11th and Washington

11th and Washington: February 2005

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Braves Opening Day, I got 12,000 tickets. Who needs tickets?

Tickets for individual Mets games went on sale today, and though I already have my Opening Day seats because of the six-pack that I bought with two other friends, I logged on to get tickets for the April 23 game against the Nationals. A friend from D.C. is coming up for that one, and I knew if I jumped in early, I could get field level seats. Sure enough, we're sitting in a box down the right-field line.

It took me a few hours to get through because of the high volume on the servers for the Mets website. But after buying my tickets, I checked the promotion for that day (kids t-shirts). Then I also noticed that there was no longer a "T" icon for the home opener on April 11. Sold out. What a convenient way to let fans know there are no more tickets available, rather than the Ticketmaster way of forcing you to go through the process of "searching for tickets" only to find out the event is sold out when "your request could not be completed" message shows up onscreen, even if you put in one ticket for any price range. As for the Mets schedule, the three Yankee games are, naturally, also sold out.

So then I wondered ... what about the Braves? The "T" icon for the Reds' home opener (also the regular Opening Day) was missing, though I already knew that game was sold out last week when tickets went on sale. But the Mets play in Atlanta's first home game on April 8, and the "T" is still noted on the schedule online. So I clicked on it, went through Ticketmaster's steps ... and was given the opportunity to buy two seats down the left-field line, section 226. Second level. Not even the upper deck. Crazy.

As I've said before, the Braves get no support for as good as they are, as good as they have been for 13 years now. Individual game tickets went on sale online on Feb. 1, and through other outlets on Feb. 4. Three weeks of sales, and you can still get second-level seats in Atlanta. I suppose that's appropriate for a second-class fan base.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Wright on track

One of my few photos from the 2004 Futures Game BP session. Posted by Hello

I don't know if it came from knowing his name when he was in the South Atlantic League in 2002, when I was covering the Lakewood BlueClaws, but starting last spring, I was anticipating David Wright's arrival at Shea Stadium throughout last season. I happened to be there the night he hit his first Shea homer, and if I were to buy another jersey with a name on it, a Mets No. 5 would be the one. So to read Jon Heyman's recent column was a great indication of what's in store for this kid. Hopefully third base will be his at Shea for a dozen or so years.


Now, as for those new Mets spring training jerseys that I said I didn't like, I may have found another reason, in addition to the fact that they look like hockey sweaters.

A blue jersey with black stripes ... Posted by Hello

I knew I saw that somewhere. Posted by Hello

Is it me, or do black and blue just not look good on sports uniforms? I've never liked them together with the Mets.


Newsday also has a hilarious Mets photo gallery that shows the guys having a little fun during drills.


I have to agree with tiny Jayson Stark head that Barry Bonds doesn't know what he's talking about in a lot of areas. I'm sorry, Barry, but you can't say, unequivocally, that all the reporters are liars. You can't say that baseball is "the only business that allows you guys into our office." Yes, it's a business, but your part of it is a game. The business aspect is handled upstairs, in the front office. And the playing field is your office, but it's not an office. The reporters aren't allowed into the dugout during a game, where the decisions are made. They aren't allowed into the trainer's room, where players are treated. They aren't allowed into the bargaining sessions where you negotiate your contracts. You might have noticed, Barry, that there are a few other professions where reporters -- and the public -- are allowed into "the office."



Movie stars.


The president.

Sorry, Barry, but you're not the victim. I'm glad you enjoy the "Bonds sucks" chants, because there are a lot more people who feel that way than those who are looking forward to your potential 756th home run.

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Hair today, gone tomorrow: New changes for the New Mets

In addition to all the big changes around the Mets during the offseason, Willie Randolph (himself one of the changes) ushered in a new one on the first day of workouts in Port St. Lucie.

Taking a cue from his former employer over in the Bronx, Randolph dictated that there will be no facial hair (see last note), other than mustaches, on the Mets.

Call them the New Razor Mets.

At least Mike Piazza won't have to make any more decisions on how to wear his face.

This just won't cut it ... Posted by Hello

Neither will the ridiculous fu-manchu ... Posted by Hello

And, mercifully, no chance of the man-gina returning. Posted by Hello

The Mets have also changed spring training (and, we can only assume, batting practice) jerseys. I've expressed my displeasure with their black jerseys in the past, and these just look ridiculous.

