Stanton, Gordon primed to start All-Star Game

In a heated All-Star Game vote that has been headlined by the overwhelmingly disproportionate support for Kansas City Royals, the Marlins are in line to do something never before done in franchise history.Dee Gordon leads off game

Both outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and second baseman Dee Gordon currently hold starting spots in the fan vote. The Marlins have never had two players start in the All-Star Game. The last Marlin to earn a starting spot was Hanley Ramirez, who manned shortstop each year from 2008-2010.

Both Stanton and Gordon are certainly worthy of spots. Despite his mediocre average of .260, Stanton leads the league in home runs (25) and runs batted in (64) as of today. He plays above average defense in right field, but of course is known for his tape-measure home runs. Undoubtedly, Stanton will compete in the Home Run Derby, which takes place the night prior to the All-Star Game.

Stanton is second among all outfielders in votes received, behind Washington’s Bryce Harper, who has garnered a record number of fan votes this breakout season of his. Harper is currently hitting .345 with 24 home runs. The top three vote-getting outfielders receive starting positions.

Gordon, who maintained an batting average north of .400 for about two months at the beginning of this season, leads the league in hits (104). With double play parter Adeiny Hechavarria, Gordon’s defense is slick and showcases his incredible speed both at the plate and in the field.

Both Stanton and Gordon still need help from fans, though, as they could easily be overrun in the final weeks by the determined St. Louis fanbase. Gordon leads the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong by a little over a million votes at second base, but Stanton is ahead of St. Louis’ Matt Holliday by just over 100,000.

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on July 14.View of Great American Park from section 303

The Top Step with broadcaster Dave Sims

Safeco Field long image of left field

Dave Sims is the current play-by-play broadcaster for the Seattle Mariners on Root Sports Northwest, and has called Mariners games since 2007. Throughout his career, he has also covered many college basketball games including George Mason University’s upset of the University of Connecticut in the 2006 Elite Eight. Sims has the distinction of being the only Major League broadcaster to call two perfect games in the same season, a feat he achieved in 2012.

He was generous enough to talk with me recently for the blog, and provided a lot of interesting insight. I compiled it all with Paul Fritschner, and it became our debut episode of “The Top Step” for 2015.

If you are new to the program, “The Top Step” is our podcast-style talk show about all things baseball, including anything and everything that may be discussed on the top step of the dugout.

Special thanks to Dave for joining us for this episode, and we’ll be posting many more throughout the summer.

Seattle navigates to victory in Baltimore: Mariners at Orioles 5.20.15

The last time I was at Camden Yards, it was August of 2007 and Johan Santana pitched for the Minnesota Twins as the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. After that season, my dad switched his baseball allegiance to Washington when Nationals Park opened. And before I knew it, I had gone eight seasons without attending a game in Baltimore.

Warehouse at Oriole Park

Seattle was in town for a mid-week, three-game series, so my brother Charlie and I trekked up to Oriole Park for Wednesday night’s game. I schlepped in at 5 p.m. when the gates opened, and hung out in left field for Orioles BP.

Just a few minutes later, a bald, white Orioles right hander, who I presume was Steve Pearce, hit a deepOrioles BP at Camden Yards fly ball to my right. I knew I could catch it, so I jogged across my empty row and realized that an usher and two women were standing on the stair case right in my path. It was too late to hop over the row of seats as the ball hit the railing on the stair case and bounced up towards the concourse. Both the usher and the women were startled by the ball and the usher jokingly pretended to be perturbed. But he, of all people, should know not to stand around during BP without an eye on the field. C’mon son!

That, unfortunately, was my closest chance of the day. The Orioles really didn’t hit that many homers, and when I finally headed over to right field when the Mariners were hitting, nothing came my way.

Once the Mariners finished hitting, I headed over to the third base side where Charlie was sitting behind Me and Charlie at Oriole Parkthe Mariners’ dugout. Oriole Park has a good reputation for being a relaxing atmosphere to watch baseball, and at no point did an usher ask to see my ticket so I can affirm that reputation.

As the players milled out of the dugout in the minutes leading up to first pitch, I moved down along the left field line, just behind third base, to see if I could snag a ball and get some better pictures. There was a family down there with a sign for Nelson Cruz, who played for the Orioles in 2014 and is still a fan favorite in Baltimore. In addition, there were a few people who were looking for an autograph from Robinson Cano. Wouldn’t ya know it, but both of those players actually acknowledged their respective fans and came over to sign some autographs.

