June: The Friendly Confines [Fukubukuro 2010]
Jan 7th, 2011 by Dan

Wrigley Field is baseball. No other ballpark I’ve ever been to has exuded quite so much of that je ne sais quoi that makes baseball so great. You know, I think I do know what makes Wrigley so great for baseball. It’s the fact that no matter what year it is, no matter how many garish Toyota signs are up in the outfield, or how the game of baseball has changed since its inception, the Cubs show up in a Wrigley laid out almost identically to its opening day in 1914, complete with a manual scoreboard and ivy walls, and play ball in a park that has become one with Chicago. Wrigley Field is a constant. No matter what you do to it, watching a ball game feels like you’re back in the 1950s. Wrigley is comforting in that way. It immediately makes you feel like you’ve been watching baseball there forever, even during your first visit.

My good friend Duffy lives out in Chicago. She’s getting her PhD. in psychology at Northwestern, which is absolutely amazing, but I miss hanging out with her terribly. A few of my friends and I decided to remedy that whole “we miss Duffy” problem by heading out to the Windy City to take in some good, old-fashioned baseball at the oldest National League ballpark in America. Our tickets were for a day game, my favorite time to watch baseball, and came in at a respectable $40 for pretty darn good seats in the upper decks. Everything but the opponent was looking good, but at least I’d potentially get to see Hideki Matsui take an at bat in the Friendly Confines (NOTE: Matsui did not play).

Our trip on the ‘El’ was uneventful, but it was filled with the same enthusiasm for baseball that I’d seen on rare occasion in Washington, but often on the trains that crisscross New York City when attending Yankees or Mets games. The closer we got, the more packed each car became with that beautiful Cubs blue that the team wears (Quick aside, there is no sports team color that I find hotter than Cubs blue (Gator blue comes in a close second). Maybe I’ve dated too many blue-eyed girls (Cubs blue does things to their eyes that ought to be illegal), but it’s got this perfect aspect to it that makes a girl damn near irresistible to me on a hot summer day. What this says about my psychological health and why I’m not inherently attracted to Marlins teal or Cornell red, I’m not quite sure.). Excitement built as we approached the Anderson stop and I could see the stadium looming over the surrounding buildings.

Did Yankee Stadium ever actually sit within New York City the way that Wrigley Field is nestled within Chicago? Why don’t more ballparks do this? Townhouses line three of Wrigley Field’s four sides, some with bleachers on their roofs for fans to watch the game. The separation between the ballpark and those houses: one regular-sized city street. Citi Field is right in the middle of Flushing, but the giant parking lot is on one side and I don’t think the other has much in the way of actual New York City. These are missed opportunities to make your ballpark, no, your team a part of the community. Instead Yankee Stadium has done all it could to alienate New York City. Ticket prices are astronomical, parks have been destroyed to construct parking garages, and everything about the team screams “We are too good for you.

The Phillies are a blue team. It annoys the people who think baseball should be an elite institution, but Philadelphians know no other way to do things. Their team is managed by a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, the fans are allowed to bring food into the ballpark, and members of the team that don’t seem like they belong in Philly quickly find themselves on the shit list of fans. The Cubs aren’t this way; they’re a little more like the Red Sox, with their pink hats and facetime-seeking fans, but Wrigley…Wrigley handles everything the way a ballpark should. Wrigley belongs to the people. You can sit behind the plate for $100 or less (assuming you could find a ticket the almost always sold out games).

Despite not winning for over 100 years, the Cubs are a premium product without being as stuck up as the Yankees. That’s the overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t escape while I was in Wrigley. This team, one of the biggest, most storied franchises in the world, both loves and is loved by the fans. I’ve yet to attend a game at Fenway, the other remaining “classic” stadium, but I find it hard to believe that any ballpark could be more perfect or more baseball than Wrigley Field.

The Famous Sign - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Chicago Cubs 19 June 2010

A Cold Night in Philadelphia: The Weekend’s Scores That Matter [WMQ]
Apr 19th, 2010 by Dan

The Phanatic likes to mess around with everyone, including reporters.

I spent a far-too-cold night at Citizens Bank Park freezing my butt off, but enjoying a Marlins victory over Fish-killer Jamie Moyer. A review of the park should be hitting soon, but I’ve got to finish writing it first.

16 April

Chunichi Dragons (3) at Hiroshima Carp (4). If I’m not mistaken, this one was won in extra innings. A thrilling victory for the Carp.

Rakuten Eagles (1) at Softbank Hawks (9). The losing streak continues

Florida Marlins (6) at Philadelphia Phillies (8). Roy Halladay throws 8 innings of 2-run baseball that’s almost ruined by his relief in the 9th. Florida doesn’t have enough to get the last two, but they make it interesting.

Milwaukee Brewers (3) at Washington Nationals (5). Is this a two-game win streak I smell?

Baltimore Orioles (2) at Oakland Athletics (4). It just gets uglier and uglier for the Os.

17 April

Dragons (7) at Carp (8). It’s always refreshing to see my other Fish manage so many runs. More late-inning heroics push Hiroshima up and give them the series win.

