Sunday, July 31, 2011

How to Be a Yankee Fan In Chicago - Comiskey Edition

The Yankees fly out to begin a 4-game series against the Chicago White Sox.

This is an update of a piece I did in June, when the Yankees had an Interleague series in Chicago against the Cubs. That was "How to Be a New York Fan In Chicago - Wrigley Edition," since Met fans would (if they gave it some thought -- I know, I know, they're Met fans) get more use out of it.

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler,
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,

Bareheaded, shoveling, wrecking, planning, building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
And under his ribs the heart of the people, laughing!

Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

-- Carl Sandburg, 1916.

Sandburg knew. He was right then. He is still right now. And this legendary poem "Chicago" fits the White Sox much more than it does the Cubs.

“If I was a colonel in some horrible war,” said Jean Shepherd, the legendary writer and radio show host, native of Hammond, Indiana, and hard-core White Sox fan, “and I needed volunteers for a suicide mission to take an enemy pillbox, I’d call out, ‘Any of you White Sox fans? Follow me!’ And those White Sox fans would follow me, and we’d take that pillbox! Because White Sox fans are special. Fifty years without a Pennant? A hundred years? Doesn't matter. We're loyal.”

Shepherd said that in the 1987 documentary Chicago White Sox: A Visual History. It was an elaboration of something he'd said before: ”If I was going to storm a pillbox, going to sheer, utter, certain death, and the colonel said, ‘Shepherd, pick six guys,’ I’d pick White Sox fans, because they have known death every day of their lives, and it holds no terror for them.”

White Sox fans hate the Cubs, and especially Cub fans, a lot more than Cub fans hate the White Sox and their fans. To a Cub fan, a White Sox fan is a greasy, dirty, uncouth hood who likes heavy metal and marijuana -- an image probably ingrained due to the South Side's gritty reputation and Disco Demolition Night in 1979. To a White Sox fan, a Cub fan is a prissy, effete intellectual who is willing to accept losing so long as he has his ivy and his beer -- and, occasionally, his marijuana. In other words, George Will... except for the substance abuse part.

Jean Shepherd has been dead for a few years, but I'll bet he didn't like George Will. Will is still alive, and I'll bet he was never a Jean Shepherd fan, either.

Disclaimer: While I have been to Chicago, and I have seen games at Wrigley Field, and I saw a game at the old Comiskey Park, I have not yet been to a game at the new Comiskey Park, now named U.S. Cellular Field. But much of this information is taken from the White Sox' website, and is believed to be accurate.

Before You Go. The Chicago Tribune website is predicting low 90s for Monday and Tuesday, and high 80s for Wednesday and Thursday, but that's in the afternoons. For the night games, it should be in the 70s. Fortunately, the Trib forecasts no rain for the weekend.

The Chicago Sun-Times disagrees slightly on their website, forecasting "an afternoon T-storm or two" for Tuesday; but, if that turns out to be true, it shouldn't affect that night game. Otherwise, they agree with the Trib, including on temperatures.

So ignore all the stories you’ve heard about Chicago being cold (you’re going to New Comiskey to see the Yankees play the White Sox, not to Soldier Field to see the Giants or Jets play the Bears), and dress accordingly. Just to be on the safe side, you may want to pack an umbrella in your car, in case you need it on Tuesday.

Getting There. Chicago is 789 land miles from New York. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

Unlike some other Midwestern cities, this is a good idea if you can afford it. If you buy tickets online, you can get them for $335 each way. Nearly every flight from the New York area’s airports to Chicago’s is nonstop, so it’ll be 3 hours, tarmac to tarmac, and about 2 hours going back. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue Line train can get you from O’Hare International Airport, at the northwestern edge of the city, to the downtown elevated (or “L”) tracks that run in “The Loop” (the borders of which are Randolph, Wells, Van Buren and Wabash Streets) in 45 minutes. From Midway Airport, the Orange Line train can get you to the Loop in 45 minutes.

Bus? Greyhound’s run between the 2 cities is relatively easy, but long, about 18 hours, and is $215 round-trip. The station is at 630 W. Harrison Street. (If you’ve seen one of my favorite movies, Midnight Run, this is a new station, not the one seen in that 1988 film.) The closest CTA stop is Clinton on the Blue Line, around the corner.

Train? Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:45 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Station at 225 South Canal Street in Chicago at 9:45 every morning. It’s $186 each way. The closest CTA stop is Quincy/Wells, in the Loop, but that’s 6 blocks away – counting the Chicago River as a block; Union Station is, literally, not in the Loop. If you do decide to walk from Union Station to the Loop, don’t look up at the big black thing you pass. That’s the Sears Tower. If there’s one thing being in New York should have taught you, it’s this: “Don’t look up at the tall buildings, or you’ll look like a tourist.” But since you’ve come all this way, it makes sense to get a hotel, so take a cab from Union Station or Greyhound to the hotel – unless you’re flying in, in which case you can take the CTA train to within a block of a good hotel.

Of course, with the way the schedules run (and with my having to concentrate on real-world duties rather than write this, sorry), you won’t be able to leave by anything other than plane and get there in time for the first game of the series.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. The directions are rather simple, down to (quite literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key.

If you were going directly to U.S. Cellular Field (not a good idea, as you should go to your hotel first), you’d take Exit 55A for 35th Street, merge onto LaSalle Street, and turn left on 35th Street. The ballpark is bounded by 35th Street (3rd base), Shields Avenue/Bill Veeck Drive and the Amtrak/Metra tracks (1st base), 37th Street (right field) and Wentworth Avenue (left field).

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, and half an hour in Illinois before you reach the exit for your hotel. That’s 13 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Chicago, it should be no more than 18 hours, which would save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not flying.

Tickets. In spite of the White Sox normally being the better team on the field, the Cubs have had the better attendance. This season, the Cubs are averaging 37,034 for home games, the White Sox just 24,998, even though the Sox are 2 games under .500 and 4 games out of 1st place in the American League Central Division, while the Cubs are a whopping 23 games under and 17 games out in the National League Central. (The White Sox are 12 games behind the Yankees for the AL’s Wild Card, the Cubs 20 back of the NL Wild Card.) In fact, the Cubs have had a higher attendance than the White Sox every season starting in 1994, even though the Sox were then in a very good period and have actually won a Pennant and a World Series since: Even in their title season of 2005, the Sox trailed the Cubs in per-game attendance, 24,437 to 39,138. The Sox’ record is 36,511 in 2007, and the Cubs had 39,040.

I think part of the Cub/Sox divide -- that is, the Sox fans hate the Cubs and their fans more than the Cub fans hate the Sox and their fans -- is partly due to the Cub-Cardinal rivalry. Cub fans have someone they hate more than they hate the White Sox. The move of the Milwaukee Brewers, considerably closer to Chicago than St. Louis is, to the National League has killed the Sox-Brewers rivalry, which was never all that strong, but neither has it made Cub fans hate the Brewers all that much. In contrast, Brewers fans have grown to hate Cub fans, mainly because they were probably already sick of hearing about Cub fans, Wrigley Field and Harry Caray on "Superstation" WGN.

Hopefully, the White Sox' resurgence under manager Ozzie Guillen and general manager Kenny Williams will help them build rivalries with AL Central opponents Detroit, Cleveland and Minnesota, and they can have better attendance as a result of both the winning and the rivalries.

After all, the Sox won a Pennant in 2005, something the Cubs still haven't done since 1945; and won the World Series that season, something the Cubs still haven't done since 1908. And yet the Sox are STILL "the Second Team in the Second City." The Cubs have outdrawn the Sox every season since 1993 -- even though the Sox won the AL West (in their last season before realignment). Actually, that's not that strange, as in 1984, with the Sox coming off an AL West title, they outdrew the Cubs that season even as the Cubs won the old NL East.

But the Sox' per-game attendance has not never surpassed their 2006 peak of 36,511. The Cubs have topped that figure the last 7 years in a row, and will make it 8.

So getting tickets for a White Sox game shouldn't be difficult: Essentially, you can probably get any seat you can afford. Lower Boxes will cost $50, Lower Reserved $46, Upper Boxes $42, Upper Reserved $36, and Bleachers $44.

Going In. To get to "The Cell" (or "The Phone Booth") from downtown, take the Red Line train to "Sox-35th." It’s about a 12-minute ride, making it twice as fast as from Midtown Manhattan to Yankee Stadium, 3 times as fast as from Midtown Manhattan to Citi Field.

