Saturday, March 31, 2012

Great American Ballpark Tour 2007: The Games

Can’t believe the time has gotten away from me. It’s been almost a month since my brother and I started Great American Ballpark Tour 2.0. I’ve decided to break the trip down into three posts: the games, the cities, and the wrap-up.

The goal was to see as many games in as many cities as possible in one week. Along the way, we traveled over 1,000 miles and saw some great games. First off was Pittsburgh with the Pirates hosting the Huston Astros on July 20th and 21st. The trip didn’t get off to a great start when Carlos Lee hit a 2-run homer in the first to put the Astros up. Pirates pitcher Tom Gorzelanny held them in check after that, and the Pirates kept threatening including getting bases loaded in each of the last three innings. They had a hard time getting men home, though, and ended up losing 2-1. After the game were some great fireworks with the Pittsburgh skyline as a backdrop.

The second game was a bit better. Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche had 2 RBI a piece and Paul Maholm pitched a beauty of a game allowing the Pirates to win their first game since the All Star break by a score of 7-3. This was another promotion night as each fan got a 1980’s Logo Man bobble head.

Sunday was the only day without a game, but we watched the Pirates lose to the Astros again on TV.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Great American Ballpark Tour 2005: The Wrap-Up

As I mentioned earlier this week, I wanted to do a post with impressions from our ballpark trip. Here they are:

1) Best ballpark:
Me: Camden Yards. Philly is nice, but the atmosphere in Baltimore is unbelievable. From the fans to the seats and the ticket prices everything in Baltimore was top notch. Where else in the country do they serve crab cakes at a baseball game? Yankee Stadium was probably my least favorite.
Dave: Camden Yards. All of the stadiums were decent, though Yankee Stadium was definitely the most frustrating. As far as facilities go, the new Citizens Bank Park is quality, but I can see it not aging well, like Shea, due to its location. Camden Yards will still be quality 30 years from now.

2) Best fans:
Dave: Yankee fans. Partisan and completely into it. Nationals fans a surprising runner-up.
Me: Baltimore. I didn’t get the “into it” feeling at Yankee Stadium that my brother got. They only really woke up in the latter innings when the Yankees were making a run at it. I picked Baltimore because they were in it from the get go. It was dark and rainy all day (and during the game), but the game was a sellout and everyone showed up. The fans were rocking all game long and there were loud chant battles between “Let’s go Orioles” and “Let’s go Red Sox.”

3) Best individual fan:
Me: The two Boston guys behind us for the second game at RFK. Sounded like they were on a tour of their own. They were absolutely hilarious. They ripped on the Mets fans a couple rows in front of us for getting too excited about the simplest plays (and the team being .500). They also brought attention to the fact that many failed Sox first basemen were in the game (Jose Offerman, Brian Daubach, Doug Mientkiewicz, “Wilfredo” Cordero). Jabba, Pirates guy, and the chicks are second.
Dave: Can't beat the Sawks guys who were also in the midst of a ballpark tour. Special mention to the Phillies fans two rows in front of us (Pirates guy, Jabba the Hut, and his women) for contributions to the lexicon of this trip: Nationals' shortshop Jamey "Petey" Carroll and of course Pat Burrell --"assume the position!!!"

4) Best game:
Dave: Nationals-Mets game 1. Loazia vs Pedro. Both starters pitch a gem. Loaiza takes a shutout into the ninth, where the Mets plate two and get the go-ahead runner to 3rd before Chad Cordero can finally close the door.
Me: Tough choice. Nationals-Mets 1 had some nice plays and some real excitement at the end. Orioles-Red Sox had some fantastic plays despite the driving rain. Philadelphia’s attempted comebacks in the Philly-Nationals game were exciting. I’ll go with the first Nationals-Mets game as well.

Sorry there wasn’t more controversy in our choices. Overall, it was an awesome trip and both of us already looking to see what stadiums we want to hit next year.

Until next time!

