Nationals pave way for garden gnome giveaways in 2015

While the Nationals have had some lousy postseason luck these last few seasons, they have been the best at somethingwerth garden gnome consistently. Stadium promotions. We can all agree that the Jayson Werth garden gnome was the epitome of 2014 baseball promotions, and sure set the standard high for the rest of the league.

That’s why I was not at all surprised when I looked at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ preliminary promotional schedule for next season. Listed for Monday, May 25 against Atlanta is a “Garden Gnome.” Right now, it’s unspecified as to who or what the gnome will actually resemble, but due to the extreme publicity that the Nationals received last season, it’s sure to garner a crowd.

Other teams around the country will likely conduct similar promotions until such items don’t draw sell-out crowds. But to me, no other garden gnome at this point will carry quite the same lovable significance as Werth’s. See, it all started as an accident when a fan photoshopped Werth’s bearded visage onto a garden gnome. From there, fans took a liking and the Nationals pursued it to please their faithful. And it could not have gone better for anyone involved–except, that is, the 25,001st fan.

span bobbleheadRegardless of whether or not it’s “original” from this point forward, a garden gnome of any bearded player would probably do the trick. In the Dodgers’ case, Brian Wilson may be a safe bet as the subject. And the Red Sox could honestly fashion a gnome out of any number of members of their 2013 World Series team.

As for bobbleheads, however, the Nationals do those better than any other team as well. League-wide, clubs give away plasticy, unimaginative, and detail-less figurines that please children for several minutes and then serve as decent office paperweights. The Nats not only design detailed dolls that eerily resemble their players, but they also position the players to incite meaningful memories. For instance, Michael Morse’s bobblehead in 2012 featured his little on-deck practice swing in which he raised his left knee as he brought his hands forward. And Denard Span’s this year depicted a mesmerizing catch he made against the outfield wall.

Thank you to PNC Bank, who generally sponsors the bobbleads. I’ll have to get myself to some more promotional days in DC next summer.

For now, the Dodgers may be copy cats, but they’re making a smart and potentially very exciting business move. I can’t wait jacob degromto see how it turns out.

UPDATE: The New York Mets have released their 2015 promotional schedule and are returning thegarden gnome favor to the Nationals. On Saturday, May 2, the Mets will hand out 15,000 Jacob deGrom garden gnomes. The 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom is relatively clean-shaven but sports lacrosse-style flow in the back. This may be a reverse-hair-garden-gnome if you will. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can be in New York on May 2.

How the Reds and Buster Posey’s Leg could have changed the World Series

It’s the question that every curious baseball fan is wondering right now. What would have happened?

What would have happened if Kansas City’s third base coach, Mike Jirschele, had sent Alex Gordon home with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Alex Gordongame seven of the World Series? San Francisco had already made two blunders on the play. Was another one imminent?

Let’s look at this by numbers first. Brandon Crawford, the Giants’ shortstop, received the throw on a bounce about 150 feet from home plate at the time Gordon was scampering into third base. A clean transition and an on target throw would have surely beaten the runner. Gordon would have been dead by at least 15 feet. A bobble on the transition or an offline throw would have made for an interesting play at the plate, but the Giants had  a little bit of extra time to play with.

Was there a higher chance that Crawford make an error than the next batter record another base hit off Madison Bumgarner? Crawford’s fielding percentage this season was .971. That means 97% of the time there was an opportunity for him to mess up, he didn’t. The on-deck batter was Salvador Perez whose postseason batting average was just above .200. That’s not a high mark, but even still it means he recorded a hit in 20% of his postseason at bats. While it’s likely his chances go way down with Madison Bumgarner on the mound, remember it was Perez who had homered of the Giants’ ace in game one of the Series. Regardless, I still think the chance of another hit would be above 3%–Crawford’s error percentage. I stand with Jirschele’s decision to hold Gordon at third.

However, had Gordon run home and the play happen at the plate, there is a chance the 2014 season would have had a more-than-ironic ending. And this is where two Marlins-related incidents could have changed the game.

