It Was All Over, Including the Shouting

2014 MLB Opening Week stencil on the field at Oakland Coliseum. April 2, 2014

On April 2, I caught the second half of a double-header between the Oakland Athletics and the Cleveland Indians. (The game had been rescheduled from the previous evening, due to rain.) I sat close the Indians’ dugout. The cheeks in my section’s seats were just as likely to belong to a Tribe fan, as an A’s fan. My people showed up well, and in respectable numbers. Even so, after the game I felt lucky to escape Oakland Coliseum with my Indians jersey intact.

What is UP with Oakland fans? Some of them are crazy, and I don’t mean in a zany, entertaining, endearing way. I suppose if I had to watch baseball in a dilapidated stadium with regular sewage back-ups and remnants of the Raiders’ gridiron still visible in August, I’d be bitter too. In fact, I have traditionally favored building the A’s a new stadium south of San Francisco, because they are an excellent team and lifting them up would be good for baseball. Now, I’m not so sure.

Forget the bleachers, it would seem that the nastiest A’s fans prefer to sit near first base, close to the visitor’s dugout — for maximum heckling effect. They don’t just ridicule opposing players; they also deride their fans, should they dare to cheer audibly. It’s as if they enjoy HATING the opposition more than they like cheering for their own team, which seems twisted and sad.

First baseman Nick Swisher joined the Tribe two years ago, and I’ve seen him play in Oakland before. Each time, A’s fans hurl hateful insults at him like I’ve never heard. I mean it, and I’m from CLEVELAND, where LeBron James committed his crimes against humanity. I understand justified vitriol of fans who have been wronged – but LeBron voluntarily took his talents to Miami in 2010. Since then, like most Cavs fans, I have pulled myself together and moved on.

Nick Swisher left Oakland six seasons ago, and not even by choice! He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2008, before again being traded to the New York Yankees. One particularly odious Oakland fan heckled Swisher over and over for his greediness, how much he got paid per strikeout etc., so I assume he thought Swisher had jumped ship to the Yankees for their deep pockets. Unfortunately this ill-informed joker didn’t shut up all night.

Another bad, bad fan sat nearby, solo. (I was also a party of one, but at least I have decent photos to show for it.) This guy drank a lot, and appeared to seethe even when the A’s led on the scoreboard – which was often. His favorite taunt? “You WEEEEEAAAAAK!” Not “you are weak” or “you’re weak”. But “YOU WEAK”. He even called Indians catcher Carlos Santana weak after he got a hit. A double. Whatever.

This sad little man belittled Santana with racist insults I won’t repeat here, because they honestly made me sick to my stomach. (I heard similar taunting, to a much lesser extent, at a spring training game in March.) As if that wasn’t bad enough, strangers around the idiot LAUGHED. I overheard another heckler say, “This guy is so funny, he could keep me going all night!” Oh.My.God.

I refuse to accept the “nervous laughter” defense here. If you are nervous try biting your nails, grinding your teeth or indulging in emotional eating like a normal person. Do not giggle or chuckle. It only encourages a bigot.

Meanwhile, Oakland Coliseum “Guest Services” personnel stood around looking bored. I still am not sure what services they provide.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. This last heckler also went after shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera a few times, but inadvertently referred to him as “Melky”. Such was the level of aptitude I was surrounded by. I was tempted to point out that Melky Cabrera is a different player who has never worn an Indians uniform, but the risk of a “they all look alike to me” comeback was just too high.

So it was only fitting that the Indians turned things around in the 9th inning, with the help of A’s pitcher Jim Johnson. Things got very quiet, except for an occasional insult redirected at Johnson, instead of my Tribe. The Indians won, 6-4. As I packed up my camera equipment, I couldn’t help but notice that the heckling mob had already dissipated. Guess they were worried about traffic on a chilly Wednesday night. In Oakland, California. At 9:30 p.m.

Funny, Nick Swisher appeared to find the post-game atmosphere quite comfortable. Very satisfying.

I could say “suck it”, but I won’t. Instead I’ll say, Roll Tribe.. and congratulations to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who signed a six-year, $52.5 million contract with the Indians today — one day after his 27th birthday.

I called it first: He’s a keeper. Happy birthday Jason.

Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis celebrates the Tribe's taking the lead in the 9th inning at Oakland Coliseum. April 2, 2014.
Jason Kipnis, back when he was 26.