Ruggiano and Taylor throwing before the gamePoor positioning and an overall lack of effort prevented me from getting down to the front row. However, I did benefit. As everyone else was concerned about getting up to Cano, I realized shortstop Chris Taylor (pictured left, facing towards the camera) was finished with his pregame throwing and had a ball in his hand. We made eye contact and I raised my hand (I didn’t have my glove on). Without any verbal prompt, he tossed the ball my way and I caught it uncontested. The same thing happened last year at Safeco Field with Brad Miller. Right place, right time sort of deal.

Taylor, by the way, was just called up last week and is taking over for Miller at shortstop. Miller is moving into a utility/designated hitter/outfielder sort of role. Since Baltimore’s starting pitcher Wednesday was left handed, the same side Miller bats, Brad unfortunately did not get to start the game. Taylor’s promotion is in no way related to underperformance from Miller, who actually won the AL Player of the Week honors last week with four home runs on the Mariners’ homestand.

Taylor warming up at shortWhen the game began, I remained in my too-good-to-be-true spot in the third row behind third base. I’m not joking, no usher ever confronted me. After several innings, I ended up moving back behind the dugout where Charlie was–an almost empty row.

In the second inning, I had my first of two foul ball chances on the day. Chris Davis, Baltimore’s left-handed clean-up batter, skied a high pop up my way. I was sitting on the end of a row, and got up to maneuver down the steps to the front rail. At first, the ball appeared to be right on its way towards me, but then descended short. Kyle Seager, Seattle’s third baseman, made the catch about 15 feet down the line from me, right next to the rail. Had the ball carried further, he would have been right next to me for the catch.

The picture right is of the exact swing that produced the foul ball. After I took the picture and saw the Chris Davis fouls a ball offball’s flight, I put the camera in my right hand and held onto it as I ran down, glove on my left hand.

As for the game, Mariner catcher Mike Zunino hit an RBI double in the second inning to put Seattle on top by one. Two innings later, outfielder and former Marlin Justin Ruggiano crushed a two-run homer into the seats in left-center.

Roenis Elias pitched a gem for Seattle, going 7 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on six hits and recording four strikeouts in the process. Taylor hit his first career triple in the seventh inning to tack on a the fourth run. And I did get to see Brad Miller play when he recorded a pinch-hit single in the top of the ninth (pictured below).Brad Miller singles in the ninth inning

My second foul ball chance of the day also came off the bat of Chris Davis. In the bottom of the ninth, representing the tying run, he hit a high foul ball well over our heads towards the upper deck. It hit off the facade and bounced back our way. In fact, almost exactly our way. It was headed towards the home plate end of our row, and we were on the third base end. I scooted across the mostly empty row, but had to pull up because there were two people sitting down, who had previously not been there. The ball bounced on the steps (I think) and was bobbled by a bunch of fans sitting in front of us.

Back to the game. Mariners’ closer Fernando Rodney had an eventful ninth inning. Starting with a 4-1 Fernando Rodney lets the arrow flylead, he allowed consecutive singles to bring the tying run to the plate. Davis, whose at bat included the above-described foul ball, struck out looking. Steve Pearce stepped up and was set down likewise. J.J. Hardy then singled to draw the Orioles within two, but Rodney induced a groundout on the next batter to finish the save.

I got a pretty neat picture of Rodney (right) with his signature arrow celebration. He mimes shooting an arrow, then Logan Morrison, first baseman, puts his arm around him and the two gaze at the mock arrow’s landing spot. In the picture, you can also see the first base umpire hold the ultimate “out” call, with Travis Snyder, the retired batter, pulling up in dismay.

Justin Ruggiano interviews postgameThe Mariners won by the final score of 4-2. It was Elias’s first win of the year. Ruggiano had a double in addition to the home run, and was interviewed after the game by Root Sports, the Mariners’ television network.

As this was the first game at Oriole Park in some time, as well as the first time I attended batting practice in Baltimore, I think I should re-rank it on my stadium list. Oriole Park, after all, was the trailblazer of the so-called “ballpark revolution.” Many new stadiums were modeled after it and have mimicked its charm.

My previous top three were, in order: PETCO Park, Great American Ball Park, and Safeco Field.

