Thursday, June 30, 2011

East from Omaha

It pains me to say this, but the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa, is a real disappointment. For starters, it’s quite small and surprisingly filled with things other than Feller memorabilia—pictures of other baseball players who have visited the museum, for example, and autographed football helmets. There is no clear overview of Feller’s life or career—you wouldn’t know when he was born or when he died or even, as Rob pointed out, that he died. You don’t see his lifetime stats or any other detailed assessment of his career. There is a lot of ephemera—some of it charming—and a lot of material related to Feller’s three no-hitters. But then there’s the extensive display of baseballs signed by “Hall of Fame Players.” Never mind that decidedly non-Hall-bound players like .404 career slugger Jim Eisenreich are amply represented—what is Barbara Bush doing in there?

Feh. Despite our love of Feller, this was a waste of time and money—and to say that something of even nominal interest in Iowa is boring is both sad and damning.

New and Improved in Omaha

On Tuesday we visited the destination around which the whole trip was structured, and as it turned out, got a bonus game as consolation for being inconvenienced when the start time was changed.  As Melvin noted back in February, we went to Omaha in 2004 to see the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.  This year we drove across Illinois and Iowa to see Werner Park, the new home for the team now called the Omaha Storm Chasers.

The game, against the Memphis Redbirds, was originally planned as the second half of a day-night double-header, with the early game between the Iowa Cubs and Albuquerque Isotopes.  However, the Storm Chasers changed their game to noon and we had to shuffle the second, third and fourth days of the trip.  In the process, we were also able to see the last game of the men’s NCAA College World Series, a two-game sweep by the Gamecocks of South Carolina over the Florida Gators.  The CWS was also played this year in a new stadium, TD Ameritrade Park.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Environmental Determinism

“I don’t know if you know,” said our new young friend from Albuquerque, “but Des Moines is pretty much the meth capital of America.”

I didn’t mention that we have been under the impression that among minor-league towns that title belongs to Bakersfield or perhaps Lancaster, California. Des Moines seemed pretty congenial to us, but that might just have been the lingering effects of our pregame sojourn at El Bait Shop, which prides itself on having more than 100 craft beers on tap—though the first six or so that I ordered were all mysteriously unavailable.

“We printed the beer lists at the beginning of June,” said our diffident bartender as I floundered from one allegedly available oddity to the next. On reflection, though, this was the one moment of the day where we were living, however tenuously, in the future—or at least in uncharted territory. The rest of the day was pleasant proof of the truism that the Midwest is somewhat behind the times.

Pelicans, Pittsburgh, and Public Relations

File:Pelican lakes entrance02.jpg
Australian pelican, via Wikimedia Commons

[Joe the Lawyer, our man in Myrtle Beach—at least temporarily—joins us as a contributor]

What do Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jung Bong, Tim Spooneybarger, and Crash Davis share? Give up? They all did some time (whether real or imagined) with the now Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Let me unpack that for you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Playing in Peoria

Whether expressed as a question, "Will it play in Peoria?," or an assertion, "It will play in Peoria," this city on the Illinois River, mid-way between Chicago and St. Louis, has become a metaphor for mainstream America.  Did we take a wrong turn?  What the heck were Melvin and I doing there?

Watching the Peoria Chiefs play baseball, which they do 70 games a year (barring cancellations not made up at a later date).  We saw the Chiefs take on the Kane County Cougars on Sunday, which the team decreed Sesame Street Day, "dedicated to the street where you can come and play and everything is A-OK!"

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mavericks, Bruins, Cyclones

I know when the season begins for the teams in the New York-Penn League, one of the two "Short Season-A" leagues in Minor League Baseball.  (The other is the Northwest League.)  When Melvin told me about the conference in April, probably some time in 2009, my first thought was, 'We'll miss the Lowell Spinners because their season won't have begun yet.'  Even so, it is easy to forget about the short-season teams.  By the time they start playing, the major league teams have completed 40 percent of their seasons.

Among friends and acquaintances, I am known as that guy who goes to minor league baseball games.  As him, I get asked often, "When do the Cyclones start playing?"  Late-June is my standard answer, but in the days leading up to Monday night's game in Coney Island, the fourth of the season, I realized there is a new way to remember.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Big Post

I don't have a lot to say about the finale of the Cubs / Yankees game that you can't pick up from the standard media reports. But Watson and I did see a lot more of this post than we did of either team's infielders. Isn't it handsome?

As you will have read elsewhere, former Cub Joe Girardi was politely cheered, Russell Martin got clonked in the head by an Aramis Ramirez backswing, a fight broke out behind the Cubs dugout, and there was a need for those vomit-covering pink granules on the concourse. That last bit probably didn't make the news, but it was probably something you could have intuited anyway. Also, A-Rod is still essentially a jerk.

The game—and the series for that matter—was a lot closer than I think many people expected. The Cubs hit CC Sabathia well in the early going and led going into the sixth. But youth, inexperience, and lackadaisical defense will lose out to a three-run homer from Nick Swisher in the eighth every time.

Still, the Yankees looked less than imposing—they won this one far more on the overexcited defense of Starlin Castro and the rawness of reliever Chris Carpenter than they did on their own merits. I called them for a third-place finish this year and see no reason to change that yet.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Content Is King

Things have been a little slow here, it's true, which is weird since we're in the heart of the season now. But there's much in the works. So while Rob is looking backward, here's a quick rundown of upcoming games and posts:

* A guest post from Our Man in Myrtle Beach on his night at the Pelicans and his week in white-trash purgatory
* A couple local games—on Sunday, Watson and I will be at the third Cubs / Yankees game, in which Derek Jeter will not get his 3,000 hit or miss yet another entirely fieldable grounder. Then, on Monday, Rob will catch the Brooklyn Cyclones and Aberdeen IronBirds, in which someone will do something.
* A weeklong sojourn in Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska, starting June 26, in which we'll see (home teams listed first):

  • Peoria Chiefs / Kane County Cougars
  • Clinton LumberKings / Beloit Snappers
  • Iowa Cubs / Albuquerque Isotopes and Omaha Storm Chasers / Memphis Redbirds (a two-city, two-state doubleheader)
  • Sioux City Explorers / Sioux Falls Pheasants
  • Cedar Rapids Kernels / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
  • Burlington Bees / Peoria Chiefs
  • Quad Cities River Bandits / Clinton LumberKings
  • Chicago Cubs / Chicago White Sox and Kane County Cougars / Quad Cities River Bandits (another doubleheader)
  • A possible bonus game in Beloit—Snappers / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

That will finish off the north-central U.S. for us, I think—at least among nonindependent teams. Places like Fargo, Sioux Falls, and Lincoln will have to wait for when we're cleaning up the last dregs in... um... 2025?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Long Footnote

Infinite Jest, by the late David Foster Wallace, came up con- versationally on our recent southwest trip.  Norton proposed the possibility of reading the novel but skipping the copious footnotes1.  Melvin and I replied immediately that was not possible.

A couple weeks ago I went on the "Quaker State Double Double-Header."2  It reminded me of two similar trips I took in 2008.  And back in April I recalled Melvin's and my trip that year to Texas.  So, this post is essentially a long compound footnote to those earlier ones, a "completeist" accounting of my short trips and local games three years ago.  Unlike the footnotes in Infinite Jest, however, the following may be skipped.