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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Two New Immortals

Much has been written about the Hall of Fame induction this past weekend, especially about the merits of Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. While I obviously share in the admiration for these two baseball greats, I'm not going to go into their stats or speeeches here in any great detail. What I want to do is share with you our HoF weekend and some of the things we learned and experienced while in Cooperstown.

This was our first trip to Cooperstown, and I wish we'd been able to take more time to really be able to soak everything in. Schedules being what they were, we just had the weekend. We left Friday night and made it as far as Scranton, PA. Traffic was an absolute nightmare out of DC and around Baltimore, and what should have been a 2.5 hour drive ended up about six. Absolutely miserable.

We rolled into Cooperstown Saturday around lunchtime, parked at a satellite lot (basically a corn field next to one of the hundreds of little league fields) and took the trolley into town. Once on Main Street, we wandered around open-mouthed at all the people filling the streets and lined up at the various storefronts waiting for autographs from the Hall of Famers. "Look, there's Rollie Fingers!" or "Wow, Yogi Berra". It was really incredible walking down the street and seeing all these HoFers in one place. Here's a pic of maybe next-year-inductee Goose Gossage.

We had lunch at the Doubleday Cafe and watched some of the Nats-Mets game. That's when it hit me that there were ALOT of Mets and Yankee fans around. I completely forgot we were in New York! Actually, we saw hats from all the teams in the bigs, which was neat. We also saw a bunch of anti-Barry Bonds shirts and just a couple Pete Rose support shirts. We also saw Pete himself. Cheryl went into the store looking for something and Pete happened to be there signing! She talked to him real briefly, but passed on the $85 to get a picture signed.

After lunch we headed down to the Hall. Man, was it crowded. We asked the ticket girl what attendance was and she showed us the counter on their computer. When we entered around 3 pm it was just over 12,000. Media reports had the total day just over 15,000, which was a one-day record, surpassing the previous by over 5,000. So when I say it was crowded, you get the idea. First was the Plaque Gallery, which was AWESOME. Just as I've always pictured it, only with many more people milling about. We sought out our favorites, but with so many people it was hard to linger or really soak it all in.

We toured the rest of the museum and saw many cool things, but the highlight for us were the displays from the seventies World Series years of the Orioles and Reds. Seeing artifacts from those WS Champions was awesome for me and Cheryl, as they represent why we are such big baseball fans to beging with.

After the museum we gathered outside the Hall for the "Red Carpet" arrivals of the HoFers. They weren't scheduled to arrive until 9 pm after their dinner banquet, but people were already lining up as early as 6 pm. So we got our spot. Cheryl talked to a security guy and he told us to get a spot in front of the Post Office right across the street from the Hall, that was the best vantage to see the HoFers getting off the trolleys from the dinner. He was absolutely correct in that it was the best vantage. Once they started arriving, they got off the trolleys directly in front of us just like he said. Only problem was we could still hardly see them. For an event that was scheduled to be at night, they hadn't set up any flood lighting. All the light we had were the streetlights.

This could have been really, really cool with only a little more effort from the organizers. As it turned out, it was kinda disappointing and at times health threatening. Combine Ripken autograph-seeking crowds and low lighting and it got scary at times. All they needed was a couple banks of flood lighting, and it could have had all the panache of an Oscar-style event. They certainly had the enthralled crowds!

It didn't stop us though, or the others around us. We met a family from Connecticut, a couple from Toronto and many others, and we all exchanged email address and promises to trade photos from the evening. Part of the coolness of the weekend was meeting the other people that had made the trek there for the festivities. You realize how strong a hold the game has on some folks, and that even with steriods and labor strife and ungodly salaries, people still WANT to love the game.

We obviously stayed to the very end, when they took down the barricades and cleared the streets. That's when we met Brady Anderson and David Segui, who were guests of Cal at the reception. They were the last ones to leave the Hall and signed for everyone that remained. Segui talked with us for about five minutes while Brady finished up. He was perfectly happy just to chill with us. They were headed to a restaraunt around the corner that John Travolta rented out for late-night supper. Cal and John are friends, as is Richard Gere and Lynda Carter apparently, and they were all there to support their buddy Cal.

We were hungry so we stopped at the pizza joint that had been closed for two hours but was still serving anyway. We met Jim Caple of and Scott Miller of there. They were kind enough to put up with my babble for about 15 minutes. Real nice guys.

After all that we tromped out to the Clark Sports Center where the ceremony was on Sunday. We were told that it would be a good idea to set our chairs out that night to reserve our spot. We got out there a little after midnight, and the field was already full of camp chairs and folding chairs and blankets and coolers! Simply incredible. It really was an eerie sight with a full moon breaking through the fog. Imagine a field full of thousands of empty chairs on a foggy-but full moon-night. We finally got back to the place we were staying with friends in Oneonta, about a half hour south, sometime around 2:15 am, with plans on rising at 7:30 am.

