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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Spring Training Days 3 and 4: Nice Weather We’re Having…

Gregor Blanco

Day three of 2013 spring training passed without major incident.   Tim Lincecum was scheduled to start, but had to bow out due to his blister situation.  There were a lot of kiddies in 55 jerseys — and one slightly older woman — scuffling along dejectedly before the game as a result.  The only one who was pretty pumped about the whole thing was Chad Gaudin, who started in Timmy’s place.

The Tribe beat the Giants 6-4.   On San Francisco’s end, Gaudin, Kontos and both Brandons looked in fine form.  And for the Tribe?  Two words – Nick Swisher.  Another homer.  He’s a fantastic acquisition – and he seems thrilled to be back in Ohio. (He’s a former Buckeye from THE Ohio State University.)  I am very excited to see the effect he has on the team this season.

A Giants vs. Indians World Series.  It could happen!

Some of the best photos of the day were of Bruce Bochy, as he signed baseballs before the game.  He was extremely gracious with fans, as was Ron Wotus.

No good deed goes unpunished, though.  Their reward was even more fans calling out to them during the game, begging for autographs.  Now, I understand that spring training is pretty casual compared to the regular season but… um, the game had started.  The guys were kind of busy managing the team.

How can so many self-professed die-hard fans wearing head-to-toe Giants gear be that clueless?

This morning, my last in Scottsdale, I awoke to rain and wind.  Instead of heading to the ballpark to watch the Giants battle the LA Dodgers as planned, I played hooky and drove to Sedona… where I experienced every form of bad weather imaginable: torrential rain, sideways hail accompanied by thunder and lightning (a weird combo), and a full-on whiteout somewhere around Prescott.  But I also got a rainbow at the end of it all so I guess everything balanced out.

I also got the satisfaction of knowing I made a good choice to play hooky.  The Giants game was cancelled.

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Spring Training Day Two: Naming Names

Day two of spring training took me to Goodyear, Arizona where my old hometown team the Cleveland Indians welcomed (and ultimately shut out) the evil Los Angeles Dodgers.  A good and just baseball outcome in a very dry heat.

There was less power hitting than in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over my current home team, the San Francisco Giants:  No home runs today vs. five yesterday.  But there were two botched pick off attempts by Dodgers pitcher Matt Palmer that allowed the Indians to score.

Even worse, two Indians players were hit by pitches.  In fact Matt Carson — up from the minors — got beaned, and was escorted to the locker room by Manager Terry Francona and a trainer.  He seemed OK, but wow the sound of a ball on a batting helmet is a terrible one.

Poor Carson. I realized today that some guys like him, non-roster or minor league Indians players, have neither a photo on the scoreboard nor a name on the back of their jerseys.  I suppose that’s to prevent fans like me from forming too much of an attachment to players who might not be around in April.

Too late.

Indians fans sitting around me really had a soft spot for these young guys, shouting encouragement — rather than insults — when they pretty much swung at every pitch that didn’t hit them in the head.

I have a new baseball crush, left fielder Tim Fedroff.  As I said in my last post, he is Hunter Pence in a different uniform.  Yesterday he was the guy to know, if you were under 14 years of age and wanted an Indians player to autograph your baseball.  Fedroff would take a kid’s ball, ask which player’s signature he or she wanted, descend into the dugout and badger that teammate until he signed.  The kids were busting.

That said, I asked one young boy which player had autographed his ball and he replied, “Honestly I have no idea.  I am a Dodgers fan.”  Boo!  Apparently they let anyone into Scottsdale stadium these days.

Today Fedroff was again effusive.   He didn’t start, and spent the early part of the game hanging over the dugout railing—apparently having a blast.  When he was called to play, he BOUNDED across the field.  He zigzagged like a kid pretending he was an airplane, and the other players laughed.  This is why I love spring training.

At one point I think he, Lonnie Chisenhall and Mark Reynolds may have been trying to get my attention.  (I was the woman with the biggest camera, three rows back.)  They were sort of miming that someone—possibly me—should take their photo.  I wanted to, but… the only thing worse than missing that opportunity would have been thinking it was directed at me, only to discover that they were talking to some hot, buxom chick in daisy dukes a few rows behind me.

(Have you ever seen the Southwest Airlines commercial in which a woman thinks a handsome colleague is professing his love for her before a big meeting?  She gushes her feelings in return, but he’s actually talking to his girlfriend via his bluetooth headset.  OUCH.  That’s what I was thinking about. ”Wanna get away?”)

Plus I didn’t have the heart to tell them that my camera was actually focused just behind them, on Jason Kipnis poised to steal second base.

