Monday, March 31, 2014

Opening Day 2014

            Opening Day is finally here!  And not a moment too soon.  It's been a long off-season, especially for Braves fans.  

            First, the season ended a lot sooner than we wanted after going 1-3 against the Dodgers in the NLDS.  That was heart breaking. 

            Then, we lost Brian McCann to the Yankees in free agency, no surprise there.  After that, we lost Tim Hudson to the Giants in free agency.  I don't know what everyone else was thinking, but this surprised me.  I thought he would want to stay in Atlanta.  Then the Giants came along and offered him $23 million for two years.  I don't remember the amount the Braves offered, but if memory serves, they only offered him one year.  So, good for him!  I am a Tim Hudson fan; we will miss him as a Brave, but at the same time I am very excited for him.    

            After that, the Braves made the surprise announcement that they are building a new stadium.  (What?!?!?!)  It is set to open in 2017 in Cobb County, northeast of Atlanta.  To be honest, I'm still processing this.  

            In January it was announced that the Braves will have three inductees into the Hall of Fame in July.  Bobby Cox was elected along with Tony La Russa and Joe Torre by the Veterans Committee.   And then Greg Maddux and Tom Glavin were elected along with Frank Thomas (War Eagle!) by the Baseball Writers Association of America.  Six inductees is a lot in one year, especially after no one was inducted last year.  I am so excited to see all of these men go to Cooperstown.  They are all very deserving!   

            Then came the extensions.  This was by far the best part of the off-season.  The Braves signed extensions for:  Jason Heyward (two years, $13.3 million), Freddie Freeman (eight years, $135 million), Julio Teheran (six years, $32.4 million), Craig Kimbrel (four years, $42 million), and  Andrelton Simmons (seven years, $58 million).  They also extended the contracts for manager Fredi Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren.  They locked up a lot of very important guys for a long time.  

            Everything was looking great.  Sure, we lost two important veterans, but with those extensions, it looked like we were going to be set this year, and for years to come.  Then tragedy struck.  In about a twenty-four hour period, during Spring Training, we lost not one, but two of our top starting pitchers; Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy.  Both have since had their second Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season.  Not to take anything away from those five huge extensions, but such a blow to the starting rotation really hurts.  

           In other news around the league:  
               - Clayton Kershaw signed a seven year, $215 million contract with the Dodgers; which is the biggest overall deal for a pitcher, ever.  If any pitcher deserves this, it's Clayton Kershaw.  
               - Derek Jeter will retire after this season.  It does not matter what teams you like (or loathe), everyone likes Derek Jeter.  The game will not be the same without him.  
               - Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera just signed monster deals with the Angels and Tigers, respectively.
               - We will have repay and certain calls can be challenged this year.
               - The penalty for using PEDs is now more stringent: 80 games for the first offense, 162 games for the second offense and banned for life after the third offense.

            So here we are, Opening Day.  It's been a crazy off-season and I'm so glad we can just play already (or, at least, watch them play) instead of speculating about it. 

Happy Opening Day everyone!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

The off season is a little more bearable for me because…..I love hockey too!

            I started really watching hockey during the 2010 Olympics.  I had watched hockey before.  Birmingham used to have a team in the East Coast Hockey League and I went to several games.  During that time I watch some NHL too.  But the Birmingham Bulls left in 2001 and, let's face it, hockey isn't exactly popular in the deep south, so I stopped keeping up with it.  Then came the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.  I didn't get to watch a lot of those games.  I was still in public accounting at the time and was lucky to see the prime time coverage, even on Saturdays; and the hockey games do not get very much of the prime time coverage.  I did get to see the gold medal game.  That sealed it.  I was hooked.  It's funny, now that I think about it; that a game so heartbreaking could hook you, but it did.

            So after the Olympics were over I wanted more.  I wanted to be a hockey fan too.  Which meant I needed to pick a team.  Obviously the hero of the Olympics was Sidney Crosby.  You couldn't have written the scenario of what he did any better.  The face of the NHL, getting the gold medal winning goal, in overtime, for Canada, against the USA and in Vancouver to boot.  Yep, he was a hero, for the Canadians.  For the Americans, not so much.  I read that he was booed in his first game back in Pittsburgh.  That's crazy, because he is LOVED in Pittsburgh.  The next Penguins game was schedule to be on TV.  So I watched it.  Then I watched the next one and the next one.  And that was it, I became a Penguins fan.  I've been accused of being a bandwagon fan.  I guess that's true.  I became a Penguins fan the year after they had won the Stanley Cup.  The thing is, if you are going to follow hockey in Birmingham (and you are not planning on paying for NHL Game Center) you have to pick one of the more popular teams because they are on TV more often.  I may be a bandwagon fan in the way I chose my team, but not in the sense of how I follow them; i.e. I will not be changing teams.  And by the way, I have been a subscriber of NHL Game Center for two years now.

