Hi everyone. There was once a day when I used to crowd the FanPost section with grandiose picture posts of just my weekend, because I really was seeing that much Braves baseball, or immersing myself in every public event they did around town, and there was almost always a story to tell, or at least kickstart some epic OT conversations in the process. There was also once a day in which I had tons of free time at my job(s) in order to bring such menial content to the interwebs to promote discussion and create a sense of community.
That being said, to those of you TC readers who see me as just the weekend guy with a wry sense of humor, and/or one of the power-hungry, first-amendement-suppressing Nazi moderators on the site, you couldn't be any more correct. But I'm also an avid traveler, especially when it comes to the game of baseball we all love. Throughout the seasons, I travel to numerous ballparks throughout the country, be it major, minor, or indy, and am one of those dorks whose missions is to visit every single MLB ballpark and city. After the 2011 season, I'm at 21/30 MLB cities visited, but it also doesn't help that old ones are dying off and being replaced with new parks I have to visit in the future. First world problems!
Seeing as how I am one of the unfortunate souls to be working on the final week of the year, I find myself with a low workload, and a generous amount of downtime. That being said, I feel that we could use a little bit of reprieve from the litany of posts about how the Braves need a short stop, how the Braves needed Carlos Beltran/Josh Hamilton/Hank Aaron/Roberto Clemente, and other trite rosterbatory posts that result in stat arguments or opinion-based pissing contests. And when I say "we," I really still mean "I," although I can't imagine being the only person to have this sentiment. So, for old time's sake, and putting it on the record, here's a 2011 season in photos and stories, chronicling my experiences.
Be warned - boatload of images ahoy.
Opening Day - Gwinnett
Seeing as how the Braves' season started up in hellish Washington, I was denied early my fix of being out at the ballpark at a city I'm extremely familiar with and could easily have gotten to. Instead, I opted to stay in Atlanta, because I had prior plans to watch a bunch of oiled-up steroid freaks participating in the homoerotic act of professional wrestling - Wrestlemania was in Atlanta this year. But anyway, if I couldn't see the Atlanta Braves, thankfully there is a somewhat nearby alternate, 30 miles north of The Turner Field, up in Gwinnett County.
Although it was predictable, it was still good to see ol' #6 back on a baseball field again, even if it felt like just yesterday that we saw Bobby Cox getting tossed out of the game by Bill Hohn. Despite the emotional goodbye tour we all witnessed the year prior, you'd have to be blind to imagine that a lifer like Bobby would manage to be away from the game too long.
Ahh, Jordan Schafer. One of the most controversial names of the 2011 season. I admit that he had fallen off my radar for a while prior to the 2011 season, but then all of a sudden the swag was back in Spring Training when he declared feeling like "f*cking success," and actually had a decent Spring. I don't hide my feelings for when he was ultimately traded in July, and I'm sure it's falling into the trap again, but I had faith that Jordan was going to put it together in 2011, and get back to close to being the prospect he was once touted as. That's what we sometimes do as fans. Que sera sera.
Ron Burgundy was also at the G-Braves season opener too, lol.
Opening Day - Atlanta
My Nationals friends sent me a few pictures from their Opening Day, and I commented at how lame it was that they did a grandiose introduction of the players with fireworks and AC/DC and balloons. That how such theatrics were best suited for like the WWE. And how I was glad that the Braves beat them for having such excess. But then when Opening Day rolled into Atlanta, what would the Braves do? Yeah, come out to fireworks and balloons, and I'm not sure if it was AC/DC playing, but there's always a good chance at a baseball park to hear Thunderstruck.
I have a fascination with obscure jerseys, even moreso if they're Braves players more suited for the hall of shame, than anything else. So with that, Chad Paronto. I remember a few years ago, Chad Paronto beaned Chris Young (the pitcher) as retaliation for him beaning one of the Braves. But being Chad Paronto the timing was undoubtedly impeccable, and Young would ultimately come around and score the go-ahead run, and the Braves lost that game. :(
Oh, and it was at this game, where the Braves jumped all over Cliff Lee, and in the midst of things, Chipper Jones notched his 2,500th career hit. And the Braves beat the Phillies 6-3, which is always good for a home opener.
