A true American story of free food and home runs: Cubs at Reds 4.23.16

It was the second annual (hopefully it’s annual) installment of me asking my friend Emily to ask her mom for her company’s fancy-schmancy Reds tickets…and me tagging along with an assortment of other friends for an evening full of food baseball, and (two-for-two so far) a Reds win. Luckily, one of the assorted friends this time was Paul, who conveniently attends college at Xavier University in Cincinnati.Fan zone at Great American Ball Park

Saturday pitted the Reds against the Cubs for the sixth time in 2016. The Redlegs were a goose egg for the first five. In fact, they had been no-hit two nights prior by Jake Arrieta. It was also Joey Votto bobblehead night at Great American Ball Park. If you add all those things up, you get long lines, lots of kids, and way too many Votto and Kris Bryant shirseys for my eyes to count.

It was a shame for everybody involved that the Cubs didn’t take batting practice at all. As we walked into the stadium, the batting shell was being rolled away, and some Chicago players were out throwing in left field. But there was no hitting to be had. So naturally we ascended to the posh club level perch, complete with a smorgasbord (which I really think should be spelled “schmorgizboard” for the fun and Scrabble-value of it) of ballpark and non-traditional ballpark cuisine. I had an approximately eight course meal before first pitch.Club level at Great American

I actually had to schlep down and out of the stadium to give Paul his ticket when he arrived, which was an adventure of its own. The Reds conveniently have a re-entry gate, but as I learned from a pair of far-gone, alcoholically-inebriated Cubs fans on my way back in, people entering the stadium for the first time cannot use the same gate as those re-entering.

While I’m on the subject of drunk people: MLB instituted cheap little metal detectors at each stadium last year that fans must pass through upon entering. The security process is this: hand off a bag (if you have one) to the yellow-shirted guy, and put your keys and cell phone in a little container. The bag is inspected and your items are passed around the metal detector while you walk through. And that’s it. Hardly TSA. Well, there was this one rather indulgent fan who in his state of mind treated the line as though he were hitching a flight on Jet Blue (Moon), and took his shoes and belt off in line. The security guard informed him there was no need of that and he seemed absolutely baffled by the fact that he could be passed off as safe without being forced to strip his accessories. Anyway, after he re-clothed, he took a selfie with a statue of the Reds’ mascot and went on his way.

Me and Paul at Great AmericanIt was the bottom of the first by the time Paul and I made it back up to our section and he had successfully loaded his arms and hands with the various delicacies his mouth desired.

Our seats were in the first row of section 303, the second deck right above first base. I think it’s slightly higher than the Stars & Stripes Club is at Nationals Park, but it’s still definitely within foul ball range, as we learned in the later innings. I mentioned to Paul though that given our limited lateral mobility (we were stuck in the middle of the row), our foul ball snagging chances would be at a minimum.

In the top of the second, Addison Russell jacked a solo home run into the second deck in left field, temporarily putting the Cubs up 1-0. In the bottom of the fourth, Brandon Phillips knocked in a run to put the Reds up 2-1 with a double-almost-triple to the wall in left-center. He was thrown out at third base by a hair.

Chicago re-took the lead in the fifth by putting up two runs, but the Reds’ bats went on a rampage in the bottom of the sixth. Eugenio Suarez and Adam Duvall both hit three-run homers. Duvall’s was followed up by a Scott Schebler dinger, and the Reds had seven runs in the inning. Also, Tyler Holt pinch hit in the inning, and actually came around to bat a second time before three outs were recorded. So I guess that’s technically two pinch hit appearances in one inning/game. He singled on his first one.

The Reds weren’t done as they tacked on two more runs in both the seventh and eighth innings. Superhero bobblehead man Joey Votto (Vottomatic) homered in the bottom of the seventh–a two run shot to right field. It was Cincinnati’s fourth homer of the day and the fifth altogether between the two teams. Miraculously, it was the only one I missed–an 80% success rate. Hear that, dad? I was getting food at the time and happened to catch it on the television screens inside, but didn’t see it in person. Still though, four out of five. That’s…something.There was a full moon at GABP on 4.23

As for the foul balls: I wasn’t wearing my glove because none came to our section last year when I was there and none appeared during the first several innings this go-around. But in the seventh, a righty popped one up right towards us. I yelled at Paul because he was on his phone, and we both stood up. But the ball descended two rows back and was pretty much uncatchable without me stepping over the people sitting behind us.

I had learned my lesson though, so I put my glove on and waited for another. The opportunity came on a silver platter, but I made like the Bengals and let the moment gobble me up. Paul and me at Great American

The row behind us was empty, and Paul was sitting to my left. To my right were my friends Heather and Emily, neither of which are experienced in the foul ball catching department. Paul was on his phone AGAIN as a right-handed batter hit one straight to us. I stood up and tried to shift to my right, in line with the ball, but Heather’s femurs were impeding my path. Kids: this is why you don’t want to make friends. She was yelling at me like she wanted me to catch it, which she did (and I did, too…duh), but we both froze up and didn’t move. I could have/should have stepped over my seat to move to the empty row behind us, but I didn’t think fast enough and the ball landed on some deserted concrete and bounced away to a fan sitting in our row to the right. It was a bummer, but I’m sure there will be more opportunities in the future.