            So here we are, in the middle of the 2014 Olympics.  I have gotten up at 6:30 the last two mornings (Saturday and Sunday) to watch USA hockey.  The game against Russia yesterday was amazing.  Eight rounds in a shootout before there was a winner!  Are you kidding me?!?!?!  I'm so glad I got up early for it.  I'm hoping for another USA vs. Canada gold medal game; just with a different outcome this time.  Go USA!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What do we do now?

            Well.  The Braves season ended Monday.  I still can't believe it.  I knew we didn't have the momentum going in, but the Dodgers did not have a great September either, so I thought we had a chance.  I really thought this was our year; this was THE team.  They played their hearts out this year and I am proud of what all they accomplished.  I just hate that it ended so early.

            Monday was heartbreaking.  Absolutely heartbreaking.  First of all, the game was in LA, so it did not start until 8:30 cst.  I watched the game with the TV muted and listened to Jim Powell and Don Sutton through my MLB At Bat app.  That is not something I usually do, but I just couldn't listen to the TBS announcers any more.  I watched games one and three with the sound on.  If you did not know any better you would have never guessed the announcers were not affiliated with either team.  This was the Dodger's show, and it was the Dodger's series to lose.   Nevermind the Braves finished 96-66 and the Dodgers finished 92-70; or that the Braves won the regular season series 5-2.  When game three started and the announcers were recapping game two, the sentiment was that the Dodgers had lost game two, not that the Braves had won.  Looking back, maybe that was the case.  Games one and three  ended with scores of 1-6 and 6-13, respectively.  Blowouts.  And game two's score was 4-3.  So the one game the Braves won, was close.  Even so, I just couldn't listen anymore.  The app was a couple of minutes behind the television feed, which was unpleasant, but I dealt with it.  

            The game was close.  So close.  I was so proud of Freddy Garcia.  From what I saw leading up to the game no one game him a chance; especially after the Dodger's announced they were starting CY Young favorite Clayton Kershaw.  Garcia allowed two early solo home runs to Carl Crawford, but other than that he held his own.  In an interview the day before he said he was not nervous and that he would "just make pitch".  And that's what he did.  The game was tied 2-2 when he came out after the sixth.  Then in the seventh Jose Constanza hit a single, scoring Elliot Johnson and the Braves took the lead.  I thought that was it.  It had to be.  We have one of the best bullpens in the league.  Jose Constanza would go down in infamy just like Francisco Cabrera when he drove in Sid.  "Just make pitch" would be our new saying; it would be on t-shirts for sure.  We would play again Wednesday in Atlanta.  Kris Medlen would get the start against Zack Greinke (who we beat in game two).  We would go on to play the Pirates in the NLCS (because I had tickets to game seven, so we would need home field advantage).  But none of that came to pass.  In the bottom of the eighth Yasiel Puig hit a double off of  David Carpenter.  Then Juan Uribe hit a home run giving the Dodgers a one run lead.  And that was it.  It was so sad.  The boys looked so defeated.  I can still see Chris Johnson standing at the rail of the dugout with his arms draped over it.  He had a great series, and a great year, and to see him like that; so dejected.  Heartbreaking.  Tuesday was rough.  I was still so disappointed; oh, and tired.  The game ended after midnight and I stayed up until the end.                      

            So what do we do now?  I've played the "what-if / if only" game the last couple of days.  What if Craig Kimbrel had been brought in to pitch the eighth?  What if Jonny Venters or Eric O'Flaherty had not gotten hurt and could have pitched that eighth inning?  If only Tim Hudson had been healthy, game four might have been our clinching game instead of our "win or go home" game.  If only our sluggers hadn't been slumping, maybe we could have had a bigger lead and those two runs in the eighth inning wouldn't have mattered so much.  I'm tired of thinking about all of that.  It doesn't change anything.  

            The Cardinals beat the Pirates last night, so even if the Braves had advanced, my NLCS tickets would have been obsolete.  The Cardinals and Dodgers will face off starting tomorrow.  That is going to be a great series.  I would love to see Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw face off, but the schedule was released today and that does not look likely.

