing him falsely. He was made out to be a victim of a mistake by the league.

So then when he turned out to be guilty a year later, he fell doubly hard. He cheated, lied about it, got away with it, kept cheating, got caught again, and really looked like a dummy.

Something interesting about baseball is the amount of discipline involved in the game. It takes hours and hours of training to become great and stay great at the game. In fact, discipline is such a part of the game that seemingly anyone who works hard enough at getting better can play professionally. There’s no toleration for cheating the discipline of the game.

I wonder if there’s a conversation to be had here about the role of spiritual disciplines and baseball. How do we make connecting with God apart of our daily/weekly/annual rhythms?

Maybe a better example would be Barry Bonds, since he began his career in Pittsburgh.

Just like baseball, there are no shortcuts in our dialogue with God. You can’t just check a box. It’s an ongoing commitment that requires regular disciplines. It’s not a finish line as much a new start.

Okay. Gotta wrap this up it I’mm be late for my next game tonight at the Rogers Centre. To the game notes!

Game Notes

Yesterday’s game was all about Pirate’s starter, Vance Worley, who spun an absolute gem. He threw 82 pitches in eight innings of shut out ball. He threw first pitch strikes to 21 of the 27 batters he faced.

The only run of the game came in the 7th. Andrew McCutchen, the undisputed star of this team, and one of the best players in baseball – hit an infield single. Two past balls later and he was standing on third base. Russell Martin singled scored McCutchen. That’s all the Pirates needed.

Hurdle called on Tony Watson in the 9th who got his first save of the season. I would’ve stuck with Worley personally, but he was pulled for a pinch hitter in the 8th.

Watson made things interesting giving up a leadoff single, but thanks to a baserunning blunder by Carlos Gomez, he got out of it clean and shut the door.

Bucs win 1-0. Raise the Jolly Roger.

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Twenty-seven games down. Three to go.

Up next: Toronto Blue Jays.

-apc.

Game 25: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL

“Oh, you should’ve been here last night.”

At least 4 people told me that during my time at Tropicana Field last night. Why? Well, for starters, they won on Tuesday night, 6-1. It was the second straight win against the Yankees, and since more than half of the fans in attendance were Yankees fans, a series win is a very satisfying thing.

It was also another stop on the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour. The Rays presented him with a kayak with pinstripes, apparently. Personally, I’d rather get the BBQ sauce set that the Royals gave Paul Konerko last night instead, but maybe #2 does more kayaking than the average person. Multiple times over the weekend the typical DER-ek JE-ter *clap, clap, clapclapclap* chant spread throughout The Trop.

So the Yankees fans kept telling me I’d missed the ceremony. Rays fans kept telling me that I’d missed a butt-kicking. I kept jokingly responding with, “a pox upon me for a clumsy lout,” as if I was going to adjust my itinerary to see Derek Jeter get honored. Again.

Tempers flared that night as well when Derek Jeter got hit in the hand in the 8th inning. Both dugouts were warned. Yankees manager, Joe Girardi went off and got tossed. Then the Yankees retaliated and hit Kevin Kiermeier in the next half inning and the dugouts emptied. There wasn’t a brawl, but a lot of jawing at one another while coaches restrained angry players.

But that was Tuesday. Last night was Wednesday. Let’s talk about Wednesday in St. Petersburg.

The Trop isn’t a miserable place, but it also isn’t great. The main entrance and concourse feels like a shopping mall, and you can’t see any of the game through the concourse. The grandstand is one giant bowl and the vendors don’t provide any visibility into that bowl unless you get back to the seats. There are TVs everywhere though, so that’s nice.

The seats are bright blue, which is kinda refreshing and cool, but about 1/5 of them are covered with tarps because the Rays hardly ever come anywhere close to selling out. Unless the Yankees are in town, which they were yesterday, it’s typically a pretty desolate place to see a game.

The worst part about the Trop: the outfield grass. The AstroTurf in Tampa Bay is uuuuuuugly. It’s splotchy and black and streaky in places. It looks greasy and wet in large swaths across the outfield. While most clubs have gorgeously maintained lawns, the Rays basically have an ugly stained carpet. The warning tracks are fake too.

The infield dirt, however, is real, thank goodness.

There’s a giant aquarium tank in the center field stands too. You can touch the rays with your own hands – two fingers, along the wings, according to the tank attendant. They’re rubbery. I didn’t like it.

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Despite this being just the Rays 17th season as a franchise, Tropicana Field is 25 years old. St. Petersburg spent a decade trying to lure a baseball team to come to Florida, and the giant white dome was one of the major moves they made in hopes of landing a team.

The experience bringing the Rays to Tampa Bay was quite the roller coaster ride.

In July 1988, there was a vote that nearly passed to move the Chicago White Sox to St. Petersburg. They had been in talks with the Twins, Mariners, A’s and even the Tigers as their ballparks were growing older to move them to Florida. Talks with the Twins progressed somewhat too, but obviously didn’t work out. In 1993, they tried to land an expansion team, but the Marlins were awarded to South Florida and Rockies to Colorado instead.

At one point – and this is just crazy to think about – the San Francisco Giants even signed paperwork to make the move from crumbling Candlestick Park to play at The Trop. Thankfully, Major League Baseball blocked the move. Can you imagine a world where the Giants play in Florida?*

* – Probably exactly what people were saying when the Giants and Dodgers moved west in the first place.

Finally, the roller coaster of possible suitors ended in 1998 when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays became a thing.

Originally, they wanted to be the Stingrays, but there was another team in Hawaii already called that and Vince Naimoli – the penny-pinching paranoid micromanaging former owner of the Devil Rays – didn’t want to pay the measly $35k it cost to purchase naming rights. So they went with the Devil Rays instead.

A story just to get an idea of the kind of guy Naimoli was: he created a strict No Outside Food rule as to force patrons to purchase everything inside the park. Naimoli enforced this rule extremely well: he would roam the stands himself and if he found someone with outside food, he would ask what gate they had entered through and immediately fire whatever employee was assigned to that gate, no questions asked. Once, a bus of senior citizens came to the ballpark and a woman in a wheelchair was found with a granola bar in her purse. When she was asked to throw it away, she explained that she was a diabetic and needed it to stabilize her blood sugar level. When they wouldn’t budge without her ditching the granola bar, she opted to wait in the bus for 4 hours until after the game was over. That’s the sort of penny-pinching we’re talking about.

There was lots if immediate backlash to the name. The public hated it and they hated the color scheme/logo even more. Naimoli held a public vote between the Devil Rays and Manta Rays. When the voting opened, Manta Rays was winning in a landslide. Slowly and mysteriously, the gap narrowed, and about the time it was almost 50-50, the polls closed and Devil Rays was declared the winner, which was fortunate for Naimoli because all that money spent on “Devil Rays” gear would’ve gone to waste.

Vince Naimoli just didn’t get it. He made his millions by buying failing businesses, slashing all extraneous positions and expenses, and resurrecting it by doing things as extreme as forcing employees to reuse Post-It notes.

As the owner of a baseball franchise, this didn’t translate. The Devil Rays’ didn’t even have a company email account during the majority of his tenure. Everyone had to email from their personal AOL, Yahoo!, or Hotmail address because Naimoli was too cheap to pony up and pay for company email. And the worst part was that everyone was so afraid they’d get fired, no one stood up to his antics. They lived in fear.

The quality of ownership was reflected on the field. The Devil Rays were absolutely dreadful.

While the process of getting a team was a roller coaster, the Devil Rays first decade of existence was anything but. It was more of a flat line. Between 1998 and 2007, the Devil Rays finished dead last in the AL East every year but once, and that year they finished second to last. They lost 90+ games all ten years and 100+ three years.

They were an absolute embarrassment and the laughing stock of Major League Baseball.

So, in 2007, they exorcized the “Devil.”

No, I’m not calling Naimoli the devil. Chill out, you guys. I’m talking about the name change. They dropped the “Devil” and simply became the Rays. And while the team still embraced the sea creature as it’s namesake, it was also an allusion to the other meaning for the word: a ray of sunshine.

Brighter, sunnier days were coming. And soon.

It was time for a change. There was a new philosophy of Rays Baseball. One that centered around defensive analytics and being comfortable going against the grain of baseball tradition. In the same way that the Oakland Athletics’ Moneyball thinking redefined how to win in baseball, the Rays needed to do the same. Otherwise, they’d always stay behind the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East.

And while I wasn’t calling Naimoli the devil, he did decide to step out of his role as owner. There was a new ownership, new GM, new marketing, new color scheme, new logo…and a new manager who was the perfect match for this new era of baseball at The Trop.

Joe Maddon was hired by the Tampa Bay Rays and he is NOT your traditional manager. He isn’t afraid to push against orthodoxy and do things managers aren’t supposed to do. For example, he doesn’t like to utilize a traditional closer. Instead, he will bring in his best reliever at the most crucial point. If the bases are loaded with 1 out in the 7th, he won’t hesitate to pitch the guy who usually throws the 9th.

He breaks unwritten rules. One time in a game against the Rangers, Maddon intentionally walked Josh Hamilton to pitch to Marlon Byrd with the bases loaded. He didn’t care that it let in a run, the score was 7-2 at the time, he just believed that they were more likely to get Byrd out than Hamilton. Unlike the Naimoli era, ther is no fear in Tampa these days.

In 2007, the new leadership didn’t do much. Why? Because they didn’t feel it was important to win immediately. They could’ve worked hard to put the best team they could out on the field. Instead, they decided to take their time, flip some assets, and play for the future.

“Trust the process,” became their motto.

Royals fans are now familiar with this phrase – their own period of ineptitude, Dayton Moore started utilizing it as well. And now, 8 years later, they have fruits to show for their patience.

But for the Rays, it was much quicker. As in immediately. In 2008 – very next year – the Rays won the American League Championship and advanced to their first World Series. Worst to first.

Granted, spending a decade in the basement had produced a solid crop of young draft talent that was ready to emerge in the majors, but this was a different team – a different franchise and fanbase – than it had been.

The fans are a mixed group. On the one hand, there’s a youthful party vibe to Tropicana Field as might be expected for a young franchise. However, with the large number of retired individuals living in the Tampa area, there seems to be a segment of elderly fans too, but the majority are a raucous bunch.

One of the moves the new management made was to make it fun to come to The Trop. This meant summer concert series and goofy promotions. The most popular was Cowbell Night where fans received cowbells as an homage to the SNL, Blue Oyster Cult skit with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken. The cowbells stuck and are now around at every home game.

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I was sitting out in right field for most of the night, and there, right in front of me, was Wil Myers. Myers was traded to the Rays two years ago along with Jake Odorizzi in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis. It was a hotly contested move at the time, and one that seems to have actually paid off for the Royals and the Rays…assuming the Royals don’t blow it down the stretch.

Myers is smooth and casual and makes the game look easy. He made a leaping catch up against the wall last night that most players can’t make.

“Oh, to be young,” says Ichiro, probably. The Yankees right fielder spends literally every spare moment in the field bending and squatting and stretching out to make sure he is as loose as can be. At his age, he can’t walk out and play like he could when he was Myers age.

There was at least a buzz around the place – something that exists only depending on the opponent and/or promotion. Sadly, most of the buzz supported the rival Yanks.

Anyway, all that to say, it was an…okay experience. Not sure what the theme is here yet. Probably something about leadership and communication and fear. I have some ideas but I’ll have to flesh them out a bit before I write any of it down.

For now, some game notes.

Game Notes:

The game was a good one. Both starters pitched well to start the game. Alex Cobb, who nearly threw a no hitter against these same Yankees in his last start against them, retired the Yankees in order the first time through the lineup. He worked around a lead off single to start the fourth, and had 0 runs on 1 hit through 4 innings.

In the bottom half, the Rays got on the board first when Evan Longoria – the most prized of those many early draft picks through the years – hit a solo HR to center field. 1-0 Rays.

Brandon McCarthy started for the Yankees, and he needs to thank his defense for the win last night. In the first inning, Ben Zobrist led off with a single, and then David DeJesus scorched a grounder up the middle that looked destined for the outfield “grass.” Instead, it ended up in second baseman Brendan Ryan’s glove as he dove up the middle. If that ball finds green, it would be 1st & 3rd, nobody out. Instead, it got Zobrist with a 4-6 fielder’s choice. DeJesus got thrown out trying to steal second soon after, and McCarthy, somehow, only faced three batters in the first.

After Longo’s bomb, the wheels started coming off for Alex Cobb. Slowly in the 5th, and then entirely in the 6th.

The 5th started with Cobb hitting Chris Young with a pitch, who scored on a Chase Headley double. Headley then score himself when Ryan doubled two batters later and the Yankees took the lead, 2-1.

Then in the 6th, Cobb gave up a single to Jeter and three walks. Amazingly, the Yankees only plated one run as Jeter tagged up and scored on Myers dazzling play in right field. The Rays got 1 back when DeJesus led off with a triple in the bottom of the 6th, but that was it. Yankees took the final game i the series 3-2 and avoided the sweep.

Twenty-five down. Five to go.

Up next: Miami Marlins.

-apc.

The Florida-Lake Erie Tour

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It’s the grand finale.  The home stretch. It’s the final countdown.

This six-game stretch marks the final six games of Ballpark Tour 2014. I can’t believe this crazy experience is almost over. This has been one of the most insane experiences of my life, and I’m really excited to take these posts, stories and experiences and compile them into a book to share with you all!

First up are the two Florida teams – the Rays and Marlins – on Wednesday and Thursday night.

Then the following Sunday, I’m flying up to Pittsburgh, renting a car and circumventing Lake Erie over the next four days. Pirates, Blue Jays, Tigers and Indians. Here are the projected matchups…

  • 9/17 – New York Yankees @ Tampa Bay (McCarthy vs Karns/Cobb)
  • 9/18 – Washington @ Miami (Fister vs Hand)
  • 9/21 – Milwaukee @ Pittsburgh (Peralta vs Worley)
  • 9/22 – Seattle @ Toronto (Paxton vs Happ)
  • 9/23 – Chicago White Sox @ Detroit (??? vs Price)
  • 9/24 – Kansas City @ Cleveland (Guthrie vs Salazar)

September baseball is awesome, and it’s going to be so cool to be in these ballparks in the midst of some intense playoff races. The Florida games aren’t nearly as thrilling as the games up north – The Yankees are a fringe Wild Card team, but barring a giant push they’re basically out of it, and the Rays (my preseason pick to win the division) are toast. I was most excited to get to see Giancarlo Stanton in Miami, but he got hit in the face with a fastball on Friday night in Milwaukee and is done for the season. He was a legitimate MVP candidate on a team that had a lot of hope moving into next year. Hopefully it doesn’t effect him long term – absolutely devastating to see happen.

But the Lake Erie games – oh man. While the Cardinals seem to have the NL Central all locked up, the Pirates and Brewers are both in the hunt for Wild Card spots so that Pittsburgh game will be intense – the Peralta/Worley matchup is a good one too. Toronto is a fringe Wild Card team too but they’ve been on a tear lately. They’re playing Seattle who is right in the thick of the race along with the Royals, Tigers and Athletics. (As a Royals fan, it should be real easy to root for the Jays to beat the M’s.)

Less easy to do: root for the Tigers in any capacity. This might be the first time I blatantly root against the home team when my favorite teams aren’t the visitors. Who knows? Maybe the Royals will sweep the Tigers over the weekend and completely change the narrative. Anything can happen in a week in this game.

Kind of a strange pitcher carousel happening: during the offseason the Tigers traded Doug Fister to the Nationals whom I’ll see pitch against the Marlins on Thursday. The Nationals traded Nate Karns to the Rays during the offseason, who I’ll see Wednesday (although they may throw Cobb instead). Then this season at the trade deadline the Tigers traded for David Price from the Rays, and I’ll see him pitch on Tuesday in Detroit.

To recap: Fister DET to DC; Karns DC to TB; Price TB to DET.

I end my tour in Cleveland, where I get to see my Royals one more time! I’m hoping the Royals will adjust the pitching rotation which would make Vargas start instead of Guthrie, but regardless, this is going to be a blast. In a perfect world, the Royals would clench a playoff spot while we’re in Cleveland and we can celebrate there. I’ll be the one hoisting Lorenzo Cain up on my shoulders after he steals home to win the game. Probably dreaming. It’s looking like it’ll come down to the final series in Chicago instead. Phooey.

Then I drive the two hours back to Pittsburgh and fly back to KC. Tour over.

Keep an eye out for post game blogs next weekend. It’s going to be near impossible to balance the Tour with the Royals season. Thankfuily, it all collides for Game 30 in Cleveland. Oh man it’s going to be nuts.

Thanks for following along everyone. Stay tuned for writing updates over the offseason! Aaaahhhh!!

-apc.

Photo cred: Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail.

Game 23: Wrigley Field, Chicago

1914-2014.

One hundred years of baseball on the North Side of Chicago.

This wasn’t my first trip to Wrigley Field. I went for the first time as a college student in 2005. These days, I make it up there about once a year or so. I always have the same four thoughts, and in the following order:

1. Did I just step back in time?

This trip, it took about 10 minutes for me to start singing that Huey Lewis song, “Back in Time,” from the Back to the Future* soundtrack. Especially taking the short L trip from downtown and getting off at the Addison exit. Just 15 minutes ago we were at State/Lake in the heart of the downtown shopping district, and now we’re inside a 100 year old ballpark!

* – Interestingly, the Cubs supposedly win the World Series in 2015 when Marty McFly travels to the future in Back to the Future II. We’ll see.

The place is old. There’s a ragtime brass band that walks around and plays music in the ballpark. The organ belts out classic tunes. The men’s room still uses troughs for urinals. It’s authentically classic, and the Cubs have worked hard at maintaining it’s history without compromise.

Wrigley Field is still the premier venue to see an afternoon baseball game. In fact, they didn’t even play night games there until 1988 – they didn’t even have lights! They were planning on installing them in 1941, but they ended up donating the supplies to the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Then they swore that they’d never install them, but eventually they caved.

Save for the lights, the ballpark hasn’t changed much. Especially in the last 70 years. The scoreboard was already out there. The upper deck was added in the late 20’s and bleachers were added to the outfield in 1937. But slowly, they keep caving in to make minor modifications to keep up with the times -a small electronic screen highlights the right field wall, and there’s a marquee that circles parts of the grandstand now too.

The Ricketts family, the current ownership of the Cubs and Wrigley Field, have committed $500M worth of upgrades and expansion to the ballpark expanding the concourses, improving the roof and seating around the park, significantly enhancing the Cubs clubhouse and press box areas, and adding rooftop concessions with outdoor seating. All with the goal of preserving the structure and facade of the ballpark for the future.  Because Wrigley Field is worth saving for years to come.

The old time feel of Wrigley is pure. It’s special. Fenway Park is the only comparable experience in all of baseball. I’m thankful they’ve committed to keeping baseball at Wrigley for years to come.

2. Is this ballpark regulation size, or what?

If its possible to get over the old-time feel of the ballpark, my second impression is always about the size and seating of Wrigley.

