Why this Marlins-Nationals series carries even more stock than it ever has

Giancarlo Stanton at Nationals ParkI find every series between the Marlins and Nationals intriguing. I’ve followed the Marlins longer than any other team, yet I’ve seen the Nationals play more than any other. The division rivals play about 18 games head-to-head each season and have provided some of the most entertaining baseball I’ve ever watched. From tense pitching duels between studded young arms to slugfests between All-Stars Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper, and even fist fights on the field, there is always a story to follow even when one of the teams dwells in the league’s cellar.

Both Miami and Washington have top-notch pitching staffs. When the Jordan Zimmermanns and Henderson Alvarezes pitch to Henderson Alvarez at Nationals Parktheir potential, these matchups often float into the late innings with very little–or no–scoring. In fact, last September Zimmermann shut out the Fish in under two and a half hours. But don’t be surprised to see the Marlins tag Strasburg for six runs in two innings, or the Nationals chase a Miami starter after just three innings. However, even when starters turn in quality outings, the bullpens of these two clubs rarely allow the contests to cool off after six or seven innings.

Back in May, I attended a game at Nationals Park in which the starters only allowed four of the night’s 13 runs. The Marlins scored four in extra innings to win. In April, the Nats and Marlins combined for 17 runs in DC with the Nats scoring their final four in the eighth inning to seal the game.

It’s late July and the Nationals are in Miami for a three game series in which the Marlins season virtually hangs. After last night’sJordan Zimmermann at Nationals Park thrilling victory, the Fish sit just a game under .500 and 6 back of the Nationals for first place in the East. They’re also 4.5 out of a National League Wild Card spot. While they’re not in great standing, their playoff chances look much brighter than they did two weeks ago. After dropping six straight after the All Star break, the Fish went on to take three of four in Atlanta, sweep three from Houston, and win the first against Washington at home. That’s seven wins in eight games. The trade deadline looms, and the Marlins may be in a position to buy after all.

In the seventh inning last night, the Marlins were down 6-0 to the Nationals. I would have guessed at that point that they’d be putting some players on the trade block today. But there’s nothing more dangerous than a young team with nothing to lose, on a hot streak, and facing a bullpen with a less-than-perfect record. The Fish struck for three runs against the Nats’ bullpen in the seventh and eighth, but were still down a few going into the last of the ninth. Here goes:

Unintimidated by Rafael Soriano, Casey McGehee led off the final inning with a walk, and Garrett Jones doubled him to third. Marlins walk off on Baker's hitMarcell Ozuna blooped a single into right field to score a run and put runners on the corners with no outs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (best name in sports) drilled a sac fly to right making it 6-5 with one out and a runner still on first. Washington was not in a bad position with their closer on the hill and up by one, but Soriano threw a wild pitch to Adeiny Hechavarria to allow the tying run to move into scoring position. It really wouldn’t matter in the long run because Hechavarria, making my life as a writer incredibly difficult, shot a triple into the right-center gap, tying the game while moving himself 90 feet from a win. Jerry Blevins took over for Soriano, and as much as I love the University of Dayton and its baseball-playing alumni, I’ve loved the Marlins for longer. Blevins struck out Christian Yelich to move the Nationals an out away from escaping to extra innings. As Jeff Baker strutted to the plate, I remembered how much I didn’t love his alma mater of Gar Field High School, but then I remembered how I threw a complete game 14-4 win against them this high school season and didn’t mind rooting for him. He drilled the first pitch he saw off the left field wall and the Marlins walked off with an improbable nearly impossible, come-from-behind, Miami-Washington-style, crazy win. I’m metaphorically out of breath.

The point is, if Miami can win this series, they find themselves in a favorable position at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, the Nationals are locked in a tight race with the Braves and are trying to maintain their lead, which currently stands at just a half game. Atlanta is a team against whom Washington has struggled greatly, so it’s important the Nats get as many wins against other divisional opponents as possible. But the Marlins, obviously, are not in a position to roll over easily.

