Fridays At Safeco

I am writing this at 4AM, because the heat has taken such a toll on me over the last 12 hours, and I could only sleep for about four hours or so. I get a lot of flack from people in more arid or humid states about complaining about the weather here in Seattle the past few years, because their weather is worse by comparison. But here’s the thing; I live here so I don’t have to deal with your ugly 90F, 80% humidity. Having the weather we’ve had in this area this year is not cool with me. The Pacific Northwest is supposed to be a lot more moderate weatherwise than it has been over the past five years or so. It kills my ability to sleep or any desire I might have to even go outside. The last game I went to was last Friday, and it was so unbelievably hot out, it’s a wonder the guys on the field didn’t just fall down with exhaustion. I wore the lightest clothing I had and was still miserable. My friend who doesn’t wear hats ever, BOUGHT A HAT to keep his head away from the sun (and I cannot emphasize enough how strange an event this was). This heat is not OK.

But I digress. Here are some pictures.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 4.18.47 AMAdam Jones, at the one Orioles game I was able to attend this year. The Mariners and Orioles are currently in the Wild Card chase, along with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays. I don’t know if Jones would have thrived here like he has in Baltimore, but I’d like to think he would have been an amazing long-term piece of our roster, if Bavasi hadn’t made that terrible move, and then Zduriencik had the sense to give him a good contract (I feel like he would have). When I was in Camden getting my “first game” certificate a few years ago, the people in the office there asked me why I was an Orioles fan (I was wearing my Mariners jersey), and I said “Adam Jones!” They all nodded in sage agreement. Baltimore understands what we gave up, and I’m still glad to have chosen the Os as my second team.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 4.19.16 AMKyle Seager gets ready to swat a ball. Having Seager out of the lineup the past two games has hurt us in the WC a bit, so I really hope he can recover from his foul ball issues soon. I understand we might get him back as soon as tonight, so that’s good. Keeping my fingers crossed. We can’t afford a lot of losses at this point, if we are to see games scheduled after the formal end of the season.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 4.21.13 AMThis is Jonathan Schoop. His first full year with Baltimore was 2014, also the year I went to Camden in April. I knew he was special then, because he ran the bases like he was born to do it. That same year, I got to see the Os win the AL East. Two years later, Schoop is still there. There are a lot of good players to choose from as favorites on Baltimore’s roster; Schoop might be my second.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 4.22.43 AMDae-Ho Lee, checking his swing late in the game. Lee’s production seems to have tapered off during the last half this year, but it hasn’t stopped fans from being really into him. His one-year contract makes me wonder if the Mariners will bring him back. At 34, perhaps a minor league contract? Admittedly I haven’t done much reading about what might happen for him, but this season will be super memorable because of him, so if nothing else, I can completely appreciate that. He’s been a fun surprise this year.

I have been watching games or making sure I check in on them at the very least; Tom is doing a tour this year, so I have been trying to balance my personal life with my baseball life, which means that I have missed some things and caught others, but I haven’t had a lot of time to sit and formulate opinions about what’s been going on. Recently, given the Wild Card situation we are facing, I have been trying to not take things too seriously, even though I know that things are pretty freaking serious right now for the Mariners. We have a little over a month left of regular season baseball. The team has been fraught with injury and players not panning out quite the way the organization had hoped. Usually it seems to be only the latter, so having both of these situations occur and still being in the Wild Card hunt is pretty impressive, if you think about it.

But I don’t want to get too invested, not with things this close. Down that road leads madness and heartache and a lot of swearing, and this year I’ve just been wanting to have fun watching baseball. Obviously I am pulling for this team, and I won’t allow our recent losses to dampen my spirits. I still think this team is the Real Thing, I still love my Mariners, and I am still keeping the words post season in the back of my mind. Not too far back, though, I might to use need them soon…

 

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Number 24 Gets Retired, And So Do The Angels

Really, this weekend could not have gone any better. I will be finishing it up by going out to play Pokemon GO! with some friends this afternoon while the Mariners finish up their series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. When you make plans and look forward to something for months, you envision certain things and maybe expect certain things out of what you’re going to do. We all do that to an extent, I think. Outside of waiting in super long lines both days (which wasn’t even really a burden, considering), these past 48 hours have gone pretty much exactly how I wanted them to, which is no small feat when your expectations are high. This weekend has met my expectations and them some. This may seem overreaching, but I honestly can’t thank either the Mariners organization or the residents of our fine city enough for making my weekend something I’ll remeber for the rest of my life. I could not have asked for anything more.

