Nats bobble to a beatdown: Mets at Nationals 5.23.16

It was hardly a traditional Beanstalk Baseball game, and the sky wept due to Paul’s new life in Cincinnati. But Ben, Jack, and I made a Monday excursion to D.C. to witness the Nationals get clobbered by the Mets.

Apparently Ben’s work schedule at George Mason takes precedence over getting together with his friends—Me, Jack, and Ben 5.23.16something I really don’t understand since his girlfriend pretty much supports his whole livelihood—so at this juncture our only opportunity for a Nats game hangout was Max Scherzer’s bobble head night. It was an event I knew would be crowded, and resulted in us having to settle for tickets in the 400 level. But with rain in the forecast during this gloomy May, I figured BP was questionable anyway, so the crowd volume (with respect to the rain) wouldn’t end up dampening our trip all that much.

Per usual, Jack and I met Ben at the Springfield metro station. And much to Jack’s chagrin, it was not Ben’s girlfriend who dropped him off. Jack spent the rest of the day moping about that, and the fact that we had to get to D.C. at the “break of dawn” (aka 3:30 p.m.), and tried to convince Ben’s better half to pick him up at the end of the evening because apparently she’s an important part of his social life.

We rode the metro up to the Archives station because there’s a burger joint there of which Ben approved. He takes View of Capitol from Nats Parkhis food very seriously, so I entrusted him with the task of finding the best culinary delights to satisfy our mid-afternoon desires. The place is called “Plan B,” and I warned him that the Catholic Church is against such a thing, but he insisted that these hamburgers were far from sinful—apart from the moral code of my wallet, as I later learned.

After some strangely, nonchalantly slow service, as well as witnessing the tourists outside get poured upon, we finished up around 4:15. I figured BP’s likelihood of existence was minimal, but at the same time I knew we’d still need to get the park decently early to ensure our bobble head acquisitions.

With a bit of time to kill, we wandered over to the Archives because Ben insisted that the incredibly dim light in the rotunda was a spectacle to behold. If you’ve never been, the lighting in the main rotunda of the Archives is far duller than what you’ve seen in National Treasure to protect the quality of the documents (also, you can’t just waltz up the main steps into the building the way Nicholas Cage did).

We wandered over to the metro station and hopped on the green line for a hot few stops before we found ourselves on Half Street at about 5:10. With the bobble heads secure and BP sufficiently rained out, we took a jaunt around the Park and settled down under the cover in section 111 as an overwhelmed and clueless young usher tried to continently come to grips with the hordes of fans huddled in the concourse as the atmosphere again bawled over Paul’s absence.

Tarp over the field at Nats ParkThe game was rain delayed until 8:10 p.m., and a relentless chill settled over the ballpark. Ben and Jack both had long sleeves, but I had packed light because my trip to Nats Park 10 days prior hadn’t required a sweatshirt. So as my Floridian genes commenced an allergic reaction and sprouted raised follicles named for waterfowl, Ben and Jack may have been legitimately concerned for my health, so I assured them that despite my apparent discomfort nothing was in fact wrong with me.

As the game began, we ascended towards our actual ticketed seats (preposterous, I know!) only to find that they were positioned directly under the end of the upper deck’s roof. That’s no problem because the rain was over, right? Well, all the water from the storm had dripped off the roof and pooled on the ground in our row. So we had to hold our bags on our laps and watch like peasants from the rafters.Red Porch 5.23.16

A half inning of discomfort later, we descended back down to the field level to go eat at the Red Porch. Ever since last August when Ben and Jack somehow attained the Holy Grail at the Red Porch—a waiter that was either high on life or drugs (or both), who undercharged them—Ben has wanted to return to find out if he could attain the same fortune.

Since it was only the second inning, the escalators were still going up, so we had to take the system of ramps down. These ramps are a torture device for drunk people, according to Ben.

“I am sure if you tried to roll something down the ramp it would be as if it were on a level-plane,” Ben eloquently said later. These ramps were also our “escape route” in case of emergency, leading me to believe the Nationals’ administration cares so little about the well-being of the upper deck riff-raff since they’ve given us the slowest possible way to exit the stadium.

Luck would not be on our side as our waitress was fully sober. She informed me that hot chocolate was the only soft beverage without free refills, and I knew at that point we had lost Ben’s luck from the year prior. They stopped serving food after the fifth inning or so, which Bartolo Colon at Nats Parkmeant that we were allowed to stay in the Red Porch as long as we wanted (normally, there is a one-hour time limit).

As for the game, I made a classic Steve move and missed a three-run homer by David Wright while I was in the latrine. I was back at the Red Porch, though, for when Yoenis Cespedes launched a homer to the right-center field seats. Neil Walker then went back-to-back with a homer to left field. Gio Gonzalez saw his ERA increase by an entire point, and the Nationals’ offense couldn’t scratch a run across after the first inning. The Mets won 7-1 in a game that lasted just over two and a half hours after it finally started.

