Monday, September 29, 2014

Army Black Knights 43 at Yale Bulldogs 49 (OT, NCAA Football) - September 27, 2014


Sometimes my sports trips happen without any planning at all. Such was the case this past weekend when my wife, who enjoys the world of art infinitely more than the world of sport (they do say that opposites attract) mentioned that Yale University was home to a renowned art gallery. Yale is also home to a very old football stadium and as luck would have it, the Bulldogs were hosting Army in a Saturday afternoon tilt. So I took Metro North up to New Haven ($16.25 for a 2-hour ride) to join in the celebrations of the Yale Bowl's 100th anniversary.



The stadium is a good three miles from the train station but there is a free Yale shuttle that gets you halfway there. I walked the remaining 20 minutes or so, surprised at how quickly the clean neighbourhood surrounding campus became relatively rundown. The Yale Bowl is north of downtown, surround by forest, so nearly everybody drives or takes shuttle buses from campus; I was the only fan making the trek on foot. The stadium is built into a hillside, so exterior shots are not very good. The portals to the seating bowl are really all that you see poking out of the hillside.

I arrived about 10 minutes before kickoff and went looking for the box office. It was located at the end of a long path that had temporary fencing blocking you from the stadium. However, the fencing was easily movable and somebody had made an opening. The person in front of me used it to get in and so I followed, completely unnoticed as at that very moment, Army paratroopers were landing on the field with the game balls and everyone's attention was skyward. Sorry Yale, but you are a rich university with over $20 billion in endowment, so I don't feel guilty for sneaking in and saving myself $20.



I made my way to the topmost row to snap a picture. As you can see above, the benches are about 100 years old as well. There isn't much here, all of the concessions are outside the seating bowl and very basic. There was a small exhibit on the history of the stadium (the top photo is a program cover from the 1950s) but otherwise very little to talk about.

It was a beautiful afternoon for football, but of course, I had forgotten sunscreen, so I made my way to the shaded area and grabbed a seat. With Yale playing in the FCS while Army is an FBS team, I expected a blowout much like what I had seen the previous weekend in Buffalo. Instead, I witnessed the best college football game I have ever seen (not saying much as I have only seen 7 of them).

Both teams punted to begin the afternoon, then followed up with touchdowns on extended drives that took us to the end of the first quarter. One of the highlights of seeing Army play is watching their cheerleaders do push-ups after every TD (below).



Both teams failed to score on possession number 3, and then followed up with touchdowns, including one for Yale running back Tyler Varga, whose hometown is Kitchener, Ontario. On the next drive, Army moved 70 yards in just 3 plays, with QB A.J. Schurr (below) running 43 yards for the touchdown to make it 21-14 at halftime.



The third quarter was where things got crazy. Yale QB Morgan Roberts was intercepted just 90 seconds in, with Jeremy Timpf returning the ball 45 yards for a touchdown to give the Black Knights a 14-point lead. Yale went three-and-out on their next drive and then the turning point came. Punter Bryan Holmes was hit as he kicked and the penalty allowed the Bulldogs to retain possession. They used the reprieve to drive 62 yards, capped by a 15-yard run from Varga. A surprising 2-point conversion was successful and the game was far from over, with Yale back within 6.



On the first play of the ensuring Army possession, Schurr was injured, one of several Black Knights to leave the game in the second half. He was replaced by Angel Santiago, who promptly ran for a 53-yard score. Army also added a 2-point try to regain the 14-point advantage. But Yale was not to be deterred, with Roberts finding Ross Drwal for a 22-yard touchdown and, after Army punted, Varga scoring his 3rd TD of the day on an 18-yard scamper. The score was 36-36 after three quarters, which had already taken over 3 hours, a combination of the injuries and the incessant media timeouts. Such is life in sports these days, where those at home are inundated with commercials they can easily avoid, while those at the stadium must endure long periods of tedium with only a dying smartphone to distract them. But I don't want my complaints to detract from what was still an inspiring afternoon. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Santiago snuck in from a yard out (above) to make it 43-36 Army. Then both teams suffered through a couple of ineffective possessions before Yale took over on the Army 45 with 4:35 left. Varga and Roberts ran the ball on 7 of 8 plays with Varga tying the game on a 10-yard run that saw him bounce off numerous tacklers to take it to the house.

