Monday, February 1, 2010

Welcome Back, Blogger... the triumphant return

Where in the world did two months go?

The Great American Baseball Adventure did its best impression of a hibernating animal the last few months, dropping completely off the face of the Earth about the time the Milwaukee temps started their dive toward winter. We've spent the last two months (sandwiched between holidays) dealing with and adjusting to the new climate, producing a college basketball special, and mostly sleeping (I had no idea how much cold weather makes me want to stay in bed all day!) Anyways, with the faint heartbeat of spring training off in the distance, it's time to get the GABA and its blog ready for the 2010 baseball season. Wind sprints, anyone?

Obviously, a ton of transactions since the last entry. I won't bore you with them all... just suffice to say Halladay's a Phillie, Cliff Lee switched coasts, Jason Bay signed a Mets contract without getting hurt (a statement on the team, not Bay), and a couple of free agents have waited waaaaay too long (Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon) and may still be hangin' around come March.

And yes, there were two Counting Crows references at the end of that last statement. I really do have some rust to shake off!

This morning, the A's continued their weirdest offseason in years by getting Willy Taveras from the Reds for Aaron Miles. Obviously, if this were a fantasy trade (or even something out of Strat-O-Matic), it would look lopsided in Oakland's favor. But this is real life, people, and...

Stop the presses! Breaking news! Twitter alerts are going off everywhere. Literally as I'm typing this, the A's have designated Taveras for assignment. The weird gets weirder... sort of. I was just about to launch a rant here, detailing the A's sudden glut of outfielders and how Billy Beane's 2010 entry should carry a giant, flashing neon sign saying "these players can be yours by July, if the price is right!"

But this changes a few things. These players, or at least Taveras, can be yours today. All you have to do is pony up $4 million and you too can have the one player who typifies the old baseball adage "you can't steal first".

The more likely scenario, as Rotoworld hit right on the head a few minutes ago, is that another trade is in the works. Beane's team is, as always, a work in progress. Shelling out $10 million for Ben Sheets is still a bit baffling for a team that lives (and dies, and dies, and dies) by Moneyball, but he does give the young pitchers a veteran presence... at least until the trade deadline. Maybe Beane's hope is to flip Taveras for another pitcher, or perhaps some infield help (Cliff Pennington's hardly a lock at SS after 6 errors in the team's last 11 games).

Or maybe Beane just wanted Aaron Miles off the roster. Can't really fault him there.

GABA update: baseball's greatest road trip will have to wait, at least for a little while. I've found gainful employment in Milwaukee (and not as a relief pitcher), meaning the plan to visit all 150 full-season teams' home stadiums will have to stay on the drawing board... for now. Putting the trip together was so much fun, though, that I'll still chronicle the games we were planning to see on this blog once the season starts.

That doesn't mean we won't be taking in lots and lots of baseball in 2010. There's already a Florida Spring Training trip planned for March... any ideas on the best teams to see this spring? The re-loaded Phillies? The (hopefully, for their sake) healthier Mets?

And as for the summer, our annual pilgrimage is on once again. It'll be the sixth summer of the GABA in its original form (packing several games and sightseeing into six summer days). Right now, we have two finalists for the summer trip:

1) Fenway, the two new stadiums in New York, and hopefully DC (haven't seen the new Nationals park yet)
2) Cubs, Tigers, Blue Jays, White Sox (all new parks for us except Wrigley)

Lemme know your thoughts. Which trip looks better? We'll be hitting up Target Field in Minnesota this year too, and of course, taking in plenty of mid-summer games at that stadium I see from the living room windows - Miller Park. And no, baseball fans, the Brewers are not, I repeat, NOT moving to Orlando. Don't even get me started on that rumor.

Good to be back, baseball fans. The 2010 season is right around the corner... the faster it gets here, the quicker this snow melts away...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stating the obvious in Cincy, and open season on Halladay

Somebody set the Hot Stove to preheat, and it's taking a while to get there. Fortunately, there are a few kernels popping in baseball's offseason Jiffy Pop... why am I suddenly hungry for popcorn?

