Saturday, April 12, 2008

Draft coming up

The draft begins in less than two weeks. Drafting is probably my favorite part of strat leagues, so I am looking forward to it. I am in a good position this year where I have enough starts and PAs going into the draft, so beside from maybe getting a reliever or two, I can draft with an eye on the future. Who will be this year's Jeremy Guthrie (7th round last year) be for me?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Opening Day 2008 -- What A Day!

Click on pictures to enlarge.

Courtesy of my beautiful and talented little sister, Kate, who just happens to be the executive assistant to the general counsel of a certain major league baseball team, my long-time friend Tim Heilman and I had the good fortune to attend opening day at Miller Park this year. For the both of us this was our 4th opening day. My first was many years ago when as a resident's assistant at UWM I helped organize a 300-person bus trip. The other two times were the final two seasons of County Stadium (additionally the final two last home games ... I have the brick and certificate to prove it).

We had breakfast with my wife's sister and my daughter at a local restaurant and consequently got off to a late start for the stadium. We crossed over 94E to the 41S entrance lane at about 11:15. The line appeared quite long, so I settled back and took a few pictures on the way in like the one above.

Surprisingly, the ride in did not take too long. Within about 15 minutes we were being directed to Preferred Parking (isn't my sister great?). Tim settled his SUV into our parking spot. We had arrived. What a day!

Despite the evidence to the contrary (see the snow on the roof above), the weather was gorgeous. Jackets were eventually shed and chairs were placed strategically in front of Tim's SUV, away from the guys drunkenly tossing a football about. Beers were hoisted in salute to Kate and the Brewers and we sat back to enjoy the morning.

What a day!

Our next door neighbor offered to take our pictures. I'm the shaded (shady?) one on the left. Tim bought that Brewer jacket just the day before, wanting to be in high fashion for the game. There was just the barest hint of the remnants of winter in the air. Perfect for cooling off from all the activity we engaged in ... bringing beer and chips to mouth and being on alert for errant flying footballs.

Soon enough the time came to ramble into the stadium. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. The Brewers are going to be a good team for a second consecutive year. When was the last time this could be said? I could feel the energy as I entered the doors to Miller Park. We picked up our kitchen schedule magnet and Brewer towel and made our way to section 112.

Our seats were in the infield boxes, about 30 rows up from the field (did I say how much I love my sister?) From here we could easily pick out some of the Brewers warming up ... Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, JJ Hardy, Jason Kendall and another whom we couldn't identify.

I glanced around and made the acquaintance of the two fellas behind us, one who confessed that they had each downed ten Jaeger-bombs before entering the stadium, along with a few beers. Nothing in their demeanor caused any disbelief.

I checked out the scoreboard and was amused to see an advertisement for a charity drive being run by Northwestern Mutual in conjunction with the Brewers. My wife works for NML. The message reminded me she was home with our 15-month old. I could wax proudly of the sacrifice she made allowing me to attend while she stayed home, but I knew that she would be out shopping with the baby and her sister who had driven up from Chicago. And, our darling daughter, who is already cute beyond words, would have some new duds. This makes my wife happy. So I'm happy, too. No remorse there.

The players lined up for the pre-game introductions. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun received the biggest adulations, though the decibel level of the cheers for Hardy, Sheets and the others were not far behind.

All this while we tried to contact Kate on Tim's cell phone. No luck. I knew that she wanted to join us for a while and no one had claimed the three seats to our right ... yet. Of course, that didn't mean they would be claimed. Heck, two years ago I was at a game with my wife and some friends of hers and we never made it into the park. The festivities outside were just fine.

With Carlos Villanueva on the mound (I can't believe I traded him away in one of my fantasy leagues) the Giants went down meekly in the first. Villanueva looked sharp. He came out of spring training with the number four spot locked down after the release of Claudio Vargas. I was especially pleased because the number five starter is Manny Parra, a top lefty prospect. I drafted him pretty high in another league and had hoped he would make the team. His last spring outing was shakey, but I read that manager Ned Yost did not let that outing sway his decision. He remarked it was probably rookie jitters.

Rickie Weeks came to the plate to lead off amidst the din of 45,000 excited fans. He managed to draw a walk, which caused the fans to roar louder. With one out he stole second. The fans were on their feet as The Prince Fielder strode to the plate. Wearing baggy pants and high socks, he looked like Babe Ruth. He waggled his bat menacingly waggled. With two strikes on him, Fielder showed why he has become more than just a power bat. He shortened his stroke and ripped a single up the middle. When Rickie came in to score the tremors from the noise in the stadium made the hairs on my arm stand on end. It was a truly electric.