Back up in D.C.
In mid-April, my parents asked me to come home to visit. I thought they were going to do something for my birthday, but it ended up being a bunch of (crap) just got real talks about divorce and stuff. Naturally, my reaction was unpleasant, so I dodged my problems like a champ and instead went to go watch baseball.
Despite the fact that it was 47F degrees with winds of like 300 mph, my friend and I went out to Nationals Park. In spite of the complaints by the many Nationals fans I know, they sure have a habit of winning frequently, whenever I go visit their park. Oh, and this guy is cbtits' good twin. He has a much more friendly, albeit deer-in-the-headlights face, but the two-tone hat and bigass beard, c'mon.
I look at this picture of the Brewers playing five infielders now, and wonder how this ended up being a team that won 96 games when the dust settled. Ron Roenicke clearly had a settling-in period where things were a little off-kilter for the Brew Crew, but this game's scenario was kind of pathetic to watch. Tie-game in extra innings, Jayson Werth, before everyone concluded that his first season was a statistical bust, managed to get on base via error, and then take second in the process. The Brewers put the shift on Adam LaRoche, but somehow fail, to keep someone in the vicinity of third, and Werth steals it in a hapless footrace. And then LaRoche can't get it out of the infield, but Prince Fielder botches a throw to home, and Werth wins on a game-ending Fielder's choice (pelican?).
A day later, I made the trek up north a bit to "beautiful" Hagerstown, Maryland. Home of the Hagerstown Suns, the Low-A affiliate of the Nationals. But more importantly, it was the home to the most-hyped prospect since like Mark Prior, in Bryce Harper, and I figured I was close enough, let's see what the hype is all about.
Here's Bryce Harper striking out looking. Despite literally destroying all opposition in his path prior to the 2011 season, he showed that he too was not completely infallible. Mostly a catcher through his even-earlier career, he's pretty much slated for outfield duty as a professional. His routes are a work in progress, but the talent with the bat is prevalent.
But what most people talk about when it comes to Bryce Harper are character issues and how he treats the fans. Most accounts are vastly conflicting, and seem to hinge on Harper's emotional feeling of the day, but some say he's a prick who doesn't sign at all, some say he's gracious and signs for everyone. I've heard he only signs for well-endowed women and children, but I've also heard that he will systematically sign just one thing for kids and no adults, etc, etc. Well, on this particular day, Harper didn't feel like signing for anyone, probably because of his 1-for-3 day, and an outfield error.
A visit to
Charlotte, Fort Mill, North South Carolina
In my vastly expanding desire to branch out and visit more minor league parks, I saw a very favorable day trip up in North South Carolina. It's a 45 minute flight from Atlanta, and the G-Braves were up there playing the Charlotte Knights, the AAA team of the Chicago White Sox, and there was a chance that I could get to see Julio Teheran pitch. It's amusing to me that the Charlotte, North Carolina Knights actually play in South Carolina. It's almost like how Atlanta Motor Speedway is actually almost 60 miles south of the City of Atlanta.
But just my luck, it would be a sandwich day, where Mike Minor pitched the night prior, and Teheran would instead pitch the day after, while I get none other than Rodrigo Lopez on my day visit. But to his credit, Rodrigo was pretty spot-on on this day, and even held the Knights hitless throughout the first four innings.
Ahh, Jose Constanza. Yet another centerfielder who went through the revolving door of the outfield for the Braves this year, but set our imaginations on fire for about three weeks. This photo was well before his debut, and among the thousands of MiLB at-bats he accrued prior to June. He actually made a pretty awesome grab at this game out in left, and the G-Braves would essentially pound the Knights into submission, which was good, considering my fairly shoddy record of Braves affiliates whenever I hit the road to see them.