Posted on the old blog 7/30/2005.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Great American Ballpark Tour 2005: Game 6

Our final game. We got to Philly from my brother’s place about 4:30 Friday afternoon. We then stopped at Geno’s for authentic Philadelphia cheese steaks. Mmmmm….they were good. Got to the ballpark about 6:15 and found our seats right away. We were in left field about ten rows back. Good seats and another nice park. Washington jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, putting Philly behind the eight-ball. They closed the gap in the 5th inning to 5-3, but then Carlos Baerga hit a 3 run homer in the 6th inning to make it 8-3. Philly wouldn’t die, though. In their half of the sixth, they got to Nationals starter Drese and reliever Eischen to score 2 more runs. Louis Ayala came in to relieve Eischen and gave up 2 more runs to cut the Nationals lead to 8-7. Philadelphia may have been able to score more than 4 in the inning, but Burrell was thrown out at the plate after Kenny Lofton scored the Phils' 7th run. Philly had a couple more deep shots, but they all were caught at the wall or fell just inches short of a home run.

Baerga’s homer may have been the closest ball hit to us all week (even though we mostly had seats along the foul line). Like I said, we were 10 rows back from the field, and his homer landed in the first row of the section to our immediate right. It barely made it out, hitting some guy’s empty beer cup and causing it to flip 3 feet in the air. The only other close ball was the first game in RFK where a ball landed a row or two back in the section to our right.

Final score: Phillies 7, Nationals 8

Posted on the old blog 7/08/2005.

Great American Ballpark Tour 2005: Game 5

>We left early and drove to Baltimore. Unfortunately, there was a lot of traffic on The Beltway and it took us about two and a half hours to get to the park (which is about 52 miles from Dave's place). So, for the first time we missed the opening pitch. We also didn't get our free Baltimore Orioles cap. :( It just started to rain when we got to the park, so they let the players play for a while. That was good because the game was a surprising sellout of 47,389! Daniel Cabrera pitched five rocky innings for Baltimore but allowed only one run on three hits (while walking 5 and throwing 2 wild pitches). One of those wild pitches lead to Boston's only run of the game. Then in the bottom of that inning, Eli Marrero led off with a home run to the left field seats. Two batters later Melvin Mora hit a solo shot of his own to right field to put the O's up 2-1. At this point, the rain was coming down quite heavily, so the grounds crew started changing the bases and adding dry sand to the field between every inning. Sosa hit an RBI single in the 6th inning, and that was about it. After the top of the 7th, the officials decided to stop the game on account of the rain. Dave and I waited about an hour then left. Shortly after we left, the game was called and the Orioles won it in 6 ½ innings by a score of 3-1. Despite being a short game, it was good. Two home runs and some nice defensive plays by both teams. The pitchers worked very quickly, so the game had a nice pace to it too.

Camden Yards is an awesome ballpark. I didn't get much of a chance to explore it last night, but it may be my second favorite park in the majors. PNC Park in Pittsburgh is very similar to Camden. The thing that gives PNC the edge is the view. In Camden, you see a big brick warehouse if you look over right field. It gives it a very old school feeling. However, Pittsburgh has a view of downtown from every seat in the house. That's probably an advantage from building your stadium across the river from your city instead of right in the middle of it.

Final score: Orioles 3, Red Sox 1

Posted on the old blog 7/08/2005.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Great American Ballpark Tour 2005: Game 4

Took the Metro again. We had different seats from last game, still near the foul line in right field, but now in the upper deck. It was another good game between the Mets and the Nationals. Glavine didn't have his best stuff (which has been the case for most of this year), but the only hits he gave up were singles. The Mets started out quickly with a homer by Mike Cameron in the first inning (homers are very rare in RFK). The Nationals answered back with 3 runs in the fourth to take a 3-1 lead. The top of the 6th was big for the Mets, but could have been huge if it wasn't for a couple of base running errors. With none out and the bases loaded, Marlon Anderson knocked in a run with a broken-bat dribbler for an infield hit. Catcher Ramon Castro followed with a two-run single, but he strayed too far off first and was thrown out by Hernandez, who had been backing up home plate. Anderson then strayed too far on Miguel Cairo's lineout to Jose Guillen, who threw to second for the double play. The Mets were able to score 3 in the inning to take a 4-3 lead. They tacked on another in the 8th when Anderson hit a sac fly to score Carlos Beltran.