That’s the kind of thing that happens at Spring training, though, when players and coaches are a little more loose and very accessible to fans.  Yesterday in Scottsdale, Will the Thrill Clark was channeling Shecky Green.  He knew all the regulars in my section and kept a running banter going with them.  He even threw fistfuls of gum into the stands.

Tomorrow the Giants and Indians will meet again, this time at Goodyear.  I’ll have no conflicting loyalties, because spring training is a time when you just want everyone to play well.

Especially the faceless new guys, wearing nameless jerseys.

2013 Spring Training: Day One

No witty commentary today, due to writing time wasted searching for my USB cord to upload these photos.  Bottom line:  It was a good day one… and not just because I (obviously) found the cord.

Now, off to Goodyear to see the Cleveland Indians take off the LA Dodgers. (Boo Dodgers!)

Jack Hannahan Gets a Stocking Full Of Kryptonite

IMG_2850I am sad that Jack Hannahan — a.k.a. Cleveland Indians third baseman Supermannahan — has not been tendered a contract by the Tribe for 2013. There had been rumors about this for a while; The team wanted to make way for Lonnie Chisenhall at third.

Jack Hannahan batted .244 with four homers last season. Chisenhall played less than half as many games, and batted .268 with five homers.

Hannahan was gracious, as always.  “The writing is on the wall as far as Lonnie getting a chance to play every day,” he told MLB.com. “I’m excited for him to get that opportunity to showcase what he can do.”

“I had two great years in Cleveland.  I love playing in Cleveland. I love the fans of Cleveland… I really believe in what they’re doing there as far as getting a team that can contend and play in October.”

From your lips to the baseball gods’ ears, Jack.

Hannahan is renowned for being a great teammate in the clubhouse.  Fans will remember the story of Indians players passing the hat to pay for a private plane, so that he could be on hand for the premature birth of his son in August 2011.  He will be missed.

Tribe pitcher Vinnie Pestano reacted on Twitter; “Upsetting news about Hanny. Part of the business but he’s the best teammate I’ve ever had. Not gonna find anyone who cares more for his guys.”

Over the first 30 games of 2012, before being sidelined by a back injury, Hannahan batted .287 with three homers.  Here’s hoping he lands well, and can do it again.

Enjoy some of my favorite Supermannahan photos, taken when the Indians played the Giants in June 2011, and last season when they took on the Oakland A’s.  Wonder if Jack would fancy northern California?  The weather that day in Oakland was unreal.

He wouldn’t be the first to be bitten by the Bay Area bug…

Not Happy

The A’s Hit; The Tribe Misses

The Oakland Athletics made a clean sweep of the Cleveland Indians this weekend. Today’s 7-0 rout, in which the Tribe stranded seven runners on base, was woefully representative of how the team has been playing since the All-Star break. They lack consistent offense, and have shaky pitching; Today Justin Masterson threw 5.2 innings, and allowed nine hits for seven earned runs including two homers.

Even Jemile Weeks’ fumbling of pretty much every ball landing in his vicinity couldn’t save us.

So tonight I dwell on the positives:

I finally got to witness one of my favorite Indians players, Chris Perez, in action. Because my presence at Tribe games tends to accompany losses, the team rarely needs the closer’s services when I’m in the house. But thanks to their long winless streak, today Perez needed a workout. And he was great, throwing 9 of 14 pitches for strikes and allowing no hits.

The weather was superb – in the low 70’s, with a light breeze. These were perfect conditions for wearing my trusty Indians jersey, with its Chief Wahoo logo, and my Indians cap.

A’s fans in my section were very welcoming, despite my swag. In fact, on my way out several of them high-fived me and urged me to “hang in there”. They had suffered through many losing seasons, they reassured me. The Indians’ would turn things around…. someday.

Oh my God, had it come to this? I was being PITIED by A’s fans? I cried all the way across the Bay Bridge. (Ok, not really. But it still smarted.)

In truth, there was a very fun vibe at Oakland Coliseum today. A’s fans are PUMPED UP by the team’s success, after so many losing seasons. It’s a blast to see baseball making so many people happy even if my hometown team had to lose to keep the momentum going.

Alas, my seat wasn’t on the Diamond Level – a blessing, given the price of those seats and the outcome of today’s game. There is no waiter service on the first base line, and the food there is not free. But it’s still a good spot for photos.

Wise Up! It’s Time For Instant Replay In Baseball

Dewayne Wise
Photo courtesy of USA Today

I make no secret of the fact that I am a Cleveland Indians fan by birth, or that I am also quite anti-New York Yankee.  That said, I wasn’t really looking forward to this week’s series between the two teams.   The Tribe has been sputtering a little (they can’t all be Jason Kipnis) while the Yankees are en fuego.  Not encouraging.