How convenient, a trip to Myrtle Beach
One of my best friends was getting married, and decided to have his bachelor party out at Myrtle Beach, former home to the Braves' high-A team, current home to the Rangers' high-A now. Purely coincidental, I swear, it would turn out that the Pelicans would be home during this particular weekend, and hosting none other than the Braves' new high-A squad, the Lynchburg Hillcats. And to put the icing on the cake, the Saturday game we hit up turned out to be a game where former WWE wrestler, Jerry "The King" Lawler would be meeting fans. No, I did not dress up as the King.
My BFF Gerry Rodriguez. I was actually kind of sad for him, repeating high-A, but it's cool to see that he doesn't really seem to show any sort of displeasure in it, posing for the camera.
I hear this Arodys Vizcaino is somewhat of a good pitcher.
Y'know, meeting Jerry Lawler was actually kind of disappointing. Sergeant Slaughter was a blast to meet the year prior, and the guy genuinely demonstrated a love and appreciation for the fans. Brought his own glossies, shook hands and smiled and posed for pictures, etc, etc. But Lawler, it's like he was forced to make this appearance at gunpoint. Little care for the fans, gruff, standoff-ish, even with the children, signed whatever was in front of him without much looking up. I almost wanted to tell him that I was glad he lost at Wrestlemania, but instead I got my picture taken with him and couldn't get back to my seat and beer soon enough.
The Mods Meeting in Lynchburg
You read that correctly, several of us Nazi blog lords converged in the sticks of Lynchburg, Virginia, to discuss blog politics, blog policies, which blogs we like, which blogs we dislike, and gripe about you guys. Nah, just kidding (maybe). I'd actually never been to Lynchburg, despite growing up in Virginia and going to Virginia Tech, and it turned out to be a fairly convenient meeting place for those of us already on the road, and he who lives in ROVA already, and it happened to also be the home to the Braves' high-A Lynchburg Hillcats.
Cory Rasmus, younger brother to Colby, pitching to the Potomac Nationals. It's funny, we read scouting reports from time to time, but it's like they don't really ever come true right before your very eyes. But in the case of Rasmus, who has been labeled as "subject to the big inning," cruised for about four innings before completely melting down, and allowing the P-Nats to close the gap considerably. Fortunately, the Hillcats were able to hold on, and ultimately prevail in the end, putting a positive adjourning to our meeting.
And since cbtits is the only one who's okay with his face being shown on the internet, I've replaced Foreman and gondeee's heads with Nicholas Cage, the greatest actor in the history of cinema. Note gondeee wielding the ban-hammer.
Yep, still a dump
After leaving Lynchburg, I went straight to Richmond to visit my sister. Naturally, there's baseball involved, and it was an opportunity to take my 1-year old nephew to his first-ever live baseball game. Formerly home of the AAA-Richmond Braves, the Diamond sat for about two years after the R-Braves moved to Lawrenceville. Today, it's home to the AA-affiliate of the Giants, the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
I'm not going to sugar coat it, the Diamond was a dump when it was home to the R-Braves, and although the Squirrels' team store is actually nice and not a trailer, the rest of the Diamond is still kind of a dump. It was also bike night, so that led to the decor of grungy, leather-clad bikers all over the place. But apparently "bike night" is a bit broad, and towards the fourth inning, a legion of hipsters and bicycle messenger-types converted in the left field bleachers to lead to some interesting cumulative attendance.
Ballpark #19 - Kauffman Stadium
My first MLB ballpark trip of the year led me to the state of Missouri, where I would tackle both Kansas City and St. Louis in one fell swoop. I would land in Kansas City first, where I would eat sample three restaurants' BBQ or chicken, before actually getting to Kauffman Stadium. The full experience is chronicled over at Royals Review, where the users over there were gracious enough to provide this traveler with lots of advice and tips, but I'll narrow it down for the sake of interest here.
To cut to the chase, Kauffman Stadium is amazing. If I had to rank AL parks, I have Kauffman Stadium as the solid #2. It's a beautiful ballpark with not a bad seat in the house. It's structurally perfect with wide walkways, plenty of team stores and concessions, nice and open-aired, with lots to do for the kids. And I like all the Royal blue everywhere, it's aethstetically pleasing to me.
