Tuesday, July 27, 2010

MLB Doubleheader: Nationals 3 at Brewers 8; Cardinals 4 at Cubs 3 (11) - July 25, 2010

The last day of the trip was another two-state doubleheader, though this one was a much more manageable 90 miles between the two ballparks. I started by driving over to Miller Park to watch the Nationals and Brewers and then heading back to Chicago to catch the Sunday night game between the Cardinals and Cubs.

Miller Park

Located about 5 miles west of downtown, Miller Park resembles a large spaceship that is easily noticeable as you drive north on I-94. I mean, it is huge. I couldn't take a shot while driving, but the picture below illustrates jut how large it is.

Parking at the stadium is not recommended if saving money is important to you, as it is $8 for weekday games and $10 for weekends. You can go right from the highway to the parking lot, but getting out can be a hassle when it is crowded. I parked on Wisconsin Avenue just north of the highway and walked down; although I was 15 minutes from the stadium, it was only 5 minutes to the entrance of parking lot.

If you want to have fun, though, tailgating is the thing to do here. I arrived about 2 hours before game time and most fans had already set up their BBQs and were playing games and drinking beer in the Sunday morning sunshine. A different type of religious experience I would surmise. However, with all the tailgaters entering the stadium just a few minutes before game time, lines were ridiculously long. Keep that in mind if you want to ensure that you see first pitch.

There is a ticket resale area that is next to Helfaer Field, which is the small baseball park that is used for youth games. However, unlike the Scalp-Free zone in Baltimore, this zone is not validated by the Brewers, in fact, the ticket seller told me that they don't recommend using it. Didn't matter as it was empty when I walked by so I headed over to the box office. The game was nearly sold out, but there were singles available in all areas. I decided to wait as I felt I could get in for much cheaper than the box office, and as soon as I turned away from the ticket window, a gentleman asked me if I needed a single. He wasn't a scalper, just a guy who had bought four tickets and only required three for his family. It was a great seat in the loge section behind home plate, so we negotiated a price suitable to both (I used my roadtrip as a bargaining chip) and completed the transaction without having to go to the ticket resale zone. Still, I suspect as game time gets closer, that resale zone is a good place to find cheaper tickets.

After I spent a few minutes walking around the outside of the stadium. There are a number of statues and plaques honouring famous Milwaukee players (such as Robin Yount, above) as well as old Milwaukee teams. A unique addition here is the Workers Monument which commemorates those who built the stadium. Inside there is more of the same, with Walls of Honor for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League as well as Wisconsin-born major leaguers. Take the time to walk around the ground level here, there are a few things to see.

From the upper deck you really understand just how cavernous the building is. There are four seating levels, but they rise one above the other, which makes it bigger than other parks with similar capacities. The picture above is taken from left field, next to Bernie's Dugout, where mascot Bernie Brewer slides down after a Milwaukee homer. The other two pictures below are from right field and behind the plate and just give an idea of the overall structure.

The fan-shaped retractable roof takes 15 minutes to open or close. It was open the entire day that I went, so I couldn't get any pictures of it closing.

Food is perhaps what Miller Park is most famous for. Brats are the obvious choice here, but you can try for a Polish or Italian, or Chorizo if you are daring. At $4.50 these are reasonably priced and better than most ballpark fare. I've been here about 4 times and never tried another food item.

However, you should be aware of an ESPN report that shows that many of the major league stadiums are in violation of food regulations. I'm not going to go into detail here, but have a look, it might change your attitude towards eating at the ballpark.

One final note - if you want to take advantage of the designated driver program and get a free soda, you will need a parking receipt from the parking lot. As far as I know, only Miller Park has this restriction which I find rather silly. Why should I be punished for trying to save money?

Anyway, I enjoy watching games here and think Miller Park is a decent stadium.

Best Bobblehead Ever

There was a giveaway that I didn't know about, but was happy to discover. An excellent Robin Yount full-size bobblehead. I'm not one to talk about stadium giveaways as they are usually crap, but this one is quite impressive. Not only that, but they gave away one to every fan.

Game 1 - Nationals 3 at Brewers 8

The Nationals and rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg (above) were in town. Unfortunately for them, he wasn't starting today, instead it was Ross Detwiler making his first appearance of the season after undergoing hip surgery in February. It was a bizarre decision as he had pitched 7 innings in AA just four days before. His mound opponent was ex-Blue Jay David Bush who was suffering through a mediocre season at 4-8.

With one out in the bottom of the first, Alcides Escobar reached on a ball that handcuffed Nats' 3B Willie Harris. It was originally ruled a single but changed to an error midway through the inning. That ruling would affect Detwiler's stats as he managed to retire Ryan Braun but then walked Prince Fielder and Casey McGehee (in the field below) to load the bases. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy then singled home Escobar for the 1-0 lead. Fielder then rambled home on a wild pitch and it was 2-0. With the error to Harris, both runs were unearned, an interesting turn of events.

In the 4th, another error by the Nats led to 3 more unearned runs. Shortstop Iain Desmond booted the third out, allowing Lucroy to score. Rickie Weeks then smashed a 2-run homer to make it 5-0 and send Detwiler to the showers. He gave up 5 runs - all unearned. The Washington defense is really terrible.

