Marlins sign Saltalamacchia
The Marlins were not expected to be major players on the free agent market this offseason, so this very well may be the team’s biggest move until the season begins. Miami has been without a solid catcher for the past several seasons, and Jeff Mathis should remain in Miami as a backup.
Bell traded in 3-team transaction
In a three-way deal between the Diamondbacks, Reds, and Rays, former-Marlin reliever Heath Bell and catcher Ryan Hannigan are off to Tampa, while Cincinnati and Arizona will receive pitchers David Holmberg and Justin Choate respectively.
Arizona also sent cash to the Rays to help offset Bell’s contract. Bell was traded to the D’backs from Miami last offseason after a horrific 2012 with the Marlins.
Fowler to Houston in trade
Rounding out an action-packed Tuesday in baseball, the Astros and Rockies finalized a trade that will send speedster Dexter Fowler and a player to be named later to Houston for pitcher Jordan Lyles and outfielder Brandon Barnes.
Fowler hit .263 last season and .300 the year prior. He served as Colorado’s primary center fielder and leadoff hitter over the past several seasons. In the same role, he should serve to jumpsart Houston’s offense who ranked next-to-last in the AL last season in batting average (.240) and runs (610).
In more news, Curtis Granderson met with the Mets and enjoyed some salmon, AJ Pierzynski signed with the Red Sox, and the Athletics traded for reliever Luke Gregerson, sending outfielder Seth Smith to the Padres in exchange. The A’s also acquired Jim Johnson and Craig Gentry this week in trades with the Orioles and Rangers respectively.
The Nationals and Tigers finalized a trade on Monday that will send Doug Fister to Washington and three players to Detroit. Fister will join Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann in D.C.’s electric, young starting rotation.
In Detroit’s second major trade this offseason, they acquired utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi and reliever Ian Krol along with minor league starter Robbie Ray. Fister is under contract through 2015 and will cost the Nats about $18 million in that span.
While the Tigers have unloaded two stags already since the end of the year, Detroit still boats one of the best lineups in baseball, headlined by AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, and also a little arm named Justin Verlander. Although it may look like the Tigers are unloading, they are more just bringing their roster down to earth.
And in the spirit of Cabrera, the Tigers, the Marlins, and Thanksgiving, enjoy this (courtesy of @MLBmeme):
The majority of free agents and trading block players are still on the market, but there are already some noteworthy stories around Major League Baseball this offseason.
Braves New Stadium
The Atlanta Braves announced their plans to build a new stadium in time for Opening Day 2017. Near the intersection of I-75 and I-285 Northwest of downtown Atlanta, the new site is close to the geographical center of the Braves’ fan base, which extends across the entire Southeast region of the US.
The Braves claim that Turner Field has certain logistical and physical flaws that will only get worse over the years, though the team has not commented specifically on the current stadium. Also the Braves do not own Turner Field, nor the land surrounding it. But with their new parcel in Cobb County, they hope to build up the surrounding areas to make the game day experience more enjoyable for fans.
In addition, the new park should have in the area of 40,000 seats as opposed to the 50,000+ capacity of Turner Field. This means that the stadium will have a healthier, fuller look even if numbers are down. But unfortunately for curious fans, renderings of the inside of the Braves new stadium are not yet available. More information on the new park can be found at the Home of the Braves.
Ricky Nolasco Signing
This week, reports emerged that former Marlin Ricky Nolasco had finalized a four-year deal with the Twins. Miami’s all-time wins and strikeouts leader was traded to the Dodgers last July, and finished the season with a 3.70 ERA and nearly 200 innings pitched.
Though the deal has not been made official yet, the reported agreement is worth $49 million and includes a club option for a fifth year.
Major Trades: Fielder and Freese
Two major trades have taken place so far this offseason. The first was a one-for-one deal that sent Prince Fielder to the Rangers, and Ian Kinsler to the Tigers. The Tigers also sent $30 million to Texas in the deal to offset the cost for Fielder, presumably his dining expenses.
And another trade between the Cardinals and Angels sent the 2011 World Series MVP David Freese to Anaheim in exchange for centerfielder Peter Bourjos. Two other players were involved in the deal. Albert Pujols, the current Angles first baseman, and David Freese were integral parts of St. Louis’ 2011 championship squad. The move furthers Anaheim’s hopes of contending in the American League in the years to come.