Flash back to May of 2011 when the Marlins were on a hot streak in San Francisco. The two squads were locked in a tie in the twelfth inning when young outfielder Scott Cousins tried his luck on scoring on a shallow fly ball. After catcher Buster Posey mishandled the hop, Cousins plowed right into him and scored the run. However, Posey’s missed the remainder of the season with a fractured fibula and torn ankle ligaments.

This incident sparked much debate over whether or not collisions at home plate should be regulated further or banned. And thus became the new rule 7.13, which was instituted this season and provided more drama than it resolved.

The rule is meant to protect catchers, but simultaneously gives very vague circumstances in which a catcher can occupy a the third baseline while receiving a throw from the field. Previously, a catcher was allowed to use his body to block the path to the plate while the throw came in, but the new rules state that he must leave a clear path unless he physically has the ball or the throw carries him into the baseline. But in the case that the catcher violates the rule and occupies the baseline without the ball, the runner shall be ruled safe even if he does not attempt to slide into home. That rule, plus the new replay additions for this year, caused runners to be ruled safe many times they never would have been in the past.

Scott Cousins in Jupiter, FL (2010)Fast forward to July 31, 2014 when the Marlins were playing the Reds in Miami. With a 1-0 lead in the top of the eighth inning, the Marlins secured an inning-ending double play when Giancarlo Stanton caught a fly ball in right and threw home to nail the Reds’ runner by a solid ten feet. Great play, right? Wrong. The Reds called for a review, claiming catcher Jeff Mathis was in the baseline before he received the throw. Sure enough, a six minute plus challenge determined that Mathis was indeed out of line and the Reds were rewarded a run.

This play was really the cherry on top of a long season of controversy over the new home plate rule, which effectively granted a team a run if the catcher at any point stood between third and home on a play regardless of how far the runner was from scoring on the grounds of “protection” for the catcher. As a result, Joe Torre, MLB’s Vice President of Baseball Operations, sent a memo to all the umpires and clubs explaining that if a runner would have been out regardless of the catcher’s position, he should not be deemed safe by review. However, this still left room for interpretation and controversy. Remember, all this was in place so that catchers could not be legally run into thanks to Scott Cousins and Buster Posey.

Now let’s jump back to the World Series and wonder what would have happened had Gordon ran home and Crawford’s throw not been on time and on line. Well, it could have brought Buster Posey into the path of the runner. Posey could have accidentally blocked the plate out of instinct. The play could have been reviewed and forced the replay umpire to make an arbitrary decision over whether or not Posey was illegally in the pathway of the runner. Thus, it could have ended or extended the World Series by a process that brought more distress to the baseball world in 2014 than the looming return of Alex Rodriguez.

The latter is what I would have hoped for. Not because I wanted to see the Royals or Giants go out like that, but because it would have been a major insult the the already-injured baseball replay industry. And it likely would have sparked significant enough outrage to bring about lengthy off season discussions. And a major modification to the home plate rule would likely bring moral justice to Jeff Mathis, and uphold the excitement and legitimacy of physical plays at the plate for which Scott Cousins received all to much scrutiny.

Chances are, Alex Gordon would have been a dead duck and San Francisco would still be World Series champions. But we have to wonder what if. And this is the role that the Cincinnati Reds, Buster Posey, and two lowly Marlins could have played in saving the Royals’ season.

Flying with Natitude

The Nats are in the playoffs again, which means I have someone for whom to passionately root in October. But this year it comes with an extra incentive. As I mentioned in my last post, Washington has two pitchers from the University of Dayton, where October weather resembles late November temperatures in Virginia.

Anyway, here is the column that I wrote for Flyer News about Craig Stammen and Jerry Blevins. Unfortunately, I cannot Jerry Blevins 7.1.14legally post it on my blog.

