Changeup! Today we have another Pinch Hit article, this time looking into the upcoming 2010 MLB Playoffs from a betting perspective.
Last week Mop Up Duty reader Tight PP travelled to Texas to take in the first Blue Jays game of the season in Arlington vs. the Rangers. Below is his story.
Deep in the heart of Texas for Opening Week for the second straight year. Last year I stopped by Minute Maid for some National League play (which Early calls Intercounty League). This time around it was Arlington for a peek at the new look Blue Jays.
On my last trip down to the Lone Star State I did not stop in Dallas area for more then the time it takes to scarf a Whataburger, but this time we spent four days in the Big D.
We started with a quick drive around the state. Stopping to see the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, which is home to Ol’ Sparky, the electric chair that took the lives of over 300 inmates. Huntsville also boasts that it’s home to seven prisons and the largest statue of an American hero. A 77-foot tall statue of Sam Houston overlooks the highway at the south entrance to Huntsville.
That was followed by a quick stop in Houston and San Antonio. The San Antonio River Walk is a must. There are bars and Tex-Mex restaurants everywhere, all with patios along the river. Also a must in the SA area is tubing, or toobin’ as they call it. New Braunfels, just north of SA, is the place to be. Check out Texas Tubes. Basically you rent a tube and float down a river. The catch, you also rent a tube to carry your cooler full of beer.
After piling the miles on the rental we pulled into Arlington on April 5th for the season opener. Arlington is smack dab in the middle of Dallas and Fort Worth, which is basically one large city with two centres. So the ballpark is kind of in the middle of nowhere. It is easy to access via car, however opening day parking was a huge pain.
We ended up in the Six Flags parking lot. The Rangers website sells parking passes along with tickets. These are useless. They do not guarantee you a spot, and anyone can just drive up and pay the $12 in cash, the same price as the pass. Even though we were right beside the park 45 minutes before the game, we missed the first inning trying to find an empty lot. Since there is nothing around the park, tailgating is popular. There were still many people driving in the back of their pick-ups while we hurried to our seats.
The Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is very different from any others I have been to. It is basically laid out as a square. In CF offices enclose the stadium. Behind the bleachers in CF is a kid’s area with whiffleball, pitching games, etc. There are two large team shops and a store that has custom or possibly game-used items.
The concessions at the stadium were mostly standard, but I found a chicken fried steak sandwich. I was not impressed. The fries that accompanied it were soggy and gross. I was not sold a beer with my “out-of-state licence” but they did take our passports at a later game.
I also recommend beer shopping at the “Beers of the World/Texas” concession as opposed to waiting for the beer guy in the stands. The guy only carries Bud/Bud Lite, Coors Lite, and some other piss poor U.S. beers. The beer stands carry Corona, Modelo, and Shiner. Shiner is a great Texas beer. It is dark in colour, but light and easy to drink even in the Texas sun. Modelo Especiale is a Mexican beer that is great for a patio or the bleachers.
A little something Callum would love is the Ball Girls. The Rangers have two young ladies who retrieve foul balls and play catch with the outfielders. I did a little creep photography just for you.
At the Opener we made it to our seats after missing the first inning and two Blue Jay runs. We found our seats on the right field foul line. Very good seats with good sightlines. The wall along the foul line gets higher as it reaches the home-run wall, so we were in row 8, but also two seats from the wall. These seats were $50, and comparable to the $52 seats in Skydome. The afternoon heat was not a problem as it was overcast for most of the game.
For the game on the 7th we sat high above the plate, 5 rows up in the upper deck. $20 seats and a great overview of the play. This was a night game and it was windy. The temperature was 51F by the end of the game. It was not what I had come to the ballpark expecting, and I was a little uncomfortable in the later innings.
For the final game in the set we got $10 bleacher seats right beside the Jays bullpen. We were maybe 15 feet from the pitchers warming up. That afternoon there was not a cloud in the sky and we felt the sun pouring down. It was not humid at all, and that was a huge difference to a similar day in Toronto.