The NHL season may be cancelled, but the team sweaters were recycled. Posted by Hello

The black swatch on the shoulders makes them look like hockey sweaters.

As ridiculously garrish as they were, I prefer the orange ones they wore the past two seasons.

Though shades of the Houston Astros c. 1982, I liked the orange-and-blue. Posted by Hello


The college baseball season has begun in earnest, in my mind, because the top northern schools have made their first trips south to open their seasons.

Notre Dame charged out of the gate with an 18-3 win in Orlando. Their nine hit batsmen were one short of an NCAA record.

New Jersey's top team, Rutgers, also opened with a victory in the college debut of former Little League World Series star Todd Frazier (see third story in link for a picture of little Toddy). The infielder, who was drafted by the Rockies last summer, went 3-for-4 and homered in his second at bat. I'm not sure yet if his move to third base was because of the incumbent at RU or more for Frazier's benefit, but it will be interesting to see how well he develops and how high he climbs when it comes time to call his name again on draft day.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Then and Now: The Springfield Nuclear Nine

Homer at the Bat Posted by Hello

Today I watched "Homer at the Bat," the episode of The Simpsons in which Mr. Burns hires nine major league players to token jobs at the power plant so that they can play on the company softball team. When Smithers goes out to hired the first of the ringers, his first stop is a baseball card show at which Jose Canseco is signing autographs. "I get $50,000 to play one game?" Canseco asks, sounding excited. "Well, it's a pay cut, but what the hey, it sounds like fun."

Looking back on it now — the episode originally aired almost 13 years ago, Feb. 20, 1992 — it's amazing to see what players were chosen, and the subplots that were explored. For instance, today Canseco is still looking out for Jose, trying to make money however he can. So I thought I'd take a look at the Springfield Nuclear Nine, then and now.

The 27-year-old was coming off a 44-home run, 122-RBI season with the A's, his sixth full season. He'd hit 209 homers to that point. The 1992 season: He was traded to Texas in August for Ruben Sierra, Jeff Russell, Bobby Witt and cash. It was a deal that seemed like it could be one of the biggest ever and an exchange of two certain Hall of Famers. Now: I hear he's got a book out, based loosely on his playing days.

At the age of 32, Scioscia batted .264 for the '91 Dodgers in 119 games. He had what would probably be considered his career year in 1990, when he also hit .264, but with 12 homers and 66 RBI, both career highs. He knew how to work a count, though: In each of his 13 big-league seasons, he walked more times than he struck out, despite a career .259 batting average. The 1992 season: It was his last as a player. In 117 games, he hit just .221 with a career-low .286 OBP (.344 lifetime mark nonetheless). He retired with just 68 career HRs. Now: He's about to enter his sixth season as manager of the Angels, coming off his first division title. The team's 75th win this season will be his 500th. Show quotation: [Explaining why he actually enjoys working in the power plant.] "It's such a relief from the pressures of playing big-league ball. I mean, there, you make any kind of mistake, and — BOOM! — the press is all over you." And now he's a manager. Go figure.

At 37, The Wizard of Oz had just come off his third straight season with exactly 50 RBI. The 1992 season: He hit .295 and stole 43 bases, but would have only one more season with 500 at bats before retiring in after the '96 campaign. Now: He may be the last player to reach the Hall of Fame for his defense and solid consistency moreso than his offensive numbers. Show moment: During practice, Mr. Burns takes the bat from Oz to show him how to bunt. The pitch comes in, and Mr. Burns is knocked to the backstop by the force of the ball hitting the bat.

He played 152 games for the Yankees at 30, but hit just 14 homers combined in 1990 and '91. The 1992 season: He overcame his back problems enough to hit 14 homers in '92 and 17 in '93, with 86 RBI in each. Now: He's in Tampa, about to start his second season as the Yankees' hitting coach. Show quotation: "I still like him better than Steinbrenner." Airing six months after George Steinbrenner criticized Mattingly for wearing his hair too long (and had him benched for one game because he didn't cut it), Mr. Burns insists Donnie Baseball shave his sideburns. Mattingly doesn't see the problem (he has no sideburns) and ends up shaving the sides of his head up and over the top. Burns still isn't satisfied and kicks him off the team, prompting the comment.

