Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Baltimore Trip Recap

You have absolutely no idea how hot it was. Perhaps the most uncomfortably hot I've been in my life.

Let me start over.

I've been trying to check out as many of the east coast ballparks as I can in case I decide to move from New York, and when I saw this year that the Twins would be visiting Baltimore for a weekend series it looked like the perfect opportunity to check out a ballpark I've heard so many good things about. Anyone I've spoken to who has visited Camden Yards has had nothing but good things to say -- and now I can see why.

Planning this trip I knew it was going to be pretty hot. After renting a car and reserving a motel just south of Downtown Baltimore, I checked the forecast for the weekend. Triple digits are never encouraging.

The temperature gauge on my car kept climbing. I needed photographic evidence.

Thankfully my motel was supposed to have air conditioning. And it did. But there was no way to adjust it and whatever the AC was set at wasn't going to get the job done this weekend. This kind of went along with the theme of the hotel, which included drug dealing and prostitution in one corner of the parking lot. Basically, what I was told to expect from Baltimore.

Camden Yards, however, was gorgeous!

I met some friends of mine who live in the D.C. area on Saturday night, and they were able to secure some of the company seats from Lockheed Martin for us, which happened to be about 10 or so rows back from the Twins dugout.

Besides being amazed at how inexpensive tickets of this quality normally are (sitting in these seats normally costs $48 -- the same price could maybe get you into the upper deck of Yankee Stadium...), I was also amazed at the vast amount of Twins fans at the stadium.

...and North Stars fans! Classic!

Twins fans turned out in droves for this series. I've seen a decent representation when I went to Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia or to Citifield and Yankee Stadium, but it almost felt like a home crowd.

The game Saturday night was great but seemed to drag on forever. This was primarily due to the fact that all of us were drenched in sweat. You couldn't lean against the back of your chair without leaving a big sweat mark on your shirt. We had stuffed all of our pockets with towels and napkins and were constantly drying off. Some of us also resorted to sitting with our beer pressed against our cheek or forehead like an icepack. Every couple of innings I decided to make my way to the bathroom and take a bum-shower in the sink by washing off my arms and face.

Moving around the concourse was much more pleasant, and so on one trip to the bathroom sink I decided to spend a little bit more time ambling around the concourse. I didn't get any food that night, just beers -- a microbrew that I can't remember for the life of me -- and I really don't regret not getting any food at the stadium. That's probably the only drawback I can think of about Camden -- nothing really stuck out in terms of signature food! There was an item called Boardwalk Fries that seemed popular and was labeled as a "Baltimore tradition" but they looked like normal fries. Everything else was pretty much standard ballpark fare of hotdogs and hamburgers and cracker jacks except for one stand I saw serving crab cakes. Maybe I missed something -- if anyone knows of a particularly heralded food item at Camden please let me know because I plan on going back and would love to try it when I do!

After the game we drove over to Fells Point near Inner Harbor and met up with some of my friends' coworkers who were on a pub crawl. We joined up with them at a pub called The Wharf Rat and I highly recommend it. It feels very colonial, almost like stepping back in time, and it's just enough off of the Broadway Market place that it doesn't get horribly crowded. Their selection of beers and ales is great and there's nostalgia practically baked into the walls -- it's like the bar you imagine your ancestors used to gather in as their local haunt. Hard to describe.

We followed this up with going to The Horse You Road In On Saloon which was much more crowded but featured some nice music and a decent amount of Twins fans. This bar was a little bit more on the beaten path and consequently more crowded, but there's soooo many nice places to get a drink in Fells Point that you can't go wrong just wandering around.

After some drinking we went to a late night pizza place on Broadway Market and because I was in Baltimore I had to try the Four Cheese and Crab Meat pizza, which proved to me that you can probably put crab meat on anything and it will still be pretty good. This capped off the night before I headed back to my seedy Baltimore hotel.

I left there as early as I could the next morning and parked in Downtown Baltimore, walking around in my lucky Rick Aguilera jersey to check out the city before the game. After wandering a few blocks I realized that there was no way I would survive in a baseball jersey in that heat and direct sunlight (pangs of sympathy for the guys who would be playing were also present). I picked up some 50+ SPF sunscreen and changed into a T-Shirt and continued my short tour of the city.

