Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Check out Podcast tonight

Check out the weekly Twins Talk podcast where I'll be co-hosting tonight along with Fanatic Jack! 9PM CST/10PM EST.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Starting to Worry?

I've been lucky to have our boys in my neck of the woods the past two weekends in a row, but despite that pleasure, this weekend they decided to showcase some pretty lousy baseball (for the most part). Coming off a particularly horrible series against Milwaukee that I think everyone has done their best to forget, the Twins didn't look any livelier Friday night.

A couple ex-Minnesotan buddies of mine joined me for the game, and being about half an hour late due to work meant that I missed the only real highlight for us -- Span's leadoff homerun. That kind of set the expectations high for our Citifield experience, but the rest of the game quickly ran downhill.

Thankfully I missed witnessing most of the action firsthand. We were wading through lines at the beer garden when the Mets put their rally together and started beaning Slowey. Our lead of 1-0 quickly dropped to 3-1 about the time I made it up to the head of the beer line. That helped me decide to order two large beers and drink one of them right then and there.

We also made our way over to Blue Smoke, which apparently has a couple stands at Citifield. I had heard about Shake Shack's presence there, and while I didn't want to brave the lines there, Blue Smoke was much quicker and almost just as good. They are one of the best BBQ places in the city (outside of the famous Dinosaur BBQ under the GW bridge), and their pulled pork sandwich hit the spot. That was probably the highlight of the night.

The rest of Friday night was completely forgettable except for Mr. Met making an appearance in our section and tossing out some T-shirts. He's a lovable mascot, but it didn't help distract from the carnage on the field.

Saturday I was in slightly better spirits. I decided to break out the lucky Aguilera jersey (the one that was present for the Liriano/Hudson pitcher's duel at Target Field and also the amazing come-from-behind win against the Phillies the prior weekend). I was also meeting Shawn from On the Road with Shawn, and I think the two of us being in attendance together at a game bodes well ever since that Phillies series.

I met Shawn at McFadden's and we were soon joined by Nick Nelson and a number of his friends from the Battle Your Tail Off message board. I joined Nick and his friends as we headed into the ballpark and made our way up to our seats in the Promenade along the 3rd base line. Nick commented on how nice it is than in most all of today's stadiums their way of stacking the tiers on top of each other makes even the higher up seats seem like you're right on the playing field and I tend to agree. The Mets' new ballpark, for all of its quirks and the ridiculous amount of advertising present in the stadium completely buries Shea -- and probably even New Yankee Stadium.

Even the proximity to La Guardia and its low-flying air traffic as planes take off and land over the stadium is kind of fun. None are particularly distracting but can be quite fun to watch.

This game was significantly better, and I again think it has something to do with Shawn's and my presence and the Aguilera jersey. Pavano was absolutely fantastic, and it was nice to see a game where our pitching and offense both clicked at the same time.

Afterwards we met up with the Twins Geek and The Voice of Reason and all headed over to Forum, a bar near Union Square that is managed by former Twin Frankie Rodriguez. I wanted to introduce my fellow bloggers and it was fun to have him pull up a chair and just download about what it was like playing for the Twins, playing with Knoblauch, Radke, Aguilera, and in the huge concrete Metrodome (where apparently even the players were skeptical about the use of the air conditioning fans behind home plate). If you're ever in the city you should stop by Forum and chat with him because he's a great guy and always open to talking with fans.

Sunday was completely forgettable. I don't even want to talk about that game. I was getting so upset with our ability to put any sort of life into this team or any sort of momentum behind them. After great wins in Philly they fall flat against a significantly inferior Milwaukee team, and after a solid win against Santana, Baker and the offense both forget to show up ready to play.

I don't doubt our ability to win games or compete. We have a solid team, and I'm not suddenly starting to think that the sky is falling. But you can count me as starting to get a little concerned that there doesn't seem to be any spark or fire in this team right now. Gardy's post game comments are always the same, "We played some pretty good teams that are hot..."; "You can't do anything about it..."; "We ran into some pretty good baseball teams this year...". That's all well and good but the Twins are a pretty good baseball team. The Twins should be able to play with other good baseball teams and they need to. They can't expect a schedule full of visits from Kansas City and Baltimore every week, and the next few weeks before the All Star break aren't going to give them any reprieve.