"Saxie" hit .304 with a career-high 10 homers and 56 RBI in '91 for the Yankees. He also stole 31 bases at 31. The 1992 season: In the first of two seasons with the White Sox, his average plummeted to .236, though he still stole 30. He played just 57 games in '93 and seven in '94. Now: Sax appeared to be the leading candidate to land the color commentator's role for TV broadcasts of about 50 Dodgers road games (those for which Vin Scully does not make the trip), but the team hired Steve Lyons instead. Show quotation: "But there's hundreds of unsolved murders in New York City." The police pull him over as he's driving through Springfield and harass him because he's from NYC.

The Rocket, 29, went 18-10 with 13 complete games (four shutouts) for the Red Sox, striking out 241 batters. The 1992 season: Clemens was 18-11 with 11 complete games (five shutouts) and 208 Ks. Now: He's signed on for one last, final last season with the Astros. Show moment: The Rocket's grounded from the softball game because the hypnotist brought in to convince the team (ringers and true employees alike) that they were outstanding athletes has made Clemens think he's a chicken. He walks around the field clucking. Eight years later, he'd throw a bat at Mike Piazza and then claim he "thought it was the ball."

The 33-year-old third baseman hit .332 for the Sox in '91. The 1992 season: His worst average, by far: .259. Not great for a contract year. In '93, he was in the Bronx. Now: All the money he earned in the bigs bought him a new full head of hair. And, he's in the Hall of Fame. Show quotation: "Pitt the Elder!" At Moe's, in a debate with Barney over who was England's greatest prime minister, Boggs gets punched out for disagreeing with Barney.

He played three seasons before turning 22 and reached 100 RBI (exactly) for the first time in '91, hitting .327. The 1992 season: Continuing his steady rise, he batted .308 with 27 HR and 103 RBI. Now: After the difficult offseason of 1999-2000, when he forced a trade to his hometown Reds, this is the fourth straight spring folks in Cincinnati are beginning sentences with "If Griffey stays healthy ..." Show quotation: When Mr. Burns forces everyone to drink Brain & Nerve Tonic to "promote robust health," despite causing gigantism in rare cases, Griffey gets hooked on the sauce and develops a huge head. Since then, he's missed at least 20 games in eight of 13 seasons.

His first season with the Dodgers produced 28 home runs and 99 RBI at the age of 29. The 1992 season: This is where the signing officially went bust. He played just 43 games and would top 100 only once (1998 with the Yankees) before retiring after the '99 season. Now: Returning to his roots, Straw will be a spring-training instructor for the Mets in Port St. Lucie. Show moment: As the only ringer who wasn't kicked off the team or otherwise kept from playing, Strawberry starts the game in place of Homer in right field. Upset that their father isn't playing, Bart and Lisa start chanting "Daaaa-rryl! Daaaa-rryl!" Marge scolds them, but Lisa explains, "Mom, they're professional athletes, they're used to this sort of thing. It rolls right off their back." Strawberry sheds a tear.

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Oh, the timing

In light of Cole Hamels' recent scuffle, could the timing of the Phillies recent organizational report in Baseball America (registration required) come at a worse time?

The Phillies held a "leadership seminar" for 16 prospects, among them Gavin Floyd, Ryan Howard and Hamels. There were no workouts, no pitching, no hitting. Instead, the seminar likely consisted of lectures and discussions with the four administrators who ran it: assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle, farm director Steve Noworyta, director of Latin American operations Sal Artiaga and employee assistance specialist Dickie Noles.

According to BA, "The players participated in workshops dealing with mental toughness, setting and reaching goals, and how to deal with media. They also heard of the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, including steroids."

"I sensed the kids got a lot out of it," Noworyta told the magazine.

Looks like Hamels might need a refresher.

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Reggie strikes out with A's one last time

I had no idea that Reggie Jackson attempted to by the Oakland Athletics. It's a shame it didn't happen — is there a better way to promote baseball than to have its first black majority owner be a Hall of Famer returning to own a team he once played for?

It's not that Reggie was outbid for the franchise that retired his number last year; he wasn't given a fair shot at making an offer. In May, the commissioner's office told Jackson to sit tight and he'd be given a chance to make a bid. They didn't give him that chance until December, at which time the current owners of the Athletics had already reached a deal with Lewis Wolff, the Los Angeles real estate developer who will become the team's new owner. Wolff is currently the vice president for venue development for the team. That is, he's been trying to figure out where to get the A's a new stadium, and apparently he's still going to do that in the Bay Area.