I will be writing another Nationals piece in the near future regarding Jordan Zimmermann’s no hitter on Sunday. In that game, I was honestly rooting for the Nationals from the sixth inning on–the first time I can ever remember specifically being against the Marlins. Once I realized how much it’d mean for Washington to finish off the season in such a brilliant fashion, it was easy for me to turn my back on the Fish. As my roommate Collin can attest, I enjoyed the final day of the 2014’s regular season:

“Even though I’m not a baseball fan I knew this game was a big deal. Steve was as giddy as a kid on Christmas Eve. I’m not going to lie, I was hoping the Nationals would lose so I could see how devastated he would be and laugh at him. I thought I would finally get my laugh when whoever was last person to bat hit the ball into the outfield but it was caught. Lucky hick.”

I’m not sure who the “hick” is because, according to Collin, “you’ll never know.”

Many people here at Dayton are Cincinnati or Cleveland fans, and there are a good number of Pittsburgh faithful. Especially since the Pirates are in the postseason and may go on to play Washington, it will not be easy to convert the Bucco company. But using the bait of fellow-Flyers Stammen and Blevins, I think I should have a decent shot at infusing some Natitude into Dayton. And I’m confident that fervor will extend through the World Series this year. Stay Tuned

The Fulfillment of May Showers: Marlins-Nationals Series

It’s not easy to win when you have nothing to play for. In this final series of the year, the Marlins have second place to play for. But second placeNationals Park in the NL East in 2014 is still going to be more than 15 games back of the first place Nationals, who made off like Steve Miller after they grabbed the top spot. That is, they took the money and ran. Today, Miami and Washington are playing a double header before the final two games of the season over the weekend.

The current and final series of the year is four games long because of a rain out in D.C. way back in May. That was four months ago, and it’s so weird to think about. I was at Nationals Park the day after that postponed game when Paul Fritschner made his prophecy that the make up date for would result favorably for Washington, who was riddled with injuries in the spring. He was right, not that it really mattered though. Washington won the first game of today’s double header decisively, 4-0. In doing so, they captured the top spot in the National League, clinching home field advantage through the NLCS.

I’m rooting for the Nats all the way from this point, aside from the three remaining games against the Fish. Miami’s loss today hurts even more knowing that I’m not even in Virginia to commiserate with them. Instead, I had to observe helplessly from the campus in Dayton. This marks the first time that the Marlins are playing at Nationals Park and I can’t even watch them on local television. If I were still in high school, I’d like to think that I would have skipped classes today to be in D.C..

Nationals Park scoreboardPulling for the Nationals in the playoffs is not just a hometown ordeal, at least this season. Two arms in Washington’s bullpen, Craig Stammen and Jerry Blevins, went to the University of Dayton. They’re the first UD players to make the Major Leagues since the 1960s. So as I try to build a Nationals fan base here in Ohio, the Nats have clinched the top spot in the National League and will go for Washington’s first baseball title since 1924. I just hope they drop three to Miami before they begin that quest.

What Politics and History have to do with Baseball in Washington, D.C.

Nationals Park over the waterWashington, D.C. is not a baseball town. It never has been, and I’ll argue that it will take a major cultural transformation in order for it to become one. The capital region has one big business–politics. It’s impatient, it’s unforgiving, it’s greedy. And its participants share similar traits. Impatience has no place in baseball; the most impatient quit the sport before they even play on real teams. Greed can run someone into the ground faster than they can take delight in their gains. The priorities of a society, of a city, of a people are reflected in not just their work, but their leisure just as much. And the overwhelming culture in the District of Columbia and its surrounding areas is only conducive to one trait it can have in common with baseball–winning. For the sake of sports popularity, winning carries inordinately more stock in the Washington area than it does anywhere else in the nation.

Think about it. New York is the fashion capital of the country, and arguably the world. The baseball pride of that city, the Yankees, are fashionable, are a brand. Look on any city street in the U.S., take a listen to a Jay-Z song, study the map of baseball fandom. Anywhere you look in this country, the Yankees are as much a fashion as they are a team. How many people who wear the “NY” hats can even tell you if their beloved pinstripers won the previous night? Can they name a current player besides Derek Jeter? It doesn’t matter. As long as New York remains a cultural powerhouse, which may be forever, people will sport their brand. It certainly helps that the Yanks have won 27 World Series and no other team has even half that mark. But the truth is evident and the brand is established, record and personnel are not important enough details to influence public opinion.