Marlins Offseason Notes
Beat reporter Joe Frisaro reported this week that the Marlins were checking in on two free agents–catcher Dioner Navarro and starting pitcher Phil Hughes. Jeff Mathis will likely be Miami’s starting catcher in 2014, and the team is looking for depth to help him out. And the addition of a starter like Hughes would help to bolster the Fishy rotation that has been plagued by injuries and inconstancies in the recent years.
Jose Fernandez was named 2013 NL Rookie of the Year after his 12-6 rookie season. He also finished third in the CY Young voting.
And Miami’s front office has made it very clear that Giancarlo Stanton is not on the market.
After a phenomenal rookie season, the Miami Marlins’ Cuban pitching sensation Jose Fernandez was named the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year by Sporting News. Fernandez accumulated 12 wins for the Fish this season before he was shut down in early September.
As a 20-year-old, Fernandez had never pitched above Class-A Jupiter before he got the call to the big leagues this April. In 28 starts, he pitched 172 innings to the tune of a 2.19 ERA while striking out 187 batters. His 12 wins were most among any Miami pitcher this season.
On the mound, Fernandez was a catalyst. But his influence did not end there. While he was not pitching, Fernandez was found on the top step of the dugout, cheering on his comrades. He was one of the first to congratulate Henderson Alvarez upon the completion of his no-hitter on the last day of the season.
The most notable Fernandez celebration came in July when Giancarlo Stanton hit a clutch ninth-inning homer, tying the game and unhooking Fernandez from the potential loss:
As exciting as the season was for Jose, his final start was marred with controversy. On September 11 against Atlanta, Fernandez hit his first career home run and was met at home plate by Braves’ catcher Brian McCann. A shouting match ensued, causing the benches to clear. Upon close inspection, it appears that Fernandez was not the farthest out of line. Nevertheless, the feud was a sour end to an overall fantastic season.
Many baseball experts considered Fernandez the favorite candidate to win the NL ROY award. Yet, it is impressive that he still beat out fellow-Cuban Yasiel Puig, whose emergence in the Dodgers’ lineup rejuvenated the team, igniting LA for a huge postseason run.
If Fernandez were to win the official NL Rookie of the Year award, he would be the fourth Marlin to do so (Dontrelle Willis-2003, Hanley Ramirez-2007, Chris Coghlan-2009). The MLB award winners will be announced after the conclusion of the World Series.
Henderson Alvarez, a first-year Marlins, hurled a spectacular nine innings of no-hit baseball Sunday afternoon, shutting out one of the best offenses in baseball. However, there was one major problem: after nine innings of no-hit ball, the Marlins had not yet scored a run. So there was no no-hitter.
With the meat of the Marlins’ order due up in the bottom of the ninth, Alvarez was ready to go out and pitch the tenth inning. But singles from Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison set up a two-on, one-out situation for Miami.
It was then that I tweeted a quote from Rich Waltz that seems paradoxical, but perfectly described the situation:
“Henderson Alvarez is a base hit away from a no-hitter” – @RichWaltz Seems backwards, but no joke
— Steve Miller (@smillermarlins) September 29, 2013
Adeiny Hechavarria was at the dish when pitcher Luke Putkonen threw a dirt ball that allowed Stanton and Morrison to advance. However, they had to hold on Hech’s chopper to short, which gave the Tigers two outs.
Chris Coghlan walked to load the bases and then Greg Dobbs strutted to the plate with his eminence Henderson Alvarez waiting in the on-deck circle. Putkonen threw another dirt ball that squirted by catcher Brayan Peña, allowing Stanton to score and Alvarez to celebrate.
It’s not often that you see a pitcher throw nine no-hit innings and not celebrate the feat as he walks off the field. But this time, the Marlins had to score a run before Alvarez’s no-hitter could be constituted as such.
It was the fifth no-hitter in franchise history and the first since Anibal Sanchez’s in 2006. Interestingly enough, Sanchez was looking on from Detroit’s dugout this time around.
What a way to finish the season. The next time the Fish take the field, it’ll be Opening Day, 2014 against Colorado.
