Mile high baseball

A review of Coors Field

Sunset at Coors Field

Despite its popularity lately, the practice of sports teams selling the naming rights to their home stadiums isn’t new. Usually there’s a tradeoff: the team gets a not insignificant influx of cash for the next few years which they can spend on players, stadium upgrades, or fancy cars for the executives, and in return the company providing the cash gets to name the stadium. The name is agreed upon beforehand, so there aren’t many outright disasters, but the results range from really good to slightly awkward. One of the best fits is Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, which, apart from sounding a bit braggy, doesn’t sound corporate at all even though it’s named after the Great American Insurance Group. One of the more awkward names, on the other hand, is Progressive Field in Cleveland. Like Great American, its named after an insurance company that’s based locally, but the name obviously doesn’t have the same ring to it, and it doesn’t help that Progressive Field went by Jacobs Field for the first 13 years of its life.

So maybe it’s the fact that Coors Field has never known any other name, or maybe the Coors commercials on TV are that effective at equating the Rocky Mountains with their brand, but the name Coors Field is a perfect fit for the home of the Colorado Rockies, in Denver, CO. I recently had the opportunity to visit Denver to attend Gophercon, and there was no way I was leaving Denver without visiting Coors Field. My review is after the break.

Of movies and music

My top ten favorite film scores of all time

Composer Hans Zimmer (front) performing his score for Inception in a live show. Credit: Peter "Oso" Snell / Warner Bros. Source

Composer Hans Zimmer (front) performing his score for Inception in a live show. Credit: Peter “Oso” Snell / Warner Bros. Source

Composer Hans Zimmer (front) performing his score for Inception in a live show. Credit: Peter "Oso" Snell / Warner Bros. Source

Composer Hans Zimmer (front) performing his score for Inception in a live show. Credit: Peter “Oso” Snell / Warner Bros. Source

In an interview that’s included in the Back to the Future DVD special features, Bob Gale, one of the writers and producers of the trilogy, recounted a story of his co-writer and director Robert Zemeckis giving instructions to the film’s composer. As Gale tells it, Zemeckis said this to the film’s composer, Alan Silvestri:

I don’t have a lot of money, I don’t have a lot of really big images on the screen in Back to the Future 1, so make the music really big, so that it’ll make the movie seem bigger than it really is.

And as Bob Gale later judged: “Alan delivered that in spades.” The idea that a great film score can make a movie sound bigger or more epic than it really is is nothing new, but while the three Back to the Future movies are hardly the first examples of movies that take advantage of it, they’re still really good examples of movies that are allowed to be augmented in scope and altered in tone by a great film score. In other words, viewers feel the way they do about Back to the Future at least partially because of its score, and if there were no score, or it was a different score, your memories of the film would probably be totally different.

I guess I’ve always at least heard the score, and as I got older I occasionally noticed it enough to appreciate the big moments, particularly if the score was loud or bombastic. But in the last few years, I’ve taken to listening to film scores by themselves, while working or driving or running, and now I go into theaters listening for the score. I’ve seen a lot of movies and heard a lot of scores, and in the spirit of full disclosure, there aren’t very many that I actively dislike. But I do like some more than others, and so I’ve tried to narrow down my favorites to a top ten list. Try to stay awake (just kidding, hopefully) as I share my top ten favorite movie scores after the break.

Once more, with feeling

A preview of the 2015 Cleveland Indians

Progressive Field

Going into the 2015 season, the bad news for the Cleveland Indians is that the renovations to their 21-year old ballpark might not be complete by the home opener. It was a historically cold winter in northeast Ohio, and despite the conservative planning and scheduling and the best efforts of the construction crews, the renovations to Progressive Field fell a little behind and it might end up being too much ground to make up this late in the offseason.

The good news is that Progressive Field is really the Tribe’s biggest question mark, which is refreshing because for the Indians that’s pretty abnormal. It seems like most offseasons feature a lot of roster turnover, some low-risk but nominal free agent signings, and at least a couple roster slots that are open for competition if not completely up in the air. But this year, the Indians will enter the season with their 2014 team largely intact: there were no major departures and there was only one major arrival in Brandon Moss. This is a team that won 85 games last season in one of the league’s more competitive divisions, so the fact that it’s mostly the same team returning is a really good thing. In fact, I think this is the best the Indians have looked going into a season in a long time, and with any luck, Tribe fans will be in for a fun summer and maybe even a fun October.

