Saturday, May 28, 2011

NHL Finals Prediction


On May 24, 1994, the Vancouver Canucks beat Toronto 4-3 in double overtime of game 5 to reach the Stanley Cup final, where they faced an original 6 team with a long championship drought that had won a 7-game conference final. It was Toronto's second consecutive loss in the conference final. The Canucks lost in game 7.

On May 24, 2011, the Vancouver Canucks beat San Jose 3-2 in double overtime of game 5 to reach the Stanley Cup final, where they face an original 6 team with a long championship drought that won a 7-game conference final. It was San Jose's second consecutive loss in the conference final.

I predicted Boston to win the Cup back when the playoffs started and I'm not changing that stance despite Vancouver appearing to be far superior. Using the above coincidence, I'll say Boston in 7. Hope I'm wrong though. It should be a great series either way.

Best,

Sean

Update: Well, it's going 7. So I got that right. I've been watching some of the series and most of the highlights and am stunned at how terrible Vancouver is on the road. I'm guessing the first goal in game 7 wins, and I'm sticking with my original prediction of Boston - think they'll get a flukey on Luongo and destroy the Canucks confidence. But I really really hope I am wrong. Regardless, another game 7 for the Stanley Cup will be unforgettable. Sports is the best.

Final Update: Sadly, I was right. Boston won. The only benefit for me is that I predicted the Bruins to win at the beginning of the playoffs. Of course, I didn't bet on it when I was in Vegas, so it's worth nothing more than pride. Four Canadian teams have now lost in the finals in the last 8 seasons.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stadium Journey Reviews


As I mentioned a few months ago, I'll be writing reviews for the Stadium Journey website. I've already posted a couple of minor league reviews and finally got around to adding a review of Yokohama Stadium. I plan to add one review per month plus an extra review of Hiroshima's new park, which I visited last year. I'll move this post to a page in a couple of days and update it whenever a new Stadium Journey review is up.

Best,

Sean


Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Vancouver/San Jose Road Trip


One of my favourite sports roadtrips was driving from Vancouver to San Jose in 1994 to see the Sharks' first ever home playoff games, which they split with top seed Detroit. It was a blast; the fans were still new to the game and excited to see their team succeeding in just their third season, long before the Sharks became the poster boys for playoff failure. When San Jose went on to upset the Red Wings in 7 games, it helped the Canucks reach the final.

Now these two west coast rivals meet in the playoffs for the first time, and although I wish I could be there, I'm stuck across the ocean. So I can only plan a roadtrip that takes you to all 7 games as well as plenty of other action in between.
Sun May 15 San Jose at Vancouver 5:00
Mon May 16 Pacific Tigers at Washington Huskies 2:00 (NCAA Baseball)
Tue May 17 Lewis-Clark State Warriors at Seattle Redhawks 3:00 (NCAA Baseball)
Wed May 18 San Jose at Vancouver 6:00
Thu May 19 Oklahoma City Redhawks at Sacramento River Cats 7:05 (PCL)
Fri May 20 Vancouver at San Jose 6:00
Sat May 21 New England Revolution at San Jose Earthquakes 7:30 (MLS)
Sun May 22 Vancouver at San Jose 12:00
Mon May 23 San Jose Giants at Stockton Ports 11:05 (Cal League)
Tue May 24 Nashville Sounds at Tacoma Rainiers 11:35 (PCL)
Tue May 24 San Jose at Vancouver 6:00
Wed May 25 FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders 7:00 (MLS)
Thu May 26 Vancouver at San Jose 6:00
Fri May 27 Stanford Cardinal at Cal Bears 2:30 (NCAA Baseball)
Sat May 28 San Jose at Vancouver 5:00 (or, if series is over)
Sat May 28 New York Red Bulls at Vancouver Whitecaps 4:00
One good thing about this roadtrip is the early start times, which give you more time to drive in the evening, or perhaps find some local establishments in which to relax. I am sure a number of Canucks fans will be doing the hockey portion of this trip, so I hope that some of them see this and check out a couple of more games on the way.