Is 2014 Miami’s season? As of right now, I doubt it. Even if the Marlins do find a way to sneak into the playoffs, it’s there that experience triumphs. And I’ll take St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and (heck) even Washington in October over Miami, a franchise that has not made the postseason since their 2003 World Series win. And the vast majority of Miami’s roster has never played in the postseason. Therefore, it’s not worth it for the Marlins to sell their entire minor league system to buy a few blockbuster players for a shot at a championship. But if they trade a prospect for a guy who will up their chances at making the postseason and at least excite this franchise for a future run, I’m all in.

And it’s fitting that Miami make these decisions while playing a team with whom they’ve had arguably the most exciting history, save Steve Bartman and the Cubs. But who knows? Maybe the Marlins will see the Nationals in October.

Twin Games in Seattle: July 2014

Safeco Field is the farthest north of all Major League ballparks. That was one of the more interesting things I learned on the tour ISafeco Field took July 6th. I was set to see a pair of games between the Mariners and the Twins at my new second favorite park.

Traveling to baseball stadiums nationwide has made me look forward to going to Nationals Park a lot less. Washington’s main advantage for baseball fans like me is that it is not crowded during batting practice and has a lot of outfield seating. If that weren’t the case, I’d hardly ever go to Nationals games. Safeco Field opens 2.5 hours before game time, like Nats Park and many other stadiums, but only the left field and center field areas are accessible until 2 hours prior. Safeco Field also does not have any lower-level outfield seating on the left side, meaning that home runs are hard to come by over there. The bullpens take up all the field-level space.

Safeco’s main pre-game draw is “The Bullpen” in center field. It’s a plaza of overpriced bars and restaurants with a party deck to view the game. They hold happy hour when the gates open with half-priced beers. Inevitably, people show up early for this. The party deck is great because it’s a flat, open space for chasing baseballs–the most field-like surface that a stadium can provide. However, it’s far from home plate and gets crowded quickly because of the aforementioned beer deals.

July 7th

The first game was on Monday, July 7th. Joe and I got to the stadium at the desired time and proceeded to the party deck. I hungJoe on the party deck out at the back so that I could be more mobile and not get caught up with the crowd along the wall. A few minutes in, the move paid off when a right-handed Mariner launched a deep home run toward us. I moved over and up and used every bit of my long left arm to make the catch above a nicely-dressed woman with a beer in one hand, shading herself with the other. She reacted as though I had saved her life. Pro tip: If you show up to a baseball game more than an hour beforehand, bring a glove or stay away from the field.

That catch was my only one for the day. I traveled over to right field where the seating is a little more conventional, but the sun was absolutely brutal (even worse than it was at Turner Field back in April). Any ball hit in the air I could track for about a second and then it completely disappeared in the glare. Had the roof been closed or the sky stereotypically overcast, I might have had a shot at a few more long balls, but that just wasn’t happening. The last thing I needed was 108 stitches in my head.

Mike Zunino connects on a solo home run in the second inningI honestly don’t even know where our seats were for this game. I think they were somewhere in right field, but it wasn’t crowded and right field was in the sun so I didn’t even bother going over there. Joe and I plopped down in section 119 along the first base line. In fact, it was almost directly up from first base, a little on the outfield side. Nicest. Usher. Ever. He never once checked a ticket, asked us to move, or questioned us in any manner. My parents, meanwhile, arrived much later than we did and decided to sit in the left field corner. They said the usher in their section was incredibly strict and was throwing people out of the 95% empty section in the seventh inning and later. But for some reason he never asked my parents for their tickets so they stayed put. I think that was section 139 so another pro tip: don’t sit there.

Mike Zunino and Michael Saunders both hit solo home runs and Hisashi Iwakuma threw seven shutout innings as Fernando Mariners in the teal uniformsRodney notched the save for the Mariners’ 2-0 victory. But the highlight for me was the fact that Seattle wore their teal jerseys, which are undoubtedly the coolest uniforms in baseball. Objections? Too bad.

July 8th

Nothing terribly exciting happened the following day. Joe and I bought scalp tickets outside the field for $15 each. They were in the third deck of the infield and, you guessed it, we never sat there.