Eagles (8) at Hawks (3). The Golden Eagles have tons of run-scoring potential, but they’re often unable to get it done. When you’ve got Iwakuma and Ma-kun pitching Saturday and Sunday, respectively, you’d better score runs to capitalize on good pitching performances.

Brewers (0) at Nationals (8). Liván Hernández shows, once again, that he is still an amazing pitcher. I’ll never forget his performance for the Fish in 1997 and it makes me happy that he’s still going so strong. 3-game win streak for the Nats.

Orioles (3) at Athletics (4). More ugliness. How much longer will Dave Trembley have a job if things continue like this? Is there some unspoken Baltimore-Washington rule that one of the teams must be terrible?

Marlins (5) at Phillies (1). The game I was at. What a beauty. Good thing the Fish got to Jamie Moyer early, because the bats were mostly silent after the first inning.

Tampa Bay Rays (3) at Boston Red Sox (1). This game started on Friday, but was rain-delayed in the 9th inning at a 1-1 tie. It resumed and went for 12 before finally getting resolved in Tampa Bay’s favor.

Rays (6) at Red Sox (5). Should have been more of a blow-out for the Rays than it was, but Longoria’s home run turned out to be the difference.

18 April

Eagles (0) at Hawks (1). Masahiro Tanaka throws a gem of a game that the Hawks win with in the bottom of the 9th while Ma-kun tried to get his 27th out. It’s a shame that he goes for so many and his offense does squat for him. Rakuten finishes the week in fifth with 8-15-0 with a huge 8.5 game deficit.

Dragons (2) at Carp (4). Was this what I think it was? A series sweep by the Carp! Could this mean fortune is beginning to favor Hiroshima? The Carp close the weekend 9-11-0 in fourth and only three games back from first.

Marlins (2) at Phillies (0). Lefty Nate Robertson does what he was hired to do: kill Phillies left-handed hitters. The Marlins win yet another series and raise their standing to 8-5 putting them half a game back on the Phils.

Rays (7) at Red Sox (1). An amazing performance by Matt Garza puts the Rays ahead of the Sox yet again. If Tampa Bay can manage one more win in this long series, they’ve got themselves a sweep on their hands. Should they manage said sweep, it would be the second sweep of the Sox at Fenway in Rays history. The Rays are 9-3 and tied for first with the Yankees.

Brewers (11) at Nationals (7). Jason Marquis has the ugliest performance of his career, giving up seven runs in the first inning without recording an out. He’s pulled and the Nats give up three more. They make a strong comeback effort, but it’s not quite enough. They’re playing 0.500 baseball, folks, with a 6-6 record that puts then in fourth, but only two games back from Philadelphia. Also great is that they’re two games above New York. Fantastic baseball being played so far.

Orioles (8) at Athletics (3). The skid ends for Baltimore, but the damage has been done. Baltimore is only 2-11 and a gigantic (for this point in the season) 7.5 games back. Ouch.

Three Sweeps and a Disappointing Win [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Oct 14th, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

Just like that we’re fully back to our regularly scheduled programming. I’ve gotta say, I missed this, but I’m also glad that I wasn’t here to write about Tampa Bay’s 11-game losing streak or the elimination of both Florida teams from playoff contention.

You were spared my regular season woes (and the sobbing that would go with it), but now you’ve gotta endure my complaining about postseason results.

Let’s take a look at the series still going on as of today…

That’s right, none of them (not that any of them would have been by today, I don’t think). Three of the four ended in a straight sweep and the other was three to one.

The only bright spot in playoff wins: The Angels beat Boston, clinching the final game in an uncharacteristic and stunning 9th inning collapse by Boston in Fenway. I was mostly ambivalent to the Cardinals and Dodger series, but the Yankees and the Phillies both got my blood boiling with their respective sweeps. The Twins/Yankees series stands out most in that it involved a few highly controversial calls by umpires, huge mistakes by the Twins, and three straight games where they gave up the lead.

Philadelphia’s win annoys me because I hate the Phillies and any success they have. Their next opponent will be LA and I can’t think of two teams that are more opposite than the two. The Phils have strong starting pitching and a relatively weak bullpen, but LA has just the opposite. Out in LA the lineup, Manny Ramirez excluded, is much lower key than the entire Phillies roster. It will be interesting.

The Yankees are going up against an amped Angels team. Los Angeles is playing tough in memory of the death of their teammate, Nick Adenhart, and they’ve been good against the Bronx Bombers so far this season. Hopefully this one goes the distance and is much less disappointing, but there are few things I could care less about than an Angels/Dodgers World Series.

It’s short this week, but there you go! I’ll try and keep everyone posted on playoff goings on beyond Wednesday. See you after the Championship Series start up for both leagues.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XII: The Curse of the Colonel [II]
Oct 13th, 2009 by Dan

The greatest sign Ive ever seen anywhere in the world.

The greatest sign I've ever seen anywhere in the world.

This was one of the days I was most looking forward to on the trip. The Hanshin Tigers may not have the raw popularity of the Yomiuri Giants, but they’ve definitely got the most rabid fanbase in the entire country. Beyond that, Koshien Stadium is said to be the “soul of Japanese baseball,” most likely because, beyond the already crazy Tigers that play there, everything from college games to the high school championships are housed within Koshien. It’s a storied stadium most often compared to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park here in the States.