— Giancarlo Stanton (@Giancarlo818) September 29, 2013
— MLB (@MLB) September 29, 2013
This season at Nationals Park, I had not had much luck in the way of ball-snagging due to rained-out batting practice and overall lousy luck. The Marlins were set to come to D.C. one final time for the season, and I jumped on the opportunity. I was ecstatic for my final baseball game of 2013: a warm, sunny Friday night with the prospects of low-attendance and full batting practice.
I attended this game with three friends: Jack, Ben, and Paul, all of whom I go to school with. We bought $6 seats on StubHub in section 106, but never actually sat there. More on that in a bit.
Since we had to travel by Metro to get to the game, we did not arrive until about 5:15–45 minutes later than I had hoped, but not too late for the Marlins session of batting practice. I had briefed the other guys about ball-snagging during BP, and they were all very interested to see the glove trick in action. Luckily, when we walked down into the Red Porch, there was a ball sitting in the gap between the wall and seats just waiting to be rescued.
I quickly had our first ball of the day.
I turned around to take a picture, and Jack was telling me to put away the glove trick. Why? A fan behind him, who I later learned is an acquaintance of Zack Hample, had said that he had his glove confiscated earlier this season for doing the same. He pointed out to me the security guard, whom I did not recognize, that had busted him.
The Nationals fled the field not a minute later, and Paul, a huge Nats fan, was a bit perturbed. He said his goal for the night was to catch just one ball.
Pretty soon, a line drive one-hopped the fence and stopped on the warning track. Jake Marisnick, a semi-recent call-up, was nearby. I figured he’d notice me if I said yelled his first name, so I did. He turned around and I politely asked if he could toss the ball up. Success. Number 2.
Another opportunity presented itself a bit later when Henderson Alvarez chased down a fly ball right in front of the porch. I asked for it in Spanish, and he tossed it into the frenzy of fans in the front row. Luckily, my glove was outstretched farther than anyone’s hands and I had my third ball of the day.
This entire time, Jose Fernandez was incredibly entertaining as he chased down fly balls, frolicking wherever he pleased. I cringed when he ran into the center field fence shades of Mariano Rivera, but luckily Fernandez did not injure himself. He tossed countless balls into the crowd over the course of BP. Most of which he just threw to random spots, not particular fans. I was lucky enough to catch one (#4), but I gave it away to a nearby fan who had a glove and had not caught one yet.
The highlight of BP was a catch that Jack made on a Giancarlo Stanton bomb.
Stanton normally hits opposite-field during his first few rounds, so all of us were ready when he started unleashing to left and left-center. One shot was an absolute laser that was headed for the center field side of the Porch. I was in the middle at the time, and raced to my left to get into position. I jumped at the last second, and the ball eluded my glove. SMACK. I turned around and saw Jack with his glove closed and a look on his face that said, “Yeah, I caught that. And didn’t even have to move!” It was slick.
Among the four of us, we had five balls at this point.
A long dead period ensued. Overall, there seemed to be a lot fewer home runs hit into the Porch than in games past. Last September, I caught four home runs at the Red Porch during one session. But the opportunities were just not present this time.
Anyway, I ended up getting one final ball from Christian Yelich. I was at the center field end of the Porch when a ball rolled up against the fence. As Yelich approached it, I politely asked for it and told him I’d put him on my blog. He smiled for the camera and tossed me the ball!
Two more balls ended up in the gap over the period of BP, but I never tried to retrieve them out of fear that my glove would be confiscated. But Ben had convinced me that if the guard were somehow distracted, I could easily pluck one of the balls out. So Ben and Jack went up the steps to go ask the guard if they could somehow get the balls that were sitting on the batters’ eye, right next to the seating area in center field. As they were doing this, I looked down an saw a fan with his own glove-trick rescuing one of the balls. The guard didn’t notice. But a few minutes later he did when a different fan retrieved a ball of his own. The mean-looking yellow-shirt came down the steps and told the fan to put it away. I was not close enough to hear the conversation; however, I noticed that the fan did not get his glove taken away.
The three balls on the batters’ eye did end up being retrieved, but none of us were worthy recipients. According to Ben, the guard had told him, “if you’re old enough to mow the lawn by yourself, you won’t get one.” Discrimination.