So yesterday, with thoughts that there would be no parking left because of a massive influx of early-arriving fans, I left the house a little too early. I managed to get free parking in the spot I use for work, and there were of course still plenty of other spaces around, so while I felt silly, I also felt smart. I walked north on 1st towards the stadium, where people were trickling into position in front of the gates. Not a lot of people, but enough that at 10.45AM it seems a little excessive; but I can’t blame anyone for their day. I went into the team store and purchased both commerative patches with what should have been more reservation, given the cost of $15 apiece, but I was having a good day and didn’t care.

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I walked to FX McRory’s, thinking maybe I’d have some coffee and breakfast while waiting for other people, but it turns out they’re not open until noon, so I went up the street to Cafe Umbria, got a cold brew and sat outside checking Twitter, where I found out that the Mariners had made some moves and had gotten none other than switch pitcher Pat Venditte! So I was stuck there, by myself, being extremely happy about this news and having nobody to share it with! Obnoxious, right? Ah well. At noon, I went to FX, pushed some tables together, and waited until people showed up. We didn’t get a lot of people, but we had more than I’d been able to claim table space for, and managed to fit everyone in still, eat and drink and talk, and in spite of a busy restaurant, got our checks and were able to leave to get in line on time. Meanwhile, Gregg Greene Tweeted this:

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The Ms were wearing 24 while taking batting practice; it was the last time that number will be worn by anyone anywhere within the Mariners organization. During actual BP, a lot of them were wearing their hats backwards also. I kind of wish I would have gone into the early entry for season ticket holders, but I’m OK with what we did, too.

Myself, Su, and our friends James and Tiffany waited in line to get in for around 45 minutes again, but this time we spent most of our time in the shade of Century Link, rather than on the sidewalk on Occidental. Again, the line stretched out far behind us as fans poured in from every direction. Again, Seattle was on its best behavior. Well done, all. Once inside, we hung around in The Pen underneath the new spot for retired numbers, where Jackie Robinson’s new plaque was already out and shiny new in the afternoon sun, and Griffey’s was veiled under a large Mariners insignia. We chatted with some other folks we knew, watched the Root Sports NW crew get ready, and when they closed the roof partially for jumbotron visibility, we went upstairs to find our seats before the ceremony started.

The field was all done up for the occasion:

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.25.19 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.25.32 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.25.44 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.26.15 AMThey even got the plane that usually flies the Geico ads around before the game to just knock it off for the day and fly a different banner:

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.25.55 AMThe Mariners big whigs and Griffey’s wife and daughter came and sat in their chairs on the field. The Griffey sons were not on hand for the ceremony, and neither was Griffey Sr. The kids had football practice for their respective schools.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.26.26 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.26.36 AM

Then they started the presentation and whoa the star power! Baseball players both old and young, singing the praises of the guy they played with or the guy they grew up emulating. Other athletes who’d worn the number 24. Hall of Famers and soon-to-be Hall of Famers. Randy Johnson. Jamie Moyer. Alvin Davis. Edgar Martinez. After the initial presentation, Rick Rizzs stepped to the podium and said “Myyyyyy oh my!” to a thunderous roar from the crowd. He introduced Griffey, and I thought he was going to come out on the red carpet, but should have known better; they let him out of the center field gate, and all 45,000+ people in the crowd were on their feet. He walked across the field towards the dais area, waving at everyone.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.26.48 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.26.58 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.27.11 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.27.21 AMWhen he got to the corner of the 2 there, he kissed his fingers and bent down for a moment to touch the grass. Crowd went wild, of course.

Griffey greeted everyone on the dais and then Rizzs announced the guys you knew were going to be there, Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson, Jamie Moyer, and Edgar Martinez (in uniform, who came out of the dugout but didn’t stay on the field).

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I think my white balance was a little off for yesterday’s cloudy sun glare, but you get the idea.