The area around the park, part of the Bridgeport neighborhood of the South Side, isn't as bad as it was in the 1960s, '70s, '80s and early '90s. It was in 1973 that Jim Croce, in "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," called the South Side "the baddest part of town." But things have improved significantly. Nevertheless, take the El, leave the car at the hotel -- not just because of the safety issue, but because it's just more convenient to train it.

You’ll be most likely to enter by the home plate gate at 35th & Shields. Unlike Wrigley Field, the park is not surrounded by bars, famous or otherwise. Unfortunately, McCuddy's, the legendary saloon that was on the site, did not, as promised to its owners, get rebuilt across the street. Instead, the site of old Comiskey is just a parking lot for the new one.

Prior to a refit about 10 years ago, new Comiskey looked a lot like the 1976-2008 edition of Yankee Stadium, with two decks of blue seats wrapping from the left field pole around home plate to the right field pole, with a white wall bracketing the outfield bleachers. But complaints about the place being a "Mallpark" led to some changes, including new green seats, more bleacher seats, removing the top couple of rows in the upper deck and replacing them with a slightly overhanging roof, and better concession stands. It does look better -- if a bit less like the park where I grew up.

The ballpark faces southeast, away from downtown and the city’s skyscrapers; its predecessor had faced northeast, and the Sears Tower could be seen over the left field upper deck. The outfield distances are 330 feet to left, 335 to right, 375 to the power alleys and 400 to center -- much more of a hitters' park than old Comiskey was, but still not heavily favoring hitters. And the field is immaculate, as it usually was at old Comiskey, although that one was occasionally tailored for the home team. Capacity is officially 40,615.

Like its predecessor, U.S. Cellular Field has an "exploding scoreboard" that lights up and shoots off fireworks for a White Sox home run or a White Sox win. It's not a replica of either of the first two boards -- the original exploding scoreboard, at the old Comiskey, lasted from 1960 to 1982 and was replaced in time for the 1983 All-Star Game -- but it upholds the tradition. Legend has it that, upset by the "unprofessionalism" of the 1960 board, Casey Stengel brought sparklers into the Yankee dugout, and when a Yankee homered, he had the sparklers lit, and the Yankees jumped up and down in the dugout in mock celebration.

Food. As one of America’s greatest food cities, in Big Ten Country where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Chicago ballparks to have lots of good options. The Cubs do not. The White Sox? Oh yeah. In fact, there may be no team with better food options than the Pale Hose. Hot dogs. Sausages. Sandwiches. Pizza. Ethnic varieties. Ice cream. And so much beer, you'll think you missed your exit and ended up in Milwaukee. Bill Veeck used to call the old Comiskey "the world's largest saloon," and the new park reflects this, even if it's not as dark and foreboding in the corridors. (The old one could have used better lighting, but, aside from that and being in poor condition when I visited, I loved it.)

Team History Displays. As I said, I have not been inside the new Sox park. But the Sox do have flags honoring their Pennants (1901, 1906, 1917, 1919, 1959 and 2005), and statues honoring some of their all-time greats: Founding owner Charlie Comiskey and the 1950s double-play combination of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox, behind Section 100; 1950s legends, left fielder Orestes "Minnie" Minoso and pitcher Billy Pierce, and 1980s catcher (also Red Sox legend) Carlton Fisk, behind Section 164; 1980s outfielder Harold Baines, behind Section 105; and 1990s first baseman Frank "Big Hurt" Thomas, behind Section 160.

The team's retired numbers are depicted on the outfield fence: Number 2, Fox; 3, Baines; 4, 1930s-40s shortstop Luke Appling; 9, Minoso; 11, Aparicio; 16, 1920s-30s pitcher Ted Lyons; 19, Pierce; 35, Thomas; and 72, Fisk.

There is a Chicago White Sox Hall of Fame located somewhere in the park, and "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, the most famous of the "Eight Men Out" who supposedly threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, is honored there, as is Bill Veeck who owned the White Sox twice (1959-61, selling them because he was misdiagnosed and thought he was dying; 1975-81, selling them because he couldn't keep up with the rising costs: "It's not the high price of talent that bothers me, it's the high price of mediocrity.").

Stuff. Clubhouse stores are located on the first level of the park, behind home plate and at each outfield corner. The usual items that can be found at a souvenir store can be found there.

Available DVDs include White Sox Memories: The Greatest Moments in Chicago White Sox History, and the official 2005 World Series highlight film package. This is the only World Series the South Siders have won since official WS highlight films have been made.

During the Game. White Sox fans can get a bit rough, and they do like to drink. However, if you don't antagonize them, they will probably give you no worse than a bit of verbal.

The White Sox have a mascot, a big furry yellow thing called Southpaw, a reference to the team playing on the South Side. Their 1980s mascots, Ribbie and Rhubarb, are long gone.

The White Sox have a theme song, "Go-Go White Sox," which is what their 1959 Pennant winners were called, and it's a pretty rousing number, certainly with better lyrics than either "Here Come the Yankees" or "Meet the Mets." The White Sox, led by organist Nancy Faust (who retired last year), were the first team to use the 1969 Steam chart-topper "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" to serenade a pitcher getting knocked out of the game. And if they win, they will play, appropriate for the South Side, the blues standard "Sweet Home Chicago."

After the Game. The neighborhood should be safe after a day game, but after a night game, with all that extra time to drink, it can get a little rough. But, as I said, leave them alone, and they'll probably leave you alone.

If you want to be around other New Yorkers, I found listings of 3 Chicago bars where New York Giants fans gather: Red Ivy, just south of Wrigley at 3519 N. Clark Street; The Bad Dog Tavern, 4535 N. Lincoln Avenue (Brown Line to Western); and Trinity, at 2721 N. Halsted Street (Brown or Purple Line to Diversey). And I found these 2 which show Jets games: Rebel Bar & Grill, also just south of Wrigley at 3462 N. Clark; and Butch McGuire's, 20 W. Division Street (Red Line to Clark/Division).

Sidelights. Chicago is one of the best sports cities, not just in America, but on the planet. Check out the following – but do it in daylight, as the city’s reputation for crime, while significantly reduced from its 1980s peak, is still there. For my thoughts on Wrigley Field, check out my post on the subject.

* Site of old Comiskey Park. The longtime home of the White Sox, 1910 to 1990, was at 324 W. 35th Street at Shields Avenue (a.k.a. Bill Veeck Drive), and is now a parking lot, with its infield painted in. This was the home field of Big Ed Walsh (the pitcher supposedly helped design it to be a pitchers’ park), Eddie Collins, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the “Black Sox,” Luke Appling, the great double-play combination of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox of the ’59 “Go-Go White Sox,” Dick Allen, the 1977 “South Side Hit Men” of Richie Zisk, and the 1983 Division Champions of Carlton Fisk, LaMarr Hoyt and Harold Baines.

The old Comiskey was also where future Yankee stars Russell “Bucky” Dent and Rich “Goose” Gossage began their careers, and where, in the last game the Yankees ever played there, Andy Hawkins pitched a no-hitter – and lost, thanks to his own walks and 3 errors in the 8th inning. The NFL’s Chicago Cardinals played there from 1922 to 1959, and the franchise, now the Arizona Cardinals, won what remains their only NFL Championship Game (they didn’t call ‘em Super Bowls back then) there in 1947. And in 1979, during what was supposed to be intermission between games of a White Sox vs. Tigers doubleheader, was Disco Demolition Night. Today, it’s called a fiasco, but the sentiment was right: Disco really did suck. But the biggest music event there was the Beatles' concert on August 20, 1965.

* Previous Chicago ballparks. The Cubs previously played at these parks:

State Street Grounds, also called 23rd Street Grounds, 1874-77, winning the NL’s first Pennant in 1876, 23rd, State, and Federal Streets & Cermak Road (formerly 22nd Street), Red Line to Cermak-Chinatown.

Lakefront Park, also called Union Base-Ball Grounds and White-Stocking Park (the Cubs used the name “Chicago White Stockings” until 1900, and the AL entry then took the name), 1878-84, winning the 1880, ’81 and ’82 Pennants, Michigan Avenue & Randolph Street in the northwest corner of what’s now Millennium Park, with (appropriately) Wrigley Square built on the precise site, Randolph/Wabash or Madison Wabash stops on the Loop.

West Side Park I, 1885-91, winning the 1885 and ’86 Pennants, at Congress, Loomis, Harrison & Throop Streets, now part of the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Blue Line to Racine.

