Bread Basket Catch: Major League Baseball’s Power Shift

I read an article on 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.


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, 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.

Pressed for a Chia Pet: Diamondbacks at Nationals 8.5.15

In the spring, I did a story for Flyer News on the Jayson Werth garden gnome, and Paul Fritschner’s experience arriving to the park hours early to be first in line for it. Exactly one year after the gnome-ageddon, the Nationals are giving out 20,000 Jayson Werth Chia Pets. I am credentialed media for the event and and blogging live from the press box at Nationals Park.

This was the scene on half street as we approached:

Half street as we approached

Paul said that it was not nearly as crowded at 4:30 as it was last year for the gnome. Nats Park gates open at 4:30 for 7 pm games. Last year, Paul arrived at approximately 2 pm.

The press box at Nats Park is high above even the 300 level:Media pass in press box

I was on the field for BP early on:
Nats BP from behind home plateI tried talking with some fans as well as broadcasters to see if they could give me some extra insight on the Chia Pet, especially after the gnome last season. I talked with FP Santangelo of MASN and Dave Jageler, the radio broadcaster who I met last year with Paul. I’ll be using their quotes for the Flyer News article hopefully.

If any of you are wondering why Werth was made into a Chia Pet, behold:

Jayson Werth with fans

Dan Uggla was friendly, of course, to fans:
Dan Uggla at Nats ParkPaul Goldschmidt also signed for the fans on the field:

Paul Goldschmidt signs autographs

Here’s me and Paul (not Goldschmidt) during batting practice:

Me and Paul at Nats Park BP

Paul acquired two batting practice balls. One was an Ian Desmond homer he caught on the fly. Here he is with it:Paul with his Desmond HR ball

The Jayson Werth Chia pet:

The Werth Chia

There was a shattered window in the press box. Apparently it occurred when the panes were being slid open or closed. Details unknown.

Shattered window in the Nats Park press box

The Game

Gio Gonzalez pitched a scoreless first for the Nats. Yunel Escobar, who led off last night with a home run, doubled to deep center field in his lead off at bat today.

It’s hard, I can’t clap in the press box because it’s supposed to be neutral territory. I let a single clap slip on the Escobar double. Whoops.

1st inning: The Nats loaded the bases with nobody out in the first. Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth each hit sacrifice flies to right field to make it 2-0 Nats.

3rd inning: The Nationals failed to get a crucial double play, and Arizona took advantage on a sacrifice fly later on to make it 2-1 Washington.

4th inning: The Presidents Race in the middle of the fourth was easily the most entertaining I’ve seen here. Teddy came out dressed as a magician with a magic hat. He stopped four other presidents, put a Chia Pet into the hat, did a wand twirl, and pointed to the bullpen. Abe ran out of the bullpen with a green Chia beard and sprinted to win the race.

7th inning: The Diamondbacks broke out for four runs in the sixth inning to gain a 5-2 advantage. The Nationals had it coming to them however, as they have been out-hit all night. The hit tally currently stands at 12-3 in favor of Arizona (top seventh inning).

8th inning: A side story to each Nationals game from here on out will be scoreboard watching. The Mets are currently leading the NL East after overtaking Washington last weekend. New York squared off against Miami this week, and let’s just say it was not pretty for my Fish. However, the Marlins almost mounted a comeback tonight against New York. They were down 8-0 going into the bottom of the ninth and rallied for six runs. They even got the winning run to the plate with two outs, but could not cap off the comeback. A “Let’s go Marlins” chant broke out in the 300-level as Miami’s score closed in on New York’s in the ninth, but soon deflated. If the Nats lose tonight, they will be two games behind New York in the divison.

Wellington Castillo hit a long home run into the Red Porch in the 8th for Arizona. They now lead 8-2.

9th inning: Arizona has gone up 9-2 after Nats pitcher Felipe Rivero balked with a runner on third. Most fans have left the stadium and it feels like it did back in 2008-09 when Washington struggled to win at all. It would be a good night to be a fan in the seats. Lots of foul balls, not many fans to get them.

An infield single has plated another run for Arizona. It’s 11-2. Diamondbacks have 17 hits. One out in the top of the ninth. Tyler Moore is into pitch!

Moore’s first batter was Paul Goldschmidt. The remaining fans lept into a loud “Let’s Go Tyler!” chant–a little too loud for the number of fans in attendance. Moore induced Goldschmidt into a 5-4 fielder’s choice for the second out of the inning.

