Like a middle-school dance

That’s how my father described the atmosphere of Wrigley Field the first time he was there, astounded by the fact that seemingly no one ever sits down for more than a couple pitches before wandering off again hither and yon.

Ordinarily, because my season ticket seat is high up in the upper deck, where the slope allows me to see over the heads of the perambulators, that’s just a minor source of annoyance for me. Kind of along the lines of that caused by people who don’t understand that you let the passengers off the train first before attempting to board.

But Sunday, we were in the lower deck, section 108, where to see the game we had to see over or through anyone in the aisle. And everyone was always in the aisle. Which led me to a couple of possible solutions.

The first idea is for true baseball fans to work up an advertising and media campaign to make wandering fans realize that, come the Day of Judgment, their behavior at baseball games–like all bad behavior–will be held against them. Just as a good fan might get extra credit for, say, knocking the glove off an opposing fielder reaching into the stands to attempt a catch, a drunken lout will find his balance sheet slipping more into the red for every time he staggered back from the concession stand and unwittingly left most of his new beer down the back of, say, a nearby nun. The calculation that determines eternal damnation is a complex algorithm, of course, making Fermat’s Last Theorem look like the formula for figuring E.R.A., but I have faith that trips up and down the aisle while yammering into two cell phones have their part in it. We just have to make the drunks realize it.

The second option is to have Pedometer Day at Wrigley Field every day. Each fan, upon entering, would get a pedometer, which he would be forced to wear during the entire game. At the conclusion of the game, everyone’s pedometer would be checked, and anyone who walked more than the average beer vendor would have to stay and clean the park with a toothbrush. His own. This plan has the virtue of simplicity and a very American attempt to encourage good behavior through imprisonment and hard work.

Anyone have better ideas?

Original comments…

Steve: Maybe make a 3rd inning, 5th inning and 7th inning stretch where people can go to a designated area and exchange phone numbers.

At Wrigley only of course….

Lost weekend

Well, as you might have suspected, it was a sad weekend at the old ballpark for me, though not for 120,000 Cubs fans, puffed up with the arrogance that two playoff appearances in five years can bring.

Somehow, the Cardinals and Cubs managed to play three games in three days with no rain delays, despite strong thunderstorms and heavy rain all weekend. And somehow, the Cardinals managed to turn Glendon Rusch into the pitcher who pitched pretty well for the Mets in 2000, rather than the pitcher who was cut from the Brewers earlier this year. And the Cardinals managed three runs on only three hits against the remarkably good Matt Clement. Impressive, but it wasn’t enough. So despair reigns, at least for a few days.

But there was one fully redeeming moment for me–a moment that was a huge highlight even for my Clement-fan wife and for Cubs-fan Luke–in Sunday night’s game. The Cardinals were down 4-1, and with Albert Pujols at the plate, a chant arose. It began oddly–almost as if it had been planned in advance–with what seemed a whole section above and behind us shouting “Pujols sucks!” without any of the slow build that such chants usually require.

So as the first pitch comes in as a ball, the chant grows until most of the stadium is into it. “Pujols sucks! Pujols sucks! Pujols sucks!” The next pitch came in, and then it went out. And it kept going out, onto Waveland, or maybe Irving Park Road. The crowd fell silent, except for those of us who were giggling.

Wendell Berry
, in a story I read Saturday, described a driver showing “the extended middle finger that contradicts all contradiction.” It’s hard to imagine a way in which Pujols could have more clearly demonstrated that he manifestly does not suck. Maybe if he had hit that home run, then taken the mound the next inning and set down the Cubs in order with three strikeouts on nine pitches. But that’s asking a lot even of Pujols.

Original comments…

Luke: Who you calling arrogant? I should point out, Levi, that I cheered Pujols’ home run almost as much as you did. It was more than worth giving up the run to see him shut the fans up.

Every time I get to Wrigley I’m more dismayed by the boorishness of the fans. I don’t know whether I’m getting older and crankier or they’re getting more boorish, or both. My money is on “both.”

Levi: No, no, Luke. I’m not calling you out on that–in fact, I mentioned that you seemed to enjoy the moment. I know your fandom doesn’t allow for absurd slander.

And I’m not saying Cardinals fans are perfect. I’m sure plenty of them are complete tools. But I haven’t ever heard a chant like that one at Busch Stadium, and I’m not used to hearing the regular booing that the opposing team’s best player has frequently been getting at Wrigley Field lately.

Jim: Glendon Rusch was already turned into a good pitcher by the Padres a week ago Sunday. Opposing pitcher David Wells was so distraught about the situation that he went home, threw a bottle against the wall, and ended up cutting himself on the broken glass (or at least that’s what I assume happened).

Does Barry Bonds get booed at Busch?