The Reds won 13-5. The 18 combined runs were the most I had ever seen in a game in person. Defeating the 16 I saw at Nationals Park in September 2012.

Heather and Emily wanted to get a picture with me after the game, and it didn’t quite work out because whenever Paul pressed the shutter, my face didn’t cooperate. So naturally we ended up with a bunch of gems like these:

Emily, Heather and me at Great AmericanEmily, Heather and me at Great American 2Emily, Heather and me at Great American 3Emily, Heather and me at Great American 4photo 3 (14)

So that happened.

Overall, it was a really fun time and I highly recommend the all-you-can-eat seats at Great American Ball Park should you be so fortunate enough to have a friend with connections.

Next stop on my baseball adventures: home. And Nationals Park in May. Peace out.

Great American Ball Park 4.23

 

 

Five Years Deep-Fried: Recapping half a decade of blogging

This month marks the fifth anniversary of this blog and the start of the greatest writing project I’ve taken on in my life. I was a freshman in high school when my dad suggested that I start a baseball blog, combining the sport with my passion for writing. The timing couldn’t have been better as the Marlins were re-branding and preparing to open up Marlins Park in 2012.

Readership spiked in November 2011 when Jeffrey Loria resurrected the Miami Marlins like an overzealous, Marlins Parktechnicolor phoenix from the ashes of the team formerly known as Florida. On 11.11.11, the new logo and uniforms were unveiled in an intense ceremony at the to-be-completed Marlins Park, and I went crazy and wrote three blog posts in one day!

2012 was bad year for the Fish, but a decent year for me. I documented my first ever trip to Miami and, to this day, my only trip to Marlins Park. In addition, I saw games at Dodger Stadium and PETCO Park. And then in October, I made one of the best decisions for the sake of my blog and wrote an in-depth analysis of the Nationals Park seating chart, which is far and away my most viewed post. Trust me, if you want to pick a good seat for a Nationals game, give it a read.

2013 and 2014 were absolute blurs of years as high school wound down for me. On “college trips” I got to see a few games at Turner Field, and I made another Spring Training trip to Florida in 2014. In May of 2014, Paul and I Space Coast Stadiumproduced the initial episodes of “The Top Step,” a podcast-type thing that will hopefully take off when we find inordinate amounts of time to spend on such an endeavor.

Later that summer, my family took a trip to the great Northwest where I saw two games at Safeco Field and even a minor league game in Vancouver, Canada. Seattle is a gorgeous city and the Mariners officially became my favorite American League team.

In the fall of 2014 I started college at the University of Dayton as well as my writing with Flyer News, the student newspaper at UD. I primarily covered the women’s basketball team throughout my first year, and they thrillingly advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.

Media pass in press boxFlyer News really helped appear as an authentic journalist because in June 2015, I attended a Washington Mystics game as a member of the press to cover the two Flyers who were drafted to the WNBA. It was my first time covering a professional sporting event as a member of the media.

I soon graduated to the big leagues (lol) when I applied for a credential to an August game between the Nationals and Diamondbacks. My official “reason” for covering the game was to write about the Jayson Werth Chia Pet promotion, but that soon evolved into me just milking the press experience for what it was. We’ll see if they ever let me back.

In all, I’m quite pleased with how I’ve been able to keep up journalism as a hobby while actually studying engineering and trying to make the world a better place in that regard. I’ve had some awesome experiences as a journalist, or a blogging student pretending to be a journalist, but I still don’t believe it’s an industry into which I should fully immerse myself.

One of my favorite movies, Hitch, provides an excellent perspective on journalism. Max, an editor-in-chief, reminds his young gossip columnist “There is more to life than to watch other people live it.”

And that’s really the beauty of what this blog is. I can live my life and write about what I want, free from the pressures of organized media. So thank you for any and all of the time you’ve spent reading over the past five years, and I look forward to the many more posts to come!

Return of the Juju: 2016 Season Predictions

If you recall back to August 2015, I was introduced to a new concept in the baseball world: juju. And mine is bad. I single-handedly applied the icing to the dismal end of Drew Storen’s Nationals career, allowed Carlos Gonzalez to smash a grand slam off the aforementioned reliever, and oversaw the downfall of the 2015 Washington Nationals during my staycation at Nats Park–all after I guaranteed the Mets miss the playoffs. So 2016 can only be better, right?

2016 will, unfortunately, be the first even-numbered year since 2008 that I will not spend time in Florida for Giancarlo Stanton at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, FLSpring Training. 2010 was my first trip to Jupiter, when I was enamored in baseball paradise for a few days watching my Marlins practice just feet from my eyes. In 2012, I saw the Nationals and Cardinals play a game in Jupiter before I traveled to Miami for an exhibition game at Marlins Park–days before it officially opened for the start of the season. And in 2014, my mother graciously accompanied me on another Florida excursion that my high school understood as “visiting my elderly grandmother,” where I saw games at Disney, Jupiter, and Viera.

Something called college got in the way this year, and I will not be trekking to the Sunshine State, but that may be great news for every National League club not named the San Francisco Giants. The Giants have won the World Series each even-numbered year since 2008. And 2015 was the first year (odd-numbered years included) they failed to reach the National League Championship Series since 2009. If my presence at Spring Training has an effect on the Giants’ postseason efforts, and because of juju I’m not surprised if it does, then I’ll gladly trade a baseball trip for a different club representing the NL in the World Series.

Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FLOn that note, here’s what I think will definitely happen this year (disclaimer: it now definitely will NOT happen):

The Cubs will suffer after a stellar 2015. Their young players will still be talented as ever, but now that they’re no longer underdogs, the MLB mentality will catch up to the youthful stars and they will not win the NL Central as everyone is predicting.

Yoenis Cespedes, Giancarlo Stanton, and Bryce Harper will vie for the National League home run title. Stanton will probably average a home run every 10 or 12 at bats, but the injury plague will bug him and the Marlins, who can’t seem to catch a break with their slugger. I think Stanton will finally break the 40-homer threshold–something he was well on his way to last season before a June hand injury ended his year.

The Nationals will re-sign Ian Desmond because Danny Espinosa won’t be nearly as valuable as an everyday shortstop as the Nats want him to be. Trea Turner won’t be MLB-ready either, so it’s back to the fan-favorite Desmond, who is still currently unemployed.

The Detroit Tigers will claw their way through a difficult American League Central and somehow win the division after taking 2015 off. The Royals will win at least 85 games, but will have to settle for a Wild Card a year after winning the World Series. There’s something about Jordan Zimmermann and Miguel Cabrera being on the same team that won’t let me pick against the Tigers. For Cabrera’s sake, I really do hope Detroit wins a World Series in the near future, but the Tigers seem to falter every time the lights shine bright.

And because of the Spring Training juju, the fact that they missed the NLCS last season, and the fact that the Cardinals failed to keep the San Fran-St. Louis magic going, the Giants will NOT win the National League this season. Diamondbacks, anyone?

Bread Basket Catch: Major League Baseball’s Power Shift

I read an article on MLB.com several days ago explaining how the American League Central will be the powerhouse of the big leagues in 2016. It looks like each team in the division has at least improved in some way–maybe save the Royals, who have won the American League two consecutive seasons and are the reigning world champs. I won’t argue that at all, but I took the premise a step further for my latest Flyer News article. The National League Central is just as much a juggernaut. Three teams–St. Louis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh–made the postseason out of that division last year, and all three are still in a position to contend.

IMG_5642

Midwest figures to make big impact on 2016 MLB season

America’s breadbasket caught a bunch of talent in the off-season, and will look to harvest the benefits in 2016.

It’s pleasing to me that the power has shifted from the New Yorks, Philadelphias, and Bostons of the nation to rust belt and agriculture-heavy areas like Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Kansas City. Baseball, as a whole, has recently had a wide geographic spread of champions–at least a much better distribution than the NFL or NBA can sport in the last several seasons.

If you read that article, you’ll see why at least seven or eight of the 10 central division teams are in a position to contend in 2016, but don’t be surprised if neither division is represented in the World Series. Why?

Span in CF 7.1.14

First, it’s an even-numbered year. The last time the San Francisco Giants failed to win a World Series in an even-numbered year, it was 2008 and the Philadelphia Phillies hoisted the trophy. Adding Johnny Cueto and a dynamic Denard Span (pictured left) to to the roster, there is no reason the Giants should not challenge the Dodgers for the NL West this season. On top of that, manager Bruce Bochy clearly knows what he’s doing in the postseason, and he has a roster seasoned to playing deep into October.

Second, the young blood in the American League will again challenge the Royals, or whoever wins the AL Central. The Houston Astros were a few outs away from knocking off KC in the 2015 ALDS, and their young lineup will be more potent with another year of experience. They’ll be an exciting team to watch in 2015, along with the Toronto Blue Jays, who finally got over the hump and made the postseason for the first time since 1993 last year. With arguably the most dangerous offense in the league, the Blue Jays will be a force to be reckoned with all season. A Tigers-Blue Jays postseason series would be absolutely captivating as they may sport the top two offenses in the league. Think Miguel Cabrera and Justin Upton versus Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

The Midwest sports much of baseball’s talent, but will have to struggle with the other power centers this season in order to show their true colors.

On a similar, but non-baseball note, I came across this map yesterday on Wikipedia. It’s called the Nine Nations of North America. I primarily noticed that some major cities in the nation are at fascinating junctions.

Dallas looks to be right at the intersection of the Breadbasket, Dixie, and Mexamerica. I’ve never been to Dallas, but I can certainly see the cultures of all three of those regions blending into that area. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area is the fourth largest of its kind in the nation.

It’s hard to tell for sure, but it looks like Los Angeles is right between Mexamerica and Ecotopia. While LA will never be grouped in the same categories as El Paso, TX or Juneau, AK in any substantive geographical survey, given the broad spectrum of this one, those groupings will have to suffice. That said, Los Angeles is the second largest metropolitan area in the nation, and could almost get its own category because it transcends any typical cultural or economic geographical labels that the southwest region of the country is given.

Chicago looks to be just inside The Foundry, but its metropolitan reach may extend into the Breadbasket. This makes perfect sense. Save the nickname of St. Louis, Chicago is really the gateway to the west. Just how all roads lead to Rome, all railroads lead to Chicago.

