Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Central Coast Mariners 1 at Kawasaki Frontale 2 - AFC Champions League - (ACL Champions League, Pool D, Match Day 4) - April 20, 2009
The ACL (not to be confused with the anterior cruciate ligament that causes so many injuries) has been around in its current form for 8 years now, although this year there are 32 teams invited for the first time. The premise is similar to UEFA's Champions League - get the best clubs from each country to play each other in a round robin tournament followed by a playoff to determine the best team on the continent. The winner travels to the FIFA Club World Cup, which until last year was held in Japan, but will be held in Abu Dhabi the next two years.
Train and Rain
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Update: I ended up taking a similar trip in 2013!
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Anyway, the flight from Denver was great, clear skies all the way and some nice views of downtown Denver, the mountains, and the Grand Canyon, which I've posted below. I flew United, which managed to fill up a 777 for an early Monday flight. Despite their bad rep, the service was good, although Channel 9 was off again.
The flight from LA to Tokyo was uneventful, although we arrived late due to strong headwinds. ANA apologized profusely for the delay, which I found amusing as I doubt that they have much control over the wind patterns above the Pacific Ocean. They probably should have apologized for the food they offered instead.
The next trip is a weekend jaunt to Korea for a hockey tournament that I am playing in, and then I'll be heading Down Under for some rugby games in early May. Updates will be posted here as always.
Close-up of Coors - this picture looks like a model, but it's the real deal
Monday, April 13, 2009
Beers at Brauns
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Coolest Scorecard Ever
Meg joined me for the game, and we met in the parking lot a few minutes before the gates opened. Despite it being opening day, there were few fans there, mainly because it was so cold. I mean really cold. Game time temperature was around 45 and it became colder as the game progressed. So only the diehards were out. But this made it easy to get good seats, so we picked up a pair a few rows above the Las Vegas dugout, where I could cheer the 51s all game long.
No fans due to cold cold cold
One of the interesting aspects of Security Service Field is that the visiting teams dressing room is actually on the concourse level and the players have to walk down the steps to the field. This gives autograph seekers easy access to the players as they make their way out for warmups. Personally, I am not one to collect autographs, but I had a brilliant idea for this historic game. I knew the Las Vegas starting nine as the lineups are posted by the entrance and Meg had duly copied them down for me. So I decided to ask the players to sign my scorecard, placing their autographs in their spot in the batting order. Joe Inglett (pictured below on third base), who should be called up shortly, was the lead off hitter, so I asked him to sign the first spot on the scorecard. He did so, and then I spent the next 20 minutes or so getting the remaining starters to sign. Every player who I asked was kind enough to sign in their proper spot, but I wasn't able to get catcher J.P. Arencibia, who was warming up in the bullpen. Still, getting 8 out of 9 starters for their first game as the 51s gives me the coolest scorecard I've ever had. And I'll have to see them play again, if only to get J.P. to complete the lineup.
Opening Day Ceremonies
The presentation of the colours was accompanied by a bagpipe band. As they stood behind second base, the PA announcer asked for a moment of silence to remember Nick Adenhart, the Angels' starter who had been killed that morning in a car accident. After a few seconds of quiet, the bagpipes began to play Amazing Grace, a beautiful, haunting rendition that lasted several minutes. It was a fitting tribute and I was impressed with the Sky Sox staff who were able to arrange it on short notice.
While we were walking to our seats, we were accosted by a news crew from a local station. They were obviously asking people about being there for opening day, but I think I caught them off guard by saying that I was rooting for Las Vegas because I am from Canada (naturally they did not catch the Blue Jays-51s connection). But they did ask how we felt about opening day, and I said something cliched about being excited to start a new season. The interview was fairly quick and I promptly forgot about it in the autograph frenzy, but Meg remember and checked the website when she got home. Sure enough, I was quoted and am now famous throughout Colorado.
Las Vegas loses lead
The 51s got off to a good start, scoring 2 in the first inning, and eventually building a 5-1 lead through 3 innings. But 51s' starter Wade Miller lost his command in the 4th and walked in a couple of runs. The bullpen couldn't do much better and the Sky Sox won the game 9-6. The game was 3:14, which was far too long given the weather, which was around freezing by the time the game ended.