But what really makes this whole deal stink is that Wolff is not just an acquaintance of "commissioner" Bud Selig, he's his freakin' fraternity brother. Do you think Wolff, in his efforts to find a place to build a new stadium for the A's, will look for anything but a publicly financed venue? Would Bud accept anything less?

The thing is, Bud's done this before. Remember contraction? One team involved, the Montreal Expos, was eventually "sold" to the other 29 owners and moved to Washington, D.C., two years later than it could have been because Bud wanted to make sure he gave Orioles owner Peter Angelos enough of a sweetheart deal.

The other team was the Minnesota Twins, a small-market club that, in the three seasons since the C-word was first uttered, have finished ... um, wait, let me look it up here ... Ah, yes: First, first and first, with records of 94-67, 90-72 and 92-70 from 2002-2004. Why the Twins? Perhaps because the owner, Carl Pohlad, is a dear, close friend of Bud (also mentioned in the Nightengale column in the previous link) and would have stood to receive a nice "contraction package," no doubt worth more than the team might bring were it put up for sale.

It's a shame the way things go down sometimes.

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Friday, February 11, 2005

Unimaginative fans let the Braves down

From the top in Atlanta. Posted by Hello

This is the tenth in a series. Previous posts are:
Tiger Stadium
Atlantic City Surf
Trenton Thunder
Cape Fear Crocs
Newark Bears
New Jersey Cardinals
New Jersey Jackals
Staten Island Yankees
Somerset Patriots

Keep in mind that this was written five years before the Braves had to offer free tickets for Game 2 of the NLDS to anyone who bought tickets to Game 1.

Oct. 17, 1999

Atlanta does not deserve the Braves.

The people down there are not worthy of the so-called “Team of the ’90s,” which has won eight divisional titles but just one World Series.

It’s not as much of a baseball town as it might seem. They mask it well, those Atlantans, with their tomahawk chopping and Jane and Ted in their box seat beside the Braves dugout. They try to make you believe they cherish Braves history. Hank Aaron Drive lies nearby, and the spot where Aaron’s record-setting 715th career home run landed is marked on a wall that designates the outline of former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. But if they really cared, the new stadium would be named for him.

True baseball fans notice the differences, most of which are subtle.

Watching the Braves in Atlanta is a painful experience for a Mets fan, and I had my teeth clenched and my lip curled throughout Game 1 of the National League Championship Series Tuesday.

I loathe the Tomahawk Chop, a demeaning ritual stolen from Florida State football fans. I despise John Rocker and his fist-pumping, vein-popping outbursts as he leaves the field. I can’t stand Chipper Jones and his arrogance, as good as he is.

Despite all that, I hit the road for Georgia early Tuesday, making the 26-hour round trip in a span of 46-hours. On the way, I picked up Matt Loughran, a college buddy now living in Bethesda, Md. We spent most of our time either on or within 100 yards of I-85, and nine of our 17 hours in Atlanta were spent sleeping.

But I saw enough of what Atlanta Braves baseball is all about in that short time. My observations are obviously sweeping generalizations, but do reflect the atmosphere down there.

To begin, the Braves haven’t sold out a game yet this postseason. Entire sections were empty Tuesday night, as they had been for the first-round series against Houston. Part of the reason I went to Atlanta to see the Mets in the playoffs was because I knew I’d have a tough time trying to get tickets for any of the games at Shea Stadium. Of the eight teams in the postseason this year, the Braves had the best record, and probably the most tickets available.

For most people, a night at a Braves game seems to be a social event more than anything else. They head out to the game so they can go to work the next day, free foam tomahawk in hand, and say they were there.

Between innings, the huge video screen shows nothing but fans in the crowd, some of whom do take the time to make signs. A few referred to a Subway Series, saying it would derail in Atlanta, or this was the end of the line. One woman, though, caught the camera’s attention with a Braves message on one side, then turned it over to reveal, Eat Slop Piazza, N.Y.” The first letter of each line was written in red to highlight “ESPN.” Apparently she didn’t check her TV listings: The game was on NBC.

Those red tomahawks you see on television are distributed to anyone walking in the gates – even those wearing Mets jerseys. As Matt and I worked our way through the stadium, a high school-aged girl exclaimed to her friends as we passed, “Hey, that Mets fan had a tomahawk!”

When the annoying chant music blares through the stadium, the Braves fans rise, waving their tomahawks (never in unison) and moaning. The few times they tried to start the chop themselves, there was nowhere near enough support. And as soon as the music stops, so does the chop.

In the fifth inning of Game 1, Gerald Williams’ double brought Walt Weiss around for a 2-1 Braves lead. The fans were on their feet, cheering and chopping … until Bret Boone lined out to right field – that was Roger Cedeno’s brilliant Ron Swoboda-like diving play – for the second out of the inning. Two outs, a runner on second and an intentional walk to Chipper turned out to be a cheer-killer in Atlanta. Without the organ telling them what to do, the fans took their seats again as Pat Mahomes came into the game and retired Brian Jordan on a fly ball to center.

Mets fans made a good showing in Atlanta. Two guys sitting in front of us made the drive up from Florida for Games 1 and 2, and another originally from Brooklyn drove in from Alabama, where he is stationed in the Army. One section away from our seats, several fans began cheers of “Let’s go Mets!” at times during the game.

There is something to be said for southern hospitality, though. After Matt and I spent much of the game chatting with two Braves fans next to us, they offered to let us stay at their place that night.

But that would have been too much Braves for one night.

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Monday, February 07, 2005

Shades of Brien Taylor

I've only seen anything close to the inner workings of one Major League ballclub, that of the Phillies from my two years covering their affiliate in the South Atlantic League, the Lakewood BlueClaws. As a result, I managed to interview, at least once, the likes of Ed Wade, Steve Noworyta, Mike Arbuckle, Dave Montgomery, Greg Legg, Jeff Manto, Johnny Podres, Dallas Green, Larry Bowa and a few others. Each one, in some way, touched upon one thing with regard to the types of players it looks for in its farm system and that is "good young men."

The recent incident in which pitching prospect Cole Hamels broke his hand could not have gone over well in the Clearwater offices — or even those in Philadelphia. If the police account is true, the Phillies' feelings will almost certainly go much deeper than the "disappointment" expressed in Wade's statement. Hamels was drafted with caution, following his broken arm in high school, but came with an abundance of potential and upside. His first year in the organization — in Lakewood the summer after I switched jobs — showed tremendous ability. In 74.2 innings at low-A Lakewood (his debut), he went 6-1 with a 0.84 ERA and 115 strikeouts. Promoted just two days before I was going to catch his start at Lakewood, he finished the season in Clearwater, where he was winless, but had an ERA of 2.73.

Having missed most of last season because of biceps tendinitis (after an impressive "major league" debut in spring training, when he fanned both Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter), this is exactly what the Phillies did not want to see. A hint of what the Phillies might think lies in Wade's statement — "he put himself in a position that slows his development" — and, for Hamels' sake, I hope he's able to make a speedy recovery.

As for the Phillies, they have their own fans to deal with, too. I love how the court documents note that the man attempted to catch the foul ball over which he's suing the team, rather than making any attempts to protect himself. Maybe this guy thinks $50,000 will soothe his embarassment. I mean, really. You go to a ballgame, you have decent seats in the lower level. You see there's a screen there to protect a swath of seats. If you're behind the screen — great, you're not likely to get beaned, though you have little to no chance of any souvenirs. If you're seated just beyond the coverage of the screen, then perhaps you should be alert and note when any horsehide spheres come hurtling your way.

I bet the guy in front of him ducked.

Actually, if that had happened, he'd probably be suing that fan, too.

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Crazy like Fox

Is there anything more annoying than the Fox network? It's so full of itself. It burns me up that they have the exclusive rights to the All-Star Game and World Series for something like the next five years, or whatever it is.

Watching the football games back on Thanksgiving, it was not hard to notice the big, distinct difference between the coverage of CBS and that of Fox. CBS occasionally and tastefully tied in holiday well wishes and sentimental acknowledgment of American troops overseas. Fox, on the other hand, made America's military occupations a centerpiece and referenced them constantly. The same thing was done last night, with Michael Douglas MC-ing a display of what I imagine were World War II veterans. (People at our party were still talking rather loudly at that point.)