We did get up at 7:30 am, only to find one of the friends we were staying with had to go back home. His wife had fallen ill and he needed to get back. I can't imagine that 6 hour drive. All was fine eventually, but still. Anyway, we loaded up our cars and trekked back into Cooperstown for the induction ceremony. We found our chairs unmolested at 10-ish and settled in for the 1:30 pm ceremony. It was a long, hot, typically humid July afternoon, and I must admit I slept a good portion of the next two hours. They played highlights from previous induction ceremonies on the big board, which was nice, but once they started re-running the same ones over and over, that lost our interest. Cheryl spent an hour walking around taking pictures of fans and the signs and shrits they had made.

The ceremony itself started precisely at 1:30 pm, and Gary Thorne handled the emcee duties. After the welcomes, he introduced all the HoFers in attendance, along with video hightlights. What a truly awesome experience. 53 of the living 61 HoFers were there, the largest gathering of living HoFers ever. The crowd was HUGE, estimated at 75,000, 50% larger than the previous record.

The speeches were much like I thought they would be: Gwynn talking about hitting, Ted Williams, San Diego; Cal talking about his responsibility, Baltimore and the future. Both guys got emotional when talking about their families. It was really touching to see both guys break up when talking about their fathers, both of whom have passed on. People forget these guys are human, with all the emotional fragility that we all share. And I will readily admit I wore my dark sunglasses to hide my tears as well.

We left right after the ceremony, carrying our camp chairs, coolers, cameras and memories back to the car parked a mile and a half away from the field. This sign was indicitive of the entrepreneurial spirit of the tiny hamlet of 2,000 folks. And getting out of Cooperstown proper took almost as long to get there Friday night. Only a slight exaggeration. But all would agree worth every last ounce of energy expended.

This ceremony was unique in that both players played for the same franchise their entire careers. They both expressed the great honor and responsibility of playing for the city they played for--their hometowns. And in the era of free agent mercenaries, it was refreshing to hear it come from the players themselves.

As Cal eloquently stated, "As the years passed, it became clear to me that kids see it all, and it's not just some of your actions that influence, it's all of them. Whether we like it or not as big leaguers, we are role models. The only question is will we be positive or will it be negative."

All photos (c) C. Nichols 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

D'Meat Returns and Cooperstown

I'll have much more on our trip to Cooperstown later in the week, but wanted to comment on the Nats resigning Dmitri Young.

Everyone knows I'm in D'tank for D'Meat. We share more than a general body size/type. We both developed Type-2 Diabetes as adults and are learning how to cope and thrive with the disease. So on one hand I'm very glad the Nats offered him the extension he signed over the weekend. There are plenty in the media that are decrying this move, particularly Keith Law, who I tremendously respect, on (scroll down to second story).

What I think this really says is that Nick Johnson isn't coming back, and the Nats have no one in their organization ready to play first next year. I said as much in a blog when we saw Johnson in spring training, now the Nats are saying it with their wallets. Look, if you include this season, the Nats effectively are getting Young for 3 years and $10.5m, an average of $3.5m per. Not too much dough for your starting 1B, especially if--and this is the biggest point--there's no one in the minors pushing him.

No, D'Meat isn't going to hit .330 over the remainder of the contract. But if he hits .280 and keeps a seat warm for Chris Marrero, who will in all likelihood end up at first in 2009 or 2010, or someone else, who cares? His teammates love him. The casual fans love him. He seems to have cleaned up his health, his personal life and his game. His teammates love and respect him. The team can afford it. It's not like his contract is going to keep the Nats from signing any of their draft picks.

On the surface this may be a bit of a head-scratcher. Dig a little deeper though and maybe the logic makes a bit more sense.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Baseball In a Football Stadium (not RFK)

While travelling to northern Minnesota to see my wife's cousin get married last weekend, we naturally stopped in Minneapolis for a baseball game. We saw the Twins host the Oakland A's last Thursday in both teams first game back from the All-Star break. The Twins won 6-2, on good pitching by Scott Baker and some uncharacteristic wildness by A's starter Chad Gaudin. It's always fun to see a game in a ballpark different from the one(s) you're used to, but I'm here to tell ya, with the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, I'm not so sure. I guess I am really spoiled by now, living on the east coast and being only a few hours drive from some of the best parks in the country. Baltimore, Philly, Pittsburgh and Cleveland feature the modern classics, and the true classics of Yankee and Fenway are just up the road. RFK is a pit, but at least it's our pit. And most of us can remember back to when it was the best stadium in the NFL. That alone keeps me from complaining too loudly about RFK. And we'll have our shiny new playground next season anyway.

But the Metrodome? There's not one single redeeming feature about the game experience there to recommend it to anyone not looking to simply see a game in every major league stadium. There's only one concourse,
so you have to hike up or down to your seat regardless where you're sitting. If you're at field level, better get all your refreshments and bathroom break out of the way before you go down to your seat. Only the fittest of folks should do that hike more than once an evening, such as "Wally the World-Famous Beer Vendor".

All the seats point toward mid-center field (it WAS build for football), making it tough to watch, oh, I don't know, the PITCHER or the BATTER?!? It's a shock Twins season ticket owners haven't brought a class action suit against the stadium for their collective chiropractic bills.

