Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Which playoff system is better - reseeding or bracket?


Not much for me to watch live these days, though I should start checking out Japanese baseball games in the next few days as the weather in Tokyo is perfect for an outdoor game. I'm particularly interested in doing a few minor league games here as I've only seen one of those and there are a number of teams located nearby. However, according to this website, the minor league parks are not that interesting. But with the games taking place during the day, and me with nothing better to do, I'll try to visit each one over the next couple of months.

So with nothing to report on, I thought I'd ask a question for all of my loyal readers (Hi Mom and Dad!). With the NHL and NBA playoffs reaching their second round match-ups, I'm wondering what system of seeding is better. In the NHL, the highest-seeded remaining team plays the lowest, while the other two teams battle it out. The NBA, on the other hand, uses a bracket system. The winner of the 1-8 matchup will always play the 4-5 winner, while the 2-7 and 3-6 winners meet.

I believe the NHL's system is fairer for the teams involved, but the bracket option does allow for different rounds to be played at the same time, which is better for TV.

Let's look at the NHL's Western Conference as an example of why the NHL system is better for the teams involved (at least the higher-seeded ones). With #1-seed San Jose losing today to the 8th-seeded Anaheim, #3 Vancouver now gets to play #4 Chicago instead of #2 Detroit, which would be the option in a bracket system. This is certainly more appropriate for both Vancouver and Detroit, who get weaker opposition, which they earned by being division champions. It would be silly to have the 2-3 seeds facing each other while the Hawks and Ducks duked it out. As well, in the bracket system, Vancouver would have one less home game, well Chicago would get one more. I don't think that rewards the higher seed as it should, neither competitively nor financially.

With the bracket system though, you have the advantage of starting a second round matchup should both teams win their first series quickly. For example, the Lakers are already through and if Houston wins over Portland tomorrow, we might get Game 1 of the Lakers-Rockets series as early as Friday night, while some other first round matchups are going on. But I'm sure the Rockets would rather play Denver, which would be the case in a re-seeding system if the Nuggets and Mavericks held on to win their series. Another potential problem with staggering the start of series is when the earlier-scheduled series is a sweep. Suddenly the team may have a week off to await their next opponent. I'm not sure if momentum is lost or the extra rest is useful (I'd guess the latter in basketball), but it doesn't seem quite right that the playoffs can be substantially altered for television.

When you have a larger pool of teams, such as in the NCAA tournament, a bracket is the only solution. But in the pro ranks, I think that re-seeding the teams is the better system. The bracket option becomes unfair to higher seeds when an upset occurs. If the 8 seed wins, the 2-3 will play each other, while the 4 plays the 8. The loss of a home game plus the potential "best matchup" being played in the second round hurts franchises and fans, and is not worth the benefit of an extra couple of games on a Sunday afternoon.

But as the NBA has far fewer upsets than the NHL, the seeding vs bracket issue isn't that meaningful and it won't become a hot-button issue anytime soon. I'd guess that if the NBA approaches the level of parity seen in the NHL and sees more upsets like the Warriors over the Mavericks in 2007, the debate may become a bit louder. For now though, the first three rounds of the NBA playoffs are just a prelude to the Cavalier-Laker final that could be one of the best ever.

Let me know what you think.

Sean


Monday, April 27, 2009

14ers win the D-League championship


Three weeks ago I saw my first NBA D-League game in Colorado and was enthralled by being able to be so close to the action. Whereas a decent NBA seat will set you back $100 or more, a seat here is around $20 and the quality of play is not significantly worse in my mind (but then, I am no basketball expert).

Anyway, I've been following the league closely since then, helped by free internet broadcasts of all games. The Colorado 14ers, who were so impressive in the game I saw, won all 4 of their playoff games to take the championship. Congratulations to the organization, you put on a great show.

With expansion to Springfield, MA and Portland, ME, the NBADL is truly a national league now, which makes a road trip a future possibility. It might seem strange to do an NBADL trip before an NBA one, but with the substantial price difference between the two leagues and the franchises often located in towns that I wouldn't otherwise visit, it makes more sense than you might originally think.

Best,

Sean


Rained out and rained on in Seoul


I spent this past weekend in Seoul, South Korea. I was there to participate in The Asian Cup, a tournament put on by the guys who run the Canadian Ball Hockey Korea organization. I have been playing ball hockey in Tokyo for 12 years, but only recently have we been participating in tournaments regularly, and this was my first overseas trip. We did OK, losing 1-0 in the semi-finals in very wet and slippery conditions. I scored a lame shootout goal that won our quarterfinal contest, which made the entire trip worthwhile. I won't go into recapping the day's events, as that will be done elsewhere for those who are interested, but it was rainy and the surface was slick, which made for an interesting and memorable day.

Doosan Bears do not play

I was also hoping to catch a ball game while I was in Seoul. Friday night, the Doosan Bears were scheduled to host the LG Twins at the Jamsil Stadium, which is part of the Olympic Sports Complex. Unfortunately, it started raining early in the afternoon and the game was called. I didn't even make the trek to the stadium, although I did see it the next day as our hockey tournament was played next door. There was a game Saturday night too, but that was also postponed.

The upshot is that I'll have to make a return trip to Korea sometime to check out a game here and maybe in a couple of other cities too. But that will probably be next year as this year is pretty well filled up already.

Best,

Sean

Update (1/12/12): I have yet to return to Korea but still have it on the list of places to see a game.