Paul was still bummed because he was without a ball, and was actively trying–as opposed to Ben, who was just milling around wearing my teal Marlins hat.
I gave one ball each to Ben and Paul, and we took a picture. Sweet!
From left to right that’s Ben, me, Paul, and if you look really closely you can see a small blue figure on the far right–that’s Jack. Poor Jack has a bunch of friends who are over, and well over 6 feet tall.
Paul was astounded that I had caught five balls at one game, but he had never attended so much of batting practice before, so it makes sense that he would be shocked at that number. I told him if we had been there at 4:30, I would have had five more.
Before the game, we decided that we should try to practice the art of seat upgrading and not even bother to enter our section. Our tickets were for 106, which I picked mostly for home run catching opportunities; however, no home runs were hit at this game so that wouldn’t even matter.
We entered section 111, which was not being guarded by an usher at 6:40, and found an empty area a dozen or so rows back from the field. Not five minutes later, a pack of people walked down and said that we were in their seats. Evidently, there was a huge group that had tickets in 111, so we had to move a few times, but were luckily never caught by ushers.
We knew that we could not leave during the course of the game because we did not have real tickets to get back into section 111. However, during the fifth inning, Jack found a ticket on the ground (for section 111), and Ben suggested we use it to our advantage. I explained to them that two of us could get in on the one ticket if one of us were carrying an armful of food. All we would have to do would be show the one ticket, and we’d both be allowed in. So two at a time, we left. Ben and I got shakes from Shake Shack as Donovan Solano broke up Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter in the sixth inning. We missed about five runs in the bottom of the sixth while we were getting the food. Later, Jack and I left to get more food.
Unfortunately, when we returned, Ben and Paul had been moved over by a family who had just arrived at their seats. What?! It was the SEVENTH inning!
Luckily, there was an empty seat on the aisle in the row in front of us, so I was able to sit there without consequence. The families in that section soon left the game, and I got my seat back.
The Nationals won a lot to a little. And the Marlins still have not won in D.C. this season. Jordan Zimmermann pitched a brilliant two-hit shutout, striking out nine batters along the way.
After the game, I gave one more ball away to a little kid, and the four of us wandered up to the MASN booth to watch the postgame show. Paul really wanted an autograph from Ray Knight, and promptly asked him upon the first commercial break. Ray was very cordial and signed the ball with an ” ’86 World Series MVP” inscription. That interaction was absolutely awesome.
Before Paul’s parents drove us back to the Metro stop in Virginia, we played catch in front of the Department of Transportation building with barely enough light to see an airborne baseball. No one got hurt except the tree than Ben hit a few times. Thanks, dude!
What a game!
This was most certainly the most fun I had a Nationals game this season, mostly because BP actually happened, and of course because of the entertaining company.
Final score: Nationals: 8; Marlins: 2–hits that is, they scored ZERO runs; me: 5 balls because I knew the Marlins’ players’ names; Jack: 1 ball, but the awesomeness factor of the catch counts for 5 more; Paul: 0 balls because he refused to a) wear my Marlins hat, and b) plead in Spanish. But his autograph from Ray Knight and t-shirt from the t-shirt toss make up for that; Ben: had a good time.
So long for just a while, Nationals Park.
The stars were aligned perfectly for a HUGE day at Nationals Park for me until mother nature unloaded substantial rain on the D.C. area. Allow me to explain…
In my life, I have never caught a foul ball during an actual MLB game, but I’ve also never given it my best shot. Over the past few years I’ve attended Nationals Park, I have noticed that right-handed batters hit the majority of their foul balls back in a certain direction towards sections 215-216 in the club level, as I explained in my Nationals Park seating chart post. Therefore, whenever I intend to buy tickets for a Nationals game, I always check for cheap seats in these sections. Luckily, this time around, the normally-$60 seats were going for $22 on stub hub, so I jumped on that opportunity with every intention of catching a foul ball.
And then, Zack Hample posted pictures on Twitter Tuesday night that showed the Nationals were using all sorts of commemorative balls in their BP buckets including those from the 2010 World Series and All Star Game! It was too good to be true…
As my luck would have it, BP was cancelled for Wednesday. I waltzed into the stadium around 4:50 to see the tarp coming off the field, much to my delight, but no players or BP equipment on it. Bummer.