3 Observations From 2014 Spring Training

Child's hand holding a baseball with the Cleveland Indians logo, waiting for a player to sign itI returned from Scottsdale and Cactus League baseball less than 48 hours ago, and am clinging desperately to the last shreds of my spring training vacation buzz. I didn’t have much time to blog and post photos while I was away, so now I’m playing catch(!) up. (Playing catch? See what I did there?) I also have some reflections on my five days in the Arizona desert.

America’s pastime isn’t always pretty: I often hear Bay Area dwellers caveat something going on around us with, “but of course, we live in a bubble.” It’s a good economy bubble, thanks to the Silicon Valley, as well as a great weather bubble – and as a result, San Francisco attracts a lot of young, educated, physically active people. Live here long enough, and you can lose sight of how the rest of America actually looks and behaves. Spring training in Scottsdale delivers an eyeful of reality.

I am not a perfect physical specimen, and I struggle to maintain a healthy weight, yet when I’m at Spring Training I often find myself both reassured (“Hey, maybe I’m not in such bad shape!”), and alarmed by the amount of morbid obesity around me. Listen, like most fans I indulge in ballpark food with relish (and mustard) – but it’s shocking to see so many overweight, middle-aged people sucking down multiple beers, foot-long chili cheese dogs and double cone soft serve ice cream… then hiring a golf cart to ride – rather than walk — .8 miles to their hotel. A few of these folks may have an injury or disability that impacts their mobility, but not THAT many.

If you see a slim person at Spring Training, it’s dollars to doughnuts (pun intended) that he/she is under 25 years of age, with a metabolism that is still working overtime. And if she’s a woman, she’s probably wearing false eyelashes, a push-up bra, a skin-tight tank top and very short shorts. One such young woman stood next to me before Sunday’s Giants/Indians game, as I took some of the photos below. Flashing her ample cleavage and a button declaring “It’s My Birthday”, she got lots of autographs from Indians players, despite not knowing their names or the positions they play. I SUSPECT it wasn’t the birthday button that did the trick. Speaking of autographs…

I don’t get the autograph thing: Maybe I’m bitter, because the first (and last) autograph I ever got — from Chris Evert, who I adored as a kid and still think is pretty awesome – I misplaced almost immediately, and was heartbroken. I guess I was so scarred by the loss, it soured me on the whole autograph-getting experience. So I am fascinated by grown men who jostle and elbow their way to the edge of the field each day, hoping to get a signature on a ball or cap brim. Many of them enjoy telling players stories as they sign, like “I was at the game where you hit that homer off Clayton Kershaw”, or whatever. The players politely nod and say things like, “Oh yeah? That’s cool.” Once they have an autograph in hand, these men beam like little boys.

To each his own, right? The autograph frenzy only bothers me when I see a father pushing his kid HARD to get a signature, and it’s clearly the dad’s thing. The kid doesn’t care. In fact, before the aforementioned Giants/Indians game, a dad – who I’m pretty sure is an otherwise good guy and loving father – forced his super-shy son to the front of the crowd. When the kid hung back and an Indians player missed him as he moved down the line signing for fans, the dad got overly enthusiastic and shouted “little boy right there, you missed a little boy to your right, little boy, little boy”. The player stopped cold, glared and asked, “You telling me to sign?” He eventually signed the boy’s ball, and father and son thanked him. It was awkward. I was sorry for the dad, getting schooled in front of the crowd. But I also sympathize with players, who must get fed up with pushy fans treating them like employees who OWE THEM an autograph.

Shop much?: The only thing at spring training that’s more frantic than a line of autograph hounds, is the San Francisco Giants shop in Scottsdale Stadium. Step inside and it’s like you’ve been sucked into the famous Running of the Brides at Filene’s basement. There is pushing, shoving and general rudeness by fans who are seemingly unaware that there are Dugout Stores all over the Bay Area, or that most Giants swag is available online. Not sure how they manage to function in society in the off-season. The weird thing is, while the Cleveland Indians/Cincinnati Reds shop at Goodyear Ballpark is always crowded, it lacks Scottsdale’s mob-like, looter vibe. I wonder what the Cubs team shop in Mesa is like? Cubs fans are rabid too, but Chicagoans have Midwestern manners so…

There it is. A recap of my easing into baseball season, in fewer than 1,000 words. Despite wearing 50 SPF sunscreen I picked up some color (in the form of freckles), and I took good photos, consumed a few warm-weather cocktails, and shook off a load of work stress.

Next step: Opening Day! Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!