One bright spot of the evening was Bartolo Colon. He literally didn’t swing the bat, but he’s a joy to watch nonetheless.Right field at Nats Park 5.23.16

Washington bench bests Miami bullpen: Marlins at Nationals 5.13.16

A complete lackage of lefty relievers and a trio of home runs from the Nationals sunk the Marlins in game one of the four-game weekend series at Nationals Park. While it was tough to see the Marlins go down in such a way, I had a great evening for my first game of 2016 in D.C.

Joe and I hung out at the Red Porch for the entirety of batting practice, free from most of the chorus of children realizing for the first time they can get free baseballs by yelling at players.Nationals Park jumbotron

Joe pointed this out later on, but the amount of dropped toss-ups was absolutely bewildering. Two of the balls I picked up Friday were just mishandled by other people, so I gave them back.

I ended up giving away two more that were home runs I didn’t catch. The second of which, from Ryan Zimmerman, was an absolute tater that ended up back in the Red Porch restaurant. I wasn’t thinking on my toes when a little twerp came up and expected me to give it to him. I did because I’m a lightweight pushover. But I shouldn’t have respected his ingratitude and either kept it for myself or given it to someone else.

I did successfully catch three home runs during Marlins BP, though, so that’s what made this whole thing worthwhile. The first was from Adeiny Hechavarria, I believe. It was a simply fly ball near the center field end that made me lean over a row.

I had never caught a Giancarlo Stanton homer on the fly before, so I was really antsy to get one. Unfortunately, BP for him is not just a dinger derby. He methodically works to the opposite field before he unleashes the beast, significantly reducing the number of home runs he actually hits from the number he potentially could.Giancarlo Stanton batting

Nevertheless, he hit a blistering line drive that may have been the fastest ball I’ve ever seen hit, I wouldn’t know. Before I could really even get my bearings it smacked a seat across the aisle from me and plopped down. I picked that one up, but I was a tad salty since I could have caught it had I been more on my toes. Luckily, he came through again with a high drive to the center field end. I scampered across a row and a half to make a drifting catch. I figured as a Marlins fan it’s more or less a rite of passage to catch a Stanton dinger. Now six years into his career I was glad I had finally done just that.

He hit another homer during BP that ended up a good three rows back into the restaurant—probably a 450-footer. So the next time he got up, I figured I’d play back. The steps up to the restaurant are much too steep to conquer while tracking a home run, so if one lands up there, it’s probably going uncaught by anyone down below. So I played in the aisle behind the first set of tables and much to my delight, he launched one to that exact latitude. It was a majestic behemoth that smacked right in my pocket.

I feel very unathletic while tracking and catching home runs during BP. For one thing, I bruise my thighs while running through the seats just because I inadvertently hit so many of them. Also, since you can’t exactly circle around a ball and catch it while moving forward, I end up just drifting and more often than not leaning while I catch it. It ends up being a sprawling activity that puts the former outfielder inside of me to shame.

So I think I “snagged” eight balls during BP. All I can really tell you for sure is that I caught three, and kept one other that I picked up.

Joe cleaned up as well, since he’s still at an acceptable toss-up age. He ended up with four as far as I know.

Restaurant and Lounge behind Red Porch seats

Restaurant and Lounge behind Red Porch seats

The four balls I kept from the game

The four balls I kept from the game

And we met this kid and his father who had half-season tickets at the Red Porch. This kid, lemme tell ya, was a master at the art of being a child at a baseball game. He must have snagged a dozen—all toss ups I think—from pretty much every player who ended up catching a ball in center field throughout the course of BP’s two hours. We also saw him get a warm-up ball from Ben Revere during the game. It was ludicrous. A smart kid who is young and cute enough could probably make Zack Hample look like an amateur.

As for the game itself, we sat in the left field corner, section 108. Nothing really came our way during the game.

 

I was delighted to see the Nationals were wearing their navy blue stars and stripes jerseys–the first time I’d seen them in person.

After a brisk first four innings, Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez ran into some trouble in the fifth when two Daniel Murphy errors allowed the Marlins to score two runs.

In the top of the sixth, three straight singles loaded the bases for the Marlins with no outs. Here come some runs! Except not.

Manager Dusty Baker removed Gonzalez from the game and inserted Yusmeiro Petit, traditionally a long or middle reliever. Petit struck out Adeiny Hechavarria and was then replaced by lefty Oliver Perez. This was the first of Baker’s impeccable managerial decisions.

Perez came in and induced a double play from the hot-hitting lefty Derek Dietrich. The Fish were left with a goose egg for an inning they started with three consecutive hits.Dusty Baker in the Nats dugout

In the bottom of the sixth, Marlins starter Tom Koehler exited the game with two outs after surrendering a single to Jose Lobaton. The Nationals were still scoreless at the time. But Stephen Drew pinch hit for Perez and lifted a two-run homer to right field off reliever Bryan Morris, tying the game.