Aw, you didn't think I could avoid mentioning Jeff Francoeur, did you? Amazingly, much like in Atlanta, despite his criticism from the stat community, by "the common fans," Frenchy is very well-liked out in KC as well.
What's this? One RBI shy of 500? A milestone night? Nevermind the fact that somewhere in the neighborhood of 340 of those RIBZ were earned in three years in Atlanta, it certainly took a good bit of time to accrue the other 150-ish RIBZ. To cut to the chase, Francoeur did get #500 in my presence, but it came on a sac-fly, so he naturally still made an out in the process.
It was Willie Wilson bobblehead night. And as is the curiosity whenever there's a bobblehead night anywhere, I have to check Ebay to see all the "bad fans" who deny collectors for their pursuit of lunch money.
Ballpark #20 - Busch Stadium III
Immediately after the game in KC, I hit the road, and after a night at the scariest roach-motel ever, I was in St. Louis the very next day, for a day game between the Cards and Cubs. Look, I know there are some people who kind of resent the Cardinals for "stealing" the Braves' playoff spot, and ultimately winning the World Series, but try and keep an open mind - they stole nothing, the Braves gave it up. Much like these stories, it's a thing of the past now. Busch III is a fantastic ballpark, and Cardinals fans are nothing but gracious as we expect Braves fans to be. My full experience of St. Louis is at Viva El Birdos, where their users too, were totally awesome about accomodating me.
I got some sweet suite tickets from an anonymous benefactor, so it was an afternoon of free beer and food, but that has little to sway my judgment of the park as a whole; I still spent at least three innings just walking around taking in every angle and view of the park as a whole. Excluding Atlanta, I have to admit that St. Louis is my #1 National League ballpark currently - beautiful on the outside, as well as all the views inside. Spacious, lots of convenience, and plenty of good history and remembrance all over the park.
It was one hell of a game too. The Cubs got to an early lead, and it almost seemed like they might prevail. But as the game went on, the Cardinals began chipping away at the lead, and as we've seen happen so many times this year, Carlos Marmol would blow the save against the Cards, which sent the game into extra innings.
Albert Pujols hit a walk-off home run the day prior apparently, and in the 10th inning of this game I was at, you couldn't help but feel like something was going to happen when Pujols stepped to the plate. Facing none other than the recently waived Rodrigo Lopez, Pujols wasted no time at all, clobbering yet another walk-off homer to win the game, and send all of Busch III into a frenzy. It was a magical moment, but my friend put it best; it wasn't really ours, since neither of us were truly Cardinals fans.
Adam Richman told me to eat nachos
As the resident 427 lb. behemoth of the blog, it's no secret that I enjoy the foods. Naturally, I tune into Man v. Food, whenever I can, and I remembered from the baseball episode, that there was a ballpark in East St. Louis, that supposedly had these epic nachos. So literally immediately after the Cardinals game, I found myself heading over the bridge, into Illinois and into East St. Louis and beyond to Sauget, to GCS Ballpark, home of the Frontier League's (indy) Gateway Grizzlies.
Indy league baseball is interesting to watch. Neither team had a truly decent short stop, and watching the fielding, anything was possible to happen. The players were visibly diverse in age, but truly none of them looked to be really younger than 25. There's a different vibe coming off the field too; whereas in the low minors, young players are expected to make mistakes, so that they can learn from them, in indy ball, mistakes are met with a sense of dread and desperation. Inherently, there's something beautiful about the urgency coming off the field, since so many of these guys are sort of grasping at their last straws of hope that they'll make it back to MLB-affiliation one day, but the more important thing is that they simply, have not give up.
Fitting for a dork like me, it happened to be Star Wars night, where several park employees were running around, dressed as various Star Wars characters. I couldn't have planned this any more fittingly. As for the nachos? About as overblown as Todd Hollandsworth's career. They were alright at best, but I've definitely had better nachos in my lifetime, several times over than these were.