I again hung out on the party deck for the first half hour or so, and only one ball ended up reaching the people there. For whatever reason I wasn’t paying attention when it was hit, so I wasn’t even close to it. I moved over to right field where the sun was even worse than it had been the previous day. I was mostly in the wrong places at the wrong times and I didn’t catch anything.

Finally, Minnesota’s Kendrys Morales hit a long home run that was well over my head. Luckily, I was the closest person to it, and when it landed it hit a seat back and skipped right to me. I barehanded it and felt satisfied. Ever since my glove and I lost a gruesome battle to a bouncing baseball in San Diego two years back, I barehand every ball I can.

My dad joined us at this game and bought his own scalp ticket for cheap. All three of us got a picture with the Mariner Moose My dad, Joe, and me with the Mariner Moosebefore the game and then proceeded to section 119. Same usher, thank goodness! While the Mariners warmed up before the game I went down to the first row for some pictures and was pleasantly surprised when Brad Miller threw me his baseball as he jogged back to the dugout. In case you missed it, Brad Miller is my favorite Mariner. Actually, he’s my favorite non-Marlin.

This game was the virtual opposite of the previous day’s. Sam Fuld hit a solo homer for the Twins and they tacked on another run later and won 2-0. Four runs over two games is not spectacular. Safeco Field, however, is. So I think I’ll get over the lack of offense.

Safeco Field with skylineFrom the first base/right field side fans can see the Seattle skyline, including neighboring Century Link Field, over the left field bleachers and “Safeco Field” sign. This makes section 119 optimal for anyone watching a Mariners game. Actually, funny story regarding that: A lot of stadiums do a “seat upgrade” promotion where they surprise some fans in the upper deck and award them seats down close to the field. Well at this game, the people who were surprised had tickets in a section close to the ones for which we had tickets, and then they were “upgraded” to section 119, just a few rows in front of us. Final pro tip: don’t wait for stadium staff to come tell you you have a seat upgrade. Carpe diem!

So I said Safeco Field was my new second favorite ballpark. This year, I’ve visited Fenway Park and Safeco Field (first timers), along with Nationals Park and the spring training stadiums. But the new parks mean I have to update my rankings. Here goes:

1) PETCO Park: As I said back in 2012, San Diego did everything right with this place. The edge over Seattle is because PETCO PETCO Parklies in the “Gaslamp” district of San Diego. It’s very accessible and walkable, a little easier to get to than Seattle.

2) Safeco Field: Seattle did everything right as well. But its neighborhood is in transition.

3) Oriole Park: It’s been a while since I’ve visited Baltimore for a game, so I need to go back to better place it on the list. But it’s as good as any in the majors.

Fenway Park4) Fenway Park: It’s tough to compare a century-old gem to the shiny new jewels that are my top five parks, but I’m trying. Fenway’s downside is the crammed seating. However, I upgraded in this game as well. All things considered, it’s hard to top the Fenway “experience.”

5) Minute Maid Park: Not a lot of people like this Park as much as I do. Houston made a retractable roof park feel cozy and ballpark-ish. The fans were friendly and passionate when I went, and there are enough quirks in its design to make it interesting.Marlins Park

6) Marlins Park: I really wish the Marlins had made their walls closer to the plate and less green. I wish they hadn’t spent two million dollars on the eyesore that lies in center field, and I wish the outfield seating were more fan friendly. But it’s Miami and they’re not known for baseball.

Nationals Park7) Nationals Park: I used to really like Nats Park, but then I attended too many games there. There’s nothing notable or spectacular about the park and the neighborhood is similar to that in which Safeco lies. It gets really hot during the summer, and on top of it all, the ushers are irritable.

8) Dodger Stadium: Dodger Stadium is a great venue to watch a baseball game…on TV. The Dodger Stadiumconcourses are narrow and crowded, and one has to climb a hill to enter any seating section above field level. I went to a day game and it was really warm.

9) Turner Field: The Braves. Need I say more? Sure. The Chop House music. The Kiss Cam. Evan Gattis. Craig Kimbrel. The 50/50 lottery they hold every game.

10) RFK Stadium: It’s not supposed to be a baseball stadium so I don’t think it’ll mind being last on my list.

