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.

Blurred Lines

Boy holds Cleveland Indians baseball with Chief Wahoo logo. Cactus League, Scottsdale Arizona. March 16, 2014
Cactus League, Scottsdale Arizona. March 16, 2014

I recently blogged about Color Splash, a mobile app that allows users to wipe out color in a digital photograph, then add it back to specific sections for visual impact.  I had a blast with it, and expect to use if often now that I have the hang of it.

This weekend I tested another app: Big Lens. With a few swipes of a fingertip, it blurs or refines focus in digital images, creating the illusion of shallow depth of field.

I take a good portion of my photographs at the ballpark, with a long lens, so my aperture setting is often low to begin with.  Still, I was able to dig out a few exceptions and apply the Big Lens treatment. I got interesting results that are a bit more subtle than from Color Splash.

Big Lens also offers the ability to add focus light points in shapes like hearts and stars (Bokeh effect) to blurred sections. I only tried it in one photo here. Can you spot it?  Hint, I chose star shapes, but considered using hearts…

The biggest challenge with both apps is my lack of finger dexterity and precision. It’s difficult to stay within the borders of sections I’m highlighting — especially anything thin, like the brim of a ball cap.

If you are a Big Lens user, have you found a solution?

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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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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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Swept Up: San Francisco Giants vs. Chicago Cubs

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants vs. Chicago Cubs 7/28/13I attended my first San Francisco Giants game in at least a month last Sunday, July 28.  By happy coincidence, my favorite Giant, Tim Lincecum, was on the mound.

Timmy pitched great — giving up just two runs in seven innings, and striking out 10.  He also went 2-2 at the plate. You know the Giants’ offense is in serious trouble when Lincecum is the hottest hitter of the game.  And so it was that the Giants were swept by (*gulp*) the Cubbies for the first time in 20 years.  Final score: 2-1.  It’s been a long season.

So let’s look on the bright side.  The weather on Sunday was spectacular, and I got lots of great shots of Timmy on base — which doesn’t happen very often.  (Sorry, Tim.)

During the plentiful lulls in the action, I took the opportunity to experiment with my aperture and shutter speed, instead of relying so much on automatic settings.  The outcome was respectable.  (I’ll spare you the underexposed shots, in which Lincecum looks like he’s pitching during a solar eclipse, as well as the overexposed ones that resemble X-rays.)

Let’s go Giants!

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Ode To Big Time Timmy Jim

Buster Posey bear hugs Tim Lincecum after his no hitter,  July 14 2013.
Photo courtesy of Lenny Ignelzi/AP

 

It’s been a tough year for the Freak

Some said that he was past his peak

He’d lost his mojo, so to speak

His pitches lacked location.

 

His Cy Young self seemed to have faded

His confidence was much degraded

If this kept up, would he be traded?

Or fall out of rotation?

 

As it turns out, the Freak was fooling

Gave his critics quite a schooling

No hitter: the official ruling

He lasted the duration.

 

His fastball started sort-of clocking

No one reached base, except by walking

Tim let his slider do the talking

A hardball demonstration.

 

Twelve dozen pitches were expended

Plus four more, his slump thus ended

Hugs from Buster, fences mended.

Giant celebrations!

Losing Lincecum

Timmy exhalesSan Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum got roughed up again tonight, this time by the Atlanta Braves.  He walked five, and gave up two earned runs in six innings.   The Giants lost 3-0, and while there’s plenty of blame to go around (I’m thinking of Andres “Butterfingers” Torres right now), there is no denying that Timmy’s problems are not just a temporary funk.  His performance has not improved this season, even though he reportedly showed up to spring training in the best physical shape of his career.

I am a longtime, diehard Lincecum fan, and his downward spiral has been tough to watch.  Of course I hate to see the Giants lose and all, but what’s harder to witness is Timmy’s complete loss of confidence.  The swagger and fist pumps are long gone, and now he just looks lonely and lost out there on the mound.

I’ve only seen Timmy pitch in person once this season – against the Colorado Rockies in late May – and finally got around to going through my shots of that game this evening.  (I’ve been a little busy lately, for reasons I’ll blog about soon.)

His facial expression and posture are so different than in seasons past.  I can see this on TV, but was surprised by how obvious the change is in these photographs.

When scrutinizing the hundreds of photos I took, deciding which to edit and keep and which to delete, I probably saved more than made sense.  Each time I watch Timmy struggle mightily these days, I wonder how many more times I’ll get to see him start.  I also wonder how much longer he’ll wear a Giants uniform.  It’s hard for me to imagine the team without him.

These are just a few of the keepers, mostly of Timmy:

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Tim Lincecum: Not a Hair Out Of Place

Photo: Lea Suzuki, The San Francisco Chronicle
Photo: Lea Suzuki, The San Francisco Chronicle

The news is out. San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum underwent a shocking — SHOCKING — transformation in the offseason.

Adios Seattle skater dude… Hola Mormon missionary. The 2013 Timmy is all short hair, tortoise-shell glasses and cashmere sweaters.

(Was that a cardigan he was wearing at Friday’s media day, or a pashmina? I know it was BROWN. Not so long ago, Timmy was strictly a black/gray guy.)

My friends and family are well aware of my love for Timmy, and I was pretty amused by how many people immediately reached out to me for my reaction to his new ‘do.  Even my parents in Cleveland knew about his haircut in time for our usual Sunday morning chat, and stood ready to console in case I didn’t like it.

Please, people!  My devotion to this man is not based on superficialities.  Don’t cheapen it!  It was never about his hair – which on almost anyone else I would have dismissed as much too hippy.  It’s about the shy, skinny, freakishly bendable, freakishly talented guy underneath.

But allow me to put your minds at ease; I think Timmy looks dreamy.

My Mom asked if I was sad he wears glasses. No way!  His new look is so… brainy.  Depending on his prescription, maybe we could share a pair someday. Just like Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big did in the first Sex In the City movie.

Please just tell me he really needs specs, and hasn’t gone all Dwyane Wade on me, OK?  Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle called them “faux glasses”, which I’m going to just pretend I never read.  That really would break my heart.

The downside of this whole transformation is… given its magnitude, there’s got to be a woman behind it.  Probably a really pretty, tall, blonde one.  (Although if those glasses are phony, there’s also a whiff of Barry Zito, wearer of fedoras and bad mustaches.)

Several years ago, Tim Keown of ESPN Magazine wrote about Lincecum, “He showers intermittently and makes no apology.”

“I might go three days,” he says with a shrug. “If it feels right, I go with it.”

He went from showering bi-weekly and twice-a-year haircuts to being coiffed – with product!  Friends, that kind of sudden interest in grooming doesn’t just come out of nowhere.

Tim tried to downplay the change.  “It’s nice to have something to upkeep. To take care of yourself.” Yeah, right.

You know what?  Short hair or long, real glasses or faux — what I really care about is how Timmy pitches this season.  He’s supposedly been eating right, training hard, and he seems to have his old fire and confidence back.

It’s a contract year for him, so by next season it doesn’t matter what he’s wearing… as long as he’s still wearing our jersey.  And maybe a third World Series ring.  That would be OK too.