In Boston, 86 years of sans-championship seasons did not scare fans away. For sure, the end of the World Series drought rejuvenated the fan View from atop the Green Monsterbase, but Fenway Park saw much excitement while the “Curse of the Bambino” reigned. Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, and Wade Boggs (to name just a few) were, and are, icons of the city of Boston. It’s a town that revels in its heritage and history. Since baseball has been a part of that for over 100 years, winning remains an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.

Take a gander at the Chicago Cubs. They haven’t won a Championship in one hundred and six years. If nothing else, they pride themselves on being the most loveable of all losers. But Wrigley Field is the second oldest ballpark in the country (two years younger than Fenway), and the Midwestern folk are so patient and loyal to their team that there’s no sense in giving up now.

Washington, D.C. was created to cradle the functioning of our nation. And if baseball is truly “America’s Pastime,” should the nation’s organizational center cultivate the sport as well as any of its subordinate cities? A peek at the history of baseball in Washington does not suggest it has.

The Washington Nationals franchise was founded in 1901, and was known as the Senators after 1905. They moved to Minnesota to become the Twins in 1961, just as cities in the western part of the country began skyrocketing in population. In the prior decade, the Giants and Dodgers moved from New York to California, yet the Big Apple still had two teams of its own.  In 1962, a new Washington Senators team competed in the capital, but only for a decade. In 1972, they became the Texas Rangers. The District was without a baseball team for quite a time. Washington, D.C. was succeeding as the country’s economic and political facilitator, broadening its power to the southern and western parts. However, baseball in the city fell victim.

Paul taking a selfie with GeorgeFor more than 30 years, Washington locals pulled for the Baltimore Orioles, teams from other “hometown” cities, or just stopped caring about professional baseball altogether. In 2005, the Nationals finally returned, although the original franchise is not actually an ancestor of its namesake. But even after the team returned, even after a new stadium was built, fans did not flock. Maybe in 100 years the Nationals will be a brand in D.C. the way the Yankees are in New York. But a much quicker path to popularity is in victory (and GARDEN GNOMES), and this season has exemplified that.

Even still, attending a Nationals game is a social event for the yuppies of the District, not a partaking of America’s pastime. Outside of old men and young children, no one brings his or her glove to Nationals Park. The most popular food destination is in center field, behind the scoreboard, out of sight from the field. A lot of people at Nats Park still don’t care about the actual game. But at least they’re there.

If the winning keeps true and the Nationals build up any sort of dynasty and string together several division crowns, Washington may turn into a baseball town at least during the season. And the Nats could be on the fast track to becoming the next brand, the next icon of Major League Baseball.

What the Commissioner and Rainouts have to do with the Marlins playoff push

ESPN Radio personality Colin Cowherd pointed out this week that commissioner Bud Selig has done a lot more for this game than he gets credit for. Aside from replay, expanded playoffs, and the ousting of steroid users, Selig has helped smaller market teams build competitive programs. This week, Rob Manfred was elected to take over Selig’s position next year and will hopefully continue to protect the competitive atmosphere in baseball. And for evidence of Selig’s success with this, look no further than the 2014 Marlins.

It took the entirety of 2013 for Miami to reach the 62-win mark. A baseball fan can do the math and understand that equates to Meeting of the Minds100 losses, and, save the Astros, the butt of all jokes. A year later the Marlins have won their 62nd game in mid-August and sit at .500, still in the National League playoff mix.

In fact, the standings are tight across all of Major League Baseball as we enter the home stretch on what has been the most competitive season of recent history. The Baltimore Orioles are in control of their division and are poised to make a deep playoff run for the first time in quite a while. The Kansas City Royals lead the AL Central and look to just make the postseason for the first time since 1985. In the NL, the  Milwaukee Brewers lead a division that has been owned by St. Louis for the last decade plus. All in all, 19 of the league’s 30 clubs have realistic playoff aspirations.

