Keeping MLB in Business, One Fan at a Time

It’s not even Tax Day and I already have tickets for 12 games being played in five different cities (two boroughs), six different stadiums and three different time zones. Amazingly, I’m only seeing 13 different teams, and I only have tickets for games in May, August and September.

My hope is to also get out to Shea next week to see the Nats, and do so again when they’re in town in September. I also plan on getting down to a game – any game – in Philadelphia this year. Other possible trips this year include Boston, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Here’s a rundown of the games on my schedule thus far:

  • May 1st: Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium – Bronx, NY)
  • May 12th: Washington Nationals vs. New York Mets (Shea Stadium – Queens, NY)
  • May 24th: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Washington Nationals (Nationals Park – Washington, D.C.)
  • May 25th: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Washington Nationals (Nationals Park – Washington, D.C.)
  • May 26th: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Washington Nationals (Nationals Park – Washington, D.C.)
  • Aug. 3rd: Los Angeles Angels vs. New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium – Bronx, NY)
  • Aug. 24th: Oakland Athletics vs. Seattle Mariners (Safeco Field – Seattle, WA)
  • Aug. 25th: Minnesota Twins vs. Seattle Mariners (Safeco Field – Seattle, WA)
  • Aug. 26th: Milwaukee Brewers vs. St. Louis Cardinals (Busch Stadium – St. Louis, MO)
  • Aug. 27th: Milwaukee Brewers vs. St. Louis Cardinals (Busch Stadium – St. Louis, MO)
  • Aug. 30th: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Chicago Cubs (Wrigley Field – Chicago, IL)
  • Sept. 21st: San Diego Padres vs. Washington Nationals (Nationals Park – Washington, D.C.)
  • Bad At-Bats and Miss Free Throws

  • The Nats are not playing particularly poorly, but that doesn’t mean they’re playing well. Some of the at-bats I’ve seen have been horrible, most notably Austin Kearns taking a called third strike with runners in scoring position a few nights ago. Collectively, the players are not doing a good job of working the count and being aggressive when they are ahead in the count.

  • Three stolen base attempts in eight games. That is not good. The Nats have some decent team speed and they need to exploit it.

  • Willie Harris and Rob Mackowiak are a combined 1-for-19. They ain’t gonna fly.

    Elsewhere…

  • The University of Memphis’ Achilles Heel killed them last night when the team could not hit free throws down the stretch. At one point late in regulation, Memphis was up by three and one of their players was stepping to the line to attempt two free throws. The Memphis bench looked mortified. I’ve never seen a team in that position look more scared than the competition. Every coach in America should show that game to their team to remind them of the importance of fundamentals and concentration. In the meantime, congrats to the Kansas Jayhawks.Nato

  • Capitals Rekindle My Hockey Flame

    I’ve taped two hockey games in my life.

    The first was on April 18th, 1987. My family went to see the Orioles-Indians game at Memorial Stadium (the Birds won 16-3) and the Washington Capitals were playing the New Islanders in Game 7 of the Patrick Division Semifinals. My brother and I were big Capitals fans and we didn’t want to miss the game. We refused to look at the scoreboard during the Orioles game for fear of seeing a score and the radio was tuned to music on the way home.

    When we arrived home about an hour after the Orioles game ended, my brother called me into the family room. The Caps game had gone into overtime and was still going on live. We spent the next few hours watching the most gut-wrenching sporting event of our lives. Just before 2:00 AM, Pat LaFontaine ended the Capitals season in the fourth overtime. The game is now known as The Easter Epic.

    The second hockey I’ve ever tapped in my life, was Saturday night’s game between the Caps and Florida Panthers. The latter team didn’t exist in 1987 when I tapped my first game, and the taping technology changed from a Betamax attached to a 24-inch tube television to a digital video recorder attached to a 32-inch, LCD, HDTV.

    The Caps had to beat the Panthers to garner a playoff spot and the Southeast Division title in the process. Through a stroke of luck, Time Warner Cable unlocked the NHL package this week and I was able to watch and tape the game (I believe they unlocked it because the MLB package uses the same channels and they’re showing the MLB package for free this week as a promotion to spur sign-ups). I watched the first two periods live last night, hit “Record” and went out with some friends.

    At 3:30 AM on Sunday morning I returned home, a little tipsy to say the least. I went straight to my bed and flipped on the television.

    The cat jumped off the bed about five minutes later as I yelled for joy watching Alexander Semin pound a slapshot past Craig Anderson for a 3-1 lead. I watched the remainder of the game with a knot in my stomach, a feeling I had not had while watching hockey since the 1997-1998 season.

    I feel a little guilty, to be honest. When I moved out of D.C. ten years ago, the Capitals were the first casualty of my new life. Following a hockey team when you don’t live in the team’s city is difficult because not many NHL games are nationally televised. And despite being an excellent franchise for almost two decades, the Caps never attracted a fan base outside of the D.C. area, so they weren’t exactly at the top of ESPN’s (the network broadcast games at the time) list when it came time to pick games to show.