            There is a lot of good baseball left.  I guess that is what we do now.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

It's Hard to Not Count Your Unhatched Chickens When You're 13 Games Up

            I cannot believe baseball season is almost over.  This summer has flown by!  Maybe that is because all three of my favorite teams are doing well.  The Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers are all currently leading their divisions.  The Braves and Dodgers have considerable leads, but we know all too well not to take it for granted.  Remember 2011?  As late as September 8, 2011 the Braves were leading the Wild Card race.  The closest team behind them was the Cardinals.  They were 6.5 games back.  The Braves did not make the playoffs that year.  That was decided on the last day of the regular season.  The Cardinals went on to win the World Series.  That’s one of the things that make baseball so great.  Nothing is decided until the very end.  The best game I have ever watch was game six of that World Series.  The Cardinals were down to their last strike not once, but twice.  They pulled out the win and went on to win game seven and the World Series.  I felt sorry for the people who just do not “get” baseball after that series.

            I am getting a little worried about the Braves.  Sure they are thirteen games up, and playing very well, but we’ve all seen this before.  I wrote a while back about the Braves being streaky this year.  I’m still worried they will hit a cold streak at the worst possible time.  Plus, guys are getting hurt; really important guys and by really freaky accidents.  Tim Hudson’s ankle got stepped on while he was covering first and it resulted in a season ending injury.  Jason Heyward got hit in the jaw by a fastball while batting and he is out for at least the rest of the regular season.  By the way, my favorite hockey player, Sidney Crosby, took a slap shot to the jaw and missed a considerable amount of time last hockey season.  I’m starting to wonder if it’s me.  Hudson and Heyward’s injuries both happened at Citi Field.  Good thing we don’t have to go back there!  Last night a pitch hit Justin Upton and now he has a contusion on his hand.  Hopefully he will not miss too much time.  We cannot afford to lose anyone else. 

            They pretty much have to keep it together because…..I HAVE POST SEASON TICKETS!!!  Presale tickets went on sale earlier this week and I have two to the second game that will be played at Turner Field during the NLDS.  Of course it is yet to be determined when exactly that will be, but I will be there.  I am so excited!  I have never been to a post season game before.  I can’t wait.  In the mean time we will see how the Braves finish.  Here are a few things to consider:

-We have already lost Hudson, and Beachy had a scare last week with his elbow.  We are second in the league in ERA and have had great pitching.  Will it hold up?

-Will Jason Heyward make it back for the post season?  He was the best hitter on the team when he got hurt.  Will he still be hot?

-During the game tonight they announced that Fredi Gonzalez has started his original line-up 28 times this season.  Tonight is game 134.  Things have not gone exactly as planned, but the boys have done a fantastic job.  Will the back-ups continue to step up?

I hope so, on all counts!  We will see.     

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The All Star Game

It’s that time of year again….the All Star Game is tonight!  I love the All Star Game.  It is so much fun to see the best of the best play together; to see rivals play side by side.  Unlike most other sports, the MLB All Star Game has significant meaning.  Since 2003 the All Star Game has determined which league gets home-field advantage for the World Series.  Do I agree with this policy?  No.  It makes no sense.  Here is the perfect example of why: In 2010, top of the seventh, Brian McCann, a Brave, hit a bases clearing double, scoring Matt Holliday, a Cardinal, Scott Rolen, a Red and Marlon Byrd, a Cub.  Phil Hughes, a Yankee, allowed two singles (accounting for two base runners) and then Matt Thornton, a White Sox, walked Marlon Byrd and allowed the hit by Brian McCann.  The National League won 3-1 and because of that the Giants had home-field advantage over the Rangers in the World Series.  It would be more logical if the team with the better record got home-field advantage.  But Mr. Selig does not consult me on such matters, so the All Star game is very important.  That year the Giants had the better record, so my example is really a moot point, but still.  I do not agree with it, but that’s the way it is and it does make the All Star Game quite interesting.
            2010 was especially special because it broke the National League’s fourteen year losing streak.  I was so proud of the National League that night.  Having a Brave knock in the winning runs was just icing on the cake.  I truly think the NL is superior and it was so great to see them finally rise above and show it.  The NL has now won three All Star Games and three World Series in a row; hopefully this trend will go on for a long time. 
I voted early this year and do not honestly remember who all I voted for.  I know I voted for mostly Braves with some Dodgers and Cardinals thrown in; oh, and Martin Prado.  When it came to the American League I was somewhat lost, since I do not follow it as closely.  The All Star Game presents a great way to learn about the players from teams that you may not follow; just another reason to love it.  The Braves got three in and the Dodgers, only one.  The Cardinals are well represented.  I’m disappointed that Freddie Freeman will not be able to play, but I am so glad that he won the final fan vote.  Yasiel Puig is very impressive and I would have definitely voted for him had a Brave not been in the running…but, well, Freddie.   He has been great offensively and defensively for years now and he deserved to go.  I’m excited that Brian McCann was chosen to be Freddie’s injury replacement.  As we learned in 2010, Brian McCann can make things happen.
A lot of people prefer the Home Run Derby (I have noticed that these are usually the same people who think baseball is boring).  Not me.  I think the Home Run Derby gets boring after a while.  It’s batting practice.  I will however say that it is special and touching when the player’s dad is throwing to them.  That is pretty awesome.  At least nothing is riding on the Home Run Derby, like home-field advantage for something really important.  I like small ball better and I think it would be so much fun if there were skills competitions much like the NHL does.  For example, they could test the faster guys to see who can steal a base fastest; the outfielders to see who can jump the highest to steal home runs; the pitchers to see who can pick off runners better; maybe even infield players to see who can turn the quickest double play; things like that.  Baseball is very situational, so it might be difficult to artificially create those scenarios, but at least it would be different. 
By the way, if you aren’t rushing home to watch the game, go out and pick up a copy of 42: The Jackie Robinson Story.  It comes out on Blu-Ray/DVD today.  I saw it in the theater.  It is an amazing movie.  I’m almost as excited about getting my copy as I am the game tonight!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Chicago: Part Two