All around us were Ranger fans who did a little good-natured ribbing but, on the whole, were very friendly, all welcoming us to Texas and wishing us a good trip. Also, there seemed to be a lot of transplants in Dallas. Talked to guys from New Jersey and Chicago.
We did run into a couple of Jays fans: a family down from Vancouver to visit relatives; a guy from Red Deer down on business, but assured us he only came ‘cause the Jays were in town; and a group of 20-somethings from Niagara Falls, who frequently follow the Jays on the road. Jenni got a Vernon Wells autograph, and when she told him we came all the way down from Toronto, he just said, “That’s a long way to go” in an monotone, expressionless manner.
My overall feelings about the ballpark in Arlington are not too impressed. The location isn’t what I would prefer in a ballpark. I like downtown parks. But if you are into tailgating, this is for you. The sightlines in our three seats were all very good. The scoreboards and video screens are all pretty small and oddly located. The food selection was ho-hum. There is nothing that really wowed me with this park, however it is just fine for watching a game. The park is not a must see/do, but if you are there to watch baseball it is just fine.
While in Dallas we stayed at a hotel on Commerce Street. In the area we went to the Sixth Floor Museum, at the Texas School Book Depository. It covers the assassination of JFK. It is a really good museum.
A couple places we ate and drank were:
- Sol Irlandes @ 1525 Main St, which was like a Mexican pub. Some tasty beers, good food, and a fun staff;
- Hoffbrau @ 311 N Market, which had its own beer, that was tasteless and boring;
- Gators @ 1714 N Market St has a roof top patio, and lots of deals on most nights. The wait staff sucks, but the idea of this place is good;
- Sonny Bryan’s @ 302 N Market St has some very good BBQ. Try the jalapeno sausage, and of course the brisket.
Also on Market St is Wild Bill’s Western Store. It is right next door to Hoffbrau. It carries a wide range of cowboy boots, and other clothing items, and souveniers. The prices seem pretty decent, and check out the sales rack for some great finds.
Today we have a pinch-hit post courtesy of one of our readers, Kirk Peckham. A courier, Kirk worked the Yorkdale route where Carlos Delgado lived. One day when dropping off a package, Kirk struck up a conversation with Carlos about baseball. Carlos in turn gave Kirk passes to a Blue Jays game. Below is his story.
May 02, 2003 was the greatest day of my life. I had two guest passes from Carlos Delgado. Did I win a lottery? Was I rich or influential? The answer is no. I’m a simple guy who loves baseball that was at the right place at the right time.
I took my girlfriend Gilda to the game. She was unique in many ways. For one, she had dreams or premonitions that would come true. Truthfully, if she felt something good or bad was going to happen. It did. She deserved the privilege more than I did. At the time, she was suffering a painful, chronic illness.
3:30 pm. We arrived at The Skydome (now Rogers centre). Toronto was playing The Anaheim Angels. Anaheim won the World Series in 2002. We walked over to our gate and showed our passes to the ticket agent. The man smiled and told us to take the elevator down and we will be shown the way to the field. I was excited and in disbelief. I asked Gilda to pinch me. She laughed. We arrived at our level. The guy in the elevator told us to go to entrance number six and walk down to the field from there. It was still early and not crowded. A young girl at a beer booth was busy stocking up her fridge. We walked along the concrete corridor until we found Gate 6. Our descent to the field had begun. I could see the Angels were taking batting practice. A group of fans were in the first row trying to get autographs. Some of the Jays were throwing the ball near the dugout. We had to walk slowly because Gilda was ill and needed a cane. We were halfway down the bleachers when I noticed a lot of players and staff looking up at us. Finally, we made it to the entrance to the field. A young blonde woman looked at our passes and escorted us to The Blue Jays dugout. I felt like a kid again. Only I was walking through the biggest candy store in the world. We both sat down on the dugout bench. “I’ll let Carlos know you’re here,” she said. “Thank you,” I said, still taking it all in.