- Buster Olney tweeted that other GMs believe the Reds (GABA '10 - April 7th) would prefer to trade Aaron Harang rather than Bronson Arroyo this offseason. I'll need a handiman immediately, because I've fallen out of my chair. (Is there an emoticon for sarcasm?) The Reds would rather move a guy who has 12 wins the last two seasons, and is gonna making $12.5 million next year, instead of a guy with 30 wins since the start of '08, who's making $11 million? No way! Maybe I shouldn't be so sarcastic about this though... there are teams out there who would see nothing wrong with moving Arroyo and proudly putting Harang back out there as an ace. OK, maybe stating the obvious is better than missing the obvious.

- Roy Halladay had his people give a message to some people to tell the Blue Jays (GABA '10 - April 20th) people he won't accept an in-season trade. In other words, it's open season on the Jays' longtime ace. I can appreciate Halladay's not wanting to switch clubhouses midseason, and I'm sure he wants the trade cloud lifted ASAP, but the ultimatum might actually slow things down, and hurt his value on the market.

The Jays know they have to trade him before Opening Day or they'll get nothing for him. Other teams know that too, and they can just wait out the Jays until, say, sometime in March when desperation starts setting in, then offer an inferior set of prospects for a guy who wants to throw 10 innings every time he's out there. (For more on playing the incessant waiting game, see Lackey, John.)

Halladay's ultimatum might stick him somewhere he doesn't want to be in 2010. In other words, somewhere just like Toronto.

- Dustin Pedroia at shortstop? I was always taught in blackjack that you don't mess with a winning hand. I'm not saying a move to SS won't work... I'm just saying why mess with something that's clearly working VERY well. Talk amongst yourselves.

For anybody in the Milwaukee area, listen in to AM 1250 WSSP this afternoon. I'll be dropping by The Big Show with Gary Ellerson, Sparky, and company from 3:00-3:30PM on location at Blaine's Farm and Fleet in Oak Creek. Better yet, drop by and bring a toy for their annual Holiday Toy Drive. And if you bring Rock Em Sock Em Robots, just leave that toy with me...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back to business: the market for pitching

Four weeks of non-stop planning, building and blogging - my office is a mess of papers, schedules and itineraries! But the GABA 2010 schedule is complete and out there for the world to see. And admire. And possibly question my sanity.

The GABA dream is alive; it's just not very likely to happen in 2010, since I'm entrenched in Milwaukee for now. But planning the trip was still more fun than a fantasy football win (they're sparse these days), and I fully intend on taking the trip at some point, something that should be made easier now that the concept's out there and no one's had me committed.

I'll revisit that monster trip throughout the offseason, but for now, it's time to get back to the other purpose of the GABA blog - analysis of the actual baseball world (the one I don't have to get in a car and drive to).

I'm fascinated by how scared teams (and players' agents) are to make a move this offseason. No one wants to move a muscle until John Lackey dictates the pitching market, specifically the salary for a free-agent starting pitcher.

Lackey will unquestionably get the top dollar figure this offseason... and I guess other pitchers can then say "well, I'm 75% as good as he is, so I should get 75% of his money."

Let's get this overwith. The Yankees are busy celebrating title number 27, and the Red Sox are seething. They know they have to respond to New York's super-splash in the free agent market last winter. And the response HAS to start with John Lackey. Few other teams can cough up Lackey money, and none of those teams feel the pressure to make a statement like the boys in Beantown.

Point is, the Sox should get this deal done as soon as possible, for several reasons. First and foremost, the whole "counter-punch statement" will effectively be sent. And once the ink has dried in the 9-figure deal, the other dominoes (read: lucrative free-agent contracts) can fall into place; literally, the market will be set. And these other rumors (like Halladay to Boston) can fall by the wayside. Then we'd all have to figure out something else to over-analyze in the weeks leading up to spring training.

A note to mid-market teams waiting out the John Lackey effect: maybe now's the time to get aggressive on that hurler you've been coveting. See if somebody will budge in this frozen-over offseason market. Stop worrying about possibly overpaying a pitcher before the market gets set. This may sound like fiscal hogwash to the 21st century penny-pinchers in the front offices, but an early contract is just as likely to be an underpayment this time around. Why? Because the Red Sox almost have to overpay for Lackey, which will in turn inflate deals for the next 10-15 best free agent pitchers.