Times Have Changed

Looking back on that 1994 playoff season, it is amazing how much things have changed since then. At that time, I had lived in Vancouver for 4 years and had seen dozens of Canucks' games at the old Pacific Coliseum. Tickets were cheap and easy to get in those days, particularly before Pavel Bure arrived. When San Jose knocked off Detroit and Vancouver completed a 3-1 comeback over Calgary, I realized that the Canucks had a good shot of making the final, since they matched up well with Dallas and Toronto, the other remaining squads (yep, Toronto used to be in the West).

That year, the Canucks put all remaining rounds on sale on the same day, so I headed down to TicketMaster (no Internet at home, remember?) and bought a pair of tickets to each of the 3 finals games, in the top row for $50 each. I recall the gentleman behind me laughing at my optimism, but it turned out to be the one year I actually predicted something correctly. Vancouver beat Dallas easily, and then knocked out Toronto in a double OT Game 5 that I also attended. It was a bittersweet moment, for although I was still hoping for the Leafs to win, I knew that if they lost I would get some Stanley Cup finals action for the first time in my life (no need to point out that the Leafs have not made the finals in 44 years).

That championship series was unbelievable, especially game 6 when Vancouver won 4-1 to send everyone back to New York. I'll never forget Nathan Lafayette hitting the crossbar in game 7, all the bandwagon fans, and the riot afterwards marked by the smell of tear gas as I walked home.

Unfortunately, I lost a lot of respect for Vancouver hockey fans that year, mainly because there were so few fans that believed in their team at the beginning of the playoffs. As an example, the sports bar where I watched the games showed Toronto/Chicago tilts over Vancouver/Calgary in round 1, since there were no Canucks' fans in the house. By the time the finals rolled around though, all the fake fans had come out of the woodwork and I finally saw what a bandwagon town was like.

Things are obviously different now. Vancouver has had a top team for several seasons and the fans are truly passionate, as I saw at a road playoff game in LA last year. I still cheer for the Canucks, but from the position of a faraway observer rather than a true fan. For me though, there will be nothing like that 1994 playoff run, and I can only hope to be living in Toronto when the Leafs finally do the same.

Best,

Sean

Monday, May 9, 2011

Playoff Predictability in the NHL and NBA


With the Lakers losing yesterday, the NBA's Western Conference will not have the #1 or #2 seed in their championship series. Quite a surprise, as the NBA playoffs are usually pretty predictable, at least when compared to the Stanley Cup tournament. Or so I thought.

I decided to check if my theory was correct. I took the results from past playoffs, going back eight seasons until 2003, which was when the NBA moved to a 7-game format for the first round. In the 16 conference finals during that time, only once before were both top 2 seeds not represented, that being in the West in 2007 when Dallas was upset by Golden State in the first round and Phoenix lost to the San Antonio in round 2. Overall, 23 out of the 32 top 2 seeds made it to the third round. So at first glance, the NBA playoffs have been reasonably predictable.

To compare, I then took the eight most recent NHL playoff seasons, going back to 2002, as 2005 was skipped due to the lockout. On five occasions a conference championship was contested by two teams that didn't finish in the top 2, most recently last year when #7 Philly beat #8 Montreal in the East. Overall, only 15 out of the 32 top 2 seeds made it to the conference final, which illustrates just how unpredictable the Stanley Cup playoffs have been. Think about it: less than half of the top two teams were able to win two playoff rounds.

For stats geeks, I also did a round-by-round breakdown, counting how many upsets there were for each sport in each round. An upset is simply defined as a lower seed winning the series. Overall, there were 43 upsets out of 120 series (36%) in the NHL compared to just 31 (26%) in the NBA. There was even a bigger disparity in the early rounds. Out of 64 first-round series, 22 were upsets in the NHL (34%) compared to just 12 in the NBA (19%), while in the second round, the upsets were 13/32 (41%) in hockey and just 7/32 (22%) in basketball.

But things changed in the conference finals and championship series. In the NHL, upsets still happened frequently with 7/16 (44%) but in the NBA it was a surprising 10/16 (63%), meaning that it is the third round where the NBA becomes more prone to an upset. In the finals though, the favourite usually wins in both leagues, with only two underdogs taking the NBA title and just one in the NHL.