A few minutes later, Carlos entered the dugout. “He’s here,” I whispered to Gilda. We both stood up to greet him. He greeted Gilda and was in some shock when he saw her. She was pale, underweight, yet she hid her pain quite well. I smiled and shook his hand feverishly. Carlos sat down and talked to Gilda for a few minutes. I was busy looking around and soaking in everything that was happening around me. “So, how’s it going Kirk?” Carlos asked. I didn’t respond. “Kirk!” Gilda yelled. “Yes, oh sorry. What was the question?” Carlos laughed. “How’s it going?” “Good, but I feel numb.” “You’re numb,” he reiterated. “Did you bring a ball?” Carlos asked. “Yes, right here.” I reached in my pocket and gave it to him. “Sylvia, could you pass me a sharpie please?” Carlos asked politely. He autographed the ball. I walked over to Shannon Stewart and introduced myself. He autographed the ball. “You look like a ball player. Did you play?”, he asked. “Yeah.” “Whereabouts?” “The Bad News Bears mostly,” I expressed with a foolish smirk. Shannon almost fell off the bench.
Carlos went to grab one of his bats and walked over to Gilda. He signed the bat and presented it to her. He then gave me two tickets to the game. “Be careful of the foul balls,” he said looking at Gilda. “Don’t worry I’ll catch it.” I calmly said while holding my glove. “I hear you,” Carlos mentioned. Gilda took a card out of her purse and gave it to Carlos. “What’s this?” “A little something from us.” “Thank you,” he replied. “If you’ll both excuse me, I’m going to eat something. Enjoy the game.” He disappeared into the clubhouse.
A man who looked to be in his early sixties approached from the sidelines. He had a wide, stubby nose and his hair line receded. He was wearing dress pants, a blazer and a turtleneck. “Hi Tom!” I yelled over. I didn’t know Tom Cheek personally, but I recognized him as the voice of The Blue Jays. We introduced ourselves and talked about how great the game of baseball is. He was a gentle, honest and polite man. The players were coming off the field. I saw J.P walking over. I hooked him into the dugout too.
“I understand you’re from Boston,” I said.
“It’s a nice city.”
-“You’ve been there?
“Downtown. I was there for a convention.”
I felt like I was in an interview. “We’re guests of Carlos,” I told him. “What do you think of him as a player?” J.P asked eagerly. “He’s a great player.” “He’s going to do a lot for you,” Gilda said in a confident manner. J.P looked at her intently. “These three games will be a test for us because we’re playing the World Champs,” he proclaimed. “You’re going to beat them.” Gilda replied.
I picked out the card for Carlos. On the outside was a photograph of a boy about six years old sitting in the bleachers of an empty Old Tiger’s stadium. He was wearing a baseball cap and glove. On the inside I wrote:
Baseball: The greatest game:
Your slide home on a sac fly and the umpire yells, “safe!”
Your first hit after being called up
The crack of the bat after hitting the ball on the sweet zone
Eating a steamed hot dog and drinking an ice cold beer during the game
A young boy’s expression after a player gives a foul ball to him
A centre fielder’s gun of an arm that picks off the runner trying for second
The energy generated from a crowd of 50,000 fans during a playoff game
Reaching for the “gamer,” Rawlings M491B, 34 inch and 32 ounce bat.
Kirk and Gilda
We had seats directly behind home plate. It was the bottom of the first and a man on second and third. Carlos was up to bat. He looked up at me before he stepped into the batters box. Ball one. The second pitch he swung and missed. The third missed outside. Lackey set and fired. Carlos launched the ball into the upper deck. The crack of the bat echoed throughout the dome. The fans stood up and cheered. Those were the only runs the Jays needed to beat Anaheim 3-1. Players and coaches lined up to shake hands. Fans were leaving. As Carlos walked towards the dugout, he looked up at me again. I smiled and tipped my baseball hat to him. The Jays ended up sweeping The Angels.