Annual Bender in Baltimore
As I stated earlier, I rank Kauffman Stadium as #2 on my list of American League ballparks. Number #1 on my list, would be Baltimore's Camden Yards. Long-time TCers know of the conundrum I have with this, because I utterly loathe the city of Baltimore, as well as the state of Maryland in general. But for all intents and purposes, Camden Yards seems to defy all logic, by being a fantastic, beautiful ballpark, within a miserable dirty city. It's kind of like a baseball oasis, in a way. Regardless, every year, I make my way up there at least once a season, to continue on a tradition of getting obliterated with friends at Pickle's Pub, next door to the park, before going inside to obnoxiously root for the visiting, typically NL team. (Although the Phillies are slated to be interleague visitors next year, so this might not be the case)
The most obscure of even obscure jerseys, would have to be this Corky Miller jersey, seen outside the park.
Since the arrival of Buck Showalter, he's somehow managed to become the O's most popular personality, even over all of the players. Obviously, not a follower of the O's, I don't quite get it, but I do know that the day I chose to visit also happened to be Buck Showalter bobblehead day. Even in my drunken stupor, I was still coherent enough to check Ebay, where sure enough, were hundreds of Showalter bobbleheads already on sale. Bad, bad fans.
Here's Aroldis Chapman hitting 101 mph on the radar gun. Blurry. The Reds slaughtered the O's in this game, which sort of amused me. Honestly, I didn't really care so much about the game as it was an evening with friends.
Beyond Baltimore, lies baseball heaven
Growing up, I actually liked the O's first. The Braves came a little later, but I liked the O's too. As a kid of my generation, and where I grew up, it was a pretty common thing to hear of your favorite player being Cal Ripken, Jr. And then I got older, and learned of the existence of Peter Angelos and his meddling, penny-pinching ways, and then eventually, Cal Ripken, Jr. was gone. I stopped liking the O's outright when Mike Mussina left. Regardless, it's hard to find anyone denounce the name of Cal Ripken, Jr., and since I was in Baltimore already, I saw an opportunity to venture further north into Aberdeen, where the Ripken Baseball academy lies, as well as the home of the Short Season-A ball Aberdeen IronBirds.
You know how the East Cobb developmental program has a wide reputation for churning out Major League talent? Well, if I'm a betting man, I'm betting that one day, Aberdeen and the Ripken Baseball program will get to that point too. Walking around the endless maze of fields, packed to the brim with kids in various uniforms, practicing fielding, hitting and throwing drills, I have to imagine that there will be tons of talent oozing from this kind of facility. I asked myself why this place was never mentioned among the hotbeds of future baseball, but considering it's just ten years old, it's probably too young to have had its products reach the age to be playing pro ball yet. But someday, I'm betting on it, they will be.
As for the game itself, it was the O's IronBirds, against the visiting Brooklyn Cyclones of the Mets' org. Ripken Stadium is a pleasant treat of a minor league park, lovely and cozy at the same time. Unfortunately for the home team, the Birds kind of got stomped, and in fact, were no-hit through 5 2/3 innings by a kid named Marco Camarena, who probably shouldn't have had his no-no taken away by a questionable umpire call.
A drive up to Rome
The Braves were up in Philadelphia, so I decided to hop in the car and make a trek up north to visit Rome, and see the Low-A Braves in action. They were also giving away Jason Heyward bobbleheads. I kind of like bobbleheads, if it's not obvious.
I'd been listening to for months about how prospective Edward Salcedo, and I wanted to see with my own eyes, him in live action. Now, obviously, I don't pretend like I have any modicum of prospect evaluation skill at all, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt, but here's my take on Salcedo: some of his biggest criticism often involves his fielding, and how he may or may not ever get to be a short stop in the majors, and how he'll end up at third base. Low-A is the level in which tons of errors and the learning curve is supposed to be a big part of it, but I have to admit that there's something about Salcedo's defense that seems questionable. And to me, it has to do with something extremely simple, but unfortunately, not correctable.