A statue-type thing in the open-air vendor area outside of Koshien.

A statue-type thing in the open-air vendor area outside of Koshien.

We’re not ready to get too far into that yet, I’ve still got a little bit of Kyoto to cover before we got on the train to head for Nishinomiya. My morning was mostly occupied with wandering around the Kyoto station area to check some stuff out. I started out with going to the local Bic Camera to check out the games in stock. It turns out that quite a few others had the same idea, as there was a queue outside the shop just before the shop opened at 1000 that morning.

Maybe theyre trying to get some shopping in before the work day starts?

Maybe they're trying to get some shopping in before the work day starts?

Out of curiosity, I asked about the availability of the new Pokemon games that had come out the day before. They were predictably completely sold out. Browsing the shelves, I found a copy of a game I’ve been wanting to import since I played Elite Beat Agents, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. The sequel was nowhere to be found, but I definitely picked up the game to play during my downtime on the tour.

Not Ouendan, but the Japanese boxart of the game I played the most in Japan, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. The US boxart is near identical, the only difference is the placement of the title to accomodate the ESRB rating.

Not Ouendan, but the Japanese boxart of the game I played the most in Japan, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. The US boxart is near identical, the only difference is the placement of the title to accomodate the ESRB rating.

My need to browse video games now sated, I headed into The Cube to take a look around and grab breakfast. I spotted a Mister Donut, one of the more famous donut shops in Japan, and I decided that I would break my Western food boycott for the morning to sample this Japanese take on an American staple. Boy was I surprised when I spotted the donut you see below this text. Not only did the Japanese understand that donuts should be tasty and sweet, but here they were, out-American-ing the Americans with their chocolate donut, topped with powdered sugar, and filled with cream.

Just looking at that picture has probably raised your blood sugar to dangerous levels.

Just looking at that picture has probably raised your blood sugar to dangerous levels.

After taking about a week off of my life just by eating that donut, I decided to climb back up to the top of The Cube to see what it’s like in the daylight and snap some shots for David.

A different sight in the daylight, this is The Cube. There are folks gathering for a concert that will begin in an hour or two.

A different sight in the daylight, this is The Cube. There are folks gathering for a concert that will begin in an hour or two.

At the top was the familiar Happy Terrace, which looks completely different without the ambient light and lovers seated at the benches.

Sorry folks, no creepy happy picture of me this time. I didnt have someone else to hold the camera.

Sorry folks, no creepy "happy" picture of me this time. I didn't have someone else to hold the camera.

Still, it’s a completely relaxing rooftop to hang out on and I could see myself taking lunch breaks up there.

Its very peaceful.

It's very peaceful.

Dave and I were excited about the prospect of taking pictures of the Kyoto skyline from the top of The Cube, but it turns out that the Kyoto skyline isn’t really that interesting (to me).

Thanks to my amazing photographic skills, you also get to see my ghostly reflection in the glass as a bonus.

Thanks to my amazing photographic skills, you also get to see my ghostly reflection in the glass as a bonus.

After that it was about time to start taking trains to head to Nishinomiya, so I made my way down to the platform and eventually hopped on a local line. It was reassuring to see the number of Tigers fans increase the closer we got to Koshien, especially since some of them have very elaborately decorated clothing.

An example of an extremely customized jersey. The name, number, and other patches on his jersey were all hand-sewn (or ironed) on. Not content with what he already has, he seems to be shopping for more patches.

An example of an extremely customized jersey. The name, number, and other patches on his jersey were all hand-sewn (or ironed) on. Not content with what he already has, he seems to be shopping for more patches.

We eventually reached Nishinomiya and swapped onto the Hanshin train line that conveniently (and coincidentally!) ran to Koshien where we were immediately greeted by a sea of yellow and black jerseys and merchandise, both on display and on the tons of fans in the area. I don’t think I saw a single Baystars fan in the area. I made my way around and eventually bought a Takashi Toritani jersey and an awesome super deformed patch to eventually iron or sew on at home.

The area just outside the subway platform is lined with stalls selling all kinds of Tigers gear.

The area just outside the subway platform is lined with stalls selling all kinds of Tigers gear.

One of the most interesting things about Koshien Stadium is that there is a shrine just next door. Even more interesting is that this shrine seems to cater to baseball-related prayers.

A baseball-themed statue housed within the shrine.

A baseball-themed statue housed within the shrine.

For those unfamiliar with Shinto traditions (as I am), worshippers are able to go to shrines, purchase ema, wooden plaques for prayers and wishes, and pin them to the prayer/wish board. I’m oversimplifying, but that’s the basic idea (you can learn more from the wiki link I put up earlier or through your own research).

Most of the ema for sale at this shrine are baseball and/or Tigers-related.

Most of the ema for sale at this shrine are baseball and/or Tigers-related.

I’ve been told that many of these boards are prayers for the Tigers to succeed. I think that’s way cool.

I dont think I can spot a single non-baseball-related ema.

I don't think I can spot a single non-baseball-related ema.

If there’s one thing I absolutely love about Tigers fans, its those loose, flowing pants they love to wear. They’re typically yellow, white with pinstripes, or black, and they also typically feature pictures of Tigers or sewn on patches. The Tigers definitely have my favorite fans in all of Japan.

