TBtB: Cincinnati Reds

The home of the Cincinnati Reds is perhaps the most overly ambitiously named park of the new entries. It’s no more the Great American Ball Park than the young adult book collecting digital dust on my hard drive is the Great American Novel.

I’ve been there a few times. It’s nice enough, and the steamshippish structure in centerfield is a sensible fit given the Ohio River and its Tall Stacks sit just beyond right field. But it’s simply not going to top many favorite lists. It’s an upgrade on Riverfront, and the Reds Museum is nice, but the overall effect is just not that special. On the other hand, it separates ball and park, calling to mind the rarely seen Primate, Lance (Christopher) Linden.

It’s too bad. Cincy remains a great baseball town, and it treats Opening Day with the reverence that most important of days deserves. It’s damn near a holiday in the Queen City (non-Charlotte division).

Chairman’s Ruling: Following the Pete Rose permanent ban is strongly encouraged, but will not be mandated. We don’t think there will be any serious references to Charlie Hustle from our team of nominators unless Bear makes one of his infrequent forays in here.

Ballpark History

Built:  2003

Capacity: 42,319

Name:  Great American Ball Park.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city:  Got a minute: Bank Street Grounds, 1882-83; League Park 1 1884-1893; League Park II 1894-1901; Palace of the Fans, 1902-1911; Crosley Field, 1912-1970; Riverfront Stadium, 1970-2002.

Distinctive Features: A gap in the stands between home and third, allowing views in and out of the park from downtown; centerfield smokestacks; murals and sculptures of Reds’ history, including Reds Legends of Crosley Field; Reds Hall of Fame and Museum; the possibility of hitting the ball into another state (like the airport, the river is in Kentucky).
Ballpark Highlights:
Virtually every home game for the better part of six years, Marty Brennaman bitched about Adam Dunn.

Spurred by antagonistic comments and unwelcome shinguard taps from Brandon Phillips and the general hardassery of Yadi Molina, the Reds and Cards emptied the benches before the first pitch of their NL Central showdown in 2010. Fortunately, the cooler heads of Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker were there to keep things from getting out of hand.

Later that year, in their only home playoff game, the Reds were blanked 3-0 by the Phillies’ Cole Hamels. Hell, at least they got a few hits.

On June 13, 2012, Joey Votto showed us what humans are capable of (though we also wouldn’t mind a few swings sprinkled in there), if they truly put their mind to it.

On June 6, 2017, waiver wire pickup Scooter Gennett became the 18th player to homer four times in a single game.

Last night, Homer Bailey tried to pitch without the ball. Given his recent success when he has a ball in hand, it was probably worth considering.

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 38

When music fans list their favorite years for albums, 2007 does not come off very often. And when people my age list their favorite years for albums, it comes up even less frequently.

Nonetheless, that year marked one of the high points in my musical-listening lifetime. The easy explanation is that it was the year after woxy’s second rebirth, and I was not only tuned into the station every day, but regularly engaging with other music-loving weirdos on the site’s message board.

Still, many of the albums from that year remain in medium rotation in my CD collection (and I’ve never been a high-rotation kind of music consumer: Klaxons’ Myths of the New Future, The National’s Boxer, Cloud Cult’s Meaning of 8, Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Blonde Redhead’s 23, Editors’ An End Has a Start and Spooky Action from the spectacularly unappreciated Celebrity Pilots.

Two of the year’s entries make my list, including No. 38, Matt Pond’s seventh album, Last Light. While not often usually seen in the same class as his two previous LPs, Emblems and Several Arrows Later, I preferred the nice blend of uptempo rockers and Pond’s trademark personal soloesque acoustic numbers. There’s an uncurrent of unease running through the tracks, from the energetic title track that kicks off the disc through the slower closer, It’s Not So Bad At All.

Highlights include the charging 1-2 punch to kick off the disc, the title track and People Have a Way; the sad Basement Parties; and the desperate Giving it All Away.

Important Information:

Name: Last Light

Released: 2007

Record Company: Altitude

Running Time: 45:19.