Levi: I haven’t seen Bonds play at Busch, so I don’t know. I don’t think he does, but I could be wrong.

And the Wells story was great because the story in the San Diego paper about his injury actually included, in the subhead, “Padres GM believes Wells’s account.” Imagine being viewed as so untrustworthy that your believablity merits mention in a headline.

Luke, hanger-on: Sorry, Levi, I scanned past that. Didn’t mean to slanderously accuse you of slanderously accusing me of absurdly slandering Pujols, the second-best player in baseball. (Though, admittedly, I have in the past slandered his funny name, stonethrowing-in-a-glass-house notwithstanding.)

sandor: I tuned in for a little of the game (it was one of those rare times when my cable company decided to give me free ESPN), though I missed the impressive first inning rally. But how about that weather system? That must have been impressive to see from the stadium. When they came back from a commercial break early on, the cameraman was pulling pack to show the bizarrely shaped cloud formations out in the distance. It was so striking that Sarah and I felt compelled to take a walk around the neighborhood and witness it ourselves. I figured I’d the be the only person intrigued enough in clouds to notice, but no, everyone we passed was looking up in amazement.

thatbob: Re: strange clouds and weather systems. I haven’t even told you all about the ghost boat.

Levi: According to people who watched the game at home, Pujols made a shushing motion sometime after the home run. I’m unclear on whether it was during the trot or after crossing the plate. It’s the sort of thing that would ordinarily get you knocked on your ass the next time up, but in this case, I think even the opposing pitcher would understand.

A waffle at the beach is a sandy Eggo

First of all, yes, there was the obligatory letter to the sports editor in Saturday’s L.A. Times complaining about people at Dodger Stadium doing the wave during Alex Cora’s marathon at-bat.

Today I went to one of 2004’s new ballparks, Petco Park, with Cathryn and Jennifer (and Jason, who took this picture)…

It is a very nice place, albeit colder than Qualcomm Stadium, thanks to the breezes coming off San Diego Bay, and the fact that we were under the overhang. In fact, we were in the very top row of the upper deck section to the left of the “first base tower” in the picture below…

In the top row, there’s some bizarreness involving the steel supports holding up the overhang, so although we had seats 7 through 10, there was about a 6-inch gap between seat 7 and seat 8, although it wasn’t like there was a giant metal post in the way or anything like that. (There was also a gap of about 18 inches between seat 6 and seat 3. Seats 4 and 5 were missing.) Anyway, this is the view of the diamond from way up there…

And this is the view of downtown San Diego. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get a picture of a plane landing (they come in just beyond the skyscrapers, eventually disappearing behind them)…

The lawn looked like a nice place to hang out…

So did the seats in front of the Western Metal Supply building…

And if you’ve got to pick one Padres player to hang out with, it’s got to be David Wells…

The final line…

In conclusion, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, where we’ll be on August 27th, has a lot to live up to. I already think it’s going to lose points for not being right downtown. But it may gain points for being warmer than Petco Park…next time, I’m going to wear long pants and at least bring a sweatshirt. Or try to get seats at least a few rows farther down, which will be in the sun.

Original comments…

maura: how about that ben sheets!!

Levi: On paper, the building they left in left field struck me as really dopey, almost as bad as the flagpole and hill at Bush/Cheney Field in Houston–though not nearly as bad as the stupid train at the same park.

But now that I’ve seen the new San Diego park on TV, I’ve changed my mind. The building’s kinda cool.

Jim: What? Trains are not stupid. The fact that Houston has better train service at their baseball stadium than they do at their actual train station (a 3-day-a-week Amtrak train to L.A. and Orlando) is kind of stupid, but me ranting about inequities in government transportation funding is off-topic for this blog.

Levi: Actually, the train in Houston is remarkably similar to Amtrak rides I’ve taken. You sit on it for a long time and it doesn’t go anywhere. Then it goes, but only a short way, at which point it stops and changes direction. Then you sit again for a long time.

But at least the train doesn’t turn into a bus.

sandor: Trains going forwards and backwards and forwards again? Sounds like my trip on the L yesterday. Halfway between Irving Park and the Addison, the brown line train I was on stopped, then started going in reverse. In 10 years of riding L trains, I’ve never experienced such a thing happening. I didn’t even realize they had a reverse gear. It was quite shocking.

Sorry, off-topic. But I thought worth sharing.

thatbob: “Thank you for not requesting autographs”?!? WTF?!?

thatbob: Now obviously those seats at Western Metal Supply Co. are supposed to be reminiscent of Wrigleyville rooftops, or that book depository (or whatever) in Baltimore. What I can’t figure out is if the seats are actually part of the park, ie. ticketed revenue, or just an authorized use by a lucky neighbor. What’s going on there?

