Monday, April 22, 2019

Toronto Blue Jays at Oakland Athletics - April 19-21, 2019


When the baseball schedule came out, I only cared to look at four series, namely the four times that the Blue Jays would visit the ballparks where I had yet to see them play. The first of these was the Oakland Coliseum where the Jays would play the Athletics over Easter Weekend. I've discussed this venue in past posts for both baseball and football, so won't delve too deeply into it here, other than to say that it would probably be my last time here as the A's are looking for a new ballpark. The sign at the parking lot is now more ironic than meaningful.



As I always do when seeing games here, I stayed across the street at one of the hotels on Edes Avenue, walking to the ballpark and thus saving the $30 parking charge. Not that I would rent a car anyway, with BART having a stop right by the Coliseum, should you be staying in a more appealing area.



I did notice a few new additions since my last visit. For one, the field is now named in honour of Rickey Henderson and there is a sign noting this fact on the back of the scoreboards, in between the logos of the Athletics and soon-to-be Vegas Raiders.



They are also trying to pretty up the rather ugly concrete facade with some colourful signs. This sort of effort was replicated inside the ballpark as well.



For example, the two ramps on the concourse behind home plate lead to Championship Plaza are now decorated with past successes for the A's, including Sean Manaea's no-hitter last season (above) and those four World Series, including when they beat the Mets in 7 in 1973 (below).



Championship Plaza itself is an attraction with food trucks and games. As well, you can access the Shibe Park Tavern from here (take the stairs and walk to the right under the Championship Plaza banner shown below). This large, full-service bar and restaurant is named for the Athletics home ground in Philadelphia is open to all. There are plenty of TVs and I was able to watch the first period of Game 6 between the Bruins and Leafs here, and it also looks like a good spot to watch the game if you can get a table by the window.



At the top of the stairs to Shibe Park Tavern is a large wooden A's cap signed by hundreds of fans, another nice touch.



Outside the exit that leads to third base is the Hall of Fame for both baseball and football.



Similarly, there are paintings along the outfield concourse wall of what appear to be broadcasters, though I couldn't confirm that. Any thing other than bare concrete leaves a positive impression.



Another recent addition is the mascot race that features three Oakland Hall of Famers: Rickey Henderson, Rollie Fingers, and Dennis Eckersley. Unfortunately, Eck lost his shoe in the race shown below, which is why he is not in the picture as Rickey beats Rollie.



The A's have a generous program that allows season-ticket holders to save 50% on all concession items, including alcohol. A fellow stadium traveler is a member and with his help, I enjoyed craft beers for $5 from the Keg House and an excellent tri-tip sandwich and peach cobbler from Ribs'N'Things BBQ that was only $7.50.



The A's generally don't draw very well, but a bobblehead promotion on Saturday drew over 31,000 fans, which made concourses tough to navigate and good seats tough to find.



Of course, with capacity nearly 47,000 there were still plenty of seats in the upper deck for that game, and I had no trouble moving around taking pictures.



The full view of the field with the general admission bleachers in the distance. This is a popular area to sit and is full of hardcore season ticket holders.



The picture below is taken before Friday's game and you can see the difference in attendance. This shot is from Section 149, where many of those hardcore fans sit. I joined them for part of one game as my friend is part of the group and, despite my being clad in Blue Jays colours, they welcomed me with open arms. Several of them play the drums during the game and this is frowned upon by some visiting fans, though it never bothered me. Fortunately, the Blue Jays played surprisingly well, so I didn't have to receive any abuse.



Above these seats is the windowed area that is the club section for football games. On either side are a couple of social spots:The Treehouse on the left field side, and The Stomping Ground on the right field side. These are for fans who want to socialize rather than watching the game, so I did not visit either one, but they were quite full on Saturday.



Overall, Oakland Coliseum is probably the worst ballpark in the major leagues, but I'd still rather watch a game here than indoors in Toronto or Tampa. Fans are passionate and the team is pretty good, and when the weather is great, you won't even notice the less-than-ideal surroundings. If you haven't been here, you better get a move on before the A's do.