 

  1. Last Light
  2. People Have a Way
  3. Locate the Pieces
  4. Wild Girl
  5. Honestly
  6. Taught to Look Away
  7. Sunlight
  8. Basement Parties
  9. Until the East Coast Ends
  10. Foreign Bedrooms
  11. The Crush
  12. Giving it All Away
  13. It’s Not So Bad At All

My New Favorite A.J.*

Until Wednesday evening, I never really thought much about Adam Jones. My knowledge of him was pretty much limited to a) he was dealt to Baltimore during Seattle’s decades of horrific management, b) my youngest son picked up one a faux No. 9 jersey when we were taking my oldest son to college a few years back and c) he was a centerfielder with a nice stick whose defense should have moved him to a corner a long time ago.

That was last month. Today, Adam Jones is one of my favorite players in the sport. All because he followed the less-traveled path originally championed by former First Lady Nancy Reagan. He said “No.”

Tuesday was the major league trade deadline, when contenders try to shore up weaknesses on the field or on the mound for the stretch drive. They do this by dealing with the league’s dregs, who hope to land some low-priced prospects or a lottery ticket A-baller or some simple salary relief for the last two months of the campaign.

Jones’s club, the Orioles, had already entered fire sale mode before the deadline struck, having dealt All-Star infielder Manny Machado to the Dodgers, Jonathan Schoop to the Brewers and Don’t Break Glass In Case of Tie reliever Zach Britton to the Yankees. The dreadful O’s were also shopping Jones to teams looking for a fourth outfielder or bench bat.

But Jones has something that none of those other Orioles possessed – the right to refuse a trade. By virtue of his 10 years in the big leagues and five with his current club, Jones can nix any trade involving him. The Orioles can cut him, but they can’t simply deal him to the A’s for a bullpen arm, at least not without his say so.

And they didn’t get it. Not to anyone. Jones was going to play these last two months in the same city, same ballpark, where he’s plied his trade for the past 11 seasons. God Bless him.

“When players walked out years ago and walked the picket lines and did all that stuff, they did all that for reasons like right now. I earned this and it’s my decision. I don’t have to explain it to nobody. It’s my decision,” Jones told the media following Tuesday’s game.

Virtually every year, players such as Jones are not just asked to waive their no-trade provisions so they can be sent to a contender down the stretch, but pressured to do so by the teams, the local media and the fans. “Why wouldn’t you want to play in a pennant race?” is the usual refrain. And, most players go along, accepting a deal without comment. Fred McGriff did this years ago when he was reluctant to leave his hometown Rays to join the Cubs’ chase for a pennant. A decade later, Ryan Dempster was roasted by Cubs fans when he changed his mind about a deal to Atlanta (he eventually signed off on a deal to Texas).

This is wrong, on many levels.

Players understand that getting swapped is part of the package when you play in MLB. It’s one of the trade offs for being exceedingly well compensated. But the opportunity to refuse a trade, as Jones said, was a hard-won right. It was the impetus of the Curt Flood case that ultimately launched free agency. The Cardinal outfielder wasn’t looking to bolt St. Louis – he didn’t want to go to Philly, with its questionable racial history.

Moreover, the only life that’s truly affected by a swap is the players involved. They’re the ones being relocate to a new town, for a short period of time, on a moment’s notice. If they have a contractual right to reject such a forced move, why the hell should they be pressured by the team that employs them or the fans that root for them? The fans and media have virtually no real stake in the outcome, and the teams much less real share.

Finally, you’ve got this unanswered question: if my boss tells me he no longer wants my services, why should I make it easy on him if that’s not what I wish. Why should I do anything to help what will, upon agreement, become my former team?

And Jones is right about another thing. He owes no one an explanation for his decision. Rather, Jones and big leaguers like him owe their teams one thing – their best effort every night. Jones has delivered that to the Orioles franchise for more than 10 seasons. All he wants is two more months to keep doing that. Hats off to him for resisting the pressure to give that up.

 

*My previous favorite A.J. was, of course, White Sox Super Pest A.J. Pierzynski. Baseball is much better with villains, and no one in my baseball lifetime played that role with more zeal than Pierzynski.

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 39

We’re into the Top 40 with The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death, the second and final full-length from the UK’s The Housemartins.

The follow-up to London 0, Hull 4 saw the band expanding a little musically. It was something both P.d. Heaton and Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, would continue to do in their subsequent work. The debut was quite good, but for my money it couldn’t match the top-to-bottom excellence of the follow-up.