Isn't being a leader and innovator an integral part of organizational success? Didn't I read that in "MBA In A Box" or something? What better way to be a leader than to NOT let the Red Sox or Yankees dictate your payment scale, for once? Maybe then everyone won't be comparing themselves to a pitcher with a 3.81 career ERA (good, but not stellar by any means).

One final note about Halladay: anyone else find it interesting that the Sox and Yankees are balking at trading for one of baseball's most consistently dominant pitchers? Does it have anything to do with those 485 innings he's thrown the last two seasons? Yes, it's a consensus that Halladay has a rubber arm... right now. But weren't similar things said about Pedro Martinez right before the Mets sank their future into his right arm?

Ernie Harwell is 91, has inoperable cancer, and is waiting for the end. In fact, Harwell says he doesn't think he'll be around to see another MLB game. He told Bob Costas he'd be happy to see his next birthday in late January.

Harwell has accepted the news fairly easily, all things considered. It will not be nearly that easy for the rest of the baseball world. Harwell's wealth of experience goes back so far, he delivered papers to Margaret Mitchell in his youth. He called Bobby Thomson's "shot heard round the world" for NBC television. Baseball has expanded by 14 teams since Harwell became the voice of the Tigers.

A loss of that large a piece of baseball history will be felt in all corners of the baseball world. Harwell is irreplaceable, but many of his calls are preserved in this era of digital audio and internet file sharing. Harwell's legendary voice will remain with us long after he's gone.

Maybe the great GM in the sky will let Ernie see one more Opening Day.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Great American Baseball Adventure: the rest of the 2010 season

Six grueling months and 137 games later, the minor league season has ended. And just like two-thirds of MLB, the GABA's in September mop-up duty. We'll spend the last four weeks hitting up major league stadiums we couldn't fit in before, which explains the long layoffs and stupidly long distances between games. Sending off GABA 2010 in style:

Tuesday, September 7th:
Travel day. Lots of these coming in the near future. 13 MLB teams are all that’s left on the GABA docket. Of course, they’re spread across half the US, so we’ve got some mondo road trips in the final month.

Wednesday, September 8th:
Minneapolis, MN (245 miles from Des Moines)
Minnesota Twins vs. Kansas City Royals

With the Metrodome dead and gone, the Twins’ new outdoor yard will be a solid ice block by September. Maybe they’ll play hockey instead of baseball. Mauer’s from Minnesota, and Morneau’s Canadian; the Royals don’t stand a chance. So it really wouldn’t be that different from baseball.

Thursday, September 9th:
Travel day. How much cheese can we eat in one day while driving across Wisconsin? And how many metric tons will I weigh after five months of ballpark food? They’ll have to weigh me with the same scale they use for trucks at weigh stations.

Friday, September 10th:
Milwaukee, WI (337 miles from Minneapolis)
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Chicago Cubs

Milwaukee’s the town that saved my career and made this trip hypothetical instead of real. But when the day comes to actually take a GABA, Miller Park will hold a special place for us. We did this stadium as part of our first ever day-night doubleheader, a Wrigley Field-to-Miller Park jaunt in ’05. The blue-collar city of Milwaukee loves its beer and its Brewers. From Bernie’s Slide to the sausage race, the park’s memorable and unique. And fans actually tailgate like it’s a football game! A baseball lover’s must-do.

Saturday, September 11th:
Chicago, IL (94 miles from Milwaukee)
Chicago White Sox vs. Kansas City Royals

I knew all that body armor would come in handy one day. Bulletproof vests handed out to fans in the first 5 rows. I’m hoping for an epic Ozzie Guillen tirade when he realizes his team is only beating the Royals 7-0 after five innings. Game #140 on the trip… you can put it on the board… YES!

Sunday, September 12th:
Travel day. Hmm… coincidentally, I’ve given us a Sunday off in football season. Is it sacrilege to see a Bears (or Rams) game in the middle of baseball’s epic journey? Would the Rams be better if they actually tried to play a different sport, like baseball?