Somehow, they manage to cram over 41,000 people into that tiny little space. The seats are closer together, and the bleachers account for a lot of it. A lot of the seats are hidden up underneath the upper deck which sits extremely close to the field. It feels tiny and cramped, but it also makes is charming and heightens the camaraderie among the Cubs fans.

I’m used to Kauffman Stadium (only 38,000 fans at capacity) where you have all the personal space you need to spread out and relax. I don’t want to touch my neighbor that I don’t know, and I’m certainly not going to strike up a conversation with them. But at Wrigley, it’s inevitable. The tightness in the stands forces interaction and conversation. Smaller space, yet more people.

The small feel is also aided by the shallow power alleys: 368′ to left-center and right-center field makes the outfield look tiny. It makes up for the shallow alleys by having deep corners: 355 & 353 to left and right fields, respectively.

It’s a cozy experience at Wrigley, but not necessarily comfortable all the time.

3. Where’s the Old Style vendor?

Ooooo yeah. Wrigley Field is possibly the only place in the world where an Old Style manages to hit the spot. It’s not the best, but it’s true to the experience. The name sums it up perfectly.

Unfortunately, this year they quit selling it up tap and now only have it in cans. Bad move if you ask me.

4. Is there anyone sitting in the Steve Bartman seat?

Ah yes, the pinnacle of the Cubs’ curse. But before I explain who Bartman is, I first have to explain the Curse itself.

The Curse is believed to have begun in 1945 when the owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern, Billy Sianis, decided to bring his goat to a World Series game as a publicity stunt. Not surprisingly, the goat smelled, and he was asked to leave “The Friendly Confines” because some other fans were complaining about it. He declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

The Cubs would go on to lose to the Tigers and haven’t been back to the World Series ever since. They last won it all in 1908. Poor Cubbies. Even their curse narrative is somewhat embarrassing.

Okay, on to Steve Bartman.

In 2003*, the Cubs were the closest they’d ever been to making it back to the World Series. It was the eighth inning of Game 6. The Cubs led 3-0 and were up 3 games to 2 against the Florida Marlins. There was one out. Just five more outs, and the Cubs were moving on to the World Series.

* – Ironically, 2003 was the Year of the Goat according to the Chinese zodiac calendar. Next year, 2015, is the first “Year of the Goat” since 2003. You guys, what if Back to the Future actually gets it right?

Luis Castillo was batting for the Marlins, and hit a fly ball down the left field stands. Cubs’ left fielder, Moises Alou, went running over and leapt up against the side wall, attempting to make the catch. Replays indicate that he had a play on the ball and could have recorded the out.

Steve Bartman – poor, poor, Steve Bartman – was sitting in the front row at Wrigley Field right where Alou was jumping for the ball. He was wearing a green turtleneck, glasses, and a Cubs cap with Walkman headphones over his ears. Bartman did what any of us would have done in that situation: he tried to catch the foul ball.

He didn’t make the catch, but he got a solid left hand on it directly above Alou’s outstretched glove. Since the ball was out of the field of play, the umpire couldn’t call fan interference, but it was clear what had happened.

Alou threw an absolute fit. He chucked his glove into the ground. He looked back at Bartman and glared. He yelled into the umpire, shouting for interference.

But no call ever came, and a Cub implosion ensued.

Castillo walked. Ivan Rodriguez singled. Miguel Cabrera reached on an error by the shortstop. Derek Lee doubled. Mike Lowell was intentionally walked. Jeff Conine hit a sacrifice fly for the second out in the inning. Mike Mordecai doubled. Juan Pierre singled. And finally, Castillo – the man whose foul ball had started the whole ordeal – flew out to second to end the inning.

The Marlins sent twelve men to the plate, scored 8 runs, and won the game 8-3. They went on to win Game 7, the NLCS and eventually the World Series.

The image of Steve Bartman sitting with a glum look on his face – eyes teared, neck turtled – is forever etched in my mind. I’ve never felt more sorry for anyone in my life.

This being 2003, there was no big screen to watch the replay on, and no one had the MLB At Bat app to reference either. But slowly, as the carnage ensued on the field, there was a slow fire burning through the grandstand. Fans were getting phone calls and pages from people at home watching the game that it was the guy in the headphones’s fault. Fans started shouting at him. They were throwing peanuts, pointing fingers and dumping beer.

There was a new goat at Wrigley Field.

Every time the cameras cut back to him, he appeared to be getting smaller. Cowering lower with every hitter the Marlins sent to the plate. He needed a police escort to leave the game safely and had patrol cars at his house as well. People suggested he enter the Witness Protection Program and governors offered him asylum from the city of Chicago.

He declined all of those things. He also declines to do interviews. He declines autographs and apparently declined a 6-figure check to do a Superbowl commercial.

The seat – Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 114 – is now legendary and a favorite for fans like myself to sit in. He isn’t hated around Chicago as he once was, but he is certainly still blamed for the Cubs 2003 playoffs. He still lives in Chicago, but has never been back to Wrigley Field.

******

Wrigley Field has an interesting atmosphere these days. At this point, tt’s like the fans have gotten used to “The Curse” and have embraced the lovable loser mentality. It’s not about making the playoffs anymore or even finishing better than 5th in the NL Central (which they’ve done for the last 5 years and currently sit today).

For Cubs fans who go to catch a game at Wrigley, they just want to party it up and win today. If they don’t win? Hey, that’s okay. We still had some fun.

Wrigley is almost a college atmosphere, actually. Lots of young professionals move to the North Side out of college, work downtown and live in the Wrigleyville area. There are cool restaurants and bars surrounding the ballpark, and it’s very reminiscent of a college town.

For the first time in a while, the Cubs are starting to have some hope coming through their farm system. In 2011, the Cubs hired Theo Epstein to be the President of Baseball Operations. Epstein returned winning back to the cursed Boston Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs hoped he could do the same for them.

But the baseball landscape is different today, and when Epstein came to Boston, there were new statistics and measurements in the work that set the stage for a revolution in baseball. Oakland’s Moneyball mentality had made its way around the league, and the Red Sox were the earliest adopters with the largest wallets.

But the Cubs are making progress behind the scenes, and I was there right on queue to see that “progress” make it’s first appearance at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon. But more about that in the “Game Notes”.

My largest connection to spirituality here is definitely going to center around curses. Do they exist? Does God curse? Does God care about baseball teams winning or losing? Does God have any role in 106 year curses?

I believe in a God that is for us and not against us. But in baseball, someone has to win and someone has to lose. We might all be praying for God to bless our team’s performance, but the other team is praying a counter-prayer for them to bless their team’s performance instead.

God can’t answer both prayers, can he?

Or here’s another example: a church is holding a picnic for inner city kids. They pray and pray for nice weather, but on the day of the picnic it’s pouring down rain. However, 15 miles away, there’s a farmer and his family who have been praying and praying for rain so his crops might get the moisture they need to grow.

They’ve both been praying, and one’s answer to prayer is perceived as a curse to another. Interesting.

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Game Notes:

The “progress” on the field that I referenced earlier? His name is Javier Baez. He’s a power hitting infielder who has been coming up through the Cubs system for a few years now. He’s the first in what is supposed to be a wave of 3 or 4 prospects that the Cubs have been grooming to turn around the organization from lovable losers to lovable winners again.

Friday night was Baez’s first game at Wrigley Field. They had called him up from the minors just three days earlier. In his first big league game, he hit a go ahead HR in the 12th inning to win the game against Colorado. In his third game, he went 3-4 with two HRs. Then in his Wrigley Field debut on Friday, he stroked a single on his first swing of the game and came around to score the first run of the game.

But then he struck out the next 4 times up. Ouch.

The game was a good one: an afternoon matchup against the Rays. These teams scored a single run in 7 different frames making for a back-and-forth game. The Rays first run came in the 3rd with a leadoff HR from Desmond Jennings. Tied up, 1-1.

The Cubs retook the lead in the 4th. With 1 out, Arismendy Alcantara walked, advanced when Ryan Sweeney reached base on a throwing error by the pitcher and scored on a John Baker single. 2-1 Cubs

A leadoff triple from Sean Rodriguez started the 7th inning. Two batters later, Curt Casali hit a ball sharply to third, but the Cubs weren’t quick enough to get Rodriguez at the plate. Tied up again, 2-2.

In the 8th, Ben Zobrist doubled and scored on a Rodriguez single making it 3-2 Rays, but the Cubs answered in the bottom of the 9th when Luis Valbuena led off with a single and came around to score and make it 3-3.

Free baseball was disappointing, however. The Rays quickly made it 4-3 in the 10th with three consecutive singles, and the Cubs went quietly in the bottom half – K, K, 1-3.

Both starters, Chris Archer for the Rays and Tsuyoshi Wada for the Cubs, pitched very well and neither got a decision.

I left the game disappointed. There’s nothing more fun than celebrating a Cubs win with a “Go Cubs Go!” Instead, it was a melancholy walk to the L Station – which was packed with sad fans, so we took a cab instead.

Twenty-three down. Six to go.

Up Next: Minnesota Twins.

-apc.

Game 22: Miller Park, Milwaukee

Things Milwaukee does really well:

  • Beer.
  • Brats.
  • Cheese.
  • Ballparks.

We made the drive up to Milwaukee yesterday morning and arrived at Miller Park about an hour before game time. Their tailgaters were impressive, but the ballpark was so doggone good looking I didn’t have it in me to stop and join the fans. I had to get inside and circumvent the concourses.

As I circled, I kept slowly acquiring items: a Brewers cap (with the old glove logo, obviously), a bloody mary (complete with a beef jerky straw), a Miller Lite (why would I get anything else given the circumstances?), and a “Brat of the Month” – a cheddar brat so juicy it exploded all over the place when I bit into it.

Taste bud overload. Yum.

After killing nearly an entire hour circling the park, we made it to our seats in the front row behind the RF bullpen.

I chose these specific seats because of the impressive view of the retractable roof (see above). It’s super unique and a brilliant design. The roof closes in a quarter circle from both directions. Yesterday the left-field side of the roof was wide open, while the right-field portion was partially closed to keep the majority of the playing field in the shade. It was a comfortable cool afternoon inside the park, and I imagine the fans are extremely thankful in the cold of April and heat of August.

The roof and concourse walls are painted a shade of green that can only be referred to as “Fenway Green” – a color that I’ve determined ought to be the official color of baseball. It’s classic and fresh and old-timey.

Our seats also provided the perfect location for our #HunterPenceSigns as he was playing right field for the visiting San Francisco Giants. If you haven’t seen the sign trolling that has been taking place over the past week, you are in for a Twitter treat. Just give it a quick search.

Here’s a look at our signs…

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Got. Him. Good.

It was funny to watch the bullpen guys try to subtly read our signs without reacting in any way. They’d turn their heads around and act like they were watching one of the TVs in the concourse while stealing glances out the corner of their eye.

It’s always a blast to see those guys warm up so close too. We watched Guttierez, Machi and Romo throw from point blank. So fast.

All that was great, but my favorite thing about the Brew Crew: their former logo (placed side by side with their new logo to illustrate how much better the old one is)…

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This is one of the greatest graphic design moves in the history of the game. It’s a glove, obviously, with a baseball in the middle of it. But look closer…do you see the M and the B? M-B…Milwaukee Brewers….get it?! I freaked out the day I saw that. Here are some more clever subtleties in team logos.

Team logos are a smaller representation of a larger entity. And when any of us – player or fan – puts on a team cap or slaps a logo bumper sticker on their car, suddenly our actions are representative of that organization.

When ballplayers don their uniforms, they are signing up to represent what that logo stands for. If it’s Yankee pinstripes, then they’re going to have to shave and get a haircut because that’s the image the Yankees want to have of themselves.

Going beyond the sports example: when people look at each of us, what do they see us representing? What am I “about”? When I step out the door each day, do my words and actions represent the life I’ve signed up to lead?

Or, to quote 2 Corinthians 2:15, do I have the “aroma of Christ” about me?

This is why I wear a home team cap everywhere I go. As a fan of the home team, I want to clearly represent each one by looking the part. (Although, as a Cardinals fan in disguise, I was a bit conflicted yesterday. I would not have minded if Milwaukee lost the game to give St. Louis an opportunity to catch up to them in the standings. Instead, both teams won, and the Redbirds remain a game back in the NL Central.) But was there to experience life as a Brewers fan. I need to look and act the part.

I believe that every interaction we have with others has either a positive or negative impact. You could call it our relational carbon footprint. Everywhere I go, I leave behind me a wake. And since I’ve signed up to follow Jesus Christ, I hope and pray that my wake would be the same as his would be.

It’s not. I’ll settle for it being anywhere close at this point.

The other connection I want to mention between team logos and Christianity involves the symbol of the cross.

Why does the church celebrate the symbol of the cross so much? Yesterday I mentioned briefly that I believe Western culture is more interested in getting to Heaven than we are adopting an altered lifestyle, and I think these thoughts are connected. We have emphasized Christ’s death, suffering and payment for sins so that we might be saved from those things.

But the pinnacle of the Jesus narrative is not the Cross. It is the Resurrection.

Why do we wear cross necklaces and image Jesus on the cross so much in our churches? Why has the “team logo” of Christianity been the cross? The Church “logo” should be resurrection.

I propose the following team logo for the Church moving forward:

black-circle-md

The empty tomb. The future restoration of all things. The never ending, never surrendering, never giving up on us love of God. The resurrection. This symbol, in my opinion, better exemplifies the God I seek to know and follow after.

Sorry to get on my soap box about the cross. Obviously it is important too. I just don’t think it’s the point, and I think logos ought to be about the point.

That’s it for now. On to some game notes.

Game Notes:

We got to see the current NL wins leader, Wily Peralta (14-6), start for the Brewers. Jake Peavy was going for the Giants. This marked the second time in the tour I’ve seen Peavy get the loss. (He started for Boston the day Jake Arrietta nearly threw a no-hitter.)

Peralta was lights out. and only gave up 1 run and struck out 9. The Giants loaded the bases in the first but failed to score, and he pretty much cruised from then on.

Peavy didn’t really have it over 5.2 innings, and he was fortunate to only give up 3 runs on 9 hits.

Milwaukee got their first three batters on to start the game and it looked like they were going to pile on the runs, but instead Carlos Gomez was caught stealing and Pence made a terrific catch on the warning track to keep the Brewers to a 1-0 lead.

Bottom of the 5th, Peavy made it to first* on a dropped third strike, and eventually came around to score on a Pence single to make it 1-1.

* – Here’s a fun quiz: How many different ways are there to get to first base?

The wheels came off for Peavy the next inning though. To lead off the 6th, Aramis Ramirez doubled, then Khris Davis did too, and a Rickie Weeks single made it 3-1. The Brewers bullpen – Jeffress, Smith and Rodriguez – would do the rest to seal the win for the Crew.

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Twenty-two down. Eight to go.

Up Next: Chicago Cubs.

-apc.

Game 21: U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago

This morning’s post game report is going to be short and sweet because I’m on a time crunch to drive up to Milwaukee for this afternoon’s game. Here are a couple notes from yesterday’s game…

The Cell was way better than I anticipated. Not in my Top 10 ballparks. Actually probably not even in my Top 15. But I had extremely low expectations going into the game, and I was surprised at what I found instead.

U.S. Cellular Field was originally Comiskey Park II. It was built in 1991, which was the year before Camden Yards was built in Baltimore and completely changed the landscape of ballpark design. After Camden, every park for the next 20 years was a “retro” design utilizing steel and brick aesthetics rather than the concrete coliseums/multipurpose parks of the previous decades (think Kauffman Stadium, Oakland Coliseum, Dodger Stadium, etc.). Comiskey II was the last of that era, and I wasn’t expecting it to be worth much. It’s undergone renovations and remodels numerous times to make it more appealing, and clearly their improvements have made an impact.

We arrived in Chicago around 10:30 and bolted as quickly as possible to The Cell on the Southside. We made it most of the way there on the Red Line, but they weren’t letting passengers off at the 35th-Sox station next to the ballpark because there was an acid spill next to the station and they had to close down the whole area – blocks in each direction. A somewhat crazy start to the trip.

Keeping up with my tradition at each ballpark, I picked up a White Sox cap at the ballpark. As a Royals fan, I dislike the White Sox quite a bit, so I opted for the throwback 1983 style (which, as I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere, is one of my favorite uniforms ever). It’s pretty slick, actually.

I saw three potential themes to write about from today’s game: the myth of clutch-hitting, the goal of evangelism, and the purpose of the Ten Commandments.

#1: The Myth of Clutch Hitting

One of the largest debates in baseball circles is whether or not there is such a thing as a “clutch” ballplayer. Certainly there are clutch hits, and clutch situations, but is it true that some ballplayers are literally better than others at hitting in big time situations? When the pressure is on, are there certain guys that inexplicably can rise to the occasion while others cower and sweat and ultimately fail?

The reason I ask, is because on two separate occasions, rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, came up with runners on base and an opportunity to put the White Sox up with one swing of the bat. Abreu leads the MLB in HRs this year with 31. Now that Mashiro Tanaka is out with an injury, it seems pretty certain that Abreu will be the Rookie of the Year in the AL. He’s exactly the guy you want up in that situation.

He came up twice with runners on and both times I found myself leaning forward begging him to come through in the clutch.

In the fourth inning, with a runner on first, he grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. In the 6th inning, with runners on second and third with two outs (the Sox best chance for a rally in the game) he grounded out to the shortstop again, ending the inning and the threat.

Jose Abreu was not clutch yesterday.

But it begs some questions: are there certain humans that thrive in the tight spots? Are there others who are weak in pressure spots?

Ultimately, the guys at Baseball Prospectus will tell you that there’s no such thing as a “clutch” hitters. There are clutch moments – like Carlton Fisk in the 1975 World Series or David Freese in the 2011 World Series – that are certainly clutch moments. But there’s no such thing as a clutch individual. The numbers correlate pretty much across the board that guys who are better players are the guys you want at the plate in tight spots.

There’s more math here, and tons of articles written about it, but we basically know that the idea of “clutch-hitters” is a myth.

It’s funny what myths we buy into as humans. For example, the “creation story” of baseball is a myth. Abner Doubleday supposedly invented the game in Cooperstown. But there is zero evidence that Doubleday was ever in Cooperstown nor that he had anything to do with the game.

Baseball needed an origin story that made baseball purely an American game and not a variation of the English game of Cricket or stickball. We wanted an origin story – a myth – to believe in because we needed to believe in something. I’ve written a lot about the Genesis creation debate elsewhere, so I’m not going to get into it here, but suffice it to say, it’s a myth too.

#2: The Goal of Evangelism

As a culture, we don’t really care about faith/spirituality/belief actually changing our lives. We just want to know how to get to Heaven. What’s the one thing we have to do to cross from “Death into Life”?

I think many of us have adopted this mentality in how we preach the gospel to others. Is the goal of evangelism conversion and subsequent salvation? Or is the goal of evangelism an altered lifestyle? I believe it is the latter.

I believe that our culture is constantly trying to hit home runs in our evangelism when we should be focusing on hitting singles. When we preach or interact with others, are we trying to convert and save them? Or are we engaging them relationally in a new lifestyle?

