Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Lowell Spinners 3 at Brooklyn Cyclones 4 (NY-Penn League Championship) - September 10, 2019


Despite having seen a game in all 160 active minor league ballparks (and 26 that are inactive), I have never seen a league title clinched. That is not entirely surprising as minor league playoffs are unpredictable and you can't really schedule extended road trips around them (this season, the Florida State League cancelled their playoffs due to Hurricane Dorian). In 2017, I did attend the AAA Championship, but that was for supremacy at an entire level, and featured two teams that had already won their circuits. So when the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League made it to their championship series, I decided to head down to Coney Island for Game 2 against Lowell. With all tickets just $5, this was a bargain that could not be ignored. The Cyclones had won the first game up in Massachusetts, and I was hoping for a sweep and a celebration, but it was not to be, as Lowell evened the series with a 3-1 win.



That meant a deciding Game 3, which would be held in Brooklyn the following night. I initially thought I would skip it, but as game time approached, I realized that this was a chance to see a trophy raised, and once again I made the 80-minute journey from home to the ballpark. And I'm glad I did, as I enjoyed one of the most entertaining games I have seen in some time.



Lowell (Boston) started Jay Groome (12th overall in 2016, Red Sox #6 prospect) who is on his way back from Tommy John surgery, while Brooklyn (Mets) countered with Nate Jones (5th, 2019). Groome lasted 2.2 innings, giving up a couple of runs on a walk to Brett Baty (Mets #2 prospect, 12th overall this year), a double from Ranfy Adon, a Jake Mangum (4th round, 2019, Mets #24 prospect) single, and an RBI groundout from Antoine Duplantis (12th, 2019). Lowell got those back on singles from Cameron Cannon (2nd, 2019, Boston's #14 prospect) and Joe Davis (19th, 2019) and an error from Adon as Jones departed after three innings. The bullpens were fantastic, with Matthew Allan (3rd, 2019, Mets #4 prospect) tossing 3 perfect innings, while Yusniel Padron-Artilles (22nd, 2018), a Cuban who had struck out 14 in the semifinals against Batavia, was nearly as good, with a Davis error responsible for his only baserunner through the 6th.



In the 7th, Mitch Ragan (15th, 2019) came in for Brooklyn and promptly gave up a homer to Marino Campana that gave Lowell the 3-2 lead. Oh-oh. With Padron-Artilles remaining on the hill for the Spinners, things looked bleak. But he was victimized by a Mangum single and then the hit of the game, a line-drive triple from Duplantis that was just fair down the right field line. That tied it, and then Yoel Romero singled home Duplantis to give the Cyclones the lead. Andrew Edwards (31st, 2019, above) came in and got out of the 8th unscathed after hitting Nick Decker (2nd, 2018, Red Sox #11 prospect). In the 9th, a single and a walk had fans biting their nails, but Edwards struck out Stephen Scott (10th, 2019 out of national champion Vanderbilt) and pinch hitter Alex Erro (17th, 2019) to clinch the title.



The Cyclones ran onto the field to mob Edwards while the Spinners retreated to their dugout, their franchise still without a championship.



This was Brooklyn's second title, but their first to be won outright as their other pennant was in 2001, when the playoffs were cancelled after 9/11 and they were declared co-winners with Williamsport. The P.A. announcer even stated that it was Brooklyn's first outright title since 1955, when the Dodgers won the World Series, a fact that I recalled from my recent stadium tour in Los Angeles.



I hung around to hear the speech from manager Edgardo Alfonzo and then the trophy was presented without ceremony and raised to the cheers of the 2,050 in attendance. Yes, only 2,050 were announced for this title tilt, possibly due to poor advertising, or maybe because New York has a few other activities. Whatever the case, those that didn't go missed out on a great ending to the NYPL season. Baseball is slowly dying thanks to the overthinking created from the rise of analytics, but it is still a wonderful game when pitchers pitch and hitters hit.