I have to take into account the surrounding city, so it therefore cannot best PETCO Park in San Diego. Oriole Park, since it’s right next to M&T Bank Stadium (home of the Baltimore Ravens) is in a similar position to Safeco Field, where the surrounding neighborhood is a sports district. Great American is also in that spot near Cincinnati’s football stadium. In that sense, Camden Yards has a better district than both Safeco and Great American. It’s cleaner, easier to navigate, and just feels ballpark-ish.

Further, Oriole Park is better for batting practice than both PETCO and Safeco. There’s more left field seating as well as the flag court in right field that provides an open space for batting practice maneuvering. It’s also a bit easier to navigate than PETCO. The warehouse decorating right field is a unique feature and defining characteristic. Finally, the fans and ushers are both of utmost friendliness. All things considered, Oriole Park at Camden Yards now ranks #2, behind PETCO and in front of Great American and Safeco. The #5-11 parks are, in order: Fenway, Minute Maid, Marlins, Nationals, Dodger Stadium, Turner Field, and RFK Stadium.

Nelson Cruzes into second baseRob Manfred signature

Finally, the ball Taylor threw me was the first I’ve acquired this season. Therefore, it was my first with Rob Manfred’s, the new commissioner’s, signature.

Every Major League Baseball I had acquired up to yesterday bore the signature of Allen “Bud” Selig, the previous commissioner who retired in January.

Pictures: Mariners at Orioles 5.20.15

The Mariners were in town for my first game at Camden Yards in eight seasons. Justin Ruggiano, a former Marlin, homered in the game, propelling Seattle to a 4-2 victory.

Enjoy these pictures from the night, game post coming soon.

Miami, we have a problem: Marlins’ Enterprise is wildly misguided

I started writing a scathing editorial of the Marlins’ front office, but I realized that Miami’s executives are so corrupt and unqualified that such a piece is redundant. Further, I don’t know what’s going on in the minds of owner Jeffrey Loria and his henchmen David Samson, Dan Jennings and Michael Hill. But I’ll pretend to.

Yesterday that peanut gallery fired manager Mike Redmond, a long-time catcher for the Marlins, TwinsMarlins Meeting of the Minds and Indians who was well-respected by players and coaches around the league. In his place they put GM Dan Jennings, a man who has not worn baseball pants since he was signed by the Yankees as an undrafted pitcher in 1984.

Loria, the eerily Vader-like tyrant of this franchise, is clearly not running a baseball team. He’s trying to run a profitable enterprise…into the ground.

I don’t even know what kind of enterprise it is. Maybe a personal playground for his playmates, fulfilling Jennings’ lifelong dream of getting to wear a Major League Baaseball uniform. Possibly a front for smuggling exotic fish into the United States–those aquaria aren’t behind home plate for show. Maybe it’s the most exciting way he can employ himself while collecting and dealing art. One thing is for sure, though, he doesn’t care about the product on the field.

Baseball is a great sport. It’s a relaxing, thinking man’s game that takes patience and hard work in order to achieve greatness. And that greatness comes in the form of succeeding just 30 percent of the time you pick up the bat. It’s not a game that flourishes in the face of politics or greedy businessmen, as our nation’s capital knows. And it’s not a game that generally spits out rewards overnight, although the Marlins do have two successful seasons in their history that may fool you into thinking otherwise.

Loria continues to operate this franchise by taking one step forward and one and a half back. A process that has slowly moved the club nowhere and lost him respect everywhere.

Previously, he had conned the city of Montreal and had its franchise relocated to Washington, D.C.. I’m quite happy with that, especially considering the Nationals’ success under the Lerner family.

Then he came to Miami and fired Joe Girardi after a successful 2006 season in which: a) Girardi won Manager of the Year, b) Hanley Ramirez won Rookie of the Year, c) Dan Uggla hit 27 home runs as a rookie, and d) It finally looked like the Marlins would be contenders.

Marlins ParkThen he decided not to pay Miguel Cabrera, who later went on to win the Triple Crown in Detroit and is STILL one of the best hitters in the game.

Then he conned the city of Miami into dumping tax payer dollars to finance his ballpark, which looks like a new-age spaceship sitting in the quaint neighborhood of Little Havana. He furnished the stadium with a spectacularly dreadful piece of art–which cost him more than any single one of his players in 2013 did–that doesn’t even have a name other than “home run sculpture,” inside of which he probably stores more of his stolen art and foreign fish.

