Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hartford

On the New "Kid" on the Block
Saturday, April 29, 2017
Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco Giants) vs. Hartford Yard Goats (Colorado Rockies)
Dunkin' Donuts Park
Eastern League (AA)
Hartford, CT
7:10 PM

Outside the Game:
This day did not start off auspiciously. It was in the 90s and humid, and my aunt passed away after a several-months battle with lung cancer. So, not a great beginning.

I did my laundry and called up the box office to order tickets for the game. I got a very enthusiastic salesman who convinced me I should get a ticket in the Hartford Corner as it would have access to the club level, and since it was only $17, why not? I booked a night at a hotel right across the street from the stadium, as I didn't feel like driving home that night and might as well take it easy.

It was going to be my first time taking a road trip in my new leased car. As mentioned, it was already an odd day, and I grabbed my overnight bag and my baseball bag and called an Uber to take me to my car. Upon reaching my car, I realized I did not have my car key with me. This is because it was a very bulky key, and I didn't enjoy carrying it around unless I had to. This would be the incident that inspired me to carry it around all the time anyway. Because I had to take an Uber back to my apartment to get my key, and then another Uber to get me back to my car. And then I was finally away.

The drive was only about two hours, but I was running into a lot of congestion by the Tappan Zee Bridge. And then when I got to the bridge, I found out that they took EZ Pass only, and the other option was to just drive through and be tolled by mail for an extra cost. This would be the final straw to get me to buy my own EZ Pass, so a lot of things were getting solved on this trip, if nothing else.

I stopped for a quick lunch in Connecticut, and then completed my drive to my hotel. It was some tricky turning around to get to the hotel, which was at the junction of three main roads, but I eventually got to the entrance to find a lot of the hotel, especially the garage was under construction. This was compounded by signs in the garage saying that said construction was being halted because of workers comp violations by the hotel and construction company. So this was all fine.

I checked in and dropped off my bag before heading across the street to the park to take my pictures and stop in at the shop. I picked up my ticket on the way out, and walked back to the hotel to see no less than three police cars arresting some guy on the road to the hotel. This greatly increased my esteem further for Hartford as an up-and-coming city.

I went back to the hotel for a little lay down before heading back over to the stadium right before the gates were due to open. I went to the special club entrance, and I was one of the first people inside when the go sign was given.

After the game, I walked back across the street to the hotel as the fireworks were finishing. I went up to my room and saw the last of it from my window before finishing off my scorecard, having a soak in the tub, and hitting the hay for the evening.

The Stadium & Fans:
Dunkin' Donuts Park was the subject of many a scandal before it was finished. Started at the end of 2015, it was scheduled to host the newly relocated New Britain Rock Cats in Hartford as the newly named "Yard Goats." Construction delays and over-runs made false that goal, and the Yard Goats were forced to graze on tin cans as a road warrior team for the entire of the 2016, finishing in an impressive third place in the Eastern League. As 2016 closed, the league said the franchise would be taken away if they didn't start playing home games the next season, so the city fired the old developer, and a new one managed to get the stadium open in time for the 2017 season.

So what of Dunkin' Donuts Park? It is located downtown, just at the junction of 44, 84, and 91, so convenient to get to, but not exactly in the greatest location, although downtown does frame the view over the outfield wall. The landscaping outside the park was still being finished up early in the season, but the outside facade was all complete, and the naming rights for the two other entrances beside the main entrance plaza by home plate had already been sold off to local Hartford business. A team store runs across one outside wall of the park, ending in the ticket booths by the main entrance.

As per standard for minor league parks these days, the entrances all empty onto a main concourse above the seating level. A single section of seats descends from the concourse from left field around home plate to right field. In the outfield, a single small section of seats hang behind the outfield wall for the length of the outfield, while the seats in right are in the shade underneath the overhanging club seats. There is a second level of club seating that runs from third base, behind home plate, and all the way out to right-center field. Right behind home plate on the second level is the Yard Goat Club, with private bar and concessions, festooned with Hartford baseball memorabilia, and glass doors marking off the club seats right over home plate. A row of luxury boxes goes down each base line, but the right field upper deck ends in the right field corner with the Hartford Corner seats at the junction of right field, and then a row of seats on the top of the right field wall runs the length of the outfield to center field. The press box is wedged under the Hartford Club at the top of the seats behind home plate.