Sorry for the little rant, but it would be nice if they'd shape up quick!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Podcast tonight

Stop by at 10PM CST/11PM EST as I host the weekly Twins Talk podcast! Fanatic Jack should be joining live from Milwaukee after the game, and we'll also be joined by Shawn Berg of On the Road with Shawn and Maija of Kirby's Left Eye. Should be a great show so stop by!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Philly: On the Road for the Tenth Inning Stretch

First off, be sure to check out Seth's Weekly Twins podcast from last night as I feebly attempted to run the switchboard for him while discussing baseball with Seth and Travis Aune...

At the beginning of the year I decided that as long as I currently live out on the East Coast, I should take advantage of my proximity to other Major League cities and notch a few ballpark visits under my belt. Thankfully the Twins were happy to oblige with their schedule by coming out my way a few more times than normal this year.

So as soon as I saw the 2010 schedule, I circled this Philadelphia visit in red, and these boys didn't let me down.

I couldn't make the Friday game, and I don't feel too bad about that. But early Saturday morning I made my way over to Penn Station to catch the first Amtrak over to Philly.

Note: the crazy guy in the yellow shirt ready to greet me.

The thing I still love most about New York is its proximity and easy access to almost anywhere. My train zipped along and in just a little over an hour we were pulling into 30th St. Station.

The plan for the day was to hang out in downtown Philly and explore until Shawn and his family got into town to start our day at the ballpark. I killed some time hanging out in Rittenhouse Square where I first noticed that the city is decorated in little Philly Phanatic statues just as we have Joe Mauers dotting Minneapolis.

I have to admit that downtown Philadelphia is gorgeous. The shops, bars and restaurants along Walnut and Chestnut street gave it a very Greenwich Village feel and I wish I had been able to spend a bit more time there.

or perhaps just get my hair done at my spa apparently?

I wandered over to the Mutter Museum and after about an hour or so of looking at dry-preserved and wet-preserved anatomy and medical anomalies, I had found more than my fill.

After looking at John Wilkes Booth's spinal cord I decided it was time for a drink. Thankfully there was a nearby bar called Drinker's Pub and I hung my hat there chatting with some friendly locals about Citizen's Bank Park until Shawn and his wife and stepson arrived. (It was then that I felt it finally safe to put on my lucky Aguilera jersey... I was actually a little more scared of being an enemy in Citizen's Bank Park than I am of Yankee Stadium.)

Shawn is an awesome guy (and his wife and stepson were just as cool) and I was looking forward to finally meeting him for the first time after reading his blog for so long! We had a beer and chatted for a bit before carpooling over to the park and finding a space in a Holiday Inn parking lot amidst a horde of tailgaters. The tailgaters were something my new friends from Drinker's Pub told me was a tradition and I can see why: with all the sports facilities and their parking lots adjoining each other it's the perfect expansive layout of concrete for people to set up grills and lawn chairs.

The stadium itself is amazing. Having just been to Target Field, which for me was like a dream come true, Citizen's Bank Park still managed to leave quite the impression on me. From the various bronze statues adorning the outside of their gates:

To the beautiful vista of their downtown skyline which I'm sure would look amazing lit up at night:

and my horrible Blackberry can't really pick up the skyline, oops... but trust me it's breathtaking.

I had found tickets at the last minute in the row next to Shawn and his family

and so I was lucky to be able to sit with them and have a little companionship in the sea of Phillies apparel out there. Thrylos made the comment that that day was the most representation of any opposing team he had seen at the stadium and if that's the case it must get very lonely and intimidating out there!

We found our seats, thankfully sheltered from the sun (which was making me regret wearing my jersey), and were able to strike up a nice conversation with some Phillies fans nearby.

This was our view
I think everyone knows how this game went. It started out wonderfully and we were in pretty good spirits, but by the time that Slowey had coughed up his early lead and I was getting angry (if still jesting) text messages from Betsy, I thought it would be nice to go explore the food.