While the music on the disc bounces between bouncy jangle pop, Brit style, and slower soulful numbers, the lyrics are uniformly biting. And the targets range from the obvious (the Royal Family, circa mid-1980s), to unexpected (the latter half of the title track to Me and the Farmer), though consistent with Heaton’s previous exhortation to Take Marx and Take Christ.

Highlights: the Queen-skewering title track; the bizarre Five Get Over Excited, I Can’t Put My Finger on It and Me and the Farmer.

Important Information:

Name: The People who Grinned Themselves to Death

Released: 1987

Record Company: Go! Discs

Running Time: 38:06.

Track Listing:

  1. The People who Grinned Themselves to Death
  2. I Can’t Put My Finger on It
  3. The Light is Always Green
  4. The World’s On Fire
  5. Pirate Aggro
  6. We’re Not Going Back
  7. Me and the Farmer
  8. Five Get Over Excited
  9. Johannesburg
  10. Bow Down
  11. You Better Be Doubtful
  12. Build

 

 

Baseball, Eastern European Style

I will undoubtedly see a better-played baseball game this year. I will most likely see one that’s as compelling. But I won’t have more fun at one.

On Sunday afternoon, I traveled to Whiting, home of Oil City Stadium. I was there to take in the second semifinal of the inaugural International Baseball Challenge, a four-team tournament featuring teams from the United States, Serbia, Croatia and Slovakia.

The game in question was the semifinal tilt between those two historic rivals, in the truest sense of the phrase, the Serbs and the Croats. The Serbian club pushed across two runs in the top of the ninth to eke out a 6-4 win over their former mates back in the old Yugoslav League.
IMG_5505

Serbia’s starting pitcher Christian Bokich delivers a pitch to Croatia’s Matko Dabic Sunday at Oil City Stadium. Part of the BP Refinery that gives the place its name (and the BP cash that made it possible) serves as the ballpark’s backdrop.

Serbia took the lead in the second, fifth and seventh innings, only to see the Croats bounce back to tie the score each time. In the top of the ninth, Serbia’s Bobby Suder reached on a two-based error leading off the frame, then advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt by Croatian catcher Phil Smith. Tireless pitcher Antonio Horvatic, who went the distance, kept him there by getting a pop-up to Smith and a strikeout. But the Serbs went ahead when Ronald Krsolovic made a diving stop on a one-hopper from Filip Banjac, then fired wide of first, the team’s third error of the frame. Connor Tomasic’s third hit plated the final run.

The tournament was an interesting mix of teams. The Serbian National Team was about half native sons, with the rest of the club comprised of Americans with one or more parents who immigrated to the States, back when that was still allowed. Four of the kids were Northwest Indiana products, including one young lad who was playing in the same park where he played his high school games (and where my youngest son got a start on the bump in the back end of a double dip this spring).

The Croats, on the other hand, were mostly local products, with just a few exceptions. The guys were mostly split between Split and rest of Croatia, though sadly none were from the No. 1 place on my global must-visit list, Dubrovnik.

Interestingly, the Slovak club eliminated from the competition a night earlier (with the Region’s all-time greatest player, Kenny Lofton, in attendance) was comprised entirely of ballplayers who grew up in the back half of the old Czechoslovakia. One player, Jakub Izold, was a resident of Phoenix, but only because he stayed here after his two-run year with Cincy as the first born-and-raised Slovak* to sign with a major league club.

The game attracted a healthy crowd, with a particularly strong showing of Serbian backers. They waved the Serb flag, sported their Serbija jerseys  and, upon victory, broke into an impromptu kolo, a line dance to a Polka (or Serbka, I suppose) tune. There were fewer Croatian-Americans in the park, though some could be seen sporting the country’s traditional Italian restaurant tablecloth attire. They did seem to have the support of the Slovak team members in attendance.

The Serbian singing and dancing was undoubtedly even heartier a few hours later, when the Serbs defeated the U.S. team (which was essentially the Northwest Indiana Oilmen, a local team in the Midwest Collegiate League) 12-5 to capture the inaugural championship. I didn’t catch the title game, though I’m a lock to be back in the stadium when the second installment is contested next year.

*While no native Croats or Serbs have ever played big league ball, Hall of Very Good Pitcher Jack Quinn was born in modern-day Stefurov (then Stefuro, Hungary), while fellow veteran Elmer Valo was a native of Rybnik. However, unlike Isold who did all of his formative baseballing in Slovakia, the earlier gents arrived in the U.S. as children.