Moore then drilled Wellington Castillo, who homered in the eighth (intentional?), then got a line out to secondbaseman Anthony Rendon to end the inning.

Michael A Taylor drilled a two-run homer into the Red Porch with one on and one out in the bottom of the ninth. Jose Lobaton singled before Taylor’s bomb, which landed right at the back of the red seats and in the center of the section. It was very close to the spot that Wellington Castillo hit his.

11-4 Diamondbacks. Final.

View of Nats Park from the press box

Chia Werth in progress

Buffalo, Bombshell, Baseballs, Bros: Diamondbacks at Nationals 8.4.15

For the second time in as many nights, Paul and I ventured to Nationals Park. Tuesday we were accompanied by Jack and Ben, both of whom went to our high school. We were looking to snag during batting practice and change the Nationals’ fortune as they had lost the previous four games.Ben, Jack, me and Paul at the Red Porch

My main mission for this season at Nationals Park is to attain one of the 10-year commemorative baseballs the team is using. The Nats first moved to Washington in 2005, and this whole season has been a celebration of their tenth anniversary in the nation’s capital. As such, they are using a special baseball during all home games.

The pre-game baseballs

On this hot August afternoon, we arrived off the green line metro around 4:25 and proceeded to the center field gates, which were slightly more crowded than I had anticipated for such a midweek contest. Shortly after 4:30, we walked into the stadium and down the steps of the Red Porch.

To me, the Red Porch is the best BP location at Nats Park because of the fair amount of home runs that land in the section, and the fact that it only has one entrance–discreetly located next to the Red Porch restaurant. Because of this, it tends to be less crowded as most fans bypass the entrance and populate the traditional left field seats for BP.Ben and Jack enter the Red Porch

The Nationals’ pitchers were hitting when we first got in, so it took a while before anything reached the seats. When a home run was eventually hit to the porch, it was deep on the center field end. I raced back and a across a row just in time to get my hand on it as it spun beneath a seat. Another fan grabbed it simultaneously, but I had the better positioning. Note: I don’t like wresting people for baseballs because it’s juvenile and I’m really only in it to catch homers on the fly. But I had to make sure I did not pass up a chance for a 10-year commemorative baseball, so I snatched it for myself, turned it over a few times, and after determining it was not such a ball I handed it over to a kid who was a row below me.

shadunker at Nats ParkYunel Escobar was in the next group of hitters, and he came through as well as anyone. He hit a line drive homer into the first few rows of the porch that I got into position for. It ticked off the glove of a fan in the first row and lucky did not change direction too much as it stuck in my glove a few rows behind the deflection.

I brought my shadunker (a.k.a. the glove trick) to this game for any balls that may fall behind the wall and below the seats. Lo and behold, kids dropped baseballs that were thrown to them down behind the wall. That always happens.

So I brought Ben down with me to the front and told him to photograph my retrieval of the ball. I dropped my glove Ben holding the home run I caughtdown quickly as to not arouse suspicion setting it up, but the sharpie pen fell out of the device because of the force. I reeled it back up and propped it with a thin, ballpoint pen, which I had never attempted to use with the shadunker before. Luckily, I was able to secure the ball on the second try, and the little kid next to me assured me that the ball was intended for him originally. I searched it for the 10-year logo, and then handed it off to him.

A short time later, a Nationals righty launched a deep home run into the Red Porch. And I mean deep. It hit about halfway up the restaurant and took a high bounce back towards the field. I had ascended up towards the restaurant in anticipation of a shorter bounce, but was now completely out of position. Paul, though, was in one of the first rows of the seats, and lunged to make a sprawling grab on the ball that likely would have ended up back on the field.

The entire Diamondbacks team hit all of one ball to the porch during their batting session, so the four balls were all we could muster before the game.

This whole time, Jack and Ben were largely unenthused, and Ben at one point said, “Are you sure we didn’t miss the 7 a.m. lawn mowing practice, Steve?”Ben, not too amused with the Diamondbacks hat

After BP ended, we were all hungry so we meandered the stadium for a bit in search of the best eats. I need to update my Nationals Park seating chart post because in it I recommend food that no longer exists in the stadium. They do, however, have two new stands behind section 113. They’re Maryland and Virginia themed and showcase local cuisine from each. I ended up getting a chicken biscuit from the Virginia stand at one point, which was fantastic.

