Game 26: Marlins Park, Miami

I landed at Fort Lauderdale* on Thursday late morning and quickly drove down to South Beach to kill a few hours and get some writing done between ball games. The culture down Ocean Drive gets pretty wild at night: the clubs are bumpin’ fishbowl sized drinks are flowin’, cars with neon undercarriages blast Drake and Lil Wayne as they’re cruisin’, there’s even one dude who rides around on a bike with a lemur on his shoulder…it’s weird, man. But in the mid-afternoon things are quiet and relaxed. After a few hours of reading and writing my Tropicana Field post, I headed back over the bridge over the intercostal water way back toward downtown.

* – The last time I was at this airport, I was watching the Chiefs point the Colts in the first round of the NFL playoffs. I paid for in-flight WiFi so I could celebrate with the rest of the KC-bound fans…sigh. Depressing memories to be had here.

Miami is beautiful. The water and the palm trees and the people and the buildings – it’s all so attractive. The architecture is modern with crisp lines and bright pinks and greens and blues lighting up the facades. It’s a different world in Miami – the ballpark especially.

From the exterior, Marlins Park looks like a mashup of Cowboys Stadium and the Starship Enterprise. The domed structure is very futuristic looking: it’s the first ballpark that is considered a “contemporary” design, and the first since 1992 not to embrace the “retro” ballpark look. In fact, it’s hard to even call it a ballpark; it contrasts so sharply with the rest of the league.

It compliments the rest of the flashy Miami skyline nicely…or at least it would, if it wasn’t in a totally different neighborhood. The ballpark (again, if you can call it that) is situated in the heart of the Little Havana neighborhood a couple miles west of downtown. It’s a stark juxtaposition – such a colossal modern structure surrounded on all sides by single family homes and duplexes all housing Latino families.

As I pulled up to the ballpark, I was flagged down by a small woman waving her arms and hollering at me in Spanish. At first I was concerned, but then realized she was just trying to get me to park in her driveway literally right across the street from the ballpark. She was charging ten dollars. Felt pretty reasonable considering how much it costs to park at other stadiums, let alone in other areas of the same city. I probably got ripped off, but she was so sweet, I don’t really even care.

I walked three laps around the park while i chatted on the phone with one of my seminary professors. As I did, I got to take in the giant dome in front of me. The two most unique outdoor features are the sunken letters and the giant concrete track beams

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The letters are strange. They’re huge 10 foot letters that are half submerged beneath the concrete and they don’t appear to have any real system about them. What do they spell? I stood there for like 5 minutes trying to rearrange them and finally gave up and looked it up. They’re a tribute to the “MIAMI ORANGE BOWL” that used to utilize this same plot. Interesting idea. Kinda lame actually.

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The giant track beams, however, are NOT lame. They’re amazing actually. These huge concrete structures hold up the retractable roof! The roof opens up at the middle and the giant portion slides back away from the park and on to these tracks. Very impressive design – it moves the whole roof in 13 minutes. To this day, there have been zero rainouts in Miami, and I doubt there will be any soon.

I wish I would’ve gotten to see it opened up. Indoor ballparks just feel stale and cold to me, and this one was no different. Even the bright green outfield wall couldn’t liven it up for me. Although – that could’ve been because the place was almost completely void of fans. Can’t blame them. Their number one reason to come to the ballpark, Giancarlo Stanton, got hit in the face with a fastball in Milwaukee last week and is done for the season.

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The other feature inside is the “artwork” out in centerfield. It’s gaudy and tacky looking in my opinion. Looks like a rainbow Happy Meal toy or a hodgepodge of lawn ornaments. Supposedly it goes crazy whenever the Fish hit a home run, but that didn’t happen while I was there. I guess I can’t complain – I’ve had pretty good fortune with centerfield home run gimmicks this year – the big apple at Citi Field and the Minnie & Paul logo at Target field, for example.

The Marlins franchise has only been around since 1993, but they’ve somehow already managed to win two World Series championships: 1997 and 2003. In those days, their “ballpark” was a repurposed Dolphin Stadium and held something like 80,000 fans.