But Miami faces one of the toughest challenges in the National League. Currently 3.5 games out of the second wild card spot, the Marlins have an easy week before they face a serious uphill climb. After today’s off day, Miami plays two against Texas and then travels to Denver for a three-game set against the Rockies. But next week they play in Anaheim and Atlanta, not easy places to win these days, and travel to first-place Milwaukee in the second week of September. Before the regular season ends on September 28th, the Marlins play the Braves six times and the Nationals eight.

Nationals ParkThe Nationals are currently six games up in the NL East, and will host the Marlins for a four game series at the end of September. The set includes a doubleheader on Friday the 27th that is a result of a rained-out May matchup, thus fulfilling Paul Fritchner’s prophecy of an improved Nationals team:

“I gotta say it was a pretty swift move by the Nats last night to postpone this game to later in the season when we got our lineup back.”

Paul said that on May 28th after our interviews with Dave Jageler and Rich Waltz. That was the last time the Marlins were in D.C. and sure enough the current Nationals lineup is much improved.

Three and a half games will not be easy to overcome for the Marlins, and they will certainly need to take advantage of Texas and Colorado this week if they want any shot down the stretch. But All-Star Henderson Alvarez is back in the rotation and Giancarlo Stanton is heating up, giving the Fish as good a chance as ever to make a run.

Speaking of Stanton, he has a bit of a history in Denver. In just 39 at-bats there over the past three years, he has hit 7 home runs and is slugging .974. One of those homers was a 494-foot behemoth that landed where no baseball should land in that park. The Marlins begin a three-game series in Denver on Friday. If he stays true to his tendencies at all, Stanton will add to his league-leading home run and RBI totals, both of which have placed him at the forefront of the NL MVP discussion.

But Joe Frisaro wrote today that there is much more to Miami’s outfield than Stanton. He cites the statistic WAR (wins above Adeiny Hechavarriareplacement) to argue that Miami boasts the second-best outfield in all of baseball. With Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, the number of wins above replacement by Miami’s oufielders stands at 10.7, second only to Tampa Bay’s of 11. And WAR might not even account for the strength of Stanton’s and Ozuna’s arms when, unless nullified by by a flawed new rule, can literally take away wins from opponents.

Adeiny Hechavarria takes opportunities away from opponents on a daily basis. Making spectacular plays at short, he is putting on a serious campaign for the Gold Glove. No Marlin shortstop has ever won a Gold Glove, and no Marlin period has ever won the league MVP Award. If Stanton keeps his numbers up for the next month an a half, there is no reason he should not take home that hardware. And if that does happen, it will expose a gaping hole in the MLB system: Stanton was not voted into the All-Star Game. The league’s best player was not voted to start in a game that decides home field advantage in the World Series–for the sole reason that he plays for an unpopular team. Think about it.

Along with rule 7.13, new commissioner Rob Manfred should address the All-Star selection process when he takes over his new job in January. But apart from these, Manfred is being handed over a league that is as exciting to follow as it has ever been. The final weeks of the 2014 season have much in store for us, and Miami has a more-than-reasonable chance to be an integral part of that excitement.

 

Blue Jays fans flock to Seattle for series with Mariners as Wild Card race heats up

Steve Miller:

It was an electric atmosphere (literally) last night at Safeco Field as Canadian baseball fans showed up in masses to root on their Blue Jays. Fans cheered when lightning struck near the park, and chants of “USA” broke out soon afterward by, presumably, the Seattle fans.

Originally posted on Metro News:

SEATTLE, Wash. — They were out in force, walking the streets of Seattle, clad in blue and white, with the last names like Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie on the back.

The Toronto Blue Jays are in the Pacific Northwest and will have a strong contingent of fans from north of the border in the Emerald City, which is about a three-hour drive south of Vancouver, for an important three-game series with the Mariners, beginning Monday.

Announced attendance for Game 1 of the series was 41,168. It was a lively crowd, too.

They all saw the Mariners open the series with an 11-1 victory, thanks to a seven-run sixth inning that chased Toronto starter Drew Hutchison from the game.

Mariners’ slugger Robinson Cano started the inning off with a solo home run to left field, giving Seattle a two-run lead. He came up later in the inning and lit up…

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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.

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