Eventually I wandered over to the ballpark to check out some of the things I didn't get to see the night before. I was supposed to meet Eric from Call to the 'Pen and his wife for the game and I had a little bit of time to kill before we were supposed to meet so I checked out their Sports Legends Museum which is pretty cool. If you hang around the outside of the ballpark near the Camden Street Gate H entrance, you will be right next to the Sport Legends Museum. Even just hanging outside they play classic sports calls over a loudspeaker system and it's fun to just sit there and listen to some of the classic moments in sports history.

Shortly after I left the Sports Legends Museum I met up with Eric and his wife and we headed in to go to a pregame picnic near the bullpen. The Minnesota State Society of Baltimore was having an all you can eat (and all the beer you could drink!) picnic with the purchase of a special ticket, and Eric was kind enough to find out about this and invite me along.

Not only was it great meeting him and his wife who are both instantly some of my favorite people to hang out with, but it was obvious what a huge Twins fan Eric is to make the trip out to a baseball game just a couple days before he had to take THE BAR EXAM!

Our seats were in centerfield with a great view of the whole ballpark but the unfortunate side effect of being directly in 100% sunlight with no shade or relief. Our dark green seats were scalding hot and the only relief we had from the constant heat beating down on us was occasional cloud cover passing by.

Thankfully the ballpark staff set up a free ice stand near the flagpoles in the outfield for anyone to go by and grab a cup of ice -- something I utilized many times that day. I don't think we were the only ones going delirious in the heat: Matt Guerrier kept wrapping a towel around his head like a turban and doing a Pharoah dance in the bullpen, and Ron Mahay started jumping around and waving his arms maniacally in the bullpen occasionally when we would look over.

The best thing about sitting in the heat was that the Twins rewarded us on the field. This was the beginning of their recent offensive onslaught and completely made up for the fact that we were roasting in the sun and baking in the heat for hours just to watch them.

Around the 6th inning the wind suddenly picked up and started blowing around banners in the upper decks and sending napkins, wrappers, and tons of other litter through the air onto the field and into the bullpen. The Twins relievers were all interested in the flying litter and ran out to get a view of what was going on just in time to see dark storm clouds rolling ominously closer to the ballpark.

We tried to tough it out through the rain, and it was actually somewhat relieving to be cooled off like that, but as soon as the game got postponed I knew I had to start heading back to New York in order to get home at a reasonable hour. Unfortunately my car was parked a little ways from the ballpark and I had no umbrella, so before I hopped into my car to drive back to the city I had to wring out my soaking wet T-shirt in the parking garage so that it was at least partially dry!

All in all it was a great trip -- Camden was a gorgeous park and everyone should visit it -- and Eric is an awesome guy with a great blog that hopefully you all read!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mid-season Awards/Predictions

It's tough to write about the Twins these days -- call it a lack of inspiration. So today is just a baseball-in-general post as I dole out completely meaningless mid-season awards:


AL: Terry Francona, Boston Red Sox. Talk about a guy who has found a way to rally his team and field a winner despite unforeseen circumstances! Currently on the DL are Josh Beckett, Clay Bucholz, Junichi Tazawa, Manny Delcarmen, Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida. (And we're upset that Nathan and Morneau are there...) Not only does Martinez go down but so does his backup (Varitek). Not only does Pedroia go down but so does HIS backup (Lowrie). But they keep winning in the toughest division in baseball. It will be a travesty if Francona isn't rewarded.

NL: Buddy Black, San Diego Padres. Black has taken a team that was expected to be in complete rebuilding mode, including neverending speculation about where his star players like Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell would be traded to by the end of July, and shown us one of the best teams in 2010 baseball. With a team full of young talent like Tony Gwynn Jr., Kyle Blanks, and Mat Latos to name a few, he has harnessed their youth and given San Diego something to cheer about.


AL: Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers. At the beginning of the year, this young slugger was on nobody's radar. He could barely sniff top prospect rankings and was unlikely to crack a Tigers roster already dangerously overloaded with youth for a team trying to compete. Boesch posted solid but unspectacular numbers over his career in the minors (but he did have 28 HRs last year in AA), and has taken the Majors by storm posting a .342/.397/.593 slash line over 65 games and looks to be a mainstay here to torment the Central for years.

NL: Mat Latos, San Diego Padres. 3rd in the NL in Wins and 7th in ERA, Latos is simply solid in every statistical category. 8.4 K/9 and only 2.4 BB/9 with a WHIP of 0.966 and only 9 home runs allowed in 106 innings. Not only is he my hands down ROY so far but he's in consideration for the Cy Young.