Notes

I realized that this article is a bit unreadable with all of the draft positions and prospect rankings, but those are included to make a point. Five of Lowell's starting nine are in MLB.com's list of Boston's top prospects, which leads me to wonder just how strong their farm system is. Similarly, Baty is immediately the Mets #2 prospect after being drafted out of high school? There is not a strong correlation between farm system success and major league pennants, due to free agency and trades, but I still think there could be some lean times ahead at Citi Field.

There are 14 minor leagues, and I'd love to try to see a championship game in all of them, but that is tough to plan. With all the series taking place around the same time, and the cities where the final game will be held not determined until a few days before, you'd have to do a lot of driving to get to more than a couple. For example, this year in AAA you have Durham and Round Rock, in AA there's Bowie, Jackson (TN), and Tulsa, while A-Advanced sees Fayetteville and Visalia. Durham and Fayetteville are close enough, but they play on the same days, so you'd have to hope that one series ends in 3 games and the other goes to 4 or 5. Still, it is something I'll start to consider next year as the minors remain my favourite sports road trip destination.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Toronto Blue Jays at Los Angeles Dodgers - August 21/22, 2019


One of my many idiotic quests is to see the Toronto Blue Jays in every active major league ballpark. I really do enjoy cheering on my team, but this year's edition has been pretty awful. I got lucky with a sweep in Oakland and saw a win against woeful Detroit, but this three-game set against the best team in the National League was not promising. As they only play at National League stadiums every six years, I did not want to wait until 2025 to see them again at Dodger Stadium, so I booked the trip, fully expecting a sweep. I even skipped the first game to stop in Vegas for the Aviators, which turned out to be a good decision as Toronto lost 16-3. The next day, Sharpy and I flew to LA and after a stop at my favourite place in the world (the In-N-Out by LAX), we headed to our hotel next to the stadium. The last time I visited here was 2010, and my camera battery had died, so there were no pictures. I will rectify that in this post.



We stayed at the Super 8 at the corner of Sunset and Vin Scully Blvd., from where you can just walk up the hill to the ballpark. Prices aren't cheap, especially for a Super 8, but I used points. If you are driving, you should be able to find free parking on Sunset or elsewhere to avoid the massive jam coming out of the lots after the game. There's also public transit from downtown, and after the game, you can walk back to Sunset and find a spot to wait out the traffic. Note that the address of the stadium is 1000 Vin Scully Avenue, named for their iconic announcer who retired in 2016 after 67 years with the team.



As we walked in past Sunset Gate and up through the parking lot, we passed these old-time ticket windows, which do say Go! Dodgers when you are facing them head-on. With hard tickets no longer printed in advance, these relics only serve as a reminder of the storied past.



We eventually arrived at the Club level entrance (above). From there, you take an outdoor escalator to get to the Reserve Level and the Top Deck.



The stadium is 9 stories high, so that Top Deck is far away, as you can see below.



Still, you'll want to make your way up to both levels, as there are things to see outside the gates at both. For example, at the Reserve Entrance above Left Field, there is a statue of Jackie Robinson sliding.



Moving on up to the Top Deck entrance, you find the retired numbers with descriptions of the players who are so honoured. That's Roy Campanella's #39 below.



There are also a few giant bobbleheads here. The one below has a Brooklyn cap; although the Dodgers left in 1958 they do maintain a sense of their history in Brooklyn.



There are six levels of seating here, starting with the Top Deck and moving down through Reserve, Club, Loge, Field, and Dugout. The club level is quite small, and mostly suites these days, though there are some original seats still in place well down the lines.



Each level is a different colour that represents LA in some way. The Top Deck is blue for the sky, the reserve is a green for the area around the stadium, the orange in the loge evokes the sandy beaches, and the yellow field level is for the sun. The dugout seats were added after the 2004 season, with that blue reminiscent of the Pacific Ocean.



There are also two outfield pavilions that are not accessible from the main structure.



The stadium is perfectly symmetrical, all the way down to the scoreboards above each pavilion.



