Category: Uncategorized

Visiting with the Bronx Bombers

It’s early February, the Super Bowl just ended and we’re riding out the seemingly endless winter months.

Even though at 52 degrees — it feels like springtime.

Still, with Opening Day just two full months away, the reality is that we all must play the waiting game for our pastime. Spring Training will soon fill the void and the Grapefruits and Cacti of Florida and Arizona will be ripe. But I like to prepare for baseball with some reflecting.

My favorite lyric of West Virginia’s unofficial state anthem, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” is “all my memories gather ’round her.” I have many memories with baseball. So many summer nights spent watching the game I love. Here’s a tale of last summer’s adventure with my family to New York City where we crossed yet another stadium off our list. Yankee Stadium would be our 27th of out 30 big league ballparks, but our day in mid-July started in Hoboken, New Jersey. The world-famous Carlo’s Bakery was our breakfast stop. Made popular by the TLC show “Cake Boss” Carlo’s is a bustling bake shop in the heart of Hoboken. The line to get in wrapped around the corner of the shop and you needed a number just to get in. Us, along with hundreds of other fans, waited just for the chance to sample some desserts and rub it in our friend’s faces that we actually experienced it. After over an hour wait, we finally made it in. Part of the feeling of the bake shop was the crazy fans just there to catch a glimpse of it all — much like the Peaslee family. It was jam-packed in the tiny bakery. There was no sign of the infamous, Buddy, but there was plenty of merchandise with his face on it. We left with a nice haul of delicious cupcakes, cookies, pastries and a coffee mug. All for less than 30 bucks, not bad for a breakfast in one of the most famous reality TV show sets in one of America’s most bumping metropolitan areas. As we ate on the drive over, our next stop was Yankee Stadium. It’s more than a stadium, though. While new Yankee Stadium doesn’t, I’m sure, have the charm of the old — it’s a baseball mecca. There was an aura about it that I’ve never felt before entering a ballpark. I had the feeling that I was going to something special, that it was a limited invitation that only a select few receive. Maybe I just take for granted that I get to go see Pirates games whenever I want, but the Yankees aren’t the Pirates. Love them or hate them, there is no in between. And there really is something romantic about the Yankees. They’re the most successful sports franchise ever and, believe it or not, they’re fans have earned a sense of entitlement. Yes it might be easy to be a Yankee fan, but there’s a lot of history, tradition and a legendary aspect you have to uphold. It’s a title that bears great responsibility. The sights and sounds were enough to give you chills. Although if you actually got chills, there’s something wrong with your health. Temperatures reached the high 90 and I’m pretty sure they even cracked 100. Wrapping soaked paper towels around our neck came in handy and so did the many water stations like this one. Free, unlimited water was available throughout the whole game. It was the first time I’ve ever seen such a table at a game. Definitely thoughtful and, honestly, the staff was courteous and helpful around the large spacious concourses.

The Yanks hosted the Oakland A’s on that hot Saturday afternoon. Zach, my brother, was all set in his Athletics attire. It was also kid’s truck day. I thought it was a great promotion and judging by his reaction here, Zach didn’t.

Our seats were in the last row, nearly behind home plate. Leaning up agains the final chain fenced was comfortable and a timely breeze cooled us off every once in a while. The best part of our seats was the perfect head-on view of the jumbo, and I mean JUMBO, jumbo-tron.

Hideki Matsui made his return to the Bronx after his first season away. He received a large ovation from the sellout crowd at each plate appearance.

He was only upstaged by Jorge Posada.

Recently retired here in the offseason, Posada played sparingly during the season and every time he was seen was special for the fans who cheered him throughout 17 years. He pinch hit for Gerald Laird in the eighth inning and got a base hit.

Some other special moments happened during inning breaks, too.

I was looking forward to this tradition from the start. During a sixth inning break, YMCA plays and the grounds crew dragging the infield dirt go insane. You won’t find personalities like this anywhere else in the MLB. It was pretty cool to see them, and the fans, get excited.

Sundays are always reserved for the playing of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch. Not in New York. Every game is an opportunity to honor the country and, even on a Saturday, they still played it before Take Me Out to the Ballgame. It was the most moving part of the game, because I’m sure a lot of the people in attendance were in some way affected by 9-11. The only thing that would’ve made it better would be if Ronan Tynan was there to belt it out.

Just the week before our trip, Derek Jeter blasted a home run for his 3000th career hit. Jeter-fever was still in the air.


