Spring Training in Progress

Image of hands holding out baseballs for Cleveland Indians players to sign, before a spring training game in 2017Opening day for Major League Baseball is just a few weeks away, and I’m already off my game. I returned from spring training more than one week ago, and am only now blogging about it.

Scottsdale in late February is even more relaxing and clement than when I normally visit in March. The midday temperature hovered at around 65 degrees. I didn’t wear my ball cap or get sunburned once.

I skipped the Cactus League last spring – investing in an apartment redo instead – and was startled by a few changes this year. For starters, Goodyear Ballpark (home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds) has introduced security screening.

In the past, senior citizen volunteers checked tickets without a scanner – they actually read the tickets. There were no wands up and down your inseam, metal detecting machines or bag searches.

Goodyear is an older stadium, and going to a game felt like stepping back in time. Now lines to enter are long, and screening is contracted to millennials wearing uniforms.

I understand the need for tighter security but … Boo, progress.

boo the princess bride

The League has also introduced camera lens size limits – a pretty big deal for me. It means 2017 was likely my last for taking photos with my beloved 28-300 lens, affectionately named Big Barbara.

Barbara is now contraband, and was nearly confiscated. I had to sneak her in, dodging security and the dreaded big camera sweep. It was stressful.


On the upside, I finally got a chance to enjoy (not really) a Cincinnati classic: a Skyline Chili Dog. I wanted to like it. I really did. Every spring training, fans at Goodyear rave about these dogs.

My colleague Erika, who hails from the Queen City, blames the shredded orange substance sprinkled on top. The concession stand called it “cheese” — and it looked legit to me — but Erika cried “imposter”.

IMG_5949 copy

The Great 2017 Skyline Dog Experiment was a #fail, even if I did eat the whole dog.

Since I’m not cut out for a life of crime and deception, my spring training photos going forward (assuming I don’t boycott in protest) will be taken with a lens that is six inches or shorter. Manage your expectations accordingly. Until then, behold my swan song!

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Baseball is on the way!

I made the ultimate sacrifice in 2016: I skipped Spring Training in Arizona. OK maybe it’s not the ULTIMATE sacrifice, but I’ve traveled to Arizona every year since 2012 so missing out feels like taking a line drive to the heart.

It had to be done, though. I have some apartment redecorating to do, and despite my best attempts at fuzzy math I couldn’t get my financial conscience to go along with paying for both. But don’t worry, I’m not crying because as everybody knows… THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!

Spring Training: In the Ballpark

SF Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford
SF Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford

Another Spring… another Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona. As usual I went bipartisan, splitting things right down the middle: three San Francisco Giants games, and two Cleveland Indians games.

I ate too much animal protein and soft serve ice cream, and indulged in plenty of people watching. (The latter wasn’t always pretty. I don’t claim to be Stacy London, but come on baseball fans – even I can see it’s time to up your fashion game.)

I took in a few new ballparks this year, and discovered that — like snowflakes — no two are the same. Camelback Ranch (home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox), is fairly new and fancy, with the biggest, best bratwurst I’ve seen at a stadium. The meatball sub was tempting, but dangerous in the midday Arizona heat.

Despite its relative swankiness, Camelback Ranch has no cup holders – which I found astounding. How does something like that happen, in a place where temperatures top 90 degrees in the shade by April?

Foot glovesSpeaking of cup holders… at the Seattle Mariners’ beautiful stadium in Peoria, my seat mate shamelessly STOLE mine. I don’t mean she mistook my cup holder for hers. Nope, she used her cup holder for her water, and mine for her coffee. I let this slide because she was wearing foot gloves – in my opinion a far more heinous crime. If she could wear those in public, who knew what else she was capable of?!?!

At Maryville, parking is atrocious. I had a ticket to a Brewers’ game on day one, but after circling the park for at least 30 minutes in search of a garage or lot with space available, I finally called the game on account of extreme vexation and headed to the mall for some retail therapy. (Baseball’s loss was Anthropologie’s gain.)