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


I've been back in Tokyo for over a week now and haven't seen a live sports event in that time, suffering significant withdrawal symptoms, which included trying to watch a tape-delayed game between the Red Sox and Orioles. Fortunately, the drought changed today when I headed to Kawasaki (located in Kanagawa, the prefecture directly south of Tokyo) to watch an AFC Champions League match.

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.

I've been remiss in following the ACL, mainly because I wasn't even aware of its existence until a couple of years ago. But with the last two Asian champions hailing from the J League, the event is getting more publicity here. And I'd rather see an international match than an ordinary J League battle. So when I noticed an upcoming game featured an Australian team visiting Kawasaki, I decided that would be a good introduction to the AFC Champions League.

Getting Tickets

In Japan, you can get tickets for most any event at your local convenience store (conbini in Japanese). Each game has a special code that you can find on-line first, then you go to the conbini and enter the code into the ticket machine. You can then select the seats you want, number of tickets, etc. You are given a receipt which you bring to the cashier, who prints your tickets and takes your money. I picked up a home side ticket for 2200 yen (about $22 these days) which allows you to sit most anywhere. I wasn't expecting a large crowd as the Frontale website indicated plenty of seats available, so I figured I could snag a decent spot if I got there early enough.

Train and Rain

Unlike baseball, soccer is played in the rain. Tuesday turned out to be a dreary day, but I was not to be deterred. There was a light drizzle as I entered the Hibiya line subway around 4:30 and headed south, alighting after 40 minutes at Shin-Maruko station. As I exited the station, I noticed the rain had picked up considerably. It's about a 15-minute walk to get to Todoroki Athletic Stadium, through narrow, neighborhood streets, with no signs that there is an athletic complex nearby. It was only by following a Kawasaki supporter that I knew I was going in the right direction. When I turned a final corner, I was suddenly confronted with the stadium lights brilliantly reflecting off the raindrops. It was a beautiful sight, despite the stadium itself being rather pedestrian in its appearance.

I tried to enter via gate 10, but was told that my ticket could not enter that gate before 6 pm, and I would have to walk around the stadium to gate 5. Which I dutifully did. It is only in Japan that these silly rules are enforced, and I can't figure out the reason. Once in the stadium, the only available seats under cover were over by gate 10, so I just walked around the inside back to where I had been 5 minutes earlier. Despite the small crowd, many of the seats were in the rain, so most of the good seats were taken. Luckily though, I found a seat near the front of a section facing one of the goals. It looked like it had slightly rained there earlier, likely from the breeze blowing in, and this had dissuaded the local fans from risking a seat there. I figured that nobody would sit in front of me, and I was right - had a great view and the rain never came close.

The Stadium

Like so many venues in Japan, Todoroki is relatively unimaginative when compared to similar spots in North America. The seating area is divided into 2 sections; one has a roof covering most of the seats, while the other is in the open. The seats themselves are hard plastic, and most of them don't have a back. This isn't much of an issue as soccer games are pretty short. As with many soccer stadiums here, there is a track around the pitch so you can't sit as close to the action as you'd like. Still the stadium is small enough that there really isn't a bad seat in the place.

Concourses are wide and you can wander around to take pictures from a variety of locations. There are plenty of interesting food options. I picked up a stick of kushi katsu, which is deep-fried pork with onion. For $2.50, it's a lot better than your typical hot dog. There's also a stand selling locally-produced products, including one of my favourite deserts, warabi-mochi. In fact, the best thing about this stadium was the wide selection of different foods that are not available in overseas stadiums. And they are reasonably priced as well, about the same as you'd pay in a restaurant. The picture to the left here shows a few types of ramen, deep fried pork, curry rice, and pork with curry. All for about the same price as a hot dog in your typical MLB ballpark, and must tastier too!

The fans were not plentiful, the crowd of 8, 419 coming in at about a third of capacity. But those who were there were dressed in the team colours, and the supporters section (pictured here before the game), reserved for those who belong to the official cheering group, was filled and jumping up and down all game. There was also a small contingent of Mariners' supporters, known as the Marinators, who were occasionally heard to question a referee's decision with the oft-heard phrase that rhymes with pull chit. Not sure the Japanese fans understood them though.

The Teams

Kawasaki Frontale were promoted from the second-tier J2 league 5 years ago and finished 2nd in the J League in 2008, thus making the grade for the ACL in 2009. I've occasionally followed their results since their promotion, as they were the closest team to where I lived, but I had never seen a game before tonight. They are off to a slow start in the J League this year, but were leading Group H of the ACL and had a chance to clinch a spot in the next round with a victory tonight and a loss by Chinese team Tianjin Teda.

The Central Coast Mariners were formed in 2004 for the inaugural season of the A League, Australia's professional soccer league. I don't know much about them, but they finished top of table in 2007-08 which enabled them to enter the ACL in 2009. What's interesting is that they have already completed their 2008-09 season in which they finished 4th, so the current team is probably not as good as the previous one and this is showing in their results in the ACL. They lie third in the table and a loss to Kawasaki would severely damage their hopes of advancing.


I did a bit of research before I went, hoping to find some info that might make the game more interesting. Here's an article on Australian national Matt Simon, who started the game and played well, scoring the only goal for Central Coast.

The first half was rather mundane, with the best chance going to Kawasaki just before the halftime whistle, when Vitor Junior missed an easy header in front of the gaping net.