Relationships aren’t about home runs. It’s done over time. Gradually. Stringing singles and walks together instead.

I love this analogy, but the exact opposite happened in the game yesterday. The only runs scored were off of HRs, and not a single run was scored by stringing singles together. So that’s hilarious, so never mind. We’ll revisit this idea somewhere else probably.

#3: The Purpose of the Ten Commandments

Ozzie Guillen was the White Sox manager from 2004-2011. When he was in Chicago, he had a list of phrases he called “Grinder Rules”, and the Sox have posted these phrases all around the ballpark. Here’s a sampling…

  • Win, or die trying.
  • Everything pitch is full count.Every inning, the ninth. Every game, game seven.Be a man. Play like a boy.
  • Ixnay on talkin’ about the ayoffsplay.
  • Pitch. Hit. Win. Repeat.
  • Crying in baseball is acceptable only if champagne burns your eyes.
  • Taste victory and be hungry forever.
  • Respect the past, people that are shoeless, and anyone named Joe.

There are many, many more, and they’re all full of Ozzie’s goofy yet competitive attitude. They’re a way of playing the game. A way of approaching the game they get paid to play. These phrases define an era of White Sox Baseball.

And it reminds me of the Ten Commandments. Well, I should say the 613 commandments, because thats how many there actually are in the Torah.

The Torah is the Law of Moses. The first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

When we read these 613 commandments, we often see a list of rules and regulations. A list of Dos and Don’ts. Legalism, even. But that’s not the goal of the Ten Commandments and Torah at all.

The goal of Torah is to maintain right relationship with God and others. It’s not about following the rules; it’s about our connection with our friends, our enemies and our God.

Every ball club has their “Way” of playing the game. The Cardinal Way. The Yankee Way. The Ranger Way. The White Sox Way. Each “Way” calls the players to a certain lifestyle.

The Way of God calls followers to a lifestyle of right relationship.

Just a few connections I started thinking about yesterday. Obviously incomplete, but we’re leaving for Milwaukee in 10 minutes and I gotta wrap this post up ASAP.

Game Notes:

Chris Sale started for the White Sox and really only made one mistake the whole evening – gave up a 2 run HR to Adam Rosales in the 2nd inning. Bummer we had to see one of Sale’s 2 losses on the year.

Rosales hit another HR off the Sox bullpen in the 7th. Dayan Viciedo hit a solo shot for the Sox in the bottom half of the inning to make it 3-1 Rangers and that’s all the scoring that took place.

Double plays were killer for the Sox. They got the lead off man on in 4 consecutive innings and couldn’t score any of those frames. Three DPs led to 0 runs.

Stinks to see another loss. But let’s be honest, I’m not a Sox fan.

Twenty-one down. Nine to go.

Up Next: Milwaukee Brewers.

-apc.

Game 19: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

If we’re going to talk about the Nationals, we have to talk about Stephen Strasburg. And if we’re going to talk about Stephen Strasburg, we’re going to have to talk about baseball cards.

So, let’s talk about baseball cards.

Baseball card collecting has been a hobby of mine since I was really young. Like 5. Today, I have thousands of baseball cards. Tens of thousands, probably. I have every base set Topps card printed between 1978 and 1991. I have the rookie cards of every member of the 1982 World Series Cardinals team. (My next project should be to assemble all the 1985 Royals rookies.) I have over 100 different cards of my favorite player of all time, Ozzie Smith, Cardinals shortstop in the 80s and 90s.

A few days prior to my trip to Washington D.C., I was in Philly at Citizens Bank Park. As I walked the concourse, I came across one of the more impressive memorabilia kiosks I’ve ever seen – and by far the most impressive I’ve seen at a ballpark.

The kiosk was owned by Hunt Auctions. They had everything a collector would need: cards, autographed balls and bats and jerseys, a huge selection of World Series pins and programs. And not just current players, and not just Phillies. It was the best of the best. There was a Babe Ruth autographed photo. A Nolan Ryan rookie card I couldn’t take my eyes off. A Stan Musial autographed jersey. And stacks of baseballs signed by everyone from Mickey Mantle to Mike Schmidt.

I found an Ozzie Smith autographed ball at the kiosk that I ended up bringing home with me.

My collection is mostly 80s cards and current players. It bleeds a lot into the mid- to late-70s and early-90s, but for some reason I have an affinity for those 80s styles. Probably because they’re a good balance between cost and value for my wallet. RBI Baseball probably helps a lot too.

The baseball card industry dates back to the late 1800s, but really took off in the 1950s with the introduction of Bowman in 1948 and Topps in 1951. Bowman was bought out by Topps after 1955 which made Topps the only option for the next quarter century. So each player only had one card produced each year.

In 1980, Topps lost an anti-monopoly lawsuit, and suddenly two new competitors emerged: Donruss and Fleer. Sure, they had the same guys pictures on it, but I don’t think Donruss or Fleer ever managed to dethrone Topps, At least not in my opinion – all I ever bought were Topps.

Still, I wonder of Topps felt a little competition because around the same time they started getting creative with their base sets.

Suddenly, Topps was releasing All-Star cards, highlights, record breakers and league leaders from the previous year. They also introduced Topps Traded – a short series after the season that would feature players who had either traded teams or rookies who had been called up mid-season.

img500312C1PW0txLFor example, Ozzie Smith joined the Cardinals in 1982 coming over from the Padres, so his base card is in a Pads uniform and his ’82 Traded is his first Cardinals card. In 1986, Barry Bonds and Bo Jackson got called up to join the Pirates and Royals, so their official “rookie card” isn’t in the ’87 base series, but it is in the ’86 Traded series instead.

Topps also launched its Tiffany series which was the same cards only on cleaner and crisper cardboard. Classy stuff.

Suddenly a standard Topps complete set might have a half dozen different cards of the same player. Throw in Donruss and Fleer sets, and you could find 15-20 different cards featuring the same star players. But which one was the realcard you wanted?

Answer: the earliest Topps card. Those were the “official” rookie cards. And if you have an interest in landing complete sets, the value was defined almost entirely by the rookies in that class (with a little aesthetics thrown in).

nolan-ryanHere’s a quick list of each year’s biggest rookies with the complete set value (according to last year’s Beckett). Let’s start with Nolan Ryan’s rookie card from 1968.

  • 1968 Topps ($3000): Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan,
  • 1969 ($5000): Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Greg Nettles
  • 1970 ($2000): Thruman Munson
  • 1971 ($2500): Bert Blyleven, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons
  • 1972 ($1500): Ron Cey, Carlton Fisk
  • 1973 ($700): Bob Boone, Dwight Evans, Mike Schmidt
  • 1974 ($400): Ken Griffey, Dave Parker, Dave Winfield
  • 1975 ($600): George Brett, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Robin Yount
  • 1976 ($250): Dennis Eckersley, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph
  • 1977 ($250): Andre Dawson, Dennis Martinez, Dale Murphy
  • 1978 ($200): Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lamce Parrish, Lou Whitaker
  • 1979 ($200): Pedro Guerrero, Carney Lasford, Ozzie Smith, Bob Welch, Willie Wilson
  • 1980 ($120): Dan Quisenberry, Dave Stieb, Rick Sutcliffe,
  • 1981 ($60): Harold Baines, Kirk Gibson, Tim Raines, Jeff Reardon, Fernando Valenzuela, Danny Ainge
  • 1982 ($80): Brett Butler, Chili Davis, Cal Ripken Jr., Lee Smith, Dave Stewart
  • 1983 ($80): Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandberg, Daryl Strawberry
  • 1984 ($50): Don Mattingly, Dwight Gooden, Jimmy Key, Bret Saberhagen
  • 1985 ($60): Roger Clemens, Eric Davis, Orel Hershiser, Mark McGwire, Kirby Puckett
  • 1986 ($25): Len Dykstra, Cecil Fielder, Barry Bonds, Bo Jackson,
  • 1987 ($25): Rafeal Palmero, Barry Larkin, Greg Maddux
  • 1988 ($15): Ken Caminiti, Tom Glavine

A few notes about that list:

Generally, the value of the sets drops bit by bit each year – which makes sense because older is always rarer and, thus, more valuable. But the value absolutely tanks once you get to the 80s. Sure, they’re way more common, but the fact that there were multiple cards to choose from made each less valuable.

There are 5 instances when the value went up instead of down: 1969, 1971, 1975, 1982/1983, 1985.

  1. Reggie Jackson is the biggest reason 1969 is so valuable. Jackson was enormously popular with Topps and the public. Also it’s the first Nolan Ryan card that he doesn’t have to share with Jerry Koosman.
  2. Ban10The 1971 increase is tougher to explain, and it’s probably a mixture of things (as all of these are). The lack of names in the surrounding years is probably one reason. You have a huge overlap in players from the previous generation of players (Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays) mixed with the next generation (Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench).  The ’71 set also has all black bordering, which makes any dent, scuff or bend extremely noticeable with the lighter cardboard showing through the print. When in good condition, it makes a gorgeous set.Bre1
  3. Yes, George Brett is one reason the 1975 set is worth more, but it also could be due to aesthetics: the duel-colored ’75 Topps set is a favorite among collectors and Topps still does 1975 throwbacks pretty regularly.
  4. The increase in 1982 and 1983 is obvious: Cal Ripken Jr. and the late Tony Gwynn spike those values.
  5. 1983-Topps-Baseball-Tony-GwynnThe 1985 increase is only by 10 bucks. Apparently Topps believes that Clemens/McGwire/Puckett is a bigger deal than Mattingly/Gooden/Saberhagen. Kirby Puckett passing away may have managed to offset the steroid use of Clemens and McGwire. The sharp decrease into 1986 is probably because Rusty Kuntz Rod Carew retired after 1985.

And look how miserable the 1988 set is. The whole set – all 792 cards – is worth a whopping $15. Woof.

Everything changed in 1989 with the introduction of a new fresh brand featuring a rookie who would define a generation of young fans:

  • 1989 Upper Deck ($60): Ken Griffey Jr.

109347When I was a kid, that was the card everyone wanted. It was a huge deal. All the kids wanted Upper Deck and all the kids wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. It redefined the baseball card industry. I would ride my Dyno bike (no pegs…yet) a couple miles to the nearest card shop (Sports Collectables at 103rd & 69 highway by Skateland South) – and it was all for that UD Griffey rook.

I never managed to find one.

And when I couldn’t find one, I got tired of spending my allowance on Upper Deck cards of guys I didn’t know or care about. So I jumped off the UD ship and starting buying individual cards of the three players I actually cared about: Ozzie Smith, Bo Jackson and Nolan Ryan.

To this day, I don’t own the Griffey rook.

Unfortunately, Upper Deck’s success in 1989 had an unintended side effect: suddenly everybody thought they could do what UD had done and the trading card industry became extremely saturated.

A year earlier, Score had been launched with not much success – probably due to a lame rookie class. To compete, Topps resurrected Bowman in 1989 as well. If the market was going to be saturated, Topps might as well have a majority share.

Leaf – after a couple single-year series in 1949 and 1960 – returned in 1990. Ultra, Stadium Club, Score became Pinnacle, SP, Pacific…suddenly there were dozens of cards of every single player. The industry was flooded with cards.

Suddenly everyone had a dozen rookie cards too. Which one was the real rookie card?

The answer came in 2002 when Topps began branding Bowman as the rookie brand. They started selling Draft Picks and Prospects cards with the phrase “My 1st Bowman” on the card, featuring players who hadn’t even stepped foot on an MLB field yet.

But for most of the 2000s the baseball card industry remained dead. No one wanted cards anymore because 1. The market was still so saturated and 2. all the star rookies from the previous 15 years turned out to have been taking PEDs. The Steroid Era was killing the card industry too.

Then in 2009, Topps became the official trading card of Major League Baseball, which put them back on top. Which brings me to Stephen Strasburg, who was drafted that same year, and who, from my perspective, immediately and singlehandedly resurrected baseball cards.

In his sophomore year at San Diego State, Strasburg posted a 1.58 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 98.1 innings. The following year, he was even better going 13-1 with a 1.38 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 109 innings.

He was, and still is, a strikeout machine.

In the 2009 MLB Draft, Strasburg was picked #1 overall by the lowly Nationals. When he debuted in June of 2010, Joe Posnanski called his start the “most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen.” And he lived up to the hype going 7 IP, 2 ER, 0 walks and fourteen strikeouts. Although he fell a K short of the debut record, he set a new Nats strikeout record that day. And it was only Day 1.

strasburgFrom February-June 2010, Strasburg was all it took for me to get I back into card collecting. And more intensely than ever before. I hit every baseball card store in KC searching for boxes of Bowmans, and if they didn’t have them, I’d grab boxes at Target or Walmart instead. I went on a midnight trip in Denver that June and hit 3 different Walmarts looking for that card. It was like the 1989 Griffey all over again only now I was an adult spending a salary instead of an 8 year old spending an allowance.

It was Strasburg Fever, and the industry hadn’t seen anything like it in 20 years.

Then…heartbreak.

In July of 2010, Stras went on the DL with inflammation in his right shoulder. A month later, he returned for three starts, before going on the DL a second time, only this time for much longer. He needed Tommy John surgery and would be out for the next 12 months.

As is always the case with pitchers who undergo TJ surgery, there were questions as to whether he would be the same guy when he returned. He came back for 5 starts at the end of 2011 and held opponents to a .179 average, struck out 24 and only walked 2. His ERA: 1.50.

Since his injury, he has a 3.10 ERA with 543 strikeouts. His career K/9 of 10.5 is higher than anyone named Scherzer or Kershaw or Lincecum, albeit in less innings. He made his first All Star game in 2012.

Any questions?

Not until September 2012, there weren’t. That’s when the Nationals sealed a spot in the playoffs for the first time since their move from Montreal in 2005. But the Nationals didn’t want their top starter to get injured again. He had been on an innings limit during the season, and had reached that limit. Playoffs or not, the Nats decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg for the 2012 playoffs.

Since then, he’s been the same guy the Nationals always thought he would be.

He was pitching on Tuesday night in Washington DC. I had never seen him pitch in person, and it was even better than my expectations. He was himself: 1 run on 5 hits with 8 strikeouts in 7.2 innings. His only blemish came in the 8th when he gave up a solo HR to LeMahieu.

I was even more impressed with his mechanics. I had my binoculars with me, watching him from the front row of the upper deck. I noticed two dark spots in the dirt in front of the mound and I couldn’t figure out why they were there. I watched him for a while and realized he was so consistent that his feet would land in the identical spot every single pitch. He would plant with his left foot out in front, and his right leg would fly around and plant in the same place on the first base side of the mound every time. It was mesmerizing, really.

But it was different witnessing him in person than it was looking at his picture on his 2010 Bowman TCP #1.

You see, no matter what collectors might tell you about the worth of their collection or how the 1968 Topps complete set is worth $5k, baseball card collecting isn’t about the their financial value whatsoever.

Baseball card collecting is about nostalgia.

Card collecting is about recalling memories of ballplayers from the past. It’s about remembering the guys you used to celebrate at the ballpark. It’s about seeing Carlos Zambrano’s face and being filled with anger. It’s about the day I learned what a Jheri curl was from Pascual Perez’s gorgeous 1990 Topps card, and how hard I laughed at  It’s about seeing Ken Harvey’s All Star card and laughing about the time he fell behind the tarp at Kauffman Stadium and got stuck.

It’s why I collect Ozzie Smiths and Bo Jacksons and Nolan Ryans. It’s all about my childhood memories.

It’s all about the feelings each card sparks inside your heart. As long as I am making baseball memories, I want to have cards that remind me of them.

I got home from my East Coast Tour and placed my new Ozzie Smith ball along side the rest of my collection. I remembered traveling with my dad and grandpa during the floods of 1993 to catch a 3-game series in St. Louis. I sifted through my 1982 World Series Cardinals booklet and giggled at the sight of Willie McGee’s goofy faced rookie card. He got called up in 1982 and immediately helped win a championship.

I took a look through my pile of Strasburg cards, and noticed something I hadn’t before: new memories.

I’ll forever remember how sickly sweaty it was at Nationals Park that day. I’ll remember how we didn’t have enough time to explore D.C. so we had to jump out of the car, run up and take as many photos as we could of the Lincoln Memorial before my phone battery ran out, and then run back to the car. I’ll remember how I was craving Taco Bell the entire time I was in D.C. and as we were leaving town to drive back to Baltimore, right as I had lost hope entirely, we found one. I’ll remember how the employee at that Taco Bell claimed they didn’t have water.

It’s about more than the cards and their values. It’s about the sentiments attached to each name, team and year.

The reason any of us love baseball cards isn’t because of all profit we’ll all reap when we sell them someday. People used to joke about how our baseball cards would pay for kids college education someday. Well, that didn’t work out. Neither did Beanie Babies. Instead, all my kids are going to get is stacks and stacks of stories about Ozzie, Bo and Nolan. And Ken Harvey. And Stephen Strasburg.

I’m not sure what angle I want to play on this chapter for my book. Perhaps legacy or memorial stones. Is nostalgia spiritual? I guess the roots of the word in Greek is “nostos” (to return) and “algos” (sorrow or pain).  Which is interesting because typically we associate the word with positive memories.

What is the role of nostalgia in our spiritual development? Is there value in longing for the past?

In today’s world, there is quite a bit of future focus. Productivity and efficiency are key values in our society. Don’t waste time because you only get so much of it.

Which has caused the Church to respond with sermons about slowing down and living in the now. And I think rightly so. It’s important to be present to the moment. Don’t work so hard that time gets away from you and passes you by. Notice the world around you. Etc.

But do we spend enough time remembering the past? Is there value in being nostalgic? When is nostalgia helpful? When is it hurtful? What can we learn from dwelling on the past that might help us in the present?

And how does this relate to theology, the early church and spirituality? Hmmm.

Not exactly sure where this ends up, but it feels like there’s a launching point here. But I don’t have time to flesh it out now. That’ll have to come with a lot of research and writing later. For now, on to some game notes.

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Game Notes:

Like I said, Strasburg was phenomenal: 7.2 IP, 1 R, 5 H, 8 K.

But the Nats offense was hot too and put up runs early. Rockies starter, Christian Friedrich (who was optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs two days later) walked the first two batters he faced then gave up a double and single to Jason Werth and Adam LaRoche to quickly make the game 3-0 Nationals.

The Nationals would add to their lead in the 4th. They started the inning with back to back to back to back doubles by Strasburg, Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Werth.

Here’s another Strasburg memory I’m sure to be nostalgic about someday: him running the bases in the 4th. His leadoff double should have been a triple, but he pulled up at second. Then he only advanced to third on Span’s double. Finally, two doubles after his own, he managed to score from third. A faster ballplayer probably could’ve picked up 6 or 7 bases in the amount of time Strasburg managed 4. It was quite the adventure, and in a closer ballgame the fans wouldn’t have been laughing as hard as they were.

Strasburg gave up a solo shot to LeMahieu in the 8th, but sandwiched two Ks around it for his last two outs of his start. Prior to the HR, he had only given up 4 singles and no one had made it past first base. As the MLB.com headline put it the next day, it was a “Stras-free night for the Nats”.