So generally, the NBA playoffs have been more predictable over the past eight years, which I realize is a very small sample size. But I thought that the predictability meant that the finals were always battles between the top seed in each conference. In fact, out of 16 number 1 seeds since 2003, only 5 made it to the final and only in 2008 (Boston/LA) did both do so. The NHL only saw 3 top seeds win their conference in that time and never had it happen in the same season. So although the NBA follows form early on, it doesn't finish that way.

So what does all this mean and how can it help you? Avoid picking the top seeds to make the Stanley Cup Final for one. Even betting against the top NBA teams wouldn't be as unwise as you might think. But in reality, this just showed me how I let a few results lead me to underestimate the NBA playoffs. It is true that they are not as upset-filled as the NHL, but they are not nearly as predictable as I used to think.

You can argue that the NHL season is meaningless because home advantage is insignificant in the playoffs. Why play 82 games just to gain a 1-game edge? That is true to a point, but generally I think this post demonstrates how the two games differ. First, there is far more parity in the NHL; the NBA usually has 3 or 4 excellent teams which is why the early rounds are more pedestrian. Secondly, a hot goalie (or weak one) can make or break a short series but basketball players rarely play above their capabilities for extended periods. Finally, hockey is a game where hard work can be rewarded, but basketball usually sees talent win out over grit. Simply put, they are completely different sports and you can see this in the way the playoffs develop over two months every year.

Ultimately, doing this simple research led me to appreciate the NBA tournament more than I did. It will never be as interesting to me as the race for Lord Stanley's mug but it is still worth following, because the mantra that makes sports so exciting turns out to be true here as well: You Never Know.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, May 8, 2011

NFL Road Trip 2011 - Almost perfect


While I traveling last month, the NFL released their 2011 schedule. Of course, there's a good chance many of the games won't be played, but that didn't stop me from planning a potential road trip. Without further ado, here is a route that gets you to all 32 home stadiums without too many unreasonable drives.
Thu Sep 8   New Orleans at Green Bay 7:30
Sun Sep 11 Atlanta at Chicago 12:00
Mon Sep 12 Oakland at Denver 8:15
Sun Sep 18 Oakland at Buffalo 1:00
Mon Sep 19 St. Louis at NY Giants 8:30
Sun Sep 25 Baltimore at St. Louis 3:05
Mon Sep 26 Washington at Dallas 7:30
Sun Oct 2 Pittsburgh at Houston 12:00
Mon Oct 3 Indianapolis at Tampa Bay 8:30
Sun Oct 9 Arizona at Minnesota 12:00
Mon Oct 10 Chicago at Detroit 8:30
Sun Oct 16 Philadelphia at Washington 1:00
Mon Oct 17 Miami at NY Jets 8:30
Sun Oct 23 Denver at Miami 1:00
Mon Oct 24 Baltimore at Jacksonville 8:30
Sun Oct 30 Cincinnati at Tennessee 3:05
Mon Oct 31 San Diego at Kansas City 7:30
Sun Nov 6 Baltimore at Pittsburgh 8:20
Mon Nov 7 Chicago at Philadelphia 8:30
Sun Nov 13 Pittsburgh at Cincinnati 1:00
Sun Nov 20 Jacksonville at Cleveland 1:00
Mon Nov 21 Kansas City at New England 8:30
Thu Nov 24 San Francisco at Baltimore 8:20
Sun Nov 27 Carolina at Indianapolis 12:00
Mon Nov 28 NY Giants at New Orleans 7:30
Sun Dec 4 Dallas at Arizona 1:15
Sun Dec 11 Buffalo at San Diego 1:15
Mon Dec 12 St. Louis at Seattle 5:30
Sun Dec 18 Detroit at Oakland 1:05
Mon Dec 19 Pittsburgh at San Francisco 5:30
Sat Dec 24 Tampa Bay at Carolina 1:00
Sun Jan 1 Tampa Bay at Atlanta 1:00
The longest drive would be from San Diego to Seattle, a 20-hour journey that would need to be done in 25 hours between the Sunday afternoon and Monday night games. Overall, you'd be looking at 28,000 miles over four months, assuming Toronto as your start and end points. With the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, you could spend an extra month trying to catch playoff games in the south before moving back north to finish the season.