AL: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays. Probably the easiest choice of any of these mid-season awards. Leading in Wins and ERA, Price is dominant across the board. With 100 K's in over 115 innings pitched, he is a consensus choice and leads a staff of talented Tampa Bay pitchers as easily the most dominant pitcher in the American League.

NL: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies. This is a much tougher choice than the AL. Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, Mat Latos, Tim Hudson, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and so many more are begging for attention. But Doc is the cream of the crop. 4th in ERA (2.19), 2nd in K's (128), and 3rd in Wins (10) is reason enough.


AL: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. It pains me to admit it, but he is probably the best hitter in baseball this year. Tied for 1st in all of the Majors with a .346 average, 2nd in homeruns (22), and 1st overall in RBIs (77) you couldn't reasonably argue that anyone else is more deserving.

NL: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds. This one isn't so clear cut. I was tempted to think someone along the lines of Albert Pujols or David Wright, but Joey Votto is really the only person consistently near the top of every statistical category. Wright is too deficient in the power game this year. Pujols is too deficient in average this year. Votto is having an amazing season and spearheading a great year by the Reds. He's the most deserving player in my book.


New York Yankees over Detroit Tigers
Texas Rangers over Boston Red Sox

Atlanta Braves over San Francisco Giants
St. Louis Cardinals over San Diego Padres


Texas Rangers over New York Yankees
Atlanta Braves over St. Louis Cardinals


Atlanta Braves over Texas Rangers (4-2)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jesse Crain Parallels

Joining with all of Twins Territory in honor of another member of our favorite team, I'd like to examine the parallels between Jesse Alan Crain and the famous bird that shares his last name. One might wonder what kind of similarities can be found between a Major League relief pitcher and an aviary animal. The answer? Several, if you don't mind stretching your imagination a little bit:

Cranes are renowned for their migratory habits.
- Crain was born in Toronto, Canada but spent a good portion of his childhood living in Boulder, Colorado. Playing high-school ball in Colorado and college ball in Texas, Jesse plays professional ball for Minnesota and every 3 years migrates back to his Canadian team to represent them in the World Baseball Classic. He is a well-travelled man.

Cranes usually stay with the same mate all their lives.
- This has yet to be proven in Jesse's case (I'm referring to his mate as the team he is currently coupled with). Jesse has donned the uniform of only one Major League club, and that club happens to be the Minnesota Twins. Whether that loyalty is his or his mate's trait has yet to be determined, but as it stands neither of them is ready to give up on the other despite the hard times they've been enduring over the years. That's a solid relationship.

Cranes can be long-lived. 40-60 years in captivity, but some even longer.
- Jesse will not have a 40-60 year career, but his career does seem to have a long lifespan so far, it just isn't going away! Despite the fact that his career has seemed like it might be teetering on the brink of death, it still plows along. Resiliency.

Many cranes are becoming endangered, particularly the sandhill crane, the Siberian crane, and the whooping crane.
- One can't help but feel that the Jesse Crain might be becoming endangered too. More and more when he is released into the wild from the bullpen the hunters from the other team seem to target him and light him up. It can be tough to watch sometimes. PETA should intervene.

Cranes are opportunistic feeders.
- This was particularly true in 2005, when Jesse picked up 12 wins out of the bullpen. He was what the great Bert Blyleven kept referring to as a "vulture", showing up in relief to pluck up a win.

In some myths, including one told by Aristotle, cranes were thought to migrate with a "touchstone" in their belly. (Touchstones are a tool to help determine precious metals.)
- I get a pit in my stomach whenever I see him enter a close ball game.

In Celtic mythology, cranes are often an ill omen.
- This is usually why I get that pit in my stomach.

In Asian mythology, the powerful wings of the crane are though to be able to convey souls to the Western Paradise.
- Ok, not really sure about this one. But, if Western Paradise is being on base, opponents have a career .316 OBP against him? That's not awful I suppose, so I guess Western Paradise can be a rare place to gain entry to.

Many ancient Asian cultures also saw valuable lessons in the flight trajectory of cranes, from which the young could follow and learn.
- Sign a guaranteed contract early, because if you have arm problems and end up not doing as well as you thought, you'll still make a solid salary and your team will be less likely to let you go until you've been proven completely ineffective.