Psych Filming Locations and Canadian Baseball in Vancouver

Vancouver, British Columbia was the next stop on my family’s Pacific Northwest road trip after the stay in Seattle. And even while this segment included baseball, I was more thrilled to visit filming locations from the popular USA Network show Psych. Running from 2006 to 2013, Psych was a crime comedy that chronicled a fake psychic detective and his Watson-esque sidekick as the pair solved crimes with the Santa Barbara police department. However, only aerial images on the show were actually filmed in Santa Barbara as the rest of the filming took place in Canada. The following slideshow has pictures of the locations that I took juxtaposed with shots from actual episodes of Psych.

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Fun story: The Vancouver Canadians are the short season class-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, and I did not even know the Me and Joe with Ryan McBroom at the gameteam existed until I mentioned my travel plans to a friend shortly before I left. As it turns out, the Canadians’ first baseman is Ryan McBroom, a resident of Fredericksburg, VA. In fact, he attended the same middle school that all my brothers and I did. I knew he was drafted by Toronto, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn he was playing in Vancouver. McBroom won Player of the Week honors for the Northwest League for the week June 23-29. He was presented the award after the game I attended. Vancouver unfortunately lost the game to the Everett Aquasox (gotta love the minor league team names), but it was cool to be there nonetheless. Another point of interest: the stadium accepts American currency, and I imagine the Rogers Centre in Toronto does as well.

Seattle Game 2 Pictures: Twins at Mariners 7.8.14

My dad took Joe and me back to Safeco Field for game 2 of the series against the Twins in our last full day in Seattle. We bought $15 scalp tickets off the street and sat again in section 119 along the first base line. I never imagined seat upgrading would be so easy here considering the Mariners’ success this season, but we were never questioned about our tickets.

The highlights of the night: 1)Brad Miller threw me a ball before the game, so naturally I was way more excited than a 17-year-old should be about getting a free baseball. 2) We got a picture with the Mariner Moose so my mom would be satisfied she had something to scrapbook. 3) Only two runs were scored for the second straight night and the Twins won 2-0. 4) And I’m likely the only one who cares, but the Twins’ first run came on a solo shot by Sam Fuld who drilled a liner over the right-cente field fence, just out of Michael Saunders’ reach. The previous night, Saunders had hit a homer to right-center field just out of Fuld’s reach. Payback? And finally 5) It was Bark in the Park night. I added one token canine picture.

I never thought I’d say this, but the Mariners and Twins should have taken scoring lessons from Germany’s soccer team. For the first time in my life I enjoyed watching futbol-ers score more than a baseball team…or TWO teams combined over TWO games.

Pictures: Twins at Mariners 7.7.14

I attended the Mariners-Twins game Monday night at Safeco Field with my family. Much to my delight, the M’s wore their slick teal jerseys–the best uniform in baseball. I’ll write a full post later, but the highlights are: 1) I caught a batting practice home run in center field–my only catch of the day. 2) The Mariners hit 2 homers and won 2-0. 3)Brad Miller is in the high socks and stirrups in the following pictures.

These are just some of the pictures, there may be more later on. Click on a picture to enlarge it and a scroll through them in a slide show.

 

 

Safeco Field and Seattle Pictures 7.6.14

On Sunday we took an awesome tour of Safeco Field. We got to hang out in the dugouts and actually step foot on the field. Safeco is right next to the Seattle Seahawks’ Century Link Field, so you’ll see that in a few of these pictures.

I’m seeing a game Monday night when the Mariners take on the Twins. And I plan to attend Tuesday night as well. Many more pictures and stories to come.

Seattle Story: Why I root for the Mariners

Earlier this year I was at a Nationals game with three friends when the in-stadium entertainment host walked down our section Me at Space Coast Stadiumand sat right in front of us. I told him we’d be more than happy to be on camera, but he motioned toward my head and said “not with that hat.” I was wearing my teal and blue Seattle Mariners hat. He wasn’t going to interview us anyway, but I got a lot of flack from my companions for preventing us from being on the jumbotron. What does that have to do with anything? Next week, I’ll be attending two games at Safeco Field, so it’s time I explain why I like to wear a Mariners hat and why I root for the team.