Rizzs then announced that Seattle’s mayor Ed Murray had proclaimed that yesterday would be Ken Griffey Jr day in Seattle. It was not clarified if this would be a yearly situation or not, but the thought was nice. The Space Needle has been decked out appropriately for the weekend, anyway.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.28.39 AMTo complete the group on the dais, retired Hall of Fame Seahawks Cortes Kennedy and Steve Largent joined in, along with Seattle Sonics Spencer Haywood and Gary Payton.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.28.49 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.29.05 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.29.16 AMTony Perez and Rickey Henderson also joined the party. Then (and I should really start taking note pads for this stuff, but I thought I’d remember), Griffey was given a bronze glove by an athlete I do not know. I feel poorly about this, but my grasp on the history of the Mariners before I got into baseball is still being filled in, let alone any knowledge I might have of the Sonics or Seahawks. I believe it’s Gary Payton. The woman on the players’ side is of course Marilyn Neihaus. I have only met Marilyn once, and she was a very sweet lady. It makes me happy to have her around and still active with the organization.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.29.28 AMInterspersed with everything were more recorded accolades on the jumbotron, including Willie Mays, who was giving Junior hassle for not calling him when he got elected to go to the Hall of Fame. As the clips were still rolling, Griffey took his phone out and – you guessed it – dailed Mays. He left a message, according to multiple reports, but he did in fact call.

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Mariners president Kevin Mathers took just a bit of time to announce that next year, there will be a Griffey statue outside the stadium. I’m not sure where, I think the home plate entrance. This is fantastic, as every other stadium I have been to has a statue or multiple statues of ball players from the team’s past. If we’re going to start with anyone, it should be Griffey; and how amazingly appropriate that the other statue will also be Dave Niehaus, of course.

Then it was time. Griffey’s daughter Taryn had somehow snuck out without notice to the deck in center field for the unveiling of the number. You can see her in the white right above it.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.29.47 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.29.57 AMAnd just like that, it was done.

Griffey took the podium to say some words, and while all of this drama was going on, Taijuan Walker still had to continue warming up in the outfield.

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This speech seemed a little more polished and a little more smooth than the one he gave at the Hall of Fame, but it was still tremendously emotional. Maybe it was that he was speaking at “home”, and that a number retirement is a little less harrowing than the actual induction ceremony, I don’t know. And there were thanks, of course, but the most important thing he might have said is (paraphrased, regarding the players waiting in the dugout) ‘These guys are playing for you, for the city.’ Then “Keep supportin’ these guys.” This of course set of a roar from the audience. Then he said, in regards to Henderson’s frequent self-referential comportment; “Lastly, Rickey, you were the greatest. Today, I’m the greatest. Thank you.”

After his speech was over, the whole team came out to congratulate, and have their photo taken:

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And after all of that, we still had a game to play!

Taijuan Walker took the hill against Tyler Skaggs and things started off on a bad foot, with another three-run homer by who else but Mike freaking Trout.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.31.05 AMScreen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.31.16 AMThat’s not Trout, but it is Chris Iannetta, who was so miserable at the bat yesterday that they replaced him with Mike Zunino in around the 6th or 7th inning. I like Iannetta well enough, I guess; I mean, I certainly did at one point in time. But he’s had some hard games  since just before the All Star break, and is sort of following down the line of a lot of other catchers we’ve had. I am hoping his issues are just temporary.

Shawn O’Malley was truly the big deal of the game last night, hitting the HR that would put us over the Angels for the rest of the game, and making a fantastic play on the field to get an out at first. I didn’t see this latter bit as I was on Twitter for a moment. Twitter is both fantastic and detrimental for me this way. The crowd erupted multiple times in “Shawn O-Mal-ley! *clap clap clapclapclap* chants for the remainder of the game. Franklin Gutierrez was a triple away from hitting a cycle (those triples are so difficult to get), and Guillermo Heredia hit his first major league home run EVER. It was a crazy night. We also got some relief from Tom Wilhelmsen and of course Edwin Diaz to close it all out again.

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The final out of the game was a double play to gun out the runner at first, and it was clearly and easily called by the first base umpire, but Mike Scioscia – in what has to be one of the most ludicrous moves I’ve seen in a while by a manager – decided he wanted to challenge the play. I don’t know how easily managers are embarrassed (probably not easily), but the review took almost no time at all, as the replay showed the runner out at first by a mile. The guys waited on the hill with the home plate ump while the call was maintained.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.32.12 AMAnd of course it was, and we all went nuts at the win.

Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki was called in to pinch hit in a game in Colorado, and got hit 2,999. You can see a .gif of the hit at Angie Mentink’s Twitter feed from last night. He was up anothe time in that game, but did not get number 3,000. The press was ready, however.   He is in the lineup for the Marlins in Denver today, and may get his hit while I am out and about.

Shawn O’Malley was interviewed for the post game, and got a giant tub of orange Gatorade dumped on him, and the crowd was so loud with cheers and chanting his name that the interview was barely audible over it all. O’Malley said he’d never had anything like that done for him before, and couldn’t stop smiling. He said he could hear us all during the game, so that answers a question I had over whether or not that might be true.