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Nineteen Down. Eleven to go.

Up Next: Baltimore Orioles.

-apc.

Game 16: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia

For a Midwest guy like me, taking a 1 hour train ride to a completely different city is bafflingly wonderful.

We got to Philadelphia around 11:00 AM ET and spent the afternoon exploring the sites: the Liberty Bell, the “Love” statue in JFK Park*, and Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution was created.

* – The Philly level in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2.

I felt like I was living the movie National Treasure. I kept imagining myself uncovering some 300 year old Free Mason secret and running around like Nicholas Cage on rooftops. Anything that makes places like that a little more action packed is a good thing.

But before we did any of that site seeing, we had to do the most American thing anyone did yesterday: watch the USA/Germany World Cup match.

We lost, but advanced anyway. To quote Adam Schefter of ESPN: “So this is soccer for the USA: ties feel like losses, and losses feel like wins.”

I’m not a huge soccer guy, but the World Cup is a different animal. The entire nation is following the same event at the same time rooting the same way. It’s infectious.

Soccer – like football and basketball – relies on a clock. Whoever has more goals after 90 minutes wins. Whoever has more points after 4 quarters wins. And the last 5 minutes of nearly every game is spent the same way: running down the clock.

Kick the ball out of bounds.

Kneel the ball three times.

Dribble the ball at the top of the key until the shot clock runs out.

It turns into a game of survival. Instead of working to win the game, teams are trying to survive and not lose the game.

But not baseball.

Baseball is 9 innings. It’s 27 outs.

You can’t kneel to a victory or kill time. You can’t run around with the ball or stall the game.

Also – and this is the big one – there are no ties. If you go 9 innings and there isn’t a winner, you play 10, or 11, or 12. Or – like last night in Philadelphia – 14. As long as it takes for a team to win the game.* Baseball has a different concept of time than soccer.

* – The same can be said for tennis, golf, volleyball…any sport without a countdown clock.

The ancient Greeks had words for this differentiation in time: chronos versus kairos.

Chronos: literal minutes and seconds. A set, determinate amount of time. Quantitative.

Kairos: an indefinite timeframe in which everything happens. An appointed time, an opportune moment. Pregnant time. Qualitative.

Baseball occurs in Kairos time. It’s pregnant. Everything happens and you have no idea how long it will take. Soccer, football, basketball, hockey – anything with a counting timer – is in Chronos time. It’s dependent on the clock.

In 1984, the Brewers and the White Sox played a 25 inning game that lasted 8 hours and 6 minutes. In the 1940s, games would consistently last less than 2 hours.

When I go to games, I expect to stay for the entire game, no matter how long it lasts. I don’t make plans after games. It’s the last thing I’m going to do that day. I plan to settle in for the long haul.

Last night, as the game progressed, I could feel myself becoming more and more chronos time conscious. We had a 12:13am train to catch out of 30th Street Station downtown. This game was going deep into the night, and by the 10th or 11th inning I had to start calculating how much time it would take to get back and how late I could stay. Which isn’t the right mindset for ballgames for me.

My kairos moment was conflicting with my chronos schedule.

We live in constant tension between kairos and chronos time.

We want to be present and live in the moment, but we can’t because we are so conscious of our schedules. Our calendars dictate our actions more than the moments themselves.

Ephesians 5:16 – Be careful how you walk, not unwise but wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

The word “time” is referenced in the New Testament over 130 times. Fifty of them are “chronos.” Eighty of them are “kairos.”

The use of “time” here in Ephesians is not chronos. It’s kairos. It’s being present to the moment in front of you. Allowing what is pregnant to be birthed rather than forcing your agenda instead.

What moments are potentially kairos moments that we miss because we’re so enamored by chronos time. We love to focus on the “being good stewards of our time (chronos)” part of Scripture. Productivity. Maximizing our 24 hr day.

It’s a difficult perspective to adopt – especially in places like New York City. It’s extremely countercultural. Chronos time rules in our world today.

Ultimately, I had to let chronos dictate my night. I was not happy with the decision, but I had no choice. We missed a walkoff homerun by Chase Utley in the 14th inning. Plus there was a fireworks show after the game and we missed it too.

It ended up being a terrible choice to leave early anyway. I-76 was gridlocked. We missed our train and had to take a cab 2 hours back to NYC instead. Hilarious.

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Game Notes:

This one was a division battle that no one really expects to mean anything when the season is over. Going into the game, the Marlins were 39-39 and the Phillies were 35-42. The Nationals and Braves are the contenders in the NL East this year in my opinion. I don’t see there being space for anybody else.

Cole Hamels got the start for the Phillies. He’s been great this season but hasn’t gotten any run support: 2.84 ERA with only a 2-4 record. He pitched well again last night but managed gave up 3 leadoff HRs. He went 6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER and got a no decision.

The Phillies responded with three runs of their own. Utley scored on a Carlos Ruiz sac fly in the 4th to make it 2-1; In the 5th, Ben Revere singled, stole second, and scored on an Utley single to make it 2-2.

Then in the 7th, with the score 3-2, John Mayberry Jr. singled and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and a ground out. Jimmy Rollins hit a slow grounder to the right of first baseman Jeff Baker who attempted a few times to pick it up but couldn’t put a fork in it. Mayberry scored on the error to knot the game at 3-3.

In a questionable move, Phillies manager and former Cubs second baseman, Ryne Sandberg, decided to use Tony Gwynn Jr. off the bench to bunt in the pitchers spot to advance Mayberry. He did his job well, but one wonders if Hamels couldn’t’ve dropped his own bunt and the Phillies saved a pinch hitter for a game that looked destined to go extras. Ultimately, it didn’t come back to bite them.

In extras, the Phillies had their chances in nearly every inning but couldn’t plate anyone. They stranded 7 baserunners from the 10th-13th innings before Utley got tired of the lack of hitting with RISP and deposited one over the left field wall.

The Phillies kept it tied too by stellar defense by Cody Asche at 3B. A barehanded play in the 8th, a diving stop and throw in the 10th, started a double play in the 11th and made a leaping catch in the 14th. He was a human highlight reel in the field.

Utley played the hero in the end. The Phillies broke my home team losing streak. Here’s to hoping the Yankees start a new streak tonight in the Bronx.

Sixteen down. Fourteen to go.

Up next: New York Yankees.

-apc.

Game 15: Citi Field, Queens, New York

Every history of the Mets begins with westward expansion.

In 1957, there were 3 MLB clubs in New York: the Yankees, Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. Then in 1958, only the Yankees were left as the Giants and Dodgers left for California.

Giants and Dodgers fans were without a team for 4 years, and the New York Metropolitans were supposed to be the answer when they began in 1962.

In 1962, the Dodgers won 102 games in LA but finished second in the NL to the Giants who won 103 games. The Yankees took the AL with 97 games and won the World Series over the Giants in 7 games.

The Mets, in their inaugural year, lost a miserable 120 games.

40-120.

There’s never been a worse record since.

What made it even worse: they were playing in the New York Polo Grounds, the recently abandoned home of the Giants. The team that left went to the World Series against the cross town rival Yankees. The replacement Mets put up the worst record since the 1935 Boston Braves, and the 3rd worst record ever recorded.

I can only imagine how much of an eye roll the 1962 Mets were. This team was supposed to replace two powerhouse ball clubs. Instead…what an embarrassment.

They moved from Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan to Queens in 1965, and still piddled around in the bottom of the standings until 1969 when somehow, by some stroke of luck, they actually managed to win it all. The Miracle Mets had won their first World Series championship.

They won their only other ring in 1986. The Mets roster that year was extremely impressive: Daryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson, Gary Carter, George Foster, Lenny Dykstra, and Dwight Gooden holding down the pitching staff.

But it still took one of the biggest blunders in baseball history for them to win it all.

That was in Shea Stadium, where the Mets played until 2008. Today they play at Citi Field, which is basically a giant homage to Ebbets Field where the Brooklyn Dodgers used to play. Here’s a look at the entryway rotunda at both Citi and Ebbets Field…

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At Citi, they even call it the “Jackie Robinson Rotunda.” The interior is packed with Jackie and Branch Rickey quotes and video clips. It’s cool, but somewhat awkward since the Dodgers still exist.

In fact, the Mets colors – blue and orange – are a blending of the Dodgers and Giants colors.

Karlie and I were at the game last night together and she made the comment that the Mets feel “generic”. Their mascot is a man with a baseball for a head – same as Cincinnati. Their colors are copied from past teams. Their ballpark is copied too. They share a city – their team name is the “Metropolitans” which was supposed to unite both former fan bases into one. They serve “Brooklyn Lager” and don’t even have a hot dog named after their mascot. C’mon guys. Find an identity.

They just don’t seem to have much that is uniquely theirs.

In fact, the Queens fan base isn’t even uniquely theirs…at all. In a map released recently by Facebook and featured in the NY Times, it was discovered that the “Yankees are the preferred team everywhere in New York City.” Even the area surrounding the ballpark has more Yankees fans than Mets fans.

The fan reclamation movement of the 1960s seems to have failed. Even Jay-Z, a Brooklyn boy, is a huge Yankees fan.

The last time the Mets made the World Series was 2000, and they had to play the Yankees. The Subway Series (which I learned yesterday is technically the 7 train between Manhattan and Flushing) was won by the Yankees and they celebrated on field at Shea Stadium in front of probably more Yankees than Mets fans. Sigh.

It almost starts making you feel sorry for the Mets. So much baggage with their franchise. Feeling the pressure of two historic franchises that came before them, yet playing in the shadow of their big brother in the Bronx. It’s not a successful setup. It’s like they were born into a broken family system.

Family systems are so interesting to me. We inherit the system we are born into – the emotional strains, abuse and disease histories, dysfunction, abandonment, birth order, emotional distancing, employment history, marital conflict, etc. – and none of it is in our control at birth. Life is a complex web of overlapping human relationships that all impact one another. The key to healthily navigating broken family systems is managing to differentiate yourself from the emotional system.

Every single one of us is born into a different system and our task is to learn to navigate it healthily.

Discovering your own identity is crucial to navigating life emotionally healthy. And the Mets don’t seem to have their own identity.

Murray Bowen was the pioneer behind Family Systems Theory. I encourage everyone to go check it out more in depth.

I’m excited to look into this connection more as I write this chapter of the book. We talk about this stuff all the time in our seminary classes and ministry spheres.

Probably more to talk about, but for now, I’m going to move on to some game notes. I’m halfway to Philly right now and need to start researching where I’m going to watch the USA/Germany match. Moving on.

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Game Notes:

I’ve reached the halfway point on the tour: Game 15 of 30. But I’ve now only seen the home team win 1/3 of the time.

I saw the Royals and Cardinals win their home openers. I saw Atlanta win the first stop on my Smorgasbord Tour in early April. And I saw both Oakland and the Giants win while I was in the Bay Area.

After last night, I can add the Mets to the ever expanding list of teams I’ve watched lose this year: Reds, Rangers, Astros, D-Backs, Padres, Dodgers, Mariners, Rockies, Angels, and Mets.

Tuesday night, the Mets pounded the A’s 10-1. New York had won 3 straight. But then I came to town and had to wreck their mojo.

Last night’s game marked the third time I’ve seen Oakland win this season, and my wife, who has been with me for all three matchups, is basically an A’s fan at this point. Yoenis Cespedes is her boy.

The Mets’ Zach Wheeler was coming off the best start of his career shutting out Miami last week, but he didn’t have it last night. A Brandon Moss HR made it 2-0 after 1, and a string of walks and singles scored another before Cespedes doubled with the bases loaded to make it 6-0 after 2.

And that was Wheelers night. They pinch hit for him in the bottom half of the second: 2 IP, 6 H, 6 ER.

The A’s would add two more before the Mets could do anything offensively. Coco Crisp hit a solo HR and the Mets conceded another run on a double play. 8-0 after 6.

Then the Mets started to mount a comeback: Lucas Duda hit a 3 run shot in the 7th that made it 8-3 and caused the “big apple” beyond the CF wall to spring to life. Every Mets HR causes the apple to rise up from behind the wall. It’s a pretty stupid stadium gimmick.

We saw it again in the 8th when Chris Young homered and made it 8-5. But that’s all the runs Oakland would allow. Sean Doolittle, the A’s closer and a terrific follow on Twitter, struck out the side in the 9th to end it.

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Fifteen down. Fifteen to go.

Up Next: Philadelphia Phillies.

-apc.

East Coast Tour

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First of all, I need to apologize for the blog silence over the past couple weeks. I spent a week in Colorado running a youth ministry trip and the wheels came off for a bit there. It’s amazing how difficult it is to write when you aren’t doing it on a daily basis. Gotta get back into the routine though, because this upcoming week is going to demand a ton of it.

Because I leave tomorrow afternoon for the east coast.

Eight days. Six ballparks.

And when I get home I’ll be 2/3 of the way through the tour before the All Star Break.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be in Queens to see the Mets. Then on Thursday, a quick train ride to Philly will have me there in time for the USA/Germany match and a trip to Citizens Bank Park for the Phillies game. Then it’s back to NYC for a Red Sox/Yankees rivalry matchup on Friday night.

I’ll follow the Red Sox back to Boston, switch caps, and head to Fenway on Monday evening. Finally, Tuesday morning I fly south for games in D.C. and Baltimore on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

Then I’ll fly home and spend the next 48 hours sleeping, watching Independence Day, and tweeting about how Jeff Goldblum is the greatest actor not named Tom Hanks.

Here’s a look at the pitching match ups currently lined up for this week…

  • 6/25 – Oakland @ New York Mets (Mills vs Wheeler)
  • 6/26 – Miami @ Philadelphia (Koehler vs Hamels)
  • 6/27 – Boston @ New York Yankees (??? vs Nuno)
  • 6/30 – Chicago Cubs @ Boston (Arrieta vs Peavy)
  • 7/1 – Colorado @ Washington (Friedrich vs Strasburg)
  • 7/2 – Texas @ Baltimore (Martinez vs Norris)

Immediate takeaway: I wish I’d bought tickets to Saturday’s game in the Bronx instead of Friday: Lester vs Tanaka. Not that it will matter. Yankee Stadium will take my breath away regardless. The legacy of this team is wild. The theme going into Friday night: Empire, and it’s retiring Captain, Derek Jeter.

Same with Fenway. I loved seeing this game fall into place on the schedule. The two “cursed” teams in baseball, the Cubs and Red Sox, in an interleague battle. Of course, Boston’s curse has been well lifted while the Cubs are well on their way to 106 years without a World Series title. The theme of blessings/curses is going to be really fun to write about.

Finally, I can’t wait to see Stephen Strasburg pitch. In 2009, when he was a pitching prodigy coming out of San Diego State, my buddies and I were on the prowl for every box of Bowman baseball cards we could find. His rookie card was the most coveted baseball card since Ken Griffey Jr.’s in 1989. His injuries (and being shut down in the playoffs two years ago) have wrecked his potential coming into the league. When he’s on, there’s no one better. Can’t wait to finally see him in person.

Lastly, Camden Yards in Baltimore is a ballpark that I am extremely excited to visit. Man that place is majestic with the B&O building in right field. It set the standard for ballpark creations for the future. I’ve got a tour lined up for that one already (along with NYY and BOS, obviously).

It’s fun to see spiritual themes already unfolding as I get ready to depart. Here comes another adventure in pursuit of discovering the Story the God is telling in the game of baseball across the United States! Can’t wait to share these experiences with you all!

I’ll be listening to a lot of Jay-Z and The Roots to prepare. Maybe with some Ryan Adams in the mix. See you tomorrow, New York.

-apc.

Photo Cred: Flickr: leecullivan

Game 14: Angel Stadium, Anaheim

I know what you’re thinking. “Adam, where’s Game 13? Did you make a counting mistake? Or did you skip it because yesterday was Friday the Thirteenth and it’s unlucky?” Neither, actually. Coors Field happened back on June 3. I took the high school youth group I lead. I’m just not quite ready to report on it yet. Stay tuned.

SNL’s The Californians skits take on a new level of hilarity when you have to drive from UCLA to Angel Stadium in rush hour traffic.

Over 2 hours to travel 50 miles.

But let me tell you this: I was born for driving in the big city. LA traffic requires the perfect balance of aggression and patience, and – I don’t mean to brag – but I have been gifted with that perfect balance. Is it a superhero trait? No one can be sure. But, yes. It is.

The Angels first came to Anaheim in 1966 after spending 5 years as a team stadium hopping around LA. Since 1966, they’ve called Anaheim home, but their team name has still bounced around quite a bit. Are they the “Anaheim Angels” or the “Los Angeles Angels” or the “California Angels” or the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” or all of the above? It’s confusing stuff for a team that hasn’t moved in nearly 50 years.

During those years, the Angels have earned only one World Series championship: 2002. Led by David Eckstein, Darin Erstad and Garrett Anderson, the Halos bested the Giants in 7 games. But there are other big moments at the Big A.

My personal favorite: the 1989 All Star Game when Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs led off with back to back solo shots in the bottom of the first inning. Former president Ronald Reagan was being interviewed in the broadcast booth when Bo’s jack happened. They were hardly paying attention when Reagan Bo interrupted the interview. A flabbergasted Reagan commented, “OH!” while Vin Scully exclaimed, “And Bo Jackson says hello!”

Jackson won the All Star MVP that year and former Angel Nolan Ryan, then with the Rangers, got the win in relief – the oldest pitcher to ever get a ASG win at the age of 42.

Ryan’s number is retired in three different ballparks: Texas, Houston and Anaheim. So Wednesday night completed the Nolan Ryan retired number circuit. I’ll complete the team circuit in two weeks when I see the Mets in NYC.

Today’s Angels team is packed with star power: Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Trout make up one of the scariest 2-3-4 lineups in the league.

Albert cleared 500 career HRs a few weeks ago. His contract coming over from St. Louis was massive, and until this year, it hasn’t looked like it was a smart move on LAA’s part. Hamilton is a similar story, coming from the Rangers.

Mike Trout, however, is something totally different. He’s one of the best in the game right now – a 5-tool player: power, average, speed, arm and defense – and he’s only 22 years old. Even better, he’s a hard worker and is always striving to get better. He seems above the distractions that come with game and success, which is rare for a player who experiences so much success at his age.

Speaking of distractions, I don’t remember a game where I struggled to focus on the action so much. Maybe it was a product of the LA traffic, or because I couldn’t take my eyes off the wide array of stadium snacks that kept passing under my nose.

I was sitting in the front row of section 515. Highest level, but it still felt remarkably close to the game for the cheap seats. Sitting in the front row meant there was a walkway right in front of me, so I got a crash course in stadium eats as the game progressed. The best item in the park in my opinion: the “Big Daddy Nachos.” Chips, beef, beans, red fresnos, pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream all in an Angels helmet. Way good.

But the distractions kept mounting. I couldn’t focus in on the action for some reason.

The game started strong. In the first two innings both teams robbed a homerun – Trout took one away in the 1st, and Coco Crisp did the same in the 2nd. It was a 1-1 game for a long time, and about the time the bullpens came out the game really slowed to a halt.