Edward Salcedo has a long torso. Here's him at third, with Matt Lipka at short. Salcedo's build reminds me a lot of Hanley Ramirez, who also has a long torso, IMO. Watching Salcedo having to range for a ground ball, there's something about the way he bends while running that seems a little more laborious than Lipka fielding at short. It does remind me a lot of Hanley Ramirez, who is passable fielder, until he's occasionally exploited by needing to range and bend from time to time. Obviously, I'm not hurt if you choose to dismiss this observation, but I don't think he'll ever be able to exceed what small limitation his body might put on him.
As for the game itself, it was a pitching-filled, exciting 1-0 Rome win, which was made sweeter when the PA system also announced that the Braves beat the Phillies in extra innings.
Ballpark #21 -
Dolphin Dolphins Joe Robbie Land Shark Player Pro Sun Life Stadium
I'd never been to Miami in my life before. I'd never really been in any rush, either. But with the announcement that 2011 would be the last year inside of whatever the heck it's called Stadium, I realized that I now needed to go. I wanted to be there, and be one of twelve people in the stands for a scintillating Florida Marlins baseball game, before I didn't have the chance. Also, lol at the grass parking outside of the place. Very 1970's NFL quality there.
Now I'm doing the Marlins fanbase a little favor here by including this shot. So often times on television, all we ever see is the space behing home plate, and the occasional outfield shot whenever Mike Stanton hits one of his moonshots. But this is a picture of a good portion of the available seating at the park, keep in mind by this time, they had closed off the upper deck permanently to reduce overhead necessity. As you can see there are, more than twelve fans at the game, but also know that this is a day where there was a free concert after the game.
Oh, you better believe I wore that orange shirt on purpose. Dolphin Stadium camoflage FTW.
This is a more correct interpretation of a Marlins game attendance, that I saw the following day. Or maybe not. Alonzo Mourning was supposedly making an appearance after the game, and he's pretty much a Miami Heat legend. Regardless, I kind of got the full Marlins game experience, since it was blazing hot, rained for 10 minutes, and then resumed being blazing hot. Btw, the Mets were the visiting team, and in both games I went to, the Mets blew it, and Leo Nunez played with fire before the Marlins won both games. I didn't stick around for the finishes of both games, because I would rather go to a comedy club on one night, and go kayaking the other.
Good riddance to this horrible ballpark. I knew it was going to stink going there, but I still wanted to sadistically put myself through it, just to know. What really sucks though is, I actually hated Miami. It's not a city I liked visiting, at all. Crappy traffic, expensive everywhere, having to pay to park absolutely everywhere, and then there was more traffic. But with a new ballpark opening in 2012, I know that in the near future, my curiosity is going to bring me down to Miami again, just to thoroughly check it off the list.
Sort of unreleated, but one of the few bright spots of my trip to Miami, was finding this place - fans of the show Dexter, might recognize this, as Dexter's apartment from the show.
I don't know why I keep trying to see the Braves in D.C.
Fact: I've seen the Braves play in Washington D.C. six times. They are 1-5 in those games. I ask myself why I keep going to put myself through such hell up there, but I guess it's the same as the answer to how to bust out of a hitting slump - keep trying. But at least on the second game I went, I had some sweet bullpen seats where I could watch all the Braves' relievers doing what relievers do.
It was fun chatting with Jonny Venters for a few minutes, and I'm sure he's thrilled that of all the people to come to see him wearing a Jonny Venters jersey shirt, it's some 427 lb. mess of humanity. But then it wasn't so pleasant when the out of town scoreboard revealed that Carlos Marmol blew yet another save to the charging Cardinals, and then lost the game, moments before the Braves would lose their game to the Nats.
It's always a treat to see a guy you saw in the minor leagues one day, and then another day that same season, you get to see him right up and close, in a big league bullpen. Oh, how I look forward to seeing a full season of Arodys Vizcaino, and wish him the best of health.
But wait, there's more - The Arizona Fall League
Oh, you thought that based on the timeline of images, that this already-long fanpost was coming to a close, right? WRONG. The regular season, and even the playoffs may have ended, but my baseball season was far from over - at least not yet.