Its a long-distance shot, but you can see a few pairs of Tigers pants in this shot.

It's a long-distance shot, but you can see a few pairs of Tigers pants in this shot.

While it’s not totally unheard of to see a rival mascot at a ballpark (see the Buffaloes game for reference), I don’t think I’ve ever seen the rival mascots posing for pictures around the rabid fans of the home squad.

Im hoping that I missed the part where they all boo him and throw fruit at him.

I'm hoping that I missed the part where they all boo him and throw fruit at him.

Worse still, I saw the opposing mascots hanging out together!

Now heres a couple of Benedict Arnolds. Shameful.

Now here's a couple of Benedict Arnolds. Shameful.

For all their rabid love for the team, the Tigers haven’t won a Japan Series or really come all that close (aside from a loss in the 2003 Japan Series) since their only win in 1985 thanks to the Curse of the Colonel! :cue scary music:

This is the scariest picture of the Colonel Ive ever seen.

This is the scariest picture of the Colonel I've ever seen.

There are a few American fast food franchises that have made it big in Japan and Kentucky Fried Chicken is one of the bigger ones. While locations in America have all but abandoned the Colonel statue as a fixture of their stores, just about every KFC I’ve ever seen in Japan has themselves a statue of the famous Colonel Sanders, sometimes dressed up for whatever location he’s occupying.

One such Colonel Sanders, lightly decorated in Lions garb.

One such Colonel Sanders, lightly decorated in Lions garb.

The story goes like this: After finally winning their first Japan Series (the Tigers were founded in 1935) in 1985, the fans, already rabid without a reason to celebrate, went absolutely crazy to celebrate the victory. As the mob made its way to Ebisubashi Bridge, they began a pretty cool ritual where they called out a player’s name and a member of the mob who looked like him would jump into the canal the bridge spanned. Unfortunately for the Tigers, not one of the Japanese fans looked like one of the key components to their championship team, Randy Bass. Since all gaijin look alike anyway and, more importantly, the Colonel had a beard, one rabid fan grabbed a Sanders statue from a local KFC and tossed it into the canal in place of an actual person. Little did he know that this casual disregard for the property of a KFC would anger the spirit of Colonel Harland Sanders, cursing the team to failure until the day they finally recovered the statue.

You know, he doesnt seem all that much like a vindictive evil spirit to me.

You know, he doesn't seem all that much like a vindictive evil spirit to me.

As I said earlier, the team has really only come close to even approaching a Japan Series title once in 24 years, with most of the other seasons ending in last or near-last place. The moral of the story, never anger the spirit of a chicken-loving Southern gentleman.

You can dress him up in your teams colors all you want, but that wont guarantee hell come around.

You can dress him up in your team's colors all you want, but that won't guarantee he'll come around.

There is hope for Tigers fans who actually believe in curses. Just this year, on 10 March, the upper-body of the cursed Colonel statue was located while completing a beautification project on the Dōtonbori River. The right hand and the lower-body were located the next day, but his glasses and left hand remain at large. What does this mean for Tigers fans hoping for a return to glory after 24 years? So far, nothing. Despite a weak start to the season, the Tigers were in serious contention for the Climax Series up until their last game with the Swallows. Unfortunately, the Swallows were able to knock the Tigers out of the playoffs, but perhaps next year the curse will be lifted and the Tigers can once again win a series.

After spending 24 years in the drink, this Colonel statue looks surprisingly...who am I kidding, it looks disgusting.

After spending 24 years in the drink, this Colonel statue looks surprisingly...who am I kidding, it looks disgusting.

Koshien Stadium is, thankfully, one of three ballparks with actual grass growing in them (Skymark and Mazda are the other two) and it features an all-dirt infield that it seems like they over-water before the game.

You can tell its real because its patchy. Dont they have groundskeepers to take care of that?

You can tell it's real because it's patchy. Don't they have groundskeepers to take care of that?

The fans at Koshien are definitely dominant and so rabid, but I was legitimately shocked at how tiny the cheer section that was allotted to the Baystars was. Unlike other ballparks which give whole sections of the outfield, these guys were relegated to a small section. I don’t know if this is just because the Baystars are a marginal team or if this is a legitimate action by the Tigers. If it’s the latter, it just seems contrary to the Japanese culture of polite fairness.

The most pathetic (in size) cheer section we saw on the trip. The flag is being waved by a random Baystars fan in a clsoer section.

The most pathetic (in size) cheer section we saw on the trip. The flag is being waved by a random Baystars fan in a closer section.

That night’s game featured some solid, National League-style baseball with low scoring and plenty of small ball. The final score was 2-1 and the ever-famous Japanese closer, Kyuji Fujikawa, came out to finish the game.

Getting to see a legendary pitcher close out a game is always a plus.

Getting to see a legendary pitcher close out a game is always a plus.

One post-game celebration later, we were on our way back to Kyoto!…Except that the trains were furiously backed up thanks to all the post-game traffic. Our eight-man crew braved the line for about a half hour before even getting down to the platform. The train ride was fairly uneventful, but I was told by Ken that the gaggle of women on the train to Kyoto to go out that night were not interested in me because I “wasn’t tall enough.” I hate to set these girls up for disappointment, but I’m pretty sure that I’m well over the average height for the entire country. Them’s the breaks, I guess.