Frontale must have used that miss as motivation as they scored a goal about 30 seconds after the restart, when Mariner keeper Daniel Vukovic didn't handle a shot from Chong Tese and Juninho pounced on the rebound. The lead was short-lived as Simon equalized on a good through ball from Andrew Clark about 15 minutes later. The Mariners seemed revitalized by their goal and pressed a few times, but could not get another. A draw seemed imminent but Kawasaki gained a corner in the 80th minute and Renatinho headed in a Taniguchi cross for the 2-1 victory.

There was a lot of feisty play and a few yellow cards were shown to both sides. It's possible the Mariners were still upset after being beaten by Frontale 5-0 two weeks ago in Australia, but I was surprised at some of the pushing and shoving that went on. Nothing like a hockey game mind you, but certainly these teams didn't seem to like each other.



The other game in the pool ended in a draw, so Frontale clinched their spot in the round of 16 with the win. I'll keep following them as they progress against tougher opposition and update you here.

Thoughts

It amazes me that a continent as wide as Asia can hold this event and I wonder if it is financially successful. Flying these guys 9 hours for one game just baffles me. Considering how American sports teams often complain about their travel schedules, I doubt their unions would allow for such long flights for such a short time. Of course, soccer has always had ridiculous travel for international stars, who will play in Europe on a weekend, then jet home to Brazil or Argentina for a couple of World Cup games before returning to their club the following week.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere at the stadium, the fans were energetic and the game itself was quite interesting. The constant rain did make for a difficult pitch and there was a lot of slipping and falling on the part of the players, but I felt that the wet weather added to the overall impression of the evening. I'll try to get back here for a game during the playoff round and let you know how that goes.

I'm off to Korea tomorrow for a street hockey tournament that I am actually playing in, but I'll be checking out a KBO ball game as well on Friday night, and will have a report on that next week.

Best,

Sean


Saturday, April 18, 2009

NFL Road Trip 2009 - can it be done?


The NFL schedule was released a few days ago and early indications were that a full season road trip would be impossible. But after spending a couple of hours with my trusty NFL road trip planning spreadsheet, I came up with the following schedule:

Thu Sep 10 Tennessee at Pittsburgh 8:35
Sun Sep 13 Washington at NY Giants 4:15
Mon Sep 14 Buffalo at New England 7:00
Sun Sep 20 Carolina at Atlanta 1:00
Mon Sep 21 Indianapolis at Miami 8:30
Sun Sep 27 Tennessee at NY Jets 1:00
Sun Oct 04 NY Giants at Kansas City 12:00
Mon Oct 05 Green Bay at Minnesota 7:20
Sun Oct 11 Jacksonville at Seattle 1:15
Mon Oct 19 Denver at San Diego 5:30
Sun Oct 25 Indianapolis at St. Louis 12:00
Sun Nov 01 San Francisco at Indianapolis 12:00
Mon Nov 02 Atlanta at New Orleans 8:30
Mon Nov 09 Pittsburgh at Denver 6:30
Thu Nov 12 Chicago at San Francisco 5:20
Sun Nov 15 Kansas City at Oakland 1:05
Thu Nov 19 Miami at Carolina 8:20
Sun Nov 22 Washington at Dallas 12:00
Mon Nov 23 Tennessee at Houston 7:30
Thu Nov 26 Green Bay at Detroit 12:30
Sun Nov 29 Miami at Buffalo 1:00
Thu Dec 03 NY Jets at Buffalo 8:20 (Rogers Centre)
Sun Dec 06 Detroit at Cincinnati 1:00
Mon Dec 07 Baltimore at Green Bay 7:30
Thu Dec 10 Pittsburgh at Cleveland 8:20
Sun Dec 13 NY Jets at Tampa Bay 1:00
Thu Dec 17 Indianapolis at Jacksonville 8:20
Sun Dec 20 Chicago at Baltimore 1:00
Mon Dec 21 NY Giants at Washington 8:30
Fri Dec 25 San Diego at Tennessee 7:30
Sun Dec 27 Denver at Philadelphia 1:00
Mon Dec 28 Minnesota at Chicago 7:20
Sun Jan 03 Green Bay at Arizona 1:15

That's right, all 32 teams at home plus the Bills in Toronto! Using Ottawa as the starting point, I'm guessing 30,000 miles of driving would be required here, including the extra month for playoffs and the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl in Miami.

There is one difficult two-week stretch in this schedule from Denver on November 9th to San Francisco for two games on Thursday and Sunday, then cross country to Charlotte for a Thursday night game, then back to Dallas the following Sunday, followed by Houston on Monday and then Detroit on Thanksgiving. I'm considering seeing the last pre-season game in Carolina instead, although this breaks one of the rules (only regular-season games) but would save about 3,000 miles of driving. The other bit with a lot of driving is from Chicago to Phoenix at the end of the schedule; I know I'll be rushing to get out of the Chicago cold as soon as possible and trying to reach Phoenix by New Years Eve.

Weather Worries

One likely problem will be the winter weather in December, when there are a few games in the northern climes, including Green Bay and Chicago. I can deal with the cold during the games - indeed, many believe that a trip to Green Bay should only be made in the winter - but driving during snowstorms could cause delays that lead to missing a game. Here's hoping that the weather co-operates.