TBtB: Minnesota Twins

As with just about everything else in the Twin City, the new stadium there sports the Target brand, a company headquartered there, not in France. Surely, the metropolis that gave us Husker Du, Prince and Craig Finn can do a little better on a name for its nifty new park*.

Unlike their wimpy football-playing brethren, the Twins gave a big middle finger to the notoriously challenging Upper Midwest weather by opting against a lid for Target Field. If they ever enjoy a return to the glory of the Kirby and Hrby years, we’ll see if they (and MLB) come to regret that decision.

I took my daughter, wife and a temporary family member to the Twin Cities for a college visit back in 2016. During the mandatory stop at the Mall of America, I found the old home plate plaque, seen below, from Metropolitan Stadium. Saving home plate’s spot on planet earth should be federally mandated when any old ballpark comes tumbling down. It’s just the right thing to do.

*Which, the bottom part tells me, has now been open for eight seasons. That doesn’t seem possible.

Ballpark History

Built: 2010

Capacity: 38,649

Name:  Target Field 2010-present.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city:  Metropolitan Stadium, 1961-1981; Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, 1982-2009.

Distinctive Features: Double-decker bullpens in left-center; the major’s only bonfire in the roof deck; illuminated Minnie and Paul logo; small ballpark footprint in the city’s Warehouse District.

Ballpark Highlights:
On Oct. 3, 2010, the Twins lost a 5-2 decision to New York to fall behind 0-2 in the ALDS, proving the club could be just as inept in outdoor home games with the Bronx Bombers as they were inside.

In 2014, Mike Trout went 2-3 to claim his first of back-to-back All-Star Game MVPs in a 5-3 American League victory.

In the final game of his best big league season, Phil Hughes fanned five and walked none in eight innings against the Angels. Hughes finished the 2014 campaign with 186 strikeouts and 16 walks, setting the major league record for the best K:BB ratio. He also came up 1/3 of an inning short of triggering a $500,000 bonus for throwing 210 innings, declining a later offer from Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire to pitch an inning in relief.

In 2017, the first college football game was played at the ballpark, a contest between the St. Thomas Tommies and the St. John’s Jonnies, setting us up for our next renaming project – Minnesota’s Division III college teams.

The Sacrificial All-Stars

When Scooter Gennett took Edwin Diaz deep in the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday’s All-Star game, NL Manager (and looter of the greatest base in major league history) Dave Roberts was ecstatic in the dugout. For a moment.

But the NL skipper, as well as AL counterpart A.J. Hinch, was suddenly also worried how he might manage the rest of a game that had no end point guaranteed. Fortunately for the gents, a couple of Hinch’s regulars and one of Roberts’ pitchers, made that a moot concern.

We, of course, have seen this before. In 2002, the All-Star game was declared a tie when the teams ran out of pitchers at the end of the 11th inning. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, formerly considered a boil on baseball’s anus but today revered as the guy who isn’t Manfred, responded to the fiasco by giving us This Time it Counts, tying hosting duties for the World Series on the outcome of the game. That condition held until 2017, when the league did away with TTiC in favor of best record, a solution with its own problems that we won’t get into here.

The problem with Bud’s solution is that it didn’t do anything to actually solve the problem. Sure, managers are more cognizant about holding back a hurler or two for the possibility of extra frames, but since neither manager wants to overwork a guy who might be key to a pennant race (and play for some other team), the possibility of Total Hurler Depletion remains.

That’s where I come in. There’s a better solution to this issue, one that would not just be workable, but fun.

Each league should designate one minor league pitcher to serve as its final arm in the pen. If a league skipper exhausts all of his supply of hurlers, the ball gets handed to the minor league tosser and he’s got to pitch until we’ve got a final score.

Now, teams aren’t going to want to use some top prospect in the role. Instead, the distinction should go to some ML lifer, the Crash Davis type if you switched his place in the battery with Nuke. Let the Triple A fans vote from a slate of willing candidates to enhance the experience.

The upshot: The leagues don’t have to worry about a tie. A career minor leaguer gets a chance to rub shoulders with the game’s all-stars and cashes a nice paycheck just for making the squad (plus a larger one if he’s called upon to pitch); and, quite possibly, we get to watch a no-name pitcher set down a bunch of the league’s second-best players (the best having already departed the premises) for several innings.