Ben and Jack inquired about the restaurant at the Red Porch, so I explained what I remembered from my trip with Paul last year, and they were quite interested. More on that in a bit.

Our seats were in section 108, which is the left field corner. The section ended up being a lot more crowded than I had anticipated, so earlier on I eyed the third base line for possible upgrade spots.

The actual game

Let it be known that Paul was not happy with the Nationals’ performance at the games he attended up until this point in 2015. So unhappy was he, that when he asked Siri who was pitching for Arizona on Tuesay, and she responded with “Patrick Corbin”–Arizona’s equivalent of an ace–Paul tore off his shirt in disgust, threw it on the ground, and pouted about the Nats being unable to score runs.

View from section 108Well, Max Scherzer took the hill for Washington, so it had the potential to be a quick, low-scoring game. That was not the case.

Scherzer sent down the D’backs quickly in the first, and the Nats picked up right where they left off offensively Monday night. Yunel Escobar homered to start the game, the first of Washington’s four consecutive hits out of the gate. Although they left the bases loaded, the Nats satisfied their fans with a trio of first inning runs to take a 3-0 lead.

Scherzer ran into some trouble in the fourth inning when he surrendered three runs to Arizona on forty pitches. One run was even knocked in by Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the former Marlins catcher who has the best last name in baseball.

The score was deadlocked at three for the middle innings.

The bombshell

Ben stole a menu from the Red Porch to peruse back at our seats before he and Jack decided to jaunt up there again to attain the unlimited beverages I had informed him of. Here is Ben’s personal account of the excursion:

Ben Lawler here with a special report about the Red Porch restaurant at Nationals Park. It was Tuesday August 4th 2015, a hot humid day. As the sun set, it became perfect for baseball. Paul, Steve, Jack and I were walking around the park, trying to find some sustenance without spending a small fortune. During our search we walked past the famed Red Porch, where Steve was talking and informed us that the drinks have unlimited refills. This immediately piqued my interest and I began to listen to Steve more intently.

Okay, hold on, Ben! Notice he says “I began to listen to Steve more intently.” That’s substantial evidence that Ben does not actually value my intellect enough to listen to me all the time. Carry on.

He said the food was not much more expensive than the rest of the park and the drinks were only $4.50 or so. I immediately recruited Jack and in the bottom on the second inning we meandered over to this fabled fountain of drinks. After a brief wait, we were seated at an outdoor table overlooking the field. Unfortunately we were told that we only could stay at our tables for an hour, which meant we would have to speed up our soft drink consumption. Our server, Brian (probably Bryan) was happy to get us our drinks (and honestly anything else, he was extremely laid back) to start and we settled in to look at the menu. We were also happily surprised by an assistant waiter who brought us ice cold water, which was free.

Our plan was not to buy anything too expensive and split whatever we got so has to cut the price of the experience even more. I asked Bryan about a side of fries(they didn’t appear on the menu) and without hesitating he said “I got you,” with the tone of a 20-year old surfer reclining on a beach chair, and disappeared. He returned after probably picking, slicing and frying the potatoes himself. Now for the record, I had not asked to order a side of fries, I only inquired about them, nevertheless they were hot and salty and contrasted the third cup of soda nicely.

After the fries, Jack and I decided the main course would be a blonde brownie with ice cream staked at 10 The blonde bombshellbucks. Termed the “blonde bombshell,” we hoped it would be large enough so as not to have to divide it with a microscope. It did not disappoint and was  consumed along with our 5th drink. We were at this point satisfied with our experiment. Bryan brought us the check and told us that the fries were seven dollars and not to worry about paying for the drinks (while very nice, what I took out of it was that we had not drank enough for them to charge anything–well next time we shall). We found Steve and Paul had upgraded our view of the field and settled in for a Nats pull-ahead and win.

Thank you, Ben, for spoiling the ending to the game. As he alluded to, Paul and I had already upgraded our seating experience when he and Jack set off for the restaurant. We settled into section 112 and then began moving down the rows.

We ended up down in row N, alphabetically 14 rows up. And finished the game around the same spot in section 113.

Now, the term “blonde bombshell” ignited a story of its own, which I shall save for a later date as to prevent this post from dragging on longer than a confirmation Mass in the Diocese of Arlington.