With the work stoppage currently ongoing though, the schedule is probably going to change, so this trip is not going to happen. I'll be going through the whole exercise next year with the hope that I might actually get around to finally doing it.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, May 7, 2011

2011 California/Nevada Trip Summary


Pardon the self-indulgence while I summarize the 2011 California/Nevada trip.

The journey lasted 20 days during which I saw 23 sporting events (4 MLB, 12 minor league, 3 NCAA baseball, and 1 each in the NHL, NBA, MLS, and Arena Football). There were four doubleheader days and one day off when I met up with my brother and his wife for dinner in Las Vegas.

I drove just under 2,000 miles, averaging only 100 miles a day. Given the high price of gas, this sort of trip in which I try to see as many games in a smaller geographic area might become the norm. I spent nearly $250 on gas, so each mile driven cost 12.5 cents or $1 for every eight miles. This adds up when you drive 500 miles to see just a couple of games. So in the future, I expect to be spending more time in smaller areas and seeing multiple games in the same city.

Some bests and worsts of the trip:

Best Game

Las Vegas defeating Sacramento on Wednesday afternoon in only the 2nd game of the trip. David Cooper, Toronto's #1 pick in 2008 and a guy I've been following since he was drafted, hit a 3-run homer and the 51s scored two in the 9th to pull out a 6-5 win.

Best Experience

Meeting up with a group of Salvation Army workers and volunteers for a Thursday night River Cats game in Sacramento. Their energy and good cheer made for a memorable evening, even though Las Vegas lost in extra innings.

Best Discovery

Finding out the car was equipped with satellite radio. When I'm driving in cities, I prefer to listen to local sports radio, but when I was out in the desert, there was no such thing. Serendipitously, I realized that XM radio was available and found the Jays/Yanks game where I heard Cooper, who had been recently called up, get his first major-league RBI on a sacrifice fly.

Best Drive

Vegas to Reno on US95. A great place to be alone for 8 hours, as long as you have satellite radio.

Best Giveaway

The UNLV Rebels replica jersey (below). Only problem is that it is XL, which sadly, I'm not going to grow into. At least I hope I don't.


Best License Plate

L8KR H8TR - guess that person is enjoying the NBA playoffs these days.

Best Result

The Sacramento Kings are staying for another season. I hope that fan power can keep them there for a lot longer as I'd like to return and see another game there without having to overpay believing it will be their last game ever.

Best Hotel

I usually don't mention the places I stay because everyone has their own preferences and TripAdvisor is the best place to go for reviews. However, on this trip I had the good fortune to spend a few nights at the Arena Hotel in San Jose, which is about five minutes from the HP Pavilion. It can be reasonably priced if you use some discount sites, with friendly staff, an actual breakfast, and a fridge and microwave in each room. If you plan to see a couple of Sharks games, this place can't be beat for convenience and price.

Worst Game

Stanford beating up on Santa Clara 10-3 in an NCAA mismatch.

Strangest Experience

Being interrogated by a security guard for taking a picture before a Modesto Nuts game. Succeeded in hiding my contempt for the whole charade but wondering if the team even knows what is going on? Harassing fans is not good for business.

Finally

I really enjoy these extended sports road trips. Living in Japan, the land of crap sports and crap driving (tolls here are outrageous and highways often crowded) leaves me eager to get out on the open road and see as many different sporting events as I possibly can. Weekend jaunts are not enough and even a week on the road leaves me wanting more. Even after these past three weeks, I felt like I could have continued the trip for another month, although seeing a game every day and blogging about it does become tiring.

But these trips are not cheap and I'm increasingly surprised by how expensive sports and travel has become in the past decade. I was fortunate that several teams were kind enough to give me tickets which helped considerably. But it's much more difficult to get free hotels, cars and gas, so I'll be taking a break for the next few months to recharge the savings account and plan another trip.