Other special seating areas include the Dunkin' Dugout seats in the left field corner, The Budweiser Corner in a special separate party area about center field, and the Kids Fun Zone in left-center field. The main entrance to the park has the starting lineup for the day in pictures, and the area of the concourse behind home plate and blocked from view has the history of Hartford's professional sports teams, past and present. Most of the concessions (including the inevitable Dunkin Donuts shop) are on the main concourse behind home plate and around the park.

Center field is a striking "green monster" type wall that incorporates the batter's eye into the wall, with the Budweiser party area poking from the top and two retired numbers on the wall. The giant main scoreboard rises from right-center, and is completely digital, although surrounded by print ads from various sponsors, and, of course, topped with a giant cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee that steams when the Yard Goats hits a home run. All-in-all, it is a great new park, though perhaps not quite worth all the wait.

Mascots Chompers and Chew Chew are around for the entire game in their brand-new costumes. The locals seem to be interested in the new team, as the stadium was packed with fans for this early-season Saturday game. Most of the between-innings entertainment is about what you'd expect in the mid-minors with races, and contests and the like. There was, as to be expected, a Dunkin Donuts race between a coffee, an iced coffee, and a donut.

After the game there was a ball-toss and fireworks, though I was heading back to the hotel at this point.

At the Game with Oogie:
At the advice of the guy at the stadium, I was in the "Hartford Corner" seats, which gave me club access. In fact, I was the first person in the club room when the gates opened, even before the club area was supposedly open for business. I just went straight into an elevator with some employees, and I got there a few minutes before it was "really" opened.

I did my walking around and picture taking, eventually grabbing a pulled pork, mac & cheese, and cornbread bowl (because how can you not) and then later a foot-long brat on a bread bun with a soda.

My seats were in the right field corner, the aforementioned "Hartford Corner." The seats in the right field overhang were great seats and not that far from home plate. My particular seat was an odd one, in that it was at the top of a stairway, and there was an extra railing separating a small section of stairway in front of my seat from the rest of the stairway, for some reason. I can only assume it was a special stairway just for the person in that seat.

Anyway, also in the Hartford Corner with me were guys who were on an adult baseball team together. The mostly kept to themselves, shouting loud in-jokes and ordering each other to get more beer and food.

The Game:
This Eastern League matchup was early enough in the season that I had no idea what to expect as the visiting Richmond Flying Squirrels faced off against the Hartford Yard Goats in their new home.

The scoring started immediately, as in the top of the first with two outs, Richmond rattled off a single, walk, double, and triple in order to quickly bring in three runs for the early 3-0 lead. In their half, the Yard Goats got a one-out double, but he was stranded after a bizarre fielder's choice (more below) and a strikeout. The Flying Squirrels kept going in the second with a one-out single followed by a homer to dead center, bringing in two more for a 5-0 difference. Hartford got some back in the bottom of the inning with back-to-back, one-out singles that left it first and third, and a suicide squeeze sacrifice bunt that was so good everyone was safe. A run came in before a pickoff and strikeout ended the scoring, with the home team behind now 5-1. Richmond only had a walk in the top of the third, and the Yard Goats went in order in their half.

The Flying Squirrels scattered a walk and single in the fourth to no effect, while Hartford started off with a single, a walk, and a single to bring in a run. A strikeout on a hit and run turned into a double steal to bring in the runner from third, tightening the visitors’' lead to 5-3. Richmond went in order in the fifth, while the Yard Goats cracked a two-out homer to center to cut the lead to 5-4.

And then, the game kind of stopped, or at least the scoring did. The Flying Squirrels only had a double in the sixth, while Hartford went in order the next two innings, and Richmond only had a walk to show for the seventh themselves. The Flying Squirrels went in order the last two innings, with Hartford tossing out one single in each inning to finalize Richmond's 5-4 victory.

The Scorecard:
The scorecard was a paper photocopy given out with the rosters and the free mini-tabloid program. There were three lines for each replacement and a small diamond in each box to chart the progress around the bases.  All in all, it was a functional enough scorecard, if a little cramped.