    I did follow the Caps closely, to an extent. I read about the team everyday thanks to The Washington Post’s website and I kept close tabs on Jeff Halpern, a former junior varsity baseball teammate, when he played for the team. It wasn’t the same, however. I had gone to about five or six games each season for over ten years and I missed being able to watch the team play each night.

    More recently, I was excited about Alexander Ovechin when he arrived in D.C. and owner Ted Leonsis got me psyched up through his blog. The team, however, never put it together.

    Coming into this year, I was geared up to become a fan again. Then the team faltered out of the gate, looking horrible and playing not to win, but not to lose. At best, the team reminded me of the Caps from ’80s and ’90s who took early exits from the playoffs because they played too defensively and missed out on scoring opportunities.

    Enter Bruce Boudreau and a new game plan.

    Boudreau’s approach to the game is fairly simple from what I can tell: ATTACK! Attack the goal; attack the opposition while on defense; and, attack the puck. It’s a great game plan when you have talent to do it, and the Caps obviously have the players.

    The funny thing about Boudreau is that he reminds me of Dave Trembley, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Both slugged it as minor league coaches for decades before the good fortune of working under bad superiors gave them their dream jobs. Trembley ignited the Orioles last year, but the team faltered immediately after their newly beloved manager was given the job on a permanent basis. I feared the same fate would befall Boudreau, but the team kept winning and Boudreau doesn’t have a contract for next year yet.

    I’m very happy for the Capitals and the fans who stuck by them, and even for the fans like me who maybe didn’t have enough time to give them the love they deserve. If nothing else, my life has come full circle and I’m now a hockey fan again (I can even an intelligent conversation about current teams and players again).

    Let’s go Caps!

    P.S. – Watching the Caps game served as a reminder that hockey play-by-play men are probably the best sportscasters in the world. No game moves as fast as hockey and I was simply wowed by the job that Joe Beninati did. His play-by-play work was amazing, especially considering the importance of the game, and his tongue was golden. Props also to former Caps Craig Laughlin and Joe Reekie for their spot-on color commentary. And, boy, did it bring back memories to see Al Koken on the scene doing his usual great job of getting in-game insights.

    Nats Alive!

    The Nats put up a 5-spot on the Cheese Steaks in the top of 1st, making Jamie Moyer look more like his father-in-law (former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps) on the mound. Nice contributions from Aaron Boone and Jesus Flores during the rally as they see their first action as starters this year and good to see Jason Bergmann send ’em down 1-2-3 in the bottom half of the frame after a long wait to hit the mound.

    Christian Guzman just led off the top of the second with his second double of the day. He’s swinging the bat great early on this year, but I don’t know how he just got picked off.

    The Cheese Steaks are throwing the ball all over the field and looking dreadful.

    Last night’s game was simply beautiful.

    Tim Redding pitched very well, yielding just one hit and two walks. He was helped by a wind blowing in from leftfield and some fine defense from Ryan Zimmerman, Christian Guzman and Ronnie Belliard. I’ll even give Paul Lo Duca credit for calling a good game. More important, Redding spotted the ball well and kept the Phils’ big sticks from getting good swings.

    Speaking of wind, Zimmerman’s homerun was a nice little gift. The wind came across from left and blew out into the rightfield corner. Regardless, Zimmerman muscled the heck out of the ball and it was great to see him go the other way on a 1-2 pitch. Cole Hamels said the pitch wasn’t a strike and it probably was borderline. Zimmerman couldn’t take the pitch, so at best you’d hope for him to foul it off. Instead, he slammed it out of the park for his second dinger of the year.

    Meanwhile, the bullpen looks great early on, despite the ninth inning blip in the opener. Luis Ayala looks recovered from his 2006 injury and I guarantee you that Kenny Williams is kicking himself for trading away Rauch four years ago for nothing.

    On that note, the Nats have Omar Minaya to thank for Rauch. Minaya traded the perpetually disgruntled Carl Everett to the White Sox for Rauch and Gary Majewski in July 2004. Rauch was one of the top pitching prospects for the White Sox, but he angered teammates and management by leaving the clubhouse after he got lit up early in one game. Majewski was also a decent prospect who was closing in AAA at the time. Everett, meanwhile, had been signed to a 1-year, $3 million contract prior to the year.

    Everett played a year-and-a-half for the White Sox, hitting .255/28/108 in 644 at-bats. Those figures look decent, but Everett had just a .760 OPS playing mostly DH and garnering most of his at-bats in the #3 slot in the line-up. More importantly, the 2005 White Sox won the World Series, though I think it can be reasonably argued that Everett’s production could have easily been replaced that year (.251/23/87 and striking out once every 5 at-bats). He signed with Seattle and played just one more season.

    Rauch, meanwhile, has been a workhouse the past two seasons, racking up 173 appearances and a 3.49 ERA. He’s already pitched in two of three games this year. He’s making $1.2 million this season and he’s not eligible for free agency until after 2010.

    Majewksi, on the other hand, put up some solid numbers in a job that Rauch essentially inherited from him in mid-2006. He was a good pitcher until he was traded to the Reds and his arm fell-off. He was disastrous in 32 appearances last year and is starting this year at AAA.

