Monday, May 30, 2011

Quaker State Double Double-Header

or, 36 Innings in 36 Hours

My buddy Kevin and I could have seen 51 innings of baseball last Tuesday and Wednesday.  However incredible that prospect, we stuck to the planned itinerary, which still included two games each day.  Taking advantage of early weekday game times marketed to school groups, we were able to take in the "double double-header" and still have some time to explore the byways of southeastern Pennsylvania and ... well, if it wasn't for the crazy "Twelve-Mile Circle," Wilmington would be part of the commonwealth too.

Our first game was between the Gwinnett Braves and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.  Both went into the game leading their divisions, with the home team playing solid .600 ball.  It was raining lightly as we arrived for the 10:35 start, delaying the game for about a half-hour.

Jose Contreras (right, and a righty) made a rehab start for the IronPigs and threw 20 pitches over two innings.  He allowed just a single before being relieved by Nate Bump (which is a great baseball name, albeit one from the first half of the last century) who took the loss in the 6-3 defeat.

The Braves' victory was powered by Stefan Gartrell.  The team scored two runs in the third, fifth and seventh innings and in each case the big right-fielder hit a double, collecting four RBI.  Credit the little left-fielder, Jose Constanza, for getting on three times so Gartrell could drive him in.  Down by five with three outs left, the porkers woke up.  Three singles, a walk and a wild pitch brought two men home.  That was too little, too late, but it gave the crowd something to briefly get excited about.

Box Score
MiLB Recap

Speaking of pigs, Kevin and I had a laugh at some of the hand-drawn player portraits displayed on the scoreboard the first time through the line-up.  Several were suitably porcine in appearance.  (To enlarge picture, click on it below and then click on it again; sorry Jeff.)

Somewhat like Daylight Savings Time, we got the half-hour rain delay back at the end of the game because it was shortened to seven innings, the front half of a double-header to make up for the previous night's rain-out.  Kevin and I discussed adding another game to the four already planned, which did have a crazy appeal.

Instead, we stuck to the itinerary and headed west on I-78 to Shartlesville, home since 1941 to the roadside attraction, Roadside America, a scale model of town and country.  (This is not to be confused with, the essential "online guide to offbeat tourist attractions" like Roadside America.)

We spent about an hour at Roadside America, pausing our circumnavigation when night fell over the miniature world and a patriotic sound and light show took us back to the simpler time and place depicted in the model, unchanged since 1961.

We turned south next, continuing past Reading to Stoudt's Brewery, in Adamstown.  Carol and Eddie Stoudt were among the first craft brewers on the east coast and excel at German styles.  We directed our attention to the seasonal brews.  Kevin had the Karnival Kölsch, which is hand-pulled, and I had the Blond Double Maibock.  We left with a growler of the Heifer-in-Wheat, a Bavarian-style Hefeweizen that won a gold medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival.  The bartender made the claim that Stoudt's has won more GABF medals than any other brewery.

Going to and coming from Stoudt's we passed a place called Boehringer's with a packed parking lot.  What I have read since increases my disappointment that we did not have time to have dinner there.  As it was, we had just enough time to check into the motel (refrigerate our beer) and get to our Tuesday evening game; the Trenton Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the Yankees, and the Reading Phillies.

Both starters pitched well but the sharper of the two took the loss.  Shaeffer Hall gave up five hits, struck out four and walked none in six scoreless innings, earning the win for Trenton.  Austin Hyatt struck out eight in five innings and allowed only three hits, but one was a dozy.  In the third inning, Corbin Joseph ("Number Two, Number Twoo-o-o.") walked and Austin Romine singled to left.  Then Cody Johnson hit a home run that not only went over the wall, didn't just clear the pool and picnic area, but soared above the Reading Eagle sign on top of the outer wall and on to Centre Avenue.  Some consolation, I suppose, for a guy who had 59 strike-outs in 125 at bats going into the game.