It's not that recognizing these aging veterans was wrong, but to make any reference between what the troops are doing (and have done) in Iraq and what American forces did against Hitler's Germany or the Japanese empire is misleading. There's no comparison, and to think that it's anything but contrived by a network that has a clear slant to its news coverage and its coverage of our president -- a leader, in Fox's eyes, who can do no wrong.

Thankfully, though, football is over and spring training lies just around the weekend. We're days away from having our frigid northeastern days warmed by the sight of colorful batting practice jerseys shining beneath the sun in Florida and Arizona.

We'll deal with Fox's All-Star game coverage in July, when the telecast will undoubtedly be sprinkled with shots of the stars of Fox shows pretending to watch the game from choice seats close to the field. Then, most likely, they'll immediately vacate those seats for the cool comfort of an air-conditioned suite or, perhaps, exit Comerica Park for an exclusive party ... in L.A. or Chicago. Wrapping up last night's Super Bowl coverage with the final analysis from Darrel Waltrip (to promote Fox's coverage of the Daytona 500 in two weeks) was off-base too. What, they didn't have enough time during the eight-hour pregame show to squeeze in a mention of the NASCAR season?

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Friday, February 04, 2005

Tiger Stadium is baseball's greatest loss

The Corner: Michigan and Trumbull, Detroit. Posted by Hello

This is the ninth in a series. Previous posts are:

Atlantic City Surf
Trenton Thunder
Cape Fear Crocs
Newark Bears
New Jersey Cardinals
New Jersey Jackals
Staten Island Yankees
Somerset Patriots

October 3, 1999

The San Francisco Giants finished their stay in Candlestick Park Thursday, and the Houston Astros conclude their tenure beneath the painted ceiling of the Astrodome today.

In July, the Seattle Mariners moved across the street from the Kingdome to Safeco Field, and, were it not for the accident that killed three ironworkers in the summer, the Milwaukee Brewers would probably be playing their last game in County Stadium this afternoon. As it is, the Brew Crew plans to move to Miller Park, just beyond County Stadium's right–field wall, in 2001.

Major league teams are building stadiums as frequently as the National Hockey League awards expansion franchises. But this season's greatest loss was Tiger Stadium. The old park at Michigan and Trumbull avenues – the Corner – was retired Monday with an 8–2 Detroit victory over the Kansas City Royals. Opened in 1912, Tiger Stadium sat up there with the remaining grand ballfields, which now number just three – Boston's Fenway Park, Chicago's Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium.

Walking into Tiger Stadium is like stepping into 1912. Just like walking around the grounds of Monticello puts you in 1783 or a trip to Gettysburg somehow feels like 1863. Tiger Stadium is a time machine of sorts, and in your mind's eye, the scene before you is not of peeling blue paint from one renovation or another, but a living black–and–white photograph.

I managed to make a trip to Detroit in July, not wanting to make the same mistake after having been unable to get to Chicago before the original Comiskey Park closed. I dread a farewell visit to Fenway. I was there in Detroit the day the wind blew some of the panels off the press box, perhaps a reminder of why this 87–year–old building had to go.

Columns supporting the upper deck obstruct views. Fans in the back rows of the lower deck lose sight of the ball on towering home runs or cloud–scraping pop–ups. The concourses are narrow and crowded on high–attendance days. To get to sections in the upper deck, fans walk up a ramp to the concourse -- "hallway" is more like it -- then cross a catwalk to get outside again and find their seats.

But every view of the field, obstructed or not, is a great view. The fans are on top of the action, close enough to hear players communicate or the ball hit the bat. Both the upper and lower decks encircle the field, allowing those who come in from outside to forget where they are for an afternoon or evening.

Tiger Stadium exudes a strong feeling of history. Part of the reason is its location in Detroit's Corktown section, across Interstate 75 from the downtown skyscrapers. Fenway has Kenmore Square and the Massachusetts Turnpike nearly within reach of a Mark McGwire home run. Wrigley has the houses on Waveland Avenue right outside, and the Sears Tower visible from the bleachers. And anyone who drives to Yankee Stadium is not going to confuse today's traffic with that of the Roaring '20s.

Inside Fenway, the view from behind home plate might fool you, but one look up at the glass–enclosed boxes reminds you of recent changes. And as historic as Yankee Stadium is, the 1970s renovations get in the way of some time–traveling of the mind.