Even worse than Las Vegas losing was Colorado Springs scoring 9 runs. This is because there is a promotion where you can get a 12-inch pizza for $3.99 from Dominos if 10 runs are scored. This offer is only good the following day, but I was going to be in Colorado Springs and there was a Dominos right next to the hotel. Of course, the Las Vegas bullpen couldn't just give up an extra run for me, so I went back to the hotel doubly unhappy, and without feeling in my fingers or toes for good measure.
Tomorrow I was planning to watch game 2 in the series, but after finding out that Cole Hamels was scheduled to start for the Phillies in the Rockies home opener (a day game!) I've decided that one day in chilly Colorado Springs is enough and I'll be returning to Denver tomorrow. Updates will be posted here, so stay tuned.
Friday, April 10, 2009
I pay back the RTD
I was to meet Tai, an old friend from Japan, for lunch first. We were going to meet at a Light Rail Park-and-Ride lot, then find a restaurant close by. I got to the station early and checked the parking regulations. I have never seen a pay parking system so convoluted - whether or not you pay depends on whether your license plate is "In-District" or "Out-of-District". And if you pay, you have to put the money in a little envelope, write your license plate on the outside, and put it in a box. Furthermore, "In-District" cars need not pay for the first 24 hours. Now my guess is that 99% of cars using the Light Rail belong to commuters, who live in the District. So all of this parking is to get $4 from the few people whose cars are out-of-district. But the first violation results in just a warning, so you get a freebie anyway. All-in-all, this parking system seems poorly considered and should be scrapped - we should be encouraging people to use the light rail (which is convenient and quick) and charging for parking with such a strange system doesn't help.
Anyway, I know that I am out of district, but my rental car? No idea. But since I had underpaid my bus ride yesterday, I decided to give them $2 just in case. Turns out my car is "In-District" so no problem there and I'll be using the RTD a few more times on this trip.
After a nice lunch and a quick drive to the Pepsi Center (thanks to Tai for both), I picked up a ticket to the night's game. It was $36 for a center-court seat in the upper deck, which is an OK price.
I then spent a few hours wandering around downtown Denver, which was blessed with a warm, sunny day. I really like Denver, the free bus that goes up and down 16th Street is helpful, and the Civic Center has a number of attractions, including the Denver Art Museum, Capitol, and even the Public Library where you can relax and catch up on your reading. Visitor Information is friendly and has lots of useful brochures. I'll add a separate post about Denver once the trip is done; there's a lot to see and do here and I recommend it heartily for a sports fan.
As game time approached, I returned to The Pepsi Center, which is located in LoDo, the hip new area in downtown Denver. You enter into the main atrium; be sure to look up to see the sculpture hanging from the ceiling (pictured below). The team store is also there, and every game they have a special item on sale, today's item was a rather unattractive cap for $5.
I then made my way around the concourse, picking up my free
The game itself was somewhat dull. Despite repeated encouragement from the crowd, Denver's defense was rather poor and Oklahoma City hung around until late in the 3rd quarter before the Nuggets turned it on, crusing to a 10-point win. Still, giving up 112 points to the Thunder does not bode well for the playoffs - I think the Nuggets may not make the conference finals if they can't tighten things up.
Kevin Durant and Jeff Green highlighting Denver's defense deficiencies
RTD problems again
After the game, I went to the RTD station next to the arena. You have to buy a ticket before getting on, but they only had 1 working machine! And the machine is slow! Each ticket takes about 40 seconds to purchase, so if you are 10th in line, be prepared for a long wait.
To RTD people: please add more ticket machines to the Pepsi Center station, please make sure that they all accept bills after the game, and please speed up the purchase process. I really want to use public transit, but you guys are making it more difficult than it should be!
Anyway, I'm off to Colorado Springs tomorrow to see the Blue Jays new AAA affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s, open the PCL season.
Car rental trick again
My flight to Denver was delayed about 45 minutes, but that didn't worry me as I would still have plenty of time to make the game,which was scheduled for 7pm. As I did in Phoenix, I planned to take transit to a car rental agency off-airport to save a boatload of taxes. I would then drive south to pick up my friend Meg who was to join me for the game. We would then drive to Broomfield, which was about an hour north.
After the flight landed, I made my way to the RTD desk to buy my tickets. It's $8 one-way, but you can't buy a one-way ticket at the desk, only round-trip, one-way fares are paid directly to the driver. I didn't need a return ticket, so I made my way to the bus stop just as the bus arrived. I boarded and gave the driver $20. Of course, it's exact change only! Why didn't the guy at the desk tell me that?! And why don't you sell one-way tickets at the desk?! Eight bucks in exact change is not necessarily something I always have with me, you know. Fortunately, the driver took pity on me and let me ride for $5. Big thanks to you, Mr. Bus Driver!