Monday, September 13th:
St. Louis, MO (295 miles from Chicago)
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs

We’ve seen the Cubs at home and in Milwaukee, so why not follow them to the ‘Lou? My wife won’t be happy seeing this much Cubs baseball. The upside? This is her baseball Mecca. A very cool brick-laden yard that’s got the old warehouse/train station feel mixed with ultra-modern amenities. It’s a Midwestern AT&T Park. And there’s always the chance Albert Pujols will hit one to Iowa.

Tuesday, September 14th:
Kansas City, MO (249 miles from St. Louis)
Kansas City Royals vs. Oakland Athletics

OK, so I lied… there IS one more minor league baseball game on the schedule. It just involves two MLB teams. I’m actually excited about Kauffman Stadium, partially because it was baseball-only in an era where every other stadium known to man was multi-purpose and looked exactly the same. And partially because I could play center field for either – or both – of these teams.

Wednesday, September 15th:
Arlington, TX (559 miles from Kansas City)
Texas Rangers vs. Detroit Tigers

Even in September, we pin back our ears and go full-tilt. KC to Texas in a day is nuts, but we couldn’t do the Rangers or Astros the last time we came through Texas in August. The Ballpark/Ameriquest Field/Rangers Ballpark In Arlington was one of the first ultra-modern parks, and it’s held up well through 16 years (unlike the Rangers starting pitchers who’ve melted like snow cones in Texas heat by this point).

Thursday, September 16th:
Travel day. Wide open roads, since the entire state will be at Cowboys or Longhorns football practice.

Friday, September 17th:
Houston, TX (256 miles from Arlington)
Houston Astros vs. Cincinnati Reds

Ah, Houston. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it feels like to be stuck in a 2-hour traffic jam on the surface of the sun, this is your place. Actually, some of my best friends live in Houston (I hope they’re not reading this). Minute Maid Park is wonderful, although it feels like someone tried to build Miller Park or Chase Field on half the land. And don’t get me (or my H-town friends) started on that hill in center field.

Saturday, September 18th:
Travel day. Apparently I’m going to use September travel days as an excuse to squeeze every last mile out of our battered bodies and cars. Almost 1,500 miles in two days between games. It’s almost over… it’s almost over…

Sunday, September 19th:
Baltimore, MD (1448 miles from Houston)
Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees

All those Oriole AA players we saw in Bowie should be settled in nicely as the Orioles’ September starting lineup. It won’t matter though – Camden Yards is a religious experience in baseball terms. Every stadium since owes a little something to Camden Yards. I hear Cal Ripken helped build the stadium on baseball’s off days, to stay busy.

Monday, September 20th:
Washington, DC (39 miles from Baltimore)
Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros

I can already see a drawback to scheduling all these September MLB games: the potential for some very unexciting baseball. Maybe this will be the Nationals’ 100th loss. Or the Astros will score 100 runs. Apparently, when Nationals Park was being built, the bank wanted MLB to guarantee the rent would get paid in case of poor attendance. Really, I can’t make this stuff up.

Tuesday, September 21st:
Travel day. Actually, we plan on getting locked inside the Five Guys Burgers concession stand at Nationals Park overnight and eating ourselves into a food coma. It’s a short trip to Philly, after all.

Wednesday, September 22nd:
Philadelphia, PA (136 miles from Washington)
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves

Two straight World Series appearances for the first time in franchise history. Wow, the oh-so-cordial Philly fans should be friendlier than ever. We’ll have to spend an entire day telling people they suck just for practice. All kidding aside, this is one of the better yards in baseball. Just don’t get hit with any batteries, rocks, or fists, and you’ll be fine.

Thursday, September 23rd thru Saturday, September 25th:
Travel days. Finally, for the first time in six months, we have consecutive off-days. Three of them. After 147 baseball games, this stretch is more like ‘detox’.

Sunday, September 26th:
Bronx, NY (113 miles from Philly)
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

For all the little towns and faceless stadiums and long stretches of desolate interstate, this will make it all worth it. Yankees-Red Sox, on a Sunday afternoon with a week to go in the season. Think there will be playoff implications? I put this one at the end because it might take from now until then to score two tickets to this game. Especially if they’re $15,000 a piece, or whatever Yankees tickets cost now.

Monday, September 27th:
Queens, NY (11 miles from the Bronx)
New York Mets vs. Milwaukee Brewers

Our shortest distance between two games all year, and it’ll still take three hours to get there. Citi Field is the stadium where fly balls go to die… in fact, I think I might be able to throw a few shutout innings there. And if the Mets keep getting hurt like they did last year, they might actually need me in the pen.