Finally, just this past offseason he convinced the most powerful hitter baseball has ever seen that he was finally committed to putting a winning product on the field, and locked up Giancarlo Stanton for this year and 12 additional seasons to the tune of $325 million–money that was magically hidden while he was trying to finance that stadium.

Marlins home run featureDon’t be fooled, baseballers, these are just the highlights. He signed Ozzie Guillen to a four-year contract before 2012, and Mike Redmond to a three-year extension after 2014. That means he will be paying THREE men for the job of one manager until the end of this season.

Dan Jennings, the new manager, has not coached in professional baseball whatsoever, and in today’s press conference the Marlins executives spoke of Jennings as though he’d be a revolutionary piece to the dugout who will stick around for years to come. Just like Girardi. And Fredi Gonzalez. And Guillen. And Redmond.

Loria could have hired Jeff Conine, the most beloved player of this franchise’s history, affectionately known as “Mister Marlin.” He could have called on 84 year-old Jack McKeon, who won the 2003 World Series as interim manager of the Marlins and is also a fan-favorite. He could have named Giancarlo Stanton player-manager, and the whole clubhouse would have shut up and listened to the most impressive hitter they’ve ever played alongside. He could have made Ichiro player-manager, which would have been simultaneously genius and hilarious. Ichiro, who speaks through an interpreter, would have had some legendary umpire arguments (that would have looked a lot like this, except with Japanese instead of French).

Let’s go back to the spaceship, but now use it as a metaphor for the whole franchise. And I’ll call the ship Enterprise, since that what Jeffrey Loria is running. He’s the owner of the ship, and employs his manager as the captain, who heads the day-to-day operation of the ship and makes the ground-level decisions. But the captain must make do with what the owner of the ship has given him in terms of equipment and resources. He also must rely on the information his navigators provide. Well the navigators are Miami’s front office, and they’re all corrupt. They, along with the owner, want the ship to crash and burn, somehow profiting off the process. All along, though, they must appear to be operating a functional vessel. So whenever it looks like the captain has overcome the flawed equipment and directions and is righting the ship, the owner looks for a quick excuse to throw him overboard, into the abyss.

For Girardi that excuse was something he said in a press conference. For Redmond, it was a sub-par 38-Giancarlo Stanton battinggame start to a season in which the Marlins have operated in most part without their two best pitchers. Neither of which is a reason to fire anyone, but both of which are covers Loria has used to steer his ship away from success.

This process has gone on long enough for Loria, as the Marlins are still an operable baseball club that wins games. So he has hijacked the ship’s bridge with right hand man Dan Jennings, who will do everything Loria tells him. Pretty soon, David Samson is going to be hitting in the two-hole, and Loria himself will stand out in center field and dance as the home run sculpture.

The problem is at the head. And that problem will exist until there’s a new man at the top.

Patience is a vital virtue to practice in baseball. And when someone in charge makes greedy, impatient decisions at the slightest underperformance on the field, it creates a carcinogenic stigma. There’s no way to win in baseball when you’re afraid to lose. The best teams win because they’re having fun and enjoy winning. If the Marlins’ players and coaches show up to the ballpark in fear of losing, in fear of Loria, they’ll never win.

Now that I’ve described Loria in terms of Star Wars AND Star Trek, I may turn to Tolkein’s world when he trades Giancarlo Stanton sometime in the next two years.

Baseball is a wonderful sport, but it’s not for the greedy or impatient. And until the leaders of this team are ready to make an arduous climb that will be painful and will take time, baseball in Miami is going to be a wave of mediocrity, a sideshow to the circus in the front office.Marlins Spring Training at Roger Dean Stadium


Generations of Fish are making waves

There’s a talented school of fish on the field in Miami. And despite the team’s recent struggles, fans have been treated to an assortment of individual showcases.

Primarily, Ichiro is a wizard on the diamond. Known for his uncanny ability to guide any pitch off his swift bat Ichiro stands in LF at Nats Parkfor a hit, he’s just as smooth in the field. The 41 year-old outfielder has been a vital presence in Miami’s lineup this season, and it was evident in the ninth inning Sunday.

Although it was nullified by Steve Cishek’s blown save, Ichiro pulled off one of the most intelligent and cunning plays you’ll ever see. With the Marlins up by one, the Giants had a runner on first with no one out in the bottom of ninth inning. Gregor Blanco hit a long fly ball to right field, toward the wall. Ichiro backed up and turned towards home plate a few paces from the warning track as though positioning himself to catch the ball. The drive, however, was well over his head and clanked off the rigid right field wall.