The ride to Stapleton is quick, but then I had a few problems. First, I had misunderstood where the bus drops you off, so I had a 20-minute walk to the the rental agency. Not fun. Then I had to sit and stew for another 20 minutes, watching the people in front of me take a ridiculously long time to rent a car. By now it was nearly 5, and suddenly the clock was becoming a factor. To make matters worse, my laptop bag had broken and stuff was falling out all over the place. I was not a happy camper.
Finally, the laggards in front of me were done. The agent though, was a chatty type, and this added to my anxiety. One thing that surprised me is that I had to say that I did not arrive at the airport within the last 24 hours. Love these cities that are so intent on screwing their tourists. Welcome to Denver, now bend over while you rent your car. It's not just Denver, most cities have significantly higher taxes on-airport rental cars, simply because they can: most travelers have far too much luggage to take to an off-airport location. But if I am smart enough to figure out a way to save money, I should be allowed to save the money without having to lie about it. Anyway, the rental agent had clearly seen people pulling this trick before, so I don't feel too bad.
By the time I was out on the road, it was already after 5 pm. I was worried that we might be late, but thankfully traffic was smooth, I didn't get lost, and was able to pick up Meg and then drive to Broomfield in just over an hour, which left us plenty of time to check out the stadium.
The Broomfield Events Center (pictured left) was opened in November, 2006 and also hosts the CHL's Rocky Mountain Rage. Parking is plentiful and free. Tickets to the 14ers are reasonably priced, but with no real security, you can get the cheapest and just sit where you want.
After getting our tickets and entering the facility, I went into the team store to see what was available. The clerk told me that everything in the store was 75% off as it was season's end! A great deal, so I picked up some souvenirs for friends back home. But don't tell them it was on sale!
It was now time to eat; there was a large selection available, although nothing looked particularly appetizing. I had a chicken burger and wish I hadn't.
We spent the first half in the first row behind the 14ers bench, but moved closer to center court and a bit higher for the second half. The game was very exciting, with several lead changes, some great plays on both sides, and a few technical fouls for good measure. Billy Thomas and Trey Gilder were standouts for Colorado, while Will Conroy, a potential MVP, starred for Albuquerque. Mouhamed Sene, a 7-foot center from Senegal with no college experience, blocked 6 shots for the T-Birds but otherwise was not impressive and fouled out late in the game. (Ed: After I criticized him here, Sene was called up by the New York Knicks, where he sat on the bench for the last couple of games).
The game was tied after 3 quarters, but Colorado quickly built a 13-pt lead with about 7 minutes to go, only to see Albuquerque go on a 13-0 run in two minutes to tie the game. It was still tied with 3 minutes left when Thomas and Gilder each made field goals and then Josh Davis, who had struggled all game, made a key 3-pointer to clinch it with 90 seconds left.
With the win, Colorado clinched their division crown and they look like a solid team with the best record in the league. One last note is that when you sit so close, you can hear the players and coaches. During a timeout, 14er Kentrell Gransberry said something to an assistant coach who went ballistic and started screaming at him, telling him to get to the end of the bench. Gransberry did not play for the rest of the game, so whatever he said must have been pretty bad, but it was interesting to see the coach's reaction.
Colorado is named after the term 14er, which refers to mountains that exceed 14,000 feet in height. The State of Colorado has over 50 14ers, so it would seem the name is more fitting than several NBA names, such as the Utah Jazz.
The two teams played again the following night and Colorado set a new league record for points in a game, scoring 155.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Free stuff and more free stuff
The next thing I did was sign up for the designated driver program. You get a free pop if you promise not to drink alcohol, so I try to sign up wherever I can. I then noticed that each of the specialty concession stands was offering free samples! Free food at a baseball game?! Yep, I picked up a few garlic fries, a bit of a pulled pork sandwich, and a part of a Big Dog. It wasn't quite enough, so I had to buy a hot dog at $1.50 along with my free pop. Still, $7.50 for a major league game is difficult to achieve these days. Thanks to the Diamondbacks for making baseball affordable!
Home Run Derby
I found a good standing spot and pulled out my scorecard. A cameraman for the local NBC affiliate noticed me and set up his camera to film me as I filled out the scorecard. He then interviewed me for a bit, surprised to find out that I live in Japan. He told me I'd be on the evening news, but I never had time to check it out, so I'm not sure if it was aired. I'm hoping it wasn't...