Army still had enough time to score though and they moved the ball to the Yale 25 with just 5 seconds left. Daniel Grochowski came on to try the 42-yard field goal to win it, but he missed wide right. Or left. I couldn't tell from where I was sitting but the result was overtime! The four quarters had taken nearly four hours, but we were not done yet!



In college football, overtime sees both teams starting on the opposing 25 until one team scores more than the other on that possession. Army won the coin toss and was unable to score a touchdown despite a first and goal from the 7. Grochowski came out to kick the gimme field goal but missed again! Yale had a chance to win and they weren't going to risk an interception. They ran the ball six times, with Varga taking it in from 3 yards out (above) to complete the amazing upset. It was his 5th touchdown on the day, which may or may not be a record for a Canadian in US college football, but it did get him the FCS Offensive Player of the Week Award as he totalled 185 yards on 26 carries. It was the first Ivy League win over an FBS team since 1986 and the game was featured on ESPN that night and on NFL countdown. Not bad for free if you ask me.



As soon as Varga scored, fans stormed the field to celebrate with the team. It was the first time I had seen this, and it was fun to watch these youngsters enjoying the biggest win for the school in many years. After the celebration died down, all fans were allowed on the field, so I was able to grab a panorama shot from the end zone. Really a beautiful place for being 100 years old. If you haven't been, you should go.



All in all, a great afternoon that I won't soon forget. New Haven is a place that few sports fans will visit, but there are things to see there besides Yale athletics. There are two art galleries with free admission, each with excellent collections, while the nightlife scene is more than just student bars, with several good restaurants. In particular, try the Anchor bar (not related to the one in Buffalo) for a trip into the past. It is not a sports bar but just a place to grab a couple of drinks after the game. I'll be back there when basketball season starts.

Best,

Sean

Thursday, September 25, 2014

NFL Week 3 Playoff Picture


Week 4 in the NFL is when the first bye week occurs, so the standings will be a little uneven for the next couple of months. Before that happens, I want to list the records of the teams after three games to see just how much these first three weeks will be reflected in the final standings. Obviously with 13 games left, there's a lot that's gonna change, but it is interesting to see just how much. I'll update this when the bye weeks end after week 12. Still, I think it is likely that both Super Bowl teams will come from those in the playoffs so far. (Update: they did not, with New England winning over Seattle).

AFC

Cin 3-0
Den 2-1
Hou 2-1
Buf 2-1
SD  2-1
Bal 2-1
--------
Pit 2-1
NE  2-1
Ind 1-2 
Ten 1-2
KC  1-2
Mia 1-2
NYJ 1-2
Cle 1-2
Oak 0-3
Jax 0-3

NFC

Ari 3-0
Phi 3-0
Car 2-1
Det 2-1
Sea 2-1
Chi 2-1
--------
Atl 2-1
Dal 2-1
NO  1-2
Min 1-2
SF  1-2
Stl 1-2
NYG 1-2
GB  1-2
Was 1-2
TB  0-3


There is so much parity in the league this season, only three teams are 3-0, three are 0-3, while 13 are 2-1 and 13 are 1-2.

I realize this is a pretty stupid thing to do, but it is not the stupidest thing in terms of using NFL records to predict the future. After Indianapolis started 0-2, many media outlets brought forth the fact that only 12% of teams that start 0-2 make the playoffs, implying that Indianapolis has the same chance. This is terrible statistical reasoning. What has happened in the past is not a reflection of what the Colts (or any other 0-2 team) face in getting to the playoffs this season, since they have a unique set of personnel and a unique schedule. By the specious logic put forth, the Colts and Jaguars had the same 12% chance of making the playoffs since both started 0-2.