Flexible Scheduling

Another potential issue is the NFL's flexible scheduling policy. When there is a Monday night game scheduled after a Sunday afternoon game and the two stadiums are 500 or more miles apart, I prefer to split the drive between Sunday evening and Monday, reducing the risk of something happening on Monday that could cause me to miss the game. If the Sunday game is moved to the evening, this eliminates the evening drive and there could be a 10-hour drive on Monday, which leaves no room for road work stoppages, traffic jams, or me getting lost (which happens far too often). Fortunately, I only see a couple of potential problems - one is the Detroit-Cincinnati game on December 6th (I'll wager that one will not be moved to the evening); the other is December 27th, when Denver visits the Eagles and the Monday night game is in Chicago. Should the Sunday game be moved to the evening, I'd be forced to make the 750-mile drive in one day, not impossible, but not recommended in late December. So here's hoping that the Denver-Philly game has no playoff implications.

In a related note, the NFL has already changed the game time of one of the games I'm planning to see, from 4:15 to 1:00. I suspect that this will happen during the season so I'll have to keep checking the schedules, so I don't show up 3 hours late.

Anybody want to join?

The next question is does anybody want to join me for some of the trip? I know there's about 5 people reading this blog right now, but if you can spare a week or two during the season, it'd be very helpful for the driving aspect as well as preventing me from slowly going insane. I don't think I can do this trip alone but with the occasional travel partner, it becomes much more possible. Drop me a line if you are interested.

The actual chances of this trip taking place are around 50-50 right now. I don't have a job, nor will I be seeking one before the season starts. But unless I can convince someone to join me for at least part of the trip, it'll be difficult to do the whole thing on my own. So I look forward to seeing some of you on the trip later this year.

Best,

Sean

Update: Aug 9th - trip has been postponed for one year. Check in again in April 2010 for the schedule!

Update: I ended up taking a similar trip in 2013!



Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thoughts on Denver


One of the benefits of planning these sports trips is getting to places that I probably wouldn't get to otherwise. Denver falls into this category - its location is a bit far for a quick drive from either coast and there aren't that many sports teams in the surrounding states that make a road trip possible. With the relatively short (2 weeks or so) vacations that I took while I was working, I couldn't afford the 3 or 4 day drives both ways. But I've wanted to go to Denver for several years, since a couple of friends live there and it was one of my favourite cities during the 2001 trip.

So when I found out that Las Vegas was to be the Blue Jays AAA team and would be opening in Colorado Springs, I had the beginnings of a trip plan to Denver. The schedules worked out unbelievably well. The Nuggets would host Oklahoma City while the Avs would take on the Canucks, a team I still root for. The Rockies would open the same weekend against the World Champion Phillies, and there would even be an NBDL game up in Broomfield. So the tickets were booked and away I went.

Downtown

I really like the Denver downtown area. It's small enough that you could walk from one end to the other, but with the Free Mall bus every minute or so, you can also quickly get where you are going when time is a factor. I liked the diversity of establishments devoted to drinking - of course, ESPNZone is great, but there were some smaller, local places that I'd like to visit next time I'm there. With 16th street being a pedestrian mall except for the buses, there were lots of outdoor patios as well that must be hopping during the summer months. Having all 3 stadiums near downtown is also a big plus, and the crowds around game time add a lot of energy to the LoDo area, which has come along nicely over the past decade.


Union Station, near Coors Field

At the other end of downtown, the Civic Center provides non-sports fans (yes, they exist) with more cultural options such as the Denver Art Museum, Colorado State Capitol, Denver Mint, and Denver Public Library. One can easily spend a day here touring and taking pictures of the interesting and diverse architecture on display.


Denver Art Museum


State Capitol


Ampitheater

I didn't spend as much time down here as I would have liked as the games took up most of my time, but I think that Denver provides a good model for how a mid-sized downtown core can be developed with both cultural and sporting institutions forming the backbone of two separate areas that can be linked by the central business district.

RTD

I spent a lot of time on the light rail from the southern suburbs and was impressed with its speed and convenience to all of the downtown stadiums. But there are still a couple of problems that should be addressed. First is the parking system in the Park and Ride lots. Separating cars into "In District" and "Out of District" by license plate is not intuitive. And $4 to park plus a $7 round trip ticket from means that any touring couple will drive downtown as it will be cheaper. I realize that light rail is really for commuters, but everyone should be encouraged to use it. The other problem is the train schedule - in some cases trains are every 20 minutes or longer. I know I am spoiled living in Tokyo, and likely not enough people ride it to support more trains, but I wonder if increased service might lead to increased ridership.

Also, there needs to be more ticket machines at the stadium stations, and they all have to be working after the games. It's silly to have 10 people waiting on a single machine while their train pulls away.

I'm a big fan of public transit, and think that the RTD has done a great job in a city as large as Denver. But as with anything, there's still room for improvement.

Airport

The airport is really far away. This is because it is quite new, having opened only about 15 years ago. But even airport hotels are 10 miles from the actual airport, which means that the shuttle trip can be 15 minutes or longer. The RTD bus service is worthwhile, but those with a lot of luggage may want to seek other options unless you can get right to your destination. The taxes on the rental cars there are a rip-off as elsewhere.

The terminal itself is decent, with the unique roof resembling the nearby Rocky Mountains. They've spread the security checkpoints around and you can walk to Terminal A (Frontier and a few others) which seems a bit quicker than the underground train. There are plenty of seats at the gates, and the food options were diverse, at least in terminal A. Free wireless internet is also available.

I think DIA is one of the better airports in the country, but its location will always be a problem. Try to avoid flying in the winter, you may end up stuck there for a day should a large blizzard hit.

Overall, Denver is a great city that seems to offer year-round entertainment for sports fans as well as world class skiing nearby. There's a chance the 2022 Olympics will be held here, but I expect to be back before then!