At Scottsdale stadium (the San Francisco Giants vs. the Cincinnati Reds) I sat in front of two hard partying women in their 50s, who delighted in photo bombing their neighbors’ selfies. They also found the common baseball expression “can o’ corn” exceptionally entertaining, and dedicated an entire inning to listing other canned vegetables that could have been featured in the metaphor. They finally ran out of steam with “hearts of palm”.

“Can o’ corn” vs. “Can o’ hearts of palm.” Discuss amongst yourselves.

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It Rained On My Parade

Madison Bumgarner Fathead on display at the World Series victory parade in San Francisco, CA. October 31, 2014It’s been a while since my last blog post. A LONG while. I’ve been traveling more than normal, and I guess I just fell out of the blogging habit. It’s easy to do when your trips happen every few weeks, and involve weekend travel. Then your beloved baseball team makes it to the postseason. As a wildcard. And goes on the win it all, playing five nights out of seven for an entire month.

Every other year, like clockwork, my October is ocupado, thanks to the San Francisco Giants.

I’ll blog about my recent travel – which involved plenty of photography – shortly. But for now, I’m still basking in the post World Series parade glow.

The parade route wasn’t as crowded as in 2010 or 2012 – hopefully because it rained all morning, and not because we Bay Area folks are taking World Series wins for granted. Whatever the explanation, I managed to position myself in the first row against barricades on Market Street… where I stood waiting for the players’ floats for 4.5 hours, without water (except for what was soaking my hair and shoes), to avoid the need for a restroom run. Under no circumstances was I relinquishing my ideal photo-taking spot.

Totally. Worth. It.

McIlroy and Fowler: Out In the Open

Rory McIlroy on practice day one, US Open 2012. The Olympic Club, San Francisco CA.

Since CNN delivered a British an Open Championship spoiler via text alert at about 11 a.m., I figure there’s nothing stopping me from writing a quick blog post about two of my favorite professional golfers — Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler — while the tournament is still being televised in the U.S.

Rory won at Royal Liverpool, and Rickie ended the day tied for 2nd place with Sergio Garcia.

I remain a wee bit skeptical about Rory after he called off his wedding to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki in May, just a few days after the invitations were mailed. Seriously, he couldn’t have decided he “wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails” any sooner? The results speak for themselves, though: ever since rejoining the ranks of single folk, his level of play has been phenomenal, suggesting something (probably his head) just wasn’t right.

Besides, rumor has it that Wozniacki was prohibited from wearing high heels while dating McIlroy because she is two inches taller than he is. (She’s been tweeting photos of herself this week, wearing stilettos for the first time “in three years”.)  No man is worth that kind of sacrifice.

Wozniacki won a WTA tournament in Istanbul today. Rory is the newest Open champion.  He is 25 years old, she is just 24. Perhaps they both have emerged from their relationship as winners.  At a minimum, seems like they dodged a bullet.

I dug into my photo archive from the 2012 US Open for shots of McIlroy and super-nice-guy Fowler.  Aside from being very down-to-earth and gracious with fans, Rickie is a blast to follow around the course because there are always a few very young boys there who idolize him, and dress up in head-to-toe Puma gear. (Orange on Sundays, of course.) Adorable.

Well played, fellows!


Zero Tolerance For the Cubbies

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Hudson at AT&T Park. May 27, 2014.
San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Hudson

Honestly, I like the Chicago Cubs. I really do! I mean, they are a Midwestern team with a rich history, that hasn’t won a championship in… 105 years. Lest you forget, Cubbies fans, I grew up in Cleveland — so I feel your pain. But when they play the San Francisco Giants? Well, I think you know where I stand.

On Memorial Day at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the Cubs spanked the Giants 8-4 in the first game of a three game series. Uh-oh.

I had a ticket for Tuesday’s game, and luckily the outcome was better. (Final score: 4-0, in favor of the Giants.)  It was a fog-free night at AT&T park — warm by Bay Area standards — and pitcher Tim Hudson was dominant. He and relievers Jeremy Affeldt and Jean Machi wrapped things up so quickly, I was home in my bed by 11 p.m.  Muchas gracias, guys.

The Giants currently have the best record in professional baseball: 34-19, as of this evening.

I can’t complain.