Over the past few years, as numerical studies have taken over the sporting scene, more and more media without the simplest understanding of statistics are publishing these stupid statements as if they are meaningful. Comparing what happened in the past to a completely different entity (or collection of related entities) is mostly useless in forecasting the future. Five Thirty Eight runs weekly studies on playoff chances that are much more informed. Both Buffalo and New England are 2-1 (and the Bills hold the tiebreaker with a 1-0 division record right now) but the Patriots are more than twice as likely to make the playoffs. Generating such detailed studies takes a bit of time, so expect more simpleminded and meaningless reports from the rest of the media who can't be bothered to be accurate.

Best,

Sean

Monday, September 22, 2014

San Diego Chargers 22 at Buffalo Bills 10 - September 21, 2014


After the ridiculous publicity that resulted from my "Bills are the drunkest fans in the NFL" comment in my book, I knew I had to revisit Ralph Wilson Stadium to find out if my initial impressions were accurate. Quick answer: yes.

With all my other weekend trips and various commitments this fall, I only had two weekends to choose from in which the Bills were home: this past weekend with the Chargers in town, and November 30th against the Browns. Not much of a decision, especially as I had seen the Browns beat the Bills last season and September is significantly nicer than November weather-wise. With both the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and University at Buffalo Bulls playing at home on Saturday, I made it a mini-road trip (I decided on UB).

My buddy Eddie was driving up from NYC and would be driving back after the game, so I had him pick me up at the airport after I dropped off my rental car. We didn't get to the stadium until just after noon and from there, it took about 45 minutes to pick up the tickets at will call due to some problem with the TicketMaster system (perhaps my name is mud in Buffalo). I hate paper tickets but in this case, it might have been wiser to just print them out at home and get in half an hour earlier. By the time I had navigated the security lines and crowded concourse to my seat in the west end zone, it was time for kickoff. I didn't have any time to tour the renovated facility, so I'll be back next year. The seat had decent views but the rope that holds the net behind the goal posts was in my way, ruining what might otherwise be a nice action shot of Eddie Royal making a catch.



Anyway, it was soon obvious that those around me were plastered, and dicks as well. Despite being in row 23, they stood up with no one in front of them. People in rows 24 and 25 asked them to sit down but they wouldn't. The usher came by, but he couldn't do much. I'm not against standing during big plays but standing continuously when the ball is at the other end of the field and nobody is in front of you is a douche move. So is falling over drunk in the middle of the first quarter and spilling your beer all over the place. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right - it was shaping up to be a long afternoon. Fortunately, Eddie had two seats next to him upstairs at midfield, so after one quarter, I headed there, but not before I snapped a pic of Phillip Rivers.



The view from the top was nicer and the area is mostly populated by long-suffering season ticket holders (i.e. older) who had outgrown the need to get sloshed by 1 pm, thus making it easier to concentrate on the game. Peter of the Ultimate Sports Road Trip was coincidentally just five rows behind us and he joined for the second half, keeping me amused with his tales of Buffawoe. The weather turned out to be sunny and clear for most of the afternoon, quite a difference from the rainy forecast that resulted in me wearing a heavy coat like an idiot.



To add insult to fashion injury, the Bills lost 22-10 in a game that will not be remembered for anything other than a lot of injuries (Chargers RB Danny Woodhead broke his leg and is out for the season) and a lot of Buffalo penalties. E.J. Manuel (below) was ineffective and inaccurate, leading many to think he is already a bust. I'd give him a few more games but he certainly was awful on this day.



Your final score is below. There was a lot of optimism in Buffalo before the game as the Bills had started 2-0, but it was stupid to think that the Chargers would lose here, even as a west coast team playing an early game. They had just beaten Seattle! By the final gun, pessimism ruled supreme, even though the Bills hold the AFC East lead and would host San Diego if the season ended today. Of course, there are still 13 games to go, and Buffalo will be in tough to make the playoffs, but it should be a spirited fight.