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2014 Cactus League Shot of the Day

Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher takes a walk in Spring Training, March 17, 2014.
Nick Swisher

 

I love sports photography – you’ve probably surmised that by now – but the truth is, once I get caught up in a game I’m not always ready for the fast and unexpected. Pablo Sandoval’s jumping catch in Monday’s San Francisco Giants game against the Cleveland Indians? Nope, didn’t even have my camera raised. (I applauded wildly, though. Thirty pounds ago, Panda would have missed that ball by 12 inches.)

Yesterday’s spring training game in Goodyear, AZ – the Indians vs. the Cincinnati Reds – presented greater-than-average challenges for my photography, because my view of parts of the field was partially obstructed by an MLB.TV cameraman.  So, I missed the chance to capture some important stuff – including the second-base umpire taking a Brandon Phillips line drive to the groin. (An odious man seated next to me kept yelling, “Ball’s still in play” as the poor ump lay face down in the dirt surrounded by concerned players, until another fan suggested he stick a sock in it.)

Replay umpire John Tumpane was later hit in the backside by a bad throw to second by Indians first baseman Joe Sever. I missed that too. It was a tough day to be an umpire, or a photographer seated in section 118 of Goodyear Ballpark.

The photo above of Nick Swisher was a classic case of right place, right time. I finally got a good view of the batter’s box, and since Swisher had already homered twice in two days I had my camera trained on him. He walked, and (unintentionally) I snapped just as he tossed his bat to the side.  I nearly deleted the photo, then noticed the bat’s shadow on the ground and realized I caught it hanging midair, perfectly parallel to the ground. I get a kick out of capturing a split second facial expression, a foot on the bag, the ball making contact etc.  If I got paid for my baseball pics, this could be a money shot.

The rest of my photos from the game…

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2014 Spring Training: Day One Was a Dust Up

It’s that time of year again: Major League Baseball Spring Training in Arizona. The new season brings a new camera lens for me, which is proving a little unwieldy so far. For starters, when it’s attached to my camera the entire ensemble weights more than six pounds. I got cramps in my arm, and a blister on my zooming thumb. Tomorrow I’ll rub some desert grit on it, and get back in the mix.

It was a beautiful Scottsdale day: hot of course, with breezes that kept us cool while kicking up a lot of dust. Unfortunately, it wasn’t pretty for the San Francisco Giants — or Matt Cain who gave up seven runs to the Oakland Athletics. The Giants lost 8-1.

For Timmy, It Takes Two

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants vs. Chicago Cubs 7/28/13There once was a righty named Tim
San Francisco’s Big Time Timmy Jim
Would fans be deprived
Of our 55?
The odds he’d re-sign here seemed grim.

His fastball had lost some velocity
Of wins, there had been a paucity
He’d pitch in the dirt
And walk guys ’till it hurt
Giants fans cringed, and groaned audibly.

Then came a night last July
When the baseball fates seemed to comply
With the will of “The Freak”
And his wiry physique
A no-no for this girl’s favorite guy.

So this week, in a bit of a coup
Tim re-upped not for one year, but two!
While some baseball scholars
Chose to balk at the dollars
It’s next season fans look forward to.

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Game 162: Parting Ways

San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito prepares to take the mound at AT&T Park, September 29, 2013
Barry Zito

Tonight the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Texas Rangers — thereby earning an American League wild card spot, and the distinct privilege of playing the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday.  And so, I am closing the book on regular season baseball.

It has become a tradition for me to attend the San Francisco Giants’ final regular season home game each year. It’s usually a day game, and the weather is always exceptional. That’s how I spent Sunday afternoon: at AT&T Park, switching between photo taking in the fabulous fall light, and monitoring the Indians game against the Twins on the scoreboard. If the Tribe had lost, they would have had to play a tie-breaker of some kind — a crushing outcome I could not accept.

Never fear, the Indians won, and made the postseason for the first time since 2007 — at which point I gave the game in front of me my undivided attention.

The Giants did not disappoint, rallying from a five-run deficit for a walk-off win, courtesy of their $90 million man (for the next five years, at least), Hunter Pence. Barry Zito also took the mound for his long-awaited curtain call. Classy and gracious as always, he tipped his cap to the crowd and later gave a sweet good-bye speech.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but we’ll miss you Barry.

Each year, I feel a little melancholy during my final afternoon at the ballpark. Will my favorite players be back next season? Is there room in me for one last bratwurst? When do pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale? (Answers: probably not, always and 139 days from Sunday.)

So as I took in my last regular-season game, I decided to have a little fun.  I snapped photos not just of players, but also of some of the colorful characters I encountered at the ballpark. I had to be sneaky of course.  If some camera-shy fan got angry with me, I doubt I could have run very fast after all that bratwurst.