Levi: Silly Bob. There’s no way that a modern park would ever let any chance at a dollar slip by. Those aren’t only seats: they’re expensive luxury box thingies, and they bring in buckets of the ready for the Padres.

Jim: “Thank you for not requesting autographs”: It was Photo Day, and you’re just supposed to take pictures of the players, not ask them for autographs.

The ground floor of the Western Metal Supply building is the main Padres store, and then there’s standing room in front of it; each other individual level is, I believe, a single “party suite,” available on a per-game basis for your corporate get-together or other function. There’s no actual suite on the roof, just some tables with umbrellas to go along with the ballpark seating, but it, too, seems to be a special group seating area.

Jason: What Jim forgot to mention – and I am shocked that he did – was the fact that he took a trolley train to the game. Must have been the sugar high from too many Hostess Baseballs to affect his memory.

Jim: I thought me taking a trolley was a “that goes without saying” kind of thing. Yes, parking near Petco Park is expensive, so the trolley was the best option.

thatbob: I’m a *big* fan of selling the crappiest seats in the house to the stupidest people with the most money! I heartily approve! God Bless You, Petco Park!

Not the Trolley Dodgers anymore

A question that could have far-reaching implications for the road trip, where we’ll be seeing games on consecutive nights in cities that are several hundred miles apart: would I have a good time seeing games on consecutive nights in cities that are several thousand miles apart?

The link between the Devil Rays and the Dodgers? Why, former Devil Ray Wilson Alvarez, of course. He’s the white blob on the left side of this picture, getting ready to pitch to Sammy Sosa…

You know when an at-bat is going on a long time when the scoreboard operator has enough time to type in something like this…

Cora fouled 14 times in a row, and each one was accompanied by some Little Leaguers in our section trying to start The Wave, which would peter out a couple of sections over because nobody else really cared. And then Cora hit a home run.

The answer is, yes, I had a good time, although I was pretty tired by the end of the game shortly after 10:00 Pacific time, since I had been up since 6:00 A.M. Eastern time. I’m not expecting any jet lag on the road trip. Fortunately, I didn’t have to be behind the wheel to get out of the Dodger Stadium parking lots…

In the L.A. Times on Thursday morning, the headline spotlighted Alvarez (pulled after 101 pitches), but the picture is of Cora being congratulated after the at-bat that went on forever…

Original comments…

Levi: That’s a remarkably pointless headline.

Biggest surprise for me in that game? Learning that Wilson Alvarez is in the league again, and that, despite losing some weight, he’s still a very big man.

Tom Ellwanger: And at the Ranger/Devil Ray game on the afternoon of May 13, in order of perceived excitement:

1. The Rangers pitcher picked two Devil Rays players off first base, including Maura’s favorite player. Per the surprisingly diplomatic Lou Piniella, no right-handed pitcher can have that good a pickoff move without balking, in this case with his knee, “but the umpires didn’t see it.”

2. The Rangers blew both resulting run-downs in different ways, something which nobody in the stands–all 2,600 of us–had seen since Little League. In one case, the picked off runner made second and got credit for a stolen base, producing the same result as a balk call (assuming Lou was correct).

3. The Devil Rays won the game. The starting pitcher got the win, the new-from-Durham setup man got his 95 mph fastballs close enough to the plate that people swung at them, and the closer got the save (save number 4 out of 11 total victories).

4. Raymond came down the aisle and stopped to kiss Jim’s new stepmother. No photographer was around to memorialize this poignant image.

5. Jim’s new stepmother wishes that Jim’s father had used the ready-made excuse to pound this obnoxious mascot into the real-clay infield, but he (Jim’s father) was too stunned by the entire spectacle to react that quickly.

Baseball fever! We have it in Tampa. Oh, Rocco Baldelli bobblehead doll night is next Tuesday, but I’m going to the Lightning/Flyer game.

Levi: At least with Rocco Baldelli bobblehead day, the Rays are sure they won’t be faced with the ignominy of having to cancel the day because the player’s in the minors again, like they were forced to do with Jason Tyner bobblehead day.

Raised on Devil Ray-dio

First and most importantly, I have solved a mystery that has been puzzling Levi ever since last July, regarding the end of a certain White Sox-Devil Rays game, captured by Levi’s TiVo and replayed endlessly. The question was, what was the deal with the Devil Rays mascot, Pansy the Wuss-Wuss Fish Who Can’t Keep It Up (a.k.a. Raymond), when he was jumping around with the players?

The answer is that if the Rays are behind, he spends the bottom of the ninth standing around on top of the visitors’ dugout, dressed in a black shirt and mask, “disguised” as Rally Ray. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a good picture of him as he was unsuccessfully attempting to work his mojo against the Rangers on Tuesday night:

And now, more pictures:

Tropicana Field, as seen from the Interstate. It’s hard to tell, but we were driving through a sudden, very brief cloudburst at this point, approximately 6:40 P.M., and that’s why the city of St. Petersburg built a dome in the late 1980s.