After seeing the Mets three times, I have a couple observations to make. Every game we saw they had a different player at first base. Saturday it was Jose Offerman, Tuesday it was Chris Woodward, and last night Marlon Anderson (until the 7th when he was moved to his natural position of 2nd base). Anderson did well at the plate during each game. David Wright is a very special player. I knew his reputation and liked him, but seeing him play three games gave me a greater appreciation for his skills. He made some great defensive plays and came up with a couple clutch hits.

Final score: Nationals 3, Mets 5

NOTE: They're predicting heavy rains today, so I'm hoping tonight's Orioles/Red Sox game is not postoned.

Posted on the old blog 7/07/2005.

Great American Ballpark Tour 2005: Game 3

We drove down to Virginia today to start the southern swing of the Great American Ballpark tour. RFK was very easy to get to and very easy to find our excellent seats. We were 200 level along the first base side in the outfield. My friend Dan and his friend Brad got seats to the game one section over. I went over to talk to them before the game and spent the middle innings in the row in front of them. What a great game this was! Both Pedro and Loaiza had their stuff tonight, but the Mets couldn't muster any offense to help out Pedro. Pedro finished the game with 6 strikeouts and Loaiza with 8. The Nationals scored first in the second inning and it stayed 1-0 for most of the game. It was very fast paced with only 10 of Pedro's first 42 pitches being balls. In the 7th inning the Nationals scored 2 more runs to make it 3-0, but the Mets tried to rally in the top of the 9th. Cliff Floyd started out with a single. Then Piazza struck out. Marlon Anderson (who had a good day at the plate) then came in and singled, moving Floyd over to third. David Wright came up with a clutch single to score Floyd, then moved to second on a throwing error by Guillen. Jose Reyes grounded out to first (but made it close with a head-first slide) scoring Anderson and sending Wright to third. The Mets put Daubach in for Chris Woodward (who struck out three times in the game) but he popped it up for the final out.

Final score: Nationals 3, Mets 2

NOTE: these summaries may appear in the morning for the next couple games due to the time we get back at night

Posted on the old blog 7/06/2005.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Great American Ballpark Tour 2005: Game 2

Took the train today instead of driving. Then took the subway to Yankee Stadium. We got there about an hour early (like at the Mets game), but we ended up in our seats about 5 minutes before the National Anthem. There were a lot of people getting in at the same time, so we had to shove our way through the crowd just to get inside. Then, through faulty signs, it took us a while to find our section, but we finally did (behind home plate to the third base side, and way up high). The walkways were much narrower and the seats much more uncomfortable than Shea’s. The sellout crowd of 53,844 was much louder and more into the game than the one at Shea. Things started off well for the Yankees who ended the first up 4-0 on homers by Sheffield and Matsui. They followed this with 2 more in the second from Giambi and Cano. The O’s started climbing back into it with a homer by Brian Roberts in the 3rd and 3 more runs in the 4th. Their bullpen was able to keep the Yankees in check until the 7th when Baltimore went ahead 8-6. Then, in the bottom of the 8th (after a lot of fans had left), the Yankees finally woke up. They scored 7 in the frame to take a 13-8 lead. With all the scoring you’d think it was a very exciting game, but it was somewhat dull until the later innings. The Yankees ended up using 5 pitchers and the Orioles 7. The game clocked in at a whopping 4 hour 12 minutes! I can only imagine how much longer it would have been if Mike Mussina was pitching.

Final score: Yankees 13, Orioles 8

Now on to DC!

Posted on the old blog 7/04/2005.

Great American Ballpark Tour 2005: Game 1

Future (or present) me here: Today starts the reprints of the Great American Ballpark Tour chronicles from the old blog. They appear pretty much verbatim from the old posts. Since I had ready access to a computer for the first tour (being home, then at my brother's place), I posted recaps of the games shortly after we got home. The first couple days I'm going to reprint two blog posts, just so these finish up before Opening Day. I had fun reminiscing, so I hope you guys enjoy, too