After we arrived in Kyoto, we all headed back to our rooms. The next day would be spent flying to Sapporo, so we had to get our rest to be up in time catch the proper trains and make our flight. It was also the final day that Jill and Nora would be on the tour, since they had to get back to their jobs at the university they worked at. Our group was down to six, but we were definitely going strong. Only four games to go.

Can they finally break the curse and win the Japan Series this year?

Can they finally break the curse and win the Japan Series this year? Nope. Maybe next year.

Citi Field vs. Yankee Stadium [WMQ]
Aug 5th, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Night Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

Instead of the usual sports roundup today, it’s going to be a battle of the new stadiums. That’s right, it’s Yankee Stadium vs. Citi Field!

A view of Citi Field from the parking lot

A view of Citi Field from the parking lot


Yankee Stadium from the subway platform

Yankee Stadium from the subway platform

Yankee Stadium

When you’re the New York Yankees, you’ve got certain expectations attached to your new stadium project. Yankee Stadium, even with all the revisions and reconstructions throughout the ages, stood for baseball history, really. Its departure was significant. Along with Fenway and Wrigley, Yankee Stadium stood tall in the face of the new ballpark craze. Yankee Stadium was the House that Ruth Built. You don’t get to be much more important than that. So it goes without saying that there was plenty to be said against building a new ballpark in this era of retro-new baseball stadiums. It would have to ostensibly be exactly what it was while trying to improve itself in every way. As someone who’s never been inside old Yankee Stadium, I can’t definitively say that they succeeded on that front, but anecdotal evidence seems to support that fact. Looking at the shell of the old park right next door, I’d be hard-pressed to argue with that assessment. The Yankee organization succeeded in taking the old and turning it new, but it begs the question. Why?

A view of the old. Tough shoes to fill for the new.

A view of the old. Tough shoes to fill for the new.

Make no mistake, Yankee Stadium is a joy to visit. It’s state-of-the-art and every surface almost sparkles, it’s so new. The fans seem mostly enthusiastic about the new park and they come to see the games in droves.

The fans are always excited to visit.

"I sold my kidney to afford a ticket!"

Right when you enter the ballpark, you see precisely where the millions have gone. There are bright, high definition televisions everywhere and an overall regal atmosphere throughout the interiors.

Yankee Stadium is very shiny and new. It certainly looks like a lot of money was spent.

Yankee Stadium is very shiny and new. It certainly looks like a lot of money was spent.

Unfortunately, all those shiny new additions to the ballpark seem to have taken its toll on the common man. In the current global recession, it seems rather ridiculous that the cheapest seats in the ballpark cost $14. Doesn’t seem that outrageous until you realize that those $14 seats are right next to the batter’s eye, a huge restaurant that obstructs the view of the opposite end of the outfield. You read that right. You pay $14 and you can’t even see Damon on the left if you’re sitting on the right. There are TVs up on the walls to allow you to see what’s going on the other side, but it seems like a major oversight. The next cheapest are the nosebleeders in the outfield for $23 and it goes up from there to over $1000 the closer and lower you get. It seems designed to bring in more money to the already bloated franchise, but at what cost? Do you think the working man with his two kids can afford a day at the ballpark at these prices? $92 just for admission, not to mention any food (which is also overpriced) and you’re looking at an expensive night just for three hours of entertainment.

A beautiful screen, but at what cost?

A beautiful screen, but at what cost?

That being said, you can’t blame them too much for the extravagance. The park is beautiful and the Yankees are a rich team with rich fans. In the back of the park, by the bullpens, lives the Monument Park, commemorating the greats in Yankees history. In fact, the whole park is filled with historical reminders that go a long way in reminding the fan that this team is serious business. I’m making it sound worse than it is above, it’s really a solid location to catch a game of baseball. I’ve gone into the home run business plenty on this site, but let me say that I personally saw two go over that infamous right field wall (one by Cano and one by Rodriguez). It’s funny to me that this park can give up so many while Citi gives up so few. As of this post, no Met has more than six home runs in their own ballpark.

Its really a solid location to catch a game of baseball. -Dan Mesa

"It's really a solid location to catch a game of baseball." -Dan Mesa

Citi Field

Unburdened with a stadium fondly remembered, Citi Field also stands right next to the park that housed the team since the 1960s, the abomination known as Shea Stadium. That place was such a generic, character-less hole that the public was more than happy to see it torn down and replaced. Thanks to the lack of love for Shea, the ballpark designers were free to get creative and they came up with this unfortunately named little gem.

Ill bet not one of those says We will always miss Shea.

I'll bet not one of those says "We will always miss Shea."

Corporate sponsored names pretty much stink for all ballparks (I don’t mind Tropicana Field for some reason, maybe it’s because that’s synonymous with oranges for me?), but what doesn’t is the inspiration for the new ballpark (what a crappy segue…). Modeled after Ebbets Field, former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first thing you see after you are padded down or EM wanded by security (I kid you not, they were padding down incoming fans), is the Jackie Robinson rotunda, a beautiful callback to Ebbets and a worthy celebration of the man to break the color barrier in baseball.

A monument to Jackie Robinson is nice, but all the Dodgers gear can confuse. Hey Dad, arent we here to see the Mets?

A monument to Jackie Robinson is nice, but all the Dodgers gear can confuse. "Hey Dad, aren't we here to see the Mets?"

My friend Lee pointed out that a monument to a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Mets stadium is kind of out of place. I’m inclined to agree, but the space is so beautiful and the cause so important that I can neither fault them nor be mad about the inconsistency.

Toilets from the future!

Urinals from the future!

I don’t really have anything bad to say about Citi Field. Prices are still more expensive at the ballpark than others in smaller markets, but that’s just New York, I guess. The urinals look kind of funny, I guess, the outfield wall is colored black and orange, making it look like the Giants play here, and they’ve still got the same problem with airplanes flying over and disrupting the calm of the game.

Wouldnt be a Mets game without planes taking off and landing.

Wouldn't be a Mets game without planes taking off and landing.

The park feels smaller than Shea, and for a reason, they cut out about 15,000 seats, but it really does the ballpark some major good. Gone are the super steep stairs and feelings of vertigo up in the nosebleed section. The diminished size and the warm feeling that brick evokes gives the park a homey, intimate feeling that the cold concrete of Shea just didn’t offer and the aloof, superior atmosphere of Yankee Stadium just can’t match. One of the major tenets of the retro-new ballpark craze is to have ridiculous corners and unique parts of the park that really bring the home to home-field advantage and make for a unique park. One look at right field in Citi and and rational right fielder would faint. There are so many odd angles, an overhanging patio (hitting it counts as a home run, even if the ball bounces back into the field), and super-high walls that help keep the home run numbers down, but will undoubtedly increase the number of triples given up in the park.

Right field is full of insane angles. BONUS: Clay Zavadas mustache is on the big screen.

Right field is full of insane angles. BONUS: Clay Zavada's mustache is on the big screen.

Even the backstop is made of brick, making getting home on a wild pitch that much harder. BONUS: This picture is following Angel Pagans game-winning, first career grand slam.

Even the backstop is made of brick, making getting home on a wild pitch that much harder. BONUS: This picture is following Angel Pagan's game-winning, first-in-his-career grand slam.

The best thing I can say about Citi Field is that it rekindled my love for baseball. Entering the ballpark I was feeling some fatigue from the long season. By the end of the game, I was pumped for my upcoming baseball trip to Japan and I couldn’t wait to get back home and watch more baseball this season. How can you not love a ballpark that reminds you of everything you love about the game?

The only welcome holdout from Shea, the home run Big Apple

The only welcome holdout from Shea, the home run Big Apple


New York City is lucky to have not one, but two great new ballparks this season and they both succeed at the goals they were shooting for. Yankee Stadium is everything it was, almost down to a ‘T’ and to its own detriment while Citi Field was allowed to be something completely new and chose to embrace its past. Maybe I’m just a sucker for brick (I love you Camden Yards!), but Citi Field just feels more like baseball to me.

Winner: Citi Field

Nationals Park Review [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Apr 22nd, 2009 by Dan

It’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

The American Ballpark Tour continues this month with my first visit to a relatively new baseball stadium, Nationals Park. First opened for the 2008 season, the park is home to the struggling Washington Nationals (3-10 as of today) and actually presents one of the better baseball stadiums I’ve ever been to.

As part of the new park boom kicked off by Camden Yards, Nationals Park features a lot of those quirky design choices that are standard in new ballparks. The new “it” thing is to give each stadium something unique to them to make them stand out from everywhere else. This is clearly an inspiration from the most classic and iconic baseball parks, like Wrigley Field with the Ivy or Fenway with the Green Monster. This is why Minute Maid Park has a bizarre hill in center field, Camden has those great warehouses, and Citi Field has that Ebbets Field-esque rotunda and facade. The Nats didn’t go as much for the retro-feel of Camden or any of those brick ballparks like Citi, but instead went with a more modern, clean, American look. In the shot below you can see some of its features, the curly W mowed into the field, the blue seats, red, white, and blue banners, the glass walls, and the Presidents Race, but the American feel is completed with cherry blossom trees, view of the Potomac, Capital Building, and Washington Monument, depending on where you sit, and statues of baseball greats Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, and Frank Howard.

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

In the top-right of this shot you can see the Red Loft, a bar section of SRO seats that has a pretty neat circular LED display that shows varying information about the game. This shot also shows aforementioned cherry blossom grove.

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

The scoreboards are state-of-the-art and have a pretty neat glowy, curly W clock on them. You can also see the out-of-town scoreboard in the bottom of this shot.

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

One of the best parts about the park that isn’t really conveyed in my pictures is the open feel of it. There exists only the bare minimum of outer walls to keep the park structurally sound to keep an open air feel within the park. This allows a refreshing breeze to flow into the park (a little too refreshing on Sunday for the upper decks…brrr) and also ensures that you, more or less, have a view of the ballpark no matter where you are in the complex as you walk around. The lower decks also have neat little SRO counters that you can lean against to enjoy your food and get a more intimate view of the ballgame than your $5 tickets might allow in the grandstands.

The Nationals, back when they played at RFK, birthed the greatest event ever with the Presidents Race, which continues in Nationals Park today. At every home game, during the fourth inning, the giant caricatures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt come bounding out from center field and go racing toward the home dugout. Here’s an idea of what the caricatures look like, but with smaller heads:

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

In this shot you can see what Jefferson actually looks like on the field along with part of Lincoln:

Nats vs Marlins 19 April 2009

As you can imagine, ridiculous antics usually ensue. At the game I went to, Jefferson totally checked Lincoln into the wall, allowing Washington to take an easy win. For some hilarious reason, the organization decided that Teddy Roosevelt should never win. For the three seasons that the president caricatures have been racing, Teddy has NEVER won a race. The few times that he’s managed to actually not get distracted and make it in first, he’s usually disqualified for cheating by driving a golf cart or taking a zip line in. He’s also been sabotaged by various other mascots to keep him from winning. Another hilarious personality comes from Lincoln. Turns out that Honest Abe isn’t so honest when it comes to a footrace. Lincoln has a strong desire to win and will do whatever it takes to get his way, cheating by tripping or even, as some suspect, juicing! You can see more pictures and footage about the Presidents Race at the Let Teddy Win blog.

Is Nationals Park more charming than Camden? No, but I get the feeling that it’s on purpose. Rather than go with the traditional retro-baseball look of Camden, the designers opted to architecturally match DC instead and create something uniquely American in their ballpark. There are also tons of great food options in the ballpark, many of them are even restaurants that you can find throughout Maryland, Northern Virginia, and DC. I’d rank this ballpark up there with the best on my list. It’s a far improvement to RFK and it’s close to Camden on my list of favorites. For $5 a ticket in the grandstands, you really have no excuse not to go.

Nationals Domo

Oh yeah, Domo-kun made his way to this park too.

Wednesday Morning Quarterback: End of the MLB Regular Season
Oct 1st, 2008 by Dan

You’ve probably heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20 on Monday morning, so just imagine how well I can call ’em two days later on Wednesday. That’s right, it’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

It took 163 games, but as of today we officially have our eight teams set for the 2008 postseason. How did I do in predicting the outcome of the 2008 MLB season? Well let’s take a look, division by division, at my guesses and predictions and see:

AL East

It finally happened: the Tampa Bay Rays came and took a division win for the first time ever in the organization’s ten-year existence. They’re not the first to go from last to first in one season, but it’s still a good story to see them come so far in their brief history. It’s also great to see Florida teams do so well in the season and hopefully we’ll see more attendance in Tampa (technically St. Petersburg). It was always a bit of a pipe dream on my part, despite my knowledge that this team was the real deal, mainly because their youth would have been their greatest enemy. You can’t claim that a team inexperienced with the playoff push in one of the harder divisions in baseball can confidently take first place. Good for me that they did, though, makes me look nice and smart.

Boston performed as I predicted it would too, winning the AL wild card and taking second place in the AL East. It’s a bit of a tough break for them to not win the AL East, since now they have to play the Los Angeles Angels in the first round of the playoffs. I’ll get more into this when I make my postseason predictions, but this can be either a blessing or a curse for my favorite team in the postseason.

The Yankees did about as well as I thought they would, but how strange that they did not have their typical second half push. Instead they actually fell below the Blue Jays for a few days of the season.

Only thing I got wrong about this division, the standings of the Orioles and Blue Jays being WAY off. The O’s managed to fall 18 games behind the Jays at the end of the season. I should have been able to see that the solid pitching on the Blue Jays squad would carry them further than the Orioles mediocre lineup.

Final standings (bad predictions in bold):

Red Sox
Blue Jays

Postseason Guess Record: 2-0 (I’m going to count the Red Sox guess in 2nd as a correct one for me for the wild card)
Regular Season Guess Record: 3-2

AL Central

Hoo boy, here’s one that I totally mixed up, even though I got the postseason right. Why in the world did I think that the Tigers would have a chance at second place in AL Central? They were absolutely the worst disappointment in baseball this year, which is a real shame for me to say, since they’re so chock full of former Marlins. Sheffield and Willis were major disappointments for the team and the huge contracts in place may still prevent major shakeups in the off-season. Let’s hope that this doesn’t stay such a pathetic team in the foreseeable future.

The actual winners, the White Sox, managed to stay alive in the 163rd game tie-breaker against the Twins this year to clinch first place in the AL Central and a playoff spot. We’ll see what happens in the postseason, but I should have seen that these two teams were the actual best ones in the central and not clung to a pipe dream that the Tigers would put together a decent showing in the second half.

The rest of the division, the Indians and Royals, managed to put together solid seasons with the Indians keeping closer than the Yankees and the Royals actually managing to place higher than the Tigers. How pathetic for Detroit…

Final Standings:

White Sox

Postseason Guess Record: 3-0
Regular Season Guess Record: 5-5

AL West

I’ll say it again: pathetic. The first place team, the Angels, clinched this division like a month ago. At the end of the season, we see them a ridiculous 21 games ahead of their nearest competitors, the Texas Rangers.

Texas managed to play better than I suspected, getting ahead of the Athletics (which I predicted as possible), but not anywhere near the wild card (16 games back).

Seattle finished an abysmal 39 games back. That’s beyond ridiculous. Like I predicted, they didn’t even break a .400 win percentage. They’re gonna have to mix some stuff up next year or more heads will fly. We’ll see if Ichiro will get dealt away during the off-season.

Final Standings:


Postseason Guess Record: 4-0
Regular Season Guess Record: 7-7

NL East

Another really wrong division, but basically because I love the Marlins and wanted them to win. I’m going to be fair with my prediction standings and not try and make myself look better.

The Phillies won the division, despite strong competition from the Mets, who lost it near the end and lost the wild card in the 162nd (read: last!) game of the season against the Marlins.

As I predicted, the Marlins pitching really helped them out, but I also predicted that a failing of the bats would mess them up. Guess what? The bats stopped working, so they fell behind, but not without setting franchise records for home runs and MLB records for having an entire infield (1B, 2B, SS, and 3B) with over 25 home runs. Nice work Fish, maybe next year.

Final Standings:


Postseason Guess Record: 4-1
Regular Season Guess Record: 9-10

NL Central

Another division gone wrong. I got the first two right with the spectacular Cubs and Brewers standing atop the division, but the rest being totally mixed up.

Sabathia totally helped the Cubs out and may find himself with an NL Cy Young as a reward for his stellar pitching. I’m also gonna take credit for being right about the Brewers in the postseason since I have them in the second place spot in this division.

I really thought Pujols would keep the Cardinals above the Astros, but they had a ridiculous wild card attempt that propelled them ahead. The Pirates also hurt a lot more than I thought they would have after losing key players to the trade deadline.

Final Standings


Postseason Guess Record: 6-1
Regular Season Guess Record: 11-14

NL West

So I was wrong about the NL West, but I will claim it’s because Manny Ramirez had yet to be traded at that point. No one in their right mind could have predicted that he would get dealt away mid-season, but he went out to L.A. and brought them a division win.

Final Standings:


Postseason Guess Record: 6-2
Regular Season Guess Record: 14-16

So how did I do?

I was 75% accurate in my postseasons predictions if you count my correct “wild card” predictions
I was 66% accurate when you look only at the division champs and neglect the wild card. Still respectable.

I was 46% accurate on my mid-season regular season projections (just one short of 50%)


Eight teams. Two league winners. One champion.

AL Matchups:

Red Sox vs. Angels

White Sox vs. Rays

The Red Sox/Angels series is actually the crux of the AL playoff. Personally, I think of the Angels as an overrated team that looks great against the weak AL West. The records look a little different though, with the Angels at 8-1 against Boston, 5-5 against the White Sox, and 3-6 against the Rays. Boston will have a tough series against a team that seems to have their number, but a win will really affect the Rays, putting them up against a pumped up squad that just beat a team most consider to be the best in baseball. With Beckett not pitching until Game 3, the series could take a quick turn for the worse, but I still predict a Red Sox win, as much as it freaks me out. I want the Angels to win so they can lose to the Rays.

After barely squeaking by the Twins to make the playoffs, the White Sox are now coming up against the wall known as the Tampa Bay Rays. I fully expect (and hope) for them to lose, because the Rays are great and another all Chicago World Series (or a Chicago World Series in general) would suck.

Red Sox – Angels
Red Sox – Rays
White Sox – Rays

I predict the ALCS to be the Rays and the Red Sox and an absolute doozy at that. The Rays get home field advantage against a team well-versed in postseason appearances, so that will help them out. Lose one in the Trop and they’re in serious trouble as they could potentially lose it all in Fenway; a park the Rays barely have a winning record in. I’m going to let my emotions continue to cloud my judgment and predict that the Rays go to the World Series.

NL Matchups:

Brewers vs. Phillies

Dodgers vs. Cubs

The Phillies might have had some issues peppered throughout the second half, but I’m pretty confident that they can stand pretty strongly against a weak Brewers squad. The Brew Crew haven’t hit a postseason in so long they can’t be relied upon to perform any better than the Rays might. They’re also 1-5 against the Phillies. Sorry Wisconsin folk, but the Phillies win this one.

This here is an interesting playoff series. The Dodgers have been hotter than hot ever since they acquired Manny. The Cubs have been solid and consistent all season long. Chicago is looking to end a hundred-year-long curse. Los Angeles has a coach in Joe Torre and a player in Manny Ramirez who are both accustomed to winning World Series games by now. It will be close, but I think I’m going to give the Cubs the edge, even though I want the curse to continue to see the Cubs stay out of the World Series since 1945 (and no wins since 1908).

Dodgers – Cubs
Phillies – Cubs
Brewers – Phillies

Again, even though I want the Cubs to keep losing, I predict they will still beat the Phillies. The desire to end the curse at this point will trump the worries that they might botch the series.

World Series:

Cubs vs. Rays

The Rays will win to make me twice as happy for continuing the World Series losing streak for the Cubs and for winning their first World Series (and third for a Florida team). It will be a six game series with the Rays (obviously) winning at the 4-2 mark.

Let’s see how it goes, I’ll be sure to simulate this postseason in MLB PP (with rosters as updated as I can) and keep the blog posted. This will be a baseball-themed blog for a few weeks as a result, but who can complain about that?

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