Ten days in Bhutan

Thimpu from above

They tell you that the landing is a doozy. They tell you that the task of landing an Airbus A319 on a small airstrip in the middle of the Himalayas is so difficult that only a handful of pilots in the world can do it. They tell you that even in this world of modern air travel, where a commercial airliner is able to perform all but the last thirty seconds of the landing all on its own, that landing at this particular airstrip is so challenging that the pilots are in control for the last quarter hour of the flight.

I had watched YouTube videos of the approach and landing beforehand, and I thought I knew what to expect. In most of the videos, the plane appeared to make a sharp left turn at about 500 feet off the ground before landing a few seconds later. I said before that only a handful of pilots in the world are qualified to make this landing, and obviously they are skilled and well-practiced because they make this approach two or three times a week. But it’s pretty abnormal for a commercial airliner to perform a turn that drastic that late in the approach; park outside almost any airport in the United States or abroad and you’ll see a long line of jets coming in on a straight approach for each of the runways. Approaches are designed like this intentionally: they’re safer, more fuel efficient, and just generally simpler to execute.

But sometimes, and in some places, like Paro, Bhutan, the straight and simple approach just isn’t possible. And going into that landing I thought I knew what I was getting into for that last 30 seconds in the air. But it’s not just the last 30 seconds that are exciting. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but I was: the entire approach, from 33,000 feet down to the ground (a balmy 7,333 feet in Paro) is just as exciting as the final touchdown. Weaving through mountain ranges and valleys, over crystal clear rivers and idyllic settlements, you even pass by a house perched on a mountain ridge at about eye level with the plane (imagine living there and seeing jets fly by your window like that every day). And when you finally land, you realize that you didn’t even notice the crazy left turn. The whole experience sort of blends together in an unforgettable fashion.

That’s how I felt about my trip to Bhutan as a whole. It never felt like a series of moments, but instead an interconnected and unforgettable experience. And so while the following are only snapshots of my time there, they’re not the only moments that mattered, but some of the stories and the experiences I remember most vividly.

If it bleeds, it leads

The best movies of 2014

Interstellar

Happy New Year! It’s now 2015, but before we get too far into the new year it’s worth looking back at 2014, which was another great year for movies. It was another year of sequels and sequels to the sequels (Expendables 3, The Hobbit Part 3, Transformers 4, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), but it was also a year showcasing directors at the top of their craft (Gone Girl‘s David Fincher and Interstellar‘s Christopher Nolan). We also had two Liam Neeson movies (Non-Stop and A Walk Among The Tombstones) as well as two other Liam Neeson movies with different actors playing Liam Neeson (The November Man and John Wick). It was harder this year than most to choose a top five, so I’ll also include some honorable mentions before getting down to business. And as a warning, I did my best, but there may be some minor spoilers ahead. So read on, with caution, after the jump.

A life fully lived

Uncle Jim and I

Last August, the world was stunned and horrified when it learned that actor and comedian Robin Williams had committed suicide. Any death is sad, and any celebrity death brings some amount of news coverage, but this one seemed to bring even more than usual because of the suddenness and shocking nature of his death. Regular programming was interrupted for breaking news and wall-to-wall coverage stretched into the next morning. His motive wasn’t immediately clear, and so speculation continued throughout the week on what might have caused Williams to take his own life. Makeshift memorials sprouted up all over the country at sites from his popular movies. Popular lines from his movies were quoted and repeated on social media, and people usually included an anecdote on how Williams or his movies affected them. But when I first heard the news, I didn’t think of his movies or his comedy. I thought of my uncle Jim.

The mecca of cheesesteaks

A review of Citizens Bank Park

Those clouds you see over the stadium have been hanging over the Phillies all season.

Those clouds you see over the stadium have been hanging over the Phillies all season.

Those clouds you see over the stadium have been hanging over the Phillies all season.

Those clouds you see over the stadium have been hanging over the Phillies all season.