Miami SkylineSouth Florida–new New England. Honestly, if we’re talking about demographics and leisure life in this map, you might as well cut Florida off somewhere just south of Orlando and shade in the rest as New England. Climate wise, Florida is of course more similar to The Islands nation. And the northern reaches of the state are certainly part of Dixie America.

Finally, my hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia is not clarified by this map. The ‘burg is just about the southernmost point of Washington, D.C.’s suburban reach, and it’s a beautifully awkward estuary of the northeast and south. On this map, it looks like it nestles at the bottom right corner of The Foundry, but I could walk to Dixie.

Questions to consider:

  1. If you’ve been to Dallas, where would you place it?
  2. Where do you draw the north-south/south-north line in Florida?
  3. Can Los Angeles be grouped with Mexamerica, Ecotopia, or neither?
  4. If you’re familiar with Chicago, where’s the line between farming and industry?
  5. And will the National Capital region continue cutting south into Dixie?

Counting Down 2015

It’s a good thing I can find entertainment in baseball unrelated to the success of the Marlins, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2003. So here are some highlights of 2015, a Top 10 of sorts.

10. The number of MLB parks I’ve visited including Great American Ball Park: The home of the Cincinnati Reds became my 10th current MLB stadium when I saw the Reds defeat the Cardinals back in April. Great American is View of Great American Park from section 303unique and in a nifty location right on the Ohio River, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing another game there.

9. Approximately the number of seconds Mike Jirschele had to decide whether or not to send Alcides Escobar home in the Royals’ first at-bat of the 2015 World Series. 2014’s Game 7 ended with the Royals’ tying run on third base after Jirschele chose against sending Alex Gordon home on a would-be inside the park home run. Fittingly, Escobar kicked off this year’s World Series with a stand-up round-tripper on a fly ball booted by Yoenis Cespedes. Jirschele didn’t exactly face a tough decision this year as Escobar would clearly be safe, but it was a good omen for KC to start off on the right foot. They defeated the Mets in five games.

8. The number of players projected 2016 Marlins starters that I’m excited about. With All-Stars Giancarlo Stanton Dee Gordon warming upand Dee Gordon returning, along with left fielder Christian Yelich coming off a .300 season, the top of Miami’s order will be something to boast of. First baseman Justin Bour finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 and is a true power-hitting left-handed first baseman, a luxury the Fish haven’t possessed since the days of Carlos Delgado. Behind the plate, J.T. Realmuto looks to be the catcher of the future for Miami. He swatted 10 home runs in 2015 and has superb speed for a catcher. Adeiny Hechavarria and Martin Prado will round out the infield. And Ace Jose Fernandez will surely take the hill. The only position up in the air is the centerfield slot, currently occupied by Marcell Ozuna. The Marlins have been looking to trade the youngster, according to reports, after he slumped in 2015.

7. The number of years, including 2015, to which Christian Yelich is signed to the Marlins. Yelich finalized the deal with the club before Opening Day 2015, and the Marlins are reasonably excited about the budding star. Once a first-round draft pick, the left fielder won a Gold Glove award in 2014 and hit .300 over 126 games in 2015. He’s a versatile, top-of-the-order kind of hitter who manages to get on base and make things happen.

6. The number of flags currently hanging in my apartment. They belong to the United States of America, Maryland, Ohio, the Canadian province of Ontario, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the University of Dayton. Flags are an easy and festive way to decorate a living space, and doing so gives appreciation to vexillological masterpieces–like the proposed new flag of New Zealand (left) that will be voted on in the spring.

5. The number on Brad Miller’s Seattle jersey. I got to see my favorite American Leaguer in action at Oriole Park in Brad Miller batting one hand on batMay. This offseason, Miller was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays along with former Marlin Logan Morrison (who wore #5 in Miami). Miller is from Windermere, FL, just east of Orlando, so joining the Tampa team will be more or less a homecoming for him. I’ll miss seeing him in Mariners teal, but now I’ll have more of a reason to root for the Rays.

4. The number of games I saw in one week at Nationals Park. It may have been their worst week of the season, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first week in August when Paul and I attended four games in one week. Complete with a chia pet, a Dan Uggla BP homer, and some accidental trespassing, it was a thrilling baseball-filled week that we may try to replicate in 2016.

Me and Paul at Nats Park BP3. The number of months Giancarlo Stanton played in 2015…and still managed to hit 27 home runs. He averaged about one homer every 10 at bats until he broke a bone in his hand by, literally, being too strong. He’s suffered some unfortunate and freak injuries thus far over his career. With any luck he’ll hopefully complete a full season in 2016 and maybe finally lead the Fish to a .500+ season.

2. The number of teal stirrups Steve Cishek will don in 2016. His right and left ones, that is. Cishek, a Marlin from 2010-2015, signed with the Seattle Mariners this offseason. Assuming he stays with his stirrups, his teal lower legs will make up for Brad Millers’ moving to Tampa.

1. The number of home runs Dan Uggla hit this season with the Nationals…and boy was it a big one. In one of the greatest baseball comebacks in my memory, Uggla capped a wild 13-12 win over the Braves in Atlanta. The Nats were down by eight runs early on and chipped away until Uggla came through with his ninth inning homer, part of a 5 RBI night for the slugger. Had Washington not collapsed in August, we would be pointing to Uggla’s April heroics as the turning point in the Nationals’ season.