And you think you've got it bad for food options at RFK? At the HHH Metrodome, you can get Dome Dog or popcorn. There are a couple ice cream stands. There was ONE non-generic beer stand. And there was one stand on the entire concourse to get a chicken sandwich. Nothing was getting grilled while you wait. Everything was pre-cooked and wrapped. Yuck.

The only positive we were able to take away from the Metrodome was the outside activities. Pre-game was like a county carnival. Plenty to see and do and eat. I wish someone had told us to make sure to eat before we got inside the stadium! Early pre-game (between 2pm and 3pm) we were able to get some autographs at the players lot, including from Pat Neshak, the Svengali of autographs. Turns out Pat played high school ball with my wife's cousins. Wish we'd known that BEFORE we met him. We also met our new Twins buddy Waldo, who helped us get Torii Hunter to sign our Gold Glove ball and Twins legend and broadcaster Bert Blyleven to sign for us TWICE. I'm a big Blyleven fan, and it was a big thrill to meet him. Why isn't he in the Hall of Fame???

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Firesale for the O's? Don't bet on it.

the question "do the O's have anyone of any real value to trade?" is fair and pointed. the answer, sadly, is "not really".

Bedard, Guthrie, Roberts, Hernandez, Mora and now sadly Tejada are all untradable for varying reasons. Patterson, Gibbons, Baez and Trachsel all have values so depressed the best they could get would be a C-level player. the rest are either unproven (Ray, Burres, etc) or spare parts (Bynum, et al).

the only players that have some trade value that might net more than a c-level prospect would be Cabrera, Huff, Payton, Millar, Walker, Bradford and perhaps Gomez. honestly, the relievers should have the most value to a contender, but even then, the O's are not going to pry away Lasting Milledge or Brandon Wood for Jamie Walker.

the sad reality is the O's, and us, are stuck with most (all) of these guys, and the hope that the young pitching is for real and they can sign a big bat for the middle of the order for next year, or 2009.

just don't expect a firesale July 31. they don't have the kindling.

How Did I Do?

Well, the 2007 All-Star teams were announced Sunday, and you can read all about them here.

How did my picks turn out? Pretty good in the AL, less good in the NL. Let me tell you one thing though: Tony LaRussa has little idea about how to put an all-star team together. I'm half shocked his picks weren't full of situational relievers, defensive replacements and pinch-hitter types.

Aanyway, in the AL i picked 28/31 correct. Tthe only ones i missed were:

1) the Tampa Bay rep. i took Al Reyes, Jim Leyland took Carl Crawford. fair enough.
2) the Texas rep. i took Sammy Sosa, Leyland took Michael Young. I wouldn't have too much problem with this, but Young apparently bumped Orlando Cabrera. that's a mistake. take three SS if you have too, but Cabrera's having an all-star year, and Young really isn't.
3) superfluous Boston players. Leyland chose to take Manny Ramirez and Jonathan Papelbon. i had Sosa and Al Reyes in those spots. Manny won't go anyway, he always begs out, and his numbers are unspectacular this year (.258/.383/.468, 11-43-0). Papelbon was the guy that got bumped when i took Reyes as the TB rep.

I did have Crawford, M. Young and K. Escobar in the "last vote" player list so Ii wasn't too far off.

Not Deserving: Manny being Manny.
Screwed: O. Cabrera.

I wasn't as successful in the NL, but again, I'm blaming LaRussa. i got 24/31.

1) Back-up C: I took Bengie Molina (.289/.311/.437, 8-44-0), LaRussa took Brian McCann (.261/.314/.427, 7-41-0). The stats don't get any more even. Flip a coin.
2) Third 1B: I took Ryan Howard (.247/.328/.548, 19-57-0), LaRussa took Derrek Lee (.346/.419/.505, 6-41-3).
3) 2B: I took Dan Uggla (.253/.323/.509, 17-50-2), LaRussa took Orlando Hudson (.302/.387/.468, 7-46-3). LaRussa went with Hudson's defense.
4) MI/OF/Pittsburgh Rep: this is where it gets ugly. I took Edgar Renteria (over Hanley Ramirez or Jimmy Rollins, either of whom would have been vastly superior to LaRussa's pick) and Xavier Nady (.277/.329/.480, 13-46-2), LaRussa took Aaron Rowand and Freddie Sanchez (.300/.331/.375, 1-28-0). Look, Sanchez just doesn't qualify. AT ALL. LaRussa took him cause he can play 2B/SS/3B and he can match-up and look smarter than anyone else. But let's get this straight: HE DOESN'T BELONG HERE. That Freddie Sanchez is an All-Star and Hanley and Rollins both get left off is a travishamockery. Rowand is "hard-nosed" and "gritty" and "having just a good year".
5) Pitching: I had Chris Young, Brandon Webb and Roy Oswalt, LaRussa took Billy Wagner and Brian Fuentes, WHO JUST LOST HIS FREAKING JOB!!! Cripes, do we have to do this for him?!?! Young, Webb and Oswalt are all on the last vote ballot.

Not Deserving: D. Lee, F. Sanchez, Rowand, Fuentes.
Screwed: Howard, H.Ramirez, Rollins, C.Young.