The Buffalo

Tied 3-3 still, Dan Uggla came in to pinch hit in the bottom of the sixth, as Scherzer had already thrown 114 pitches. Uggla lined a deep fly ball to left that unfortunately found the glove of David Peralta on the warning track. Off the bat, I thought it had a chance to leave the park, but it just wouldn’t be.Ben and Jack in our final seats 113

In the bottom of the eighth after Ryan Zimmerman walked and Jayson Werth doubled, Wilson Ramos, “The Buffalo,” sliced a short liner down the right field line that landed in for a perfectly-placed hit. Both Zimmerman and Werth scored to give the Nats a 2-run advantage.

Bring on Jonathan Paplebon, add in a little drama produced by a Yunel Escobar error, cap it off with a save and a free Chick-fil-A sandwich, and you have a 5-4 win for the Nationals! It snapped their losing streak and put Paul in a better mood, at least until chia pet day.

Today, the 5th, is Jayson Werth Chia Pet Day! I’ll be in the press box, and I’m planning to live blog the experience. So check back here this afternoon for all the coverage you could possibly imagine.

Natitude late, comeback halted: Diamondbacks at Nationals 8.3.15

Panorama of Nats Park

Monday night was the first of my four games this week at Nationals Park, and I was joined by Paul and two other friends–Rachel and Sarah. Paul and I went to high school with Rachel, and Sarah goes to Xavier–some college in Cincinnati that Paul unfortunately chose to attend as well. Whatever.

Paul at the Newseum exhibitRachel took the panorama above. Don’t mind the folks in the aisle who were discombobulated by the picture.

We met up at the Newseum (the museum of news, go figure) where there is a brand new exhibit commemorating the 10 years of Nationals baseball in Washington, D.C. The exhibit was small, but well put together. There’s memorabilia from Opening Day 2005, Ryan Zimmerman’s walk off to christen Nationals Park, and even Max Scherzer’s no hitter from earlier this season. Paul had a good time, and was that guy who read everything.

That’s Sarah with me on the right, we’re on the top of the Newseum, which is actually a phenomenal picture spot when the Capital is not under construction.

A quick metro jaunt got us to Nats Park around 5:40, just as the Diamonbacks were finishing up batting practice. Soon after we settled in at the Red Porch, an Arizona rightly launched a high fly ball towards us, that I ranged to my right just enough to make a catch. It was actually the first BP homer I’ve caught this year because I haven’t attended much batting practice. A short time later, another batter hit a shot towards the center field end of the red seats that landed untouched in the back row. After scurrying over, I was the closest to the ball. There was a small kid sitting in the restaurant table right above the seat where it landed, so I handed the ball to him after I picked it up. Nothing else really came our way during BP, so that was that.

Paul, Sarah, Rachel, me at Nats ParkDoug Fister took the mound for the Nationals, squaring off against rookie Zack Godley. The first three innings quickly vanished, and then the Diamondbacks erupted. They shot three home runs off Fister, who lasted six innings and gave up five earned runs.

Washington simply could not get their bats going, and suffered at the hands of Godley, who is now 3-0 on the season with a 1.50 ERA. Jonathan Paplebon came into the game to pitch the top of the ninth for the Nats, who were down 5-0. He promptly gave up Arizona’s fourth dinger of the night–a solo shot into the left field seats.

Fans were already in the midst of an exodus when the final dagger was blasted, and the stadium ended up only a third as full as it was earlier in the evening.Panorama from the mezzanine

I was really feeling a seven run comeback as the Nats took to the dish in the bottom of the ninth. Ryan Zimmerman showed a flash of his former self as he blasted a long, one-out solo home run deep into the left field seats, but there was still a ways to go. After singles by Clint Robinson and Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos hit an RBI single to center field, cutting the deficit to four. Michael A Taylor followed up with a two-run double down the left field line to make it a 6-4 game.

Paul and me at Nats Park section 136Jayson Werth came in to pinch hit, but couldn’t achieve heroism and grounded out. Next, Yunel Escobar flew out to end the game.

Meanwhile, the Marlins were hosting the Mets in Miami. New York swept Washington over the weekend, and the two clubs entered Monday in a virtual tie for first place in the NL East. With the Nats’ loss and the Mets’ win in a slaughter of the Fish, the Mets now have a one game lead in the division.

That’s about all I’ve got. It’s Beanstalks Baseball tomorrow night. There will be much more BP snagging, hopefully, and I also hope to see a better score at the end of the night.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 164 other followers

%d bloggers like this: