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Indoor baseball

A review of Tropicana Field

Tropicana Field

When my sister and I were growing up, during our summer breaks, we and our more more adventurous babysitters would play a game we invented called indoor baseball. It was a game born out of necessity. When the weather was nice, Katie and I both preferred to spend our days out of the house, with most of my days devoted to baseball in my front yard or a front yard nearby. But northeast Ohio isn’t without its share of rainy summer days, and those days forced Katie and I indoors. Our screen time (TV, computer, etc.) was limited, there are only so many hiding places in the house for hide and seek, and you can only play so many hands of poker with my sister before you get sick of her declaring a royal flush every single time, so indoor baseball was born out of a collective necessity for us to find something to do, and a personal necessity to feed my baseball obsession.

The usual teams were Katie and the babysitter versus me. Our family room was an L-shaped room at the time, and we’d set up the field in the long end of the L with left field being the rest of the L. Everyone had to start on their knees, and whoever was pitching would kneel out near second and roll a Nerf ball towards the plate. The batter would sort of slide the plastic bat towards the ball, and then both the fielders and batter could stand up to field and run the bases. Because the distance between the bases was about eight feet, we moved the force play to second base, so the batter had to make it all the way to second before he was safe. Two fielders was more than enough to cover the whole field adequately, and the batting team got unlimited imaginary baserunners to keep the runs flowing across the plate. We’d usually play a few innings with a run rule in each inning, so the games lasted no longer than a half hour or so.

We both enjoyed indoor baseball, but it goes without saying that I knew this wasn’t real baseball; it was just something to do to pass the time until I could play real baseball again. And I feel like players at the professional level must have a similar feeling, that they must think of real baseball as a sport that’s played outside, on grass, under a sky and whatever might be falling from it. Thankfully, there’s less professional baseball played indoors now than there’s been in more than 40 years: only two teams play on an artificial surface, and only one of those teams plays all its games indoors. That one team is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, whose home ballpark happened to be the nearest MLB stadium that I haven’t visited yet. I honestly wasn’t that excited about seeing Tropicana Field, because while it’s name is admittedly excellent product placement, it has a reputation for being run-down, bland, and indoors. But the quest is to see all thirty stadiums, not just the good ones, so last weekend I decided to drive down to Tampa to check out Tropicana Field. And despite its reputation and my strong beliefs that baseball is an outdoor sport, I enjoyed Tropicana Field more than I thought I would. My review is after the break.

Sizing up an unforgettable 2010 season

Jim Thome was a big part of why the Twins repeated in the AL Central.

Jim Thome was a big part of why the Twins repeated in the AL Central.

The summers always seem to fly by faster now that I’m working through them rather than relaxing, and while it seems like just yesterday that the 2010 Major League Baseball season was getting underway, Sunday marked the last day of the regular season. Crazy. It must be the odd-numbered years: in 2007 and 2009, I picked the World Series champions before the season started; in 2006, 2008, and 2010, I picked teams that didn’t even make the playoffs, with my pick this year, the Cardinals, starting strong but unable to hang on down the stretch.

I shouldn’t really be surprised though: the 2010 season was unforgettable in many ways. 2010 saw an unprecedented 5 no-hitters in the same season, including 2 perfect games within the span of a month. The only reason there wasn’t 6 no-hitters and 3 perfect games was the famous botched 27th out call on June 2nd, where Jim Joyce called Indians shortstop Jason Donald safe on what would have been the 27th and final out of the perfect game, admitting later that he blew the call. 2010 saw the rise of Jose Bautista, the return of Jim Thome, and a legitimate Triple Crown race in the National League between Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, and Joey Votto.

2010 also saw a return to the postseason of two teams who have each had long droughts: the Texas Rangers, whose last appearance was in 1999, and the Cincinatti Reds, whose last appearance was in 1995. The Rays, Braves and the Giants also return to the playoffs after shorter droughts, while the Yankees, Twins, Phillies return. My review of the 2010 season, as well as my preview of October 2010, otherwise known as the Major League Baseball playoffs, after the jump.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

Like every winter, I’m anxious for this one to end. Not particularly because it’s been cold here in Columbia, SC, but because the end of winter means the beginning of baseball season. Pitchers and catchers for many teams reported to Spring Training today, and while the Indians aren’t required to report until next week, many of them are in Arizona already preparing for the upcoming season.

Which is why, when I read the title of this article, I smiled a bit and started to read.

Wake me up when September ends

Albert Pujols

Today is August 27th, which means football season is nearly upon us. More importantly, though, we’re just over a month away from the baseball postseason. It’s been a pretty odd season (actually, it’s been a pretty odd month of that season), so I figured I could look back at my predictions from before spring training and see how they’re stacking up. In fact, I’ll be classy about this and get started…wait for it…after the jump! (I’ve always wanted to say that.)

The park that started it all

Last Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. Completed in 1992, Camden Yards started a revolution in baseball: gone were the character-free, soulless, utilitarian stadiums of the sixties and seventies; Camden Yards ushered in a new era of baseball-only facilities that were designed to meld with the cities they inhabited, have some character of their own, and be a treat to attend.

Outside the stadium, behind the center field scoreboard. The iconic warehouse is on the left.

Outside the stadium, behind the center field scoreboard. The iconic warehouse is on the left.

Outside the stadium, behind the center field scoreboard. The iconic warehouse is on the left.

Outside the stadium, behind the center field scoreboard. The iconic warehouse is on the left.

The stadium is situated just a few blocks from Baltimore’s iconic inner harbor and really in the heart of downtown (much like Progressive Field). Upon getting to the game, Katie, my dad and I received complimentary Aubrey Huff T-shirts.

Wide open concourses, and a very similar feel to Progressive Field.

Wide open concourses, and a very similar feel to Progressive Field.

Wide open concourses, and a very similar feel to Progressive Field.

Wide open concourses, and a very similar feel to Progressive Field.

The concourses are incredibly similar to Progressive Field in that they feel very wide open, a sharp contrast to all of the older stadiums. One difference is that Progressive Field opted for concourses almost twice as wide but added a merchants row in the middle of the concourse, making two somewhat smaller concourses. The upper deck at Progressive Field has only the one row, which is similar to Camden Yards on each of its decks. I liked Camden Yards’ approach, but I think I prefer Progressive Field’s lower deck because you are able to walk around the entire lower deck without missing a pitch.

We got to our seats in the lower deck and enjoyed this view:

Camden Yards

With the exception that I wasn’t able to get a nice wide-angle shot of the whole field, the seats were excellent. We enjoyed the game, some high-priced but substantial snacks, and the Orioles ended up winning. Overall, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, much like its contemporary, gets a 9 out of 10. If you’re interested in all the pictures I took, they’re available here.

Opening night

Right now, I’m sitting on my couch in my apartment, waiting for the TV to switch from SportsCenter to Baseball Tonight to the very first pitch of the season. It’s the Phillies vs. the Braves, which isn’t a matchup I have much interest in, but baseball is baseball, and watching tonight’s game will get me three hours closer to tomorrow afternoon.

The expert picks are in at ESPN, and it seems the trendy picks are the Rays in the AL and the Phillies in the NL. While I think the Rays are a good team, I’m expecting a bit of a letdown there – not only is the entire division around the Rays stronger this year, but you don’t get years like the ones the Rays had in 2008 every year. Boston made some minor acquisitions, including John Smoltz, but have largely stood pat. They’ll be relying on Mike Lowell to make a full comeback, David Ortiz to shed a few years and become the David Ortiz of old (not likely) and Dustin Pedroia to keep hitting like he’s NOT 5’9″. We’ll see.

The Yankees are certainly the team that’s most improved, and as long as they don’t stumble too hard out of the gate it’s hard to see them not making the playoffs and once there, winning it all. That said, I thoroughly look forward to Grady Sizemore hitting the first ever home run in the new Yankee Stadium off of CC Sabathia, on the way to a 15-0 Indians win.

As for the Indians, I think they had a good camp with no major injury setbacks and have a chance to have a good season and surprise some people in October. I think it’ll be crucial to get off to a good start (i.e. a winning month in April), and while there are a lot of factors and things that could go wrong, the Indians have a lot of depth available at AAA Columbus. The important thing will be for the Indians to know when to use it.

In the national league, I think its more wide open. The Phillies are being picked by a lot of experts as repeats, but I think its unrealistic to jump to that conclusion, especially with Cole Hamels’ injury. Even though I picked them to repeat as NL champions in January, Cole Hamels’ injury changes a lot, and it’ll be important for the Phillies to get off to a decent start and hold their own until their ace gets back.

In just 36 hours, though, every team will have played at least once and we will have began to watch this speculation turn into results. Here’s to a great season!

The sun will rise like yesterday

Greetings from Overlook Road, at the beginning of a very cold morning in Cleveland, OH. Nothing in particular to blog about this morning, so I’ll do tidbits.

  • From the “holy crap that’s scary” department, North Korea is ready for launch sometime later this week. From earlier information, we know that the rocket is destined to fly over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean, Japan has vowed to shoot it down should the missile take the predicted path, and North Korea would interpret such an action as an act of war.

    Because the warhead is expected to be non-nuclear, such a small country testing a ballistic missile at this point may seem insignificant. However, if Japan is worried enough (and they have good reason to be) to shoot down the missile as it heads over its territory, then North Korea may declare war on Japan and force the United States into the conflict (the US is already kind of in the conflict, with vessels in the Sea of Japan). This would draw China into the war, and would cause the relations between the US and China, which are already shaky, to deteriorate further. Since China is the country loaning us all this money for the bailouts, and many of our imported goods are made in China, a war with the country would have a horrific effect on our already troubled economy.

    If it were me (and it’s not, it’s this guy) I’d work on this situation from a “Fifth freedom” approach. It’s not done much anymore, but a human espionage operation might be the only thing that could diffuse this situation (or at least postpone it until the Six Party talks resume) without creating a war.

  • As I write this morning, we’re one week away from Opening Day, and I read in ESPN The Magazine (dated 6 April 2009) that Buster Olney has picked the Minnesota Twins to win the AL Central with the Tampa Bay Rays winning the East, and eventually World Series.

    It’s pretty tough for me to pick the Rays this year. While the team was great last year, and made a great story, I thought a lot of things went their way: no huge injuries, a lot of close games, and the Yankees sucked. This year, the Yankees (on paper) are far better, and the ball could certainly bounce the other way. I don’t see the Rays finishing dead last, but I don’t see them winning the East, either.

    As for the Twins prediction, I think it’s fair. After all, Buster Olney has picked the Indians to win the Series for three consecutive years with these finishes: sub-.500, lost ALCS, .500 exactly. While I think the Indians have problems, they’re more experienced and should be more consistent offensively this year, and have pitching depth to solve those problems. The Twins are a bit younger and face injury questions of their own with Mauer and Cuddyer (seriously, is that guy ever playing?), not to mention Liriano. In just a week, we’ll start to find out who’s right.

  • So I flew to Columbia on Friday and back on Saturday. I’m guessing that most people who read this blog aren’t entirely concerned with the software and hardware that runs the airports’ computer systems, but I am (or at least it interests me) and I noticed a few things.
    1. Why is every airline using its own, proprietary software? The software was designed in the 80s (or earlier) and has a ridiculous interface. Most of the terminals at the airports were running Windows XP, so why hasn’t Microsoft (or any other Windows developer) designed a fresh product that could work with every airline that could manage flights? It’d be a tough sell initially, but once the airlines bought it, they’d be hooked. The database could use a SQL Server backend to enable the creation custom software (such as software to outsource ticket booking).
    2. The flight status screens (42-inch flatscreens) at Washington-Dulles were run using Wyse terminals, which is pretty awesome because I developed a report for a client that runs off of a Wyse terminal too.
    3. Why do we still use boarding passes? When you check in, you’re given a boarding pass for each flight that is made of flimsy paper that you’re expected to carry through the airport to show to the attendants. Not only that, sometimes you print your boarding pass out online or receive them in some other fashion, meaning the boarding passes that are collected aren’t uniform. Instead of printing boarding passes, why not use a plastic card (like a subway pass) with a magnetic stripe that has all of your data? You only have one card for your entire flight path (even with connections), and the card can be disposed and reused at some point. There’s no a paper pileup, and it’s secure because all that needs to be stored is an ID: the scanner can look up the flight information using that ID and track progress that way.
  • March Madness, after next weekend, will finally be over. I didn’t even fill out a bracket this year, because I didn’t watch a single game during the regular season, but I had expected North Carolina to win it all and they seem to be the favorites now.
  • In other basketball news, the Cavs have won their sixtieth game and are well on their way to clinching the top overall seed for the playoffs. Part of me will be a little upset if the Cavs win it all (honestly, the Indians and Browns deserve it more) but it’d still be nice to see the city get to celebrate something.
  • Was Saturday the official first day of the disc golf season? Taylor, Sam and I all went to Sims Park in Euclid and we played through a party of about 10 and saw at least four other parties on the course. (For the record, I played a little better this time, but I’m nowhere close to midseason form.)

That’s all from a wet, snowy Cleveland morning. I have four weeks left as an undergraduate so it’ll be nose to the grindstone until April 28th. Have a happy Monday!