I’ve probably missed a bunch of stuff that I should have taken notes on to remember, but the past two days have been amazing, and an event I think a lot of us will be talking about for years to come. As I’m posting this, James Paxton is pitching in the top of the 3rd inning, with a 1-0 score in the Angels favor. I would love a sweep, but won’t be able to finish watching this game due to prior obligations. That’s OK. There are 162 games in a season, and every once in a while I could use a break. We’ll get back on the train tomorrow evening.

Oh, and lest I forget…a lot of teams have retired player numbers. But do those numbers light up? I think not. Congratulations, Kid. Enjoy your retirement.

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Los Angeles Cumplen Con El Diablo

Tonight was the start of a series against the Angels, and a weekend to honor Ken Griffey Jr’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And what a night it was!

I met Su at FX McRory’s for a quick post-work drink and some water, and we departed to go get into what we knew would be a pretty long line to get in. What we didn’t know was exactly how long that line would be. Coming from the north along Occidental, the line to get into Safeco Field extended to almost where the Elysian brewpub is. By the time we’d been on line for 10 minutes, the crowd in back of us had grown past that. Another 20 minutes, and it looked like it wound all the way to King Street! I have never seen such a thing; not on Opening Day, not for a Yankees game, never. I was fortunate enough to have remembered my small umbrella to block the sun, and there was a breeze so we weren’t suffering too badly, but it was a much longer line than I’d thought we’d be in. I feel I also need to give the residents of this city massive credit for good behavior. Nobody cut in front of us or even attempted to, nobody raised voices at anyone else, nobody complained. The family of four in front of us smeared sunblock on themselves and granted us the scent of pineapple for a good half hour, and when the gates opened at 4.40PM, the line moved at a decent enough clip that all told we were in line for maybe 45 minutes or so. Not too shabby, and everyone played nice.

Once inside the park and with our bobbleheads secured (and a warning from one of the door staff to not sell any photos I might take when she found my camera), we got ourselves some food and drink and stood around in The Pen people watching. We decided to visit Edgar’s, too, which wasn’t too crowded, and chatted with the bar staff and then with Shannon Drayer briefly about her trip to Cooperstown to cover the induction before she had to go do her job elsewhere in the stadium. Around 6PM, we decided to head upstairs and grab some icy soda and find our seats.

The weather was fantastic today, and the grounds crew was decked out in some fancy new duds:

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.14.47 PMThe players for both teams also chatted with each other and warmed up, and the bullpen took their walk to their center field gate.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.17.06 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.17.19 PMI read on Twitter that Felix Hernandez showed up in center field taking his practice tosses with his cap on backwards, but did not see it for myself. A good choral group did a fantastic arrangement of the National Anthem after the Angels’ lineup was announced, and then it was time to get things started. Felix’s song started, the All Rise signs came on, and we all stood up and cheered as he walked across the field with Mike Zunino and Mel Stottlemyre.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.18.07 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.18.17 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.18.31 PMThis part always makes me choke up a bit. Felix is so, so awesome, even when he’s not. The sign should be gold, but refresh rates between my 5-year-old Canon and an HD video bar are not compatible.

The game did not start well, and for a fleeting half-inning, I was wondering if things were going to go poorly again for us, after last night’s brutal extra innings loss to Boston. The Angels put two on in the first and then Felix let Mike Trout have a home run to plate three. After that disheartening start, they rolled out a red carpet and brought Griffey out, all suited up, to wave to everyone, which caused a massive roar from the crowd, of course.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.18.46 PMIt must have also lit a bit of a fire under the Mariners, who came back with three runs of our own against Tim Lincecum, who has been battling in recovery from major hip surgery, and who simply didn’t have anything going on tonight. I am a fan of Lincecum’s; have been since the first time I saw him throw a game with the Giants a while back. I can’t really speak for anyone but myself, but I get the impression that Tim is beloved by many other fans in Seattle; he’s a local, and a fantastic pitcher, and he’s the one that got away so many years ago when our scouting department shrugged and said “meh, he doesn’t really looke like a baseball player, let’s go with Brandon Morrow instead“. That sound you may be hearing is my brain silently screaming at a long distant memory. But I digress…

Timmy just couldn’t figure us out tonight and by the time we were done with him, we had six runs to the Angels’ three, and Lincecum didn’t even so much as get a chat on the mound; he just gave up his ball and went back to the dugout after 3 & 1/3 innings of singles and doubles and a Mike Zunino home run, and sat, looking dejected. I took a bunch of photos, because I fear that tonight may have been the last time I will see Lincecum throw a major league game. I hope that’s not the case and that he can bounce back. But tonight was not his night.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.19.11 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.19.29 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.20.09 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.21.00 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.22.31 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.22.45 PMI watched and thought at first that Lincecum’s teammates had not acknowledged his removal from the hill; but clearly in that photo above he got a consolation butt patt from one of the guys. A rough night for a great player.