There's still a lot of venues left to see. Next year the Marlins will open a new ballpark and I'll be flying over for that. There's also the NFL roadtrip that I want to accomplish sometime but will have to wait for at least another year as the season is already compromised by the work stoppage. But my favourite destinations remain the minor league ballparks that dot the country and bring me to towns that I'd otherwise pass by without a second thought. I've seen about half of those parks and hope to make it to the other half over the next few years, staring next year with the Florida State and Southern Leagues.

In the meantime, I'll be here as usual, making the usual road trip plans, bad predictions, and occasional comments on the sporting issues of the day, so check back regularly.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Trip Ends Up Aces!




In 2009, the Reno Aces began play after relocating from Tucson. In the same season the Las Vegas 51s became Toronto's AAA team. So I'd had my eye on Nevada as a baseball roadtrip destination for the past two years, but the schedules had not matched favourably with mine. So when my brother told me he would be in Las Vegas for a conference in April, 2011, things quickly came together as both the 51s and Aces were to be at home during that time. That's how this trip got started and that's how it ended as I finished up with a long drive to Reno and two games in beautiful Aces Ballpark.

Las Vegas to Reno

I don't write much about the drives I take, because they are mostly boring interstates that get me from one game to the next as quickly as possible. But the route between Las Vegas and Reno is one of the more enjoyable drives and worth a quick mention here. From Las Vegas, you head northwest on US95 (also known as the Veterans Memorial Highway) which becomes an undivided highway a few miles out. Traveling through numerous small towns along the way, you can go at least 75 along the highway, passing slower traffic with little waiting. The main town on the route is Tonopah, which is a good place to stop for a break and get gas. Be careful driving through these tiny towns though, the speed limit drops to 25 in some places and this is where cops are waiting for the inattentive. I saw two cars get pulled over when they failed to slow in time, while there were almost no cops on the actual highway. The shot below is from Luning, one of the towns where I saw someone get stopped.


After about 6 hours, you reach Fallon, a larger town where you turn west onto US50/Reno Hwy and drive 25 miles before hitting I-80 to finish the trip. I found the drive through the desert to be very scenic with distant mountains, and nearby buttes and mesas most of the way. There's no radio once you leave Vegas, so I was fortunate to have XM with me, which enabled me to listen to an NHL playoff game as well as several MLB games during the 7.5-hour journey.

When I spoke to locals in Reno, though, they said the drive is boring and they absolutely hate it. So I guess it depends on what you are used to. If you haven't done it, give it a try someday.

Reno Aces

When I visited Fresno a week ago, I mentioned how the Grizzlies had moved from Tucson when the Arizona Diamondbacks began play in 1998. Coincidentally, the Reno Aces were the visitors in Fresno. Until 2008, the Aces were the Tucson Sidewinders, who had moved from Phoenix to become the Diamondbacks' AAA affiliate as part of a complicated ownership reorganization that involved the Grizzlies' move as well. The Aces franchise has been part of the PCL since the league's inaugural season in 1903, when they played in San Francisco as the Seals, and can boast of having Joe DiMaggio as one of their alumni. From San Francisco to Phoenix to Tucson to Reno - an interesting history that shows how minor league ball teams can get around, even if it takes over a century.

The Aces nickname came from a name-the-team contest and combines the city's gambling background along with a baseball connection. The eight letter combination ties for the shortest in minor league baseball along with Iowa Cubs and Orem Owlz.

Aces Ballpark


The Aces play in the appropriately named Aces Ballpark, located in downtown Reno. The park is the first of eight planned phases to renovate the area, some of which has fallen on hard times. In particular, there is a homeless shelter just on the other side of left field and the streets east of the ballpark are rather sketchy. So in an effort to revitalize the entire area, the owners of the Aces are using the ballpark as the centerpiece of a new entertainment district, much like has happened in Denver, San Francisco, and elsewhere. The whole project is expected to last for several more years but so far, it is off to a good start.