Hutton’s departure highlights November newsworthies

It’s become apparent that keeping up a Marlins blog is not easy–especially in the offseason–given the lackluster performance of this team in recent history and their seeming inability to provide any sustainable excitement. Luckily for me, it’s basketball season in Dayton, Ohio, which means I can ignore that:

Tommy Hutton is out

The color commentator of 19 years for the Marlins, Tommy Hutton was let go in a “mutual decision between the Marlins and Fox Sports.” Any “mutual decision,” or really any vague reasoning for a firing in Miami is likely just code for Jeffrey Loria deciding Hutton didn’t praise him enough as owner.Marlins Park

An article on the NBC Sports blog “Hardball Talk” points to “negativity” as the reason for Hutton’s firing. While he was fiery, passionate, and often critical, Hutton was by no means negative of Marlins players or management on the air. He brought out positives whenever he could and was well-respected by the Marlins community–made obvious by his 19-year tenure.

Now with Hutton gone, Rich Waltz will get a new partner in the Fox Sports Florida booth for the first time in his eleven years with the team. My guess is longtime player and “Mr. Marlin” Jeff Conine, who currently gives pre- and postgame analysis for the Fox Sports Florida team will be promoted to the in-game color job.

Barry Bonds is likely to become hitting coach

Rumors surfaced today that Barry Bonds is a strong candidate for the hitting coach position in Miami’s dugout. I don’t know how I feel about this one. The *Home Run King* of baseball, Bonds was clearly great at what he did, but the current Marlins lineup is much more suited for small ball and baserunning, not plopping 450-foot home runs into the right field bleachers. Save of course Giancarlo Stanton, this lineup is not making a living off long balls.

With regards to that, the Marlins are moving in the fences at Marlins Park this offseason to hopefully create more reasonable fly ball-to-home run percentages at their home stadium.

Jordan Zimmermann signed with the TigersJordan Zimmermann at Nationals Park

We all saw Zimmermann’s departure from Washington coming, but it’s still shame to have actually been realized. Aside from Max Scherzer, Zimmermann has by far been the Nationals’ most consistent and dominant pitcher in a rotation that boasted the “best in baseball” label for the past few disappointing seasons. Hopefully for the Nats’ sake, Scherzer, Strasburg, and company can anchor down with the young up-and-comers and get the team back to its place at the top of the division. But Zimmermann’s absence certainly creates a veteran void.

 

Paul and me at Nats Park section 136What I can NOT ignore is that:

Dayton lost to Xavier on Sunday

An old Ohio college hoops rivalry was rekindled Sunday when the Flyers met up with Xavier in the championship of Orlando’s Advocare Invitational. Dayton was outplayed–to understate it–and lost by 29. It was their first loss of the young season, and a definite building block for the team, which is led by three juniors.

As impressive as the Flyers have looked otherwise this year, Paul‘s Xavier Musketeers have been even better. I firmly believe both teams will end up in the Sweet 16 come March and play spoiler to whomever is unfortunate enough to meet them when they’re hot.

I don’t know if Dayton and Xavier will ever get to play again while we’re still in college, but I sure hope UD gets a fair shot at redemption sometime in the next few seasons.

In about 80 days, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. I’ll try to pass the time with school, basketball, and whatever else comes my way. So long!

Taylor Swift, Billy Goats, and Breaking Chicago’s Curse

When Taylor Swift announced her 1989 World Tour concert schedule last year, the Houston Astros ensured fans that Minute Maid Park would not be taken over by a pop star should the Astros make the playoffs. Of course, the jokes flowed like milk and honey from the promised land of baseball social media because the lowly Houston Astros had not even been mentioned among playoff contenders for a decade.Minute Maid Park

Well, the laughing matter lasted for a few months until the Astros won some games. And kept winning. And still didn’t drop out of the playoff picture until suddenly…the season was over! And Houston defeated the Yankees in the Wild Card game! And hosted the Royals for two games in October at Minute Maid Park!

Due to Houston’s success, the concert had been pushed up to an Astros road trip in September as to ensure it stayed out of the way of the beautiful game. But what Taylor Swift did for the Astros was invaluable. Intense karma entered Houston to support the youngsters making a playoff push, and validating one of the most sarcastically-retweeted tweets of all time:

Swift also provided me with some baseball writing gold in July when she visited Nationals Park. However, the Washington Nationals did not benefit in the same way Houston did.

The Nats, who were far and away the preseason favorite to win it all given their deep pitching rotation, suffered a major collapse at the end of July and throughout August in the weeks following Swift’s D.C. appearance. Not to mention, the home game following the concert featured three power outages forcing a suspension of play.

Other factors to blame for the Nationals’ collapse, however: Jonathan Paplebon, Drew Storen, Me, and a Chia Pet.

Nationals Park night sky2015 was not the year of the curse, reverse curse, or broken curse though, because baseball’s most ominous spell is still cast over the Chicago Cubs and their inability to return to, let alone win, the World Series.

Although, the Cubs did win their first playoff game in 12 years with a victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card game. Then, in game three of the NL Division Series, they won their first playoff game at Wrigley Field since the Steve Bartman incident of the 2003 NL Championship Series.