The pre-game ceremonies were fairly muted, the first pitch was thrown out by the father of Marquis Cooper, who was recently lost at sea with 2 other NFL players. The national anthem ended as 4 fighters from nearly Luke AFB soared overhead. Then it was time to Play Ball!
The game itself was incredible. I won't get into the hit-by-hit recap, but there were 8 home runs, including 2 each by Felipe Lopez and Tony Clark of the Dbacks. They both homered from each side of the plate; what was interesting about this is that never before had even one player homered from both sides of the plate on Opening Day, now it had happened twice in once game.
Rockies' catcher Chris Iannetta swings
Arizona scored in 6 of their 8 innings at the plate, but their pitching was woeful and they couldn't put it away. Each lead they had was quickly lost, and it wasn't until Chad Tracy homered in the 7th that they took the lead for good, holding on to win 9-8 as relievers Tony Pena and Chad Qualls shut the Rockies down over the last couple of innings. It was a great game for the fans and will be a memorable one for me.
However, it quickly appeared that Prescott were overmatched, and as I had to meet a friend, I headed out. Prescott went on to lose 9-1, but no doubt the players will remember this day for a very long time - good for the Diamondbacks to promote the sport at this level. Next time, I'll try to stay longer.
Back to Denver
Monday, April 6, 2009
Fortunately, a friend of mine came to the rescue. Yuri works at Arizona State University and told me that the final day of the Ping/ASU Invitational would be held today at Karsten Golf Course on the ASU campus. I've never seen a golf tournament live, and it turns out that the golf course is next door to In-N-Out!!!! Yes, my favourite burger place was a 2-minute drive from the golf course. So the sporting gods were merely teasing me, and I would get my fill of live sports (and a great burger) after all.
Although I spent just an hour here, it was a fantastic experience. The weather was perfect, and it was cool to see approach shots from the other side of the green. I'm also fascinated with the logistics of such an event. At the 18th hole, they had an official waiting and each player would have to report her scores for the last 3 holes. The official would radio the scores to the central scorekeeper. I was able to figure out who some of the players were this way, as well as noticing that some of them had their names on their golf bags. But I wish I had done some research beforehand to know who the golfers were and where they stood. There was no updated leaderboard or program, so I just couldn't get the info I need to really appreciate the event.
I drove up from Tucson, arriving too early to check in to the hotel, so headed to the ballpark to secure my free parking spot. It was still two hours before game time, so I soaked up the sun in front of the ticket windows, watching the crowd develop. I was hoping to get a freebie, but was surprised at the lack of extra tickets. The scalpers were across the street and had plenty of extras, but they weren't discounting much.
Eventually, I noticed one guy with an extra ticket which which was close enough and cheap enough for me. Upon walking into the rotunda, I was elated to see the Dbacks 2001 World Series trophy. Back at the end of my 2001 trip, I witnessed Luis Gonzalez bloop a single to win the series over the Yankees. It is the greatest live event I have seen, and seeing the trophy, as well as the ball that was hit, certainly brought back wonderful memories.
It had been 8 years since I had visited Chase Field (which was known as Bank One Ballpark in those days) so I took the time to wander around. It still seemed new, and the team has done a great job maintaining the stadium. Most impressive was the video screen, known as dbTV, which was introduced in 2008. It measures 136 feet long and 46 feet high, it is the biggest screen in the majors right now but will soon be replaced by one in Kansas City. Of course, the famous pool in the outfield is still there, as is Friday's Front Row Sports Grill.
The funniest thing was the new all-you-can-eat section with extra-wide seats. In other words, if you are the sort who wants unlimited hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, cola, and other ballpark delectables, you are going to need a few extra inches to squeeze your enormous ass into.
Free-agent signee Jon Garland started for the Diamondbacks against Jose Contreras. Garland spent the first 8 years of his career with the White Sox, and led the 2005 World Champion team with 18 wins. He pitched last year with the Angels, so 2009 is his first in the National League. He pitched 4 innings today, yielding a run but walking 4, which is unusual for him. On the other side, Contreras was superb, giving up just one hit in his 4 innings.
The Sox added a run in the 5th on a sac fly which scored Brent Lillibridge who had doubled and stolen third. Lillibridge moves over from Atlanta, and he looked like a solid defensive second baseman, making a couple of great plays.