Sorry Target Field, but Citizen's Bank Ballpark has food-fare that would blow you away. Their famous Chick & Pete crab fries and the amazing sandwich known as "The Schmitter" were enough to make me forget about the travesty I was witnessing on the field.

Though I don't know if I was sweating from the heat or from the ridiculous amount of food I was trying to eat.

I'm also not a big fan of hopsy beers, but one sip of the Flying Fish Summer Pale Ale and I was hooked. (Get it? Fish? Hooked?) They do a great job of showcasing their local microbrews and craft beers at the stadium side by side with a wide spectrum of delicious food.

During the later middle innings Shawn and I worked our way back to where Thrylos98 of The Tenth Inning Stretch mentioned his seats were and we tried to scope him out by the jersey he said he was wearing. The moment we popped up the stairs in his section we started getting heckled by a bunch of Phillies fans, and while Shawn kindly waved back at them I just ducked back into the concourse.

But it was enough time for Thrylos to spot us and come running down to the concourse to say hi! And yes, indeed, he does exist! We chatted baseball and anything to get our mind off the game for a few minutes before finally making our way back down to our seats for the last couple innings.

That's when it all got interesting of course. When Thome stepped up to the plate and got his ovation was fun to see. We joked with our Phillies fans in the row about whether or not Punto was going to get the same treatment but they didn't seem to think so. Thome was actually very well represented in the Twins jerseys that we saw. It's clear that Philadelphians still hold a special place in their heart for him, and to watch him launch that home run and receive the rabid applause was amazing.

Hey, Parker! Your shirt in Philly!

As the Twins started to mount a threat the rest of the inning, you could sense the Phillies fans around you start to tense up. They saw this all last year in Lidge but had spent the better half of the 8th inning talking about how dependable he's been this year.

It just wasn't his day.

The Mauer shot sent chills down my spine. I was in disbelief, standing in my seat, high-fiving Shawn and trying not to lose my calm and get murdered at the stadium (apparently lots of people die at stadiums every year, now I'm paranoid, kind of).

Butera's homerun was almost just as surreal. I was trying to figure out how we'd stand a chance in extras with our bullpen so taxed and with only Butera available to come off the bench. I was even curious what it would be like for Rauch to just try putting his weight into a swing. But when our .175 hitting backup catcher launched one into the left field seats that completely floored me.

The Gload homerun was kind of a letdown. I know Rauch isn't perfect but that was just sad, and it didn't even look like a homerun. I didn't think that there was anyway our bullpen could stand much longer and didn't see how the ragtag bottom of our lineup was going to do anything against a mostly solid Phillies bullpen but this team never ceased to amaze me that day. I'm still not sure why they pitched to Delmon with an open base and Tolbert coming up but I'm glad they did!

After the game we met up again with Thrylos and hung around until they kicked us out of the stadium. We got high-fives and congratulations from scores of smiling Twins fans milling about while we watched all the Phillies fans stream out of the ballpark without any of them harming us! A miracle!

Goodbye Phillies fans!

Shawn and his family dropped me off downtown and I hung out around the 30th St. Station and had a few drinks near there, proudly displaying my lucky Aguilera jersey, while waiting for a red-eye Amtrak back to New York.

All in all a great trip, a lovely ballpark, and one of the more memorable games I've ever seen in person!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dick & Bert (a guest post)

My friend Alan sent me an email today I think everyone can enjoy. Alan is a New Jersey native and sometimes Yankees fan who I met in college. He started dating a Minnesota expat from White Bear Lake and consequently started to root for the Twins over the years. They live in LA now and I think his absence from the immediate Yankee media market has only increased this Minnesota Twins love of his.

Thank you Alan:

I hope that you all in Minnesota cherish that Bert Blyleven fellow. I've been watching quite a few Twins games this year, and his ability to make a smartass comment out of nowhere is unmatched in the sports announcer world.

Here's one from the game yesterday that I enjoyed so much I had to write it down. Thought you might enjoy it, too.

Dick- Giambi had an interesting theory as to why the ball doesn't carry well here.

Bert- Does it have anything to do with steroids?

Dick- No it doesn't.


Dick- Giambi said he had a couple uncles that were in the concrete contracting business

Bert- They're Italian, aren't they?