The Games

I had a great seat 4 rows behind the plate in the stands (not the seats you see on TV) and loved seeing Marcus Stroman shut down the A's for 8 innings. Home plate ump Laz Diaz is considered one of the worst in the majors, and he was all over the place, ending the game by punching out Ramon Laureano on a pitch that was high, leading to an argument from which Laureano had to be restrained. The Jays won 5-1 and the game took only 2:36, helped by Diaz's liberal strike zone. This was one of six Toronto victories on Good Friday, with the Maple Leafs, Raptors, and Marlies all winning road playoff games, while TFC won at home and the Toronto Wolfpack won in England.



Saturday was an afternoon game and I spent it moving from seat to seat. Jays starter Matt Shoemaker injured his knee in a rundown that ended the third inning and was removed from the game (he tore is ACL and is done for the year). The Jays offense did their job by batting around in the fourth, scoring 5 times to take a 6-0 lead, and also allowing Sam Gaviglio plenty of time to get ready. Gaviglio pitched 4 perfect innings as the Jays added 3 more runs. Elvis Luciano, the first player to be born in the 2000s came on to pitch the 8th and was helped by an amazing barehanded catch by Freddy Galvis. Interestingly, Fernando Rodney pitched the 8th for Oakland, and he is the only remaining major leaguer to be born in the 1970s, so we had four decades of players in this one. I wonder when was the last time that happened. Luciano did give up a run in the 9th to blow the shutout as Toronto won 10-1 to clinch the series.



Sunday was another afternoon tilt, and again I moved around, going in and out of the sun in a vain effort to avoid a burn. It was a perfect day for baseball, but I did not expect a Jays win as I had never seen them sweep a 3-game series on the road. In the second inning, Laureano made a stupendous catch to rob Teoscar Hernandez of a home run and then overthrew first base trying to get Justin Smoak returning. Smoak decided to head back for second but catcher Nick Hundley was backing up and tossed to Jurickson Profar at second for the very common 8-2-4 double play. Despite that blow, the Jays took a 5-1 lead into the 8th, helped by Smoak 2-run shot, but then in came Mark Tepera. As expected, he was Teperable, walking 2 and adding a wild pitch, giving up two runs before closer Ken Giles was summoned. Giles gave up a single that scored another run, but got Kendrys Morales on a hard hit ball to right field that left the game 5-4. The Jays did not add any insurance, and when Stephen Piscotty and Laureano singled around a Profar out, I was sure the A's would win, or at least force extra innings. But Giles struck out Josh Phegley and got Robbie Grossman to pop out to sbortstop Richard Urena, who had been brought in for that last out as Galvis had been hurt.



The 5-4 win cemented the sweep and left me feeling quite happy for a couple of days, until the Leafs threw away their series against Boston

Flying Back

I had a window seat for my flight out of Oakland to Seattle and had a good view of Chase Center, which will be the next venue in Club 123 when it opens as the Warriors new home this fall.



Landing in Seattle, I could see the Space Needle, with Key Arena just behind. This will also be the first venue in Club 124 in 2021.



We also passed right by Crater Lake just as the sun dipped below the horizon, allowing for the picture below, with Mount Scott to the lower left.



I always try to get a window seat for shorter flights, and am amazed at how many people with those ignore the world outside. As we approached JFK on Monday morning, we flew high above Manhattan with a clear view of the entire island, but those with window seats seemed more engrossed in their phones. Virtual reality is no replacement for reality.

Notes

The Blue Jays are now 36-37 in first visits to road ballparks. I hope to see 9 more games this season (3 each in Detroit, LA, and Seattle) and with Guerrero now called up, they might win a few of those too.

Next Up

I have no trips planned, but hope to see the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, who play at one of minor league baseball's three new stadiums, in the next month or two. Then it is on to Detroit for the Jays in mid-July. So it will be a quiet summer, but check back on occasion to see what is happening.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Rio Grande Valley Vipers 129 at Long Island Nets 112 (G League Finals, Game 3) - April 12, 2019


When the Long Island Nets made the NBA G League playoffs, they were able to play their first two games at their regular home, Nassau Coliseum. By winning both matches, they advanced to the championship against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, affiliate of the Houston Rockets.