In many ways, the style of Citizens Bank Park is a mix of the old and the new. On one hand, the stadium is situated a few miles outside of downtown Philadelphia, adjacent to Lincoln Financial Field and Wells Fargo Arena, and follows the cookie-cutter era strategy of placing the ballparks outside the town itself. That strategy provides easier access and parking, but tends to make the ballpark feel isolated from the city and its unique culture. On the other hand, Citizens Bank Park is actually one of the newer stadiums in the league, built in 2004 in the retro-modern style made popular by Camden Yards. Once you’re inside, the ballpark is immersive enough that it’s pretty easy to forget that you’re actually a few miles outside of Philadelphia.

I made my first visit to Citizens Bank Park this past Tuesday night. It was the 14th park I’ve visited (12th active), and I’ve now visited every park on the eastern seaboard except the two stadiums in Florida. My review of Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, is after the break.

Halfway

The unexpected first half of the 2014 Cleveland Indians

Progressive Field

The Indians opened the unofficial second half of their season last night with a comeback 9-3 win over the Tigers. The Indians started the second half at 47-47, and despite the fact that 47-47 is only .500 and only good enough for third place, I think I’m mostly relieved, if not pleasantly surprised, at what the Indians have managed to make of their season so far. The Tribe aren’t out of it by any means, and if they’re able to reverse some of the problems they’ve had in the first half, we’ll be well on our way to another October run.

The dawn

New teammates

On this day four years ago, I wrote a post in the aftermath of The Decision. I recalled how bizarre the whole experience was, and how unfun it was to see your team and your city excoriated on national TV. I wrote that I liked Dan Gilbert’s letter, even if it was a little childish, because the people of Cleveland needed someone speaking for them that night. I made the point that it wasn’t that he left, because I couldn’t really blame him for that, but the fact that he did it on national TV that made it such a ruthless betrayal.

Something to build on

A preview of the 2014 Cleveland Indians

The Indians at Progressive Field

This past Christmas, my parents gave me a board game called Ticket to Ride. The game begins with you choosing up to three route cards, which become your mission for the rest of the game: it becomes your job to build a network of railroads across the United States that fulfill each of your route cards. You can only build track between certain cities, and your opponents may be competing for similar sections of the same route. But at the beginning of the game, everything is wide open and you’re starting from scratch. It’s a little intimidating at first because it’s not clear which segments will be in most demand and what your opponents are trying to do. But as the game progresses, you start to build your own little rail network. Most of the time, you’re able to finish your initial route cards and so you take more. But with your new routes, you usually have something to build on. For example, you might have had New York to Los Angeles as an initial route and a new route is Chicago to Boston. If you built your New York-LA route through Chicago, then you only need to connect New York and Boston and you’ve fulfilled another route, and you get the same amount of points even though you had to do very little additional work.

At the end of the game, everyone shows the routes they’ve fulfilled and the ones they failed to fulfill, and they add up their points. And then you declare a winner, and the game just sort of…ends. For me at least, it’s sort of a letdown. Playing again seems exhausting, because you’d have to start all over again, and you feel like you’d rather have kept going with the network of tracks you already have built.

That’s the same feeling I had at the end of the 2013 Cleveland Indians season. The Indians had made an improbable run, capped off by a ridiculous September where they went 21-6 and ended the season on a 10-game win streak. It was enough to capture the top Wild Card seed, and earn home-field advantage for a one-game playoff against the Tampa Bay Rays on October 2nd. But baseball is a tricky game, and even though the Indians were as hot as any team in the league going into that game, they came out flat against the Rays and failed to advance to the division series. Just like that, the season was over. Back to an empty board.

A lot went right for the Indians last year. The 2013 Indians had a Pythagorean win expectation of 0.553, which was only slightly below their actual win percentage (0.568) and means the Indians should only have won 2 less games (although it should be noted that those 2 wins were the difference between a Wild Card spot and not). But they were 10-2 in extra innings, which is somewhat indicative of a strong bullpen but mostly just means they got lucky. And outside of those basic statistics, the Indians got better-than-expected production: from Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who were were both as good we could have hoped; from the bullpen, who proved to be remarkably durable despite some bad performances by Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez; and from the offense, with contributions from journeymen like Mark Reynolds and Ryan Raburn as well as the ageless Jason Giambi.

In 2014, the Indians won’t have Jimenez or Kazmir, they won’t have Chris Perez, and they’ll be relying on bounceback years from Vinnie Pestano and Asdrubal Cabrera as well as repeated success from Ryan Raburn and Jason Giambi. After that ridiculously long introduction, I’ll break down the Indians’ chances after the break.