South Side Park, 1891-93, just east of where the Comiskey Parks were built.

West Side Park II, 1893-1915, winning the 1906 and 1910 Pennants and the 1907 and 1908 World Series, the only World Series the Cubs have ever won, at Taylor, Wood and Polk Streets and Wolcott Avenue, now the site of a medical campus that includes the Cook County Hospital, the basis for the TV show ER, Pink Line to Polk.

Prior to the original Comiskey Park, the White Sox played at a different building called South Side Park, at 39th Street (now Pershing Road), 38th Street, & Wentworth and Princeton Avenues, a few blocks south of the Comiskey Parks.

* United Center and site of Chicago Stadium. From 1929 to 1994, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks played at Chicago Stadium, “the Madhouse on Madison,” at 1800 W. Madison Street at Wood Street. The NBA’s Bulls played there from 1967 to 1994. The United Center opened across the street at 1901 W. Madison at Honore Street. At the old Stadium, the Blackhawks won Stanley Cups in 1934, ’38 and ’61, and the Bulls won NBA Titles in 1991, ’92 and ’93. At the United Center, the Bulls won in 1996, ’97 and ’98 and the Blackhawks won the 2010 Cup. The Democrats had their Convention at Chicago Stadium in 1932, ’40 and ’44, nominating Franklin D. Roosevelt each time; the Republicans also had their Convention there in ’32 and ’44. The Democrats held court (or rink) at the United Center in 1996, their first Convention in Chicago since the disaster of 1968. And Elvis Presley gave concerts at the Stadium on June 16 and 17, 1972 -- giving the last of these as burglars were breaking into the Watergate complex in Washington. Blue Line to Illinois Medical District (which can also be used to access the site of West Side Park II and ER), or Green or Pink Line to Ashland-Lake.

* Soldier Field. Opened in 1924, and for years was best known as the site of the Chicago College All-Star Game (a team of graduating seniors playing the defending NFL Champions) from 1934 to 1976, and as the site of the 1927 heavyweight title fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, the famed “Long Count” fight, which may have had what remains the greatest attendance ever for a U.S. sporting event, with figures ranging from 104,000 to 130,000, depending on who you believe. It definitely was the site of the largest football crowd ever, 123,000 to see Notre Dame play USC a few weeks after the Long Count; in spite of various expansions, the universities of Michigan and Tennessee and Penn State still can’t top this. Games of the 1994 World Cup were also held at the old Soldier Field.

Amazingly, the Bears played at Wrigley from 1921 to 1970, with the occasional exception. The story I heard is that Bears founder-owner-coach George Halas was a good friend of both the Wrigley and Veeck families, and felt loyalty to them and that’s why he stayed at Wrigley despite having just 47,000 seats for football. But I heard another story that Halas was a Republican and didn’t like Chicago’s Democratic Mayor, Richard J. Daley (whose son Richard M. recently left office having broken his father’s record for longest-serving Mayor), and didn’t want to pay the city Parks Department a lot of rent. (Also, Halas was known to be cheap: Mike Ditka, who nonetheless loved his old boss, said, “Halas throws nickels around like manhole covers.”) The real reason the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971 was Monday Night Football: Halas wanted the revenue, and Wrigley didn’t have lights until 1988.

A 2002-03 renovation demolished all but the famed Greek-style columns that used to hang over the stadium, and are now visible only from the outside. It doesn’t look like “Soldier Field” anymore. Capacity is now roughly what it was in the last few years prior to the renovation, 61,500. And while the Bears won 8 NFL Championships from 1921 to 1963 while playing at Wrigley (8 more titles than the Cubs have won there), they’ve only won one more at Soldier Field, the 1985 title capped by Super Bowl XX. The Monsters of the Midway have been tremendous underachievers since leaving Wrigley. 1410 S. Museum Campus Drive, at McFetridge and Lake Shore Drives, a bit of a walk from Roosevelt station on the Green, Orange and Red Lines.

* Site of Chicago Coliseum. There were 2 buildings with this name that you should know about. One hosted the 1896 Democratic National Convention, where William Jennings Bryan began the process of turning the Democratic Party from the conservative party it had been since before the Civil War into the modern liberal party it became, a struggle that went through the Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt years before it finally lived up to its promise under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It was here that Bryan gave the speech for which he is most remembered, calling for the free coinage of silver rather than sticking solely to the gold standard: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." Now a part of Jackson Park, at 63rd Street & Stony Island Avenue. 63rd Street Metra (commuter rail) station.

The other was home to every Republican Convention from Theodore Roosevelt’s in 1904 to Warren Harding’s in 1920, including the 1912 Convention where TR split from the party after being maneuvered out of the nomination to return to office, and his subsequent Progressive Party Convention was also held there. It was also the original home of the Blackhawks, from 1926 to 1929 and briefly again in 1932. In 1935, roller derby was invented there. In 1961, an NBA expansion team, the Chicago Packers, played there, becoming the Zephyrs in 1962 and moving to become the Baltimore Bullets in 1963. The Coliseum hosted a few rock concerts before the Fire Department shut it down in 1971, and it was demolished in 1982. The Soka Gakkai USA Culture Center, a Buddhist institute, now occupies the site. East side of Wabash Avenue at 15th Street, with today’s Coliseum Park across the street. Appropriately enough, the nearest CTA stop is at Roosevelt Avenue.

* Site of International Amphitheatre. Home to the Bulls in their first season, 1966-67, and to the World Hockey Association’s Chicago Cougars from 1972 to 1975, this arena, built by the stockyards in 1934, was home to a lot of big pro wrestling cards. Elvis Presley sang here on March 28, 1957. The Beatles played here on September 5, 1964 and August 12, 1966. But it is best known as a site for political conventions. Both parties met there in 1952, the Democrats in 1956, the Republicans in 1960, and, most infamously, the Democrats in 1968, with all the protests. The main protests for that convention were in Grant Park and a few blocks away on Michigan Avenue in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, one of the convention headquarters (now the Chicago Hilton & Towers. 720 S. Michigan), but the Amphitheatre itself, torn down in 1999, was at 4220 S. Halsted Street, where an Aramark plant now stands. Red Line to 47th Street. NOT to be visited after dark; indeed, unless you’re really interested in political history, I’d say, if you have to drop one item from this list, this is the one.

* Northwestern University. Chicago’s Big Ten school is just north of the city, in Evanston. Dyche Stadium/Ryan Field, and McGaw Hall/Welsh-Ryan Arena, are on Ashland Avenue between Central Street (Purple Line) and Isabella Street. And while Northwestern’s athletic teams have traditionally been terrible, the school has a very important place in sports history: The first NCAA basketball tournament championship game was held there in 1939, at Patten Gymnasium, at 2145 Sheridan Road. The original Patten Gym was torn down a year later, and the school’s Technological Institute was built on the site. Sheridan Road, Noyes Street and Campus Drive. Purple Line to Noyes.

* Museums. Chicago’s got a bunch of good ones, as you would expect in a city of 3 million people. Their version of New York’s Museum of Natural History is the Field Museum, just north of Soldier Field. Adjacent is the Shedd Aquarium. On the other side of the Aquarium is their answer to the Hayden Planetarium, the Adler Planetarium. And they have a fantastic museum for which there is no real analogue in New York, though the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is similar: The Museum of Science & Industry, at 57th Street & Cornell Drive, near the University of Chicago campus; 56th Street Metra station. The Art Institute of Chicago is their version of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at 111 S. Michigan Avenue, just off the Loop.

* Ferris Bueller’s Day Off If you’re a fan of that movie, as I am (see my 25th Anniversary retrospective), not only will you have taken in Wrigley Field, but you’ll recognize the Art Institute as where Alan Ruck focused on Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Other sites visited by Ferris, Cameron and Sloane were the Sears Tower, then the tallest building in the world and still (under its new official name of the Willis Tower, at least until New York’s Freedom Tower is topped off) the tallest in America, 1,454 feet, 233 S. Wacker Drive (yes, the name is Wacker), Quincy/Wells station in the Loop; and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 335 S. La Salle Street, LaSalle/Van Buren station in the Loop (also where Steve Martin & John Candy finally reached Chicago in Planes, Trains and Automobiles). I’m not sure what street the von Steuben Day Parade went down.