Bill Hall walked to the plate. Batting number 5 right behind Prince, it will be his job to offer some protection in the lineup for the big bopper. Last year was difficult for Hall. It's been written that he never really felt comfortable in centerfield and the team hopes a return to the infield will revitalize his bat.

We didn't have to wait long. I don't remember what the count was. All I know is as the ball climbed higher and higher on its journey over the centerfield wall, the noise generated by the excited fans increased exponentially. A wave of camaraderie swept over the stands as the ball fell to earth just beyond the fence and the leaping effort by Aaron Rowand to spoil the fun. High-fives were exchanged with everyone in high-five proximity as though we'd been friends forwever. What a way to start the game!

Kate came down in the third inning to join us (those seats remained empty). Opening Day fever made it hard to concentrate and the Brewer front office, being wise (at least wiser these days) allowed its staff to enjoy the day. She spent the rest of the game with us.

We met a fellow who was juuuust a bit inebriated (he's behind me making the rabbit ears) and kept saying in a poor excuse for Scottish brogue, “Beam me up, Scotty.” When I pointed out that the person asking Scotty to beam him up would not likely speak with a Scottish accent, our new friend responded, “Aye.” It didn't matter.

We also met Granny P. Granny was attending her first Brewers game and she had a sign to prove it. She was here with her granddaughter and was having a spectacular time. The fellas to her right kept her entertained. I think she had a few too, but couldn't swear. Who cares? We were all having fun.

I returned to watching the game. A little while later I heard one of the guys start laughing and say that Granny P was standing on the Brewer dugout with five young ladies. No way. I turned around and saw that Granny was indeed gone. Then I looked over at the dugout. Oh my god, there she was!

The Brewer staff who man the cameras that scan the crowd must have spotted her with her sign and decided she would be the perfect candidate for a game of The Price is Right, or whatever the game was called. The five lovely young ladies held numbers in front with prizes behind the numbers. I don't know what the top prize was, but Granny made one selection (it was a $50 gift certificate) and quit. Smart lady.

Gabe Kapler and Prince Fielder rapped out run-scoring singles in the bottom of the fifth to extend the lead. The announcer kept called Kapler, Gabe Kaplan, obviously confusing him with the former star of “Welcome Back Kotter” who has most recently been reincarnated as a professional poker player. We were laughing about the announcer's ineptitude when a roar rose from the crowd. I turned in time to see the ball disappear over the left field fence. Bill Hall had just stroked his second homerun of the game. I guess the question of whether his move back to the infield would help has been answered. We certainly appreciated his efforts and our cheering convinced him to come out for a wave.

The rest of the game was spent trying to get action shots of Brewers at bat. Unfortunately, by this time the camera battery was losing its charge so I had to turn it off between shots, let it recharge a bit, then turn it on and take a quick shot. Some of the pictures were a bit fuzzy. Still, I got a few. Here is a picture of Prince belting a double off the right centerfield wall. This one just missed.

I also tried to get a picture of the sausage race, but the battery was playing games at this time so I had to settle for this picture sent to me by Kate. Better than nothing. And you know, it almost seems a crime, but neither Tim nor I had a brat, sausage or even a hot dog on this glorious day. We did buy a couple Cousins subs though, before the game, and feasted on these in the parking lot afterward.

After the final out was made (final score 13-4), we lingered in the stands with Kate and waited for the crowd to thin. I gave Kate a hug. She took one step and this kid walking down the stairs came up and gave her a hug too. I looked at him and he smiled and said something to the effect of he thought he'd get in a quick hug too since they were being given out. I told him she was my sister and that he was dead meat. For a moment he looked concerned, but then I smiled and told him it was cool ... get oughta here. After all, weren't we all family ... at least for this day?

We bade goodbye to Kate and went out to the parking lot. Before settling down to eat our subs, down a few beers and wait for the lot to empty a bit, we caught up with Brewer hall of famer Robin Yount for a picture. A great way to finish the day.

Edited for some re-write because I'm picky and for a few spelling and grammar mistakes because, unlike what many members of the blogosphere think, the impression does matter.