Gratitude

Thanks again to Meg for her hospitality and to Tai for the rides and the beers. And thanks to all the people in Denver who made my stay there so enjoyable. Hope to see everyone again soon!

Best,

Sean


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Flying back to Japan


I flew from Denver to Tokyo via LA on Monday, arriving home about 22 hours after I checked out of my hotel. It's so weird to essentially lose two days, since you have no idea of time while on the plane and after getting home, you fall asleep quickly due to the jet lag. My last memory of the US is watching Sunday night baseball on ESPN, and here it is Wednesday afternoon in Tokyo.

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.

Best,

Sean



Downtown Denver - note Coors Field on the right side


Close-up of Coors - this picture looks like a model, but it's the real deal

Pepsi Center

Invesco Field

Rockies - the mountains, not the ball team


More Rockies


Grand Canyon - the window was iced up which prevented a good picture here

NFL Schedule released


Today marks the release of the NFL schedule, one of the most anticipated days in the sports road trippers calendar. After my 2001 MLB road trip, my next plan has been to do an NFL road trip, seeing all the stadiums in one season. As I've been waiting 8 years, it's clear that this is a much more difficult trip to plan. With 32 teams playing in only 17 weeks, plus a couple of constraints (no flying, no exhibition games), the schedule is the most important factor of all. I need the Monday night schedule to not have that many repeat home teams, since I have to see at least 13 MNF games, saving the remaining 19 teams for Sunday afternoon or the occasional Thursday night.

I've spent some time looking at the schedule and it's not promising. Miami has two early home games on Monday Night, and many of the other Prime Time games are in far-flung locales such as San Diego, Dallas, or Minnesota. I'll be trying a few other permutations and combinations, but right now it looks like 2010 will be the next chance for an NFL road trip.

Best,

Sean


Monday, April 13, 2009

D-League Playoffs begin - top 3 seeds choose their opponents


After watching my first NBA D-League game a week ago in Broomfield, I started doing a little research into the circuit. One article immediately caught my attention. The top 3 seeds in the playoffs would choose their first-round opponents. Given that the first two rounds of the playoffs are single elimination, this is certainly risky for the higher-seeded team, who could give motivation to their opponent should they feel slighted by being chosen. But I like this innovative angle as it rewards teams who finish higher and makes the regular season more meaningful. In the NBA and NHL, the reward for a higher finish is just one extra home game, when it really should be a lot more. We'll see how this plays out, but tonight the top-seeded Colorado 14ers thumped the Erie Bayhawks 129-108 to win their first-round matchup.

One additional note: all NBADL playoff games are shown live on-line at the league website. The quality of the game is good and I urge true basketball fans to check it out.

Best,

Sean


No game, bad weather caps a bad weekend for Denver


Weather Woes

I woke on the last day of my trip to a cold, wet, day. I was planning to see the Rockies-Phillies game that afternoon, but the weather wasn't promising. Meg, who was to drive to the game as I no longer had my car, agreed that it wouldn't be an enjoyable experience and so we decided to watch the Mets-Marlins game on TBS and partake in some Good Times Burgers. Much like my favourite burger joint In-n-Out, Good Times is a regional fast-food joint. Although it's located mostly in Colorado, there are some outlets in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Idaho.

I like trying these different burger places, and as we had a Buy 1 Mighty Deluxe Burger, Get One Free coupon, there was no time like the present to add to my burger resume. You can order whichever toppings you want on the Mighty Deluxe burger, I had the works along with a side of onion rings, something that should be available more readily in fast food establishments. It was a good burger, nice bun and plenty of toppings. I'd like to go back and try their other options, they had some nice looking desserts.

We then watched Josh Johnson throw a complete game as the Marlins defeated the Mets and hard-luck loser Johan Santana 2-1. Meanwhile, the weather had improved enough for the Rockies and Phillies to play, so we watched a few innings of that game as well. The few fans in attendance did not look like they were enjoying things, with temperatures just above freezing and on-and-off drizzle throughout the afternoon. With the Rockies leading 5-1 in the 4th, it was time to get going to my hotel, located near the airport. Meg kindly drove me, and we chatted about my week in Denver and our upcoming trips. At the hotel, we said our goodbyes, but I'm sure we'll meet again at a stadium near you. Thanks for everything Meg!

As it turned out, the Rockies blew their 5-1 lead, losing 7-5 on a Matt Stairs homer in the 9th inning. So it was a good game, but at 3:14 long, better enjoyed inside on this chilly day.

Dreary Denver sports weekend

I'll add another post on my thoughts on Denver later, but one thing that surprised me is that Denver has 9 different professional sports teams. This doesn't include the nearby 14ers and Rage in Broomfield, or the CHL's Eagles in Loveland, and of course, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox are just an hour away. So it's a great destination for the sports fan, with chances to watch a game year-round.

But Easter weekend was not a good one for the locals. The Rockies lost twice to the World Champion Phillies, the Avalanche lost twice (1-0 both times, so the home fans couldn't even cheer a final goal), the Mammoth lost in overtime, and the Rapids drew 1-1 on the road. So an 0-5-1 record for Denver teams over the two days, coupled with a cold and wet Easter Sunday made for a rather unhappy ending to the trip.

Well, I'm flying back to Japan tomorrow, so the daily updates will stop now. I'll try to have some more interesting posts going forward, so stay tuned.