There is no general parking at the ballpark proper, but there is plenty on streets (meters are free in the evening and on Sundays) and nearby casinos and garages also have parking, although some may charge. I saw one lot with a $7 sign, but would suggest you find something for free on the street.

Aces Ballpark was built in just over a year and opened in time for the Aces' first home game in April, 2009. The park is bounded on the south by the Truckee River, which provides an interesting view from both outside and inside.


Before you even enter the ballpark, take the time to look at the features outside. There are three entrances, with the main one denoted by a large baseball sculpture above the gates.


This entrance is also where the Freight House District is located. There are four dining establishments, each with a different specialty, that comprise the district, named after an old building that sits next to the ballpark. You can visit any of the eateries without a ticket, although Bugsy's Sports Bar and Grill also has indoor and outdoor seating which does require a ticket.


Below is the view from the Sports Bar seats.


Tickets here are not cheap, running as high as $32 for the home plate box seats. However, you can get standing room/general admission tickets for as little as $6. These allow you to sit in the berm area behind the right field fence or to stand along the concourse. Usually I suggest that you buy the cheapest option and sit where you want, but that is not a good idea here. The Aces draw very well and there are not a lot of empty seats close to the field. As well, ushers are very strict and rarely let anybody by without checking their ticket. I found the standing areas along the baselines, which also have a drink rail, to be perfectly adequate but if you really want a good seat here, you'd better pay for it.



The park design is quite interesting. Although it may appear to be standard at first glance, with a single concourse atop the seating bowl (above), there are a number of features that are not as typical. For one, you can walk around the entire park which provides some good views of the downtown area behind home plate. Beyond left field there is a railroad track along which the occasional train goes rolling by, sounding its horn. However, the track is well below field level and is not visible from the seating bowl. As you wander, you will see a number of other party areas, such as the Coors Light Party Zone in the left field corner, which is a collection of picnic tables (below).


Just to the left of the bullpens, which are behind the right field fence, lies the Bullpen Deck, another party area (you can see it in the left of the picture below).


Beyond the bullpens lies the berm, which is a great area for families with room for the kids to play. Above that is Baseball Mountain, a seating area that is attached to a bar and provides a good view of the entire park (below). Note the white poles to the left in the photo with the PCL team logos on them - these light up during night games when the Aces score.


Given the higher elevation in Reno, the park is a bit bigger at 340 down right field, 423 to right center, 410 to center and 339 to left. Didn't stop the ball from flying out during the two games I saw there.


Another unique feature is the press box which is above first base, as the owners preferred to put suites on the upper level behind home plate. The press box, which also contains the video production room, is the leftmost, lighter area on the second level in the shot below. You can also see the parking garage behind the stadium.


The radio booth is still behind home plate, on the concourse level, which prevents you from seeing the action while you walk behind it. It is a bit strange to have the radio guys separate from the press box but that is the result of having suites behind home plate.


There is one other seating area, the Dugout Club, which are the two rows of seats that are below field level directly behind the plate (above). These are generally held by season-ticket holders and come with snacks and in-seat service. The view from these seats is below.



Given all the amenities here, the scoreboard is surprisingly basic, with a linescore beneath a video screen that shows player stats and fan cams. The pitch speed is also shown here. One funny feature was the Oblivious Cam, a pre-game bit where they would pick out a fan, put him on the scoreboard and run a timer until the fan noticed.


Overall, Aces Ballpark is a great place to watch a game. I like the variety of seating options and the standing areas, as well as the Freight House District. I would obviously prefer it to be a bit cheaper but can't argue with the pricing as the crowds here were the best on the trip. I'm really looking forward to returning to see the improvements around the ballpark. Reno is certainly a fine addition to a PCL roadtrip and I'll try to stay more than 24 hours next time.

Game 1 - Tacoma Rainiers 11 at Reno Aces 9

Kevin Mulvey started for the home team while Chris Seddon took the bump for Tacoma, Seattle's AAA affiliate. Mulvey was the starter in the aforementioned Fresno game and is good for giving up a run an inning, and obliged by allowing the Rainiers an early 1-0 lead when Matt Mangini singled home Matt Tuiasosopo in the first. But Reno replied with a 3-run shot from David Winfree in their half and that opened the floodgates as both teams scored 3 in the second to make it 6-4 Reno. The Aces added one in the third and then both hurlers settled down for a little while.