Ichiro, though, had deked Joaquin Arias, the runner on first. When Arias saw Ichiro turn, he froze in the basepath assuming the ball may be caught. Luckily for Ichiro, the ball bounced directly towards him after it hit the wall. He quickly threw it in and Arias had to hold at third base, momentarily preserving Miami’s lead.

The video of the play is here.

A few things here: Foremost, Ichiro’s decision, assuming it was as deliberate as it appeared, was unbelievably clever. To know that the Marlins were up by a run and that the tying run would score as a result of the hit, and to make the decision he did in the knick of time is incredible. He pulled it off to perfection. Second, it was unbelievably risky. The right field wall at AT&T Park in San Francisco is notorious for producing strangely-angled rebounds. Ichiro, of all players, should know this. In 2007, he was the beneficiary of such a bounce during the All-Star Game when he skied one off the wall and rounded the bases for the only inside-the-park home run in All-Star Game history. He lucked out again Sunday when the ball bounded right back to where he was standing. Had it ricocheted the opposite direction, the game could have ended on the play.

Knowing the situation and taking the risk are indicative of his sagacious veteran qualities as both a player and a leader. Luckily for him and the Marlins, it paid off–for the time being, albeit.

Ichiro was playing the right field spot that normally belongs to baseball’s best slugger Giancarlo Stanton.More Giancarlo Stanton The two players are a unique juxtaposition of the generations of talent in the league, as well as the different styles of play that characterize a star. Stanton, the 25 year-old outfielder who stands at 6-foot-6, made headlines Tuesday with his mammoth home run that exited Dodger Stadium.

Stanton is a southern California native, and has traditionally hit well at parks out west, including Dodger Stadium. The blast Tuesday, though, was a first for him. He smashed an 0-1 offering in the first inning an estimated 475 feet to left field, completely clearing the bleachers and clanking off the top of the pavilion roof, bouncing somewhere behind the seats. Andy Van Slyke, the Dodger left fielder, did not so much as take a jab step back on the ball, merely watching it sail out of sight.

Left field at Dodger StadiumIt was Stanton’s eighth homer of the season. Since the start of 2014, Stanton himself has hit six homers that have traveled at least 460 feet. That’s double the number that any other Major League team has put up. The Toronto Blue Jays have the next-highest with three.

The other studs for Miami this season? Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and second baseman Dee Gordon. The duo has turned several dazzling double plays this season in the field, and Hechavarria particularly is showing he has one of the best defensive ranges in the game.

Gordon, meanwhile, has been garnering attention at the plate. He has 58 hits already in just 32 games, leading the Major Leagues with a .426 average. He has also stolen 12 bases in 19 attempts, which leads the team. As they say, speed never slumps, and Gordon exhibits some of the swiftest base running in the business. It will be intriguing to see if he can keep putting the ball in play with such efficiency. The record for hits in a season is 262, held by none other than teammate Ichiro (2004).

Fish fall as full moon rises: Marlins at Nationals 5.4.15

Monday was the first Nationals bobblehead giveaway of 2015. Two things: The Nationals have the greatest marketing team in Major League Baseball. And Monday’s bobblehead commemorates Livan Joe during BP, flowery Marlins hatHernandez’s first pitch in 2005, marking the return of baseball to D.C.. Hernandez also played for the Marlins in his career, so it was fitting that the giveaway happen at a game against Miami. In case you missed the photo post, all the good pictures I took Monday night can be viewed by this link.

I got the Park around 5:40 while the Marlins were taking BP. There were relatively few home runs, and the Red Porch was crowded already. Unfortunately, Giancarlo Stanton does not make batting practice a daily home run derby. He tries to spray line drives around the field and only a few times unloads for long homers. That said, both he and Michael Morse hit homers beyond me in the Red Porch, and I wasn’t close to either.

Joe was with me and he was wearing a floral print Marlins hat (above) that I bought him for Christmas. It’s something that only a kid like him could pull off. And it looks pretty snazzy. It benefited him about an hour later when we trekked over by the Marlins dugout as they vacated the field. A Miami player, who I think was Jarred Cosart, threw him a ball.