I can't really express how awesome the Arizona Fall League was, but I'll try my best. By November, even the most diehard of baseball fans are a little burnt out, exasperated, or simply tired of baseball. I especially don't blame anyone who roots for the Red Sox or Braves, due to the unfortuitous manners in which those seasons ended. But I'm the type that really enjoys things more, when the surrounding buzz is reduced to a harmless chatter. That being said, the Arizona Fall League is about perfect for me, because it's at a time when most of the world is sick of baseball by mid/late October/November, leading to an entire league of relaxed atmosphere, of the best prospective young talent in baseball.
And if the fans are tired of baseball, imagine what it's like for the kids in the AFL; a lot of them are minor leaguers whose seasons also started in April, and although some of their seasons ended in September, it's like a single month layoff, where they can't really layoff, because in a month, they're sent out to Arizona, in order to get some important at-bats in and face some stiffer competition. But the kids do it anyways, because it's their asses on the line, and it's the dues they have to pay to hope to improve their chances at getting to the bigs.
Whereas in the Spring, you might see some veterans loafing a grounder, or not running hard to first base, because they've got golf on their mind, the AFL is a league full of young legs, and prospective stars of tomorrow giving more effort, because they can, and because they have to. I'd say it's a crime that they're doing such in front of crowds of under 400 people at times, but hey, I sure as heck didn't mind the relaxed atmosphere, and the $7 general admission that let me sit front row behind home plate.
For all intents and purposes, I managed to visit five of the six AFL parks, and saw every team, at least once.
Phoenix Municipal Stadium - home of the Desert Dogs (Reds, Indians, A's, Yankees, Blue Jays). It's also the Spring Training home to the Oakland A's, which is pretty fitting, considering it's a pretty low-budget, vanilla, boring ballpark.
Here's Bryce Harper again, this time in his future Nationals uniform, and for whatever reason, a pornstache.
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick - home of the eventual AFL champion Salt River Rafters (Diamondbacks, Rockies, Tigers, Astros Dodgers). It was easily the nicest of the AFL parks, but could be expected, considering it's the newest of the Arizona ballparks. It's also the Spring Training home to both the Diamondbacks and Rockies.
Here's the view from right behind home plate, which cost me all of $7, I'd like to reiterate. From a financial standpoint, there is no better deal than an AFL ticket, and sitting wherever the heck you please.
I got to meet Cindy "the Flag Lady," out at Salt River, that most of you might aware of whenever the Braves go to Chase Field to play against the Diamondbacks. I absolutely adore fans like Cindy, and it was a pleasure to get to stop and chat with her. Among one of the most dedicated Dback fans ever, she's also got a wealth of stories about all baseball players, of all teams. Upon discovering that I was a Braves fan, she reminsced about how much she adored Jarrod Saltalmacchia when he was still a Braves prospect, among other positive stories she was willing to share with me. An absolute treat, hanging out with her for a few innings was.
Surprise Stadium, home of the Surprise Saguaros (Braves, Marlins, Rays, Rangers, Royals). Spring Training home to both the Rangers and Royals. Easily my favorite of all the AFL parks I went to, and not because they were the team with the Braves prospects. Salt River may have been the nicest, but Surprise was still my favorite. Not nearly as big as Salt River, with a gigantic upper deck, Surprise has a refreshing, open air feel to it, with gorgeous green grass outfield bern and wide, airy walkways.
Here's the Braves' first round draft pick, Sean Gilmartin taking a bullpen session. From what I saw, he has a smooth, consistent delivery, and didn't appear to be overthrowing, or requiring a ton of effort.
And catching Gilmartin, as well as several other pitchers' bullpen sessions was Christian Bethancourt. This actually disappointed me, because it was pretty obvious that being in the bullpen, Bethancourt wouldn't be in the one Saguaros game that I'd actually see in my entire time out there.
