Anyone who reads the site regularly knows I'm a huge fan of Minor League baseball, but it's nice to go to a Major League game every now and then...if only to remind myself of why I prefer the Minor Leagues. Sure, the level of play is undoubtedly better in the Majors and you get to see world class players at the height of their prowess, all in the epic cathedrals of the MLB. But, I personally I like the intimacy and fan interaction that the Minor League offer and this game was a perfect example of how that just doesn't exist at your average Big League game.
This was only the second time I'd been up to the new Nationals Park, the second time that week actually, and I have to say, I don't know why I hadn't gone before. The park is gorgeous and while at first I was a little thrown off by the more intimate nature, eventually it won me over and the fact that there really isn't a bad seat in the house makes the whole experience worthwhile. It also doesn't hurt that the don't really check your tickets, so buying a nine dollar seat and sitting wherever you want is easily possible.
I showed up outside the player's parking lot just before most of the player's showed up, hung around the dugout until a minute before game time, and stayed outside by player's parking lot until the player's left, and I saw just seven Braves sign any autographs. Here are pictures of three of them, Tim Hudson, Eric O'Flaherty, and Boone Logan:
So, of those seven, I only got autographs from two, Logan and Mike Gonzalez. Needless to say, that's a little disappointing, if only because I've gotten autographs from both before, and, well, Gonzo is about the easiest guy in all of baseball to get an autograph from. Two of the others, O'Flaherty and Brooks Conrad, signed plenty, but I didn't have any cards left they hadn't signed, so I didn't really miss out on them. It was nice to see that neither had changed their stances on fan interaction. Hudson and Jair Jurrjens, who are both very good about signing, baffled me by signing for only seven of the nine people waiting outside. What's more, they were signing multiple things for the first few people, before deciding that they just couldn't get through the whole "crowd". Really odd.
Of course, all this took place outside. The only guy I actually saw sign anything inside was Buddy Carlyle, who stopped just before the start of the game to sign, creating this pretty sweet picture:
But, this wasn't without its own oddity, as Buddy was called over by a teenager, then proceeded to sign for this lady, and then tell the teenager he didn't have time to sign for him. There were literally two people who wanted his autograph and he spent more time telling the kid he couldn't sign for him than he would have spent actually signing for him. And this is why I just don't care for going to Major League games for the most part, they create this weird bubble society where the players are so far removed from the fans that it doesn't even occur to them to interact. I mean, when a guy like Buddy Carlyle, who is as friendly and personable as you'd want a guy to be, is making odd excuses not to sign, you know there's a problem. Even guys like Tommy Hanson and Reid Gorecki, who didn't mind stopping for a minute to chat with me on their way out to BP, had no intention of coming over to the wall and signing some autographs. But, they're still my boys, so here's a picture of Tommy:
Now, a few fellow Braves fans around the park suggested that maybe the lack of autographs signing was due to the team's focus on trying to lock up a playoff spot (remember that, that good time when they had a chance? [wistful sigh]). Well, that's a decent theory, but just a few days before to see the Nationals and got autographs from some pretty decent players, like Andre Ethier, Jim Thome, Brad Ausmus, Mark Loretta, Vincente Padilla, Ronnie Belliard, Orlando Hudson, James Loney, as well as coaches who were former Major Leaguers like Rick Honeycutt, Ken Howell, and Don Mattingly. The Dodgers were a lot more in the race than the Braves, so I'm not buying that theory.
Anyway, since I mentioned him and all the ladies seem to love him, here's a little Brooks Conrad:
I don't get what the swooning is about, but hey, I've never understood women. Speaking of women, I know royhobbs is usually the guy to get all chauvinist and have some pics of some lovely young women he was drooling over during a game, but I'm a red-blooded American male as well, so, to that end, this girl was absolutely gorgeous:
Certainly not the best picture of her, but I don't have the sheer man-balls that royhobbs has to just ask to take a picture of her. I did however make sure to stop and tell her how gorgeous she is, which seemed to make her day. She seemed like a pretty big Braves fan, so I'm sure the Braves' win, on the back of a Javy Vazquez complete game, also made her night. Here's Javy in action, along with a little post game interview action:
Javy was dominant, allowing just three hits, including a late home run by Josh Bard, while striking out seven. I really wanted to see him complete the game and was a little shocked that he actually got to. Personally, I'm a fan of big time pitching, so it was a lot better getting to see this kind of performance compared to the ones i saw by Kenshin Kawakami and Derek Lowe in Baltimore back in June. Javy was aided by the Hittin' Fool, Matt Diaz:
I gotta say, I think these are a couple of the best picture I got all season. Glad they were of Matty, he's definitely one of my favorites. And he didn't disappoint this night, reaching in all four of his plate appearances, going 2 for 2 with a pair of RBIs. I honestly think it's time for this guy to be the full time left fielder next year.
Garret Anderson drove in one of the other four runs on the night, but, more amazingly, I caught a shot of the old man smiling:
I know, I was shocked too. He and Derek Lowe were laughing together, probably talking about that time they faced each other back in 1904. Of course, when you start thinking about Anderson's pathetic .704 OPS out of an offensive-first position and even worse defense, you kind of want to grab him by the shoulders and frantically ask, "What the hell do you have to smile about, old man?"
But, another old man who has plenty to smile about, no matter how down of a season he had, is the great Chipper Jones:
Check out former Brave Marquis Grissom in the background of the picture on the right. Chipper had a pair of hits in this game, and frankly, I don't care if he did have a down season, for me, this guy is the Atanta Braves. Sure, McCann might be the present, and, hopefully, Heyward, is the future, but Chipper is the Braves to me.
Another guy who just looks right in a Braves uniform is Adam LaRoche:
Rochey didn't do much in this game, in fact he struck out twice and left five men on, but he was an absolute monster for the Braves after coming back to the team. I couldn't understand why so many people where bemoaning trading away three more years of Kotchman for a half season of LaRoche, frankly three more years of Kotchman sounded awful, and I'm glad to see that he made all that talk look foolish.
Along with LaRoche's fine second half performance, the Braves got some amazing work out of the bullpen in the second half, and nobody was better than Peter Moylan:
In 38 appearances after the All-Star break, our sidewheeling Australian allowed just 4 earned runs, good for a 1.00 ERA, and was a perfect 4-0. A lot of times, those numbers don't mean much for relievers, but for Moylan, they're pretty accurate. The guy was scary good this season and hopefully his arm doesn't fall off over the winter.
Some Braves fans still have this major soft spot for Willie Harris, conveniently forgetting that he was basically awful the second half of his lone season in Atlanta. Now that he's put in two so-so seasons with Washington, maybe some of that half-season nostalgia will wear off. Probably not though. I've always been a big fan of Orr's so it was nice to see him back in the Majors. Apparently the new regime in DC loves him, so much so that they're asking him to learn how to catch in the offseason so that he can be the emergency catcher in 2010.
Well, despite not really getting any autographs, I still had a blast, the Braves won, but, perhaps most important of all, I got a shot of the FUPA!: