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April: Unexpected Encounters [Fukubukuro 2011]
Jan 5th, 2012 by Dan

It doesn’t get much worse than running into an ex unprepared. I’m being hyperbolic, of course, but it is easily one of my least favorite things. There’s always that awkward period of smalltalk and catching up to do and you’re always thinking, “Man, I wish I’d picked a better shirt to wear today.” I mean, ultimately it shouldn’t matter, right? Yet whenever I do I usually end up feeling dopey and kicking myself for not being cooler.

There’s no way I’m alone in this. I mean, everyone wants to look and be their coolest in front of people who can no longer have them. It’s pretty much human nature. “Look at the mistake you made. You could have had this.”

So it sucks when you’re at an early-season ballgame with your friends and you run into a girl you briefly dated, especially when she’s wearing that shirt that made you dig her in the first place AND your new girlfriend is absent. My brain just couldn’t wrap itself around not caring, so it bugged me for the rest of the game, heck, the rest of the week.

Then there’s the other kind of unexpected encounter. The kind where everything is planned out and no surprises are on the table, but you end up shocked at the end anyway. A good friend of mine that I was way into for something around three years (anyone who knows me well probably knows who this is) came home for spring break and, like always, we set up a time to hang out and catch up. Pretty routine stuff, except it was all different.

I’ve been in long relationships that took forever to get over and I’ve been in short, brief flings that burned bright and burned out, but the one weird thing about both for me is that they always seem to end the same way. One day she means a lot to me and I can’t stop thinking about her and the next…it’s like it never happened. It’s also the kind of thing that you can’t really judge until you’re around the person. I thought I was over it plenty a time until I saw her and realized I wasn’t.

This time it was different. I saw her and the rose-colored glasses were gone. Some of the little things I thought were cute before ceased to be. I didn’t have that sinking, weird feeling in my stomach. In a way it was sad, but it was also super liberating. I felt better about myself than I had in a long time. All I could think when I went to bed that night was, “I’m free.”

Opening Day Decorations at Nationals Park - Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals 5 April 2010

It wasn't on this day at Nats Park, but this is my favorite picture of the walk up to Nats Park.

Stupid Injuries [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Jul 28th, 2010 by Dan

Sliding Back to First

This is actually dangerous. Pies to the face are not.

So last night I went to Nationals Park explicitly to see Strasburg face off against Heyward and the Braves. Mere minutes before his start, they announce that Miguel Batista will make the start instead. This is as thousands of fans were still flowing into the park being duped into thinking the tickets they were buying were still for Strasburg. In this case, it wasn’t a injury whose genesis was stupid, just shoulder inflammation that Strasburg also battled when he pitched for San Diego State, but it was still a huge bummer.

An actual stupid injury came to my favorite Marlins player, Chris Coghlan, when he was celebrating a walk-off hit by Wes Helms. Cogz landed badly on his leg after jumping to shaving cream pie Helms in the face and managed a meniscus tear in his knee. We’re going to end up losing him 6-8 weeks and he may need surgery. Coghlan is a fantastic player and a key part of the Marlins team and this stupid freak accident caused us to lose him. It’s really frustrating.

The Great American Ballpark Tour: Citizens Bank Park Review [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
May 26th, 2010 by Dan

Citizens Bank Park facade

Home of the (evil) Philadelphia Phillies

Believe it or not, I didn’t always hate the Phillies. One of my earliest baseball memories is watching Darren Daulton in the 1993 World Series, don’t ask me why that name sticks out, but it just does. I was even on a little league team that took the name Phillies (even though I desperately wanted to play on the Marlins). My childhood hatred was mostly directed toward the Atlanta Braves, the most dominant team in the NL East, and baseball in general, throughout the 90s. It wasn’t until I was in college that I began hating the team, mostly due to a co-worker’s insane degree of love for the Phils. Now that I live in Maryland, the proximity of the state of Pennsylvania doesn’t help things either, meaning I have to deal with fans of Philadelphia teams all year round. Couple in their bad fan reputation and their winning ways the past five years and you’ve got yourself genuine hatred for the division rivals.

Phillie Phanatic on the wall of Citizens Bank Park

The face of evil?

All that preamble just to say that I wasn’t exactly looking forward to going to Citizens Bank Park. I decided that I would wear my Marlins jersey to the park, but I was genuinely worried that I’d have to weather insults, jeers, thrown beer, or possibly worse. I mean, three days before I was set to visit the park, a fan was arrested for vomiting on an off-duty police officer and his children. I had no idea what I was in for, but after coming out of it alive, I’ll begrudgingly admit that Citizens Bank Park is one of the nicest parks I’ve ever been to.

Center Field at Citizens Bank Park

The batter's eye is really nice looking.

Like all ballparks designed after Camden Yards, CBP (as it will be abbreviated from here on out) was designed with that faux-retro aesthetic in mind. It means lots of brick, lots of open spaces in the concourses, and plenty of sight lines pointed toward the plate. When you’ve got a nice, historic organization like the Phillies, you can afford to go this route. I think that’s the chief reason why Nationals Park stands out among its peers. The team had no real history, so there was no reason to call back to the olden days of the Senators (although they probably should have). Philadelphia’s park features statues of Phillies greats scattered throughout the entire park, a restaurant dedicated to Harry Kalas, and whole regions, like Ashburn Alley, named for the organization’s greats.

Ashburn Alley

I always want to call it Crashburn Alley because of the Phillies blog with that name.

It’s an unspoken rule that all of the new ballparks need some kind of gimmick to make them stand out, architecturally, from their peers. Camden Yards has the warehouses, Citi Field has the Ebbets Field rotunda, Nationals Park has that weird, circular scoreboard, and CBP achieves this with a giant, replica Liberty Bell beyond center field. Whenever a home run is hit by the home team, the Liberty Bell actually rings, kind of like the Big Apple that rises out of the outfield after Mets home runs. It’s a neat little quirk that does give the park some flavor.

Liberty Bell at Citizens Bank Park

This one is cracked too?! What are the odds?!

Another little visual thing that I love are the flower planters along the left field wall. There’s not much more to say about them other than that they’re very pretty and add much needed color to the otherwise dominant red and green in the park.

Flowers in right field at Citizens Bank Park

I like flowers. So what.

Also like other new ballparks, a lot of CBP’s food options are actually local restaurants. There is a Chickie’s & Pete’s stand, one local cheesesteak restaurant is rotated into the park each year, and the ice cream comes from the local Turkey Hill Dairy. Unlike some other parks, CBP has a super liberal policy about food from outside the park. So long as there’s no glass, they’ll allow it in the ballpark. I saw a guy who was bringing in three boxes of pastries. The people sitting next to me pulled out sandwiches from a local deli, an entire bag of potato chips, and drinks to go with their meal. I’d like to see more blue collar policies like this with respect to out of park food. Sure, you lose a few sales at the concessions, but you earn so much goodwill I think it’s worth it. I wish I’d known how liberal their policy was, I had a whole cheesesteak hidden in my pockets.

Chickie's & Pete's at Citizens Bank Park

I didn't know I was supposed to try the Crab Fries here. Next time, I guess.

This year Nationals Park started having a starting nine group of children come out before the players to add some local flavor and help introduce the team. I saw the same thing in Japan a few times, but in Japan and at CBP, they intelligently have the players each come out holding a baseball. When they reach their tiny counterparts, they sign the ball, give it to the kid, and then the kids leave the field after the National Anthem plays. Everyone loves kids. This is always a success no matter where I see it done.

Kids at Citizens Bank Park

Like all other ballparks, they grab (cheap) local talent to do things like sing the National Anthem.

No article about CBP is complete without mentioning the most ostentatious feature of the ballpark, the Phillie Phanatic. The green monstrosity is one of the more controversial mascots in baseball. His antics have made a few enemies, most notably Tommy Lasorda, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they’re mostly harmless pranks that seem to go a few steps beyond what mascots in any ballpark would do. It’s the kind of thing that fits the city of Philadelphia and their team aesthetic well and it’s insanely funny 99% of the time. In the one game I witnessed, I watched him mock Marlins players throwing, attack the Marlins broadcaster, get shoved by Hanley Ramirez, steal fan caps, mess up countless people’s hair, and ride all around in his little car. He’s a pretty cool mascot, even if he is evil.

Phillie Phanatic speeding along

This is my absolute favorite picture that I got of this evil bastard.

Citizens Bank Park is a great place to see a game, what can I say? The fan base is passionate and devoted to the team, the park is nice and new, and they have great food policies. They’re also ridiculously close to Maryland, so if you’re a local reader, you really should just pop up there if you’re interested. I was there and back before midnight after the game.

Gaby Sanchez on the Citizens Bank Park scoreboard

Another reason I'm sure I loved this park: Check out the Marlins score right now. This gap did not appreciably close all night.

Quick Notes – Obama Pitcher Edition [WMQ/GO]
Mar 30th, 2010 by Dan

Obama steps up to the mound

I’m WAY behind on writing legitimate content on this site, but I hope you’re enjoying all the videos. I wanted to mention a few things:

The opening pitch at Nationals Park will be tossed out by Barack Obama this year! I’ve managed to secure a ticket for the game. Our Nation’s team was 3-2 when Bush attended ballgames, but I’m afraid that they’ll probably start out Obama’s record with a loss against the National League Champion Phillies. Should still be fun to see him make that toss in person.

Irezumi is very beautiful, in a very "I'll-kick-your-ass-if-you-get-on-my-bad-side "kind of way - Enoshima

In totally unrelated news, I beat Yakuza and have moved on to Yakuza 2. I absolutely agree with anyone who chafes at the comparison of the series to GTA, because it’s nothing like it. The game is more like a brawler combined with a JRPG. Kazuma Kiryu levels up his fighting abilities as he gains experience from fighting, there’s tons of text and dialogue both in and out of cutscenes, and Kiryu even has equipment that affects his fighting. Action RPG is a much better descriptor.

The second iteration also corrects a lot of the faults from the first. Fighting still isn’t perfect, but it’s much improved and I find myself getting knocked around more because I’m playing poorly, not because the camera is terrible. The story is also much better partially because it seems a little less clichéd than the last game, even if it’s still a bit on the anime side. I’m intrigued by the whole East vs West thing they’ve got going on (it’s not what you think, we’re talking East Japan (Kanto) vs West Japan (Kansai)) and now they’ve thrown a foreign mafia (Korean) in the mix. I worry about what a Japanese video game is going to have to say about a Korean mafia, but we’ll see if they manage to keep the racism somewhat in check.

The other great thing about Yakuza 2 is that they didn’t bother with an English dub. I’m so thankful for this it’s insane. I’d much rather hear the Japanese voices, even if I can tell that some of the translation is off due to strange localization changes made in the first game (place names, people names, etc.). Some of the jokes just don’t make sense otherwise. For example, there’s this American dude who fights you in the coliseum in both games. Kiryu makes a comment on how bad his Japanese is in the first game, but everyone was speaking English, so it made no sense. When he appeared in the second game and I could hear his Japanese it was clearly being mangled and mispronounced, which did elicit a laugh from me. I might be fooling myself, but I even feel like I can hear the slight difference in the East vs. West Japanese accents too, which would be impossible with a dub. Good work not ruining this iteration of the series, Sega.

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.

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