A.J. Ramos and Chad Qualls were playing catch in left field in front of only a handful of fans, none of which sported the Marlins hat that I did. I figured this would be my best chance, and I was right. When Ramos was done with Qualls, he did some sort of workout with the strength coach and turned towards the fans. I was the only one who knew his name, or at least the only one who shouted it. Also, I was a good 5 yards from the nearest fan, and… he overthrew me. I suppose that is what happens to one who is a fan of a team with bad pitchers. I’m sure a Yankee or Brave would have been on point with his throw. Whatever. I figured it wasn’t a commemorative ball anyway.
Enough about that. There were several Marlins fans down by the dugout even though there were no players anywhere to be seen. I sauntered down there because there was nothing else to do. Some of the guys were from Miami, I think, and one even had a picture of himself with Jose Fernandez that he wanted to get signed. A short time later, Christian Yelich came out and signed for some kids in the front, and I got him to autograph my hat because I had nothing else to get penned (thank you, Ramos). And a few minutes after that, Placido Polanco came out and was very friendly with the fans.
Both Yelich and Polanco were extremely cordial. It’s hard to be mean when there are only ten fans to interact with, but at this point in a dismal season, players can choose to nap inside or eat fried chicken instead of acknowledging the fans. I applaud these two for their efforts.
A little while later, I noticed three folks with Chirstian Yelich shirts on, so I immediately thought they must be family since Yelich is not exactly a top jersey seller. As it turns out, they were friends who knew him from his high school years. They lived in Greensbro, NC and hadn’t seen him since he played for the Grasshoppers.
After that, I overheard a Marlins fan say he was from Fredericksburg, so I had to talk to him. The guy was originally from Ft. Lauderdale but lives near Fredericksburg with his family. Like me, they attend almost every Marlins series at Nationals Park.
The things to do when there is no batting practice…
It was Hispanic Heritage Night at Nationals Park, so there were some festive dancers out in the centerfield plaza. There was also really loud music. Before the game, they honored all the Nationals players from Latin American countries, and that was that.
The game began, and I had my glove on the whole time. But even after all my expert analysis and incredible patience, nothing paid off. Foul balls fell just short of our section, flew a bit to the right, and overall were just not as plentiful this game. It was a real disappointment.
The rain delay lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, which made a lot of fans leave early. That was awesome because it meant more empty seats for my running purposes, and more running room if anything came my way. Unfortunately, it was a school night so I had an ultimatum. We had to leave at 10:30.
For the last half hour, I was in a perfect spot–the second row of 215 with an entire empty aisle to my left, and one in 216 to my right. Unfortunately, nothing came my way, and we had to leave after the seventh inning.
The highlight of the night was Giancarlo Stanton’s monster home run to centerfield in the sixth inning. He has hit a few bombs since then, and now has 115 for his career. He has a long way to go before the 500 mark, but I still think he’ll get there.
The 21-year-old phenom and NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner Jose Fernandez took the mound for the final time this season on Wednesday night. The Marlins urged their fans to come out and see the young ace take on the Braves at Marlins Park, and the fans got much more than they bargained for.
In the top of the sixth inning, Evan Gattis led off with a monster home run into the left field seats. He took his time out of the box, watching the blast, which was the only run Atlanta scored on Fernandez for the night. Two batters later, Chris Johnson hit a laser to left field that was caught by Christian Yelich. When Johnson started back to the dugout, he said something to Fernandez. The pitcher clearly took offense, yelling back at Johnson. After the inning, Fernandez showed his emotion in the dugout and was fired up about the events of the previous inning.
Jose Fernandez came to bat in the bottom half of the inning, and launched a solo home run to left-center field, the first homer of his young career. After finishing his swing, he stood at the plate in awe of the towering blast, and took his time circling the bases. As he rounded third, Fernandez spat on the ground in the vicinity of the base, several feet from where Chris Johnson was standing. No big deal. When he reached home plate, catcher Brian McCann was there to meet him with some critical words of wisdom. Fernandez and McCann had a contentious conversation, but nothing looked like it would escalate until…
Chris Johnson charged in from third base to confront the pitcher, an action that caused the entire Braves team to jump up and join the debate at the plate. The Marlins’ dugout emptied and the bullpens followed suit. Even before everyone arrived at the confrontation, Fernandez was back in the dugout steaming off. Placido Polanco then restrained Chris Johnson, who was still mouthing off. No punches were thrown nor ejections issued. It was just an average Atlanta Braves game.