The view from my seat, on the club level. I have to admit that this would be a very nice stadium if not for the permanent roof.

Plenty of good seats available. The official attendance was 10,389, but there were probably fewer than 7,000 people actually at the game. This is what happens when a team has lost its last five games and 12 out of its last 14, and plays a Tuesday night game against a team other than the Yankees or Red Sox, and doesn’t give away some sort of promotional item. They did not play Guess the Attendance on the scoreboard.

Maura’s favorite player!

The final line.

Headline in the Tampa Tribune.

Headline in the Dallas Morning News (it was a coincidence that I was changing planes not too far away from The Ballpark at Arlington…excuse me, Ameriquest Field).

Unfortunately, although the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa has a “please touch” ray pond, since they’re all the rage these days, they haven’t labeled which ones are the devil rays. (Insert your own joke here, or better yet, in the comments.)

Original comments…

maura: haha, i was totally going to ask you where the picture of rocco was!! nice work, my friend, nice work. have you been to other roofed parks ever? i have never seen a baseball game indoors, and man people i know sure hate tropicana field.

maura: i am really sad about the rays this season, too, but i think i’ve mentioned that. sigh

Levi: I’ve been to a game at the Metrodome, with Stacey and Sarah Meisch and Dan Rivkin and Baggarly. We all kind of enjoyed it, although it was weird. The worst part was leaving a 65-degree sunny day to enter a 65-degree fluorescent-lit dome.

Steve: As much as I’m glad Jim was able to enjoy a trip home, (and catch an AL game in a dome) his attention to detail makes a strong case that baseball could use some contraction.

Jim: Nah, I’d have the same attention to detail even if the AL still had only eight teams. But it’ll all be worth it if I get on “Super Millionaire.”

Steve: I hear you on that super millionare. Will you be my phone a friend if I make it? I don’t like the new “jury” lifeline. Even though they should be super brainy, I don’t trust them. They are there at the producers behest no?

Fan reaction

At last night’s Cubs game, the notoriously impatient Corey Patterson received a loud outburst of cheering and applause from Section 528 when he took a ball on the first pitch, something very few of us had ever seen him do.

Later in that at-bat, though, when he swung and missed at a terrible curveball out of the strike zone, he got roundly booed by the same large group.

But he righted the balance on the Corey-o-Meter later by receiving a standing ovation from our section for taking a walk.

As the scoreboard graphic of a phantom gliding down to first at the Metrodome will tell you, “Walks will haunt.” If only the Cubs–who seem to understand it on the pitching side–could realize that they are capable of doing some haunting themselves.

Or, for the sake of my Cardinals, maybe it’s best that they don’t.


Some thoughts on yesterday’s Cubs opener:

1) The forecast, for once, was right on: 40 degrees, with a 20mph wind out of the northeast. That’s like having a personal wind just for my season ticket seat. So it was cold.

2) Sadly, no one wore a balaclava like Shawon Dunston used to do. I always felt like it was a form of protest from Dunston, saying, essentially, if you guys are going to force me to be out here in this shit, I’m going to look as silly as I can.

3) None of the players seemed to be playing with the urgency of people who realized how absurdly cold it was until the 6th inning, when three Pirates struck out, a couple of them on “We’ve got a six-run lead and my fingers hurt” kind of swings.

4) Not content with raising my ticket price 70% (from $10 to $17) in six years (and more than 100% in the twelve seasons I’ve been going to Wrigley Field), the Cubs seem in the last couple offseasons to have spent most of their time trying to figure out how to bring in more billions. Two seasons ago, they added silly little Sears ads by the dugouts. Last year, they added really tacky-looking LED screens along the roof of the upper deck in right and left. This year, they’ve replaced the three light boards–the one below the scoreboard in center and the two along the facade of the upper deck–with LED screens. So now we’ve got McDonald’s ads in center field during play. What’s their slogan these days? Gotta love it?
I half expect to show up for Opening Day next year and find the outfield grass mowed in the shape of a McRib.

5) Public address announcer Paul Friedman welcomed “those Cubs fans watching from the rooftops.” The request did not elicit the booing that the whole enterprise–and the strongarming the Cubs gave it–deserves.

6) The Cubs lost. Badly. I only lasted six innings, the fierce cold and wind overcoming my desire not to start the season with an incomplete entry in my book of scorecards.

Original comments…

Levi: By the way: I am a little bit embarrassed that I only lasted six innings. I don’t regret it, seeing as seven or eight of the thirteen walks the Cubs issued came after I left. But you’d think that, dressed for the cold, I could hold out longer.

Luke, hanger-on: Didn’t Stacey give you her flask to keep you warm?