Notes

The Bills are 0-5 when I see them live.  I plan to attend the game in Oakland on December 21 so keep that in mind if you are a betting man.

At halftime, Andre Reed was honoured with his Ring of Excellence from the Hall of Fame. Former teammates Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, and Thurman Thomas were also on the field. Many fans wanted them to suit up after the Bills anemic first-half performance.



Next Up

This was my first NFL game since the Super Bowl and it just wasn't the same experience as during my trip. When I was visiting every stadium last year, I felt excitement before each game; on this occasion it was just annoyance at the ticket snafu, the slow security line, the drunkards, and the Bills playing like garbage. The novelty has worn off and I can see why others might find going to an NFL game an unappealing proposition. I don't think that quite yet, but I realize that without a new venue or seeing one of the Toronto teams on the road, there is not much point in going to games. I don't know if I will even bother with the Giants or Jets this season;  the costs are simply not worth the product on the field. Going forward, all of my trips will have to include at least one new venue or the Leafs or Blue Jays in a road venue in which I have yet to see them. That will be the case next month when I visit Minneapolis and TCF Bank Stadium where the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Vikings play on back-to-back days. Before that though, check back regularly as I'll be writing about the problems in the NFL, the end of the baseball season, and a few other hot topics.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Norfolk State Spartans 7 at Buffalo Bulls 36 (NCAA Football) - September 20, 2014


I spent the weekend in Buffalo, returning to the city that hosts the drunkest fans in the NFL, according to some guy who wrote some book. I wouldn't get to experience that until Sunday, which left Saturday wide open for some sports. I originally planned to visit Hamilton to see new Tim Hortons Field, but they have had some construction delays there and the stadium isn't 100% ready, so I decided to postpone my visit until next season and see a college game in Buffalo instead.



The University at Buffalo is part of the SUNY system and plays out of the MAC, certainly not one of the Power 5 conferences in the FBS. Although the program has never reached national prominence, the Bulls can boast of having had Khalil Mack, who was drafted 5th overall by the Raiders this past April.



The stadium, unimaginatively named the University at Buffalo Stadium, is located in the southeast corner of campus, which is northeast of the city in Amherst, quite close to the airport. Driving there is easy and there are plenty of lots with free parking, though I chose to park on the street to avoid hassles getting out. It was opened in 1993 in time for the University Games and UB has played there since.



As I walked along Augspurger Road toward the stadium, I saw many fans enjoying their own tailgate, obviously a much more controlled scene than at a Bills game. For those without their own BBQ, Stampede Square offers a great pregame experience. The Spin Doctors (above) were performing as part of the Tailgate Concert Series (a different band is on stage before every game) and there are several food stands, and even a couple of spots for those of age.



After the Spin Doctors finished up, I made my way to the box office, where all tickets are $20. Before purchasing, I decided to stand around for a bit as you can often find a guy with an extra ticket and sure enough, I was rewarded for my patience. I heard someone behind me saying he wanted to give one away and I quickly accosted him, gladly taking the freebie off his hands. Later on, I found 50 cents, so it was a profitable afternoon. The seat I received was in the South Bleachers (view below) which is a terrible place to sit with the 8-lane running track separating you from the field. Of course, with the stadium barely drawing 50% of capacity, you can pretty much sit where you want. The east side (visible below) is in the sun for most of the game and the much better place to spend the afternoon. This is also where the student section, known as the Bullpen, can be found.



There's not much here in terms of entertainment once you are inside, but there is a mechanical bull that gets the kids to line up, just so they can fall off.



The visitors were from Norfolk State, an FCS team that is ranked 99th out of 128 teams in that division. So yeah, they suck. Both teams failed to move the ball on their first drives, and a great punt from Spartan kicker Dylan Shaddix (who has punted 29 times in just 4 games) left the Bulls at their own 8-yard line. On the next play, Joe Licata hit Devon Hughes around the 30, but the Spartan safeties collided and Hughes had a clear path to the end zone. The 92-yard play was the longest from scrimmage in Buffalo history. I am not sure that FBS teams should recognize records against FCS schools but anyway, the Bulls were up 7-0.