They were bold in their new design to say the least. It was the right move considering the culture in Miami, but it’s a startling contrast to the other 25 ballparks I’ve been to this year. The only spot that is remotely similar to Marlins Park is Chase Field in Arizona. Massive retractable dome and a cavernous climate-controlled indoor space.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention the “cheerleaders”. Many ballparks don’t have a pep squad at all, and the ones that do really only employ them so they can assist the mascot in throwing out t-shirts and launching hot dogs. They wear shorts and matching shirts/jerseys to signify their small role. Unlike the other major sports, cheerleaders/yell leaders don’t really exist in baseball.

But not in Miami. The cheering group at Marlins Park utilizes choreographed dance routines on top of the dugout and up and down the lower level aisles. The guys wear Spanish-style flamenco/matador costumes and the women match them with more of a baseball take on a cheerleader outfit. Super weird. Didn’t even feel like a baseball game at times and made the ballpark feel more like an arena.

I kept being reminded of the phrase, “it’s not wrong, just different.” That’s the mantra I always quote when I am presented with cultures different than my own. Miami feels like a different country at times. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear 4 or 5 different languages being spoken on one short walk along South Beach – Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean – it’s an eclectic mix of cultures colliding, and for a white English speaking Midwesterner like me, it can feel like a very different place.

With all the Latin American influence in the game these days, baseball ought to thrive in South Florida. It has a unique opportunity to reach a population unlike most other cities in America.

When they moved to their new ballpark in 2012, they had just hired long-time White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen, to be their skipper. The move was intentional. Bringing in a Latin manager on a team with lots of Latin ballplayer in a Cuban neighborhood in an already diverse city was the Marlins way of connecting with the public.

Unfortunately, Ozzie Guillen screwed it all up by making some controversial comments about Fidel Castro and he was quickly canned after a season. Then in 2013 the team was one of the worst in the league. But this 2014 team has been much improved. I wonder how things would’ve panned out if Jose Fernandez hadn’t needed Tommy John surgery.

Maybe more importantly, the Marlins have two players in Fernandez and Stanton that can serve as heroes for young Latin American kids in the area. Giancarlo was having an MVP season before getting hit, and Jose Fernandez won the 2013 Rookie of the Year, barely beating out Cuban star, Yasiel Puig. This year, Jose Abreu adds to the list of Cuban born heroes in the MLB. The increase in Cuban immigrants has changed the baseball landscape in really positive ways.

In Miami, these players are connecting the team with the culture of the city, which is why professional sports exist in the first place, right? It’s for the fans to enjoy.

It’s not the normal ballpark culture, but it’s the right ballpark culture for it’s city. It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

In terms of spirituality, I love that each of us connects with God/the Deity/the Universe in our own way. Baseball speaks to me, but something else probably speaks to you. Maybe it’s nature, family, community, reading, praying, sleeping, running or participating in a certain passion. And every single one of those is valid – there is not a wrong way to connect with God – just different.

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Game Notes:

The Washington Nationals were in town fresh off clenching the NL East division. Gio Gonzalez pitching for the Nats against Brad Hand for the Fish.

The Marlins scored first on back to back doubles from John Baker and Reed Johnson in the 2nd.

Hand was perfect through 13 batters before Anthony Rendon singled in the 4th. Next batter, Jayson Werth, struck out, and Hand threw over to first and had Rendon picked off but they botched the run down and Rendon advanced. The error opened the flood gates: double, single, single, single, single. It seemed like every ball put in play somehow found green.

By the time Gio Gonzalez popped out to end the inning it was 5-1, Washington. Both teams added another run later, but that was basically it. Game ended 6-2. Hand got the loss but pitched way better than his line score indicated. Gio Gonzalez was great too – 7 innings, 6 hits, 2 runs.

When the game seemed thoroughly out of reach, I left my seat and explored a little bit. I found a bar out in centerfield showing the K-State/Auburn game and the Thursday Night Football matchup on TVs with a view of the field behind me. Only buzzkill: the Wildcats lost and that the TNF game was a blowout.

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I texted this picture to a friend of mine and he responded, “That’s awesome. It’s like heaven.”

Agreed. Heaven indeed.

Twenty-six down. Four to go.

Up next: Pittsburgh Pirates.

-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 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.