Tiger Stadium has few of these modern reminders, with the exception of Tiger Plaza, visible only from the street in the right–field corner where home plate was before the current structure was erected. That's where the team shop is, selling jerseys and backup catcher Bill Haselman's cracked batting–practice bat for $60. That's where you'll find Little Caesar's in the food court.

And that's where it becomes apparent that the Corner is no longer suitable for baseball. Fans of the future will not tolerate restrooms built in the 1950s, or seats behind a post. Hot dogs and peanuts are not always enough to satisfy a ballpark appetite. Baseball alone cannot draw the crowds the modern sport demands. Attending a ball game is an event, and the cost reflects it.

As sad as it is to see a venue with so much history fall to the wrecking ball, it is obviously necessary. With Tiger Stadium's first game on April 20, 1912, back when it was known as Navin Field, there were no lights, no television monitors, no Little Caesar's in right field. There was no electronic scoreboard or electronic public address system. The Tigers have to move.

They're not going far – not to Pontiac, as the Lions did in 1975, nor across town. The 21st century Tigers will play within a mile of the Corner, a 50–second (barring traffic), two–exit jaunt on the freeway to Comerica Park, with the Detroit skyline beyond the outfield fence. Comerica Bank, an older Detroit fixture than the Tigers, bought naming rights for the new stadium, and already the less–than–flattering nicknames have arisen: Commercial Park, and the CoPa.

But it won't be the same spot where the Tigers first played as a minor–league team in 1896, where Ty Cobb dragged bunts and slid into bases with his sharpened spikes glistening in the sun. It will not be where Lou Gehrig sat out what would have been his 2,131st consecutive game in 1939 or Mickey Cochrane scored the series–winning run in the ninth inning of Game 6 in 1935 World Series.

If Ken Griffey Jr. hits home run No.700, he won't have a chance to hit it in the same park where Babe Ruth launched his in 1934.

It won't be the Corner, and Michigan and Trumbull won't be quite the same.

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Short hops

As you may recall from the post just below this one, I specifically said the Orioles should trade Jerry Hairston and prospects for Sammy Sosa. I had no idea the Cubs would settle for two minor leaguers in second baseman Mike Fontenont and right-hander David Crouthers who are ranked merely No. 7 and No. 10, respectively, in Baltimore's top 10 by Baseball America. Plus, when you look at how little the Orioles actually have to pay Sammy (whether they decide to sign him to a ridiculous extension is their own fault), it was too good a chance to pass up. They'll need him to hit 66 home runs again to overcome their questionable pitching, but you never know.

* * *

According to Bob Nightengale at USA Today, the Pirates' Craig Wilson has ditched his mullet for a crew cut. We mourn you, Thor, god of thunder.

The flowing mane is no more ... Posted by Hello

* * *

The Dodgers signed Japanese third baseman Norihiro Nakamura, who signed with the Mets in December 2002 but then decided he wanted to stay in Japan. He claimed the reason he bailed was because he went online to the Mets website and saw a report that he was coming to New York. The team and Nakamura apparently had made a deal to announce the signing in Japan, and Nakamura mistook the Mets' site at MLB.com as an official team site run out of Flushing. What he was actually reading, however, was a news story -- all of which boast the tagline, "This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs."

"I checked the Major League Baseball web site and there I was on the Mets' web site," Nakamura said at a press conference in Osaka back then. "We asked the New York Mets, please don't issue the news from New York. They broke our agreement. In Japan, the process is very important. We arrive at the new year with the Mets. We have to inform the club, 'We're going to sign with the Mets,' but then they broke the agreement. But I can't sign with a team that broke a promise."

It was probably good for the Mets, who might not have brought up David Wright last season if they were paying Nakamura $3.5 million (his deal was two years, $7 million). At least it appears they had Wright in mind when they made the offer to Nakamura.

* * *

If there's one good thing about the Super Bowl being played in February these past few years, it's that come Monday morning, when most of us are struggling into work after a -- ahem -- heavy night, we will be a mere 14 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to sites across Florida and central Arizona.

The two weeks between the conference championship games and Sunday's Super Bowl have sapped my enthusiasm and momentum, so I offer only this half-hearted prediction: No one thought the Patriots had a chance against the Rams three years ago, so I'm going against the grain here. While it would be nice for Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis to pick up his third ring in four years, I'm picking the Iggles (+7), 29-20.

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