Norfolk State took the kickoff to the 32 and on the next play, freshman QB Terrance Ervin (#1 above) hit Isaac White over the middle and White rambled the rest of the way, a 68-yard play that tied the game. Just 4:45 in and it looked like a shootout was underway. Nope. That was all the Spartans could muster as Ervin finished 3-12 on the day with the Spartans running most plays, rather unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, Buffalo romped. Licata found Hughes for a second touchdown midway through the first quarter and then connected with Ron Willoughby for another score (below) that made it 20-7 after the convert was botched.



A Bulls field goal added to the lead and Licatta ran for another score to put the game away and send fans streaming to the exits. By this time, I had moved down to stand behind the south end zone, probably the best place to watch the game as the running track is not between you and the field. Backup QB Tony Daniels added a final touchdown with Willoughby (#86 below) making the catch to complete the scoring as Buffalo won easily 36-7.



There's your final score. Quite a nice scoreboard for this relatively minor college program. If you are in Buffalo for a Bills game and happen to have Saturday free, check the Bulls schedule to see if you can catch some football MACtion.



Notes

This was my 501st venue. I realize I should have saved Levi's Stadium for this distinction.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Euro 2016 Qualifying Road Trips


Soccer takes no vacation. That might explain why it is the most popular sport in the world, because fans never have a chance to follow another. The Premier League season goes from August to May and then there are major tournaments every second summer, not to mention the Olympics, the youth tourneys, and so many other matches that allow a true aficionado with a satellite dish to see a game nearly every day of the year. Point of fact: the World Cup just ended and already the Euro 2016 qualifiers are underway. There are 10 matchdays between September 2014 and October 2015, although the term matchday is a misnomer, as each one actually takes place over three consecutive days (except Matchday 5 which has a fourth day added when Belgium travels to Israel). The first matchday just finished, and an enterprising sports traveler could have seen Germany shutout Scotland in Dortmund on September 7, Switzerland lose to England in Basel on September 8, and then the Czech Republic beat the Netherlands in Prague on the following day. Those weren't the only options, Portugal, Spain, and Andorra also hosted fixtures on those same days. In fact, with at least 8 games each day, there are dozens of possible road trips that one could have taken.

What makes this even more intriguing though is that on three occasions, two matchdays will be held on consecutive three-day periods. For example, Matchday 2 is from October 9-11 and then Matchday 3 follows immediate from October 12-14. Here's one possible trip you could take next month:

Oct 9 : Spain at Slovakia (Zilina)
Oct 10: Croatia at Bulgaria (Sofia)
Oct 11: Germany at Poland (Warsaw)
Oct 12: England at Estonia (Tallinn)
Oct 13: Turkey at Latvia (Riga)
Oct 14: Portugal at Denmark (Copenhagen)

All games are in the evening, so you would have the day to fly or take the train to your next destination. This wouldn't be a cheap trip, but it would be fun. Obviously my new job precludes me from making this trek, but the same thing happens twice next year, when I will have saved up a few vacation days. Matchdays 7 and 8 take place from September 3-8 (Belgium, Gibraltar, Switzerland, Italy, Scotland, England is one possibility) and Matchdays 9 and 10 from October 8-13 (Portugal, Spain, Andorra, Serbia, Estonia, and Latvia all beckon). The great thing is that Europe is relatively small and cheap to get around, so you can pretty much see any of the matches each day, assuming reasonable flight connections. I'll keep an eye on the group standings and as the tournament progresses and venues are announced, will start looking into flights as well. Hope that I can make one of those two great trips in 2015!