Joey Terdoslovich was actually the only Braves position player to be in the starting lineup, and ironically, Mr. 50 doubles was like the only guy on the Saguaros to not get a hit on this day. :(
It's funny, I forgot that they were debuting while I was out in Arizona, but I actually got my first look at the live new Marlins uniform on Marlin prospects. When I got to the park, and saw players playing catch, it took me a few seconds to realize which team these players were on, because of these new uniforms. Ironically, Alex Sanabia started for the Saguaros, in his nice new Miami uniform. But unfortunately, the same old Alex Sanabia was still underneath the uniform, and he was still far too hittable.
J.J. Hoover getting two innings of work in this game. Prior to the game, I went up to Hoover, and asked him if he remembered Sgt. Slaughter from a year ago. His response, "Man, I thought I recognized you," and I was like "seriously?" Bizzare.
I wandered back over to Salt River that night, and got to see the #2 overall draft pick, Danny Hultzen pitch. Someone forgot to tell him that the AFL was a hitter's league, because he essentially carved up the Rafters on this night, and dominated throughout the entire season. It's fun watching him too, because he's very much a thinking man's pitcher, the way he was setting up hitters to strike out to his slider, which he must have struck out like 67 guys with.
On my last day out in Arizona I did some split duty between two parks, since there were only day games on this particular day. First, I went to Scottsdale, to see the home of the Scorpions (Nationals, Phillies, Red Sox, Giants, Angels), which is also the ST home of the Giants. If Surprise ranks #1 on my list of AFL parks, then Scottsdale Stadium ranks #2. It's a beautiful park, tucked on the edge of old town Scottsdale, but it's like it's shoehorned into the area. There isn't as much parking, and it's a little cramped. But still a very nice park overall.
Pictured is one of the more frequently emerging names in a potential deal for Martin Prado, in Tim Wheeler. Big, big kid, decent foot speed, but I think his swing is a little big.
Here's the #1 ranked prospect, Mike Trout, going yard. As impressive as it was seeing guys like Trout, and Bryce Harper hitting their brains out in the AFL, it's actually quite amazing that a team consisting of both those guys, do so poorly overall. I know the AFL doesn't matter to the grand spectrum of the game, but to these kids, winning and losing games still matters. So I ask the question, how does a team comprising of prospects from such elite teams win at barely a 39% clip?
I left Scottsdale after the third inning, because I wanted to see one more park, out in Mesa. It's hard to not be fascinated by a place called "HoHoKam," which was the name of the home of the Mesa Solar Sox (Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, Twins, Pirates), and the ST home to the Cubs. It felt very much like a college field-caliber, but unlike the other parks that do a better job of hiding the auxilary fields, at HoHoKam, they're out in plain sight.
One interesting thing to note is that I couldn't help but notice all sorts of these little cameras placed around all of the parks, filming pitchers. Obviously, there's nothing wrong about gathering film on prospective pitchers, but it should be worth noting that almost every time there was a camera, it belonged to someone wearing a Dodgers windbreaker. So either there are some diehard enthusiasts who happen to be Dodgers fans, or the Dodgers are making a pretty earnest effort at gathering some film to scout, and expand their knowledge of other teams' pitching assets. Either way, it's interesting to see, nonetheless.
Did you make it this far?
If so, you have my utmost appreciation for hanging with me throughout this exasperating summary of a season, I know.
The Jewish sliders from Chompie's, in Tempe, Arizona. Hands down the best food I ever ate this season while traveling for baseball. Oh yeah, the season. Baseball seasons are what you make of them; me - I enjoy the travel, camaraderie, and the food that comes along with traveling for baseball. Baseball has been the greatest excuse ever to visit cities and places I'd never consider visiting without being coerced by the idea of getting so sit in the stands and watch manipulate the atmosphere of an entire ballpark, predicated on the success or failure of the next pitch. All while taking in the local flavors of the native food and brews of the region, and watching people in whole other cities.
Thanks for reading this grandiose post, if you've made it all the way. With the year winding down, feel free to share your own experiences and stories.
What did you do this season? Any interesting ballpark stories you'd like to share? Any foods you want to gush about? Any fantastic local brews worth sharing?