Tuesday, September 28th:
Travel day. One last road trip. Must… make… it… to… Deep… South…

Wednesday, September 29th:
Atlanta, GA (897 miles from Queens)
Atlanta Braves vs. Florida Marlins

The trip wraps up in my hometown, the city that brought us ostrich races and Ted Turner managing a game and Chief Noc-A-Homa. Oh, and 14 straight division titles… with one World Series win. 150 games, more than 27,000 miles… how appropriate that baseball’s ultimate road trip ends at home. Pass the fried okra! Come to think of it, don’t… I’m full.

Thursday, September 30th thru Sunday, October 3rd:
We actually finished this insane baseball journey four days early. So while baseball winds down its regular season, we’ll just reminisce. And sleep. I wonder if we’ll actually turn on the TV and watch any baseball…

Friday, November 27, 2009

Great American Baseball Adventure, Week 22: August 30th-September 6th, 2010

It's the end of the minor league season as we know it, and I feel fine! Or so exhausted I don't know any better. Week 22 (with Labor Day thrown in as a bonus)finishes out the meat of the trip, and by the time the last pitch is thrown in Des Moines, we'll be at 137 games and closing in on our ultimate goal. Or a hospital visit, one of the two. Week 22:

Monday, August 30th:
Davenport, IA (98 miles from Peoria)
Quad Cities River Bandits (A Cardinals) vs. Cedar Rapids Kernels (A Angels)

The last week of the minor league season is all about Iowa corn. We’ve actually been to Modern Woodmen Park, a renovated old gem on the banks of the Mississippi, back in 2005 when the team was called The Swing of the Quad Cities. They took some key strikes in the late innings, so we called them The Take of the Quad Cities.

Tuesday, August 31st:
Omaha, NE (307 miles from Davenport)
Omaha Royals (AAA Royals) vs. Round Rock Express (AAA Astros)

Another cornerstone of the trip. This game is part of the final series ever played at Rosenblatt Stadium, the yard made famous every June by the College World Series. It’s the largest non-MLB stadium in the country, and it still uses a live organist. I’d be shocked if this game isn’t in our top 5 when the GABA is over.

Wednesday, September 1st:
Cedar Rapids, IA (266 miles from Omaha)
Cedar Rapids Kernels (A Angels) vs. Burlington Bees (A Royals)

Welcome to September… in northern Iowa. I’m thinking a game-time temperature in the 30s and a wind chill in some very non-baseball-friendly category. Maybe we should’ve done the Midwest in June. But with free parking and first-row seats for $10, we’ll just spend the extra money on hot chocolate.

Thursday, September 2nd:
Clinton, IA (84 miles from Cedar Rapids)
Clinton LumberKings (A Mariners) vs. Beloit Snappers (A Twins)

If you build it, we will come. OK, I had to drop that line for one rural Iowa team. Alliant Energy Field is more than 70 years old, and the team has put 200 players in the big leagues through the years. It’ll be classic, old-school, traditional baseball… at least as traditional as a man with a crown and a wooden stick chasing around a snapping turtle can be.

Friday, September 3rd:
Geneva, IL (108 miles from Clinton)
Kane County Cougars (A Athletics) vs. Peoria Chiefs (A Cubs)

I was on board with minor league baseball in the Chicago megalopolis ‘burbs. The Cougars did it long before the Frisco Melts, I mean, RoughRiders. But a farm team in the Second City’s backyard, associated with the Oakland A’s?! Something’s rotten in the state of Illinois. The Cougs have some lottery-like promotions… if the 4th batter of the last inning hits a walk-off grand slam, a fan wins $100,000! If the batter crosses home plate dancing on his head while yodeling in Swedish, the prize reportedly triples.

Saturday, September 4th:
Chicago, IL (43 miles from Geneva)
Chicago Cubs vs. New York Mets

Here’s a Wrigley Field plot-spoiler: the first time you see the stadium from the outside, you’ll be horrified and disgusted. You’ll wonder how the hell they don’t tear the thing down. The first time you see the stadium from the inside, you will almost instantly fall in love. It’s our first MLB game in more than a month, and yet we’ll probably be seeing September minor league call-ups for two teams playing out the string.