Blake Treinen entered the game to pitch for Washington and kept the Marlins scoreless in the seventh.

After a walk to Anthony Rendon in the bottom of the inning, Bryce Harper launched a two-run shot to right field. I was texting Paul during the game and he mentioned that he doesn’t think he’d seen a Harper homer in person. And I don’t know if I had either until Friday.Jonathan Paplebon saved the game for the Nats

Giancarlo Stanton just missed a solo home run leading off the eighth, but settled for a double off the right field wall. He later scored on a ground out by Chris Johnson.

Baker got another pinch hit home run from Chris Heisey in the bottom of the eighth, the fifth and final run for the Nationals.

Jonathan Paplebon sealed the deal with his tenth save of the season, and the Nats took home the curly W.

Photo Gallery: Marlins at Nationals 5.13.16

The Nationals won the series opener in Washington, D.C. Friday night, 5-3. Here are some pictures from my evening at Nationals Park.

Marlins’ Monday resilience proves turned corner

Marlins sculpture at the new parkMiami tried to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory Monday night, but the Brewers were having none of it. In a game where things went stereotypically wrong for the Fish, Jose Fernandez saved the team by pitching seven scoreless innings to defeat the Milwaukee Brewers at Marlins Park.

The ridiculousness started in the second inning when J.T. Realmuto blasted a home run onto the sculpture with Marcell Ozuna at first. 2-0 Marlins, right? Wrong. As center fielder Kirk Nieuwenheuis drew back on the fly ball, Ozuna thought it was in his best interest to tag at first base and reach second in case of it being caught. But Realmuto, watching his drive, touched first and rounded, stopping in his tracks when he saw Ozuna. The brief overlap of the runners was immediately recognized by Milwaukee’s bench. Upon review, Realmuto was called out for surpassing Ozuna on the bases. Ozuna’s run counted and Realmuto was rewarded with an RBI single…a 410-foot one at that.

I can see where Ozuna was coming from on that play, and I guess technically Realmuto should have paid more attention to the runner. But on a fly ball that deep, unless Nieuwenheuis has a play in front of the wall, Ozuna should be rounding second. For him, it’s more important that he score in the likely event that the ball hits off the wall and stays in the park than advance to second in the unlikely event Nieuwenheuis makes a leaping catch.

Ozuna’s trouble for the night wasn’t over. With the Fish leading 1-0 in the sixth, Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun hit a lined shot out to him in center field. Ozuna got spun around and completely whiffed as the ball momentarily nestled in his glove, but then popped down to the grass. Braun ended up with a two-out double. Fernandez induced the next batter to fly out, ending the threat and keeping the Marlins on top.

As clumsy as the Marlins are, the Brewers are the Brewers and trump the Marlins in that category. They surrendered a Little League home run to Derek Dietrich in the seventh inning. Dietrich lined a ball down the right field line and scampered towards third for a triple. The relay from the outfield hit him as he approached the base and bounded away, allowing Miami’s second baseman to score.Derek Dietrich

In one final attempt to allow the Brewers to win the game, closer A.J. Ramos entered to pitch with a 4-0 lead in the ninth. He walked the first two batters. After a coaching visit to the mound, Ramos struck out the next two. All is well. Except he walked the next one. After five batters, no one had put a ball in play and the Brewers had the tying run at the plate.

Manager Don Mattingly summoned Bryan Morris from the bullpen and presumably told him to throw any sort of strike that didn’t surrender a home run. He failed on the first batter and walked in a run. Suddenly, Milwaukee had the go-ahead run at the plate in an inning they began down 4-0 and had not hit a fair ball. Luckily for Miami fans, the final Brewer batter, Jonathan Villar, solidified Milwaukee’s supremacy as the team least willing to win. He struck out and the Marlins escaped an inning that they themselves made thrilling by failing to throw strikes.

After a game like that, it’s a wonder that this team won 11 of 12 over the last two weeks. Thankfully, strong pitching performances, like Fernandez’s Monday night, have kept the Marlins successfully piling up wins.

Also, if Derek Dietrich continues performing at a high level–the infielder is hitting .333 with 13 RBI in 26 games–Dee Gordon’s suspension can be overcome.

This is a good team with talented players around Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton. Last year–and certainly two years ago–the Marlins would not have won this game. The bullpen would have failed sooner, or the errors would have haunted more, or the team wouldn’t have scored a run after having one taken off the board.

But now in 2016, this team plays nine full innings, and they’ve won some competitive games. Holding their own in the NL East, this isn’t the same Miami Marlins team in perpetual rebuild mode. It’s their time to play ball.

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 me 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!

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