Realmuto wearing grayA funny thing happened a few moments later when I saw catcher J.T. Realmuto emerge from the dugout to go warm up in left field. He was wearing the Miami gray away jersey, and since he was the first player out I assumed the Marlins would be wearing gray. Then more players came out, all wearing black. The next time I saw Realmuto he was wearing the black jersey. It must have been an honest mistake from the young catcher.

Marlins and Nationals post National AnthemAfter the National Anthem, I remained behind the Marlins dugout in an empty row–an ordinary seat upgrading move. Uncharacteristically, the usher asked me for my ticket midway through the top of the first inning, so I had to get up and go to my real seat much farther down the line. I was still able to get a few good pictures of the first inning from my closer spot.

This was the first time, I believe, that I’ve seen Ichiro play in person. He did not disappoint, recordingIchiro batting during the 7th inning two hits and an RBI in the game. He did, however, get picked off in the second inning.

The game itself featured Jordan Zimmermann and David Phelps pitching against each other. Luckily for the Marlins, it turned out a lot better than the last time Zimermann faced them at Nationals Park. Though, Miami’s bullpen spoiled a great start by Phelps.

Both teams scored once in the first inning and went scoreless through the middle innings. In the top of the seventh, Marlins first baseman Justin Bour hit an opposite field homer off the top of the left field wall. Jayson Werth answered for the Nats in the bottom half of the inning. He drilled a two-out RBI single to center field to tie the game at two. The timing was appropriate for the scruffy Werth as a large, orange moon rose above Nationals Park (see picture below).

In the top of the eighth, Miami got two runners on for Jeff Baker, who punched an RBI single into right field. Later with the bases loaded, Ichiro chopped a grounder up the middle that Danny Espinosa booted, allowing another run to score to give the Marlins a 4-2 lead.

Moon rises over Nationals ParkIn the bottom of the eighth, a lead off walk to Ryan Zimmerman haunted the Fish as Ian Desmond crushed a game-tying two run homer two batters later. The homer landed on the turf batters’ eye to the right of the Red Porch. Two fans hopped the rail from the seats and ran down to get the ball. They were promptly ejected from the stadium. I sure hope they got to keep the ball.

Later in the inning, Yunel Escobar laced his fifth single of the day to right field, scoring two runs and giving the Nats a 6-4 lead. Tanner Roark, naturally, came in to pitch the ninth inning for his first career save. With one on and two out, he faced Giancarlo Stanton. After three consecutive balls, it looked to be a sure walk. But Roark snuk a fastball into the zone on 3-0, got Stanton to chase a 3-1 pitch outside, and then got him swinging on a 3-2 slider to end the game.Nationals Park night sky

The Marlins haven’t faired as well at Nationals Park over the past three seasons as they did in the previous four. They defeated Washington 2-1 Tuesday night, but that was just their 5th win in DC in the past 21 games. Hopefully they can get the bats going Wednesday for the series win.

In addition to smond’s eighth inning homer, Marlins first baseman Justin Bour also went long in the gameDe. Joe and I were walking around the stadium at the time, but I did get to see the home run from the Red Loft in center field. Including those two blasts, the three I saw in Cincinnati last month, two by the Nationals last August, three I saw in Seattle last July, and David Ortiz’s blast in Boston, I’ve seemingly reversed the elusive homer trend my dad and I established. Back in the day, we’d often miss home runs when getting up out of our seats during games. Now, I don’t remember the last time I missed one.

Finally, I was a bit bummed that Dan Uggla didn’t play in the game, but he did get the start at second Livan Hernandez bobbleheadbase the following night.

Final score: Nationals 6, Marlins 4.

Here’s a bit about Livan Hernandez:.

Livan Hernandez was one of the few players of baseball history that made memories for both Marlins and Nationals fans. In 1997 at the age of 22, he won nine games as a starter for Florida and was an integral part of their World Series championship. In 2005, he threw the first pitch in Nationals history. My lasting memory of Livan, though, has to be a game the Nats played in Cincinnati sometime around 2010 or 2011. He wasn’t pitching, but the Nats needed to move a runner over in the later innings. The manager summoned Livo to pinch hit, and he emerged from the clubhouse with untied cleats, putting his batting gloves on as he entered the batters’ box. A few pitches later, he laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, jogged a few steps up the line, and let the pitcher tag him out. He turned and re-descended into the clubhouse to resume his presumable mid-day nap.

Photo Gallery: Marlins at Nationals 5.4.15

It was my dad’s birthday and the Marlins were in town for Livan Hernandez bobblehead night. Hernandez was a part of the 1997 Marlins World Series team when he was just 22 years old. He was the Opening Day starter for the Nats in 2005 and 2006, then returned to the team for the 2009-2011 seasons.