As many of you already know, my brother and I just started our 2005 Great American Ballpark Tour. I’m going to try to do a little write-up after each game. Today, we drove to Shea Stadium. It took us about an hour and a half to get there, so the traffic was really light. The game started at 1:20 and we were there at about 12:15. So, after we parked the car, got our Carlos Beltran bobble head, grabbed a hot dog for lunch, and were in our seats well before the game started. We had seats in the upper deck along the foul line in right field. Benson gave up a run in the first inning, but settled down and pitched well after that. Nothing really went the Mets’ way today. There were a couple questionable calls by the umps, but the Mets didn’t respond at the plate. Their best inning was the fifth. Still down 1-0, David Wright doubled to deep center. Jose Offerman (playing first) flied out allowing Wright to go to third. Kris Benson then came to the plate and helped his cause with an RBI single. Jose Reyes followed him with a single, Mike Cameron flied out, then Beltran hit a double to give the Mets a 3-1 lead. Then the wheels fell off. Benson started giving up hits. Guys were making sloppy plays in the field. Offerman dropped a double play ball that would have ended the inning, but instead allowed the Marlins to go up 4-3. They tacked on another run to make it 5-3 going into the bottom of the 6th. Wright, Reyes, and Beltran all had good days at the plate. Beltran made an amazing catch in the second or third inning, but made some base running mistakes that certainly hurt the Mets cause.

Final score: Mets 3, Marlins 7

One game down, five to go!

Posted on the old blog 7/02/2005.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Song of the Week: Unchain My Heart

This Ray Charles song has been popping up a lot in my head for some unknown reason.  The song of the week is "Unchain My Heart".

Friday, March 23, 2012

MST3K Friday: Teenage Crime Wave

"Do we have to read the whole movie?"
"And that's for yelling help."
"I took a class in observatory maintenance."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Great American Ballpark Tour

For the one or two of you who know me in the outside world and read this blog, this is something you know.  For everyone else, this will be new information.  Starting in 2005, my brother and I embarked on what we called The Great American Ballpark Tour.  The goal was to visit every Major League Baseball stadium and catch at least one game there.  To ratchet up the fun, we did it by taking a whole week off work and cramming in as many parks in as many cities as possible.  It was a heck of a lot of fun.

I clearly remember how it all started.  At the time he was living in Northern Virginia and I was in North Jersey.  In late May 2005, he IMmed me at work:

HIM:  Hey.  I'm coming home for the Fourth of July.  Wanna see if the Mets or Yankees are in town?
ME:  Sure
(pause)
HIM:  Hmmm...it looks like they're both home.  Wanna go to both?
ME:  Cool!  Yeah.
(pause)
HIM:  Oooo...it looks like Baltimore is home that week, too.  Give me a sec....

It turns out the Mets, Yankees, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, and Philadelphia Phillies all had home games the first week in July.  So we hit them all.

In 2007, we did Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and a minor league game in Columbus.  In 2009, we did both Chicago stadiums, Detroit, and Milwaukee.  In 2010, we hit the new New York Stadiums, Boston, and Toronto

For all these trips (except 2009 for some reason), I posted write-ups on the old blog.  As a lead-up to the new baseball season (and since the old blog is gone), I'm going to repost those entries here.  They'll start next week and come once a day until April 5th.

Play Ball!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Red Harvest by, Dashiell Hammett

This is the Hammett book I was waiting for. The previous two Hammett novels that I read (The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man) were "good, but...."*. This novel is good, period. Our protagonist is The Continental Op: a short, balding, middle-aged PI with no name. He's the only detective that appears in more than one of Hammett's novels. Mistakenly billed as "the first private eye" (that honor goes to John Daly Carroll's Three Gun Terry), The Continental Op is nevertheless set the standard for all future private detectives. Chandler's Marlowe, MacDonald's Lew Archer, and even Hammett's own Sam Spade are all influenced by the pattern set by The Continental Op.

The Op travels to Personville (called Poisonville by its inhabitants), a small mining town rife with corruption. The editor of the local newspaper, who is billed as the last honest man in Personville, is murdered while The Op waits for him in his home. We never find out what job The Op was being hired for, but he gets dragged into the long-standing struggle to hold the town together between the men who started the corruption many years ago. The editor's murder is solved very quickly, but something about Personville rubs The Op the wrong way. He ends up taking it upon himself to clean up the town personally. What follows is an interesting tale of twists and turns as The Op uses ingenious traps and well constructed lies to make the warring parties take care of each other, leaving The Op the last man standing.

