Saturday, April 26, 2014

Frederick

On Fleeing the State

Friday, April 25, 2014
Perryville, MD


Outside the Game:
Work had traversed from insane to unimaginable. Based on this, I returned home from work, and, in the midst of doing some laundry, decided to leave the state. I had no idea if I'd even be able to see any baseball in the coming months given the way work was going, so I just threw some clothes in a bag and decided to see the closest team on my list that was home that weekend, the Frederick Keys.

In all honesty, the Keys weren't entirely new to me. Over a decade ago, before I started the "official" trip process, I had been bribed to visit Baltimore relations of my girlfriend at the time with the promise of a ballgame. So somewhere on my bookshelf is a scorecard from back then, but I still needed to get them on the list of "completed" stadiums as the new rules went, with the watching of a full game, the scoring of said game, and the taking of pictures.

My laundry complete, I threw a day or so's worth into an overnight bag, and at about ten o'clock at night, I set out. I surmised there was unlikely to be any sort of traffic this time of night, and that I could at least make it to Delaware before I had to pull off the road for the evening.

I had over a half tank of gas, and I ventured out onto the Turnpike. This would largely be a trip on 95 all the way down. Once I got on, it was just a matter of not driving off the road. And it was a pleasant enough evening ride. I was listening to the New York postgames as I went, and there wasn't even a single slowdown as I clipped quickly through all of New Jersey and approached the Delaware border. It was just about midnight, so I figured I would make it to Maryland proper before tucking in for the night. I was held upside down and shaken several times for money for the measly half-hour drive through Delaware, and upon entering Maryland, I was running low on gas and energy. I eventually exited 95 at a lovely travel center in Perryville and got myself put away for the evening.


The Accommodations:

Days Inn
Days Inn

I blundered into the Days Inn in Perryville at about twenty to one in the morning. I tried twice, unsuccessfully, to get into the lobby before I realized that it was barred for the evening, but my lumbering attempts were enough to attract the night attendant's attention at the service window installed for just such occasions. I negotiated for a one-night, non-smoking stay, and she patiently explained where my room was. I parked my car, grabbed my bags, and completely forgot her instructions, walking around the second floor for five minutes or so before I found my room. In a tribute to my perseverence, another few minutes of fumbling in the gloom eventually resulted in the correct orientation on my keycard and entry to the room itself.

I prepared my stuff for the next day, made a pillow fort, and descended into pleasant oblivion for the evening.


On Defense

Harry Grove Stadium
Harry Grove Stadium, 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014
Frederick Keys (Baltimore Orioles) vs.
Carolina Mudcats (Cleveland Indians)
Harry Grove Stadium
Carolina League (A+)
Frederick, MD
2:00 PM


Outside the Game:
I got up relatively early the next day and availed myself of the free continental breakfast at the Days Inn. Thus fed, I got back to the room, cleaned up, packed, and was on the road at around 10:00 AM. I stopped to get robbed at gunpoint to get gas ($4.11 a gallon?), and was back out on 95.

The soothing voice of my TomTom decided to take my through downtown Baltimore instead of the Beltway, and given the time, I didn't think much of it, except that I wasn't doing this on the return trip. 95 gave way to 70, and in a little under an hour and a half, I was at the park. I bought a ticket and found out they weren't opening the gates until 1 PM, an hour before the game. Having an hour and a half to kill, I made a morning of it.

I did my normal walk around the park, and in the back, I found a wealth of practice balls that had cleared the park, as well as the remnants of the previous evening's fireworks display. Having done my tour of the park's exterior, I decided to venture to the town.

In the far end of the stadium parking lot, they were doing a prescription drug disposal event with the local police. This had several comical signs with arrows reading "DRUGS," as well as a series of sawhorse signs that "had" "all" "their" "words" "in" "quotes" "for" "some" "reason."

Literally across the street from the park was the Olivet Cemetery, where Francis Scott Key is buried under a modest twenty-foot statue of himself pointing to an 1812-era flag. After a brief visit, I decided to walk further into town, which I found lined with quaint Federalist brick row houses that apparently had a big problem with package theft, if all the door signs could be believed. I got as far as the Maryland School for the Deaf before turning around to get in line for the game.