However, the New York Islanders are in the NHL playoffs and obviously take precedence at the Coliseum, forcing the Nets to find a temporary home for the best-of-three final, with Games 1 and 3 on Long Island. Up stepped the Island Federal Credit Union Arena on the campus of Stony Brook University, which arranged to host those games. When the teams split the first two, each winning at home, the third game was necessary and as I always enjoy seeing a championship won, I headed out with my buddy Eddie Hoops.



We took the Long Island Rail Road from Jamaica and enjoyed a couple of beers at The Bench, a great bar right next to Stony Brook station. After, as we walked through the parking lot, I saw the Nets team bus. Well, probably just a shuttle for staff but still worth a rare picture of me.



I visited this venue the season it opened and it wasn't 100% ready, so I did not comment much on the facility. Since then, there have been a few additions that merit a mention. Inside the main lobby there is a display of the four top athletes in Stony Brook history. Most recently, Jameel Warney played three games with the Mavericks and he is one of the four, along with Joe Nathan, Will Tye, and Lucy Van Dalen, who won a national championship in the mile back in 2012.



Warney has since been traded to the Knicks, so he might get some more time in the Association. Then again, if you didn't make the Knicks in 2018-19, your chances of making it anywhere are pretty low.



As Eddie is a season-ticket holder for Seawolves basketball, he was able to pick up a couple of freebies at the box office. Getting there early, we were able to snag first row seats in the corner next to the Nets bench.



The best seats were reserved for season-ticket holders I would guess, which is one of the reasons we moved to the corner.



On the other side of the floor are the suites, which were obviously off-limits to us.



Dale, the Nets mascot, brought a lot of energy to the evening; there he is below fist bumping the DJ, who was directly beneath us.



Capacity here is 4,160 and there were over 2,700 in attendance, a good crowd given the location of the arena. There was a sense of anticipation in the air as the Nets were introduced; even at this level a title is meaningful.



Both teams had recent draft picks on their roster, as well as some well-known college players. Isaiah Hartenstein, drafted 43rd overall by Houston in 2017, was the Vipers star, supported by Gary Payton II, while Long Island boasted Džanan Musa, the 29th pick in 2018, along with Theo Pinson, who was the starting point guard on the North Carolina Tar Heels 2017 championship team.



Roy Williams was even in attendance to see his former player; that is Williams in the Carolina Blue sweater sitting courtside below.



The game a typical G League affair, which resembles playground basketball with officials. RGV scored the first 5 points and never looked back, using some sharp three-point shooting to take a 38-24 lead after the first quarter. A 24-6 run to start the second gave them a 62-30 lead and pretty much ended the suspense. The Rockets are known for promoting three-point shooting and their affiliate has always used that as their primary weapon. When the team shoots well, it is hard to beat, and that was the case on this night. The Vipers shot 16/38 (42%) from outside the arc, while the Nets were a horrid 7/42 (17%). That was the difference as the Vipers glided to a 129-112 win. This was the third title in franchise history, but those wins have yet to translate to the NBA crown in Houston.

Notes

I have now seen "second-tier" championships in all 5 major sports: AAA baseball, AHL, NASL, CFL, and G League.



Before the game, Eddie and I checked out the first half of the women's lacrosse game between Stony Brook and Albany, played at LaValle Stadium. Stony Brook led 10-7 at the break but the action wasn't very compelling, so we left, thus this doesn't count as a venue visit. The Seawolves held on for a 17-9 win.

Pinson was activated by the Nets and was on their bench the next day in Philadelphia as the Nets opened their series with a road win.

Next Up

Off to Oakland next weekend for the Blue Jays as my Toronto on the Road quest continues. Check back next week for a recap.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Why Tampa Bay Won't Win the Stanley Cup


The NHL playoffs begin tomorrow and Tampa Bay is the clear championship favourite after their dominant season. But they are not going to win, at least based on a trend I have noticed over the past several years. Every year at this time, I simulate the playoffs based on season series, and every time the simulation winner does not follow through by taking the Cup. Let's see how the season series play out.