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Cleveland Indians: Swept Away

It was a gorgeous day at AT&T Park, where not much happened… until this happened:

The San Francisco Giants celebrate Brandon Hicks' 3-run walk off home run against the Cleveland Indians. AT&T Park. April 27, 2014.
Walk Off!


San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Hicks hit a three-run walk off home run in the 9th inning to beat the Cleveland Indians, and make it a clean sweep of the three-game series for the Giants. For most of the game, it seemed as if the lack of familiarity with either pitcher would translate into low scoring — until Hicks got the pitch he acted as if he’d been waiting for all day. Final score: 4-1.

I’m sorry for my Tribe, but thankfully this won’t be my last chance to see them play live in 2014.  I’ll be catching a game in Seattle in June and, aside from my ongoing fantasy of someday moving to the emerald city, I have no affiliation with the Mariners. The Indians will have my 100% loyalty, and there will be no hand wringing over which team’s cap I’ll wear.

Now, please enjoy the pics, as I excuse myself to curl up on my sofa under a down comforter and spoon with a bottle of Vicks NyQuil.

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Giants vs. Indians: For Me, There’s Always a Bright Side

San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum on the mound at AT&t Park. April 26, 2014Yesterday, I watched the Cleveland Indians battle the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. The Tribe started out strong, and led into the fifth inning – that’s when things started to fall apart. Thanks to big hits by Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco and Buster Posey (HR), the Giants came back to win 5-3.

I’m always a little torn when the Giants and Indians play each other. For this series, in the name of fairness, I got one ticket near the visitors dugout (Saturday) and one near the Giants dugout (today). I bought them quite a while ago, not knowing who would be pitching. There I was, in my red and blue Tribe gear, while my favorite Giant Timmy Lincecum was on the mound. I felt like a monster.

Back then I also had no idea the games would coincide with the worst cold I’ve had in years. For the past two days I’ve felt like someone is riding a pogo stick inside my sinuses, my throat is raw and glands in my tongue are so swollen I can barely talk. Luckily I didn’t buy a ticket to Friday night’s game. The Indians played poorly, and if the preponderance of stocking caps, scarves and down jackets I saw on TV were any indication, it was FAR too cold out there for a sickie like me.

So to recap: I stayed home for game one, and the Tribe lost. Yesterday I sat in Tribetown and wore my Indians gear… and they lost again. Today I have a ticket near the Giants dugout, and I suppose I’ll wear Giants gear.

If the Tribe doesn’t get the win, it’s possible that whether I go to a game – and what I wear to it – has no bearing on how well a team performs. In other words, the outcome has nothing to do with me, and my many superstitions?

I’m on lots of meds right now, but that would really be a bitter pill to swallow.

Stopped Cold at AT&T Park

San Francisco Giants vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, April 10, 2014. AT&T Park. San Francisco, CA.
AT&T Park (April 10, 2014)


On Thursday, I shivered through my first regular season San Francisco Giants game of 2014.  The night air was so cold, I had to slip into my down jacket before the end of the second inning — not a good sign. Unfortunately, I forgot my gloves.

It was “Farewell to the ‘Stick” night — a celebration of more than 50 years of baseball and football played amidst wind, fog and swirling trash at soon-to-be-demolished Candlestick Park. The fitting promotional giveaway was a commemorative scarf that smelled awful when removed from its plastic bag. I wore it anyway. It’s no coincidence that scarves are among the most popular promos at AT&T Park. On my way home, I encountered at least one freezing fan offering to BUY one off someone.

Granted, East Coast teams play in some very cold temperatures in the early months of the season — a few years ago, the Cleveland Indians home opener was SNOWED out — but they have the scorching heat of June through August to look forward to. In San Francisco, we probably won’t see weather like that at a night game unless we make it to the post-season in October.

I’m surprised AT&T Park hasn’t tried a mittens promotional giveaway. Or a hand warmer giveaway.

Naturally, such an extremity-numbing game went to extra innings, and unfortunately the Giants wound up losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks by one run in the 10th. Still, my seat — four rows from the field, right next to the visitors dugout — was something to blog home about. I can only assume that the original owner gave up price-gouging for Lent, because I bought it on StubHub for at or near face value. Bless you, kind stranger.

Apologies for any camera shake. I shot until the shivering made it too hard to keep still…

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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.