Like I said before, everything about this ballpark is amazing. It’s a pristine stadium big enough to house the masses of fans, but small enough to still let you know that the game on the field is the most important thing going on. I rank Yankee Stadium in the top five of my favorite ballparks, probably behind San Francisco’s AT&T Park and, of course, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.

After a late rally in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees still lost, 4-3.

We still had plenty of Saturday evening ahead of us and some of Sunday morning to check out the rest of what NYC had to offer. For my family, it was their first time in the city. Me, well I spent an evening there back in 2007, my freshman year of college. Along with some other friends, I took a bus trip to Piscataway, NJ for a WVU football game against Rutgers. That night, we had a few hours to roam about the city. This weekend was a nice refresher on the city that never sleeps.

A New York City Subway ride jumpstarted the rest of the night. An experience in itself, we were small fish in a big pond. It’s crazy to figure it all out. Yet it was still a beginning gateway to the Big Apple.

We started with a great dinner at Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant.
Just like Pit Bull said, go to Times Square and take a picture of me…

with the Naked Cowgirl!

I ran into some more buddies at the FAO Schwartz store.

The Plaza Hotel, New York’s most exciting hotel experience.

We didn’t wake up early enough to see the Today Show live. But we were right there, live from studio 1A in Rockefeller Plaza on a Sunday afternoon.

What’s the next best thing to exploring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island? Posing by a sign for the two national landmarks!

While a mass —in Spanish — was going on, the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was a bustling tourist destination. It was a beautiful worship place and the fanciest church I’ve ever been in. In shorts and t-shirts, we were surely underdressed for mass and late, no less. Nonetheless, ushers encouraged any Catholic tourists to go receive Holy Communion. So, we did.

With our vagabond shoes still longing to stray, our final stop of the evening was at the MLB Fan Cave. I tweeted (follow me @pittpeaswv!) mercilessly to its account to see if somebody would let us come take a tour to no avail. From the outside looking it, it looked like a cool place that any baseball fan would love to spend a season in..

Maybe next year I’ll sen in my application to be the next Mike O’Hara and whoever wins for this season.

Until then, I’ll enjoy my travels and I’m already planning 2012 trips.

Only Seattle’s Safeco Field, Toronto’s Rogers Centre and the other New York team, the Mets’ Citi Field are left.

Let him have it

 

ImageRyan Bruan was the best Major League Baseball player in 2011.

There — I said it.

Ryan Braun is my most hated Major League Baseball player — ever.

That was a little bit easier to say.

On Saturday, Braun accepted his first National League MVP award after leading his Brewers to the playoffs, all while hitting 33 home runs. He also had a batting average of .332 and an unprecedented OPS of .994 with a solid .597 slugging percentage.

What will cloud his rather remarkable season, though, is shame.

Braun tested positive for a banned substance in December, after he was already named MVP. Us Pirate fans rejoiced at the news. Of course, it was an opportunity to point a finger and laugh and the man who has helped torment this fan base in all of his five seasons in the league. It affirmed the speculation that something most definitely has been up with this guy, and it’s about time he was found out.

More so, it fueled the judgement of a doubting nation that the steroid-era is most certainly not over.

ImageBraun has long been a players advocate saying that he is clean and could be tested at any time to prove he’s truthful. Even with the confirmed allegations against him, he maintains his innocence. While it wasn’t necessarily a steroid or a Performance Enhancing Drug he tested positive for, Braun still broke the rules.

Still, he got on base, hit the home runs and led Milwaukee through an exciting season and playoff run.

For that, he deserves to keep the award.

Defending the honor won’t be so easy as Braun faces a 50-game suspension for, well, breaking the rules.

I’m not one to put an athlete on a pedestal, but they will always be looked up to. I don’t not cheer for guys that are proven jerks, convicted felons or smug to the fans. I root for players, not people.

But, I don’t pull for Ryan Braun.

The Brewers have long been Pirate killers. Since 2007, they are 38-4 against Pittsburgh. At the axis of the evil, Miller Park, Milwaukee won eight games when hosting the Pirates. There have been brawls, chin-music pitches thrown from each side and a 20-0 beat down within it all.

It has all been said and done, Braun is the 2011 NL Most Valuable Player, deservingly so. He also deserves a 50-game suspension for injecting/ingesting something that is illegal. He’s appealing it, but to take a page from Braun’s book when referencing getting beaned by Pittsburgh’s Jeff Kastens:

“We’ll see what the commisioner has to say about it.”

photo credits: washingtonpost.com, espn.com

 

Back in black…and gold

According to the 2011 Latest Leaders, The Pittsburgh Peas was the 14th most read mlblog over the past year.

Not bad for not posting in about three months.