While the Bueller house was in Long Beach, California, the Frye house is in Highland Park, north of the city. Remember, it’s a private residence, and not open to the public, so I won’t provide the address, even though I know it. And the restaurant, Chez Quis, did not and does not exist. Nor did, or does, Adam's Ribs, a barbecue joint made famous in a 1974 M*A*S*H episode of the same title,

Today, there are 18 restaurants in America named Adam's Ribs, including two on Long Island, on Park Boulevard in Massapequa Park and on the Montauk Highway in Babylon; and another on Cookstown-Wrightstown Road outside South Jersey's Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base. But only one is anywhere near Chicago, in Buffalo Grove in the northwestern suburbs.

Not far from that, in the western suburbs, is Wheaton, home town of football legend Red Grange and the comedic Belushi Brothers, John and Jim. John and Dan Aykroyd used Wrigley Field in The Blues Brothers, and Jim played an obsessive Cubs fan in Taking Care of Business. Their father, an Albanian immigrant, ran a restaurant called The Olympia Cafe, which became half the basis for John's Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name, better known as the Cheeseburger Sketch: "No hamburger! Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger... No fries, chips!... No Coke, Pepsi!"

Don Novello, an SNL writer who played Father Guido Sarducci, said the other half of the inspiration was the Billy Goat Tavern, originally operated by Greek immigrant William "Billy Goat" Sianis, originator of the supposed Billy Goat Curse on the Cubs, across Madison Street from Chicago Stadium, from 1937 until 1963. At that point, Sianis moved to the lower deck of the double-decked Michigan Avenue, since it was near the headquarters of the city's three daily newspapers, the Tribune, the Sun-Times, and the now-defunct Daily News. Mike Royko, who wrote columns for each of these papers, made it his haunt and frequently mentioned it in his columns. Novello and Bill Murray, Chicagoans, were regulars at the Billy Goat; Belushi later said he'd never set foot in the place. And, while Sam Sianis, nephew of the original Billy, still serves up a fantastic cheeseburger (he was there when I visited in 1999), he deviates from the sketch: No Pepsi, Coke. It's open for breakfast, and serves regular breakfast food. It looks foreboding, being underneath the elevated part of Michigan Avenue, and a sign out front (and on their website) says, "Enter at your own risk." But another sign says, "Butt in anytime." 430 N. Michigan Avenue, lower deck, across from the Tribune Tower. Red Line to Grand. The original location near Chicago Stadium has effectively been replaced, at 1535 W. Madison Street.

You may notice some other film landmarks. The Chicago Board of Trade Building was used as the Wayne Tower in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. And Chicago stood in for Metropolis in the Superman-themed TV series Lois & Clark, with the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower as standout landmarks.

*

Every American should visit Chicago. And with the Sox having the smaller attendances, you'll have an easier time getting into U.S. Cellular Field than into Wrigley. Have fun -- but remember, be smart, and don't go out of your way to antagonize anyone.

Yanks Roast Birds, Make No Big Trades

I'm not going to talk much about the Major League Baseball trading deadline, which was at 4:00 this afternoon. The Yankees made no moves -- and didn't need to.

One name often mentioned as a supposed Yankee trade target was that of Ubaldo Jimenez, a starting pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, who wanted the Yankees’ top 3 prospects: Catcher Jesus Montero and pitchers Manny Banuelos and Dustin Betances (a.k.a. the Killer B's, a name already used for the 1980s Miami Dolphins defense and the late 1990s Houston Astros' trio of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Derek Bell).

Jimenez went to the Cleveland Indians instead. I'm glad: Under no circumstances should the Yankees have made the trade described above. Not just because of who they would give up. This guy Jimenez had “Esteban Loaiza” written all over him. How’d that work out for the Yankees? Horribly.

The other name frequently linked with the Yankees was that of Felix Hernandez, the Cy Young Award winner from the Seattle Mariners. The M's also wanted Montero and other prospects.

We are the New York Yankees. They are the Seattle Mariners. We should have told them, "You don't want to pay Felix Hernandez's salary? Here's what we'll give you for him: Money. Use it to buy your own damn players, you're getting none from us." And if they had said, "No deal," we should have said, "Good luck, we can get Felix for no players anyway in the off-season. Then what will you have gotten out of it? You dumb schmucks, this is why you've never won a Pennant. That, and we embarrassed you in 2001."

But, apparently, it never came to that, and "King Felix" (King, my ass, he's never even been in a Pennant race) is still in Seattle. (Unless there was a deal done right before the deadline and it hasn't been announced yet.)

So the Yankees will go into the last 2 months of the regular season with a starting rotation of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and either Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova.

And I'm okay with that. Sabathia has been the best pitcher in baseball this season, Hughes (when healthy) is a proven winner, Burnett has shown more "Good A.J." than "Bad A.J." this season, and both Garcia (129) and Colon (127) have a better ERA+ (ERA in relation to the rest of the League) than the free-agent pitcher the Yankees allegedly couldn't do without in the last off-season, Cliff Lee (currently 122). The big question marks are Hughes' health and whether Nova is ready -- and Nova pitched pretty well today. Granted, that was against the Baltimore Orioles, but their problem hasn't been hitting: They can hit the tar out of the ball.

*

So can the Yankees, which is fine, because the O's problem is pitching.

In their last 17 innings against the Orioles, the Yankees have scored 9 runs. Not bad.

But those 12 runs in the inning before that one... hoo, boy, but I was concerned that they would have used all those runs for nothing. Certainly, they could have used 3 of those 12 in the Friday night game that the Orioles won, 5-2.

The Yankees sent 16 men to the plate in the bottom of the first last night:

1. Derek Jeter was called out on strikes. One out. The inning began so promising for the O's. Then the wheels came off.

2. Curtis Granderson singled on a line drive to center.

3. Mark Teixeira drew a walk. 1st and 2nd.

4. Robinson Cano singled to left. Grandy scored. Throwing error. Teix got to 3rd. 1-0. 1st and 3rd. Still one out.

5. Nick Swisher reached on fielding error by shortstop J.J. Hardy. Teix scored. Cano to 2nd. 2-0. 1st and 2nd. Still one out. At this point, a double play would have gotten the O's out of the inning with some measure of dignity.

6. Andruw Jones doubled to left. Cano scored. Swish to 3rd. 3-0. 1st and 3rd. Still one out. A DP here would have rendered the game still very much in reach.

7. Russell Martin singled on a line drive to right. Swish scored. Jones to 3rd. 4-0. 1st and 3rd. Still one out. 4-0 is not good, but the O's were still in position for a double play that could have kept the game reasonably close -- within, given a bases-loaded rally, one swing of being tied.

8. Eduardo Nunez singled to center. Jones scored. Martin to 2nd. 5-0. 1st and 2nd. Still only one out.

9. Brett Gardner grounded back to the beleaguered Baltimore pitcher, Zach Britton, who couldn't make a play. Martin to 3rd. Nunez to 2nd. Bases loaded. Still only one out. The Yankees have batted around. Every Yankee starter has reached base already, with the exception of...

10. Jeter, who rectified this by singling to right. Incredibly, this was the first hit in the inning that drives home more than 1 run: Martin and Nunez. (Sounds like a comedy team.) On the throw home, Gardner goes to 3rd, Jeter to 2nd. 7-0. 2nd and 3rd. Still only one out.

At this point, the Oriole manager, our old pal William Nathaniel Showalter III, decides he's gotten too much bang for his team's Buck. He puts Britton out of his misery and brings in Jason Berken. Who?

11. Grandy strikes out. Finally, the 2nd out. Maybe this Berken kid has something.

12. Teix, who walked earlier in the inning, and was thus the last Yankee starter without a hit, erased that distinction, and doubled to right. Gardner and Jeter score. 9-0. Man on 2nd. 2 out.

Britton's day is in the books: He is charged with 9 runs, although, due to an error, "only" 6 of them were earned. 6, times 9, divided by 1/3 of an inning pitched, and his ERA for this game alone was 162.00. Nope, that's not an error, typographical or otherwise: One hundred sixty-two point zero. his ERA for the season rose to 4.56, and his record fell to 6-8. So, this game aside, he is not one of those pitchers doing so badly that the O's, having hung close to first into June, melted in the heat of July, now 23 1/2 games out of first place and we haven't even reached August 1 yet. (In all fairness, Baltimore can get pretty hot, and they do have a hitters' park.)

13. Cano singled to right. Teix scores. 10-0. Man on 1st. 2 out.

14. Swish hit one deep to right field! It was high! It was far! It was... GONE! Incredibly, it took 14 batters before a home run was hit in the inning. It was the 14th "Swishalicious" homer of the season. 12-0. 2 out. Bases mercifully empty.