The egress from the game was orderly. I was soon back on 70 towards Baltimore, though determined to take the Beltway back to 95 instead of the downtown route. It was all smooth sailing until the central Jersey Turnpike, where construction was backing up traffic between two exits. I stopped for some dinner and gas and then waded through the delay to make it home at a reasonable hour, unpacking my goods and going to sleep like a rock for a delightful nine hours.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Harry Grove Stadium
Home plate to center field, Harry Grove Stadium

Harry Grove Stadium is named for the owner of Frederick's pre-WWII professional ballclub and the chief lobbyist for a return of professional baseball to the town. Built in the early 90s, it is a fairly old park by minor league standards.

Which is not to knock it. It is a fairly standard low-minors design, with a seating bowl that runs from outfield to outfield, with an upper and lower concourse above and through the stands, separating the box seats from the general admission and upper box seats. A row of luxury and press boxes huddle in a second level around home plate, and concession stands line the upper concourse so fans can get food while still watching the game. A small team store lies behind home plate and the obstructed viewing area behind the press box. Two special areas anchor the outfield ends: A group picnic area and berm lie in left, and a kids play area is in right.

The Keys generally do pretty well attendance-wise and that was re-enforced by a rehab assignment for big-leaguer Manny Machado. There was a larger-than-average crowd on hand, as well as a larger-than-average press contingent who were massed in front of my seat. USA Today even saw fit to send a photographer for the event.

Mascot
Keynote

The crowd, although full of families, was loud and quite into the game, and special praise was obviously lavished on Manny when he came to bat. The standard minor-league cavalcade filled between the innings, and it was also "Star Wars Day." What might that mean? It means that a disturbingly large group of Star Wars fanatics cosplayed for most of the game, and at least three between-inning events were mock lightsaber duels along both base lines.

Look, I'm a nerd. This isn't news. But guys. Come on. Come on. This is why we got put in lockers. Stuff like this. Just saying.


At the Game with Oogie:

Grub
Helmet full of cheese fries, and other unimportant things

As per usual, I scored a ticket in the box seats as close to the home dugout as possible. As a single, this is pretty easy to do, even on days such as this where there was a larger-than-normal crowd. I was in the first row, to the right of the home dugout, and at ground zero of autograph seekers looking to get a Manny Machado signature before and after the game.

As I cased the place, I saw that they had one stand that offered a plastic batting helmet full of cheese and chili fries. And that was all I needed to know. Because how can you not get a plastic batting helmet full of cheese fries? Exactly.

I was seated between a family on my right (who left fairly early into the game) and a biker and his friend and kids to my left. On the one hand, the biker was a former minor-league player who attended ballgames in Korea when he was stationed there in the Army. He was fervently into the game and was incredibly knowledgeable. On the other hand, he was casually racist, talking derogatorily about some of the Hispanic players, wondering why they were playing "Muslim" music at the park (it was actually some Asian music), and making some offhanded comments about the work habits of certain African-American players. I couldn't help but like the guy, but on the other hand, I couldn't help but not like him, as well.


The Game:

First pitch, Mudcats vs. Keys
First pitch, Mudcats vs. Keys

This was an early season game between the high A affiliates of Baltimore and Cleveland. The biggest news was the rehab assignment for the Orioles' Manny Machado, which, as mentioned, had the stadium well-packed with fans and media.

Never have so few owed so much to so many. The Keys' pitcher did his best to get into trouble nearly constantly, to be regularly bailed out by his defense. He walked the first batter of the game, only to have him picked off trying to steal. He then walked the second batter of the game, only to get a double-play ball on the next batter with one of the only three strikes he threw all inning. The Keys for their part went in order. In the second, the Mudcats only had a two-out double to show for it, but the Keys' pitcher was still nowhere near the plate. The Keys again went in order in the bottom of their half, although one out was the result of a fantastic play by the second baseman.

In the third, the Mudcats had a one-out single who moved to second on a balk. The Keys' pitcher, in addition to being wild, had the most herky-jerky delivery I had ever seen in person, and it finally cost him with the balk. That balk was made irrelevant by another walk, and a fielder's choice made it first and third with two outs, before a fly to right ended the threat. The Keys again went in order.

The fourth was another shaky inning, with a leadoff single and walk by the Mudcats. Some crisp defense, however, got the next three in order to hold the tide. The bottom of the fourth broke up the Mudcats' perfect game with a one-out single, but nothing else of merit for the Keys.