I always strived to post a few times a week. That was made a lot easier when I was in college with plenty of spare time to spill my thoughts on the Pirates, baseball and life in general. Heck, studying and writing important scholastic papers took a backseat to this blog.

But now I’m in the real world.

Regular posting started to slow down this summer when I had an internship with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.

Myself with Scrappers 1B Jarrod Sabourin

There were long hours in a fast paced environement, but I showed up to an office each day that over looked a baseball field. Couldn’t beat that.

Now, I’m back to writing — full time — at a newspaper. Sports writing as always been at the forefront of my career aspirations. I get to cover local sports with a much greater circulation than my college newspaper at WVU. I’m not sitting in a press box with top notch media from all over the country, but I still get to tell a story in my own words.

And now I’m really back to writing where I started with this blog.

The Pittsburgh Peas opened many doors for me, including the past two positions I’ve held. I’ve also connected with so many fans from all over the place, even meeting a few in person.

Doing "the peas pose" with Todd Cook and son, Tim, of http://cookandsonbats.mlblogs.com/

There are so many blogs out there that relay much of the same information on a team or story and I’ve prided The Peas on being much more than that. This is about my  experiences, my thoughts and, most importantly, those with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

After all, this was the 14th most read blog for a reason.

So, I hope to get back into regular posting. I hated to see a gaping hole from October to December. With three years in the making, I let myself down for being a bit lax and letting The Peas fall by the wayside. We’re still in the dead of winter, but so many good times are ahead.

“Show Me” the way to a “Lone Star” champion

2011wsIt all comes down to this.

Two unlikely league victors do battle for the top spot in the greatest sport on Earth. One is a wild card, literally. The Cardinals were just an afterthought until September, but have beaten the best get here. The season has come fairly easy to the Rangers.They have been at the top virtually all year, but still were counted out when the pressure was on.

Well, the bright lights are on and all the naysayers sitting at home can only sit back and watch. Hopefully, they’ll watch because this isn’t exactly a must-see, casual baseball fan chomping at the bit type of World Series. But it should be. The Cardinals and Rangers deserve to play in this. Even though St. Louis does have 56 World Series game victories and Texas just has one, the two are near equivalents on the field. The 107th edition of the Fall Classic will indeed be one to remember.

It’s written the stars.

Only these aren’t a million miles away. Actually, they’re just 650 miles apart; the distance between Arlington and St. Louis.

Both lineups are full of star power. From top-to-bottom, they each sport a deep lineup.

With Ian Kinsler and David Murphy, the Rangers have guys that get on base. Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young bring them in.

Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina have been heating up for the Cardinals, while Jon Jay and David Freese have emerged as clutch performers.

If each had their go-to star, though, it’s Albert Pujols and Nelson Cruz.

Pujols is Pujols. It can only be predicted, on baseball’s biggest stage, that he will deliver and adapt to anything thrown at him. Pujols tallied six extra-base hits and nine RBI in the NLCS. So, he’s going to do what he does best. After all, he is a machine.

Cruz is Cruz. He’s quite intriguing. The power hitter does just as the title suggests and Cruz surely made a name for himself with clutch HRs in the postseason. That’s exactly what it takes to win this time of year. Cruz has proven he has it and a .364 ALCS BA.

While the offenses are potent, pitching will do its best to silence the bats. Both staffs surely can.

Nothing really jumps out about the starting pitching.

Chris Carpenter

and

C.J. Wilson

are the aces and get the nod for Game 1. Carpenter is the more polished of the two and has found his success already with a complete game shut out of the Phillies in the NLDS. Wilson, on the other hand, has found his way into struggles. He’s pitched just over 15 innings in the postseason, but has surrendered 14 earned run. The bullpens are relatively dismal but each has guys that are trusted to get the job done. It’s Mike Adams, Neftali Feliz and Darren Oliver versus Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas and Arthur Rhodes. A unique mix of old and young may give way in the Rangers favor.

At the end of the day, there really couldn’t be a more evenly matched match up. The everyday lineup of the Rangers proves to be stronger. Especially after losing it last year, they’re hungry to fit a shiny ring on their finger. The Cardinals seem to be more consistent, all around. The “us against the world” mentality is working for them. I think it will in the end, too.

St. Louis in six.

photo credits: betvega.com, yahoo.com, nyd.com, redbirdrants.com, bronxbaseballdaily.com, freeextras.com

Capping off 161

By now, we all know what happened. In fact, we’ll never forget it.