Now I have the Cleveland Indians to cheer for, with the Oakland Athletics as my back-up team should misfortune befall the Tribe. And there is so much blogging to do… once I remember what I blogged about, before baseball season started.

Suggestions are welcome!

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Tim Lincecum: Here Today…

San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum enters the dugout at AT&T Park in San Francisco, CA. September 9, 2013.Monday was probably my last chance to celebrate Lincecum Day at AT&T Park in 2013.  Tim Lincecum is scheduled to pitch at home just once more, against the dreaded first-place Los Angeles Dodgers, but I have no plans to attend the game.  I decided the odds for a positive outcome were better against the Colorado Rockies, and I was right.  While the San Francisco Giants offense didn’t come through in time for Timmy to get the “W”, we beat Colorado in a 10th inning walk-off thanks to a single by Brandon Belt.

Despite the win, the Giants were officially eliminated from the National League West pennant race on Monday.  For some reason, this development was not announced over AT&T’s P.A. system.

Will Tim Lincecum wear a Giants uniform next season?  I hope so.  Yes, I have a soft spot for the guy that obviously biases me — but if we fail to keep Timmy… who will we replace him with?  His 4.67 ERA is disappointing, yet Matt Cain’s 2013 ERA is 4.53 and Ryan Vogelsong’s is 4.88. And please, let’s not talk about Barry Zito!

In other words, it’s not as if pitchers with ERAs in the 2’s are just hanging around, waiting to be signed.  (In 2009, when he won his second consecutive Cy Young award, Timmy’s ERA was 2.48.)  I sometimes think San Francisco Giants fans are so spoiled by years of great pitching from Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner, we have lost perspective.

So… here’s my humble, biased opinion on the best-case Lincecum scenario: The Giants resign Timmy to a two-year deal, while continuing to nurture prospects and shop for trades.  He threw a no-hitter once.  And he can ROCK the bullpen, based on his performance last October, so that’s an option if his performance as a starter deteriorates.

Let’s remember, Sabean, Baer and friends are businessmen, and Timmy draws crowds and puts cheeks in the seats.  Mine, to name just two.

As the baseball season enters its final weeks, enjoy these pics.  I’ll be on hand for the last Giants game of the season (fan appreciation weekend!), as is my custom.  Madison Bumgarner is slated to pitch.  Then… bring on the NBA!

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That Has a Nice Ring To It

San Francisco Giants veteran first baseman Will Clark's World Series ring.
If I were a man with a World Series ring, I’d get no-polish manicures too. I’m just saying…

As the 2013 baseball season winds down, I’m taking in as many San Francisco Giants games as my schedule – and my budget – will allow.

I was on hand when the team played the Red Sox on August 20 (the only game the Giants were destined to win in that series), as well as Friday’s game two against the Pittsburg Pirates, which did not end so well.   The Giants lost 3-1, but there were several silver linings for me.

To start, I actually had two tickets to the Pirates game (long story), and spent the first three innings with my college friend Richard, who is British, and his two fantastic children who are spending the summer in San Francisco.  His daughter Chloe educated me on the similarities and differences between baseball and rounders (a game she apparently plays to some acclaim back home).  Thankfully, there was no quiz afterwards, because I think I would have been forced to cheat.  It’s complicated!

Richard’s son Dominic asked great questions that tested my knowledge of America’s pastime.  Our best conversation of the night went something like this:

Dominic: “Is Matt Cain pitching?”
Me: “Wow, you already know the Giants’ pitchers?”
Dominic: “He’s in an Audi advert near our house.  But what about the one named Tim or something?”
Me: (*sigh*) “Pull up a chair, young man.”

Second silver lining:  At the end of the third inning, I headed to my seat near the Giants’ dugout.  I plopped down in my usual graceful manner, before noticing a bit of a hullabaloo in our section. The gentleman sitting directly in front of me was allowing fans to photograph his massive bling-bling ring.

It wasn’t the Pope.  It was veteran Giants first baseman Will “The Thrill” Clark.   He stuck around until the fifth inning, signing balls and taking photos with fans – always with a gracious smile.  He works in the Giants’ front office, so perhaps he’s obligated to go to a few games each season to reward fans.  However, I saw him at 2013 Spring Training too, and am certain his generosity and enthusiasm are genuine.  The man loves baseball, and clearly feels blessed to still be part of the game.

There are only 32 games left in the season. I wonder if I can squeeze in one more Tim Lincecum outing, since San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Hank Schulman has (helpfully) pointed out that Timmy may only have two more starts in a Giants uniform.