Best,

Sean

Saturday, September 6, 2014

London Calling


During my 2013 NFL Road Trip, I saw games in all 32 stadiums (for the last time, Met Life Stadium counts twice). But I missed two venues in which an NFL game was played: Rogers Centre in Toronto and Wembley in London. This season, Buffalo is playing all 8 of their home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium so I won't be able to see an NFL game in Canada, but there are three games in London that have piqued my interest. Miami takes on Oakland on September 28, Atlanta plays Detroit on October 26, and Dallas will battle Jacksonville on November 9. All three happen to occur on weekends in which the Premier League has fixtures on the Saturday in London, and each weekend will also have  FA Cup matches (Second Round Qualifying, Fourth Round Qualifying First Round Proper respectively). Of course, you don't know the teams until the previous round is completed, so it is not possible to plan for those games, but there should be something in London on all 3 weekends. The question is which is the best weekend to go?

After much thought and schedule checking, I decided on the third game between the Jaguars and Cowboys. I'll fly overnight on Friday, arriving Saturday morning. This should give me enough time to see a 3:00 game at Fulham (now relegated to the Championship) and then a 5:30 contest with QPR hosting Man City. Even better, Tottenham has had their match against Stoke rescheduled to Sunday at 1:30 due to their commitments in the Europa League, so I'll get to see that before heading over to Wembley for the NFL game. Monday is open but I'm hoping for some FA Cup matches to be scheduled that day. Update: I found a Conference South matchup on November 10th, so have added that in for now.

The full schedule:

Sat Nov 8 Huddersfield at Fulham 3:00
Sat Nov 8 Manchester City at Queens Park Rangers 5:30
Sun Nov 9 Stoke at Tottenham Spurs 1:30
Sun Nov 9 Dallas Cowboys vs Jacksonville Jaguars 6:00
Mon Nov 10 Maidenhead U at Boreham Wood 7:45

As always, check back for recaps from each game.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rickwood Field


Quick, name the oldest baseball park still standing in the United States! Wrigley? Nope, opened in 1914. Well, then it must be Fenway, where first pitch took place in 1912. Wrong again. The correct answer is Rickwood Field in Birmingham, which first saw action on August 18, 1910, over 104 years ago. You can read the details below:



I stopped by on Sunday before driving up to Hunstville. The park is maintained by a group called the Friends of Rickwood and is open during the week, but not on the weekend. You can arrange a private tour on the weekend as my friend Meg did the day before, but I did not have time to do so, what with seeing 5 games in 3 days. So all I have to show for my visit is a few exterior shots.



The annual Rickwood Classic, where the Birmingham Barons host an actual minor league game, will next be played on May 27th, 2015 at 12:30. I'd love to get back here for that. I guess prices are a bit more expensive than what is shown below.



The park is located in a residential area that is not the most pleasant. When I stopped by, I was the only person there, though it is not unsafe in the bright sunshine of a Birmingham afternoon. It was an eerie feeling though, to be alone with the ghosts of baseball greats.



In case you didn't read the sign above, the 1948 championship for the Black Barons including 17-year-old Willie Mays in his first professional action.



If you are down in Birmingham for the Barons or any other reason, contact the Friends of Rickwood and take a tour if you can. I'll definitely do so next time I'm in town.

Best,

Sean

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mississippi Braves 6-2 at Huntsville Stars 2-6 (Southern League) - August 31, 2014


The whole reason I found myself in Alabama this past weekend was to see a game in Huntsville, whose AA Southern League franchise will move to Biloxi in 2015. Joe W. Davis Stadium will end its run as a minor league facility in the upcoming playoffs, but I couldn't plan for that, so I chose Labor Day weekend to fly down to pay my respects.

Joe W. Davis Stadium



Opened to rave reviews in 1985, Joe W. Davis Municipal Stadium is named for a long-time mayor of Huntsville. It was once considered the best ballpark in the league, but as retro parks became the rage over the ensuing decades, "The Joe" fell further and further behind. Although some renovations were made in the intervening years, the park was unable to add critical amenities and attendance plummeted. In 1998, the Stars drew 4,044 per game but just 12 years later, the average was down to 1,404. On this night, the second last day of the regular season, only 924 showed up.