Bartman’s attempt at catching a foul ball is cited as a reason for the Cubs’ demise during 2003’s NLCS, which propelled the Marlins to their second ever World Series victory in just their 11th season.

Meanwhile, at Wrigley Field in 2015, the legendary Laurence Leavy, aka Marlins Man, was in attendance for Chicago’s NLDS game three win. His prominence was fitting gesture of thanks on behalf of all Marlins fans for the events of 2003 as well as an ironic blessing for the Cubs.

They then defied the odds and knocked-off the top-seeded St. Louis Cardinals all together in the NLDS. In game four, they clinched a playoff series at Wrigley Field for the first time EVER.

Their luck ran out, though, at the hands of Daniel Murphy and the New York Mets. Murphy homered in every game during the NL Championship Series in which he also hit .529 with six RBI during New York’s four-game sweep.

The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908 or even played in it since 1945. In ’45, with the Cubs up 2-1 in the series, Billy Sianis and his billy goat named Murphy were asked to leave Wrigley Field due to the goat’s stench. Sianis actually had a separate ticket for Murphy and was not pleased about the forced exit. He apparently declared “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,” upon his departure. The Cubs lost game four, but did end up winning game six at Wrigley Field before losing game seven–never returning to the World Series since.

So in 2015, a different Murphy–Daniel–ensured the Cubs stayed out of the World Series for at least another year and the curse lives on.

People have tried reverse the curse by bringing goats on to Wrigley Field, eating goats, and even severing goats heads.

Further information on the curse: 2003 was the Chinese Year of the Goat…and you know what happened. Back to the Future II predicted the Cubs to win the World Series on October 21, 2015. On that exact day, they lost to Daniel Murphy and the New York Mets in the fourth and final game of the NLCS.

Put this all together and what do we get? A magic formula to reverse the curse!

Back to the Future needs an additional sequel that predicts each of the following events in sequence perfectly:

The Cubs make the playoffs in a specific Year of the Goat sometime in the future.

Steve Bartman emerges from hiding and buys a female billy goat that he names Murphy. He breeds said goat, who has one unblemished male offspring that Bartman names Taylor. Ceremoniously, he and Laurence Leavy (Marlins Man) meet outside the front entrance to Wrigley Field and they slaughter Taylor, painting the entrance with his blood.

During the first playoff game at Wrigley Field of this postseason, Bartman returns to hiding and Leavy sits in Bartman’s seat from game six of the 2003 NLCS at Wrigley Field. Taylor’s mother, Murphy, sits where Billy Sianis and the original Murphy sat during game four of the 1945 World Series.steve bartman marlins man

At some point during the game, a foul ball is hit to the exact spot where Bartman sat in ’03 and Leavy is sitting now. Wearing his Marlins jersey, Leavy does not interfere and a Cubs outfielder makes the catch. Only then will the curse be broken.

Once the Cubs win the World Series, Taylor Swift emerges from the ivy of Wrigley’s walls where she has been living since the postseason started, and performs a celebratory concert on the pitcher’s mound. Bartman also emerges from the ivy because he has been hiding there too since 2003. Leavy and Murphy also walk onto the field and together they take a bow, closing the book on the greatest baseball story ever told.

Happy Halloween!

When September Ends

Contrary to a certain Green Day song, September has been a whirlwind of excitement, traveling and school for me, which up to this point has prevented me from blogging about anything remotely related to baseball. Also, the fact that the Marlins had another stereotypically Marlins season and the Nationals fell under the curse of Jonathan Paplebon (yes, Paul, I’m blaming him for their demise now instead of myself) left me with little material over which to generate excitement.

Baujan Field at the University of DaytonSo, in order to post something this month and avoid a gap in my archives, here’s how September shook down in my own little world.

I came back to Dayton to start school, where I promptly had to put on my soccer thinking cap again and cover a few games for Flyer News. Last year, I mainly did basketball so I had to shock my soccer term synonym generator back into existence.Fifth Third Field

I attended my first ever Dayton Dragons game with some friends. The Dragons are the Cincinnati Reds single-A affiliate and they have a rockin’ stadium. It was about as nice as Oklahoma City’s triple-A park I visited this summer. Fifth-Third Field is the name of the Dragons’ park and it was apparently used as a model for more minor league and spring training stadiums.

The Dragons played the Lansing Lugnuts, where Fredericksburg’s own Ryan McBroom tore it up this season. He was the cleanup hitter in the game I saw, and had several RBI in the series.

Last weekend I trekked about 4 hours up the road to the University of Notre Dame (which is really just an older, more pretentious, less-obviously-drunk-on-the-weekends version of Dayton) for their football game against the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech. Tech lost😦 as they have a tendency to do when I see them play in person, but it was a great experience to be at the Home of the Irish for a big matchup.Me and Joe with Touchdown Jesus

This past weekend I took an 8-hour bus jaunt over to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis (briefly in person, mostly on a big screen) celebrate what was predicted to be the largest Mass ever in North America. The turnout was around 800,000 people and I don’t know if that’s as many as they were expecting or not.

The trip was exhausting, but well worth it. We arrived back in Dayton at 6:30 Monday morning and I had a class at 8 a.m., so you can do the math on that one.