No. Way.

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Bad Hair Day

Los Angeles Dodger closer Brian Wilson, August 2013
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports / Howard Smith

Occasionally when I encounter something new (new to me, at least), for days or weeks afterwards that thing will seem to randomly pop up everywhere — on TV, in news stories and in conversation. Eventually, it will feel like Kismet.

Sometimes it’s a buzzword, the newest one at my office being “unpack”, which apparently means to explain something in more detail, as in “can you please unpack that a little?”.  These days, I’m finding that at least one person uses that phrase in every meeting I attend.  And unfortunately, I attend a lot of meetings.

It can also be a book, a place or some piece of totally random news that folks keep bringing up as part of idle chit-chat.

“I was listening to NPR the other day, and someone was talking about these crazy crop circles…”

This week, the topic everywhere was… razors.  Specifically, companies that sell razors and razor blades in bulk, online.  I’m not surprised that they exist, although I have never heard anyone mention them before.  It’s probably economical, since men who shave every day go through a lot of razors.  And razors are small, so unlike toilet paper or diapers or gallon jugs of olive oil from Costco, it doesn’t take a lot of space to store a year’s worth.

Online razor retailers weren’t exactly newsworthy until… Brian Wilson, a.k.a. B. Weezie, also known as the Beard… and the former closer for the San Francisco Giants.  This week, co-founder and president of 800Razors.com, Philip Masiello, offered the Weezer $1 million to shave off his beard — a sum equal to his recent one-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers (hiss).

Wilson turned him down, which is either brave or stupid.  I’ve not yet decided.  In fact, he kind of thumbed his nose at the idea by wearing a hideous scrunchy thing in his beard at his next outing.  What was that about?  It’s not like his beard is fly-away and lacks density.  It’s more like a garden hedge, and even in an F5 twister that thing is unwavering.

The day after Brian Wilson declined the offer to double his salary – and thereby failed to recapture his place among the world’s dreamiest baseball players — I attended a professional webinar about effective storytelling in advertising.  One of the examples provided to demonstrate how humor in advertising can generate engagement was from another razor retailer DollarShaveClub.com, which has a tagline of “Our Blades Are F***ing Great”.

So is this video.  If Brian Wilson had seen it, do you think he would have laughed… and then reached for his shaving cream?

2013, or How Baseball Broke My Heart

A cha cha bowl, courtesy of Orlando's Caribbean BBQ at AT&T Park. (Photo by The Travelling Hungryboy)
A cha-cha bowl at Orlando’s Caribbean BBQ courtesy of The Travelling Hungryboy.

Over the past week or so I’ve detected a whiff of fall in the air, which always makes me a little melancholy.  Days are getting shorter, and nights are becoming chillier… except in San Francisco, where the exact opposite is true.  Even so, in clothing chains all over town, corduroys and wool sweaters in warm autumn shades have replaced flip flops and linen shorts.  Where did the time go?

The end of summer 2013 is especially blue for me as a baseball fan.  The San Francisco Giants – currently occupying the cellar in the National League West – have no chance of repeating last year’s World Series run.  And the Cleveland Indians are seven games out of first place in the American League Central, which means my dream of a Giants/Indians October throw down will have to wait at least one more year.

Over the weekend, I caught two of three games in the Oakland Athletics vs. Cleveland Indians series across the Bay.  Unfortunately/naturally, the game I skipped was the only game the Tribe won.

It was fun to see the Indians in person for the first time since spring training, but it was tough to sit silently as Oakland fans celebrated being only .5 games out of first in the American League West.  Having spent 2010 and 2012 cheering the Giants to the World Series, losing smarted.  I did not enjoy it… but deep down I’m happy for the As.  They are a talented, scrappy, underrated, red-headed-stepchild of a baseball team, with a crummy, dilapidated ballpark.

Can someone please get that team a new ballpark?  The flawed sewage system in the restrooms should be reason enough.  (My advice to ladies visiting Oakland Coliseum – schedule your potty breaks before the 6th inning.  Otherwise… YUCK.)

Today I picked up a couple of Giants tickets on StubHub, at bargain basement prices (relatively speaking).  Even though the team is zapping my strength, come October I’ll long for “summer” evenings at AT&T Park, wearing a ski parka and using a cha-cha bowl as a hand warmer.  I’ll fill the void with the NFL and the NBA, but I’ll really just be going through the motions – at least until the first winter storm drops buckets of cold rain on San Francisco.

Until then… some photos from my bittersweet weekend.

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