    Majewski, of course, was packaged in a trade with Daryl Thompson, Bill Bray and Royce Clayton, who were exchanged Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner. Kearns is the Nats starting rightfielder; Lopez looks like he’ll be a super utility guy this season; and, Wagner will be calling AAA his home for many years.

    A former first-round draft pick, Bray has been oft-injured and is in AAA to start the year. Harris was shipped to the Rays following the 2006 season and enjoyed a nice season in Tampa Bay last year, finally getting real playing time. He’s in Minnesota this year playing secondbase and is a marginal player at best. Clayton ended up in Toronto the following year, was released and got a World Series ring as a last-season defensive replacement for the Red Sox. Thompson, on the hand, may have some promise. He pitched well in rookie and A-ball last year and will be in the rotation at the Reds Chattanooga AA affiliate to start the year.

    All in all, the trades of Everett and subsequent trade involving Majewski have panned out quite well.

    I Love Rock N’ Roll, and I Hate Yankee Stadium

    That’s today’s front/back cover The New York Post (collated courtesy of Gothamist). Yesterday was the last opening day at The House That Ruth Built. A new Yankee Stadium will open next year.

    I first attended a game at Yankee Stadium in 1999, the year that I moved to New York. Since then, I’ve been to about 40 games at the stadium. I’ve rooted against the Yankees in each and every one, including a bitterly cold opening day win over Boston in 2005 and a 6-1 triumph over Florida in Game 2 of the 2003 World Series.

    I may live in New York (Brooklyn to be exact), but I hate every team from the city (save for the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets rookie ball affiliate). I can’t help it; I grew up in the D.C. area and that means hating New York teams with a passion. It does not mean that I can’t appreciate the teams, or their stadiums, however.

    Yankee Stadium is, of course, sacred ground for baseball fans. No need to rehash its glorious history. I’m pained by the fact that I hate stadium, but I just don’t believe that the stadium in its current form is much of a stadium.

    The Yankees spent the 1974 and 1975 seasons sharing Shea Stadium with the Mets. During those years, the City of New York renovated Yankee Stadium, drastically changing the dimension of the playing field and, in my opinion, the character of the park.

    The current Yankee Stadium is a rather dingy facility. The upper deck is at nauseating pitch, the seats are small and the amenities are horrible. The saving grace is that it’s easy to get to by subway and that there’s a decent bar around the corner where you can get a big, Budweiser draft for $3.00.

    The worse part about Yankee Stadium is the fans.

    Yankees fans will always have a sense of entitlement, but today’s fans are far more annoying, loud and stupid than those of generations past. To be a non-Yankees fan in Yankee Stadium is akin to being a woman in Saudi Arabia. It’s not a position that any reasonable person would want to find themselves in.

    What I hate about Yankee Stadium is that when I go to the games, if I sit anywhere in the upper deck or bleachers, I have a feeling of imminent violence. The “cheap seat” Yankee fans are boneheads who live in their parent’s basements despite being of an age where they should be living on their own. They take pride in racially-tinged and homophobic jeers and have no problems getting in your face if you’re wearing the colors of the opposing team. I’ve seen grown men scream obscenities in the faces of seven-year old children wearing Red Sox and Orioles hats. Stay classy Yankees fans.

    I’m not a snob (I prefer the blue collar atmosphere of Memorial Stadium over the white collar atmosphere of Camden Yards in Baltimore), but I can’t wait for the new Yankee Stadium to open next year because I think the seat prices alone will cut down on some of the riff-raff.

    I’m a baseball fan and I enjoy going to games regardless of who is playing. What I don’t enjoy is feeling like I need to bring a weapon to a game to defend myself.

    I’ve got tickets for two Yankees home games this season. Hopefully I won’t have to deal with idiots. Unfortunately, I’ll be surrounded by about 55,000 of them.

    Rally Nats

    Is there a patron Saint of oft-injured firstbasemen looking out for Nick Johnson right now? He’s totally zeroed-in right now, hitting the ball as well as he ever has. He stung that ninth-inning double. Back-to-back Comeback Player of the Year Awards for the Nats may be in the works.

    Lastings Milledge was impressive at the plate today with a two-run, two-out HR in the sixth and a rally-starting single in the ninth. He got a bad jump on Chase Utley’s single in the fourth and I think that defense is going to be his issue this year. Also, you gotta slide, son.

    Can someone please get Paul Lo Duca one of those gloves that Paul Richards invented to catch Hoyt Wilhelm. I’m hoping that by mid-season Jesus Flores has won the starting catchers job.

    All Saul Rivera seems to do is pitch pretty well. Matt Chico looked decent despite throwing a lot of pitches.

    Elsewhere…

    I don’t know who I’d rather have blowing saves for me today: Kerry Wood or Eric Gagne.

    Kosuke Fukudome: Instant ramen is gonna get you. Gonna knock you right on the head. You better get yourself together. Pretty soon he’s gonna be a legend in Chicago.

    Ugly game between the Indians and White Sox. Mark Buehrle threw a round of batting practice in the second inning. Cleveland eked it out in their new uniforms.

    The Johan Santana era for the Mets is kicking off in style. Will be fun to watch him pitch against the Nats.