That’s where I stand right now. I’m still predicting a Cardinals-Royals World Series, although the Pirates and Blue Jays have both been coming on strong lately.

Here’s to a happy October and hoping the NL pennant winner isn’t from San Francisco or St. Louis!

Pope in motorcade

Chia takes a back seat: Mounting losses overshadow promotions

I attended this game as a media member for Flyer News. The story published on FN, however, focused more on my experience in the press than the actual promotion and game. This version of the story focuses on what I came to report.

A sea of red-shirted fans protruded from the center field gates of Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. on August 5, 2015, an ordinary weeknight baseball game. Though, this was hardly an ordinary night. The Washington Nationals were giving away Chia Pets in the likeness of fan-favorite outfielder Jayson Werth to the first 20,000 fans in attendance. It was an unorthodox promotion to say the least.

I strolled towards the gates with Paul Fritschner, who was my source for the Werth garden gnome story I did in the spring. “It’s a big crowd, but not nearly as big as last year,” he told me.Press pass above Nats Park

The “last year” he was referring to was exactly 365 days prior when gnome-ageddon swept over Nationals Park. The garden gnomes drew a sellout crowd. That day, an unprecedented number of people lined up before the gates even opened to ensure they could get their hands on a gnome. In fact, some of those same fans turned around and listed their gnomes on Ebay—routinely drawing in more than $100 per.

I contacted the Nationals during the summer to see if they could credential me for the Chia Pet game, after all the Nationals do have Dayton alumnus Craig Stammen. They were gracious enough to give me access as a media member, so I took to the park in hopes of experiencing the vibe surrounding the unusual and popular giveaways.

“All I have to say is that the Nationals have the greatest marketing team in Major League Baseball,” Fritschner told me.

After Nationals Park opened in 2008, the team struggled to attract fans amidst 100-loss seasons and lackluster lineups. But as Washington’s young prospects came of age and the ownership splurged on veteran free agents, the baseball tides turned in the district and Nationals Park became a hopping destination and home to a winning club.

All the while, the marketing team pushed to make the stadium experience for fans as memorable as any in Major League Baseball. Following 2014’s gnome success, Washington decided to one-up themselves and create the Chia Werth.

A Chia Pet, by the way, is a ceramic bust that sprouts grass in place of head and facial hair.

This season, the tenth anniversary of the Nationals’ move to D.C., the Chia Pet is just one of the many unique trinkets being given out at Nationals Park. A slate of bobbleheads commemorate the greatest moments in Nationals history, and player nesting dolls are also featured on the promotional schedule.

The Chia, however, was far and away the most unique of givewawys.

Me on field at Nats ParkI entered the stadium and ascended to the press box, gazing towards at the outfield seats where the most eager of fans had congregated to watch batting practice after procuring their Chia Pets from the park’s entrances. It was just after 4:30 p.m. and the first pitch was not scheduled until 7.

I headed downstairs to the field, utilizing my media privileges, where I talked with a few fans and broadcasters about the promotion.

“I’m growing it as soon as I get to work tomorrow,” Billy Armstrong, and excited Nationals fan, told me. Armstrong said that he had owned Chia Pets growing up and was thrilled to see one given out at Nationals Park.

He did indeed, begin growing it immediately as he sent me pictures in the following days.Chia Werth in progressChia Werth in growth from Billy Armstrong

Dave Jageler, a radio broadcaster for the Nationals, also commented on the Chia.

“I think the demand for the Werth gnome was as large as for any promotion that I’ve ever seen,” he said, “I think just the whole look of the gnome was really cool, and I’m sure the Werth Chia has got to be a similar thing. It speaks to the strong fan base that they have a connection to the players and they have those special items as a collector’s item.”

Werth’s character and appearance provide great marketing material as he is a free-spirited, unshaven and popular individual. Several other Major League Baseball clubs attempted to capitalize on the Nationals’ trailblazing giveaway by creating their own player gnomes this year, but none reached the viral success that Werth’s did last August.

By the time first pitch rolled around, Nationals Park was buzzing to the tune of 37,000 fans. The park seats 41,000, so the Chia Pet fell slightly short of the gnome in terms of popularity.

Nevertheless, Washington fed off the energy in the bottom of the first inning with two quick runs to jump out to an early lead. As the game dragged on, however, the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks knocked out Gio Gonzalez and feasted on an underperforming bullpen.

By the end of the night, the crowd in Washington’s ballpark was merely a shell of its prior self. As the Nationals’ offense stumbled and the team fell behind by as many as nine runs. The fans exited and transformed a rocking red spectacle into a placid blue sea. And the Nationals themselves were back to where they started when the stadium opened in 2008. Garden gnomes and Chia Pets may get fans in seats. But it’s the wins in the scorebook that keep them there.Nats Park from the press box at night

August has been a downward spiral for the Nationals, who were deemed by experts the World Series favorites before the 2015 season began. After holding a lead in the National League East division for much of the season, they have fallen behind the New York Mets, and are now in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.

The Chia Pet, like the gnome last year, was supposed to be icing on the cake to a winning season. Rather, the silly promotions are dim thoughts at the back of disappointed fans’ minds, and can do nothing to remedy poor on-field performance.