After the conclusion of the matchup, which Miami won 5-2, Fernandez apologized for his actions and explained his conversation with McCann.
“He told me, ‘Buddy, you can’t do that.’ I told him, ‘I’m sorry, the game got the best of me.’ I was just going to walk away.”
Fernandez said that he and McCann have a close relationship, and that this exchange was nothing to be concerned about. It was not until Johnson charged in that the situation got out of hand.
The fact that Fernandez was able to confess to his mistake of admiring the blast is itself admirable. Jose has always been an emotional player on the field, and frequently is visibly fired-up after certain plays. No one, until last night, had taken exception to that.
Chris Johnson said after the game that the Braves dugout was unhappy about Fernandez “smiling after getting people out and all that kind of stuff.” Smiling? Excuse Fernandez for being excited to pitch in the big leagues and winning like an ace, but not every pitcher will have a complete poker face when he’s on the mound.
Many analysts assumed it was Fernandez spitting on the ground by third base that set Johnson off, but no one emphasized that in the post-game comments.
The Braves are leading the NL East by 11 games. And they have some serious issues if they cannot handle a rookie pitcher being excited at the conclusion of his spectacular season, or if they take offense to a team trying to defend its own players and dignity. For Atlanta, the season from here on out will only become more intense, more emotional, and more personal. Enough said.
Jose Fernandez finished his inaugural year with a superb 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA, and 187 strikeouts. The book on Fernandez’s rookie season is officially closed, but the 2013 chapter of Spat-lanta continues.
A subset of my family travelled down to Atlanta for a long weekend as the Nationals came to Turner Field. Technically speaking, this was not a “new stadium” for me; however, I was two years old the last time I saw a baseball game in Atlanta. So for all the intents and purposes of this blog, I visited a new stadium on the 16th.
On Friday night, we entered the stadium shortly before 5 pm for the 7:30 game. The concourse was already crowded, as were the left field seats when I made my way down there. From a ballhawking perspective, the one thing I knew for sure about Turner Field regarded the gap between the outfield wall and the seats. The large vacant space swallowed up many baseballs, and retrieval devices such as the glove trick were welcomed. Therefore, I jumped on the first opportunity that presented itself.
I was standing at the centerfield end of the seats when a home run ended up in the gap somehow.
I quickly raced down to the front row and set up the glove trick, and within a few seconds I had my first ball at Turner Field. A few people around me were amused, and I was genuinely surprised when they said they had never seen it done before. Over the course of the night, I saw other glove tricks, a duct tape roll somehow rigged to pick up a ball, and a plunger-looking device.
For a long time after that, the Braves were not hitting many home runs. And the few that they did hit were way too far away from me. Both the left field side and the right-centerfield side were crowded at that point, it was nothing like Nationals Park. Therefore, I had little space to maneuver since I had no intention of running over people.
When the right field side opened at 5:30 or so, I hurried over so I’d have some time before it filled up. Unfortunately, the Braves lefties were not interested in hitting home runs. I believe one entered the section for the 20-30 minutes I was out there, and it went almost directly to another fan who was wearing a glove.
Shortly thereafter, the Braves righties started peppering the left field seats, which were even more crowded by this point. I figured I’d at least give it a shot, so I headed back over to left field. Of course, as soon as I found a decent spot, the lefties came back up again. I don’t think this was so much bad luck as it was merely me not knowing how to play the stadium.
The Braves seemed to hit for a really long time, likely because the game was a 7:30 start, rather than 7:00. So they wrapped things up around 6:00 and the Nationals took the field.