The ridiculousness came to head in the top of the fifth. There was another lead-off single and walk. The next batter attempted to bunt the runners over, only to have the pitcher further hurt his own cause by screwing up the throw to load up the bases. A pop-out to second gave some hope of respite, but a ground-out to deep second scored a run and moved everyone over. A single brought in a second run, before a ground-out to third ended the half, 2-0 Mudcats. The Keys went in order in their part of the frame, and, surprisingly, the Mudcats also went in order in the top of the sixth.

In the bottom of the inning, the Keys tried to make a game of it. A two-base error by the Mudcat shortstop left the leadoff batter on second. A short single moved him to third, and he scored on a double-play ball by the next batter, before a ground-out to first ended the inning, 2-1 Mudcats.

Mercifully, a new pitcher arrived in the top of the seventh, but, in an act of supreme deja vu, he gave up a leadoff single, balked him to second, and then walked the next batter. A sacrifice bunt made it second and third with one out, and another walk loaded the bases. A grounder back to the pitcher looked to be a 1-2-3 double play in the making, but the pitcher threw it to the backstop, letting two runs score and leaving it second and third on the bases. Two quick outs ended the sloppy frame at 4-1, Mudcats. A two-out walk followed by a hit batsman was all the Keys managed in the bottom of the seventh.

The Mudcats went in order in the eighth, but the Keys had a leadoff double. The next batter apparently hit a dribbler down to first that got the runner to third, but the Keys manager strenuously argued that it had hit the batter in the box and was therefore foul. He was so sincere in this belief that he got himself chased from the game. A ground-out to short got the run home before a grounder to second ended the inning, 4-2 Mudcats.

The Mudcats went in order in the ninth, but the Keys tried to mount a comeback. A one-out double was a good start, followed by a walk to bring the winning run to the plate. But said winning run grounded out sharply to second and a tag-out, throw-out double play to end the game, 4-2 Mudcats.


The Scorecard:

Mudcats vs. Keys, 04-26-14. Mudcats win, 4-2.
Mudcats vs. Keys, 04/26/14. Mudcats win, 4-2.

The scorecard was part of the free pamphlet program that they handed out while you were on line to get in. It was in the centerfold, on good quality paper, with tiny instructions on how to keep score wedged in the upper right-hand corner. It was a little on the small side and didn't have any cumulative totals columns for the innings, but it did include lines for the umpires, as well as incidentals like time, weather, and attendance, as well as winning and losing pitcher, save, and time of game.

There were a couple of oddities this game. The field umpire seemed a little balk-happy. The herky-jerky starting pitcher for the Keys seemed destined to get a balk eventually, but his replacement got one in the seventh seemingly out of nowhere. There were also a lot of questionable calls, both on the field and in the scoring booth. In the fifth, a bunt attempt that was goofed by the pitcher was originally scored a hit. I even went so far as to mark down the incredibly homer-leaning call, but it was quietly changed sometime in the next two innings, so the note got removed. In the bottom of the eighth, a batter seemingly got hit by a foul ball while in the box, but the ball squirted out weakly to first, leading to a 3U put-out. The Keys' manager came out to argue rather vigorously that it was a foul ball, but he earned nothing but an ejection from the game.

Otherwise, it was just regular high-A ball, except for the fielders flashing a whole lot of leather. I recorded two gem plays, and there was at least two others that almost made the cut. The Keys' DH was named RBI Man for the game, leading to prizes for a section if he drove a run in. He went 0-3, with his only on-base appearance due to getting plunked in the seventh. Sadly, the bases were not loaded.


The Accommodations:
Hoboken, after a lot of driving


2014 Stand-Alone Trip

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Queens

On Miracles

Citi Field
Not Shea Stadium, 2014

Saturday, April 5, 2014
New York Metropolitans vs. Cincinnati Reds
Not Shea Stadium
Major League Baseball, National League
Queens, NY
1:10 PM


Outside the Game:
Work, stress, etc. Lather, rinse, repeat. We've all heard it.

It was a 1:10 PM first pitch, so I had to just set my alarm for my regular weekday time to get there for gates. I was a little reluctant to get out of bed, but I eventually got dressed and out the door.