The Thunder tacked on insurance runs in the seventh and eighth.  In the bottom of the eighth, former major leaguer Warner Madrigal served up Cody Overbeck's league-leading 13th home run.  The dinger wiped the goose-egg off the scoreboard but was the R-Phil's only runs in the 5-2 loss.  In his game coverage for the Eagle, Mike Drago noted the first baseman's 13th round-trip came in the 42nd game of the season, which was when current Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard hit his 13th for Reading, seven years earlier.

Box Score
MiLB Recap

Over the years, I had heard great things about FirstEnergy née Municipal Stadium, which Baseball America named in 2009 the third best ballpark in the country.  Opened in 1951, the current ownership has made regular improvements to the ballpark, the oldest in the Eastern League.  The centerpiece of the 2010/2011 renovation is the VIST Financial Plaza, an 81-foot long food court and performance space.  It is beautiful; in fact, the entire stadium is—an elegant melding of old and new.

The food itself disappointed.  Kevin got a "churger"—a chicken patty, burger and cheese sandwich—that he found dry and undistinguished.  My cheesesteak fell apart on first bite.  Carrot, Cauliflower, Lettuce and Broccoli were the contestants in the obligatory stadium foot-race, giving me the sudden urge to call any vegetable, call it by name.  Benjamin Hill has a sweet video of Broccoli on

The game was quick (2:34) and over a little after 9:00 so we went looking for The Pagoda, 886 feet above Reading in the Mount Penn Reserve.  The directions I had were from the motel, intended for an afternoon visit, but the icon wasn't too hard to find—we just kept driving uphill until we saw red light through the trees.

We returned to our motel and drank the Hefeweizen.  All three of the beers we had were excellent.  In these hop-heavy times it was a pleasure to drink lighter brews that still have a lot of character.

We broke our fast with an oh-so-tasty assortment of complimentary baked goods and cold cereal, then hit the road for Wilmington.  I had budgeted a little extra time in case we hit commuter traffic and when we did not, Kevin and I toured the redevelopment along the Christina River.  Where once stood acres of shipyards is now a smattering of new housing, numerous chain and independent restaurants, a couple museums (rear of the Delaware Children's Museum below), several performance spaces, a convention center and Frawley Stadium, home of the Wilmington Blue Rocks.  It was all so overtly planned and very sterile on a Wednesday morning, but I bet locally it is considered a success.

The Blue Rocks were the host for Wednesday's early game, against the Frederick Keys.  Neither are affiliated with the Phillies, being the High-A Carolina League clubs for the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles, respectively.

This looked to be a contest between well-matched pitchers.  Oliver Drake for the Keys, recorded 31 strike-outs in 34.2 innings, while walking only seven.  He allowed 31 hits in his six starts and one relief appearance but had not yet given up a home run.  Tyler Sample, starting for the Blue Rocks, had a higher ratio of strike-outs to walks and innings pitched, and hitters had gone long on him three times.  Nonetheless, his 2.45 ERA was marginally better than Drake's 2.60.  Their performances were true to the stats.  Drake recorded ten strike-outs and no walks in 7.1 innings.  Sample struck out three, walked as many and allowed six hits in just four innings.

The first third of the Frederick line-up—Steven Bumbry, Bobby Stevens and Tyler Townsend—went a collective eight for 13 and scored four of the team's five runs.  Wilmington scored once in the third and once in the fifth but always trailed and after seven innings, Kevin was wondering if we were a curse upon the home team wherever we went.  But then the Rocks hit three singles, a double and a sacrifice fly and tied it up in the bottom of the eighth.  One inning later, a double, sac' bunt and wild pitch broke the tie, 6-5.  Sean Gleason had his second blown save and loss of the season.  Kevin reconsidered that we might only be a curse to teams affiliated with the Phillies.

Box Score
MiLB Recap

The highlight of the Wilmington game was meeting Rex and Coco.  He is host of the "Fool's Paradise" radio show on "the fun ninety-one, W-F-M-U-U-u," which is damn cool by itself.  But what really got my attention was Coco telling me she has been to over 200 stadiums and Rex has been going to games around the country for 25 years.  They seemed amused by how awestruck I was.