For the most part, there were any exceptional plays from a scoring standpoint, but there were a few that needed clarification. The bottom of the first featured a good-ole CS 1-5-6-1-3t that need a rather extended note to explain it away. On a grounder to the pitcher, he threw it to the third baseman to get the runner already on second. The lead runner retreated to second, but the trailing runner made it to second already behind him. The trailing runner broke for first, and was eventually put out 6-1-3t. Simple, really.

Not content with that, the bottom of the second featured an E1 that needed a note. The batter attempted a suicide squeeze sacrifice bunt with runners on third and second. It worked in bringing in the run, and everyone was safe. The pitcher then attempted to pick off the sacrifice bunter at first and threw it away, moving the runners from first and second up to second and third.

Finally, in the bottom of the fourth, there were runners at first and third with no outs. There was a hit-and-run attempt with the runner on first with two strikes, which turned into a double steal with a strikeout. The throw went to second, and the runner from third broke for home. Both were safe, in technically the only steal of home I've witnessed in person.

The Accommodations:
For my one-night stay, I was at the Radisson Hartford, which was literally right across the street from the stadium, and was, in fact, housing the opposing team. While actively being under construction, it was still in pretty good shape, with a fancy lobby that had obviously been redone already.

My room was nice enough. A small hallway led to my bathroom on the right and then on to the main bedroom with a king-sized bed and overstuffed chair across from a dresser and TV and a desk.

Even though there was a family reunion and a wedding in the hotel, it was quiet and I got sleep, so that was all I really cared about for such a short visit.


On Going Home, Quietly
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Jersey City, NJ

Outside the Game: 
I got relatively early and checked out. It was an uneventful ride home at just about two hours. I parked the car in Hoboken, and I was a short walk back to my apartment in the Heights for an afternoon nap and preparing for work the next day.

The Accommodations:
Jersey City, sweet, Jersey City


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Queens

On Starting the Season, Ready or Not
Saturday, April 8, 2017
Miami Marlins vs. New York Metropolitans
Not Shea Stadium (Citi Field)
MLB (National League)
Queens, NY
7:10 PM

Outside the Game:
It was a late evening Saturday game for another "Opening Weekend," so I spent the morning in my regular Saturday schedule of doing the laundry and taking a nap. Eventually, I got ready for the game, and instead of walking, I decided to get an Uber to the Hoboken PATH station. However, the traffic in Hoboken was awful, and I of course managed to get to the PATH train right after a 33rd train had left. The good news was that it left me time to re-up all my transit passes while I was waiting for the next train to show up.

I eventually got my train to NY, and managed to snag an Orange subway connection right away, but I was not so lucky with the 7, running down the stairs to watch one just pulling out. This was then compounded with an announcement nearly immediately afterward saying that there were "serious delays" on the 7 line, making me wait an extra long time for the next train, which was wall-to-wall people almost the entire ride out to Willet's Point thanks to the aforementioned delays.

Eventually free and just before the gates opening, there were huge lines already piled up and the main gate, so I went around the back to the Bullpen entrance, which was bereft of anyone except the guy manning the gate and some old timers in line ahead of me. The gates opened on time, and I was off to the Shake Shack for my first burger of the year.

I bailed on the fireworks after the game, and I was back to the subway in good time. Just as I was boarding the 7 homeward, the fireworks started going off in the distance. I was in no mood. The trip back home was uneventful, and I was in bed before midnight, wondering if this awful night was going to be a bellwether for the season.

The Stadium & Fans:
Good old Not Shea was open for another season of business, and there were a bunch of changes afoot. Out in center on top of the "7 Line Army" section was a Jim Beam Bourbon Bar. So now you know where they get their "team spirit." There were also new round plaques of retired numbers up on the left field side by the out-of-town scoreboard.

The biggest change was in the non-alcoholic beverage concession, where over the winter the Pepsi Porch had miraculously become the "Coca Cola Corner," which was gussied up with some new Coca-Cola bottle patio chairs and some new Coca-Cola branded amusements like fast pitch and cornhole. The brought-in wall in left now hosted an entire row of seats instead of the party area that was there previous seasons. There were also more low-key corporate naming rights with the restaurant out in left becoming the "Porche Grill" with a car out front that they got up there somehow, there were "Nikon Photo Spots" all around the park now, and Spotswoods took over the club level concession name.