Best,

Sean


Philadelphia Phillies 8 at Colorado Rockies 4 - April 11, 2009


Coors Field is just a few minutes from the Pepsi Center, but we took the Light Rail to Union Station. As we walked to the field, we were amazed at the difference between yesterday's home opener and today. Where yesterday there were thousands of people celebrating, today there were hardly any people around. Joel's hot dog stand had no line up; the bars were mostly empty, and there were plenty of tickets available.

We had club seats that Meg had found on special, out along the right field line. They were good seats and offered the chance to hang out in the club should the weather turn particularly nasty. About the only negative was the family in the first row, who spent a lot of time standing up and blocking my view. Hey, people in the first row! Sit down! You are not invisible! I'm curious why it is the people with the first row seats don't have any understanding of baseball etiquette. When the game is on, stay in your seat. There are these inning breaks, you know. Then you can go buy beer or hot dogs or whatever.

OK, enough ranting. The game was close through 6 innings, but the Phillies managed single runs in the 7th, 8th, and 9th to take an 8-4 win. Brett Myers yielded 4 hits, but 3 of them were homers, which kept the Rockies in the game. But the Phillies' bullpen was solid and Colorado never had a chance to comeback.

It was a pretty depressing day for Colorado fans: both the Avalanche and Rockies lost. For me, it turned out to be the last games I would see on the trip, but more on that next time.

Best,

Sean

Vancouver Canucks 1 at Colorado Avalanche 0 (OT) - April 11, 2009


Two games on hand today, the Canucks look to clinch the Northwest Division as they visit the last-place Avalanche at 1pm, while the Rockies and Phillies continue their 3-game set in the evening.

Beers at Brauns

The first step was to return the rental car. The place I had rented from was closed from Saturday noon until Monday morning, and with an early Monday flight, it was better to get rid of the car early rather than risk a problem just before the flight. I was sad as the trip was nearing an end, but Tai was once again there to help, picking me up at the rental agency and chauffeuring me downtown. It was still early, so we stopped in at Braun's for an early lunch. We were the first customers there, so early that the kitchen had yet to open. Fortunately the bar had no such restrictions, so we were able to enjoy some beers while waiting for the kitchen to come online. When it did, I had the ravioli, which was not bad and likely the healthiest thing I had eaten on the trip. As the game grew nearer, the crowd picked up, mostly Avalanche fans but I did notice a couple of Canucks supporters among them.


Brauns from the Pepsi Center

Finally it was time to say goodbye to Tai and meet up with Meg and her friend Ann to watch the first of two games on the day.

Boring Game

I hadn't seen the Canucks since their last game of 2007, when they lost to Anaheim in double overtime. They had made a number of changes since then, and I was looking forward to seeing how they performed. I was sadly disappointed. The Canucks needed just a point to clinch their division, so a defensive battle was to be expected. But neither team put much effort into the game, although Vancouver clearly outclassed Colorado in the first 10 minutes, peppering Peter Budaj with shot after shot. But he held strong and the Avalanche responded with a few chances of their own against Roberto Luongo, who answered with his usual solid netminding.


The first two periods were scoreless, and in the 3rd neither team made much noise. When the siren ended, the score was still 0-0 but Vancouver was happy as they had clinched first place in the Northwest.

The overtime was quick as Henrik Sedin threw a pass in front that bounced off Scott Hannan's skate and through Budaj's legs to give the Canucks the win with just 40 seconds gone. Luongo had the shutout and the Canucks celebrated their division title at center ice, while the fans exited quietly.

The game was so dull that I forgot to take pictures. The shots below were taken during the warmup.



All in all, a disappointing start to the doubleheader. We made our way over to Coors Field, and that post follows this one.

Best,

Sean


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Philadelphia Phillies 3 at Colorado Rockies 10 - April 10, 2009


Change of Plans

As mentioned in the previous post, I'd had enough of Colorado Springs after one cold game. With the Rockies home opener scheduled for Friday afternoon, the weather forecast calling for a partly sunny day, and Cole Hamels starting for the visiting Phillies, it was a no-brainer to drive back to Denver. Meg was more than happy to join me for the game, as she was taking the day off from work (despite it being Good Friday, many companies were still working normally, which really suprised me).

So I headed north on I-25, stopping in to pick her up, and we returned to the light rail station, where I knew I could park for free. A quick ride downtown and a transfer to the free Mall Ride brought us close to Coors Field, where the crowd was building in anticipation. The bars around the ballpark were packed, and not surprisingly, tickets were sold out. There weren't even single tickets available, nor was standing room being offered. We'd have to resort to scalpers if we wanted to see the game.

Outside Coors Field

Joel's Hot Dog Stand

Fortunately luck was on our side. Meg has a routine she follows when she goes to a Rockies game. In order to avoid purchasing overpriced food inside the ballpark, she stops by a hot dog stand at the corner of Wynkoop and 19th. Joel is the owner, and he offers hot dogs for $1.50, chips for $1, and soda for $1.50. A special gets you 2 dogs, chips, and a soda for $5, cheaper than one hot dog inside the stadium. There was a huge lineup but as we had plenty of time, we took our place at the end and slowly inched forward, stomachs grumbling in anticipation. We noticed a couple of guys walk by with two tickets held high, the universal sign of someone trying to get rid of extra seats. I chased them down and found their tickets were located above the bullpen, and all they wanted was face value ($50, a bit high, but it was opening day). Meg agreed, so we bought the tickets, relieved that we were going to get in. We also got our dogs (delicious and highly recommended!) and then entered the ballpark.