The reserve section is the largest, with 19,000 seats, over a third of the 56,000 capacity. That number is fixed, so if new seats are added, then other seats must be removed, so as to not have more fans annoying the neighbors.



The picture below is taken from the farthest point above right field on the reserve level. Amazingly, fans were sitting here an hour before the game.



From a similar spot, but looking down at the pavilions.



Around the first base side of the top deck, you can look out at the LA skyline. This shows that the stadium isn't that far from downtown at all.



There is also a lot of history around the Top Deck. Along the walls beside two restrooms across from the team store you can find posters honouring every Dodger All-Star by position. Interesting to see how All-Star selections have been devalued over the years.



Nearby is a collection of old signs and the original seats.



A similar display has giant copies of old hard tickets. A shame that these are no longer available, but hey, enjoy your printouts everyone.



Each restroom has a painting at the entrance commemorating some sort of stadium anniversary or other event. Notice how the seat colours are different in the one below.



For the first game, we ended up with loge seats in Section 104, almost behind the plate. One thing to note is that the Dodgers have 7 different types of games from 7-Star down to 1-Star (both Jays games were 3-Star affairs), and then about 50 different price points per game, depending on level, section, and even row. I think face for these was about $80, we paid $55, still way too much. But hey, once in a lifetime and all that.



One sad note about these seats: they are one section away from where a woman was struck by a foul ball last August. She died 3 days later, but the Dodgers never publicized the news. Only when the family contacted ESPN in December did it become public, but even then, it wasn't widely broadcast. Dodger Stadium is unique in its setup in that the sections are not as steep down below and the ball can enter the lower rows of the loge very quickly. We had a couple of balls land in our row (L) and if you weren't paying attention, you could easily get hit. The lesson, as always, is watch the game and if you are concerned about your location, move somewhere farther away.



On the morning of the second game, we took the stadium tour, which cost $20. This allows access to both the press box level and the club level, neither of which are available to regular ticket holders during game time. This gave me the opportunity to take pictures of the empty stadium, as well as to see a lot of very interesting memorabilia. The pictures above and below are from behind home plate in the top deck, which is where the tour started. Again, the symmetry is obvious.



Down on the field, they were filming a commercial with Clayton Kershaw. It was interesting to watch all the work necessary just for one take; seemed like 15-20 minutes at least for maybe 2 seconds of footage.



The next few photos are from the press level and the club level.



The Dodgers nickname comes from Trolley Dodgers, the name given to the fans who had to avoid trolley cars around Ebbets Field. The painting above captures that quite nicely.



The team has gone through many uniform iterations over their long history (they first played in 1890) and all of these are shown on two walls. As you can see above, the team did wear green for a single year back in 1937.



More ticket memorabilia. Again, why stop giving out hard tickets when they can serve as such a simple souvenir. Oh that's right. So people can BUY a souvenir instead.



The last plate used at Ebbets Field and the first at Dodger Stadium.



The MVP awards that have been won by Dodgers. Silver Sluggers, Cy Youngs, and Gold Gloves are also on display here, but you'll have to shell out the $20 to see them as I did not take pictures of everything. There's also an entire section dedicated to Vin Scully that is very well done.



Jerseys of all Hall of Famers are also shown, along with pictures and a description of the career achievements. I wish we had more time to read everything here, but the tour lasts just over an hour and you are shuttled from one room to the next fairly quickly.



Finally, the most important part - the two World Series trophies. The Dodgers have won 6 titles in their history but until 1967, only bats were given to commemorate the achievement. Bats are still awarded, so the Dodgers have 6 of those but only two trophies.



We did get down to field level, but were not allowed in the dugout due to the commercial being filmed. Kershaw was on the scoreboard though, with Hankook, the commercial's sponsor, on the fence.



Looking back through the dugout seats, which have tables to rest your food and drink on. Few if any who sit here would bother to score the game I would guess. Sitting this far down this low is a terrible angle for baseball, but people will pay several hundred dollars for the chance to say they sat in these seats.