In less-appealing changes, the area by the Whiffle-ball field that had previously housed the kids store now had a DJ booth, for some godawful reason, and the kids store moved upstairs, to be replaced with a "Season Ticket Holder Lounge." Yes, the Metropolitan ownership will do absolutely everything to give season ticket holders some stupid perks, but not anything that anyone wants or is asking for.

The crowd was a little sparse for the cold April Saturday evening game. Less people to be disappointed, really. Mr. Met and the ill-conceived Mrs. Met were on hand for the between-innings entertainment, which hadn't changed all that much at all.

At the Game with Oogie:
I grabbed my first Shack of the year and later got a Rao's meatball sub in the club area dining. I did my visit to the team store and the museum, and then had my walk-around to see what was new in Metropolitan land.

My seats were just past third on the club level, and there was a big family in front on me, with one guy who kept bragging all game about how he was connected and got the seats. There was an awesome old lady sitting next to me. Her jacket was covered in pins, and she was scoring the game along with me. I just wish the team had put on a better performance for her, but she was old enough to be immune to disappointment. I envied her.

The Game:
This early season matchup between the bottom-dwelling Marlins and the bottom-aspiring Metropolitans was a one-sided route that wasn't even much fun to watch. The fact that New York was no-hit through 5.6 innings is about all you need to know.

The Marlins started off the top of the first with a one-out double brought home on a ground out and a single to steak them to a 1-0 lead. As mentioned, the Metropolitans were no-hit until the 5th (with a perfect game thrown against them until a two-out fourth inning walk), so let's ignore them until the later innings. Miami got a leadoff homer to left to lead off the second, and a questionable triple and a sacrifice fly brought in another run in the third, extending the lead to 3-0.

Miami had only one baserunner on an error in the fourth, and scattered a walk and a single in the fifth. The Metropolitans began the bottom of the fifth with two strikeouts, and then Duda finally got the first hit, a homer to left with authority. Back-to-back walks followed, but were stranded, with the score a more respectable 3-1. Miami only had a walk in their half of the sixth, and the New York promptly went back to going in order.

The Marlins put another run on the board in the seventh with two walks and a single, while the Metropolitans scraped together another single. Not quite done scoring, Miami started the eighth with three singles in a row and a suicide squeeze bunt to plate two more runs, while New York only managed a single in their half, leaving the score 6-1. The Marlins continued feasting on the New York bullpen in the ninth, turning a walk and two singles into two more runs. The only good thing was that the Metropolitans got so good at striking out (13 on the night) that they managed to get on base with one before feebly ending the inning and the 8-1 loss.

The Scorecard:
Although I picked up a $6 program, I didn't even bother to check the scorecard until I got home. I was so inured to the awful designs the Metropolitans had put out that I was shocked in flipping through the program on the way home that it appeared they had adopted a new, clean design for the scorecard that I would definitely have to check out on subsequent visits.

That said, and not knowing the above, I scored the game in the BBWAA scorebook. There were a few interesting plays from a scoring perspective. Let's start with strikeouts. There was a strikeout bunting in the top of the fourth, for a rare MLB "K-B." There were also two "K-2"s on Marlins players where the final third strike was not caught cleanly, which you don't find in many major league games unless a knuckleballer is going. The Metropolitans just struck out a lot, but they had an even more rare K in the bottom of the ninth where the runner reached base because the batter was not put out after a dropped third strike.

There were also a bunch of plays that needed actual notation. A bunch of double-shifts required a shifted player line for both teams in the scorecard to accommodate new players. A Metropolitan challenge on a safe steal call in the top of the seventh was denied. The first oh-so-time-saving immediate intentional walks that I saw in person happened in the top of the seventh. And then there were a couple of calls I disagreed with the scoring on. A triple in the top of the third was clearly an E8 on a botched play, and conversely, an E5 ruled in the top of the fourth was clearly a single. I don't know what the official scorer was doing on those plays, but it wasn't even home cooking.

The Accommodations:
Jersey City, sweet, Jersey City