Above, Rex has a "victory t-shirt," tossed to fans after a home win, and the game-winning ball.  He is also wearing a Rocky Bluewinkle cap while Coco sports a Mr. Celery topper.  Rex informed me the Blue Rocks bought a used popcorn machine and the Mr. Celery costume unexpectedly came with it.  A star, as they say, was born.

Kevin and I had a late lunch at the original 1956 Charcoal Pit on the Concord Pike, which appeared in several online and printed guides.  Zagat's reports, "'Generations' of Delawareans wax 'nostalgic' about this '50s' 'malt-shop' mini-chain, where 'there's nothing better' than a 'black-and-white' shake, burger, fries and maybe a 'mammoth sundae'...."  The fries were under-cooked, the burger juicy but not a particularly interesting grind of meat.  On the way out, a waitress confided she recommends ordering a sundae first and getting a hamburger to go.  That tells me what you really go to the Charcoal Pit for, although the waitress claims her advice is based simply on what travels best.

When Rex heard Kev' and I were off to Philadelphia, he suggested we go to the Mütter Museum, which made him seem even more the kindred spirit since that was in fact our next destination.  Once a collection used to teach medical students, it is now "a museum of a museum," explaining how the specimens and models were used.

photograph courtesy of Seven Morris through Creative Commons license

We wanted to bring hoagies from Sarcone's Deli with us to our last game, at Citizens Bank Park, but ran out of time.  Our fallback was the Tony Luke's stand inside the stadium.  However, the line stretched from left field to the foul pole and did so well into the game.  Kevin and I ended up having cheese steaks, which were about as satisfying as most third choices are.

I almost hate mentioning we were at Wednesday's Phillies' game against the Reds—at 6:11 and 19 innings the longest game of the season to date—because inevitably I have to disclose that, no, we did not stay until the end.  The whole game was a fairly low-key affair.  OF Ben Francisco hit a homer in the first, driving in SS Jimmy Rollins to put the Phillies on the board.  OF John Mayberry picked up an RBI in the next inning when he singled and C Carlos Ruiz, who had doubled, came around, extending the lead.

Roy Halliday looked like he was laboring.  OF Drew Stubbs got a single for Cincinnati in the fifth.  He stole second and scored on a Joey Votto (1B) single but Halliday induced two ground outs to limit the damage.  He was less lucky in the seventh.  After singles by PH Miguel Cairo and Stubbs, he walked Votto intentionally only to have OF Jay Bruce single to tie the score 3-3.

In the tenth, Bruce hit a lead-off home run off Antonio Bastardo, the fourth Phillies pitcher of the night.  Phillies 1B Ryan Howard, also the lead-off batter, responded with a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the inning.  Cinci' looked like they might win the game in the eleventh.  It took three Phillies pitchers (collectively) to hit a batter and walked three but a pick-off and a ground-out left kept the game tied, 4-4.

Kevin and I left at the bottom of the inning, 36 hours after we arrived at the IronPigs game.  The two extra innings here made up for the short game at Lehigh Valley.  Leaving before the end may have been just as well.  In the next 7.5 innings we would have seen only three singles, two walks and a hit-batter.  Of course, if we had stayed we could brag we were there when 2B Wilson Valdez became the first position player in over a decade to be a winning pitcher, and the first since Babe Ruth (October 1, 1921) to start in the field and record a win.

Box Score

We were able to listen to the game as far as the Joyce Kilmer Service Area, or some time in the 15th inning, depending on how it's measured.  I made great time getting home: two-and-a-half hours after we left our seats, I had dropped Kevin off at his place and found a parking space good for the rest of the week.  As I turned off the engine, the Reds and Phillies were going into the bottom of the 18th, still tied.

This was a great trip: manageable driving, lots of baseball, a couple great stadiums in Reading and Philadelphia, interesting attractions between games, some good food options.  With four games in two days, we didn't get to fully explore the restaurants and attractions but that just means this itinerary, or a variation, should be repeated.  Hey! The Eastern League all-star game is in Reading next year!

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