The tour turned out to be fantastic and well worth the cost. I love seeing the past honoured like this, and awards and trophies are the ultimate accomplishment for players and teams and it is rare that you can see so many at one time. They should be on display at every ballpark, so that every fan can see them. If you are in LA for an extended period, take the tour, you will not regret it.

The Games

Needless to say, the Jays lost both, but at least they were good games. In the first, Rowdy Tellez hit a homer to tie the game at 1 in the top of the 9th, only to have Max Muncy win it in the bottom of the 10th with a solo shot of his own.



In the second game, for which we sat down low (view above), the Jays held a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the 9th. The only hit they had given up was a weak single by pitcher Kenta Maeda.



Of course, Ken Giles was on paternity leave, so Derek Law was called on to get the save, and after walking Muncy and getting Justin Turner to line out, he gave up two doubles that tied that game and a single to Kike Hernandez (on his bobblehead night no less) that sent me red-eyed to my red-eye. I barely made that flight due to traffic at the airport, but reached home in NYC a mere 9 hours after leaving Dodger Stadium.

Notes

I still have to see the Jays in Seattle's T-Mobile Park (I skipped the weekend series as I figured more losses were likely and I was mostly right as they went 1-2) and Washington, where I was rained out in 2015. As well, next year Texas opens a new ballpark and with the schedule already out, I know I will be there in May to see the Jays in the new stadium.

Next Up

A short trip to Pittsburgh at the end of September to see four sports in just over 24 hours (Pirates, Panthers, Penguins, and Riverhounds ruining the alliteration). After that, I will head to Eastern Canada to see 3 QMJHL games in 3 provinces in early November, thereby completing my quest to see a game in all 10 Canadian provinces. As always, check back for recaps.

Best,

Sean

Friday, August 23, 2019

Reno Aces 4 at Las Vegas Aviators 10 (PCL) - August 20, 2019


Three new ballparks opened in the minor leagues this season, meaning that I had three visits in order to continue to be able to say that I have seen a game at every active minor league venue. I had travelled to Fayetteville back in June, and then did a quick stop in Amarillo at the beginning of the month. That left Las Vegas, who finally replaced Cashman Field and also adopted a new identity as the Aviators, as the team is owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation. Vegas is a bit far from NYC for a single trip, but I was able to combine that with a couple of Blue Jays at Dodgers games, so ended up spending a beautiful Tuesday evening in Vegas.



Well, actually, I spent most of the evening in Summerlin, which is where the new ballpark can be found. Despite the location, it has been dubbed Las Vegas Ballpark, through a naming rights agreement with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Just in case you forgot where you were, I guess. Summerlin is northwest of the city and takes about 20 minutes without traffic along Highway 215. Parking is plentiful and free; we parked in the overflow lot next across the street, next to the Lazy Dog. This eatery has excellent craft beer and a great happy hour that ends at 6, perfect for the 7:00 start at the ballpark. The surrounding area is known as downtown Summerlin and contains an outdoor mall of sorts, with several shops and restaurants within a short walk of the stadium. The main entrance (above) is next to a traffic circle, and there are crossing guards to ensure that you get across without getting hit.



Tickets can be a bit expensive here and most of the good seats have been snapped up by season ticket holders. Still, they don't show up for every game, and ushers aren't aggressively checking, so moving around isn't a problem. I picked up a pair down the line for $15/each, a small savings on the $22 face value, though similarly priced tickets could be found at the box office. Either way, Sharpy and I sat much closer to home plate for this one.



On the way in, I was handed a free program, and very detailed game notes are available at Guest Services. After dropping those off at my seat, I began to make my way around. First, a note on the seats, which are 4Topps mesh, similar to what you see in an office. Very comfortable and a nice change from the typical Kelly green in most ballparks. My shadow makes its first appearance of the season as well.



Looking back to the West, the Red Rock Casino and hotel is just up the street, and a great place to stay if you are there for a few games. The Vegas Golden Knights practice facility is just behind left field, though not clearly visible in the picture below. As you can tell, the sun shines into the seats down the right field line, though it was not a problem by the time the game started.