A game entry will come soon, but first here are pictures from the 18th time I’ve watched the Marlins at Nationals Park. If you click on one picture, a slideshow window will pop up and you can scroll through all of them.

The Nationals are learning the name Dan Uggla

I don’t care if it’s just for one series, Dan Uggla is making sure that baseball remembers his name before he’s gone for long. The fan-favorite Marlin is now making some new fans in Washington, and hopefully reigniting the Nationals clubhouse in the process.Dan Uggla and Danny Espinosa

Tuesday night, Uggla tallied five RBIs over his final two at-bats, capping Washington’s incredible comeback victory over Atlanta with a three-run homer in the ninth inning.

There are few things I enjoy more in baseball than Uggla’s sweet swing, back-and-forth slug fests, and the wails of Atlanta Braves fans as they choke on their own tears to the beat of Satan’s own chop house music. Tuesday night featured all of those things.

Some background on this story: After Uggla’s classic tenure with the Florida Marlins (2006-2010), he spent parts of the next four seasons with the Braves, his average declining all the while. In 2014, the Braves released him as his batting average sat at .162. The San Francisco Giants picked him up and shortly thereafter released him. Before this season, the now-journeyman second baseman was signed by the Nats, and has racked up substantial playing time due to an injury to third baseman Anthony Rendon.

Monday, the Nationals began a series at Turner Field, marking the first time Uggla had played as a visitor in Atlanta since leaving the Braves.

Dan Uggla batting at Space Coast StadiumUggla tripled in Monday night’s match up at Turner Field, a game the Braves won, inciting boos from the shallow citizens of Atlanta who apparently will not forgive him for faltering under their unconditionally negative regard during his tenure with the Braves. It’s one thing to boo your own player for his under-performance, but to harass him for success elsewhere is a lack of respect.

And for someone who works as hard at the game as Uggla does, I’m sure he did not take those boos lightly. Instead, he channeled all of his career aspirations into a game for the ages on Tuesday.

The Nationals fell behind 9-1 after two innings, and slowly began chipping away at Atlanta’s lead. By the top of the seventh, the score stood at 11-7 in favor of the Braves. Uggla stood in with two runners on and drilled a triple to right field, his second three-bagger in as many nights, drawing the Nationals within two runs.

But he waited until the ninth inning to finalize his revenge on the Braves. Washington was down 12-10 in the top of the ninth with two on and one out. Uggla fell behind in the count 0-2, though “protect the plate” is not in his vocabulary. In other words, Uggla always has the “dinger sign.” Fearlessly, Uggla crushed the next pitch deep into the left field seats, shocking the stadium and sending Washington’s dugout into a frenzy.

Dan Uggla at Space Coast StadiumThe Nats held on for the 13-12 victory, and gained the priceless momentum of a thrilling division victory in the process. Washington’s struggles thus far have been well-documented. Leave it to the unlikely source of Dan Uggla to turn things around.

Marlins broadcaster Rich Waltz ensured that we will never forget how to say Uggla’s name, but Uggla himself is ensuring that we will say his name. And even if just for one night, we’ll remember his impact on this great sport we all love. For that, I’ll forever be a fan of the stocky, free-swinging second baseman…whose name. Is Dan. Uggla.


Getting my Reds on at Great American Ball Park: Cardinals at Reds 4.10.15

It certainly made me feel like a Great American.

Cincinnati’s ballpark became the 10th current Major League stadium I have visited on my quest to see a game at all 30 MLB parks. Great American Ballpark opened in 2003 and is named after the Great American Insurance Group. It lies on the Ohio River, a long stone’s throw from Kentucky, and is the site of the 2015 All-Star Game.

Me in the outfield at Great AmericanA college friend’s mom works for a company in Cincinnati that has four Reds season tickets. Cincinnati is only 50-ish miles from Dayton, so this made for an easy Friday night road trip. Off four of us traversed down I-75, and as I tweeted, Cincinnati’s interstates made my feel at home (*cough* Virginia) with the inordinately high presence of construction, police, and accidents on a Friday afternoon. It took us about two hours to get down to the Park. Therefore, I missed almost the entirety of batting practice.

I schlepped over to the right field bleachers anyway to see the last 10 minutes of the Cardinals’ BP. Nothing really came close, but I was just happy to be there.