It’s a real shame because if the Nationals had been atop the standings this year the way they were on August 5 of last year, I think the Chia would have garnered a lot more attention and the promotional craziness would be likely continued in 2016. Right now, though, the attention in Washington is drawn towards the poor performance of the team over the last month. I hope that, regardless of this season’s outcome, the marketing team will cast that aside in the off season and let their creative juices flow once more.

I destroyed the juju: Rockies at Nationals 8.7.15

Baseball players are very superstitious creatures. If you’ve ever been acquainted with a longtime baseball player, you Nats Park Friday nightknow what I mean. If not, just know that ball players will often forego washing their socks or shaving or changing spots on the dugout bench if their team is on a hot streak. This week at Nationals Park was all about the “juju” (pronounced “joo-joo” or “jew-jew”), which I can really only describe as baseball’s version of “the force.”

I am NOT superstitious (except for the black cat thing, I run away from cats all the time!). Paul is. Given that I have the luck of Charlie Brown and the suave of Jacques Clouseau, my habits tend to annoy the superstitious of the baseball world.

I stayed at Paul’s house this week, and it soon became apparent that I was on the dark side of his juju. His dog’s longtime windpipe problems began acting up as soon as I arrived and he ended up choke-coughing quite often when I was around. He fought back though as my allergies were aggravated. Soon we discovered a shorted circuit in Paul’s basement that caused spontaneous power outages.

It was even worse for the Washington Nationals. Monday I promised my friend Rachel that she’d see a win in her first ever Nats game. Doug Fister gave up a bunch of homers and the Nats, despite their best ninth inning efforts, could not overcome the jinx I obviously set. I kept my mouth shut on Tuesday and Washington won.

Wednesday, I had an interaction with Drew Storen (I didn’t put that story on this blog, but if you see me in person ask me about it and I’ll tell you), and he paid the price Friday.

Friday morning, a new stove arrived to be installed at Paul’s house. He and I were outside playing catch when the workmen came. The new stove ended up having previously-caused damage and could not be installed. The juju was bad. But we went to the game Friday night anyway.

Paul and I arrived at the park Friday at 4:30 and were soon at the Red Porch for batting practice. Most Nationals The Dan Uggla ballhomers reached the seats in straight away left instead of where we were in left-center. Dan Uggla hit in the last group of Nats and I told Paul that Uggla would hit me one. Sure enough, a few minutes later the former Marlin hit a low liner right towards me. It was falling short though, so I sprawled forward and made a lunging catch as my torso lay perpendicular to the seat backs. It was uncomfortable but very worth it!

I caught one more in BP off the bat of Colorado catcher Nick Hundley. That was also a sprawling catch as I had to reach over the glass wall separating the porch from the bullpen.

My biggest mission for this game, aside from seeing the Nats win, was catching a 10-year commemorative baseball. The Nats are using special balls during games this year to celebrate their ten years in Washington.

Bryce Harper helped the Nationals jump out to an early lead in the first inning with an RBI, and Washington eventually built their lead to 4-0 in the sixth.

When Dan Uggla came in to pinch hit in the bottom of the seventh inning, I thought my man would come through for me again and hit me a foul ball, but it just wouldn’t be. The Nats were up 4-1 at this point and things were looking good as the Storen-Paplebon combo for the eighth and ninth innings is exactly how management has drawn it up. I said “game over” when I saw Drew Storen run in from the bullpen. And the juju flew away.

Storen ran into some trouble in the eighth though after he walked a batter and allowed an infield single. The bases ended up loaded for Colorado slugger Carlos Gonzalez. A few pitches later, CarGo demolished a line drive into the back of Washington’s bullpen in right field to give the Rockies a 5-4 lead. It was absolutely deflating.

Our seats in section 131Gonzalez is the only Major League player I’ve ever seen hit a grand slam. More on that in a bit.

The Nationals offense did what they always do, and did not come up clutch. Despite Bryce Harper’s best efforts, he struck out in the ninth to end the game, giving the Nats yet another loss.

Storen had been lights out since the All-Star break, and in general this entire season, so it was particularly tough to see him give up the crushing blow and receive the loss.

During all this, the New York Mets had come back to win in Tampa Bay and build their NL East lead on Washington.

Back to Carlos Gonzalez, because this juju/coincidence is mind boggling. Gonzalez has three career grand slams, including last night’s. Gonzalez has played in 861 games over eight seasons in the Major Leagues. I have seen him play in exactly three of those games. The last time he had hit a grand slam was July 20, 2012 at PETCO Park. That was also the last time I had seen him-or the Rockies-play. And that was the first ever grand slam I had seen in person. I’ve attended many games since then and not seen another until Gonzalez blasted his shot last night.Freedom Fireworks

I looked at some splits on MLB.com, and Gonzalez is 15-for-57 with 44 RBI in his career batting with the bases loaded. At games I have attended, he is 2-for-2 with 2 HR and 8 RBI. Again, I have seen exactly three Rockies games.

So 67% of the time I see him play, Carlos Gonzalez hits a grand slam. In games I do not see him play, he hits a grand slam 0.12% of the time (as of August 8, 2015).

Following Friday’s game were Freedom Fireworks, a summer tradition at Nationals Park. It was a decent ending to an otherwise unfortunate night.

Final: Rockies 5, Nationals 4.

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