And I got to the PATH station just as a 33rd train was preparing to leave. And I got to the subway just as an orange was ready to leave. And then I got on a 7 that was about to leave. This was an unprecedented run of luck, and confirms that my best time from home to Not Shea, on non-express trains, is one hour and five minutes under the best conditions. I had worked that out in theory during my many trips out that way, but it is good to have observational data to confirm it.

I had dressed to what I thought was excess that morning. The weather report was mildly optimistic about temperatures in the 50s, with sun but "some" wind. I was in two pairs of socks, four t-shirts, Spring jacket, earmuffs, baseball cap, "texting" gloves (an unfortunate, but useful, give away in years past), with a Mets wool hat in reserve (ditto). This clothing choice was borne out when I got off the subway. The wind was absolutely whipping out at Willet's Point' knocking over signs, barricades, small children, and unsecured concrete. It wasn't cold out, per se, but that wind was not helping the situation. Everyone waiting on line to get in at the stadium were arrayed like a herd of water buffalo, backs to the wind in a vague semi-circle, hunched together for heat. As per normal, they only let non-season-ticket holders in two hours before the game. Thankfully, I was there early enough to be right at the front of a line, so I was one of the first ten non-special people to get in the door.

Getting home was getting there in reverse. I was right onto a 7 express back to the city, and then an orange to the PATH train back to Hoboken, which I barreled on to as the doors were closing. On the 7, I believe I was sitting next to a woman recording a Spanish 101 audio tape during a phone conversation. God as my witness, she was asking what time to meet someone at the library.

I have used up all my good luck. I fear for my life.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Citi Field
Home plate to center field, Not Shea Stadium

Not Shea is still Not Shea, with a circus now seemingly a permanent fixture in the parking lot. There wasn't a whole lot new at the park this year. They had put in two more walkway plaques to commemorate the All-Star Game last year and David Wright's All-Star homer in 2006. Mike "Jackass Roid Freak" Piazza was added to the Mets Hall of Fame. In more useful tributes, Ralph Kiner had a "Kiner's Korner" exhibit added to the Mets Museum, a grass-paint tribute behind home plate, and a circle added to the retired numbers, which are now behind the Party City seats in left. There was also a bunch of Kiner merchandise in the stores. Miss you, Ralph.

Kiner's CornerCasey
Ralph in our hearts; Casey with us always

The only other new addition was the remnants of All-Star game crammed into the Bullpen entrance. The two All-Star apples were perched up in front of the bullpens, and the giant All-Star sign that was on the scoreboard was placed at the end of an alley. Once again, I really have to wonder who the heck is in charge of these things over there.

Mr. Met
Just some guy

No doubt thanks to the weather, the crowd started out sparse, at least in the seats. It would not surprise me if a good portion of them were seeking shelter at the enclosed parts of the park. There were also an unreasonable amount of Reds fans in attendance. I have to imagine it was just the start of the season buzz that shook all the displaced Cincinnatians to the park. By the end of the game, the crowd was of more respectable, and it got loud in the ninth.


At the Game with Oogie:

Scoring
Scoring possibilities

I was in the Caesar's Club Bronze seats along the first-base line for this game. I normally do the third-base side, and I think I will again, but it was a good change of pace, and it worked at karmically. Also, the prices for tickets were sliced in half this year. My seat only cost $39 bucks. I again was the first person served at Shake Shack, as I went straight back as soon as the gates opened at the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

Perhaps because of the weather, people were sparse in our section at the start of the game. There was a guy who looked a lot like Buddy Holly sitting two or three rows ahead of us who earned the ire of those in the section by getting up every half inning in the middle of plays to head out to do Buddy Holly things. Go take a plane ride, guy.

Grub
First shack of the year

There was eventually a group of teenage boys sitting to my right (including one of those oddly numerous Reds fans), and a young Hispanic family to my right. The family had an adorable daughter, or what I expect was a daughter, as only her eyes poked out of a big pink swaddle of clothes against the wind. They didn't show up until right before the Mets took the lead for the first time, so I shall treat them as lucky.


The Game:

First pitch, reds vs. Metropolians
First pitch, Reds vs. Metropolitans

Where to even begin.

The Metropolitans came crashing out of the gate and were 1-3 going into the first weekend of the season. Dylan Gee, going for the Mets this game, was a hard-luck loser on Opening Day and facing a 1-3 Reds team that weren't nearly as bad as their record indicated, if last year was any benchmark.