Now, I love the slow pace of baseball. It allows space for conversation between pitches and innings. The lack of action actually promotes relationships in the stands. But this game was sort of a drag.

So I went for the distractions.

I missed the entire 5th inning in line for a nacho helmet. I spent the bulk of the 6th trying to catch up on the plays I missed in the 5th. The 8th was lost trying to figure out how to get back to the hotel. And then when the A’s started piling up insurance runs late, I did something I hadn’t done yet on my ballpark tour…

I left early.

Just typing that feels wrong. But considering the morale of the game combined with the long drive back to our hotel, it was the right thing to do. The Rally Monkey was fun and tempting – and I still wonder if I had cheered louder if he would have come – but it was a sad situation in Anaheim.

I was also a little disappointed I hadn’t gone to the Tuesday night game instead where the Halos won on a Cowgill walkoff HR in the 14th inning.

As I was driving home in the carpool lane on the 405, I started thinking about how distracted I was. I came and went and I hadn’t been looking for anything spiritual. God was there, but I missed him.

The distractions got in the way.

As I exited off the 405 on to Sunset Blvd, I realized how common that is for me. How often am I so caught up in the day to day events of life that I forget to look for God’s action around me? When does my to-do list function like blinders to the places of wonder, beauty or injustice in the world?

God is active. Am I tuned into his action enough to take notice?

There’s a difference between seeing and noticing. I watched the game. I saw it with my own eyes. I was there. But did I really notice what was happening in the game? I think it was Cespedes who got robbed by Trout, but I’m not certain without looking at my scorecard. I was pretty sure it was Moss who hit the 3-run homer, but I had to look that up too.* I saw, but did I really take notice of the details of the game?

* – It wasn’t Moss. It was Vogt.

Is God doing something cool in our midst? Do we notice it? Or do we merely see it and move on?

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Game Notes:

The high point in the game was the first two innings when Crisp and Trout robbed the homers.

Tommy Milone got the W for Oakland. Both Milone and Jered Weaver had solid starts, both giving up 1 through the first 5 innings. But Weaver faced Cespedes/Moss/Lowrie/Vogt to start the 6th and went 2B/1B/Sac 8/HR which ended his night at 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, all earned.

The Rally Monkey came out for the Angels in the late innings, but it only helped the visitors who added to their lead in the 9th and sparking my early exit.

The A’s won it 7-1. There’s a reason they’re running away with the AL West: it’s because they’re really good. Not sure why I decided to overlook them when I made my preseason predictions back in March. The Angels are still a contender, but not for the division.

One disappointing note: Pujols got thrown out at third trying to leg out a triple. It was the second game in a row that Cespedes recorded a put out from LF. Pujols looked like he was running in Jello.

Fourteen games down. Sixteen to go.

Up Next: New York Mets.

-apc.

Game 13: Coors Field, Colorado

No, this is not an aerial photo. This was the view from my seat. It’s where you sit when you’re buying tickets for a group of 24.

Every June, I lead my high school youth group on a trip to Colorado for a week. We call the trip “VERGE” and I always capitalize it and claim it’s an acronym, but it’s not – “verge” was just an awesome sounding word and it just looks more impressive when it’s in all caps.

We spend the first three days in Denver, serving at various ministry sites all around the city serving kids, veterans, the homeless, day laborers, etc. We also spend some time every year boxing up donated goods at World Vision headquarters*. The goal of the first three days of VERGE is to notice God’s action in the city of Denver. Sometimes it’s in the face of a homeless man, or in the dedication of a ministry site leader. Other times it’s seen in our group members themselves.

* – Something interesting/hilarious happened Monday at World Vision: we were boxing up “Broncos Super Bowl Champions” gear to ship off to Africa. If you remember, Peyton Manning malfunctioned and the Seahawks beat the Broncos 43-8 in the Super Bowl this past year. So all the Broncos pre-made champs gear gets shipped overseas. I tweeted a photo of it, and it went viral. If you Google “Broncos World Vision” you’ll now get page after page of articles about my tweet. As of this post: 818 retweets and counting. For the first time in my life, I experienced the true power of social media.

After three days in Denver, we drive on to Buena Vista, CO, where we rock climb, whitewater raft, hike the continental divide and swim in hot springs. The location changes, but the purpose does not: we continue to look for where God is acting in the world around us.

Often times it’s in the beauty of the mountains and he fact that we get to play in and on them. It comes in the form of a sunrise or a thunderstorm. It comes in the form of encouraging words to one another while we try to conquer the climbing wall.

Each evening, we end our day doing two things: we take time to share where we saw God’s action around us that day. Then we take time to brag on how we saw God working through one another in the ministry sites in Denver and on the mountains and rivers in Buena Vista.

We all adopt the perspective that God is at work all around us, and if we are intentional about looking for his action, we will undoubtedly recognize him throughout our day. We don’t bring God to either place – he’s working whether we show up or not – but what an honor that he invites us to participate in his action every day.

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On Tuesday evening – Day 3 of our trip – we ended our day by talking in a Rockies game at Coors Field downtown. It was an awesome opportunity for me to synthesize VERGE with this ballpark tour and book project.

Most of my students don’t care about baseball, and even the ones that do don’t really care about a game between the Rockies and Diamondbacks. But they all know about this project, and a few of them were really excited to be a part of it with me.

One of my students in particular, Brennan, seemed pretty pumped to be coming along. Brennan is a brilliant dude. Full of life, energy, wisdom and leadership, he’s the type of student youth pastors love to have in the group because of his ability to unite a group. He has a cohesive personality that manages to draw a group closer together. He has this goofy selflessness about him that can draw attention not to himself, but to those around him. Long story short, Brennan’s an impressive guy.

Perhaps his best quality, however, is his inquisitive spirit. He asks terrific questions about life, Scripture, and just general knowledge stuff. He is always striving to not only learn more about the subject, but to go deeper relationally with God and others.

When we finally sat down in our seats, Brennan plopped down next to me and quickly started asking me great questions about the concept for this book.

I told him the general points: I believe that everything is spiritual; the ballpark is heaven on earth for me; I see all sorts of connections between baseball and spirituality.

“Like what?” he asked.

I asked him to try to come up with some connections himself, and after some thinking, he responded with a brilliant thought as baseball related to our evening VERGE conversations over the previous couple of days.

After an inning or two, he offered this*: “What if we viewed the game as ‘God’s Action’ in the world? And the fans have the opportunity to go to the game, or to stay home. The game is going to happen whether the fans come or not, but when they go to the game, they get to cheer and celebrate and participate in the action.”

* – This is paraphrased, not verbatim. In retrospect, I really wish I’d been recording the conversation.

And not only that, but the game is better for it. Have you ever been to a ballgame with something like 5,000 fans there? It’s depressing. There’s no buzz, there’s little cheering, and it certainly doesn’t feel lively. But the game plays on, whether there were fans there to participate in the action or not.

Fans have the ability to fuel the ballgame. The energy builds and the players can feel it.

I was just reading about Curtis Pride in Jonah Keri’s book, “Up, Up and Away” about the Montreal Expos. In his second career at-bat, Pride came in to pinch hit against the Phillies. The Expos were down 7-4, and with two men on base, he doubles to left-center field scoring both base runners to make it 7-6.

It chases the Phillies starting pitcher from the game, and while the change is happening, the fans give Pride a 5 minute standing ovation. They just keep cheering and cheering and cheering, but Curtis Pride can’t hear it.

Because Curtis Pride was 95% deaf.

While the pitching change is still taking place, the third base coach comes over and tells him to tip his cap to the Montreal fans because they’re screaming like crazy. So he does. And they go even crazier. The Expos would go on to win 8-7.

In the post game interview, Pride was asked if he could hear the cheering. He said no, but he could feel the vibration through the turf.

If the ballpark was empty, that story doesn’t happen. Maybe he still hits the double, and maybe they still comeback to win anyway, but the cheering and the vibrations and the story just isn’t the same. The fans get to participate in the on field action.

It was the same idea we’d been talking about: God is active in the world, and he is inviting us to grab a ticket to join him. And when we join in on the action, we create a buzz – more life – than there would be without our participation.

The final value that I have for VERGE is based in community. Something amazing happens when a group serves and adventures together. Suddenly relational barriers that had previously existed don’t matter anymore. Labels are stripped away. Cliques begin to melt into one another. There’s no room for bad blood when people rally around a common goal.

Service brings people together.

Adventure brings people together.

Baseball brings people together.

The jerk that cut you off on the I-70 headed to the ballpark is now the recipient of your high five in Section 435. The family member who annoys the crud out of you is now joining you in chants and cheers. The ballplayers themselves need each other too.

We’ve all seen that Bugs Bunny cartoon where he’s playing all the positions at the same time, right? The pitcher, Bugs Bunny, winds up and throws to the catcher, Bugs Bunny. The ball gets creamed and Bugs runs out of the Polo Grounds and takes a taxi to the Statue of Liberty and catches the ball. Bugs is the entire offense too, hitting home run after home run.

It’s funny because it’s impossible. Baseball needs a team.

A catcher needs a pitcher. The pitcher needs a catcher. The fielders need a batter, and the batter needs a pitcher.

Baseball cannot be an individual sport. You can’t have some freak athlete that plays all positions and takes over a game. In other sports, you can have a ball hog who does everything for the team. But in baseball, it isn’t physically possible. Even a pitcher who throws a perfect game needed the catcher and his fielders there to record the outs.

Not only that, but baseball is unselfish. Bunting and sacrifice flys – batters give away an at bat to advance a runner for the betterment of the team. They’ll participate in a hit and run, relying on the other to do their part. They’ll take a seat in the 8th inning so a faster player can run for them. They’ll come in to pitch to one batter and then leave because they know that somebody else can get the next guy.

Baseball isn’t about heroics. It’s about coming together and playing as a team. And after every team win, the players slap hands and congratulate each other.

Baseball brings people – fans and players – together.

The game of baseball reinforces the same goals of VERGE: noticing and participating in God’s action, which ultimately brings us closer together.

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That’s the best picture I got of our group at the game. Unfortunately, we were so far away, the stadium lights couldn’t shine on us. I did get this photo of all the guys in the top row of the rock pile…

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Game Notes:

To be honest, I didn’t get to focus on the game very much. I wanted to hang with my students as much as possible. Plus, we were so far away from home plate it would take a second or so for the crack of the bat to travel all the way out to us. I’d look up to the action just in time to see the first baseman catch the ball from…I couldn’t tell where it had come from.

The Rockies lost though, 4-2.

Colorado had a great April and May, but they had lost 8 of their last 10 and 14 of their last 20. They went from being 22-14 and tied for 1st place in the NL West on May 8 to being an even 28-28 for our game on June 3.

It was a 0-0 ballgame before Nick Evans and Chris Owings hit back-to-back solo homers off Jorge De La Rosa in the 4th. The D-Backs would add another in the 4th to make it 3-0.

The Rockies’ DJ LaMahieu homered in the 5th off of D-Backs starter Chase Anderson. It was the only run Anderson allowed in 6 innings.

After the Diamondbacks added another run in the 8th, the Rockies mounted a mini-comeback in the 9th. Troy Tulowitzki homered on a deep jack to left center, and Corey Dickerson singled to bring the tying run to the plate with nobody out. But Will Rosario flew out to CF and Charlie Culberson and LeMahieu both struck out to end the game. Buzzkill.

Thirteen Down. Seventeen to go.

Up Next: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

-apc.

Game 12: AT&T Park, San Francisco

Something I’ve learned in this life of traveling, ballpark touring, scorekeeping and next-day blog posting: it’s hard work. Harder than I anticipated. Especially when trying to balance it with full time youth ministry and seminary work.

So forgive me for the delay on this post. I’ve been itching to get to it because AT&T Park was such a terrific host.

I spent last weekend in Los Angeles, Seattle and Oakland. San Francisco was my last stop on the West Coast Tour, and it did not disappoint.

Five hours before game time, I was on the field.

My publisher, The House Studio, arranged for me to meet up with Jeremy Affeldt, Giants relief pitcher and all around stud, at the ballpark that afternoon. Jeremy is a two-time World Series champ in 2010 and 2012, and was Setup Man of the Year in 2009. He also wrote a book called “To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice and Major League Baseball” last year. Told you. Stud.

We talked about his journey as a Christian in the MLB – struggles, failures, calling, morality, mission – and it was so awesome to hear him share his experience of God as a professional ballplayer.

I’ll mention part of our convo in this post, but you can read the whole interview with him here.

While I was hanging with Jeremy in the seats behind the Giants dugout, I couldn’t help but glance around as other players arrived at the ballpark.

Tim Lincecum, the Giants starter Monday night, came walking in sporting a yellow and purple Washington Huskies cap, which paired up nicely with his gorgeous mustache. Buster Posey had the night off, so he was out on the outfield grass playing with his little son. Sergio Romo rode in on a custom scooter.

I was borderline freaking out, but I tried to keep calm in front of Jeremy. It was just another day at the office for these guys. Yeah, killer office, man.

Affeldt told me the view from the seats we were sitting in was the most Instagrammed photo of 2013: the Coke bottle and glove beyond the left field wall. I told him that photo has been my Facebook banner photo for the past two years. I was trying to brag because I put it up in 2011 before it was cool. I think I ended up just sounding lame.

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It is beautiful though. AT&T Park is situated just south of the Bay Bridge on the west side of the San Francisco Bay on “McCovey Cove” after the former Giants slugger – although, I suspect that it wasn’t called that before the ballpark was built in 2002. The seats in right field are only three rows deep, so occasionally a ball will leave the park entirely and land with a splash in the Cove.

There have been 65* splash homers since 2002. Thirty-five were hit by Barry Bonds. Which means there have been 30 splashes over 12+ seasons. Which means, ignoring Bonds, it happens about 2-3 times a year. So it’s relatively rare. Nevertheless, you can always count on a handful of kayakers parked in the Cove hoping for a souvenir.

* – As of Monday night. Brandon Crawford hit one two days later to make it 66 splashes.

Our seats were in the front row of The Arcade, which is what they call the 3 rows in right field – hoping to see a splash on Monday night.

Second inning, two outs, in his first ever MLB at bat as a starter, Tyler Colvin unloaded on a 1-1 pitch. It sailed over our heads – over The Arcade -and splashed in the Cove. Colvin had a game: 2-3 with a triple and a homer.

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I watched the replay and took a screen shot of the home run. Hard to see, but there’s where I was sitting.

We actually got to see another splash homer. Braves’ first baseman, Freddie Freeman, poked one out in the 9th, but we weren’t cheering for the Braves, so…

What an incredible experience for Colvin. He’s probably been working to get into the big leagues for a long time, and to have a game – a moment, really – like that in his first MLB start? Amazing.

Jeremy and I were talking before the game about the pressure rookies feel they first come into the league. They’re still seeking permanent work and the financial security it provides. They want to feel like they’ve made it, and often times they – like Affeldt – don’t experience immediate success when they break into the league at a young age.

Now, I don’t know anything about Colvin’s spiritual life, and I’m certainly not claiming this to be true of him at all. I don’t know if he believes in God and feels a calling on his life like Jeremy and I do. But I wonder what happens to a rookie when they experience immediate success. Do they continue to need God? Or do they begin to rely on their own strength instead?

Jeremy had a great quote about this that I didn’t include in yesterday’s interview post: “They don’t need God, and they’ll tell you that. ‘I’ve got money, I’ve got cars, I’ve got women, I’ve got fame – why do I need God?'” Because of his early struggles in the game, Jeremy has a profound perspective on failure as an athlete.

Success doesn’t cause us to grow. Only failure can do that.

And baseball is a game of failures. “It’s who fails the least that does well in this game,” Affeldt told me, “you have to learn to fail…You base your days, or your trust in God, on your wins and losses – your successes or not.”

I admire Jeremy for his pursuit of God in the midst of his struggles as a professional athlete. It is his frustration, struggle, pain and perplexity that have taught him to find his strength in God and not himself.

That’s what was running through my head when Colvin put the Giants on the board in the 2nd. Where do we find our strength – in ourselves, or in the one we created us in his image? Do our actions reflect that understanding? Is it about us, or is it about our Creator?

It’s a question not just for athletes, but for all of us to consider. When I finish this book, and it’s selling millions of copies and is a NY Times Best Seller*, who gets the glory for that success? Is it about me, the creator of this book, or is it about the ultimate Creator – the one who made me, gifted me, and has already written my story within his Story?

Or when this book flops, and the only people reading it are friends and family who are simply humoring me, reading it out of obligation because of their relationship with me, will I look to God to teach me why I’m not experiencing success for all my hard work? Will I allow the Spirit to grow me, give me strength and persevere in my calling as a follower of Christ?

What is it for you? Can you relate? What has been your experience of failure or success? Where does your strength come from?

I lift my eyes to the hills –
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

San Francisco is a good place to talk about hills too. It’s been four days since I left the Bay and my calves are still sore from walking around that city.

Game Notes:

Earlier in the day, I was in a cab headed to Pier 39. My driver and I were chatting about the Giants and their season so far. I told him I was excited to see Tim Lincecum pitch that night, but the driver wasn’t so enthusiastic.

“I don’t know what his deal is. He’s not the same guy he was a few years ago.”

I agreed, but tried to keep it positive. “Totally, but you never know. He could turn it around.”

“I hope so. The Freak is still in there,” he responded, “It seems like any day he could be back to his Cy Young ways.”

It turns out Monday was that day.

Because Timmy and his mustache were awesome.

He was absolutely dominant. He went 7.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 11 K. His breaking ball is a slider-curve combo (slurve) that he can control all around the strike zone. It was unhittable on Monday night.

BJ Upton, by some miracle, had 2 hits – a solo homer and a double – but the rest of the Braves lineup was totally miffed by Timmy the Freak.

When I left for the coast, I thought I was going to get to see Aaron Harang pitch for the Braves. Instead, I saw Gavin Floyd, who did his best Harang impression holding the Giants to 1 run through 6 innings – Colvin’s splash being the only mar to his line.

But in the 7th, the Giants put on 4 straight batters.

Hector Sanchez led off with a single. Brandon Crawford reached on a grounder to first that Freddie Freeman couldn’t corral. Colvin ripped a triple scoring both base runners, and then he scored himself on a Brandon Hicks single. Floyd got to pitch to Lincecum, whom he struck out, before getting hooked, and the Atlanta bullpen shut down the Giants’ bats from there.

But the damage was done. 4-1 Giants headed into the 9th.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy had Affeldt warming up for a long time, and closer Sergio Romo was ready too, but he decided to go with Javier Lopez to start the 9th instead to pitch to the lefty Freeman before bringing in Romo to get righties Chris Johnson* and Gerald Laird.

* – Also, how many people do you know named Chris Johnson? I know at least 5.

Lopez promptly gave up a splash HR to Freeman and left the game after 1 batter with a binary line: 0.0 1 1 1 0 0.

But Romo closed it: 4-3, 4-3, and struck out BJ Upton looking to end it.

The Bay Area really treated me right. Oakland and San Francisco have been the two best games I’ve seen so far, and they stopped my home team losing streak at 6. The home team is now 5-7 on my ballpark tour.