The offense isn't much better, but they added 2 runs in the 6th on 3 singles and a sac fly. In the 7th, Adam Kennedy singled (below) to end the day for Bush. Reliever Kameron Loe promptly threw wild on a pickoff attempt allowing Kennedy to second, from where he scored on a Nyjer Morgan 2-out single. Another unearned run, this one for Milwaukee.

But the Brew Crew wasn't worried. Escobar led off the 7th with a triple, and after Fielder (below) was walked intentionally, McGehee crushed a pitch to center for a 3-run homer and an 8-3 lead. I decided to leave at this point as I had to get back to Chicago, and the rest of the game was uneventful as the Brewers swept Washington with the 8-3 win.

An ugly game as both teams made 2 errors, and a scorcher too. I spent half the time standing in the shade as the sun was relentless. Below is a picture of another ex-Jay, Joe Inglett, who I saw last year in Colorado Springs when he was playing for Las Vegas. Glad to see he is back up in the majors, although he had an 0-4 day.

The Sausage Race

If you haven't been to Miller Park, you haven't seen the famous Sausage Race. Each of the five sausage options has a costume and these guys race each other around the infield as fans cheer on their favourite. In today's version, there was a handoff to some little weenies (kids in smaller costumes) by first base and they finished the race. Hot Dog won today, coming from 4th below.

The Drive Back to Chicago

Ugh. Getting out of the stadium area was easy as I was parked about a block away from a highway entrance. After that, it was road work part 1 (25 minutes to go 4 miles), road work part 2 (5 minutes to go 2 miles) and road work part 3 (just a short one). Nonetheless, a 90 minute drive becomes over 2 hours, and for the privilege you stop twice to pay $2.50 in tolls. I know the economy is in a recession and that one of the easiest stimulus packages involves road construction, but can't you space it out a little more? At least the streetlight problems in Chicago had been fixed and I made it to Wrigley around 6:30 for the 7:00 start.

Game 2 - Cardinals 4 at Cubs 3 (11)

Andrew Van Cleve again joined me for the game. He had given his season seats to some family members, so we bought standing room tickets for $16.80. Now, you might be wondering why they sell tickets for such an odd amount. It's because the tax is no longer included in the quoted price. Last season, standing room was $15, which included the 12% rip-off tax. Now the Cubs get the $15 to themselves, and the $1.80 goes to the government. The big loser: the fan as usual. Anyway, we took the seats in front of his season tickets and were fortunate that the regular users missed the game, giving us a great view and allowing me to be a part of some very interesting cheering from Andrew's uncle.

The Cubs started Canadian Ryan Dempster against Chris Carpenter, who is one of the league's best pitchers. The story in this one was missed opportunities. There were 27 hits but only 7 runs, with a total of 19 runners left on. St. Louis had two runners thrown out at the plate as well.

St. Louis scored two in the second, but the Cubs replied with a singleton in the 4th when Marlon Byrd singled home Derrek Lee who had doubled. But Alfonso Soriano (below) grounded into a double play to end things there.

In the 5th, Ryan Theriot tripled in Geovany Soto who had walked. After Dempster grounded out and Tyler Colvin (below) struck out, Starlin Castro singled home Theriot to give the Cubs a short-lived lead.

In the 6th, Albert Pujols, suffering through an off-year hitting just .300 with 22 homers and 69 RBI, belted HR #23 to tie the game. It was a line shot that took about 1.5 seconds to clear the left field fence, one of the more impressive homers I've seen. The fans naturally threw the ball back though.

The game then proceeded to extra innings knotted at 3. In the top half of the 10th, St. Louis loaded the bases on 3 singles, but Yadier Molina grounded into a double play to end the threat. The Cubs managed to load the bases in their half as well, but Ryan Franklin got Byrd to watch strike three, and we went to 11. The picture below is taken in the 10th, nearly all of the fans remain.

In the 11th, Felipe Lopez took a 2-out offering from reliever Brian Schlitter over the right field fence and the Cardinals had a 4-3 lead.

But the Cubs didn't give up, as pinch-hitter Xavier Nady singled to lead off the Cubs' 11th. After a force play and Theriot strikeout, Kosuke Fukudome (below) came to bat. He was a defensive replacement in the 10th and had already singled in his only appearance. It was also the only time I would see a Japanese player on this trip, so I was sure that he would homer to win the game and send me back to Japan happy. Alas, it was not to be as he struck out swinging against Dennys Reyes to end the game and my trip. Not sure if there is an omen there or not.

The last swing of the trip

All Done

After 16 days and 18 games (which could have been 21 if not for rain and traffic) the trip was over. It took me a minute to realize that I would have to leave the stadium. But it was a good trip in all, with 9 MLB games, 7 minor matches in Iowa, and the Northern League DH in Kansas City. Add on 2,700 miles of driving and it was a perfect sports road trip. Meeting old and new friends and enjoying Target Field were just a couple of the highlights and I hope you enjoyed following along.

Next Up

I'm back in Tokyo where the World University Baseball Championship starts Friday with Canada taking on Taiwan. I'll check that out plus a few other games next week. There are some future big leaguers (on both sides of the pond) that will be playing so it should be very interesting. Check back for updates next week!



1 comment:

  1. Great analysis Sean! Wrigley Field looks great. No need for a new stadium on the North side!