The Yanks won Monday’s game 7-1, but I still felt compelled to watch tonight’s game.  You know, to support the team, just like Indians closer Chris Perez says I should.  When “Pure Rage” says jump, I ask, “How high?”.

In the 7th inning, Jack ‘Supermannahan’ Hannahan hit a ball foul, and Yankee left infielder Dewayne Wise made a dive into the stands to catch it.   He missed the ball by probably a foot or more – it’s clear from the replay — but when he fell into the stands a Yankee fan actually PUT THE BALL INTO HIS GLOVE.  (That’s right, guy in the red t-shirt.  I’m talking about YOU.)  Wise emerged from the scrum with a ball in his hand and a smirk on his face, and umpire Mike DiMuro called it a catch.  Hannahan was out.

When Hannahan objected and politely invited DiMuro to review the replay, DiMuro ejected him.  Later, though, DiMuro took a peek and admitted his error.

“Now that I see the tape it’s obvious that the ball fell out of his glove. … I should have asked him to show me the ball.”

Wow, ya think?

I am not in favor of wide use of replay in baseball.  For one thing, it’s already far from a fast-paced game.  If every questionable ball or strike were challenged, baseball would turn into cricket.  So I generally accept that umpire error will hurt my teams sometimes, but benefit them sometimes too.  With any luck, the mistakes will end in a wash.

That said, Major League Baseball umpiring is under more scrutiny than usual these days, for good reason, and instances like this support the case for limited use of replay.  Call it sloppy work by DiMuro, or cut the guy some slack by assuming his view of the non-catch was somehow limited.   With the aid of replay, his mistake is indisputable.  Even the Yankee commentators acknowledged it (then quickly moved on).

If each team were allowed, say, two challenges – on defensive plays only — per game, it would be worth the delay.  In the age of jumbotrons, radar guns, and electronic strike zones there’s no excuse for shunning established technology that has been adopted by virtually every other sport to make them more fair and more credible.

That’s my $.02.  We need instant replay.

Also… Yankee fans are cheaters.

My Diamond Level Best

Jack Hannahan

As a die-hard San Francisco Giants fan, I buy plenty of tickets to games each season from either the Giants, or StubHub.  I avoid keeping a tally because I don’t want to know the out-of-pocket – although it’s safe to say that Suze Orman would not approve.

This season, I decided to branch out and also buy a ticket to see my other favorite team – the Cleveland Indians – play the Oakland As.  Not surprisingly, As tickets are much easier to come by than Giants tickets, and the “best available” option online can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your budget.

My best available seat for Sunday’s game at Oakland Coliseum was on the Diamond Level.  The name suggested that I wasn’t going to be stuck in the bleachers, but you never know, right?  Maybe there’s also a Krugerrand Level or a Platinum Level?

Another clue?  The fact that you don’t really see signs for the Diamond Level anywhere in the ballpark, which I assume is intentional.   I had to ask five different ushers for directions, and each time was told cryptically to “turn left/right at the hat stand”.  It felt very prohibition-era, like I might be expected to know a secret handshake or password to get past the bouncer.

When I finally found the secret passageway next to “the hats”, an usher gave me directions to the bowels of the stadium.  (Perhaps the Diamond Level also got its name because getting there feels a bit like descending into the mines?)  I was then coached on protocol.  It was at this point that I began to understand why my ticket cost so much.

The walk to my seat was like slipping backstage at a Springsteen show – except it was very quiet.  The usher pointed to tape running along the floor, splitting the walkway in half.  I was to stay to the left, because players from the opposing team (a.k.a. the Tribe) would be walking back and forth to their locker room on the right.  I was advised not to speak to the players, and that photos are strictly verboten in the hallway.  In fact, I was not even allowed to carry my cell phone in my hand, because I might be tempted to snap an iPhone pic.

Are you kidding me?  The only thing separating me and lovable Jack “Super Mannahan” Hannahan would be a sliver of masking tape?  Sadly I passed Jack and Jason Kipnis on my way down… and dropped my head to stare at my sneakers.  I was nervous and shy, so I suppose I defaulted to Zoo Rules:  Don’t try to touch the player (he may bite!), make eye contact with him, or feed him your hot dog scraps.

Speaking of food scraps, food is free on the Diamond Level – well, given the ticket price I guess it’s more accurate to call it complimentary – through the seventh inning.  And they have LOBSTER ROLLS down there!  Food orders are taken, and food is delivered, by very handsome waiters.  Too bad no one told me all this in advance, before I bought a bratwurst up on the concourse.