Twelve down. Eighteen to go.

Up next: Colorado Rockies.

-apc.

Game 11: O.Co Coliseum, Oakland

The Oakland Coliseum: a football-first concrete circle where the sewers back up a couple times a season.

It’s a real looker, you guys.

The stadium shuffles through name changes. Right now, it’s O.Co Coliseum, the website of Overstock.com, which is an awkward play on the starting letters of “Oakland Coliseum” which everyone agrees will always be the real name of the facility regardless of who sponsors it.

I was oddly excited to visit O.Co Coliseum for some reason. I’ve heard the horror stories of it’s awkward shape, poor concessions, ugly facade and bubbling toilets, and I was anxious to experience them for myself. Well, everything but the bubbling toilets, I guess.

The place lived up to the hype(?) – there is nothing about the Coliseum that is necessarily “attractive”. For example, as we walked into the park, we had to go over a small creek/moat that circles around two sides of the park. Here’s the first photo I took when I arrived at the ballpark…

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…the tire is a real clutch move.

Getting passed the moat, I learned two things about last night’s situation: the game was a sellout, and the fans know how to tailgate hard.

This years A’s slogan: Green Collar Baseball. Which is fitting with the blue collar fan base on the east side of the SF Bay.

The Oakland fans are a passionate and rowdy bunch, and while their green and gold uniforms come across quaint and the white elephant mascot is adorable, it’s important to remember that these are the same fans that fill the Black Hole during Raiders games. I was one “land of the free, home of the Chiefs” away from getting a pounding in the parking lot. Tread lightly.

During Spring Training, the MLB Network had a fan vote to elect the “Face of the MLB”. Each team nominated players, and then players were matched up round by round against other MLB faces. The fans made the decisions based on who got the larger percent of the vote. The A’s nomination: Eric Sogard.

Sogard is the A’s second baseman, and is a spectacularly average player. He’s a lifetime .235 hitter in his 4 years in Oakland. But he wears some slammin’ thick-rimmed spectacles, and so the A’s fans rallied and decided he should be the Face of the MLB. The Twitter hashtag “#NERDPOWER” went viral, and Sogard went on to win showdowns against Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies, Buster Posey of the SF Giants in the quarterfinals and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays in the semifinals.

An underwhelming player with glasses took out four major MLB stars en route to the finals of the competition. And the reason: because the A’s fans were passionate enough to get him there. These fans love their team, and Sogard’s trip through the Face of the MLB bracket is proof of that.

In the end, Sogard lost to David Wright of the New York Mets in the finals: 51% to 49%. Missed it by just 2%.

But how was a fan base like Oakland going to compete with the Big Apple? Simply put: it isn’t fair.

Which is honestly a microcosm of the A’s history over the past decade or so: make an impressive run until the playoffs, and then lose to someone with an unfair advantage over the small-market A’s.

In the early 2000’s, Billy Beane, their general manager, realized that this was a trend within the game of baseball. Teams with tinier payrolls couldn’t compete with teams with larger payrolls. In 2002, the A’s payroll was $41M. The Yankees payroll was $125M. How are you supposed to compete against a club that spends 3X what you can to field a team?

The answer: start playing the game differently. Get ahead of the curve.

The idea was simple: focus on statistics that were controllable with an emphasis on on-base percentage and conserving the outs you have remaining. This meant ignoring formerly meaningful stats like RBIs and glorifying walks and plate discipline. This meant ignoring intangible qualities like whether a player was “clutch” or had a “good baseball body”. They also removed risk from the game almost entirely by eliminating bunting and stealing. It was conservative, but conservation typically pays off big over long periods of time. And the baseball season is a long period of time.

The Athletics believed that by acquiring unknown players who get on base a lot, they could mathematically beat the wealthy empires they were unfairly matched up against. The more you got on base, the more value you had because the more runs were created.

And it worked.

Between 2000 and 2006, the Athletics averaged 95 wins a season.

The only draw back: the playoffs aren’t a large sample size, and conservative play doesn’t work over such a short span. The Athletics made the playoffs 5 times in that 7 year span, losing 4 times in the division series and once in the conference series.

In 2000, they lost to the Yankees. In 2001, they lost to the Yankees. In 2002, they lost to the Twins, which was their only matchup that felt remotely balanced. In 2003, they lost to the Red Sox (who had swiped their statistics-based ideas and partnered it with a $120M payroll), and in 2006 they finally advanced, beating the Twins in the LDS before losing to the Tigers in 4 straight games.

The new method could get the A’s to the playoffs, but it couldn’t advance them with such a small sample size. The unfair game still had them beat, and while the underdog had gotten creative and earned a matchup with the monsters of the MLB, they never could TKO Goliath.

But it changed the game. It was the birth of sabermetrics in the MLB, and suddenly the A’s are having to find new methods of competing now that the rest of the MLB knows its new tricks.

But it raises the question: why does life have to be so unfair? Why do bad things continue to happen to a team that deserves success more than anyone else? A general manager changes the game, and wins 102 and 103 games in back to back seasons, but gets no championship to show for his spoils. Why can’t the little guy ever catch a break?

Why do bad things continue to happen to those deserve otherwise? And why do good things seem to come to those who don’t deserve them?

Life isn’t fair. We all know this. We all feel this.

We live in a world of inequality and injustice where wealth leads to power and power leads to success, but often at the expense of the poor and the powerless.

I think of Isaiah 1:17 here:

“learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

And Micah 6:8:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

As long as I never made eye contact with a Raiders logo, it wasn’t difficult for me to root for the A’s last night. I think it was because I have learned to orient myself as an advocate for the underdog. In baseball, sure, but in life too. My heart breaks for the less-thans. I root for the downtrodden. Or at least I try. You probably do too.

That was what I found myself thinking about in the midst of an awesome ballgame last night. I’m excited to explore this conversation of equality/justice/fairness further in the book. Let me know if you have any insights into this conversation everyone.

Game Notes:

Bold statement: this will be the best game I see this season.

It was a 6:05PM start time – a little earlier than normal to make time for the postgame fireworks display – and the game was chugging along so quickly, it wasn’t certain if it would even dark yet for the show.

The Athletics are hosting the Washington Nationals* this weekend, and the Nats jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third off A’s starter Sonny Gray. Gray, in addition to having a supremely appropriate name for the Bay Area, was also voted the AL Pitcher of the Month in April. He came into last night’s game with a 1.91 ERA.

* – Going into last night’s game, the home team was 3-7. The Royals and Cardinals both won their home openers, and the Braves beat this same Nationals team back in April. The A’s winning last night is the second time the Nationals have lost

The 3 runs would be all he would give up, but his ERA spiked to 2.17. “Spiked” is used sarcastically here. Obviously, that is still a stellar stat.

The A’s answered in the bottom half of the inning when catcher, John Jaso, launched a solo shot into the RF bleachers to make it 3-1. That was the only run Washington starter, Tanner Roark, would allow. He retired the next 13 consecutive batters – 9 of them fly outs – and breezed into the 8th inning and it looked like the Nats were going to just let him ride to a complete game.

Roark struck out 5, and somehow got 14 fly outs in 7.2 IP with only 2 hits. A’s hitters would pop out 20 times before the game ended.

Roark the win for sure, but Rafael Soriano couldn’t save it in the 9th.

One of the areas of baseball that I’m very intrigued by is superstition. It runs deep in the game of baseball. It started getting really cold late in the game, and to start the bottom of the 9th, I put my hood up.

The A’s promptly scored 2 runs – Jaso singled, Jed Lowrie doubled, Josh Donaldson singled – and tied the game 3-3.

Donaldson’s single went out to left field, and Zach Walters came up throwing to home plate with Lowrie trying to score from second, and Soriano cut the throw off. Why he would do that, I have zero idea, but the tying run scored without a play.

In my celebration, my hood fell down, which was the only possible explanation for Moss, Cespedes and Reddick to go down on three consecutive fly outs. I quickly realized my miscue after Reddick went down, and fixed the matter quickly.

Sure enough, Callaspo led off the 10th with a single and Nick “The Shredder” Punto went in to pinch run. With two outs, John Jaso – yes, again – nearly hit another HR to the same place as his first one. Instead, it bounced off the wall for a walk off double. The Shredder scored from first and quickly showed his namesake by ripping apart Jaso’s jersey while the rest of his teammates mobbed him.

The Athletics won 4-3 on an extra innings walk off.

Then, to make the evening even better, they let the fans walk down on into the outfield to watch the fireworks display choreographed to Journey. Oh, what’s that you ask? Was it the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen? Why, yes it was.

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Eleven down. Ninteen to go.

Up next: San Francisco Giants.

-apc.

Game 10: Safeco Field, Seattle

Two things about Seattle: it’s an awesomely beautiful place, and their residents don’t really care about their sports teams.

Sure, it’s fun to go to a Seahawks or a Mariners game, but this is not a passionate fan base. They cheer for their team, but it’s more about being outdoors and enjoying the night together than it is about the success of the team.

So this post won’t talk about the team much. Because, frankly, it’s not what’s important in Seattle.

What is important: recycling, bike riding, the public market, conserving energy, the outdoors…it’s a very “green” city in both the colorful and ecological senses.

And why wouldn’t you be? It’s a gorgeous place. Coming from smoggy LA to crisp and clean Seattle was like biting into a York Peppermint Patty.

It’s no wonder why so many people move to the Pacific Northwest. It’s a breathtakingly pretty place.

My wife, Karlie, is with me on this portion of the Tour. We spent time with some of our KC friends have moved up here recently – Meredith and Tim & Beth. Meredith has spent the last two years as a student at Seattle Pacific University while Tim & Beth made the move this past fall. They’re new to the area, and they love it, but they’re definitely still dealing with the tension of leaving home behind.

We went to the Mariners game with Tim & Beth and had a blast rooting for the Royals, who won easily, 6-1. They’re going back again tonight to cheer on the boys in blue.

For Meredith, Seattle is starting to feel like home a bit though. She’s built a new community of college friends and found a church she loves. Plus, college just fosters an atmosphere of meeting new people and building new life-long friendships. Kansas City is still home though – her parents and sisters are back there and she definitely misses their faces.

Meredith showed us around town in the afternoon. We visited the Market, saw the Gum Wall* and the original Starbucks. We walked down to the Waterfront and I ate a crab-stuffed king salmon for lunch because salmon is to Seattle as a BBQ sandwich is to KC. Comparably priced too.

* – Business idea: set up a candy shop/bubble gum machine right next to the Gum Wall. Guaranteed millions.

Occasionally when I visit different cities I remember that I have the freedom to live anywhere I want. I’ve lived in Kansas City for 27 years, and I don’t really want to leave, but the thought of leaving sometimes crosses my mind. My wife and I love to dream about how amazing it would be to live somewhere new: explore a new city, eat different foods, and enjoy different weather. Maybe even cheer for new sports teams…ehhhh, doubtful.

Seattle was definitely one of those places. It’s a gorgeous city, surrounded by green forests and white-capped mountains sitting on the bay. The weather oscillates from sunny to rainy by the moment, and the salmon and crab are the freshest you’ll find.

But wait. We couldn’t do that. We can’t leave our home!

But what is it that makes something “home”?

I’ve heard that pets make a house feel like a home. Or putting pictures on the walls. Or plants. But what makes a new city feel like home? My opinion…

Family. Community. Relationships.

It’s the only reason I’m still living in Kansas City; that’s where my people are, and that’s what makes it home.

Meredith is starting to feel like she has those things in Seattle. She has a community and has established a web of relationships, but she still misses here other people back in KC. Which one is home for her? Tough to say.

Tim and Beth have been in the northwest for much less time and are still getting to know their new community. Beth told us a story from right after they moved here where she saw a guy wearing a K-State shirt (her alma mater), and she said wanted to hug him because it was someone she “knew”. She was missing Kansas City, and that guy was a glimpse of home.

It felt that way after the game last night too as we were throwing up high fives and shouting “go Royals!” to everyone in a KC cap. An extension of our community back home.

We aren’t moving to Seattle – or anywhere else in the world probably – but it isn’t because we wouldn’t love to. It’s because of our family, community and relationships we have in KC. And that’s what makes it our home.

Game Notes:

There was a game too, and the Royals pretty much dominates by slapping 16 singles al over the yard. Everyone but Mike Moustakas had a single, and six different guys had 2+ singles.

Brandon Maurer, the Seattle starter, had a bizarro line: 7.1 IP, 14 H, 6 R, 4 ER…0 BB and 0 K. Jayson Stark of ESPN posted to Twitter that it was the first time someone had given up 14+ hits with 0 BB and 0 K since Whitey Ford in 1966.

Jason Vargas was terrific for the Royals: 7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 6 K.

The Mariners offense is struggling, and I don’t expect them to pick up any against Yordano Ventura tonight. The Royals ought to win their 6th series in the last 8 chances and get back to .500 for the first time in over a week.

I should also note: the retractable roof is super cool at Safeco. It takes about 10-15 minutes to open/close, and when we got there it was closed due to some rain. But, as Seattle weather does, the next moment it was sunny and mostly perfect, so they opened it up.

It was a quick trip, and I wish we could’ve stayed longer, but it’s on to Oakland tonight!

Ten down. Twenty to go.

Up Next: Oakland Athletics.

-apc.

Game 9: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles

It’s time for Dodger baseball.

The West Coast Tour begins at Chavez Ravine in a contest between the two teams that first brought baseball to the left coast in the 1950s: the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s a rivalry going back 130 years and 3,000 miles.

The New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers were cross-town rivals for two decades before the Orioles left Baltimore for the Bronx in 1903 to eventually become the Yankees. For 35 years, the three teams split the Big Apple into three strong and proud fan bases – especially in Brooklyn. But in 1958, westward expansion caused MLB owners to dream of new vistas as well and the Giants and Dodgers – to the shock and chagrin of their passionate fans – bolted from their busy neighborhoods for SF and LA.

When the Dodgers first landed in LA, they played at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for four years and promptly winning the World Series in 1959 thanks to one of the best 1-2 starting pitcher combos to ever play the game: Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

In the 1940s, there was a low income development proposed for an area just north of downtown Los Angeles. It was populated by a few poor Mexican-American communities who, in ethically questionable fashion, were forced to leave the area so the city could expand into the hills surrounding the burgeoning city. After the housing development fell through, Dodgers owner, Walter O’Malley, purchased the land as the new site for his ball club.

Dodger Stadium was opened in 1962 and today looks almost exactly as it did 51 years ago, and the Dodgers work hard to keep it looking pristinely old school every year. I’ve heard they repaint the seats every off-season and that they employ a gardening crew for the outside of the stadium. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and its hilltop location puts it (literally) one step above most.*

* – Some baseball fan from Colorado is fidgeting wanting to make a “mile high” reference. I see you, Rockies. But you’re not on a hill, and that’s my point here.

It is the oldest ballpark in the MLB not named Wrigley or Fenway, and it survives as the only unmodified ballpark of its generation (along with Oakland…but we’ll save that compare/contrast conversation for Sunday).

The only bummer about Dodger Stadium: traffic.

Oh my. Now I’m from Kansas City, which is one of the most vehicle-accessible cities in the nation, so the traffic in Los Angeles is something I flat out don’t understand. How do they not have a better public transit situation? Where the heck is everyone going? Is there any time of day when the roads aren’t completely congested?

Our trip to the ball park was from UCLA to Chavez Ravine. Which is __ miles according to Google Maps. It took us well over an hour to get there.

I’ll never complain about my 15 minute drive out to Kauffman Stadium again.

The crazy traffic causes a slightly transient attendance too. About half (no exaggeration) the ballpark arrives late and leave early. It’s a nightmare. Granted, we were seeing the home team take on a hated division rival, but still, it’s a Thursday. Announced attendance was 43,068.

2014-inflatable-chairIt was Inflatable Chair Night last night. Which, as you might expect, turned into a somewhat poor decision on the part of the Dodgers’ marketing department as dozens of chairs became beach balls and started bouncing around the stands.

In the 1970s, when Bill Veeck was the GM of the Chicago White Sox, he was always trying to came up with goofy gimmicks to draw more people into the game. The players wore shorts as their uniform for part of a season. He hired a midget to play for his team once to make the strike zone smaller. But his best blunder was Disco Night at Comiskey Park – they gave away EP records to all the fans, and all the records turned into frisbees launched around the ballpark and all over the field. They had to cancel the game halfway through for safety concerns.

This wasn’t as bad as that. But how didn’t they see this coming?

One older gentleman near me with headphones on was NOT amused by the crowd’s antics. He was all business and kept his arms crossed clearly fuming over all the action.

As I looked around, I noticed quite a few Dodgers fans sporting the headphones/earbuds. The reason is an obvious one: Vin Scully.

Vincent Edward Scully got his start into professional broadcasting when Red Barber hired him to do radio broadcasts for CBS in the late 40’s. The story goes that Vin was broadcasting a Red Sox game on a freezing cold day at Fenway. There wasn’t a press box for him to call from, so he called the game the roof. And since he had planned on being in the box, he hadn’t brought a coat or gloves either.

Yet he never once mentioned being so cold on the air.

Red Barber, who called the Brooklyn Dodgers games back then, was so impressed that he tabbed young Vin to be his successor as the voice of the Dodgers when they made the move out west. Vin has been with the team ever since.

To many, myself included, Vin Scully’s voice is baseball. It’s smooth and rich, insightful and clever, and baseball fans across the nation turn on Vin’s call of a late night Dodgers game after their own team’s game has concluded back East.

Vin’s voice is pumped into the concourses of Dodger Stadium throughout the game, which actually makes the concessions and gift shops a little less rowdy while listening to his soothing call.

Speaking of concessions. I wasn’t there for more than 5 minutes before getting a Dodger Dog in my mouth. It felt a bit overhyped to me, but it was delicious none-the-less. I added mustard, onions and ketchup, and dripped a giant glob on my jacket around bite number 4. I paired it with a Dos Equis, which felt appropriate considering the past and present Latino culture around Chavez Ravine.

20140509-074417.jpgThe Dodgers are an impressive franchise. Six time World Series champs, 8 Cy Young pitchers in 11 Different seasons, plus 12 Rookie of the Year awards.

Names like Jackie Robinson & Branch Rickey, Koufax & Drysdale, Kirk Gibson, Fernando Valenzuela, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Tommy Lasorda, and Vin Scully are legendary in Dodger history. And today the team – with the financial help of Magic Johnson and others – has one of the better (and most expensive) lineups and pitching rotations in the MLB.

What intrigues me most about this team – and this Giants /Dodgers matchup – is the struggle that took place back east after the teams skipped town in ’58.

Suddenly, the teams that had been foundational for the game and had created passionate fan-bases in NY, had lost their identity overnight. Now what do we do? Who do we root for? How do we follow a team that’s suddenly 3.000 miles away?

A couple options:

  1. Try to follow your baseball soul from across the country.
  2. Root for the Yankees.
  3. Quit on baseball for a decade until the Mets show up.

None of which are quality options, but those were the choices New Yorkers were stuck with.