Carlos went on to have one of the best years of his career. He had a .302 BA. He hit 42 Homeruns (2nd in the American League). .593 SLG. 145 RBIs (first in majors). On September 25, 2003 Carlos tied Lou Gehrig and Willie Mays for the most home runs in a game at 4. He came 2nd in American League MVP voting. He won the 2003 silver slugger award. And he was selected to the 2003 American League All-Star team. Not bad for a 31 year old player. I would argue that Bill James is wrong to say that a player’s best years are between the ages 25-29. Based on what happened that day I believe in the magic of baseball. Players have reasons to rely on some superstition and luck. It’s not just a numbers game. Carlos was traded in 2005. He never matched those numbers of 2003 again.
© Kirk Peckham 2010.
Kirk a freelance Writer. His day job is delivering and picking up packages. A published poet, Kirk co-wrote lyrics to a song that won “runner up” in VH-1 Song of The Year in two different categories for Oct/08-Oct/09-Dec/09. Kirk lives in Toronto and loves the game of baseball. Click on the link to email Kirk Peckham.
Minute Maid Park Review
Frequent commenter Tight PP recently took a road trip to Houston to see the Astros play in Minute Maid park. Pinch-hitting today for Mop Up Duty, you will find his review below.
Minute Maid Park, Houston Texas
I found myself in south Texas during Opening Week so I figured pop byy Houston for some NL baseball.
All I knew about MMP was what I had seen on MLB the Show for PS2. But it may now be the nicest park I have been to.
It is located on the edge of downtown – walking distance to hotels, restaurants, bars and the city transit train (like the one in Calgary). We walked a few blocks to Main St which is were the train runs and there are bars. Stopped at the Flying Saucer, a bar with about 300 beers, mostly American craft beers that taste like barf and oranges. From the quick look I had at the city it was very clean, and looked like it has a lot of money. No falling down skyscrapers like Cleveland and Detroit. Even caught an old blues man working a street corner.
We headed back to the Park around 6pm, and entered through Union Station. It looks like the area was once a train yard, and that has been put into the stadium with the Home Run Train, and names of the things in the park.
The concession stands have names like “Dining Car Grill” and “Union Station Favourites”. They mostly serve standard ball park fare, however there is a South/Texas touch with pulled pork, BBQ, fried chicken, Mexican and Margaritas etc. I did not try any so cannot make a comment on quality. The concourses are wide, bright, and they look nice.
Before the game we could head down to field level and try to get autographs with no hassle, even with upper deck tickets. Then wandered out to the outfield walkway in left field. The arches that support the retractable roof also allow fans to stand above the homerun line. Not only the roof moves, like at Skydome, but also the Left field wall. So when the roof is open it is not like you are sitting in a toilet bowl with the lid up, it is more like an open air stadium.
Our seats were in 2nd row of the upper deck above 1st base. $22 a seat and a great sight line. With the roof open you could look over the left field wall and see down town Houston.
The only downside to the park is the scoreboards. There is a video board in high centre field (which was somewhat damaged). Towards right field is 2 more scoreboards one which has the line ups and the other has ads. The bad thing is they are 1970’s style light bulb scoreboards. There was no replays and very little info given. Skydome gives so much more info on their banner boards. The out of town scoreboard is a hand flipped style in the left field wall.
This is one of the nicest park I have ever seen. It had great sight lines, was comfortable, nice to look at, great location, it is amazing how far retractable domes have come. I highly recommend it. Its also nice to see a stadium that isn’t being fake retro. I would like to see the domes in Arizona, Milwaukee and Seattle to see how the other new generation retractable roofs compare.
Also we had a presidential sighting, as Former President George Bush Sr, and Barbra Bush were put on the “Kiss Cam” as they sat behind home plate. Quick Peck.
Andy Thompson (Tight PP)
Ballpark Review with Tight PP – PNC Park
Wow, Pittsburgh was a nice change. After road trips to Detroit and Cleveland, Pittsburgh was a breath of fresh air…and if you have been near the lake in Cleveland you will appreciate some fresh air.