Foremost, most of my baseball friends know that I was NOT happy when the Marlins switched their color scheme from teal Mariners, Marlins hat with teal cleatsand black to orange and whatever-the-heck-else. The all-teal hats the Fish debuted in 1993 were a little too gaudy, so I was happy with Florida’s final color combination though I do wish teal were a bit more prominent in their pinstripe uniforms. Naturally, I felt drawn towards Seattle after Miami’s makeover just because of the Mariners’ classy colors.

Back in 2012, I posted about my favorite hats in baseball and asked fans to vote for their favorite. Much to my delight, the navy blue and teal hat of Seattle won the vote. Regardless of whether it won, I was planning to buy the hat because it’s my favorite in baseball, but the vote gave me an extra reason.

In addition, Safeco Field is gorgeous. It’s a retractable roof stadium with the classic ballpark colors. I thought Marlins Park was going to look like Safeco Field when I first saw the plans, but Miami went off the deep end with lime green walls and home run configurations–you know what I mean. Once I actually see a game in Seattle, I’ll have more specifics to back up the assertion of Safeco’s excellence. Further, Seattle seems to be a more culturally-classy city than Miami, famous for its library and fish market rather than its beaches and clubs.

One more plus for the Mariners: Logan Morrison, a former Marlin. And while LoMo is injury-prone, and less productive than his ostentatious nature might suggest, he will always be a Marlin to me and I’ll always root for him. The Mariners also have my favorite non-Marlin in baseball–Brad Miller. Miller is a 6’2″, 200 pound white guy that wears high socks. Basically, if I batted left handed and could play shortstop I would BE Brad Miller. Or if he were a right-handed outfielder. And since his last name is Miller, it makes things even better.Me running bases

If you can’t tell, the professional is on the left:

Brad Miller running bases

 

 

 

me batting

brad miller batting

If I were never a Marlins fan and had to pick a favorite team today, it’d be Seattle for all these reasons. But I doubt the Marlins will ever annoy me enough to drive me away from Fish Fandom. However, Seattle is much more likely this season to make a playoff run than is Miami. So come October, I hope to see the Mariners in the World Series.

 

The Top Step: Little League vs Travel Baseball

David Mendell wrote an article in the Washington Post in May about the effects travel baseball teams have on community and little league baseball teams. Paul and I talked with local little league veterans, John and Maria Lagana, about what they have noticed in youth baseball in the Virginia/DC area.

The Washington Post article mentioned is HERE.

What Sausages and Femurs have to do with Baseball in Boston: Indians at Red Sox 6.12.14

I think it’s every baseball fan’s dream to travel to all 30 Major League ballparks. In fact, whenever my family takes a trip to a baseball city, we end up planning our schedule around that of the home team. So when my pal André suggested we take a baseball road trip, I was all in.

Our original plan was to travel to Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore in three days for three games, but that just didn’t work out. So we decided to go for Fenway Park since it’s a stadium that every fan wants and needs to see. We flew up on Thursday, June 12, for that evening’s game against the Cleveland Indians.

Boston is a city built around the water. In fact, it’s early history was completely dependent on the resources provided by the Boston from the airocean and bay. The modern Boston is still heavily influenced by the water as the city is divided into sectors or neighborhoods by the rivers and inlets. From the air, that interaction between the water, land, roads, and buildings is really cool to observe. Aside from Fenway Park, the approach to Logan Airport was the highlight of my day.

After a short cab trip to the hotel and a ride on the T down to the Fenway district, we were outside the green confines of baseball’s most majestic cathedral. The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip advises fans to visit Italian sausage vendors outside the park on Lansdowne Street. Naturally, we got dinner (well, “first dinner” if you ask André) from an awesome salesman behind the Green Monster. Side note: For any fan planning to travel to one or more baseball cities, the aforementioned book is a must-buy. It analyzes each seating region within a stadium and discusses outside-the-park opportunities in addition to all that the park itself has to offer. In all, it’s nearly 500 pages of pure baseball fandom.