September 28, 2011 was a baseball lover’s dream. In make or break games, the true stars shined and those watching were priveleged to witness the game being played for a reason. Four teams were battling for their lives. The chance to keep playing the game they love, the game we love to pay and sacrifice to watch. They made sure the fans in the stands and the millions watching at home got their moneys worth.

It took extra innings, but the Braves couldn’t hang with the Phillies to live another day. Even when Philadelphia was bringing in their second hand specialties, Atlanta couldn’t get the job done. The Phillies really had nothing to play for. They had their playoff berth wrapped up weeks ago. But, Michael Martinez running in an all out sprint to deep center field to rob Chipper Jones of the walk off RBI showed that a fighting effort, day in and day out, is really the lifeblood of being a baseball player. That passion was just a small step against the favor of the Braves.

On the other side of the National League coin, The Cardinals did their part. But, before they could enjoy a politically correct Budweiser shower, they had to go out and dominant the lowly Astros. They did and when have to wait for a couple excruciating hours to see the Braves blow their chance of picking up the Wild Card or at least forcing a one-game playoff. It took an 8-0 win in convincing style for St. Louis to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Evan Longoria’s magical game assured the Rays would live to see October baseball in St. Pete. Actually, an improbable comeback by the Rays guaranteed another round of playoff baseball in Tropicana Field. They surmounted an unsurmountable 7-0 deficit in the 8th inning against the Yankees. Dan Johnson forced extras, and Longoria further etched his name in Rays lore with a grand slam, earlier in the game, and a walk off blast in the 12th inning.

Just a few minutes, literally, a few minutes later Big Papi was more upset than he was at the above balls and strikes call. Mother Nature finally let up in Baltimore and the sure-fire Red Sox win gave way to perhaps the most heartbreaking loss in franchise history. After all, whenever Jonathon Papelbon enters a game, especially one as high-pressured as clinching a playoff spot, its a guaranteed win. Nolan Reimold and Robert Andino made their names known and Carl Crawford made his tarnished. Then, this happened.

With the talk of Boston squandering a sizable lead in the final month of September and the drama surrounding the aforementioned Crawford, along with his manager, well, ex-manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein have floated on thin ice. The collapse of the Red Sox has taken over the MLB world. Questions of how could this happen? And, where do we go from here? They overshadowed the real praises of the night. The Baltimore Orioles pulled an improbable upset in front of a “home” crowd that was draped in red with hints of blue. Just look at them up there, playing the game of baseball the way it was meant to be played. It’d be hard to guess that it’s a 69-93 team on the final day of the season. Just a group of grown men, celebrating with the lifeblood of children. They may have been the real heroes of the night.

A night we will never forget.

photo credits: upi.com, jimrome.com, everyjoe.com, ajc.com, baltimore.com

PNC Park Field Day 2011

Pirates in-game host Joe Klimchak welcomed nearly 50 people to PNC Park on Sunday for the annual season ticket holder field day. It was my first time attending the event and Joe painted a vivid picture of how lucky we all were to be standing on the grass of The Most Beautiful Ballpark in America. From “getting chills driving through the Ft. Pitt tunnel, to describing how breathtaking every moment in the stadium really is, he surely pumped us up for a fun day of catching, fielding and hitting.

It’s hard to believe just a few minutes earlier, baseball was an afterthought.

You see, it was a football Sunday. A Steelers football Sunday to be more exact. And, if were getting technical, it was a Steelers football opening day Sunday. In Pittsburgh, everything else comes secondary on any given Sunday in the Fall. The Steelers reign supreme and everyone knows it.

Everyone except for my buddy Andrew and me.

He joined me on the field (and here in the dugout) for two hours that we will never soon forget. In my first year as a Pirates partial season ticket holder, I have received many perks. The field day was just one of them.

We were able to step up to the plate for some batting practice.

Andrew was able to put two balls in play, after a few hacks.

I, on the other hand, went 0-for-8. Now, I can go on saying “oh, it harder than it looks.” We already know it is. But I don’t have an excuse for my pitiful showing. A 12 year old kid in front of me was able to ground it out of the infield, at least. It was funny because those waiting in line, mostly middle aged guys and their sons, were impressed by anyone that made contact, and ranted and raved for anyone that actually got a hold of one to the shallow outfield. All hits would have been easy Major League outs, but who cares? We were all there to live out our big-time dreams.

In the outfield, Andrew and I played catch.

And robbed home runs of course.

This was probably the coolest part of the day because we acted out situations in all corners of the gapping PNC Park outfield. From the indentation of the “North Side Notch” by the bullpens, to scaling the six foot wall, seen above, in left field, and playing ricochets off the fence in right field, we were roaming it all and making plays. And, as Joe instructed, we kept centerfield “just the way Andrew McCutchen left it” with the utmost care and respect.