15. Jones walked.

16. Martin grounded to short, Hardy tossing to 2nd for the 3rd out at long last. 12 runs, on 10 hits, there was 1 error, and the Yankees left 1 man on base. At the end of 1 inning, it was the Yankees 12 and the Orioles 0. It was the biggest 1st inning in the Yankees' long and glorious history.

Jones homered off Berkin in the 3rd, his 7th of the season. Ivan Nova pitched 7 strong, allowing 2 runs, 6 hits, just 1 walk, and was the winning pitcher (9-4). Luis Ayala allowed a run in the 8th, and Rafael Soriano came off the Disabled List and pitched a perfect 9th -- obviously, not a save situation.

In spite of having a brilliant chance to prove that not even Boone Logan could blow a 14-run lead, Yankee manager Joe Girardi did not bring Logan in.

Final score: Yankees 17, Orioles 3.

*

Today's game was a different story. The O's took the lead in the top of the 3rd, and the Yankees were lucky to get out of it only down 1-0. Freddy Garcia was gutsy, but Swisher made bases-loaded outs in the 1st and 3rd. Imagine that, stranding 6 runners in 2 at-bats.

But the Yankees loaded the bases in the bottom of the 4th, and Gardner cleared them with a triple. An RBI groundout by Granderson made it 4-1.

Garcia got through the 6th, having allowed 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks (again, keeping those walk totals down, I like it), and was the winning pitcher. Jake Arrieta was the losing pitcher for the O's. (Both men's records are now 10-7). Hector Noesi got 2 outs in the 7th, David Robertson finished that inning and tossed a perfect 8th, and Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect 9th for his 27th save.

Yankees 4, Orioles 2. The Yanks did not need any of those 17 runs from last night to win this one. And they take 3 out of 4 from the Birds.

The Yankees got a scare in the 3rd inning when Derek Jeter was hit on the finger by a pitch. It did not look intentional to me, and Arrieta does not have a reputation for doing that. He is day-to-day, but, like Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, Jeter is one of those guys you need a crowbar to get out of the lineup if he says, "I want to play." I'd give him the next game off, and then see how he feels.

The Yankees now fly out for a 7-game roadtrip, full of Sox, first White ones in Chicago, then Red ones, the very smelly Sox, in Boston.

Jeter hits 3020 DONE
Rivera saves 586 15
A-Rod homers 626 137
A-Rod hits 2762 238

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Yanks Split 1st 2 with O's, Thome vs. Reggie, Red Bulls vs. Arsenal

Yesterday was a productive day for me. Had a little fun with the nieces, got what I needed at Ye Olde Woodbridge Centre, had a little fun with the nieces, got my daily allotment of grease at Five Guys, and the Yankees won.

The Yankees didn't win? Well, the other three things remain true.

"Five Guys" did not, this time, describe the pitchers the Yankees used against the Baltimore Orioles, in a game delayed nearly 2 hours by rain. They used only 2. Unfortunately, one of them was Bad A.J. A.J. Burnett allowed home runs by Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee, and Mark Teixeira's 29th homer wasn't enough. Orioles 4, Yankees 2.

WP: Jeremy Guthrie (5-14). Seriously, how do you lose, at home, to a guy with a record of 4-14? LP: Burnett (8-9). SV: Kevin Gregg (17).

Today, an earlier rainout forced a doubleheader. The first game is already in the books.

Bartolo Colon (8-6) started for the Yankees, and was fine in the first 3 innings, but ran into trouble in the 4th. Joe Girardi took no chances, and took him out after 5. Cory Wade pitched 3 innings and was mostly fine.

The Yankees pounded Chris Tillman (2-4), including Nick Swisher's home run in the 4th (his 13th, part of a 3-for-4 day for him). The Yankees led 8-3 going into the 9th.

And that's when Girardi, rather than leave Wade in, brought in...

Oh no...

Boone Logan.

Logan allowed a hit, got 2 outs, then allowed another hit. 1st and 3rd, 2 out, Vladimir Guerrero and his 444 career home runs at the plate. True, Vlad seems to be in serious decline (no more steroids, perhaps?), but I didn't trust him -- or Logan. And Logan went to a full count on him.

If Vlad had gotten out, that would have brought the tying run to the on-deck circle, and it would have become a save situation for a new pitcher. Mariano Rivera began to warm up.

Logan struck Guerrero out. Ballgame over. Yankees 8, Orioles 3. Not much thanks to Logan.

The nightcap is scheduled for 7:05. Ivan Nova and Zach Britton are the opposing starters. Britton has pitched against the Yankees before, most recently on May 18, a good outing for him, although the Yankees won that game in 15 innings.

I uncovered an interesting fact today: In addition to having 596 career home runs -- and, as far as I know, totally clean -- Jim Thome has struck out 2,444 times. Only one player has ever fanned more: Reggie Jackson.

Thome is about to turn 41. He is considerably slowed down. He may only play one more season.

Does he have 154 more strikeouts in him, so he can take this record away from my guy? Don't take this the wrong way, Jim, but I hope so.

Jeter hits 3018 DONE
Rivera saves 585 16
A-Rod homers 626 137
A-Rod hits 2762 238

*

The Red Bulls beat Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in the first game of the Emirates Cup in London, on a goal by Joel Lindpere. Then Arsenal choked away a 2-0 lead against Boca Juniors and escaped with a draw.

Unless Arsenal can beat the Red Bulls tomorrow, an American team will win the Emirates Cup -- Arsenal's own preseason tournament. Think what the English media will say about THAT!

Bob Bradley was fired as manager of the U.S. national soccer team. No replacement yet named. I hope they hire a better one than the Devils hired.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hideki Irabu, 1969-2011

Hideki Irabu was found dead in a house in Rancho Palos Verdes, California yesterday. He was 42 years old – a few months older than I am.

He had been a great pitcher in Japan, but found adjusting to life in the North American major leagues difficult. From July 1997 through September 1999, he pitched for the Yankees, and while he had his moments, it wasn’t easy. He got out of shape, and the thing he’s best remembered for –until now, anyway – was George Steinbrenner calling him “a fat pussy toad.” Whether George meant “full of pus” or the vulgarism usually meant to describe someone cowardly, he never explained.

In 1998, he went 13-9. In 1999, he went 11-7. In both seasons, the Yankees won the World Series. So we should, at the least, thank Irabu for that.

In July 1999, within a few days of each other, I saw Irabu conquer Yankee Fans’ two most offending opponents on the road. On July 11, he pitched 7 strong innings to beat the Mets at Shea Stadium, 6-3 – outdueling Orel Hershiser, no less. Ricky Ledee aided him with a home run. On July 30, manager Joe Torre actually let him pitch a complete game – at Fenway Park. He allowed 7 hits, 1 walk, 3 runs, 12 strikeouts, and, thanks to Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter leading off the game with home runs, and a later homer by Jorge Posada, the Yanks won, 13-3. Both times, it was fun to be partying with my fellow Yankee Fans in the Flushing Toilet and in Scumway Park.

But that was pretty much it. He did not appear in either the ’98 or the ’99 World Series. With the money he was making, we began to call him “Hideki I-Rob-You.” Prior to the 2000 season, he was traded to the Montreal Expos, before washing out with the Texas Rangers in 2002. He was only 33. He went back to Japan, didn’t work out there, and returned to the U.S., where he last threw a professional pitch for the Long Beach Armada in the Golden Baseball League, an independent league full of aging former players (including ex-Met Kevin Mitchell, who’s a player-manager there), in 2009.

Irabu leaves a wife and two children. It looks like he did not find peace in life. I hope he has found it in death.

*

Irabu's death makes him the first member of the 1998 World Champion Yankees, and the first of the 1999 World Champs, to die. As far as I know (each of these distinctions to follow is “AFAIK”), he is the first member of the Joe Torre generation of Yankees to die – hard to believe, considering that Torre himself and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre both battled cancer and bench coach Don Zimmer was thrown to the ground by his head, by Pedro Martinez.

He also becomes the most recent member of a World Series-winning team to die, replacing Mike Sharperson of the 1988 Dodgers (1961-1996, car crash).

All members of the 1996, 2000 and 2009 World Champion Yankees are still alive. Aside from Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Thurman Munson, all players for the 1977 World Champions are still alive; aside from those 2 and Jim Spencer, all players for the 1978 World Champions are still alive.