Part two…..the part that actually qualifies this trip for a baseball blog:

The hand operated score board with the "W" flag after the game.
            Sunday we went to Wrigley Field and saw the Cubs take on the Astros.  Wrigley Field is definitely a place every baseball fan should visit.  Entering Wrigley Field was like stepping back in time.  There are not a lot of the frills you would find in other parks.  There is no jumbotron to watch replays or to show fans dancing and acting silly between innings; just a massive, majestic hand-operated scoreboard.  The ratio of organ music to stereo music is a lot higher than most other parks.  There are no shenanigans between innings; no costumed characters racing, no contests involving the fans.  There is just baseball.  The vibe is a lot more serious and business-like.  It’s refreshing.  The big team store is across the street, because in 1914 when Wrigley Field was built, I would imagine the need for a team store was much less.  Actually there are a lot of good size stores selling Cubs gear outside of the stadium.  The concourse areas are much narrower and the concessions areas are much smaller.  There are no areas to sit and eat or just hang out in the concourse area.  You are expected to take care of your business and go to your seats.  This park was built for baseball, not commercialism.  There is a possibility that a lot of renovations and updates may take place at the park after this season, including but not limited to a jumbotron.  I am so glad I was able to visit Wrigley before any of these major updates take place.

The view from our seats

                 I have to say our experience was good, but not ideal…because it was so hot that day.  As southerners from the southeast we sometimes have blinders on and feel like we have a monopoly on heat.  It gets so hot here and with the humidity it is miserable, and there is no way anywhere else can compare.  Everywhere else has a “dry heat” right?  And it’s just not the same.  Well, the heat that day at Wrigley Field rivaled any day I’ve spent at Turner Field.  We had great seats; right behind home plate, section 123.  We were on the first row of that section.  At most parks you would have a bar in front of you and a small drop off.  Not here; here we had nothing in front of us and all the leg room you could ask for.  If someone on our row needed to get up, it did not affect us one bit.  The only downside was that the vendors were walking around in front of us for most of the game.  I am embarrassed to say that we went to the wrong seats at first.  We had seats 101 and 102, and when I spotted seats 1 and 2 for some reason I thought that was close enough.  I’ve done that at Turner Field before; I don’t know why I do that.  We did not go to our seats until right before the game started because of the heat and the seats were in the sun.  During the second inning some people informed us that we were in their seats, so we moved to our actual seats.  Those seats were literally too hot to sit in.  We tried for about a minute and then decided we had to do something else; anything else.  We walked around the concourse area for about two innings. That is when this conversation took place:

Mom:  How long are we going to walk around out here?
Me:  I don’t know, but we cannot go back out there to those seats.  We’ll have third degree burns on our backsides.
Mom:  I don’t want to miss “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Me: You mean the seventh inning stretch?
Mom: Yeah
Me:  Well, it’s the third inning now, so I think we’ll make it.