Atlantic
Tampa Bay over Columbus (3-0)
Boston over Toronto (3-1)
Tampa Bay over Boston (3-1)

Metropolitan
Washington over Carolina (4-0)
Pittsburgh over NY Islanders (2-0-2, 12-11)*
Pittsburgh over Washington (3-1)

Central
Nashville over Dallas (3-2)*
Winnipeg over St. Louis (3-1)
Winnipeg over Nashville (3-1)

Pacific
Calgary over Colorado (3-0)
Vegas over San Jose (2-1-1)
Calgary over Vegas (2-2, 14-9)*

Semifinals
Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh (2-1)
Calgary over Winnipeg (2-1)

Final
Tampa Bay over Calgary (2-0)

* For season series that are tied, the first tiebreaker is regulation and overtime wins (ROW), then goal differential. Pittsburgh and the Islanders each won one game in regulation and one in a shootout, so it comes down to goal differential, which the Penguins took 12-11. Similarly, Calgary outscored Vegas 14-9 in their 4 games that were split with 2 wins apiece. Meanwhile, Nashville and Dallas each finished with 6 points in their season series, but Nashville had 3 ROW to 2 for Dallas.

So based on the season series/goal differential method, Tampa Bay would win the Cup. Which means that they won't because this method is always wrong. So who will win? I'm picking Nashville for two reasons: 1) they beat Tampa Bay twice; 2) they were the predicted winner last year and the predicted winner two seasons ago was Washington, who won the Cup last year. FYI, St. Louis was the only other Western Conference playoff team to beat Tampa Bay twice.

Update: Nashville is out, so now I'm taking St. Louis in this year of upsets.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Philadelphia 76ers 118 at Minnesota Timberwolves 109 - March 30, 2019


After adding North Dakota to my list of states in which to see a game, I drove back to Minnesota, hoping to hit a doubleheader on Saturday. The Golden Gophers had a baseball game that would have allowed me to see a new venue, but that was postponed due to cold weather. Yep, it was around freezing in Minneapolis as March was decidedly not going out like a lamb. I had not prepared for the sudden drop in temperature, so even though the Twins were also hosting the Indians in an afternoon tilt, I had no desire to freeze for the afternoon. I watched from the comfort of my hotel room and the slow pace of the game (3 runs and 6 hits in exactly 3 hours) convinced me that I made the right decision.

Fortunately, I did have an evening game to console myself, namely an NBA battle between playoff-bound Philadelphia and the Timberwolves. I visited the Target Center all the way back in 2010 when the blog was in its infancy, but things have changed there quite a bit in the meantime, so I'll include a few pictures of the features that are either new or that I missed on my previous visit.



Just inside the entrance at the corner of 1st Avenue and 6th Street is a statue of George Mikan, who played for the Minneapolis Lakers between 1947-56 and whose influence on the game of basketball cannot be overstated. The statue was installed in 2005 after Mikan passed away at age 80 and I completely missed it on my first go-around.



The Target Center is uniquely designed among Big 4 venues and has several small staircases and escalators that take you from the entrance level to the main concourse. There you will find a display case with a few trophies, including Andrew Wiggins' Rookie of the Year from 2015 and Karl Anthony-Towns' win at the Skills Challenge in 2016. The Wolves have yet to win anything important, but their WNBA counterparts, the Lynx, took home four titles in seven seasons.



In an interior stairway, I found a picture that predicts the future of NBA uniforms. Right now, the NBA allows a small sponsor patch near the shoulder strap, while the WNBA has gone the way of European soccer, with the team logo on the small patch and the sponsors taking up the prime real estate above and below the numbers. It won't be long till the bean counters in the NBA head office decide to do the same.



Both Wiggins and Towns are on another display that lets kids see just how small they are in comparison.