I was dressed neutrally at this game because generally I’m not a toss-up target unless the stadium is empty. Therefore, even though I’m a knowledgeable pseudo-Nationals fan, I still had no better luck at this point. The first group of Nats hitters stayed completely in the park. Finally, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth began connecting to left field. Unlike Nationals Park, the outfield seats at Turner field stretch for the entire length of left field, and bullpens take up minimal room allowing almost every home run to find people. However, since the park was so crowded, I basically had to pick a spot and hope for the best.
The closest I came to catching anything was on a Jason Werth blast. I was standing in an empty row in DEEP left-center when Werth launched one just a bit to my right. I cut through the row and hoped my 6’2″ frame would be big enough to stretch for the ball headed over my head. As the ball descended towards me I heard two ladies a few rows behind me scream and duck for cover. I figured “no problem, I’ll just catch it,” but it was a tad too far. I jumped and came up just short as the ball hit the concrete next to the two seated fans in the last row. It then bounced away onto the cross-aisle. They were jokingly mad at me for not catching the ball, and I explained that I tried my best, but just came up short. The row behind me was empty as well, so if I had climbed over a row, or had just started there, I probably would have had it without issue. But luck is luck, and it wasn’t with me on Friday.
Towards the end of BP, I noticed a young guy heading up the stairs with a ball in his hand that sported a commemorative logo. I stopped him and inquired about it. The logo was an Astros 50th anniversary ball from last season (the Astros have commemoratives this season also for their first year in the American League). All the guy knew was that it said “Astros” on it, so I explained to him the whole deal with commemorative baseballs, and he was intrigued. Houston was one of six teams to use commemoratives balls last season; the other five were the Orioles, Red Sox, Marlins, Mets, and Dodgers.
Not a minute later, my little brother came down the steps and showed me his own Astros ball, one of three he caught on the day. Why did the Braves and Nationals have Astros balls? Neither team played Houston recently, nor did any of their recent opponents. It could be the same reason that three different editions of commemorative baseballs ended up in the Nationals BP buckets last season (and this season as I have since learned), and that Rawlings had a surplus of these older baseballs and sold them at a cheaper-than-usual price to MLB teams. However it ended up, I really don’t care. I’ll be happy to be able to catch commemorative baseballs any time the opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately though, there was not much opportunity for me on Friday night.
Before the game began, I wandered around the main concourse and even up a level to photograph views from all over, and investigate for a Turner Field seating chart blog post, which I will hopefully compose in the near future. I must say though, Turner Field probably has the more eateries per concourse than any stadium I’ve ever been to. There was a LOT of food.
As I explained in my last post, the game itself shared the spotlight with the shenanigans that occurred on the field (mainly, Bryce Harper getting plunked). And by the fourth inning, I had my Marlins sweatshirt on because it was cold! Hot-lanta was certainly NOT on this August weekend. It was overcast/raining/dreary every hour we were there, and the temperature never reached 75 degrees. I suppose it made the game more enjoyable. But I was shivering by 10:30 as the game proceeded to extra innings.
I will not explain the game itself because of its meaninglessness. The Braves held a 15-game lead over the Nats at that point, and their fans just enjoyed watching the Nationals suffer.
Justin Upton came through with a laser of a walk-off homer in the bottom of the tenth. The shot landed in the gap in left-center by the 380-foot mark. The place went nuts. This was the third walk-off homer I’d ever seen in person. The first one happened in the first MLB game I remember attending, in August of 2003 at Oriole Park. Tony Bautista hit an extra-inning bomb off the Devil Rays. And then in July of 2010, Ryan Zimmerman walked off on a ninth-inning homer to beat the Padres.
Anyway, I immediately thought that if I got over to left field quickly enough, I’d have a chance to pluck the ball out of the gap with the glove trick. But when I got over there, security was shooing people up the steps, and did not allow me to get down to the front row.
Final score: Braves: 3, Nationals: 2, Bryce Harper: -2, Braves Fans: mean.
One ball at this game. First glove trick outside of Nationals Park. First ball outside Nationals Park since last July at PETCO. One cold night.
The Washington Nationals are trying to shut the book on a disappointing season, and the Atlanta Braves are making that painful endeavor even less enjoyable by their inhumane targeting of Bryce Harper and the young Washington team.
This violent ordeal began on August 5th. The Braves were locked in a 2-2 battle with the Nationals in the District when Justin Upton connected on a home run to give Atlanta the go-ahead run in the eighth inning of their eventual win. Upton watched his blast for several seconds before he started his slow trot around the bases.