Felix, on the other hand, settled down after his rough first inning, and dealt to the Angels like he was on fire.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.21.36 PMWith the help of a swiftly-improving Mike Zunino, of course…

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.21.48 PMZunino has been great since coming back from Tacoma, and this makes me very very happy because Felix loves him; their teamwork is amazing and heartwarming, and I’m so glad to see Zuni back here in an Ms uniform. And it was a pretty spectacular uniform tonight, odes to throwbacks with special patches on the sleeves.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.23.22 PMOn the way back to West Seattle from taking Su home, I got treated to 710ESPN absolutely oozing praise over Zunino’s improved bat and always-awesome pitch framing. Nobody is happier for this guy than I am; I mean, unless you count this guy, of course. The work he’s been doing in Tacoma is clearly paying off, and I hope it continues to do so.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.21.22 PMMore fancy groundkeepers!

The Angels would only get one more run, a solo shot from Jeff Bandy in the 5th inning, and Felix pitched 8 innings before delivering the game to the darkened stadium and way-too-short strobe lit entry of Edwin Diaz, who took the field while Felix watched from the dugout, shirt untucked, bleached hair slicked back. Diaz was, as Dave Niehaus might say, DIABOLICAL. And I haven’t seen the stadium go that nuts for a closer in…a very long time. We’ve had years of vague cheers as really loud music plays and lighting and art direction happens all over the stadium while Brandon League, or Brandon Morrow, or David Aardsma set foot onto the outfield grass and trot to the diamond, proceeding with their warmup tosses. During a lot of those games, I might have been the loudest one. But tonight was different. Tonight was…electric. People stood up. They screamed. They clapped, they made it known that they knew who Diaz was and what he was about to do. And wow did he do it. On 13 pitches, Diaz took out both Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, then Andrelton Simmons, all three swinging. And while I have seen Diaz clocked at around 100MPH, his pitch speed was anywhere between there and 85. Absolutely, undeniably, diabolical.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.23.49 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.23.59 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.24.35 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 11.24.47 PMThe crowd went nuts, the Mariners congratulated themselves on a job well done, and Su and I filed out into the night with thousands of other people who had packed the stadium for a fantastic game.

It is now technically Saturday as I write this, and I am looking forward to getting some sleep and doing this all again…later today? Tomorrow? Saturday evening, in any event.

And even though I doubt anyone is still up, please feel free to join a small crowd of us at FX McRory’s on King and Occidental starting between noon and 1pm for some pre-game drinks and/or food. We’re going to sit around and socialize for a few hours and then head to the stadium for the game. I am shooting to be there by 12.30PM to get a table for at least 10 of us, since we have no formal headcount. Come on down and talk baseball and whatever else with some good people in a casual atmosphere before we all scatter to the corners of Safeco Field to watch Taijuan Walker take on Los Angeles and Tyler Skaggs, and  see Ken Griffey Jr’s number 24 be retired next to Jackie Robinson’s (newly-cleaned and shiny) number 42! It’s going to be a great day for a baseball game!

Oh, and here’s your moment of zen…

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Fridays At Safeco, In Cooperstown

So many things I want to address with the Mariners lately (I have a whole essay on closers I desperately need to work on, after Monday night’s Steve Cishek incident), but work and life are still happening, and lately I’m lucky to be able to stay up for an entire game on TV, let alone actually going to one.