I believe I have already mentioned the cold and wind issue. It was going to have an impact somehow, either on the pitchers, or the batters, or the fielders. What it would be was to be seen by all of us freezing our patooties off in the seats at Not Shea.

#5
He's so dreamy.

And the answer seemed to be the batters. The Reds went in order in the first, and the Mets only managed a two-out walk that went nowhere. The Reds went down in order again in the second, but the Mets worked something of a rally. A one-out walk made it to second on a ground-out to the pitcher. The number eight man drew an intentional walk, to make it first and second with two outs, and then the Reds' pitcher balked them both into scoring position. But with pitcher Gee at the plate, he meekly struck out to end the inning.

A one-out single in the top of the third ended the no-no, but a couple more ground outs ended the threat. The Mets only managed a runner on an E4 in the bottom of the inning, and the Reds and Mets both went in order in the fourth. Perhaps having finally gotten acclimatized to the weather, the Reds started the fifth off with a line-drive homer to right, then scaterring a couple of two-out hits before ending their half. The Mets could only manage a one-out double to end the Reds' no-hit bid in their half of the fifth.

The Reds went in order in the sixth, but the Mets started it off with a single in the bottom of the inning. A fielder's choice swapped runners on first, and then new acquisition Curtis Granderson crushed a homer to right. A two-out single was all they had for the rest of the inning, giving the Mets a 2-1 lead at the end of six. The Reds had some baserunners thanks to a walk and a fielder's choice in the seventh, and the Mets only managed a two-out single.

The Reds had some life left, however. They started the eighth with a double to right, and promptly bunted him over to third. That was for naught, as the next batter lined another homer to left, pulling the Reds into a 3-2 lead. With the lead lost, the Mets felt safe to go to the pen, and two quick outs followed. The Mets responded in the bottom of the eighth by going down in order in the heart of the lineup. The top of the ninth featured a new Mets' reliever and a one-out single, but nothing else.

And then the bottom of the ninth. The bottom of the order was up for the Mets; the closer was in for the Reds. It did not look good. A leadoff walk gave some hope. An attempt to bunt the runner to second apparently ended in a 1-6 putout, but Terry Collins popped out of the dugout and issued a challenge on the play. And we're off to the races. The process, which we were assured would be under a minute, took at least three, but it ended with the call being overturned, and the runner ruled safe at second. The next batter walked to load up the bases with no outs. The pitcher spot was up.

Ike Davis
Our hero

And out walks Ike Davis, newly demoted from the starting first base job and relegated to the bench. Not a man with anything to prove at all, I'm sure. He crushed a pitch to right for a walk-off, pinch-hit, grand slam. The crowd goes wild. Put it in the books.


The Scorecard:

Reds vs. Metropolitans, 04-05-14. Metropolitans win, 6-3, on a pinch-hit, walk-off, grand slam.Reds vs. Metropolitans, 04-05-14. Metropolitans win, 6-3, on a pinch-hit, walk-off, grand slam.
Reds vs. Metropolitans, 04/05/14. Metropolitans win, 6-3, on a pinch-hit, walk-off, grand slam.

As crazy a game as it was, it even hit on my scoring checklist of getting a review play while I was scoring.

I was using the BWAA Official Scorebook again, although I bought the program anyway for the Ralph Kiner tribute. Early on during the hitting freeze, there wasn't a lot interesting going on except for the balk in the second. All the runs came from dingers, which was an odd bit of information, as was the only three put-outs the Mets made in the field at first base.

The scoring story of the game was the challenge, however. Actually, there were almost two, as the Reds manager came out for a chat on the 5-4 putout in the top of the seventh inning. The best guess was he was asking if it was reviewable, but the umpires apparently judged it a neighborhood play at second which could not be reviewed.

The main event was in the bottom of the ninth. The sacrifice bunt back to the pitcher and over to the shortstop at second was ruled on the field to be a 1-6 putout. Collins used his appeal, and people went off and reviewed the play, and the runner was eventually judged safe at second, something everyone in the stands already knew, because the TV screens showed us a clear replay nearly immediately.

I gave the play an asterisk and noted the original call and the over-turn, and then scored the play as finalized in the scorecard proper. And a check mark for Saturday.


The Accommodations:
Hoboken, Sweet, Hoboken



2014 Stand-Alone Trip