            We went back to our seats during the fourth inning.  By that time our seats were in the shade and everything was bearable.  We knew we would eventually be in the shade because of how the sun was moving, but we simply could not wait it out.  The seats immediately behind home plate and along the first base line were never in the shade.  I do not know how those people stood it.  All in all we had a great time!  The Cubs won 14-6 so we got to see them raise the white W flag and hear the crowd sing “Go Cubs Go”.  I recommend a trip to Wrigley Field to any baseball fan.  It is such an institution.  And I recommend a trip to Chicago to anyone.  It is a great city with lots to do and see!         

Greg Maddux's number on display.  It is retired by the Cubs (as well as the Braves).

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Chicago: Part One

Chicago skyline as seen from Lake Michigan

Skydeck ledges on 103rd floor of the Willis Tower

            A couple of weeks ago my mom and I visited Chicago.  It was a great trip.  We arrived in Chicago at eight o’clock Friday morning, which means we left Birmingham at six o’clock.  It was soooo early; but it turned out to be a good thing because apparently over two hundred flights were canceled that day due to a computer glitch and the earliest ones were not affected.  We went straight to the hotel expecting to just check our bags since it was so early, but they had a room ready so we were able to go up and get settled.  After that we headed out for some Chicago style pizza.  Some friends of mine recommended that we go get pizza for lunch instead of dinner to avoid a long wait.  We went to Gino’s East.  It was quite tasty.   Next we caught the tour bus.  We had tickets to a double-decker bus tour of the city.  It was a hop on-hop off tour, with tickets good for three days, so we got on at the closest stop.  The next stop was at the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower).  We went up to the SkyDeck on the 103rd floor and went out on one of the ledges.  It was rainy Friday afternoon so the view was not as good as usual, but it was still really impressive.  After that we headed back to catch the double-decker tour bus.  It was delayed due to traffic so we got to wait on it in the rain.  Once we got on the bus we had to sit inside in the lower level because of the rain.  We were only a few stops from Navy Pier, so we got off there.  I had told myself while planning the trip that I didn’t want to go to any chain restaurants that I had been to before.  We were going to do all new, Chicago-y things.  But after getting up so early, and spending a good bit of the day in the rain, I wanted to go to Margaritaville.  My mom agreed, so that’s where we went.  This was not the first time we’ve gone to Margaritaville after a bad weather day during a vacation.  Last Spring during our frigid trip to Niagara Falls we also visited Margaritaville.  After dinner we went back to the hotel go to bed.  We were beat!  And had a lot to pack into the next two days.

Tour boat from architectural tour
            The next morning we went back to Navy Pier to catch an architectural boat tour.  We really enjoyed this tour.  It went a piece down Lake Michigan and then up the Chicago River; pointing out all of the historical buildings.  After the boat tour we rode the ferris wheel at Navy Pier then headed to lunch.  For lunch we went to the original Billy Goat Tavern.  Yes, that Billy goat.  See, the guy that opened the Billy Goat Tavern in 1934 is the same guy that tried to take his Billy goat to Wrigley Field in 1945 which is where the curse of the Billy goat comes from.  I will not rehash that story here, but it’s pretty interesting if you’re looking for something to read about, after reading this blog.  After lunch we got back on the double-decker bus tour, but this time to actually take the tour and not just for transportation.  That tour was great too.  This time we got to sit up top and actually see the tour.  We got off at Millennium Park and saw the bean.  Then we got back on and rode the bus to the John Hancock Observatory.  After that stop we had seen the entire double-decker bus tour.  We were going to eat in the restaurant at the John Hancock Observatory, but there was quite a wait.  So we ended up at The Grill in The Westin across the street.  It was really good and I had a War Eagle moment.  We overheard one of the men at the table next to us talking about SEC football, and then we heard him say that he had gone to Auburn and was there at the same time as Pat Sullivan.  So I went over to say “hello” and “War Eagle!”  After dinner it was almost time for the fireworks at Navy Pier so we went back there. 
Ferris wheel at Navy Pier
Cloud Gate aka The Bean at Millennium Park

            One of the most exciting things I noticed from the boat tour and the bus tour was that Chicago was ready for the Stanley Cup Finals!  Game five was that night in Chicago.  Chicago and Boston were tied 2-2 in the series.  We saw well wishes for the Blackhawks all over the city.  The lions outside of the Art Institute had on Blackhawks helmets, the brachiosaurus outside of the Field Museum had on a Blackhawks jersey and there were several signs, banners and flags.  The Blackhawks won 3-1 that night and went on to score two late goals Monday night in Boston to win 3-2 and to win the Stanley Cup.

One of the lions outside of the Art Institute

            I am doing my post about this trip in two parts, since it is somewhat lengthy.  Check back soon for our trip to Wrigley Field!