Going back before that, you have to go back to 1962, 49 years ago, to find another World Champion, and then they get scarcer:

1962: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Moose Skowron, Bob Turley, Ralph Terry, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, Hector Lopez, Joe Pepitone, Phil Linz, Jim Coates, Art Ditmar, Luis Arroyo, Jim Bouton, Bud Daley, Billy Gardner, Jack Reed, Rollie Sheldon, Tex Clevenger.

1961: Yogi, Whitey, Moose, Turley, Terry, Richardson, Kubek, Lopez, Coates, Ditmar, Arroyo, Daley, Gardner, Sheldon, Clevenger, Joe DeMaestri, Bob Cerv (hurt late in the season, did not play in the Series).

1958: Yogi, Whitey, Moose, Turley, Richardson, Kubek, Andy Carey, Don Larsen, Bobby Shantz, Virgil Trucks, Johnny Kucks, Jerry Lumpe, Norm Siebern, Zach Monroe.

1956: Yogi, Whitey, Moose, Turley, Turley (traded ’57 but returned ’60), Richardson, Cerv, Carey, Larsen, Kucks, Lumpe, Siebern, Jerry Coleman, Charlie Silvera, Billy Hunter, Eddie Robinson. (Silvera, a backup catcher, has 6 rings but only appeared in one Series game, in 1949. Cerv was traded after this season, returned in ’60, traded again after the season, returned again in ’61, traded again in ’62. He had brief callups in ’51, ’52 and ’53, but wasn’t on the Series roster except in ’55, ’56 and ’60. The Billy Hunter mentioned here is best known as Earl Weaver’s 3rd base coach with the 1970s Orioles, and managed the Rangers in 1977 and ’78, and should not be confused with the head of the NBA players’ union. And this Eddie Robinson should not be confused with the legendary Grambling State football coach.)

1953: Yogi, Whitey, Silvera, Bob Kuzava, Jim McDonald, Bill Renna. (Coleman had just returned from the Korean War and, while he played in 8 games that season, was not on the World Series roster.)

1952: Yogi, Silvera, Kuzava, McDonald, Irv Noren. (Coleman was in the service, and Whitey was as well.)

1951: Yogi, Coleman, Silvera, Kuzava, Noren, Bobby Brown. (Whitey was in the service.)

1950: Yogi, Whitey, Coleman, Silvera, Brown.

1949: Yogi, Coleman, Silvera, Brown.

1947: Yogi, Brown, Allie Clark.

The earliest living World Series-winning player is Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial, of the 1942, ’44 and ’46 St. Louis Cardinals. He became such when Tommy Henrich, the “Old Reliable” of the 1937, ’38, ’39, ’41, ’47, ’49 and ’50 Yankees, died last year.

Boone Logan Must Go, Carlos Beltran Does

I had a feeling the Yankees would lose yesterday's series finale with the Seattle Mariners.

And lookey what we have here: Phil Hughes got outpitched by "King" Felix Hernandez, but did not pitch badly: 6 innings (okay), 9 hits (a lot), 1 walk (very good), 2 runs (reasonable with what our lineup can do). But Hernandez allowed only 1 run over 7.

But the final score was Mariners 9, Yankees 2. It was the bullpen that messed it up, including... ARGHHHH... Boone Logan!

Cory Wade started the 7th, and got the first out, then allowed 2 hits. Then Joe Girardi brought Logan in, for the only purpose for which a pitcher like Logan is supposed to be brought in: To force a lefty-on-lefty matchup.

The batter was Dustin Ackley, a rookie infielder who entered the at-bat with 133 major league plate appearances to his credit, albeit with a batting average of .301, an on-base percentage of .351, a slugging percentage of .512, an OPS of .863 and an OPS+ of 145. Thus far, lefties have a 138 OPS+ off Logan, whose sole purpose is to get lefties out.

As they say in the military, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?" (Check the initials.) I don't know about you, but in my opinion, this invalidates Logan's very reason for being in the major leagues.

But Girardi brought him in. Now, in all fairness, the Yankees were already losing (though only by 1 run, 2-1), and Wade had already gotten in trouble, putting the potential 3rd and 4th Seattle runs on. But Wade hasn't already gotten on my nerves the way Logan does.

Logan appeared to do the job. He got Ackley to ground to 2nd. Should have been a double play. Except Robinson Cano threw it away. 3-1 Seattle.

Then Logan walked Justin Smoak. Can't blame his defense or the preceding pitching for that. Bases loaded, one out. To his credit, Logan struck out Adam Kennedy. Bases loaded, two out.

Logan gave up a triple to Adam Kennedy. Bases cleared. 6-1 Seattle.

Out goes Logan, after giving up 4 "Logan's Runs." Luis Ayala came in. Not much better: Frankie Gutierrez doubled home another run. 7-1 Seattle. Hector Noesi was no prize, either, allowing 2 more Seattle runs in the 9th, after the Yanks got one back in the 8th (RBI groundout by Cano, hardly making up for the error, but I'm not going to blame him for the loss).

On the one hand, the Yankees had already won the first 2 games of the series. On the other hand, the Mariners had lost 17 straight games, and The Scum won, too, so the Yanks are back to being 3 games out of first place.

*

The Mets had 4 big question marks regarding big stars and big salaries. They have now answered 2.

Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez took his mercurial ways to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers are a very good team. That trade may win a Pennant, but not for the Mets.

Now, the Mets have traded Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants, the defending World Champions. That trade could win a Pennant as well -- but not for the Mets.

That leaves David Wright, solid and mentally stable, but prone to injuries and disappearing acts by his bat in September; and Jose Reyes, spectacular at times, but not right in the head, and also prone to injuries and disappearing acts by his bat in September.

The Mets will probably keep one, but not both. Which one do they let go?

Whichever they choose, it will turn out to be the wrong one. This is the Mets we're talking about.

Even if they have won 3 straight in Cincinnati against the Reds, a Playoff team last season and having a shot at it again this season.

For every trade of Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey for Keith Hernandez, the Mets usually have about five Rusty Staub for Mickey Loliches. Staub for Lolich would have been a great trade after the 1966 season. Or even a reasonable trade after 1970. The Mets made it after 1975, and Staub then reached his peak, while Lolich was pretty much done. They did get Staub back, but...

Ah, the Mets, the Mets, the Mets, the Mets.

*

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 2, this Saturday, in the Emirates Cup, the preseason tournament hosted by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in London. At 9:00 New York time, the Red Bulls will play Paris Saint-Germain, the largest team in the French capital; the nightcap of the doubleheader will feature Arsenal play Boca Juniors, the legendary club out of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Usually manned by European clubs, the Emirates Cup is hosting Western Hemisphere teams for the first time. On Sunday morning, PSG will play Boca, and the Red Bulls will bring Captain and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry back onto his former pitch to play his former club. The ovation should be huge. Let's be clear about this: I'll be rooting for the Red Bulls against PSG (a club with a reputation for bigotry of various kinds), but against Arsenal, they're out of luck. Although the Red Bulls were playing as my "home team" for 12 years before I became aware of Arsenal, it was Arsenal that drew me to get into this sport, and thus guided me to the Red Bulls -- not the other way around.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 8, a week from tomorrow night, on Friday, August 5, at Fenway Park. Just one week.

Days until Arsenal play again in a competitive match: 16, on Saturday, August 13, against Newcastle United at St. James Park. Just over 2 weeks.

Days until the Red Bulls play another "derby": 23, on Saturday, August 20, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Just 3 weeks. And they next play their CLOSEST rivals, the Philadelphia Union, in their regular season finale, on Thursday night, October 20, at Red Bull Arena.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 35, on Thursday, September 1, home to North Carolina Central. Just 5 weeks.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 43, on Friday night, September 9, at Monroe. Just 6 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby: 65, on Saturday, October 1, at White Hart Lane. Just 9 weeks.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 72, on Saturday, October 8, at 7:00 PM, in their season opener, at home, against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Prudential Center. Just 10 weeks. The first game against the New York Islanders is a day-after-Thanksgiving matinee, Friday, November 25, at the Nassau Coliseum. The first game against The Scum isn't until Tuesday night, December 20, at the Prudential.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 107.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 119. Under 4 months.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 265, on Wednesday night, April 18, 2012, against the Chicago Bulls, at the Prudential Center. Under 9 months before New Jersey no longer has an NBA team.

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 365 (July 27). One year.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 712 (estimated -- adjusted for his current injury). Under 2 years.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 843 (estimated).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 920 (tentatively scheduled for February 2, 2014, although it could end up being moved back a week or 2).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,454 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,568 (estimated).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nobody's Perfect, But CC's Great

The bad news: I had to leave TV coverage with CC Sabathia having a perfect game through 6 innings. And he lost the perfecto and the no-hitter in the 7th.