Dick- I presume. I don't know. And--

Bert- A couple concrete shoes involved in this story?

Dick- No.

Bert- Ok.

This is the end of the letter.

For more of Alan's and my exploits, you can check out our short documentary on the two competing Largest Balls of Twine in Darwin, Minnesota and Cawker City, Kansas. It's actually more interesting than you'd think.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Comments from the Peanut Gallery (TF Men's Room)

I had the misfortune of attending the Sunday day game against the Atlanta Braves (you know, the one where Gardy had a mental lapse and though he could get by with trotting out 4 guys with .100ish averages at the top and bottom of his lineup...).

Naturally everyone at the stadium except for the obnoxious group of Braves fans sitting in front of me thought this was a little ridiculous, and as it turns out, it was. In the 8th inning or so, my Summits began to take effect and because the game wasn't really in the balance I decided to get my first look at the Target Field men's room. It was there in line, in that athenaeum of baseball knowledge which is a ballpark's mens room, that I heard a comment that's been nagging at me for awhile.

A man in a grey Cuddyer throwback jersey (beer in hand in the restroom...) was cursing to his friend about the misfortune of the game they were watching and said: "It's just not acceptable. They've got no excuse. They really need to just call somebody up who can actually hit the ball and help them out because this is ridiculous!"

I like that thought. It's admirable. That's a lot of faith in our minor league system that a lot of people likely don't have. In fact, it's probably coming from the standpoint that everyone in the minor's is just sitting there banging on the door and the only reason they aren't on the major league team is that our roster is just packed to the brim with people who really deserve to be there.

That is ridiculous.

Not to go off on a drunk Twins fan who probably doesn't spend a whole lot of time reading up on his team, but look around the major leagues and find a 25 man roster without a hole on it. It's pretty hard to find 25 guys in your system firing on all cylinders in a way that doesn't give a fan cause to gripe.

I don't want to let the Twins off the hook here. They've definitely got some dead weight. on the team.

But do they have answers in the minors? Their biggest question marks are in the middle infield and we've already called up our top prospects there in Valencia and Plouffe (Tolbert not a top prospect but easily the most major league experience of the bunch...).

Brian Dinkleman has an awesome name and is doing OK in AAA right now but he's not on the 40 man roster and to bring him up would raise even bigger questions, like who do you outright? Likewise Matt Macri isn't doing that bad in AAA right now but also isn't on the 40 man roster and his limited experience in the big leagues wasn't that miraculous. I don't think either of them are a solution. Luke Hughes is the obvious choice but is currently on the DL and not even playing in Rochester.

Unfortunately many casual fans are probably of the mindset that we have answers stockpiled away and that's probably because our minor league system has produced so well for us in the likes of Denard Span, Jose Morales and others coming up recently and playing well during their immediate stints in the big leagues. But the reality is that it usually takes even the top prospects some time to adjust to the new level of competition and chances are Plouffe and Valencia could be very solid major league contributors if given enough time. Hudson and Hardy were supposed to be our answers this year, and Harris and Punto should be playing at least at replacement level status. The fact that our two starters are injured (along with Casilla our primary backup) and our two fringe infielders are struggling so mightily is tough but it's the situation we're in. Valencia and Plouffe should just be icing on the cake, and when they do contribute -- and they have -- we shouldn't take it for granted that we've got more like them stockpiled away.

Sorry to go on a rant about a guy in the men's bathroom, but I think we're doing OK for now. If only Hardy and Hudson would come back soon...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Return of the podcast -- TONIGHT!

Hey guys! I'll be back on the airwaves (internet waves?) co-hosting Fanatic Jack's weekly Twins Talk podcast which you can listen to here.

We will hopefully be joined by Maija of Kirby's Left Eye, an awesome new blog on the Twins Territory block (and she happens to a college buddy of mine from NYC!).

Starts at 10PM CST/11PM EST. Stop by and chat or call in with questions!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reflections from a Target Field Newbie

I've been deprived of Twins baseball for several weeks, missing more games than I consider acceptable all due to cosmetic beauty products (let's not go there). So to reward myself, I made my first journey to Mecca and finally got to see the glory that is Target Field first hand.