It had been 8 years since I last visited Coors, and it has been well-maintained. It's hard to believe that it is currently the 4th oldest ballpark in the National League, and once Florida has their new stadium in 2012, Coors will be younger than only Wrigley and Dodger Stadium. Today, the field was sparkling in the sunshine and the stadium looked brand new. Well-done to the grounds crew and other staff who had a hand in keeping the ballpark in tip-top shape.

Opening Ceremonies


The opening ceremonies began with representatives from the 5 branches of the military walking out on the field to present the colours. As well, there was a large American flag that was rolled up and carried out by more military personnel. The players, coaches, and staff from each team were then introduced, with each team lining up in front of its dugout as is the custom. There was then a moment of silence to remember Nick Adenhart. The national anthem was then sung and at that time, the giant flag was unfurled, making for an incredible sight. Then 4 F16s flew over, although I couldn't see them from my spot beneath the upper deck overhang. When the anthem ended, a bunch of balloons in Rockies' colours were released (see the picture below), and as they floated off into the sky, it was time to play ball! A great welcome to the season from the Rockies!



Hamels weak


If you're a baseball fan, you'll know that Cole Hamels (pictured here warming up) did not have a good game, giving up 7 runs in just over 3 innings. His poor performance immediately led to speculation that he was hiding an injury, but he says he always starts slow, so we'll see what happens. His teammates weren't much better, as Jason Marquis pitched 7 strong innings, giving up only 5 hits and adding 2 of his own at the plate. The sun was out for most of the game, and made a huge difference in temperatures - our seats were in the shade for the first few innings, with the sun tantalizingly close, just two rows in front of us. While we sat huddled in jackets, those lucky enough to have the sun on them basked in short sleeves. Fortunately the rotation of the earth continued unabated and we were soon drenched in sunlight ourselves, about the same time that Hamels was being shown the showers. I'd guess the temperature rose about 10 degreees in those few minutes, and we enjoyed the rest of the game as the Rockies cruised to an easy 10-3 win, sending the sold out crowd home happy.

Jason Marquis throws the first pitch to Jimmy Rollins

Fun crowd before, during, and after the game

One of the best aspects of the road trip is meeting so many new people. Today was no different as we enjoyed the antics of the people sitting around us for most of the game. One lady dropped her fully-laden hot dog, smearing mustard all over herself. For the rest of the afternoon, she was teased mercilessly by the guy behind her, who insisted that she was responsible for all spills in our section. OK, you had to be there, but it was funny. And she was good natured, and bought him a beer for his troubles.

On the Light Rail back, we encountered an energetic group of young people who had perhaps consumed one too many. The interesting thing is that is was the women in the group who were loud and boisterous while the guys sat quietly by, regretting their decision to be the designated drivers. The ladies were generous with their food, offering some Hot Tamales with the warning that they are "really, really HOT!" I tried some and respectfully disagreed, but I don't think that they really cared by then. After they disembarked, the train was eerily quiet as we reflected on a long and interesting day. Tomorrow sees two more games, the Avalanche host the Canucks in the afternoon and the Rockies play the Phillies in the evening. Check in for an update then!

Best,

Sean


Las Vegas 51s 6 at Colorado Springs Sky Sox 9 - April 9, 2009



Thursday was opening day for the minor leagues of baseball. As luck would have it, 60 miles south of Denver lies Colorado Springs, home of the Sky Sox, AAA affiliate of the Rockies. Even luckier, they were to play at home that night, against the Las Vegas 51s. Luckiest of all, Las Vegas was beginning their affiliation with the Blue Jays and this would be their first game. OK, luck had nothing to do with it, I had planned the entire Denver trip around this game. It was a big deal for me to see the baby Jays in their first game playing for a PCL team, so I headed down I-25 to Security Service Field.

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.

I'm famous

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.

Best,

Sean

Friday, April 10, 2009

Oklahoma City Thunder 112 at Denver Nuggets 122 - April 8, 2009



Today I was going to add another stadium to the list of those I've visited as I would enter the Pepsi Center (pictured left) to watch the Denver Nuggets take on the Seattle Super Sonics Oklahoma City Thunder. Yeah, I am still upset at the way the NBA treated the fans of Seattle, but I can't pass up a chance to see the Nuggets, seeded 2nd in the West, and future all-star Kevin Durant of the Thunder.

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.

Defense?

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 Coke Pepsi as part of the designated driver program and checking out the amenities. The Pepsi Center is a nice venue for basketball, with wide concourses and plenty of food options, but is otherwise unremarkable. I was happy to find that my seat was above an entry portal, which meant that there were no seats in front of me! No people standing during the game and blocking my view! Yaaaay!

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.

Best,

Sean


Albuquerque T-Birds 121 at Colorado 14ers 129 (NBA D-League) - April 7, 2009




Tonight's affair was an NBA D-League game between Alburquerque (who are affiliated with Dallas and Miami) and Colorado, who have players belonging to New Jersey and Denver. I've never seen a minor-league basketball game before and was looking forward to the experience.

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.

75% off

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.

Great Game

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.



14ers Cheerleaders


Trivia

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.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Colorado Rockies 8 at Arizona Diamondbacks 9 - April 6, 2009


I'm in the Phoenix Airport now, waiting for my flight to Denver. Checked out of my hotel early to get here as the airport has free wireless while the hotel charges $10 a day. Free internet is so commonplace these days, it surprises me some hotels are still charging. But when you book through Priceline, you sometimes get a bit unlucky.