The good news: The Yankees won anyway, beating the Seattle Mariners, 4-1 at The Stadium. WP: Sabathia (15-5), striking out a career-high 14, walking 3, allowing just 1 hit. SV: Mariano Rivera (26), after David Robertson pitched a strong 8th. LP: Doug Fister (3-12), although he didn't pitch poorly.

What Fister did do was give up a home run to Curtis Granderson in the 4th inning. The Yankees scored 2 more in the 5th. In the 8th, Mark Teixeira, as he did in the 2009 ALDS against the Minnesota Twins, hit a screaming liner that got over the fence so fast, John Sterling didn't have time to go into "It is high... " For each man, it was his 28th home run.

The Yankees haven't had 2 players both hit 40 home runs in a season in 50 years. You might have heard of the guys who did it in 1961: Roger Maris hit 61, and Mickey Mantle hit 54. But both Grandy and Teix look like they're on the way to 40 -- maybe even 50.

Not that it matters, outside of whether it can help the Yankees win games. As has been pointed out, a solo homer when you're down (or up) by 6 runs is a momentary thrill for a fan, but clutch hits are another story... as Alex Rodriguez also found out in the 2009 postseason.

The Yankees take the series, and handed the Mariners their team-record 17th straight loss. The series concludes this afternoon, with the man who won the American League Cy Young Award last season, Felix Hernandez -- "King," my ass, he's never seen a postseason game except on TV -- against the man who maybe should have won it, Phil Hughes, still trying to re-establish himself after an injury-plagued season.

Speaking of injuries, Eric Chavez came off the Disabled List last night, and went 1-for-3 with an RBI while starting at 3rd base. The man who usually plays there, A-Rod, is being touted as returning to action sooner rather than later. Probably in mid-August, 2 to 3 weeks. Which means he'll miss the next series against The Scum. Maybe he'll surprise us and be ready by then.

Jeter hits 3017 DONE
Rivera saves 585 16
A-Rod homers 626 137
A-Rod hits 2762 238

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why Soccer Is Better Than Football

Note: This is NOT the most-frequently cited list, which cites soccer as having "the most attractive athletes" (clearly, the author never saw Manchester United's Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney) and Vinnie Jones' acting career. This is my own list.

So, the National Football League lockout has been settled. The team owners can go back to doing what they do best: Cover their asses and make gobs of money.

And the players can go back to doing what they do best: Make gobs of money, and spend it on their posses, their mistresses, and their firearms.

Who’s going to win Super Bowl XLVI, this coming February? In the words of the new James Bond, and co-star with Harrison Ford in the upcoming movie Cowboys & Aliens, Daniel Craig: "Do I look like I give a damn?"

Craig is from Chester, in the northwest of England, and is a fan of Liverpool Football Club. That’s football as in association football, or soccer.

It seems un-American to say this, but their football – or futbol, or fussball, or voetbal, or calico, or, as the majority of the English-speaking world (including the U.S., Canada, South Africa and Australia) call it, “soccer” – is better than our football.

As recently as 2006, I would never have made that statement. That's the year my Grandma died -- and she was a big NFL fan. I wonder if her no longer being around to watch and talk about the NFL with has anything to do with it.

I grew up with the typical pre-MLS American attitude toward soccer: It's too boring, it's too foreign, there's not enough offense. Even though I had the New York Cosmos playing just 35 miles away at Giants Stadium, with Pele, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Neeskens and Giorgio Chinaglia, and opponents like Eusebio, George Best and Johan Cruyff coming in, I wasn't hooked on it. I would watch on television, but I wouldn't go to a game.

The 2006 World Cup hooked me -- exactly how, is a story for another time. Slowly, but surely, I began to realize what a great game soccer is. And my exposure to London's Arsenal, Spain's Barcelona (before I started hating them -- with good reason), the Netherlands' Ajax Amsterdam, Italy's AC Milan and Portugal's Sporting Lisbon, finally brought me over to the side of the world's football. Which, yes, is better than American football.

Here’s my top 10 reasons why:

10. Size doesn’t matter nearly as much. And I’m not just talking about hugeness causing injuries. True, being tall does help, especially with aerials. But you can be 5-foot-5 like Argentina star Diego Maradona, 5-foot-5½ like Italian legend Gianfranco Zola, 5-foot-6 like Brazilian star Roberto Carlos, 5-foot-6½ like Argentina’s Lionel Messi, or 5-foot-7½ like Russia’s Andrey Arshavin, and still be considered one of the best players in the world.

All this talk about English players having height to go with their courage? England hasn’t won a major tournament since 1966, when 2 of their starters, Nobby Stiles and Alan Ball, were 5-foot-6. Shorter than Messi – though taller than Maradona and Zola.

Contrast that with American football: Doug Flutie was 5-foot-9¾, and won the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football in 1984; yet went undrafted because he was “short.” He went on to become the greatest quarterback in the history of the Canadian Football League. And he did help 4 different teams make the NFL Playoffs.

Famously growing up in Natick, Massachusetts, outside Boston, a lot of people don’t realize he was born just outside Baltimore, in Catonsville, Maryland. That’s 36 miles from his country’s capital. If, instead, he’d been born the same distance from London – say, in Stevenage, hometown of 5-foot-8 Arsenal star Jack Wilshere – soccer fans would’ve said, “One-point-seven-seven metres is too short? Sod off, the Flutie lad can play!”

These days, even baseball and hockey players are huge, to the point where the legendary Reggie Jackson stands alongside Derek Jeter, a shortstop, and asks, "When did I get so short?" Reggie is 6 feet even, Jeter is 6-foot-3. But soccer is still a human-sized sport.

9. Fewer commercials. The running clock means no TV time-outs. Commercials before the game, after it, and in halftime, but not during the game.

True, they wear “commercials” on their uniforms, but do you really want to see an ad for yeast-infection cream after a touchdown? Or, at the other end, Viagra after your team has fumbled the ball away? (In such an event, I don’t think Viagra is going to help – and your team’s players may already be a bunch of stiffs, and not in a good way.)

8. Overtime is not messed-up. Except for cup ties, there’s no overtime at all. Is that a good thing? (I’ll get to that in a moment.) In cup ties, there isn’t sudden-death overtime (although, under some conditions, there has been a “golden goal”). If you allow a goal in extra time, you can still tie (or “equalise”) and win. This happened to Arsenal in the 1971 FA Cup Final, against Liverpool: It was 0-0 at the end of the regulation 90 minutes plus injury time (a.k.a. stoppage time), then Liverpool scored first, from Steve Heighway in the 92nd minute. But Eddie Kelly tied it up for Arsenal in the 101st, and then, in the 111th, Charlie George drilled one into the net, and Arsenal had won the Cup – and, having already won the League, won “The Double.”

True, penalty kicks often seem like an unfair way to settle a cup tie -- especially if you're from either England or the Netherlands. But it's better than the NFL's version, which is based on a coin toss. (Which is done by the referee. If you watch English soccer, you know where I'm going with this: In England, many of the referees are tossers.) The team that wins the coin toss wins 60 percent of the time -- in contrast, home field advantage has little effect in overtime, just 51 percent of home teams winning.

(I was going to say home field advantage has little effect in "OT," but that could be interpreted as "Old Trafford," and, if you know anything about soccer, you KNOW that Old Trafford is the biggest home field advantage in any sport in the English-speaking world.)

7. Proper punishment. Granted, soccer has futzed-up officiating as much as any other sport, and not even the Dallas Cowboys have gotten as many dubiously favorable calls as England’s Manchester United, Spain’s Real Madrid, Germany’s Bayern Munich and Italy’s Juventus. But you do something egregious in soccer, and not just you, but your team gets seriously punished.

A penalty in American football? Except for some pass interference calls, you hardly ever see more than a 15-yard penalty; the soccer equivalent would be a free kick. In hockey, a penalty puts your team down a man for 2 minutes. But an infraction worthy of a game misconduct is rare in hockey; in soccer, if you get 2 yellow cards, equaling a red card, or even a straight red, your team is down a man for the entire rest of the game.

In other words, if you pull the kind of shit the Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Flyers pulled regularly in the 1970s and 1980s, then, assuming the ref is not paid off in your team’s favor, it’s 10 vs. 11 for the rest of the game. And if that happens early, try being a man down for over an hour. Hell, except for baseball, North American sports don’t even last an hour unless they go to overtime.