I wonder how this translates into how we react when our life, our relationships, our job, or our faith gets tough. Do we abandon our beliefs or our communities when we are abandoned? What happens to our commitments when those we’re committed to don’t return their loyalty*?

* – Side note: when we pulled into the parking lot for the game, the song “Loyal” by Chris Brown & Lil Wayne was playing on the radio. Terrible song, but an odd coincidence…

Our options are fight, flight or freeze.

Which is what Brooklyn and New York fans were presented with as well. Fight the move and keep trying to follow the team from a distance. Run away from the pain and become a Yankees fan instead. Or freeze for a decade in hopes that someday a successful franchise (or the Mets) will once again be in their midst.

Fight. Flight. Or freeze.

Personally I’m a runner. If something gets too painful or difficult, my gut tells me to move on to something else more fun or exciting. On the positive side, I’m always seeking new adventures, but on the negative, I often don’t give those experiences enough time to sink in and transform me.

I can sometimes be a mile wide and an inch deep, as the saying goes, and it takes intentionality and effort on my part to dig deeper into things to extract meaning. It’s more painful that way, sure, and it would be way easier to move on to something new (read: tonight’s game in Seattle!), but sitting in the moment longer allows transformation and depth to transform me.

Or maybe it’s a divorce or a friendship turned sour that makes us face these options. Which is your gut move? Do you have one?

Perhaps there’s a bonus option of simply sitting in the pain instead of running, fighting or being paralyzed by it. What happens when we acknowledge pain and allow it to sit with us for a time? Can that bring about transformation? Is that beneficial?

I was chatting with my friend, Tim, about this just a couple days ago. He and I are similar in that we seek new experiences and run from pain. He said some faint brilliant: “When we run from pain, we are afraid. But when we stop running and let our pain “catch” up to us, we are no longer afraid.” Isn’t that great? Instead, we’re growing, learning and maturing. We are being transformed into something new.

I’d love to get some insights on this from some old school Brooklyn fans about this experience and how they dealt with the struggle. How does one align themselves after being abandoned like that? Very interesting stuff. Excited to explore this more in depth later.

For now, on to the game notes.

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Game Notes:

Starting pitching was terrific both ways in this one.

Ryan Vogelsong went 7.1 innings, 5 hits, 1 run for the Gigantes. He was perfect through 3.1 innings until Puig broke it up with a hard grounder to Brandon Crawford’s left. Crawford got a glove on it, but couldn’t make the play. I’d’ve given him an E6, but the home scorekeeper gave Puig the hit.

Josh Beckett was just as solid going 6.2 innings, 5 hits, 1 run. Beckett walked a few early, but settled down and really only made one mistake the whole evening when he hung a curve to Brandon Hicks who hit it over the 360′ sign in left field.

20140509-074330.jpgIt doesn’t show up in the box score, but Brandon Crawford defense was probably the difference in the game. He made 2 different diving plays at short, in the 4th and the 9th, that robbed two singles. The one off the bat of Hanley Ramirez in the 9th was backed up by a Brandon Hicks highlight dive too off Gonzalez’s bat, and if those balls had gotten through the infield, it would’ve been 1st and 3rd with 0 out for the Dodgers, bottom 9. Instead, Kemp struck out to end the inning and the Dodgers went quietly

It’s a bummer when games like this are decided on something lame. Last night the Dodgers bullpen walked the bases loaded with J.P. Howell and Jamey Wright pitching. Giants scored two on a sac fly and a single to break the tie and take the game 3-1.

Also, it’s important that I mention that I did purchase a Dodgers foam finger.

Nine Down. Twenty-one to go.

Up Next: Seattle Mariners.

-apc.

The West Coast Tour

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Let’s recap.

The tour began in Cincinnati for the Opening Day. Then it came home to Kansas City and over to St. Louis for the home openers in the two ballparks where I feel home. Then the tour took me east to west across the southern part of the country for what I called The Smorgasbord Tour: Atlanta, Arlington, Houston, Arizona and San Diego.

Exploring each of these ballparks, talking with the fan base, experiencing the traditions and taking in the the atmosphere, have sparked some significant conversations and with each visit, I find that the book I am working on is slowly being framed in new ways.

Opening Day was so full of hope; visiting my “home” ballparks was an exercise in self-discovery which then spilled over into Atlanta, Arlington and Houston. Arizona sparked the the concept of conversion, and the green space in San Diego began planting thoughts of creation and Creator, gardens and Gardener.

And after two weeks back home, it’s time for the fourth phase of my ballpark tour…

The West Coast.

Tomorrow evening, my wife and I depart for Los Angeles, then on to Seattle, Oakland and San Francisco.

Here’s the list of ballparks, games and probable pitching matchups I’ll be seeing this week…*

  • 5/8 – San Francisco @ LA Dodgers (Vogelsong vs Beckett)
  • 5/9 – Kansas City @ Seattle (Vargas vs Maurer)
  • 5/10 – Washington @ Oakland (Roark vs Gray)
  • 5/12 – Atlanta @ San Francisco (Harang vs Lincecum)

* – Originally, I had the Angels on my list for tomorrow night, but a flight mix up is getting me to Los Angeles a few hours later than I had planned. Thankfully, my sister-in-law graduates from UCLA in mid-June and I’ll be back in the area to catch the Halos then. Phew.

Lots to love in this lineup.

First of all, and this is no offense to those I’ve already visited, but I think the ballparks are about to up their game immensely.

Dodger Stadium is the oldest ballpark not named Wrigley or Fenway.

Safeco Field is one of the more intriguing destinations. The roof is so unique, and Seattle just feels so far away.

I got to walk through AT&T park a couple winters ago. It was actually set up for a NCAA bowl game. Gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, and the Coke bottle and giant glove beyond left field have served as my Facebook banner ever since (image above).

And then there’s Oakland.

O.Co Coliseum is widely understood to be the worst ballpark in the MLB. The sewers backup in the locker rooms a few times a season. It’s one of the last football-convertible ballparks around, and the giant moveable grandstands in center field – known as Mount Davis, named after the late Raiders’ owner Al Davis – is a complete eye sore. The foul territory is enormous and pretty much anywhere you sit places you way too far away from the action.

However, I’m excited to see Sonny Gray in person. He was just tabbed as the AL Pitcher of the Month for April. He’s 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA so far this season. If the same Nationals team shows up in Oakland that did (or didn’t) in Atlanta, it should be a fun game to cheer for the home team.

I get to see the Royals play again. This time in Seattle and this time it’s Vargas instead if Ventura. Bummed it’s not King Felix too. Can’t win em all.

When Clayton Kershaw was making his comeback from injury, it started to look like he was going to get his first start back around this week. Instead, it’s tonight, and we’ll see Josh Beckett instead against Vogelsong. Still should be a solid matchup, but honestly, the mystique and excitement of seeing a game at the Chavez Ravine makes the game itself less crucial. However, If Yasiel Puig isn’t back from his encounter with the outfield wall by Thursday, I’ll be pretty bummed.

Finally, the marquee matchup of this week: Aaron Harang versus Tim Lincecum. Harang has been phenomenal – he threw 6 innings, 5 hits, 1 run when I saw him in ATL. Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young winner, hasn’t been great yet this year, and it’s probably his haircut that’s the issue. Really excited about this one.

Get ready for another series of ballpark posts from out west…and probably prepare for some late night ball game live-tweeting too.

-apc.

Game 7: Chase Field, Arizona

The weather has been a roller coaster for me this week, and I haven’t even been in Kansas City.

Atlanta was 80 degrees and sweaty.

Arlington was 40 degrees and partly windy.

Houston was 70 degrees and mostly perfect.

Phoenix was 95 degrees and with zero cloud relief…but that didn’t matter under the dome of Chase Field.

I had never been to a domed ballpark before yesterday. Chase Field, like Minute Maid Park, has a retractable roof, and I was disappointed to see it was closed yesterday when we landed in Phoenix. Turns out, it was wonderful. I’m now huge supporter of the climate controlled ballpark.

photo-23Chase Field is awesome. Of the seven ballparks I’ve been to so far this season, Chase Field is in the conversation for the most impressive. Busch Stadium is the only real competition so far. If we’re talking about the most beautiful ballpark so far, I might (unbiasedly) give it to Kauffman Stadium. But most impressive goes to Chase as of right now.

Reason #1: There’s a swimming pool beyond the RCF wall.

Reason #2: It is huge, but not so huge that it didn’t feel intimate still.

Reason #3: The concessions had super cheap deals: $4 beers, $1.50 hot dogs, corn dogs, popcorn and small cokes.

Reason #4: A covered outdoor area on one side of the building is the perfect place to hang out before and after the game.

photo-25Reason #5: The Legends Race. Former D-Backs players with giant heads race around the warning track between innings: Randy Johnson is the best, although it wasn’t his night as you can see in the photo here. Matt Williams won the race yesterday, but that’s not the point. The point is it’s hilarious.

Reason #6: Free programs with the scorecard in side! I’m keeping score wherever I go; sometimes the scorecard is inside the program (which costs around $5), and sometimes it’s sold individually (and it’s usually a buck). But Chase just gives me away for free.

All in all, Chase just impressed me.

My friend Dan, who joined me in Houston on Tuesday, lives in Phoenix, so we flew there together yesterday morning and stayed at his apartment downtown within walking distance of Chase Field. He moved to PHX from Kansas City about 4 months ago. He’s a huge Royals fan, but he’s decided to adopt the Diamondbacks as his favorite National League team. But he still bleeds powder blue.

I’ve often thought about what would happen to my baseball loyalties if I moved to a different city. If I lived in LA would I become a Dodgers fan or an Angels fan or neither or both? Would I become a Tigers fan if I left for Detroit? What would happen to my allegiances if I ended up in Chicago?

I could probably lump teams into three different categories based on how likely I would be to adopt them or not. Those categories: adopt, follow and zero interest.

If I moved to their respective cities, these are the teams I feel like I would adopt whether immediately or over time…

  • Chicago Cubs
  • Boston Red Sox
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
  • San Francisco Giants
  • Houston Astros
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Baltimore Orioles

I’m a sucker for old National League franchises for some reason. The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Pirates all fall into this category. Even though I’m a Cardinals fan, I’ve spent enough time in Wrigleyville to know how infectious their atmosphere truly is. And the Pirates have been the NL version of the Royals until making the NLDS last year. And I have a weird thing for Baltimore for some reason.

The Red Sox would be hard to deny if I wound up in Boston if only because of Fenway Park. And since I was born in Houston and my parents lived there for a few years, I could probably find myself picking up a gorgeous Nolan Ryan 1980’s sunset uniforms. Might need to get one of those anyway, actually.

There’s a long list of teams that I think I would start to follow, even if I didn’t really ultimately care about their success. The majority of teams fall under this list, and the D-Backs probably would too. I’d wait until the Cardinals came to town and go to the entire series. I couldn’t make them my own. Here’s the whole list of teams I’d follow but not adopt…

  • Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Tampa Bay Rays
  • New York Mets
  • Atlanta Braves
  • Colorado Rockies
  • Washington Nationals
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • Miami Marlins
  • Milwaukee Brewers
  • Philadelphia Phillies
  • Los Angeles Angels
  • Oakland Athletics
  • Seattle Mariners
  • San Diego Padres
  • Texas Rangers
  • Toronto Blue Jays

But the final category – the “zero interest” group – would be the teams that even if I lived there, I would openly root against them still. Those teams are…

  • Cleveland Indians
  • Detroit Tigers
  • New York Yankees
  • Minnesota Twins
  • Chicago White Sox

So, basically the entire AL Central. I’ve grown up watching all four of these teams beat the crud out of the Royals. So it would be impossible for me to do anything but root against them. And the Yankees. Because they’re the Yankees.

So there are 6 clubs that I could probably adopt, 5 clubs I could never adopt, and 17 teams I could follow closely and kinda support if I moved there.

But there’s a difference between “adoption” and “conversion”. I don’t think I could “convert” to any other MLB team anywhere, no matter how compelling they are.

The difference: forsaking your former team. Dan’s move to Arizona didn’t force him to ditch his Royals fandom. If it had – maybe if the Diamondbacks were in the AL instead of the NL – he never would’ve gone ahead and signed up for a Diamondbacks Visa credit card. He would’ve kept his Royals love, and merely followed the D-Backs instead.

Conversion is a huge deal. It’s more than simply supporting an alternative perspective. It’s simultaneously adopting a new way of life while giving up your old way of life. It’s a complete transformation, and it isn’t something anyone is able to step into half-heartedly. Conversion requires an entirely new lifestyle, and leaving behind the old is significantly more difficult than merely adopting something new.

What are the things we have committed to believing in and following? Have we allowed our beliefs to completely transform us? Or do we hold on to our old lifestyle?

And if we do hang on to our old lifestyle, have we really converted to our new way of life? Or have we merely adopted it as an addendum to what we already believe?

We left the game – the Mets completed their sweep of the D-Backs – and went to a sports bar around the corner to watch the Royals game that was just starting (which ended awesomely), and I realized that no matter how many games Dan or I go to in other ballparks, we’ll likely never fully convert from our identity as fans.

Game Notes:

The Mets looked pretty solid against the now 4-14 Diamondbacks. Their starter, Dillon Gee, was perfect through 4.2 IP before Marty Prado snapped Gee’s perfection with a double in the 5th. Gee ended 7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 6 K.

Prado ended 3-4. His fellow infielder, Cliff Pennington, who has a perfect name to be an NPR personality, went 0-4 with 4 fly balls to LF.

Until the 9th inning, Arizona did absolutely nothing offensively, and it made for an extremely quick game overall. Jose Valverde came in to pitch the 9th and gave up back to back solo homers to Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt. I always love it when Goldy does something good because I have about 15 of his Bowman rookie card. But the D-Backs folded after those two solo shots, losing 5-2.

The Mets, now 8-7, stole 4 bases: Eric Young Jr. swiped two, while the Daniel Murphy and David Wright both picked up 1. Lots of Mets fans there too. I guess living in an AL city has me thinking only of the Yankees as having tons of fans everywhere, but I guess Mets fans do too. Attendance was nearly 20k, and I bet 5k were cheering for the New York sweep.

Seven down. Twenty-three to go.

Next up: San Diego Padres.

-apc.

Game 6: Minute Maid Park, Houston

I was born in Houston.

Sometimes I forget that about myself. I only lived there for a few months before moving to Kansas City, so I obviously have no memories there myself, just second hand stories my parents have told me for years and years.

I went to my first ballgame in Houston. On April 6, 1986, was 23 days old and the Braves were in town playing the Astros. My dad wanted to take me to a Sunday afternoon game at the Astrodome. My mom agreed on one condition: he has to go to church before he goes to a ballgame.

So even as an infant, these two themes – church and baseball – were already becoming a part of my life trajectory.

The Astrodome, unfortunately, is just sitting as an empty crumbling shell next door to the Texans’ Reliant Stadium. When the Astrodome was built in 1966, it was described as being the “8th Wonder of the World” – a fully enclosed, climate controlled, indoor facility to protect the fans from the humidity capitol of the world.

The Astrodome also brought with it AstroTurf, which is where it gets its goofy name. They tried to grow real grass in there for a year, but even first graders know that grass needs sunlight to survive. It all died, and they replaced it with the fake stuff. Today, the only stadium still sporting turf is in Toronto.

Thankfully, the city declared it a historic landmark this past year and won’t knock it down now. My vote is to renovate it in another 10 years or so and turn it into a sweet concert venue. It’s too nostalgic to do away with and it’s too much of a monstrosity to just let sit idle.

Check out this Astrodome gallery here.

The Astros left their dome and moved downtown in 2000 for The Ballpark at Union Station, which was a great descriptor because the primary entrance is through the old Union Station concourse built in 1911. But quickly they found an opportunity for extra revenue when it became Enron Field that same year. Then Enron…happened, and it dropped the name for a few months and became Astros Field until it found its current suitor: Minute Maid.

Minute Maid is a unique park, and some people even called it the “9th Wonder of the World” when it was being built. It has a giant retractable roof with a retractable glass wall that goes up above the archways in LF, completely enclosing the ballpark. This is essential in the dog days of summer, but in April, it’s wide open and feels extremely comfortable outside.

Along with the Union Station design, MMP has a couple other interesting bits about it. The giant concrete archways in LF make for a really cool view from behind the plate, and above the arches sits a locomotive on a short track that runs back and forth whenever the Astros hit a homer.

Underneath one of the arches is a big gas pump with a home run counter on it referred to as the Home Run Pump.

Just to the left of the pump, down on the field, is the most unique stadium design in the majors, I think: The Hill.

At it’s widest point, the hill is 90 feet across – much larger than it looks on TV – and at the top of the hill, in the field of play, is a flag pole. It’s 436 to the wall in straight away CF – Simmons home run in Atlanta on Sunday would’ve stayed in the yard at MMP – but occasionally a ball is it up on that hill and every time I get nervous the CF is going to injure himself trying to run up it.

Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day across the MLB. It’s a day when every single player wears the number that no player will ever wear again out of respect to the man who broke the color barrier and integrated baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

His number, 42,  is now retired in every ballpark across the nation.

The man with the second most ballparks with his number retired: Nolan Ryan – Angels, Rangers and Astros all three have his name and number on display.

Nolan Ryan’s name was attached to another hot dog too. This time it was a chili cheese brisket dog. Two nights in a row going for a Nolan Ryan Beef meal. Delicious decisions on both accounts.

Over the past two games, my friend Nick has joined me along with Wally, Ryan and Rapley and sons. Nick is a photographer for my publisher, The House Studio, so he came along to shoot some promotional material for the project. Until Monday, I thought it would just be he and I in H-Town.

IMG_6261But my buddy, Dan, found out he was going to be in Austin for work on Monday and could rent a car and make the trip over to Houston in time for the game. So it was the three of us going to see the Astros.

Except we weren’t really going to see the Astros. We were going to see the visiting Royals.

As has been my custom at each ballpark so far, I have worn the hat of the home team and tried my best to blend in as one of them. Things were different last night in Houston.

I wore my orange Houston cap.

But I was yelling loudly for the visitors.

Also, in an unintentional darkhorse move, I wore my KC Monarchs t-shirt under my hoodie, which was somehow perfect because it 1. supported Kansas City, 2. repped the Negro Leagues on Jackie Robinson Day, and 3. it matched my Astros cap decently.

I decided to get us the cheapest tickets available since the Astros draw hardly any fans nowadays. We ended up standing under one of the archways in LF the entire game spitting sunflower shells on to the warning track. We got pretty rowdy cheering for the Royals after a while – especially after Lorenzo Cain starting communicating with us pretty regularly in about the 3rd inning.

I got a few curious glares from some of the Astros fans. Probably weird to find a guy wearing a Houston cap rooting so openly for the opponent. On one occasion, when Greg Holland was in the game effectively shutting the door on the Astros hopes, a woman standing next to us turned to her husband and said loudly, “Let’s go. These Royals guys are starting to bug me.”

And I don’t blame her. I know what that’s like. I’ve seen the Yankees come to Kansas City and hated listening to their fans cheer louder than ours. It’s obnoxious and infuriating. These fans are stepping into our ballpark, our sacred ground, and acting like they belong and run the show. It’s insulting.