Walking around the stadium before the game, I was really impressed by the architecture and design. The concourses are very open and inviting, and getting from section to section is relatively easy. Behind the seats in right field, the concourse has a view of the river.

On the first base side of the stadium, there was a nice green space near the escalator that took us up to our seats in 303. We sat in the Ohio Champions Club section, which was phenomenal. The view is comparable to the Stars and Stripes Club at Nationals Park, but the tickets come with an all-you-can-eat foodView of Great American Park from section 303 pass. Inside, the food was plentiful and tasty. My only complaint about the section was that there was only one foul ball that came remotely close to our seats. Otherwise, the location and food access made for a very enjoyable game.

Joey Votto hit two two-run homers in his first two at-bats. Both were opposite-field shots above the scoreboard in left field. St. Louis’ center fielder Randal Grichuk also homered in the game.

The game was tied at four in the eighth inning when Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton walked, stole second, took third on a pitch in the dirt, and proved to be one the most dangerous threat on the bases when he scored on a short sacrifice fly by Todd Frazier. Walks will haunt teams, especially when the person being walked is as speedy as Hamilton. Hamilton has already stolen seven bases this season and has not yet been caught.

Closer Arolids Chapman entered the game in the ninth, and closed out the Reds’ fourth win of the season.

Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart made an impressive play to record the second out of the ninth. With a runner on first, Jason Heyward bounced a ball off, or right in front of, home plate that took a high hop over second base. Phillips, the second baseman, scooted over and fielded it, jumping backwards and falling into the center field grass. As he landed, Phillips flipped it over to the shortstop Cozart, who barehanded the ball as he was falling off the bag, into the runner. Click here for the video.

Many people picked Cincinnati to finish last in the NL Central this season. But in their 4-0 start against Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the Reds have played like an elite club. If Votto has a bounce-back year, and the pitching staff can keep this team in games, Cincy may be a dark horse in the National League.Friday night fireworks picture

Friday night fireworks are a tradition at Great American Ballpark. They are shot off from the river, just beyond the bleachers in right field.

A few notes:

1) This was the first game I attended this year, which means it was the first game I saw with the pitch clock. I did not see the clock at all, although I wasn’t looking for it. It did not even cross my mind throughout the game that the clock was in use, however the game was noticeably concise. It finished in 2 hours, 26 minutes.

2) Marlins broadcaster Rich Waltz has an affinity for Rosie Red, the mascot. So I tweeted him a picture of Rosie before the game. Here’s a video link of Rosie in the Marlins broadcast booth last year when the team was in Cincinnati.

3) I updated my preferential list of all 30 MLB teams to reflect my first game as a Reds fan and the Great American experience.

And here is the updated list of stadiums I’ve visited. Great American is the 10th current stadium I’ve been to, and 11th overall. RFK Stadium is the one outdated park I’ve visited.

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

2) Great American Ball Park: The location is great, the park is easy to navigate, and amenities are plentiful. Reds fans are passionate, and the environment was exciting and comfortable at the same time. A drawback is that downtown Cincinnati is not nearly as nice as downtown San Diego, which is the main reason why it did not leapfrog PETCO Park on this list. The location is, however, better than Safeco’s is in Seattle. I’d like to attend BP at Great American sometime just to be sure about this ranking, but for now I’m confident.

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

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

Fenway Park5) Fenway Park: It’s tough to compare a century-old gem to the shiny new jewels that are my top five parks, but I’m trying. Fenway’s downside is the crammed seating. However, I upgraded in this game as well. All things considered, it’s hard to top the Fenway “experience.”

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

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

Nationals Park8) Nationals Park: I used to really like Nats Park, but then I attended too many games there. There’s nothing notable or spectacular about the park and the neighborhood is similar to that in which Safeco lies. It gets really hot during the summer, and on top of it all, the ushers are irritable.

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

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

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

I’m not entirely sure what my baseball travel outlook is for this summer, but I’d like to get to at least one more new stadium this year. PNC Park in Pittsburgh is the first on my wish list. I also want to get back to Oriole Park, since I haven’t seen a game there in eight years.

Since 2011, I’ve visited at least one new park each season. Minute Maid Park in 2011; Marlins Park, Dodger Stadium, and PETCO were in 2012; Turner Field in 2013; Fenway Park and Safeco Field in 2014; and Great American in 2015.


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