Red Harvest was first published in 1929, and was Hammett's first published novel. He had previously published short stories, mostly using The Continental Op, in Black Mask magazine (where The Maltese Falcon was serialized before its publication as a novel in 1930). Chandler's prose is more literary (and more copied), but Hammett's terse, stripped-down style has influenced generations of authors to write in the mystery genre. His influence is felt even today, as a website dedicated to the 75th anniversary (Feb 14) of the publication of The Maltese Falcon shows. Author Tony Hillerman says, "If not the greatest, Dashiell Hammett is certainly the most important American mystery writer of the twentieth century, and second in history only to Edgar Allen Poe, who essentially invented the genre."

Hammett's contemporary Raymond Chandler summed it up best when he said, "Hammett was spare, hard-boiled, but he did over and over what only the best writers can ever do. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before."

Highly Recommended.

Posted on the old blog 4/06/2005.

* Update (3/20/12): My "good, but" for Falcon didn't really have to do with the book itself. I was, and am, a fan of the movie starring Humphrey Bogart.  At the time, I had seen the movie so many times and knew it so well that the book held nothing extra for me.  It was almost like John Huston shot from the novel instead of a script.  When you look at books/movies like LA Confidential or The Godfather, there is a crapload more in the book than ever made it onto the screen.  So in those cases, reading the book expands and enriches the cinematic experience.  With Falcon, it's essentially getting the same story via a different delivery mechanism. Don't get me wrong,, Falcon is a great book and I would dearly like to read it again.  It should be considered required reading for any crime fiction fan.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Song of the Week: Irish Drinking Song

This past weekend was St. Patrick's Day.  What better way to celebrate than to perpetuate the stereotype of the Irish as pugilistic drunks?

Friday, March 16, 2012

MST3K Friday: Last of the Wild Horses

The Last of the Wild Horses is not one of the funnier MST3K installments, but it's an interesting one.  I watched it last weekend for the first time and ended up really enjoying the host segments.  In the Invention Exchange, Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank try to send up their Matter-Transference Device to the Satellite of Love, but they encounter interference from an ion storm.  As a result, Tom Servo and Gypsy get transported into an alternate universe where Mike and The 'Bots are the evil scientists running movie experiments on Dr. F and TV's Frank.  This leads to Dr. F and Frank actually being in the theater riffing movies and lots of host segments that ape the classic Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror".

Unfortunately, I can't find any YouTube clips (though the whole movie is available here), but I did find some as part of a "best of" compilation.

"Great big backs of the Old West."
"Let the Cher jokes begin!"
"Boss, you've broken the Goofy Meter again."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dead Harvest by, Chris F. Holm

Problem is, some things, you just can't run from.

Sam Thornton*, Soul Collector.  That would look pretty good on a business card, wouldn't it?  Sam was a pretty normal bloke, low on cash and trying to provide for his sick wife, when he made a bad deal.  The kind of deal where his end of the bargain leaves him doomed to walk the earth for eternity collecting the souls of the damned.  His latest assignment is to collect the soul of a girl who murdered her family, but he senses something's off.  For the first time in recorded history, a collector refuses to perform his duty.  Sam's refusal could lead to a full-scale war between heaven and hell, but if he collects an innocent soul, war would break out just the same.

Dead Harvest is a heady blend of a whole lot of different genres.  Filed under "urban fantasy", it contains elements of hard-boiled fiction, fantasy, horror, white-knuckled thriller (fighting on a helicopter!), and a bunch of others that I could probably pick out on another reading.  In fact, there are certain elements of Sam's story that follow the path of the classic Hero's Journey.  I read a lot of crime and thrillers and no supernatual books, so I was wondering how wobbly I'd get if Holm got deep into the soul collecting aspects.  There are sections that get pretty heavy with demons and possession, but Holm handles these elements with aplomb.  The world he created has a definite set of rules, which we are slowly made aware of through the story.