By now every Minnesotan reading this is surely finding their eyes glazing over -- Ugh, please, this is so April 2010. Get with the times. Target Field is passé, we all know how awesome it is, let's just get to October!

(Maybe I'm exaggerating.)

But I do realize that my expounding on how amazing Target Field is should probably be lumped in with my delayed posts about Mauer signing, the Yankees World Series win in '09, and many other things I should just leave in the past. So I won't dwell on the subject too much -- but just bear with me for a little while while I say this:

Twins fans. Your stadium blows the new Yankee Stadium out of the water.

Yes. It's true.

I'll be honest and admit that I haven't been to that many professional ballparks. Outside of the Metrodome and now Target Field, I've really only had the pleasure of attending games at Wrigley, Shea, and both Yankee Stadium v.1 and v.2.

Shea was a dump. Wrigley just can't be compared to anything. The original Yankee Stadium was an ugly lump of concrete in the Bronx with peanut shells crusted to the stadium seating, peeling white bunting all around the top, and the stench of warm beer assaulting you from every angle. But at least it had the history. The vibe that Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra had all played countless games on that grass you had the opportunity to see. Now? Well, now it's a slightly newer ugly lump of concrete in the Bronx and it doesn't have that history but at least the bunting isn't peeling and the peanut shells are swept up somewhat consistently.

Target Field is a rarity. A gem. It has that old nostalgia feel of a ballpark with nods to a franchise history in every crevice, and it also has all the modern amenities that even Yankee Stadium seemed to pass up! Let's focus on food for one second: if you scour Yankee Stadium concourses up and down I think you'd be hard pressed to find anything outside your standard ballpark fare. Brats, dogs, burgers, chips with gooey yellow nacho cheese. Chicken fingers. That's about it. I'm not saying they should add sushi (ugh, Citifield, really?), but what about a New York hot pastrami sandwich? Little things like that which tie your ballpark in to its surroundings.

That's a second point. Target Field is so perfectly slotted into the heart of downtown and you can feel its vibe from a mile away. The open plazas that you can walk up to at any hour of the night and just peer in to see the ghost of an empty stadium gives you chills.

Yankee Stadium? Well, you can catch glimpses inside through a tiny hole as you pass by on the subway. But walking up to it it's just a giant stone colossus. There's nothing open, nothing inviting, nothing beckoning you in.

And Tony Oliva just hangs out and chats with people! Seriously, where else do you find that?!?!

Ok, I'm being unfair to Yankee Stadium. Guilty. It's a magnificent ballpark. But Target Field blows it out of the water. Without a doubt.

Friday night I had the pleasure of meeting up with a number of fellow bloggers for my first ever game. Betsy from For the Love of the Game met me outside and showed me around. We ran into Andrew from Off the Mark who was there as a fan for the evening. Then I ran into Fanatic Jack and got to chat with him on my way to meet Emily from Chatter From the Cheap Seats. And we had amazing seats (perfect for my first game and for the awesome Liriano/Hudson pitcher's duel).

After the game, Emily and Andrew and I met up with the Twins Geek and The Voice of Reason up at Town Ball Tavern for a few drinks before heading over to Sneaky Pete's to hang out with Nick Nelson.

It was a great time, and the fact that the Twins won such an amazing game was a perfect cap to it!

I went on Saturday and sat in the left field bleachers out of the rain, and on Sunday I sat in the little garden box that juts over right field. Despite the fact that we lost my last two games it was an awesome baseball-filled weekend -- just what I needed and I'm already trying to figure out when I can make the trip back!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Yes I'm Alive

Don't worry, I'm still around. And I haven't forgotten about you or the Twins. And I will blog again shortly.

A promotion at work a few weeks back in the middle of our busiest time of the season which ends this week has led to NO PERSONAL LIFE. I've been staring at and dreaming of lipstick and lip gloss and foundation and other beauty products instead of fastballs and homeruns and the now seemingly omnipresent perfect games.

Besides, no more internet doom and gloom about Seattle that I could have spouted was needed.

I'll be back with some positivity later this week (because I am flying back to Minnesota to attend my first ever game at Target Field against the Braves!!!!!)....