The outfield fence is clear in parts, and that is to allow those in the berm and the pool area to see the game. There is also a full-service bar known as the Hangar that should see its fair share of home runs landing there.



Yes, there is a swimming pool that is reserved for groups. At $2,000 per game with 40 tickets, it is actually a very good deal. Unfortunately, I do not have 39 friends in Vegas; otherwise I would have been sitting here.



As you make your way around right field, there is a large party deck with foosball and table tennis for those who need a bit of activity.



There is a ramp that takes you down to field level behind the outfield fence. There is also an entrance here which leads to the main parking lot.



At the bottom is a kids' area with some water features. It does get hot here and it wouldn't surprise me to see a few adults sneaking in to cool down.



There is also a concession stand that has a Mexican take on BBQ here, with Burnt Ends Burrito one of the items on the menu. Having eaten beforehand, I did not try any food, but I did hear good things, though prices were a bit high.



Beyond the BBQ stand is another ramp that takes you back above the fence as you move around the outfield. Below is the view from left-center field, with the whole structure visible. The upper level is club and suites and not open to those without that type of ticket.



Looking back toward right-center field you see the kink in the fence where the pool is.



The 4Topps Corners are the final sections down each line, which are ideal for scoring with tables in front of the seats. These are for groups, however, and include food and beverage. There are drink rails along the concourse though, which is where I would set up next time.



Concourses are wide and there was never any problem navigating the ballpark.



A look down the third base line, which is shaded and much cooler before the game.



Finally, the view from behind home plate. No doubt this will become one of the most recognizable ballparks in the minors with the large signage over left field and the palm trees in right-center.



Overall, Las Vegas Ballpark is another excellent new addition to the minor league stadium list. I am certainly a bit jaded having been to 185 venues in the affiliated minors, but this is one place I'd love to return to for an extended visit.

The Game



It was a battle of Nevada as the Reno Aces (Arizona) were in town to take on the Aviators (Oakland). We lucked out with the starting pitching matchup as Reno's Josh Duplantier, the D-backs #6 prospect (above) took on Oakland's top prospect Jesus Luzardo (below). Luzardo gave up a run in the second on a sacrifice fly from Blake Swihart, who was DFA'd by Arizona a week prior. He has a World Series ring from last year, though he went 0-2 in the Fall Classic.



That was the only run Luzardo allowed, while Duplantier was perfect through three in a game that was delightful to watch. Unfortunately, even in AAA, arms are protected and both pitchers had been injured recently, so the delight was short-lived. Duplantier was replaced for the 4th by Connor Grey (20th round, 2016) who promptly gave up 5 runs, including a 3-run homer from Sheldon Neuse (38th, 2015 by Texas, now Oakland's #8 prospect). Luzardo was removed just an out shy of being in line for the win, having thrown 78 pitches. His replacement was Kyle Lobstein, trying to work his way back to The Show after stints with Pittsburgh and Detroit between 2014-16. Lobstein loaded the bases, but got out of the inning, and when Vegas added singletons in the 5th and 6th to make it 7-1, the last few frames were academic. Each team scored thrice to make the final 10-4 Vegas, with 13 of those runs the fault of the bullpen.

Notes

You might have noticed that Luzardo's jersey says Reyes. This is for Reyes de Plata (Silver Kings), which is the name the team uses on Tuesdays as part of MiLB's Copa de la Diversion (Fun Cup). Nevada is the Silver State and has a history of mining the precious metal, hence the name. The Copa promotion is designed to include the Latinx fan base, who make up a large part of the minor league audience, and there are 72 teams participating this season.



Not only are the uniforms different, the tickets say Reyes de Plata, and there was a Mariachi band outside the back entrance (below) and colourfully clad dancers (above) performed on the dugouts before and during the game.



This was the first time I had seen one of these games and with the schedule available, I'll look for more opportunities next year. I'll have a few, with 5 more new ballparks opening.

Best,

Sean