Green monster seatsAt 4:30 we were able to enter the stadium for batting practice due to our new membership in the Red Sox Nation fan club. We ventured atop the Green Monster, where narrow aisles and steep stairs provide a less-than-ideal venue for home run snagging. Still, there were a few catchable balls in straight away left field that I would have easily caught had I been in the right spot. I was too distracted trying to take pictures and I missed out on those opportunities.

A while later, we trekked down to the right field side and took pictures by Pesky’s Pole and the red seat. The right field foul pole is named after former Red Sox infielder Johnny Pesky, who reportedly hit a game winning home run that landed in close proximity to the pole, which sits just 302 feet down the right field line. Pesky had just 17 home runs during his 10-year Major League career, so it is likely that the ones he hit at Fenway Park all landed in the short porch.

The red seat has quite the opposite significance as it sits 502 feet from home plate in the right field bleachers. It is where a Ted Williams home run reportedly landed in 1946–the longest homer ever hit at Fenway Park.

André and I then sauntered around the concourse to our ticketed seats in the grandstand section 12. Fun fact: Fenway Park opened in 1912 and the designers apparently tried to cram as many seats into the stadium as possible. Therefore, the IMG_7380grandstand seats have extremely limited space. And since I have disproportionately long femurs, I couldn’t sit straight forward without my knees digging into the back of the wooden seat in front of me. But, I remembered it was Fenway Park so I figured I’d get over it.

We walked around the rest of the park and took a few pictures and were just happy to be there. When we made our way back towards our seats, we noticed one of the field box sections was particularly empty. I never imagined seat hopping would be a possibility at Fenway Park, but nevertheless we planted ourselves in two aisle seats about ten rows up from the field and just waited until the seat’s rightful owners claimed them. I think baseball fans should have squatter’s rights after three innings, but the high rollers who actually pay for their premium seats wouldn’t be too happy if that were the case.

The stadium as a whole filled up by game time, yet our new section remained mostly empty. Our aisle seats were in a completelyIMG_7432 empty row, and two rows in front of us were vacant as well. So even if our seats’ owners were to come, we had other options. In addition, ushers behind us were not checking tickets as they likely assumed anyone entering the seats had the correct documentation because it was so crowded. In the third or fourth inning, some folks finally arrived with seats in our row, but still not ours. A little while later we moved down to a different empty row just for some more comfort. We were not questioned once throughout the night and successfully pretended we were the rich chaps who were supposed to be sitting down by the field. As it turns out, the section we were in retails for about $150 per seat!

The game itself was exciting. David Ortiz hit a fifth inning home run to put the Red Sox up 3-0. Both teams scored twice in the sixth to make the game 5-2. In the top of the seventh, the Indians had one on and one out when Michael Bourn launched a deep fly to center field. It looked like a sure extra base hit. But Jackie Bradley Jr. tracked it down and made a running catch on the warning track before he turned and fired a one-hopper to first to double off the runner and end the inning. Boston won 5-2.

Fenway Park. Pictures say 1,000 words and I cannot write anything to adequately describe the majesty of the stadium anyway. So if you haven’t already, make sure you check out my photo post of the game.

View from atop the Green Monster

10 Reasons Giancarlo Stanton MUST Start the All-Star Game

Originally posted on On Cloud Conine:

Sunday night, the latest National League All-Star Voting Update was released and we were shocked (shocked!) to see Giancarlo Stanton was ranked 4th among all National League Outfielders.

If the 2014 All-Star Game was played today, Stanton would not be a starter.

In the words of famous Seinfeld attorney, Jackie Chiles, we think those voting results are outrageous, egregious, preposterous!

The good news? There’s still one week to right this wrong and make Giancarlo a starter.

Here are 10 reasons Giancarlo Stanton MUST start the All-Star Game:

10 – Here’s an easy one: Giancarlo leads the entire National League in Home Runs (20) and RBI (58)

Giancarlo Stanton Marlins

9 – No one, and we mean no one, hits home runs like this guy:

8 – So far in 2014, he’s already set a career high for stolen bases!

Giancarlo Stanton Marlins

#StantonSmash #StantonDash ??

7 – He’s way more than just a monster home run hitter:

6 –  Giancarlo’s…

View original 178 more words

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