Sunday, September 5th:
Burlington, IA (241 miles from Chicago)
Burlington Bees (A Royals) vs. Clinton LumberKings (A Mariners)

Anytime you can trace your city’s baseball history back to 1889, you know you’ve got tradition. The 1889 Burlington Babies played in the Central Interstate League, twenty years before the Model T was invented. I’d like to see those throwbacks in Burlington on this random Sunday afternoon.

Monday, September 6th:
Des Moines, IA (188 miles from Clinton)
Iowa Cubs (AAA Cubs) vs. Memphis Redbirds (AAA Cardinals)

Our 120th and final minor league baseball stop. In five months, we’ve seen minor league farmhands in 38 states. We’ve seen the Loons and Lugnuts, Curve and Drive, 51s and 66ers, and every other full-season farm team in between. The trip still has a few weeks to go, but the every-day grind ends in Des Moines, where my wife will use what’s left of her voice to cheer on her baby Cardinals against their baby rivals. Never in our lives have we worked this hard to get to Labor Day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Great American Baseball Adventure, Week 21: August 23rd-29th, 2010

Last two weeks of the minor league season, and we've got some serious work left to do. Time to hit the Midwest for one last long stretch of games down on the farm. GABA Week 21:

Monday, August 23rd:
Indianapolis, IN (357 miles from Knoxville)
Indianapolis Indians (AAA Pirates) vs. Louisville Bats (AAA Reds)

Back in the Midwest for the end of the minor league season. It’s our International League finale, and our 4th time seeing Indy. Not the 1980s movie hero, the team… but how sweet would it be to see a team take the field in fedoras, wielding whips and pistols? OK, it has no basis in reality, but after more than 1,100 innings of baseball at this point, I’m game for anything.

Tuesday, August 24th:
Fort Wayne, IN (130 miles from Indianapolis)
Fort Wayne TinCaps (A Padres) vs. Lansing Lugnuts (A Blue Jays)

Remember, the Detroit Pistons got their start in Fort Wayne, so why can’t the TinCaps dream big? They’re named for Johnny Appleseed, who was one big guy if memory serves me right. Wait… crap, that was Paul Bunyan, who isn’t even real. OK, if planning this trip has affected my brain this much, I can’t imagine what actually taking the trip will do.

Wednesday, August 25th:
South Bend, IN (84 miles from Fort Wayne)
South Bend Silver Hawks (A D’Backs) vs. Dayton Dragons (A Reds)

This will be one of the few times to be ‘backstage’ pre-game, just to find out if there’s a sign in the Silver Hawks locker room that says ‘Play Like A Champion Today’. Or at least, a ‘Home Run Jesus’. I also thought about scheduling the Silver Hawks (named for a model of Studebaker) on a Saturday in football season opposite a Notre Dame home game, just to see if we would have the baseball game all to ourselves.

Thursday, August 26th:
Travel day. We have to drive across Chicago at this point, and it might actually take the entire day to do that.

Friday, August 27th:
Beloit, WI (190 miles from South Bend)
Beloit Snappers (A Twins) vs. Kane County Cougars (A Athletics)

A team named for one of the slowest mammals on the planet… Snappers reportedly just edged out “Beloit Bengie Molinas” in the team naming contest. Another all-you-can-eat affair – I’ll pack in as much as my gut can take for $25, then go buy stock in Maalox. There are rumors the Snappers will move to nearby Janesville, but I have a better solution – go 15 miles south to Rockford and change the name to the “Rockford Files”. Instant success!