We try really hard to draw lines in the sand between things that we find sacred and things we don’t. We all do it: our homes, our desks, our neighborhoods and our personal space*, they’re all defined in each of our minds as belonging to us. And when someone else crosses those defined lines and wrongly enters our spaces, our frustration elevates as we watch our sacred space become profane.

* – As I write this post, I’m on a flight from Houston to Phoenix, and the guy next to me is leaning confidently into my personal space. My arms are pinned to my sides to where I’m typing like a T-Rex. He has crossed into my space and made it thoroughly profane.

It’s okay to have a group over for a BBQ out on your deck or a nice dinner in your dining room, but if your friend decided to go upstairs, lay down in your bed and turn on old episodes of Jimmy Fallon, you’d probably feel like a line was crossed.

We all do this.

And we hate it when others move into our sacred spaces when they don’t belong there.

Which is interesting to note considering that yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day. For decades, baseball was segregated into the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues. Players like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston were some of the best players of all time, yet few know much about them because they weren’t allowed to play in the MLB.

Today, we celebrate a history African American players who are celebrated as some of the best to ever play the game: Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson, Willie Mays.

But in the 1940s, when Jackie Robinson finally entered the world of white baseball, he was viewed by many as an outsider stepping into a well defined space. Managers, fans, and even other players hated him for stepping into an area they believed he didn’t belong. In their minds, he was making their “sacred space” profane.

The difference, however, is that he did belong.

He had every right to play baseball, and today we can celebrate the fact that baseball- and life itself – is for everyone to participate in equally.

Scripture is jam packed with themes of sacred and profane. Depending on your family, gender, occupation, health condition, or nationality, you could only enter certain levels of the Temple. Judeans and Samaritans wouldn’t mix. Gentiles had no business in the synagogues. Women had little prominence in society. Anyone with an illness wasn’t allowed to be touched and couldn’t join in gatherings for certain periods.

And Jesus broke these socially defined spaces all the time.

Which is why the outsiders loved him, and the insiders ended up crucifying him.

Anyway. I’m excited to explore this sacred/profane conversation more in depth later. But this blog is already getting super long (because it’s a longer flight today, and there’s nothing else to do but type), so I better move on to some game notes and wrap this thing up.

Game Notes:

The top story line from last night’s game: Yordano Ventura got his first win of his career. Ventura is going to be amazing. The Royals need to lock him up for a long term contract immediately. It’s baffling to watch a 5’11” dude put triple digits on the radar gun in the 7th inning, but that’s the kind of pitcher he is. He’s my pick for the AL Rookie of the Year.

Ventura only allowed 7 base runners the whole night. Wade Davis pitched a perfect 8th. Holland pitched a perfect 9th. They looked really good, but then again, the Astros are really bad.

Last time Astros starter Lucas Harrell pitched against the Royals he went 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R…so there was some reason to think he might perform well against KC last night. Instead he went 5 IP, 5 H, 4 R, and after the game he was designated for assignment. He’s had a rough season so far – 12.1 IP, 9.49 ERA in 3 starts.

The Royals doubled their home run count in the 1st inning when Omar Infante hit a solo shot to the short porch in LF.

Lorenzo Cain became our best friend last night. He hit a ball right below us to LCF that went just under the glove of the left fielder and Cain ended up at third. They called it an error and gave him a single. He scored on an Omar Infante grounder a few batters later.

When he came back out to CF after the Royals got out, we started hollering at him that he should’ve gotten a triple just like he should’ve gotten a Gold Glove last season. He laughed, shrugged his shoulders and gave us a thumbs up. For the rest of the game, any time the Royals did anything good, he would turn around smiling and give us a nod. Basically we’re best friends now and he’s probably coming over to play RBI Baseball with me after he gets home from Houston.

Six down. Twenty-Four to go.

Up next: Arizona Diamondbacks

-apc.

Game 5: Globe Life Park in Arlington

From the outside, Globe Life Park looks like more of a fortress than a ballpark. It is a massive brick structure with arched gates and peaked turrets, but it sits in the same complex as the Cowboys’ ridiculously huge AT&T Stadium so that makes it feel a bit less daunting. But don’t be fooled. It’s still Texas, and it’s still huge.

photo-21This was my second trip to the Ballpark. My last trip was 11 years ago. My family was in DFW for my cousin Ryan’s wedding, and the Royals happened to be in town that weekend too. Today, Ryan works for the fire department and he sports one of the most gnarly mustaches you’ll ever see. He and his family live in Abilene, TX, now, so he and his son, Graham, were able to join me for last night’s game.

The Rangers have been here since 1994, the year after Nolan Ryan retired, but his name is still found all over the place as he is the CEO of the Rangers today. Even the hot dogs are “Nolan Ryan Beef” dogs. Nolan Ryan has always been a favorite of my cousins*, and since I’m a handful of years younger, that’s probably the primary reason he’s been a favorite of mine over the years as well.

* – This might get a bit dicey trying to reference Nolan Ryan and my cousin, Ryan, in the same post. If you get confused, I understand. I’m trying my best to wordsmith so it’s clear. I do the same thing when I’m trying to avoid using the possessive form of Jesus’s name the name of Jesus in the possessive.

It’s funny how things like that rub off on you. Someone in your life you look up to likes something? Well, it’s only right that you adopt that thing too.

Oh, you like The Eagles, Dad? Yeah, me too.

Oh, you drink coffee, Mom? Yeah, me too.

Oh, you like Nolan Ryan, cuz? Yeah, me too.

It’s amazing how influential those people we admire truly are in our lives. I think if we all took a moment to think through our interests, careers and values, we could trace them all back to someone in our lives who modeled it for us.

Another individuals who I looked up to as a high schooler was my small group leader, Rapley, who now teaches accounting at the University of North Texas, and drove 45 minutes down from Denton to come to the game last night as well.

Rapley spent four years – freshman through senior year – committed to my group of friends at the church we grew up at. He was there week after week. Rapley wasn’t a youth pastor – he was an accountant in KC during those years – but he was present and committed to our group, and I looked up to him and he helped pastor me anyway.

Rapley was a K-State graduate, and he loved throwing around the Alf phrase, “Relax Willie, no problem!” I was too young to know the reference (and I still don’t really know it), but the guys in our group picked it up and worked it into our lexicon. Not because we knew the origin, but because if Rapley used it, then we wanted to too.

photo-20More importantly, I admired both of these men because of the way they taught me about being a man of God. Not through their intentional words, but through the way they lived their daily lives.

So the ability to be surrounded by Ryan and Rapley, both sitting with their sons, was an awesome experience for me last night in Arlington. They were spending time with me, sure, but more importantly, they were doing was shaping and forming their own sons.

I think something powerful happens when dads (or moms) take their sons (or daughters) to the events they care about. It’s a creator-created relationship, and the created child is being constantly formed in the way of the Creator.

I love getting to watch parents and kids interact at the ballpark. Dads teaching their sons to keep score. Moms dancing with their daughters in the aisles. Dads pointing out players and asking what number is on their uniform. Moms modeling for their sons cheers like, “Charge!” and “Let’s go [insert team name here]!” and “We want a single, S-I-N-G-L-E!” and more.

Baseball, unlike other sports, provides the perfect intimate setting for these interactions to take place. There is time to discuss and teach and invest in one another. It’s not just action packed intensity like football, and it’s not as fast-paced and noisy as basketball, and it provides breaks and silence in ways soccer and hockey doesn’t. It’s uniquely conversational and perfect for formation to take place.

All that to say, I loved being in the middle of these two father-son pairings. I’m thankful for these men in my life, and how they continue to model godliness to me through their love for their sons.

A couple additional notes before I move on to the game itself: the Rangers sell an item called the Boomstick. Which is a twenty-four inch hot dog for $26. It comes in a carrier that folds up with a handle and can be carried like a briefcase. We didn’t get one, but the family in front of us tag teamed one and licked the briefcase clean.

Also, the Rangers do a race called the Ozark Dot Race where three different color dots – Red, Blue and Green – race in from the left field warning track. It was fun to cheer for Relish Green, but then he finished last so clearly it’s rigged.

Game Notes:

The company was great, but the game itself stunk.

Colby Lewis was called up to make his first start in nearly 21 months for the Rangers. He’s a pretty cool story: Lewis was a major piece of the rotation during the 2010 and 2011 World Series teams, but hasn’t pitched since July 18, 2012. He’s spent the better part of 2 years trying to recover and finally made it back to start last night.

He had a respectable game. He gave up a solo homer in the 5th, and 2 runs to start the 6th. Lewis was pulled after that, and walked to the dugout to a standing ovation from the crowd. He looked sharp, which has to feel great for a guy who has worked so hard to get back there.

Unfortunately, the Rangers offense was pitiful again, and only managed 1 run the whole game. They hit into 4 double plays, and only had 3 batters reach 2nd base all night.

A day after watching the Braves offense exploding, I saw the Rangers bats do nothing at all against the Mariners’ Roenis Elias, who got his first win of his career.

The score was 1-0 going into the 6th, and everything still felt pretty good. Even after Lewis gave up 2 runs to make it 3-0, it felt like the Rangers still had a shot. But the defense made 3 errors and reliever Pedro Figeroa gave up 3 more hits en route to a 6 run inning for Seattle.

One of those errors was due to an overturned call. With the bases loaded, the Mariners chopped a ball back to Figeroa, who threw home to get the force out. The catcher, Arencibia, trying to transfer the ball out of his glove quickly and fire to first for the double play, dropped the ball taking it out of his glove.

Initially, the Rangers were given the out, but Mariners manager, Lloyd McClendon, challenged the call and Seattle picked up the run instead.

Then the most exciting moment of the game happened: Ron Washington got tossed. And fast.

Ryan’s question: “I wonder what he said to get himself thrown out so fast?”

photo-22Rangers got pounded, 7-1, and Prince Fielder’s #84 did nothing to help his physique.

Five down. Twenty-Five to go.

Up Next: Houston Astros.

-apc.

The Smörgåsbord Tour

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So far, this ballpark tour has been relatively easy. I spent three days in Cincinnati for Opening Day, made a day trip to St. Louis for the Cardinals home opener, and live in Kansas City. Three games down. Twenty-seven to go. And the next twenty-seven will be way more difficult than the first three have been.

I leave Saturday for what I’ve been calling “The Smörgåsbord Tour.”

As I put together my itinerary for this summer, I started to realize that there were about 10 ballparks that were going to be way harder to get to than the rest. The reason: geography. A lot of ballparks simply aren’t close to any others. I decided early on that I needed to get these out of the way while the season was young and my morale was high. It’s a hodgepodge of five ballparks – ATL, TEX, HOU, ARI, SD – connected by a string of one way Southwest flights. I leave Saturday night and get home Friday morning.

I hopped online this morning and checked the pitching match-ups for the next week. Here’s where I’ll be and who’s on the mound over the next week:

  • 4/13: Washington @ Atlanta (Gonzalez vs Harang)
  • 4/14: Seattle @ Texas (Elias vs Perez)
  • 4/15: Kansas City @ Houston (Ventura!!! vs Harrell)
  • 4/16: NY Mets @ Arizona (Gee vs McCarthy)
  • 4/17: Colorado @ San Diego (Anderson vs Kennedy)

There are a lot of things that excite me about this stretch of games.

First, I like the Gonzalez/Harang match up. Neither are true aces, but both have looked the part thus far this season. Should be low scoring. Obviously, I’d love to see Strasburg go for the Nats, but this should be an awesome matchup. I’m also pumped to be in Atlanta a week after the anniversary of Hank Aaron’s record breaking home run. I’m also curious about the Braves decision to leave Turner Field for the suburbs after the 2016 season.

I’m excited to see Robinson Cano and Prince Fielder in their new uniforms, and I’m hoping for a slugfest in Texas. Young pitchers going for each team could make this very very possible. Last time I went to the Ballpark at Arlington (now, Globe Life Park) I saw Mike MacDougal close for the Royals. I’m going with my cousin and my high school small group leader, both of whom live in the DFW area.

Well, I can’t be angry about the Royals skipping Ace Ventura’s first start anymore now that it means I’ll see him pitch in Houston. So far Lucas Harrell is 0-2 with an 11.05 ERA and more walks than strikeouts (6 to 5). If Ventura looks anything like he did on Tuesday night, this one should be a slaughter. Also, does anyone know if the public can check out the Astrodome at all? Even just walking around outside? I was born in Houston and went to my first game on a Sunday afternoon at the Astrodome in April 1986. I have no memory of it – i was only 3 weeks old – but I’d love to check it out if possible.

To be honest, I’m most excited about the last two games on this list because I get to see one of my closest friends who recently moved to Phoenix. We’ll be hitting Chase Field and Petco Park together on Wednesday and Thursday. As far as the game goes, I’m really excited to see these two parks. The rock pile in Arizona and the old Western Metal Supply Co. building in San Diego are both so cool. I’m excited to check them out.

Be sure to check back often next week for (probably) daily post game reflections!

-apc.

Game 1: Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati

Cincinnati was the perfect place to kick off Opening Day. They do it right here in the Queen City, and they’ve been doing it right for a long long time.

I wanted to begin my ballpark tour in Cincinnati because historically it is where the baseball season has always started. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional baseball team. Ten salaried players managed to go 57-0 against its competition that season.*

* – Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been surrounded by Cincy natives who hate Kentucky basketball, but it’s hard to shake the obvious comparison of college athletes getting handouts under the table causing a similar imbalance in the NCAA. 

Being first in professional baseball may not have been the sole reason the Reds managed to host the season opener every year, but it definitely aided Cincinnati’s case. Until recently, it was the place to be for Opening Day. The president would even be regularly called upon to throw out the first pitch. But in an era of TV ratings, coastal elitism and dreams of international fan bases (Australia?! Seriously?), it doesn’t get the national audience has in the past.

But that doesn’t mean it lacks the enthusiasm on a local level. Cincinnatians still have Opening Day fever. The city buzzes with life the whole weekend leading up. People skip out on work, businesses take the day off, and Skyline Chili offers free cheese coneys. The 95th annual Findlay’s Market Opening Day Parade travels the streets of downtown, and fans line the streets for miles to wave back at the nearly two hour fanfare.

I even saw one woman who dyed her poodle completely red to celebrate the day. Opening Day is that big of a deal in Cincinnati.

We hit the Hall of Fame first – the Reds’ is one of the best HOF experiences in the MLB – and then walked the parade route for a bit. Hall of Famer Dave Concepcion, Reds shortstop during the 1970s “The Big Red Machine” era, was grand marshall this year, and joined by George Foster and injured Reds pitchers Mat Latos and Aroldis Chapman. Poor Chapman. Really rooting for a quick recovery for him after getting hit in the head with a Salvy Perez line drive a couple weeks ago.

Concepcion also threw out the first pitch alongside another HOF Reds Ss: Barry Larkin. Straight off the ESPN set, he donned a Reds uniform over his blue collared shirt, and the two threw out simultaneous first pitches (although Concepcion jumped the gun a bit and definitely threw first).

Something I learned about Reds baseball: it has a long history of local talent. In fact, in the Hall, there is a whole section dedicated to all the Reds players out of Cincinnati and nearby Indiana and Kentucky. The list is astonishing, really. Here’s a quick sampling…

  • Barry Larkin
  • Pete Rose
  • Ken Griffey, Jr.
  • Joe Nuxhall
  • Dave Parker

…that’s just off the top of my head. The plaque has over 100 names on it.

This connection with the players – the local boys – creates a bond between the fans and the players. They call them by their first names (or at least the friendly lady I was sitting next to did), and they feel a connection with the team in a way high profile, big city teams don’t.

The Reds are their boys, and they represent their city.

This hometown bond makes Reds fans extremely loyal, and their players – especially the local boys – embrace and return this loyalty – Pete Rose flew in from Las Vegas to support his hometown and former team even! There’s a great tradition of guys like Rose who play hard for their home city and it’s fans.

Speaking of Rose, it was awesome to see him on hand at Opening Day. But it had to kill him to watch his former teammates Concepcion, Foster, and Joe Morgan (who was a part of the pre-game fanfare too) be honored for their time in a Reds uniform on field while Rose watched as a paying customer. The Reds and their fans certainly want to honor Pete the same way they honored Dave, George and Joe. And as a Cincy native, he deserves accolades more than any other.

If you don’t know by now, I’ve positioned myself fully in the “Let Pete into the HOF” club. He never bet on his own team (that would be completely against his competitive nature), and if Barry Bonds can be honored on field in Pittsburgh yesterday, then Pete Rose should in Cincinnati.

If all baseball sins are equal, then there should be no difference between the treatment. If all baseball sins aren’t equal, it baffles me that gambling would be less egregious than steroid use.

Pete has been demonized by Major League Baseball and turned into a poster boy for what happens when you bet on baseball. That may have been a necessary message in the 80’s, but now the message has run it’s course.

It’s time to let Pete in. Maybe a new commissioner will make it happen. I sure hope so.

All that to say, Cincinnati loves the Reds. Especially on Opening Day. And not just the organization, but the individual ballplayers themselves. It’s a truly hometown team.

Game Notes:

The game itself was a pitchers duel. Adam Wainwright pitching for the Cardinals and Johnny Cueto for the Reds. Cueto was terrific, but Wainwright was even better:

Cueto: 7 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 8 K
Waino: 7 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 4 BB, 9 K

Cueto was one mistake away from being the better pitcher actually. He served up a solo HR to Yadier Molina. His other two hits were to Matt Adams who beat the insane shift to the right side with opposite field hits to left. No shift, and Cueto may have tossed a 1 hitter and still taken the loss.

I wonder how much teams will continue to use the dramatic shift on Adams throughout the season. It worked twice, but it burned the Reds twice too. He got a double on a little dribbler just inside the bag. Would’ve been an east play for Todd Frazier at third with Adams running. Instead it was a double. Maybe John Mabry, Cardinals hitting coach, taught Adams to take it to opposite field during the off season.

Waino had the Reds off balance all night. First pitch curves. Freezing batters with 2-strike fastballs. The Reds never knew what was coming next. They looked lost most of to night.

The most lost: Billy Hamilton.

I was really excited to see Hamilton play. I wanted a lead off bunt, two stolen bases and a run on a Brandon Phillips groundout. Never even got close to happening. Wainwright is terrible matchup for Hamilton – tons of off-speed stuff with lots of twelve-six movement making it really tough to bunt on.

If Hamilton is going to be the success the Reds hope he is, he’s going to have to learn to make contact with breaking balls. He needs to work the count. His balance at the plate needs to improve. You absolutely cannot go 0-4 with 4 Ks as lead off hitter. Unacceptable.

The Reds still had plenty of opportunities. Three errors and five walks ought to bite you back at some point, but somehow the Cardinals continued to weasel their way out of jams.

It was a great first game of the season, and I can’t say that I was entirely disappointed with the outcome. It would’ve been fun to celebrate with the home team fans, but the Cardinals fan in me has to smile.

One game down. Twenty-nine to go.

Up next: Atlanta.

-apc.