It makes no sense to write about the stadium in terms of a review, since it will no longer be in use once the Stars are eliminated from the playoffs. It is a bare bones facility with a few concessions. The dill pickle at $2 is the food bargain while $2 beers before first pitch were the highlight for the drinkers, especially with a 3-hour rain delay. There were no silly promotions between innings, just a chance to update the scorecard without loud music and enjoy the beauty of a old-time ballpark. It may sound strange calling a 1980s stadium "old-time", but this place reminded me of Nat Bailey Stadium (opened 1951) in Vancouver, which I visited often over 20 years ago. Back then, the game still was more important than the experience and that seems to be the way that the Stars approached things. These days, though, fans want more.



The picture below captures the sun setting over Joe W. Davis Stadium, both a literal and figurative interpretation of what transpired during my visit.



Huntsville, you will be missed on the minor league circuit. Good luck in the playoffs!



The Games

It was a doubleheader as Saturday's game was postponed, meaning I would see five games in just three days in Alabama.

The Mississippi Braves were visiting and they still had a chance to win the second-half Southern Division crown. Yes, the Southern League has a Southern Division. Anyway, Saturday's game was rained out, so I was fortunate to have a doubleheader, scheduled for 4 pm. I arrived about 30 minutes before and made my in, only to see the tarp on the field. It wasn't raining at the time, but shortly thereafter the skies opened and declared their reluctance to seeing the end of pro ball in Huntsville. I went back to my car to charge my phone and listen to the local radio. After a couple of hours, the rain stopped and the field was fixed up, with first pitch coming at 7:05.

Mississippi scored three in the first on three hits and two Huntsville errors that did not make starter Jed Bradley (15th overall from the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT), 2011, below) very happy.



Williams Perez, a Bartolo Colon wannabe, got the start for the Braves and lasted all of two pitches. Nick Shaw (25th, 2010) lined one that hit Perez in the ankle and forced him out of the game (below).



Adding insult to injury, Shaw eventually scored an unearned run but emergency reliever Andrew Robinson (12th, 2010 by Houston, also from GIT) threw 3 strong innings, yielding not a single run of his own. Robinson even doubled and scored in the second as the Braves added to their lead. A homer from Barrett Kleinknecht (12th, 2010, 11 spots after Robinson) made it 5-1 and then a single by Daniel Castro (below) was followed by a triple from Braeden Schlehuber (4th, 2008) that salted the game away.



Bradley was replaced by Michael Strong (10th, 2011) who was making his AA debut and showed no signs of nervousness, walking 1 and striking out 6 in four hitless innings and winning the Player to Watch award. Huntsville managed a run but that was it as they fell 6-2 in a game that took 2:22, quite long for a 7-inning affair.



This pushed the start of the second game until after 10:00. It was also a 6-2 game, this time in Huntsville's favour. I didn't bother scoring as I had to leave to drive back to Atlanta to catch a 6:45 flight. It is about 3½ hours and one time zone over, so 12:30 was my limit if I was to make it to the airport by 5 a.m. Fortunately the game lasted just over 2 hours, finishing around 12:10. I made the drive back through rural Alabama during the early hours of September, and passed very few cars along the way. I never advise nighttime driving, because you miss the scenery and this is one case where I wish I could see what I was passing through. It was a tiring drive and as soon as I boarded the plane I nodded off, waking up as we landed in New York. It was a bit surreal to have been in Huntsville just 8 hours before flying past Manhattan.

Notes



Nick Ramirez (above) played first for Huntsville and will be off to the Arizona Fall League next month. Ramirez played for Team USA in Japan and was the losing pitcher in the gold medal game.

Mississippi ended up finishing just out of the playoffs, a game behind Jacksonville who ended the season on a 10-0 streak.

Next Up

A quiet month ahead as I only have to return to Buffalo to make amends for calling Bills fans the drunkest. Before that though, I plan to write a few items on all the problems with sports, so keep checking back regularly as I get older and grumpier.

Best,

Sean