This weekend, however, there will be a lot of baseball. Tomorrow night, of course, starts Ken Griffey Jr Weekend, with a Hall of Fame bobblehead night tonight, then his number retirement ceremony tomorrow (and by the way, if you’re reading this and going to Saturday’s game, join us at FX McRory’s for some pre-baseball shenanigans with Lookout Landing. Details here.) So because the Hall of Fame is a Pretty Big Deal(TM), I thought I’d reshare my favorite plaques from the winter I was there a few years back. I don’t need to caption any of these, they easily speak for themselves.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.23.39 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.23.51 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.25.46 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.25.56 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.26.06 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.26.18 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.26.28 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.24.08 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.24.22 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.24.38 PMAnd of course:

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.24.52 PMAll of these players were fantastic, and the Hall of Fame is a great and somber place if you’re a baseball fan. At least it was in the cold month of December, when it was very sparsely populated and easy to see everything without obstruction or lines. And this year, all of these baseball players who have made up the great history of this game will be joined by one more:

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.31.55 PMWell, two if you count Mike Piazza, but this is a Mariners blog, and we won’t be getting Piazza bobbleheads tonight.

I’ve been looking forward to this weekend since they announced it was going to take place when the schedule was released. I think I have sunglasses that are large enough to hide any tears that might leak out of my face on Saturday, but I imagine the chorus of sniffles will be pretty loud all around me. The weather is also looking like it’s going to be just perfect for the occasion, so as things stand, I don’t think we could ask for anything more.

See you at the ballpark!

 

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The Village of Cooperstown

At the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony last Sunday, they announced that some 50,000 people had descended on Cooperstown for the party to honor Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. Cooperstown, in case you weren’t aware, has a listed population of 1,834, so suffice it to say that things were pretty tight.

If you want to go to the Hall of Fame to visit the museum and check out the plaques and such, I don’t think I’d recommend going on Induction Weekend. Even though my folks and I had come in as part of a trip sponsored by the Hall and therefore got to avoid the long lines to go inside, it was still too packed to really enjoy poring over the artifacts and enjoy the exhibits. I’d been to the Hall and Museum back in 2009, so I spent most of my Museum time trying to catch up on a few things that I had missed and the new exhibits that were out there.

Ultimately, the Hall of Fame is not everything I want it to be. There’s far too much talk for my liking about celebrating the character of the ballplayers who played the game. I’m not sure how they can say all of that with a straight face when you’ve got Ty Cobb in there who was by all reports an absolute demon on the field, sliding into bases like Chase Utley did in last year’s NLDS; Cap Anson, who is often credited with playing a large role in the Gentlemen’s Agreement that segregated the top levels of white baseball until Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson; and even more recent players like Roberto Alomar who recently got in on his second ballot in 2011, despite his spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck during and argument in 1996.

I think the Hall is missing something. For example, there are several Ichiro artifacts around the museum, including jerseys and Amy Franz’s “Ichi-Meter” sign from 2004 when he collected 262 hits in a season to break the record set by George Sisler in 1922, but there wasn’t much to explain the cultural significance of him as the first Japanese-born position player in MLB. The omission of that story is nearly criminal in my opinion, because without that, Ichiro is just another player. The Hall does a poor job advocating for why the players and executives enshrined there are important. I like to think I know baseball pretty well, but I couldn’t tell you what makes Paul Waner compelling.

I digress. I was there for Griffey, as were some tens of thousands of other Mariners fans, and with the Hall of Fame and Museum being pretty well backed up, I took to Main Street to check out some of the other attractions in town like the “Heroes of Baseball” Wax Museum. Much less crowded, and certainly worth our while, it was a good hour-plus of entertainment as we walked by recreations of certain scenes and culturally important players like Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson before winding up in front of a wax statue of Griffey in the follow-through of his swing.

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Even if you’re not going to visit the Hall itself, there’s plenty to do in Cooperstown for Induction Weekend. If you’re an autograph seeker, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to stand in line and have a retired player sign for you. Cooperstown shops also have plenty of gear for each team and its Hall of Famers if you want a memento. In one of the newer traditions, they have a parade on the Saturday night before the ceremony where the previous inductees who are in town each ride in on the back of a Ford truck and wave to the crowd and accept the cheers of fans. Everyone had their phones and/or cameras out, myself included, so I’ll share some of my favorite shots:

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Rickey Henderson

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Frank Thomas

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Pedro Martinez

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Ken Griffey Jr.

For the folks who didn’t line up for autographs, this is the closest proximity you’ll probably get to these guys, and it was fun seeing them soak up the spotlight and entertain a little – especially those more-recent inductees whose on-field exploits are more fresh in the memories of the attendees. I mean, it’s a great accomplishment that Jim Palmer got a Pitcher Win in World Series games in three separate decades and won three Cy Young Awards, but his career ended in 1984 and I just can’t speak to his career like I can to Randy Johnson.