A stumbling block for a lot of debut authors, at least those who made their bones writing short stories, is thinking too small.  Their first novels feel like padded short stories.  That's not the case here.  Holm created a world that feels real enough and a story epic enough that you have a hard time believing this is his first published novel.  He's also unafraid of deploying his prodigious vocabulary or descriptive prowess ("Light spilled through the window of the pub as I watched them, casting patches of yellow across the darkened street but conveying no warmth.") in service of advancing the story.

I've mentioned Chris Holm on this blog before, and I'll reiterate that I think he's a fantastic writer.  Check out any of the short stories he's had published online or the first couple chapters of Dead Harvest over at Criminal Element, and I think you'll agree with me.  Dead Harvest is available now and the second Collector book, The Wrong Goodbye, will be available in October 2012.

Highly recommended.

*I tried to figure out why I liked that name so much until I realized it was an amalgamation of the names of hard-boiled legends Samuel Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Thornton Chandler; a fact confirmed at least once by Holm in his avalance of pre-release interviews.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Song of the Week: Sunshine of Your Love

OK, I should just hang it up right now.  How could I have gone through an entire year of Song of the Week without featuring one of my all-time favorite bands:  Cream.  Really, one of the first, if not the first, rock supergroups.  Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker.  Every singe time a Cream song is on the radio, I stop and listen.

Here is unarguably their biggest hit:  "Sunshine of Your Love"

Friday, March 9, 2012

MST3K Friday: Boggy Creek 2

"The sun has a hard time getting up when we switch to Daylight Savings Time."
"We both forgot our teeth."
 "Can I borrow a cup of shirt?"

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Mike Hammer Collection, Volume III by Mickey Spillane

Mikey Spillane (1918-2006) was one of the most popular and most successful writers of the 20th Century.  At the time of his death, it was reported that there were almost 200 million copies of his books in print.  It's not going out on a limb to say that the overwhelming majority of those books were in his popular Mike Hammer series.

Hard boiled and unapologetically pulpy, the books were variations on a theme.  Mike Hammer, a New York private eye, was as fast with the ladies as he was with the gun.  His cases took on the form of personal vendettas which left nobody standing in his way.  The world of Mike Hammer was black, white, and Red.  The red could stand for blood (someone counted that Hammer personally kills 34 people in the first five books), but also for the streak of anti-communism running through the series.  The popular 1950's phrase "better dead than Red" could be Hammer's personal motto.

In recent years, the Hammer books have been collected into single three-novel volumes.  I read the first two (both published in 2001) while working in New York and enjoyed them greatly.  Then the third one was printed in 2010, I made sure to pick up my copy.

The Girl Hunters (1962):  There was nearly a decade between the publishing of the previous Hammer book, Kiss Me, Deadly (1952), and this one.  Time didn't stand still for Hammer, though, as this book takes place after a seven year dry spell.  Dry may not be the right word here.  After a botched protection detail, Hammer's long-suffering secretary Velda disappeared and was presumed dead.  Hammer then spends seven long years in the gutter drinking himself to death.  When a government agent is shot, he refuses to talk to anybody but Hammer.  The agent tells him that Velda is alive and being hunted by a dangerous assassin codenamed The Dragon.  Older, weaker, and slower, the news nonetheless breaks Hammer out of his self-pity and sets him on a traditional quest to rescue Velda and kill those responsible for taking her from him.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Song of the Week: Layla

In April 2011, Eric Clapton played a gig at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  I remember hearing about it, but the concert slipped my mind until I heard this song on WBGO during their recently concluded pledge drive. Apparently, the show was also released on CD.  I haven't heard all of the album, but if this song is any indication, the pairing works.

"Layla" has proven to be a very versatile song.  The original version is a staple of rock radio stations across the world.  The acoustic version is almost a completely different song and introduced Clapton to a whole new generation of fans.  How about "Layla" re-imagined in the style of New Orleans jazz?  Give this one a listen.

Friday, March 2, 2012

MST3K Friday: Robot Monster

We've got an early one this week.  It's a season 1 episode, so we have J. Elvis Weinstein as the voice of Servo instead of Kevin Murphy.

"Hey, his face rings a bell."
"They should work up this act for air shows, it would really fly."
"That's the kid's disease:  he grows up to be John Travolta."