The following night, Bryce Harper homered in the third inning and also made a slow trot, but by no means show-boated the way Upton had the previous evening. In his next at-bat, Harper was drilled by Julio Tehran, a gesture the young National clearly took offense to. Immediately, Harper mouthed off on Tehran, and both benches emptied. No punches were thrown nor ejections issued.
After the affair, the PR departments of the respective teams took to Twitter:
Advantage > Nationals.
Neither team continued the antics during the series finale on August 7th, even with Harper present in the lineup. Party over–right?
Atlanta’s aggressive ship should have already sailed by the time the Nats arrived at Turner Field for a weekend series on the 16th. Harper came to the plate in the first inning to a chorus of boos from the Braves’ crowd; he promptly doubled to centerfield. If the Braves took offense to anything that Harper said or did during the next three innings, it was unclear to anyone in the media, watching on television, or in the crowd. But when he came back up in the fourth inning, he was drilled in the back on the first pitch by Alex Wood. Cheers from the Braves fans.
Now this is a nugget of information missing from many accounts of this inter-franchise spat:
Sometime in the middle innings, a long foul ball ricocheted off the wall into left field, where Harper was playing. Naturally, when Harper picked up the dead ball, the hundreds of fans in left field all stood and shouted at Harper to throw it up, no differently than they would have for their own fielder. However, Harper, who no doubt remembered the boo-birds that welcomed him every time his name was announced, tossed the ball from a good 100 feet in left field all the way to his team’s bullpen in the left field corner–a “game-on” gesture that had the Atlanta fans up in arms. More boos.
In the top of the 8th, Harper returned to the dish and was hit in the shoulder blade on the first pitch from reliever Luis Avilan. The pitch was more than a “come at me” shot. There was bloody-intent. The Atlanta crowed cheered again, even harder than the first time he was hit. Washington announcer Bob Carpenter was furious over the response of the entire Braves franchise, and called the fans “blood-thirsty.”
Believe it or not, there was a game actually being played throughout all of this, and the contest went into extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th, Justin Upton connected on a walk-off home run to give Atlanta the 3-2 victory.
Stephen Strasburg toed the rubber for Washington on Saturday night, and every follower of the insulted Nationals could smell blood. Upton strutted to the plate in the bottom of the first, and Strasburg put 97 mph in his backside. Both teams were warned as expected.
For the first few innings of this game, Washington’s bullpen was empty with the exception of coach Jim Lett, a bullpen catcher, and one pitcher. Could the whole squad of relievers have been in the dugout ready for a fight? It was certainly a possibility.
But then a strange inning from Strasburg abruptly halted the rapidly-escalating conflict. The Nats’ ace walked Jordan Schafer on four pitches to begin the bottom of the second. He then threw three consecutive wild pitches to Andrelton Simmons, the eight-hole hitter. The last two of the wild tosses were behind Simmons, and Strasburg was ejected after one inning of weird baseball.
Was he throwing at Simmons? Hopefully, because otherwise his complete loss of control is likely indicative of some sort of injury, either physical or mental. And if he was throwing at Simmons, then why? There are seven better batters to hit in Atlanta’s potent lineup. And with a runner on base with no outs in the second inning, play some good baseball before you intentionally end your night.
After Strasburg was tossed, the entire Braves dugout stood at the railing shouting across the diamond. The umpires quickly intervened to keep the teams at bay.
The rest of the game, all 14 innings of it, proceeded without conflict. And the worst part of this whole ordeal? The Nationals must now stay completely on the defensive before the Braves retaliate it some way. They pulled out all their stops on Saturday, and Strasburg could not even hit a second batter before being thrown out. And with a playoff appearance in the works for Atlanta, while Washington is no where near one, the Braves might as well let the Nats toss and turn at night thinking about their next move, while they themselves play clean baseball through the rest of the season. Sure, this whole affair was instigated by a Braves squad picking a fight, but the Nationals were spotlighted last night trying miserably to meet the challenge. Meanwhile, the Braves are succeeding where it matters, and taunting their only potent rival now floundering in the remnants of a bitter season.