I’m not a big autograph seeker; there are few players who I would just want to have sign for the sake of signing, but I did get one. As I walked down Main Street on Sunday, heading to lunch before the ceremony, I happened upon a card table where Dolly Niemiec sat. Dolly played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, featured in the film “A League of Their Own.” This was one autograph I couldn’t pass up, and it struck me as somehow more historic than chasing after Hall of Fame ballplayers. She was gracious enough to take a picture with me, which was one of the cooler moments I had in town.

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On a crowded weekend, it felt good to just keep soaking up experiences and avoid long lines. There’s enough to keep you busy for a day in town even if you don’t spend much time in the Museum, but if you want to go for the Hall itself, you’re going to need a couple of days at the least. I’d suggest going up for the ceremony, visiting New York City, and then coming back a few days later once things have calmed down a little bit. You won’t be the first to see the plaque that way, but I think it would be a much more pleasurable experience.

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On Fenway Park (and the Yankees)

Fenway Park bills itself as “Americas Most Beloved Ballpark,” but I’m just not sure that’s true. That said, it’s probably number one in the American League. I’ve got to think that Wrigley Field in Chicago has it beat, but that could be changing depending on what you think of the big video screens installed at the Friendly Confines.

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What I will say, though, is when you’re sitting in the seats watching a baseball game at Fenway (and at Wrigley, too), you definitely feel like you’re watching a baseball game. Perhaps the cost of this is that you’re not going to be watching the game from the concourse. For what it’s worth, I haven’t quite put my finger on what it is that makes a ballpark feel like a baseball park.

I’m spitballing here, but it could be the shade of green.

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That green is on the facades, the outfield walls, and the bleacher seats (except one, where Ted Williams famously hit a 501-foot home run), and it’s almost a defining characteristic of the park.

In some ways, though, Fenway wasn’t so great a place to watch a game. Their scoreboards and video screens were hard to read at times and didn’t always give particularly relevant information. In particular: Red Sox players don’t wear names on the back of their uniforms, but there wasn’t really anywhere to look to see the players’ numbers listed. Their lineup on the scoreboard above the right field bleachers only listed the players’ names and fielding positions.

That being said, the Red Sox did a good job of maintaining the old-time style with their presentation. The font in that first photo above does a nice job matching what’s posted on the scoreboard on the front of the Green Monster in left field, and making it feel more human. I didn’t have a good shot of the hand-operated board, but you can click here to check out a still of one of their scoreboard operators updating National League scores back in 2010.

What surprised me the most, I think, was how excited I was to see the Citgo sign beyond the Green Monster.

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It’s difficult to see since the start of the 2003 season when they added a couple hundred seats on top of Major League Baseball’s tallest outfield fence, but it was a staple of watching night games played at Fenway for generations. You should be able to get a good look at it if you watch, say, the 1999 Home Run Derby, so long as you’re watching a righty take aim. I guess it didn’t quite hit me that I was in Boston until I saw that sign walking around the neighborhood around the park.

Boston’s fans were pretty active in the game; I don’t think I heard a single clap prompt from the stadium PA, but people got jacked up for a few key at-bats, especially if David Ortiz was set to hit. He put one in the back of the Red Sox bullpen early in the game and had a chance to win it in the 9th with Boston down one and a man on first, but he grounded into a double play to end it. At one point in the game, a guy sitting near me said to his kid that he should remember this game because two Hall-of-Famers, Ortiz and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, homered in the same game. I told him, “Sure, but you’ve gotta get my boy Edgar in first.” His response, “Edgar who?” nearly made me a Yankee fan. Perhaps I was a little hyped up after taking the tour of the ballpark that afternoon and being reminded that Mo Vaughn won the 1995 AL MVP, though he registered just 4.3 WAR per Baseball Reference (Edgar Martinez had 7.0 WAR, Vaughn’s teammate John Valentin had 8.3, and Randy Johnson had 8.7 in the strike-shortened season; 11 of the 19 players receiving a vote for the award earned more WAR than Vaughn), but maybe give it up for the best DH to ever play the game and the guy who helped keep a team in Seattle (which I’d argue is bigger than any championship)?

I was a Red Sox fan for 2003 and 2004, until they actually won the World Series and everybody jumped on that bandwagon like they were long-suffering from the ’75 World Series or the ’86 World Series or the ’41 MVP vote or what-have-you. It seemed like all of the Yankees fans turned in their gear and became Sox fans overnight.