Free stuff and more free stuff

Yesterday was Opening Day at Chase Field. I got to the stadium quite early, hoping to land a cheap ticket, but all they had left was obstructed view seats in the bullpen area. I was told that if it sold out, standing room tickets would be available at the low price of $6. So I waited for a while, enjoying the sunshine, and eventually was called over to the ticket window. Standing room only was left, so I gladly forked over my $6 and headed into the stadium. It was T-Shirt Giveaway day, so I received my t-shirt, size XXL. One of the problems with these giveaways is that they usually only have one size of the item, and it is usually the biggest size possible, which in the US is far too big for me. But I noticed that they had a T-shirt exchange program - there was an area where you could trade in your ill-fitting shirt for a size of your choice. Brilliant! I exchanged my XXL for an M and was looking sharper for it.

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!

Brandon Webb throws the first pitch of the season, in what was his last ever appearance in the major leagues.

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.

High School Game



After the game finished, there was a high school baseball game played between Prescott and Notre Dame. This is part of the Diamondbacks program to give local school ball teams a chance to play at Chase Field. I waited for 45 minutes to watch the first inning of the game and was impressed by the Notre Dame team, particularly Matt Ozanne, who smashed a home run down the left field line. (Update: Ozanne must have impressed the D-backs, who drafted him in the 46th round later that year, although he went to Santa Clara instead, playing four years and then not being drafted.)

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



I'm about to board my flight to Denver, again on Frontier Airlines. The picture above is the plane I will fly on, Stan the Ram. The terminal in Phoenix is a bit dated, and lacks enough power outlets to support all the people who may want to use the free wireless. Many people are sitting on the floor working; I'm glad I got here early enough to find one of the few outlets next to a chair. Otherwise the airport here is OK. Tonight I'm going to watch my first NBDL game between Albuquerque and Colorado and will have an update on that for you tomorrow.

Best,

Sean

Monday, April 6, 2009

Ping/ASU Invitational (NCAA Women's Golf) - April 5, 2009


Today was a scheduled off-day. Yep, no sports were on tap in Phoenix. I felt lost, empty, betrayed by the sporting gods. Well, at least I could watch the MLB Season opener on TV that night, I thought. But the idea of spending a day in my hotel room was not appealing.

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.

After enjoying a Double Double Animal Style, I made my way to the golf course, not knowing what to expect. Well, NCAA women's golf must be the least popular sport ever. Anybody can just walk onto the course and watch. No admission charge, no overpriced food, just sports - it was a refreshing change. The players carry their own bags and pull the flags for each other. I saw a few people watching but figure most people are associated with the event somehow.

I saw some players drive from the 1st tee, and followed them to the green to watch them finish the hole. I realized that in the heat, it would not be smart to walk around the whole course, so I turned around, intending to watch each group finish at the 18th hole. On the way back, I saw the next threesome teeing up at the first, so I moved out of the way, as I was directly between them and the fairway. One of them hit her tee shot and I noticed her staring in my direction, which unnerved me slightly. Fortunately, the ball landed beyond me, but given I was well off the fairway, it was not a shot she would have been happy with. I realize now that most of these ladies are not bound for the pro circuit, but it surprised me that anybody can just walk around the course regardless of the players - you are really responsible for your own safety here.

I scurried back to the 18th green to watch a group finishing up. But once they holed out, they made their way to the first tee. With 30 groups of 3 participating, the groups were staggered with half starting from the 1st hole, the other half starting from the 10th. I ended up watching the last few of these latter groups which featured golfers from Cal, Vanderbilt, and Stanford. Pictured here is Vandy's Megan Grehan (ranked 65th in the country), holing out on the 18th for a bogey. Once the 30th group finished, there was nobody following them. At the time, I thought things were over, so I left. But it was just that the next group of golfers had yet to make their way over to the 18th hole; they were likely about an hour away.

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.

Diane Kwon of California chips onto the green

Finally, the one golfer that I did notice was Cal sophmore Pia Halbig, ranked 24th in the nation. I only saw her take a few shots, but she seemed more in control than the other golfers saw. I'll keep my eyes open to see if she ever turns pro - it would be an interesting story for me to tell if she does!

Finally, a little trivia. ASU was the collegiate home of Phil Mickleson, who won the men's equivalent of this tournament back in 1991-92.

Best,

Sean

Chicago White Sox 2 at Arizona Diamondbacks 0 (Spring Training) - April 4, 2009



The final spring training game of 2009 was held at Chase Field, with the White Sox visiting. I now see why they move the final game to the major league field - they can charge regular season ticket prices and get a decent crowd (over 17,000 at the end of it). Hey, it's one extra revenue stream, but who's counting?


Memories

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.

The Game

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.


The real story of the game though was Chisox pitcher Bartolo Colon (pictured). Colon was the 2005 Cy Young Award winner with the Angels, but he has struggled in recent seasons due to injuries, going to far as to be suspended by Boston last season. Chicago signed him as a free agent, and this was to be his last appearance before the season. He was brought in to pitch the 5th inning and promptly struck out 3 Dbacks, all major leaguers. In fact, Colon pitched the remaining 5 innings, striking out 6 and giving up 3 singles and a walk, earning the save in the process. He looked in command throughout his appearance, and no doubt the White Sox are hoping that it's a sign of things to come. If so, they may surprise some people in the AL Central.


The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, looked awful. Their pitchers walked 8, and their hitters seemed lost at the plate. I know it's just one spring training game, but I think it's going to be a long season in the desert and I won't be seeing another World Series in Arizona anytime soon.

Best,

Sean