As these photos attest, my seat was right behind home plate, a few yards from the on-deck circle.  Before and after the game, I could photograph players going to/from the dugout, which I’m sure they hate.  A few of them rushed past like they were running the gauntlet.

All in all, my foray into super-luxury seating was a blast, despite the game’s final score.  (The Tribe lost 5-1.)  I got the kind of photos I’d hoped for – not a ton of variety but amazing detail, like Justin Masterson’s facial expressions when he pitches.  I also scored one lobster roll, awesome ballpark nachos, two Sam Adamses, two bottles of water and a bag of peanuts (still in my purse).  Throw in some above-average Bay Area baseball weather and I’d say I broke even.

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Something Unappealing…

Cleveland Indians pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez is putting my happy, Fred-Couples-leading-at-Augusta buzz at risk on this fine, sunny Saturday morning.

Jimenez is pitching for the Indians today, as scheduled, because he is appealing his five game suspension for drilling former teammate Troy Tulowitzki on April 1. Rumor is, though, that he will withdraw that appeal later today — not for reasons of integrity or because he thinks his appeal will be denied.  He will drop it because, after today, the Indians’ schedule will allow him to do so without suffering any negative impact whatsoever.

The Tribe have a day off on Thursday, which means manager Manny Acta can simply skip Jimenez in the rotation next week.  His number won’t be up to pitch again until Saturday April 14, by which point his suspension will have been “served”.

You don’t need a PhD in math to understand that if you suspend a pitcher for five games, at worst he will miss one start because teams generally have five starting pitchers in rotation.  The impact is that a fellow pitcher will have to pitch on four days rest, and the bullpen will likely end up working a few extra innings to fill the gap for that one game — unless there is a day off in the schedule.

If Major League Baseball wants suspensions to be anything more than a slap on the wrist for pitchers, they need to take the five game rotation system into account.  A five game suspension barely registers for a pitcher, as opposed to a catcher, for example.  If straight arrow Buster Posey were ever to lose his cool à la Yadier Molina, Giants fans would likely see back-up, back-up catcher Pablo Sandoval behind the plate.

Nobody, least of all Pablo, wants that.

Temporary Area Of Refuge

Buster crosses home plate after his homer.

I am currently waylaid in the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, my flight delayed by at least two hours due to stormy weather in San Francisco.  As I blog (and sigh, and fidget) I stare at an illuminated sign in my boarding area that reads “Temporary AREA OF REFUGE”.  I have no idea what this means – refuge from what, I wonder?  Unfortunately I don’t see any cots or hammocks for napping, so there appears to be no refuge here from exhaustion.

My Spring Training adventure has come to a close, and I’m a little sad to be saying goodbye to Scottsdale.   Today’s weather was – no shock here — amazing, and my seats were much improved.  Just like yesterday, I sat next to some really funny, friendly people.  I think Scottsdale puts something in their water that brings out the nice, neighborly side of baseball fans.  If so, where can I buy the stuff?  I’d like to run it through the water filter at my office.

But I digress…

Today was the high note of the trip, baseball wise.  First and foremost: Buster Posey had his first hit of Spring Training off Indians lefty Tony Sipp, and it was (naturally) a home run. It’s rare to see unilateral support for a player at a professional sporting event – even in the preseason.  But people all around me – Giants and Indians fans alike – were exuberant.

Spring training facilities have an interesting feel — somewhere between a little league field and a big league ballpark on the intimacy scale.  They aren’t rowdy but they aren’t sleepy little places either.  Yet, anytime Buster Posey approached the plate a hush fell over Scottsdale Stadium.  At the risk of sounding melodramatic, people didn’t just stop talking… they seemed to hold their breaths too.   When he hit that home run, 10,500 fans collectively exhaled… then went crazy.

Matt Cain pitched well, allowing two runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings.  He was followed by Brian Wilson, who pitched with plenty of zip, and was hitless and scoreless.

I got to see lots of familiar faces play for the Indians, Shin-Soo Choo (who famously got his hand broken by an errant Jonathan Sanchez pitch last season), Lonnie Chisenhall, Asdrubal Cabrera (who I strongly suggest fire his barber), pitcher Scott Barnes (a former Giant) and first baseman Matt LaPorta. I have a soft spot for LaPorta; he joined the Indians amid a lot of hype.  When he didn’t quite live up to expectations, he was viciously mocked and vilified on Twitter until he finally deactivated his account.

How fitting for me – the girl who has a troubling conflict of interest when the Giants play the Tribe – that the game ended in a 2-2 tie after 10 innings.   Nobody won… but nobody lost either.

Awesome!  My flight is boarding.  Adios Giants, see you in April!