Mulvey was chased in the 6th after giving up a triple to DH Johan Limonta (above, before the game) who scored on a groundout, and then walking Sean Kazmar. But his bullpen was solid and when Reno added two in the 8th off Manny Delcarmen (below) to make it 9-5, it looked like it was game over.


I should point out two things here: the night before, Reno blew a 1-run lead in the 9th and lost 9-6; and it was extremely cold by this time, as often happens in early spring games in the high desert. So the bullpen was struggling and the fans wanted to get home. Not a good combination.

Daniel Stange had thrown a strong 8th and was kept in for the 9th. He got Kazmar for the first out and then walked Dustin Ackley (2nd overall pick in 2009 and Seattle's #1 prospect). Tuiasosopo grounded to short but Cody Ransom threw wild to put runners on second and third, and Mangini knocked both in with a single. It was 9-7 and the fans were suddenly very restless.

Stange was done and Jordan Norberto was called on to close things out. He promptly hit Carlos Peguero, threw a wild pitch, and walked Alex Liddi to load the bases. Limonta followed with a run-scoring single to get Tacoma within one and then Mike Wilson doubled to give them the lead as the fans threw up their hands in disgust. Kazmar added an RBI groundout to make it 11-9 as the Rainiers finished with a 6-spot.



Denny Bautista closed for Tacoma, getting Wily Mo Pena (above) to strike out leading off and ending the game on a double play. The whole affair took an agonizing 3:24; the ugly result is below, blurred because I was shaking from the cold.




Game 2 - Reno 10, Tacoma 8

The final game of the trip was played on a beautiful Sunday afternoon; yesterday's chills long forgotten. But that was about the only difference as another scorefest was on tap.

It was 4-4 after 4 when Kazmar doubled home Wilson to give Tacoma the lead in the fifth. But Reno responded with a big fifth frame of their own, plating six on just three hits to make it 10-5. In the 7th, Liddi hit his second monster shot of the game to close within 4. After Reno's Rafael Rodriguez pitched a scoreless 8th, Kam Mickolio was called on to preserve the win. Keep in mind, the Aces' bullpen had blown 9th-inning leads the last two nights.


Peguero singled to lead off and Liddi drew a walk and the fans groaned in unison as another 9th inning meltdown appeared to be underway. After Josh Bard flew out, Wilson and Limonta singled to bring the Rainiers within 2 and the fans to their breaking point. After Kazmar flew out, Ackley (above, earlier in the game) sent one deep to center and it looked like the tilt would be tied. But Cole Gillespie tracked it down and made the game-ending catch to send the fans home with a win and end my 3-week journey with the only home-team victory in Nevada.


Sean Burroughs on deck - note the pinstripes as the Aces have two home unis

David Winfree singles

After 20 runs on Saturday, another 18 on Sunday. Not an ideal way to end the trip but I'm glad to see the home team take the final game.

Notes

The Aces don't announce the starting lineups, which is a first. The only time the lineup is displayed is when the players take the field in the top of the first.

The 7th inning stretch here has an interesting feature. An inflatable baseball pops up above the centerfield fence and sings along with the fans.


One of the umpires for this series was Takeshi Hirabayshi (below), the first Japanese national to officiate in AAA. Would be good to see if he can make the majors and how the media here will respond, if at all.


Thanks to Aces' media relations chief Zak Basch for his assistance and answering some questions about the park and the team.

Next Up

I'm already back in Japan. I'll be attending a few NPB games this summer as part of my Stadium Journey work, but won't be reporting on those visits here. I'll also be working at a real job for a while as I don't want to risk my work visa like I did in 2009, so my travel will be limited for the next year if not longer. I'll still update the blog with other road trip ideas and commenting on sports in general, but it will be a relatively quiet 2011 with both the NFL and NBA likely to go through work stoppages. Regardless, check back on occasion to see what is happening.

Best,

Sean