I’ve come to appreciate Yankees fans because they’re mostly self-aware. They know they have their ownership can go out and get any free agent desired, they’ve won a ton. They understand they’re the bad guy and they seem to enjoy that role (though I still can’t get over the fact that their PA used the Imperial March from Star Wars to introduce the Orioles instead of the home nine). Red Sox fans seem to still think everyone loves them, like Red Sox Nation is still a thing with meaning.

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Thursdays at… The Bronx?

It’s a common goal to see all 30 Major-League ballparks, and I suppose it’s a goal for me as well, though I’m in no rush to plow through all of them. By my count, I’ve visited 12 ballparks; the Kingdome, Safeco Field, the Oakland Coliseum, AT&T Park in San Francisco, Coors Field, Wrigley Field, U.S. Cellular Field (Comiskey Park), Wrigley Field, the Metrodome, new Busch Stadium, Miller Park, old County Stadium (Milwaukee), and would have gone to Jacobs Field in Cleveland had it not snowed in 2007. Lucky number 13 is the new Yankee Stadium up in the Bronx.

In the fine Section 331 tradition, I have pictures for you! There are a handful of trains that send you to just outside Yankee Stadium, and my folks and I caught the D Line train up to about two blocks from the ballpark. We were a little surprised to see so many Orioles fans on the train, but perhaps it was no coincidence, as the train platform was decked out in Orioles colors:

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Like Wrigleyville in Chicago around the home of the Cubs, the neighborhood around Yankee Stadium certainly was aware it was next to a ballpark. Take for evidence this storefront roll door featuring Satchel Paige:

 

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After we walked a block and got under the elevated 4 train, we were in clear sight of the ballpark. We entered in through Gate 6 and the ballpark’s “Great Hall.”

 

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Though you can’t see the game from here, it’s a nice wide concourse to meet up with folks pregame, and it’s open to the outdoors, which makes it feel even larger. After milling around there for a bit, I took some video so you could see what it’s like to enter the ballpark:

 

 

No batting practice was taken in advance of the afternoon game, so we walked around to Monument Park. Located in center field, you need to walk around and into a concrete tunnel under the bleachers in order to access it. The Yankees honor all of their players with retired numbers there, and the ownership from early on which transformed the Yankees into the Yankees in the 20s and 30s.

 

Here’s the thing, though: the monument for George Steinbrenner is larger than any three of the players’, and it just reminds you of how much you hate the Yankees if you’re not a fan of the team. A Steinbrenner memorial also stands above the right-center-field bleachers.

 

I was actually really pleased with the upper-deck. The upper level is split so you get a really open feel when walking around the concourse, though you can’t exactly see the game from the concourse since the game is so far below you. The tickets I had were below the split, which were nice for view of the game, but offered no protection from the sun.

 

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My mom was pretty well affected by the 80-degree heat and humidity, so she staked out a spot above the split, where I joined her late in the game after I’d spent two-plus hours getting burnt and talking to Yankee fans. I was glad I did, though, since it led to this shot:

 

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When walking the concourse, though, the Yankees were pretty regularly letting you know that other people were paying more money for a more exclusive experience at the game, like this terrace in the upper concourse that was only available to suite ticket holders:

 

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As far as the game was concerned, I couldn’t believe I didn’t see a home run in a ballpark that was so small. Baltimore scored two in the first and wound up with a 4-1 victory, beating CC Sabathia on his birthday. The first inning took 30 minutes as a total of 12 batters came up to hit between each side. Only five batters reached base in the second-through-sixth innings, which got us back on track for a 2-hour, 50-minute game.

 

I was also interested in seeing how the Yanks’ game operations manage their inning-breaks and entertainment. It struck me that they couldn’t decide if they wanted to be serious or play by the Rule of Fun.

 

The Yankees had several pregame presentations, but despite the fact that one of them involved honoring two of the Tuskegee Airmen, there just wasn’t a lot of fanfare about them. In fact, the Yankees didn’t even have a solo singer or musician come out for the National Anthem; instead they used a recording of the U.S. Army band, and I was shocked. I haven’t been to a pro game where that’s happened before, but the fans behind me told me it was a common occurrence.

 

All told, I was pretty happy with Yankee Stadium even for some of its faults. I was probably a bit lucky to go on a Thursday afternoon when there was a ticket discount, since cost has got to be the single-worst part of The Stadium: even discounted upper-level tickets were still $24 each.

 

In the next few days I’ll be sure to give you some more on Yankee Stadium, Cooperstown, and Boston, where I’ll be visiting Fenway Park.

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