Saturday, August 28th:
Grand Chute, WI (162 miles from Beloit)
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A Brewers) vs. Kane County Cougars (A Athletics)

Sorry, Kane County Cougars, but we trailed your team bus all the way here because we couldn’t find Grand Chute on the map. Seriously, the town of Grand Chute, Wisconsin is not in my Rand McNally Road Atlas (which, by the way, is in total disrepair after planning this GABA). Like the Green Bay Packers, the Timber Rattlers are publicly owned, which means we could buy a stake in the team! Oh, the possibilities…

Sunday, August 29th:
Peoria, IL (316 miles from Grand Chute)
Peoria Chiefs (A Cubs) vs. Clinton LumberKings (A Mariners)

We’ll be begging the Chiefs to make this a night game, since we’re driving 300+ miles after a Saturday night game in Grand Chute. The Chiefs have taken 21st century, everything’s-for-sale capitalism to a new level. You can buy naming rights on a game-by-game basis. Vienna beef Chicago-style hot dogs on a Sunday at “GABA 2010 Stadium” in Peoria? Better raise some more funds…

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Great American Baseball Adventure, Week 20: August 16th-22nd, 2010

Just three weeks left in the minor league season! GABA 2010 Week 20 spends some quality time in the Bluegrass State (Kentucky), the Volunteer State (Tennessee), and... uh... whatever West Virginia's nickname is. Week 20:

Monday, August 16th:
Bowling Green, KY (196 miles from Huntsville)
Bowling Green Hot Rods (A Rays) vs. Great Lakes Loons (A Dodgers)

Bowling Green is switching leagues in ’10 to cut down on travel expenses, yet they’re still nowhere near their new Midwest League opponents. I call it proof that Bowling Green might actually be the ‘middle of nowhere’. Plenty of minor league oddity here – a new stadium whose right-center field wall is concave (bends inward) because of a road behind it, plus a franchise once called the South Georgia Waves. Surf’s up in Albany, GA!

Tuesday, August 17th:
Nashville, TN (65 miles from Bowling Green)
Nashville Sounds (AAA Brewers) vs. Colorado Springs Sky Sox (AAA Rockies)

Speaking of misplaced references to water, Nashville’s in the Pacific Coast League, setting up those great geographic rivalries with teams like Tacoma and Portland. Nashville does have one of the coolest scoreboards in baseball, a 116-foot high monster shaped like a guitar with the line score on the neck. Rumor has it Elvis tried to eat this guitar in his later days in Vegas.

Wednesday, August 18th:
Louisville, KY (174 miles from Nashville)
Louisville Bats (AAA Reds) vs. Syracuse Chiefs (AAA Nationals)

Midway through month number five on this trip, it’s easy to forget the sanctity of America’s national pastime. Seeing a game at Louisville Slugger Field, on the site of an old train station, will serve as a nice reminder. Plus, America loves underdogs, and between them, the Reds and Nationals have enough underdogs to fill a kennel.

Thursday, August 19th:
Lexington, KY (80 miles from Louisville)
Lexington Legends (A Astros) vs. Greenville Drive (A Red Sox)

Thursday night showdown delayed by two hours after team officials accidentally leave the outfield gates open, allowing horses to come in and eat all the stadium’s grass. Game is played completely on dirt, which makes no difference to inebriated Thirsty Thursday crowd. Seriously, I wonder if Lexington does a ‘sausage-race’ type promotion with horses?

Friday, August 20th:
Charleston, WV (177 miles from Lexington)
West Virginia Power (A Pirates) vs. Asheville Tourists (A Rockies)

I see this team’s name, and I feel like I’m overdue on a $150.00 electric bill. Wait, I probably am. The Power have a fan who, after an opposing batter strikes out, yells “you are toast!” and starts throwing toasted bread to the fans around him. The team put an electrical outlet in the backstop to help with the toasting. Brilliant! (Insert all your West Virginia jokes here. Go ahead, get them all out…)

Saturday, August 21st:
Knoxville, TN (310 miles from Charleston)
Tennessee Smokies (AA Cubs) vs. Mississippi Braves (AA Braves)

This might be the strangest detour in the entire trip. We’re going from West Virginia to the Midwest, and we stop in… metro Knoxville? It’s the only day the Smokies’ home schedule meshes with the trip. Trust me, I didn’t lose my atlas or have a brain meltdown after more than 100 games. Since we’ll be in speed-driving mode, it’s a perfect night for speed-eating – Smokies Park has a $10 all-you-can-eat buffet that ends at first pitch. I’m bringing two bibs.

Sunday, August 22nd:
Travel day. Nothing like going back through two cities you just visited (Lexington and Louisville) to make you feel like an efficient scheduler. I’m not bitter about the Smokies, I promise…