The banners have increased for both good reasons and bad. The late Flip Saunders is honoured as well as those Lakers teams that were so good back in the 1950s, along the Lynx. When I was here before, the only banners were for Malik Sealy and a Midwest Division Championship, which would look silly next to the four titles held by the Lynx.



The concourse is spacious, though ceilings are very low in places. I had no trouble making my way around before the game or at intermission.



The lower bowl is fairly typical for basketball arenas, with a gradual incline as you make your way up. At the far end is a bar area which seems to be open to the public and allows for good views while standing if you get there early enough. Generally these areas are for socializing and attract fans who couldn't care less about the game; usually they are farther away from the court however.



There is only one level of suites, so the upper deck is relatively close to the floor, at least in the lower rows. Note how much steeper it is than the lower bowl.



The shot below is from my seat in Row J of Section 238, just above the railing. This is a mildly annoying place to sit as your view is blocked when idiot fans come up or down while the game is on. It's not like basketball doesn't have hundreds of timeouts per game during which you could go get your tenth beer.



Fortunately, the lower level has small standing tables above the seating bowl along both sidelines, so I moved down at halftime to get a better view. I had to walk around a bit to find an open spot that was not patrolled by an usher, but once I did, I stayed for the rest of the game without hassle. More venues should have standing areas for fans that actually want to watch the game, not these new social spots for fans who only want to take a selfie.



Overall, the Target Center is a surprisingly nice arena for being nearly 30 years old. When I first visited, I didn't really appreciate what this place has to offer, and I'm glad I got a chance to come back. Sports venues evolve with the teams they house and a revisit every few years or so is the best way to see the changes. That's one reason that sports road tripping never gets old.

The Game

This interconference affair was billed as the return of Jimmy Butler, who was traded from Minnesota early in the season amid a lot of bitterness. Fans here were quite upset despite the fact that Butler only played one full season here and he was booed every time he touched the ball. The Wolves were wearing their garish Statement uniforms (the statement being that we can sell anything to gullible fans) to mark the occasion.



The only team making a statement on the court was the 76ers, who ended the first quarter on a 12-0 run to take a 38-20 lead despite resting Joel Embiid. To be fair, Minnesota had defeated Golden State in overtime the night before, so it wasn't surprising that they were not fully prepared for this one.



Still, the Timberwolves chipped away at the advantage and eventually got to within 3 midway through the final frame. But they couldn't get that key stop that would allow them to tie the game, as Philadelphia managed to sink key buckets whenever Minnesota got close. The Wolves were forced to foul down the stretch and Philly had no problem making their free throws as they won 118-109 in a gift from the NBA schedule maker.



I was particularly impressed by 76er Jonah Bolden, son of Bruce, who was born in Australia and played college ball at UCLA. He subbed for the resting Embiid and scored 19 points, including 5 treys, and finished +22. I think the 76ers are the best bet for the finals in the East, given what we know about the NBA (big markets matter). Milwaukee might be a better team, but they rely too much on Giannis, who seems to be suffering from knee problems late in the season. Of course, Toronto is also a top team, but regular readers know that there is no chance the NBA will allow them to make the finals. So expect Philly to be taking on the Warriors come June.  Update: Toronto managed to sneak by Philly, so Milwaukee will be in the finals after all as Giannis looks solid.

Notes



The halftime show was the Amazing Sladek, who is known for balancing on a stack of chairs. He is no spring chicken, billing himself as the oldest daredevil acrobat hand balancer, begging the question: how many daredevil acrobat hand balancers are there? Regardless, it is a fascinating show as the element of danger is always present. Several fans around me could not watch, but Sladek pulled it off. Later, the Timberwolves mascot, Crunch, attempted to replicate the act with two plastic patio chairs. I usually don't care much for the "entertainment" outside the game, but this was very amusing.



Next Up

Baseball is back and although I am no longer a fan of the game the way it is played these days, I still want to see the Blue Jays on the road in every stadium. I'll be heading to Oakland in a couple of weeks for that series, so check back then to see if they could muster a win, or even a run.

Best,

Sean