I was able to get up close and personal with the Chuck Tanner memorial in right-center field. Unveiled on opening day, the Tanner jersey is the to honor the Pirates former manager who passed away over the winter. I wonder if the organization will keep it there for years to come? It will be a nice gesture if they do.

Andrew, a die-hard Yankee fan by trade, was most happy to touch a piece of New York. Already preparing for this weekend’s series, the Pirates placed the match ups for Friday-Saturday-Sunday on the out of town scoreboard. Boston does indeed travel to the Bronx for a three game set against their arch-rivals.

I met some new friends at the event. All of my fellow season ticket holders were very friendly and open to chat. After all, we are in it together. This Pirates season has surely been up-and-down, but we created great memories that we will carry into next year. Randi Hoffman isn’t a season ticket holder, but she is involved with the Pirates as a “PR face” for the organization. Along with Joe, she appears on commercials and online videos. Not only is she a pretty face, she is very nice too. Her and Joe make a perfect team. I would love to join them someday as a third wheel to promote the Bucs. That is my dream job.

Before leaving the field, we posed in a variety of baseball specific moments.

A manager observing his team.

A perturbed manager calling to the bullpen.

Attacking the Gatorade cooler.

Embracing the adoring crowd for a curtain call.

It may not be a world-famous baseball scene, but it should jog the memory of Pittsburgh fans.

Any ideas?

Eh, a little off. But my intentions were good. The Pirates gave out this Andrew McCutchen canvas wrap to all fans at a game last year. It’s a game I’ll remember forever as it was the night I met my girlfriend, Erin.

The staff had a great lunch provided after the event. Food included traditional ballpark fare such as hot dogs, hamburgers and pop. They also had ice cream sandwiches. It was probably the first time I actually ate an ice cream sandwich since the ice cream man came driving down my street in his truck back in 1998.

Before going back to our car, we were tempted.

The buzz around town was still for the Steelers and we milled around some tailgates and took in the sights at Heinz Field.

Art Rooney greeted us outside the gates and we peeked inside.

The sellout crowd saw the Steelers pound the Seahawks 24-0.

I am a Steelers fan. They’re cool and all. But, I’ve been spoiled. After seeing playoffs year in and year out, not to mention four Super Bowl appearances with two wins to boot, it gets old. I like college football so much more than the NFL. And I would trade all the Steelers success for the littlest thing the Pirates could achieve; a winning season.

The Bucs are always No.1 for me and the Field Day was just one example of how the fans are No. 1 for the Pirates.

Let’s Go Bucs.

Record breaking deals set framework for future

In 1869, George Wright signed the first professional baseball contract to play for the Cincinnati Red Stockings. His $1,400 salary raised many eyebrows across the country as it was unheard of for any working man, let alone a baseball player, to make that much money. It was that historic inking that is still felt even today.

As the August 15th deadline for Major League teams to sign their draft picks drew near, attention turned to the Pirates who were hoping to make the biggest splash with their potential players. With former UCLA pitcher Trevor Bauer already at the AA level for the team that signed him, Arizona, pressure was on for the Pirates to wrap up fellow Bruin, Gerrit Cole. The No. 1 overall pick back in June, Cole was said to have more upside than the progressive Bauer. Adding Cole to the organization would give the Bucs one of the deepest pitching threats across the league.

Well, 8 million dollars later, the depths of the Pittsburgh pitching core has just grown deeper.

Setting a minor league contract record, Cole was not the only pick the Pirates were able to control late Monday night.

Josh Bell is also jumping aboard, surprisingly to many.

The Dallas native and University of Texas commit was able to be preyed away from heading to college at the price of 5 million. Again, a record. This time for that of a second round pick. Many believed Bell was easily a first round prospect but questions of his sign-ability allowed him to fall to the second round.

Bell and Cole easily become a pair of  top 10 prospects in the organization. Both were clients of Scott Boras and milked out the best prices to get their careers started. All in all, the Bucs spent an unprecedented 17 million dollars to sign 24 drafted players. Of those 24, 10 were indeed selected in the top 10 by the team.

Pittsburgh showed a commitment to establishing the franchise from the ground up. The work General Manager Neil Huntington has, at times, been controversial, but the approach taken has been radical enough to fuel support and actually make sense. While it will take some time for Bell and Cole, along with previous years top picks, to make a solid impact, at least having them under strong grasp can only aid the future.

photo credits: baseballhistoryblog.com, espnrise.com, David Stoner