6. A tie is not meaningless. A win gets you 3 points, but a tie (or a “draw,” as they would say) gets you 1 point. So if you work hard, but don’t win, you can still get ahead. If the old football coach (his name seems to vary, depending on who's telling the story) was right, and "A tie is like kissing your sister," in soccer, there are some draws that are like kissing your sister's really hot best friend. Of course, there are also some draws that are like kissing your mother's canasta partner with the dentures...

5. Relegation and promotion. The bottom 3 teams in a national soccer league get “relegated,” dropped down to the next highest division. The top 2 teams in the next highest division, and the winner of a playoff between teams 3 through 6, get promoted to the spots of the former higher teams.

In other words, if you’re the owner, and you don’t spend enough money to improve your team, you get punished for it; if you do spend enough money to improve your team, and it works (it might not), you get rewarded for it.

Think about it: In Major League Baseball, if the last-place teams in each division got relegated, and had their places taken by teams that won their division in the minors, then, following the 2010 season, the Baltimore Orioles would have been replaced in the AL East by the Columbus Clippers (Ohio); the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central by the Oklahoma City RedHawks; the Seattle Mariners in the AL West by their neighbors, the Tacoma Rainiers; the Washington Nationals in the AL East by the Durham Bulls; the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West by the Sacramento River Cats; and, in the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates by the Iowa Cubs. True, that would deprive us of the Pirates’ 2011 renaissance, but then, the Pirates could have had that much sooner if they’d just taken a chance and spent like they were actually glad to be in the major leagues.

(In reality, relegation and promotion wouldn’t work in the U.S., in any sport. The distances involved would make realignment and schedulemaking a pain in the centreback. Besides, the NFL doesn’t have farm teams like the other 3 sports, relying almost solely on the collegiate draft.)

UPDATE: The lack of relegation and promotion is a major problem that many American fans have with MLS. And MLS' excuse has nothing to do with logistics. I think they're afraid that one of the big markets -- New York, L.A., Chicago, Boston -- might get relegated, and they'll lose that top-flight moneymaker.

4. Lesser injuries. True, you have to be tougher to play football than soccer, but that’s because there are 300-pound men coming at you. That's 300-pound men who can run. And they come at you all the time.

Whereas in soccer, there are no 300-pound men (except in the stands, and often in the director’s box – yes, I’m talking about you, Mike Ashley of Newcastle United); and the only ones who come at you, rather than the ball, are those “Dirty Northern Bastards” at teams like Stoke City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, and they never win anything anyway.

Furthermore, the rapid increase in the size of the American football player has resulted in some repeated awful collisions that have led to brain damage, including dementia that resembles Alzheimer’s disease. This in men not yet 50 years old.

Recently, we've seen a few really good players die from this -- and a few even committing suicide because they can't live like that. One, Dave Duerson of the Super Bowl XX Champion Chicago Bears, killed himself and donated his brain to science, so the doctors could see just what it does to a man. And he played 25 years ago, when there were a few 300-pound men in the game, but it wasn't that common; that's why his 320-pound teammate William "the Refrigator" Perry was so celebrated. Today, seeing a 340-pound lineman, offensive or defensive, wouldn't make anyone blink.

Then there’s the other injuries. I had a girlfriend whose grandfather played for the Green Bay Packers during World War II. This was before facemasks, even before plastic helmets – the leather “glove” kind. When I last saw him before he died, he was in his early 80s, and his mind was still sharp – sharp enough to have been an assistant coach at an Ivy League university. But I never saw the man stand up, let alone walk.

Before Joe Montana came along, Johnny Unitas was often called the greatest quarterback who ever lived. He didn’t make it to 60, due to a bad heart. And for a few years before that, Unitas, known as The Man With the Golden Arm, could no longer even grip a football with his throwing hand.

Show me a “footballer” of that caliber who, at age 55, can no longer even kick a ball – and I don’t mean through a tragic accident (a la the comics’ Roy Race). You see broken legs in soccer, but not like in American football. Some of what those men have gone through is horrific.

UPDATE: I have since learned of the sad fate of West Bromwich Albion star Jeff Astle, and the "Justice for Jeff" campaign, which raises awareness of concussions in soccer and other sports.

3. Multiple competitions. You can fail to win your league, and still have a chance to win something. There is your country's national league (not to be confused with baseball’s National League), the national cup tournament (think NCAA “March Madness,” except it runs all season long), the national “league cup” tournament (in terms of importance, think the Preseason NIT), and then there’s continental play.

The UEFA Champions League (formerly known as the European Cup), Asia’s AFC Champion League, Africa’s CAF Champions League, South America’s Copa Libertadores, and the North America, Central America and Caribbean CONCACAF Champions League, are true major championships in ways that the NFL, the World Series, the NBA Playoffs and the Stanley Cup simply can’t be – because, with the possible exception of the Japanese baseball champions and the hockey champions of Scandinavia and the former Warsaw Pact nations, there just isn’t any chance. So the championships (if not, in terms of appearance, the trophies themselves) aren’t just more, they’re better.

2. It’s a world game. Usually, the only NFL players born and raised in other countries are the placekickers – who weren’t good enough to make it as soccer players. But on a soccer team, you can get players from around the world – for the better ones, players from the club’s country of origin tend to be few and far between. The first club in English football to play an entirely non-English lineup? No, not Arsenal. Chelsea. Ironic, isn’t it? The club most identified with the racist British National Party, the far-right National Front, and the hooligans that tend to show up for the England national team... and they were the first all-foreign team in the country.

1. Fan reactions and interactions. At a North American sporting event, you might hear variations on the bias or blindness of the officials. Other than that, the imagination of the sports fan is generally limited to “You suck, asshole!”

But in soccer, regardless of country, songs are made up. Yes, songs – some current hits, some classics. These get turned into braggadocio for your squad, or for individual players thereof, and swipes at the opposition. Some are good-natured, known in England as “taking the piss.” Some are not. References to a player’s peccadillos, such as arrests, substance abuse, business troubles, and sexual practices (real or imagined), and the same for his family, get turned into musical numbers. Sometimes vile. Sometimes hilarious. Sometimes both.

My favorite example concerns Andy Goram, a goalkeeper from Scotland, who played for the Glasgow-based team Rangers. Goram was diagnosed with schizophrenia. This is often incorrectly confused with multiple-personality disorder. And so, Rangers’ Glasgow arch-rivals, Celtic, did a variation on the song of praise, to the folk song “Guantanamera.” Instead of “One (Name of Player), there’s only one (Name of Player)!” they sang, “Two Andy Gorams! There’s only two Andy Gorams!”

You can’t make this shit up? They did. And fans keep this up for the full 90 minutes. Think of Duke basketball fans. Now imagine that they’re not Ivyesque pussies who would tremble in fear if you actually tried to shove their words back down their throats. Welcome to the world of the Ultras.

The Wreck of the "Edgar Martinez"

Yankees 10, Mariners 3. That's 16 straight losses for the Wreck of the Edgar Martinez.

(Don't know what I'm talking about? It's a reference to what happened between these teams 10 years ago: http://www.amiright.com/parody/70s/gordonlightfoot15.shtml )

The game began after a 2-hour rain delay. Seattle couldn't beat us, so they brought their kind of weather? In spite of this, paid attendance was listed as 44,365. (I wonder how many were actually in the Stadium?) In spite of both the weather and the 10 Yankee runs, once the game began, it lasted just 2 hours and 36 minutes. Michael Kay, no doubt, was pleased at this "very manageable" game.

Freddy Garcia (9-7) pitched into the 8th, allowing 8 hits but only 1 walk, and that's what I like to see. Boone Logan did not piss me off this time, getting the last out in the 8th and the first in the 9th, before giving way to the major league debut of 25-year-old lefty Trenton, New Jersey native Steve Garrison, who got the last 2 outs without allowing a baserunner. (Is he the first Trenton native, or even the first Mercer County native, to play for the Trenton Thunder? If anybody knows, let me know.)

Jason Vargas (6-9) was the starter for Seattle, and the Yankees smacked him around for 4 innings, thanks to home runs by Mark Teixeira (his 27th) and Derek Jeter (his 4th -- I seem to have a vague memory of his 3rd).

The Red Sox finally lost last night, the Kansas City Royals beating them in 14 innings (so that's a double meaning for "finally"). So the Yankees are now 2 games behind them -- both regularly and in the loss column.

The series continues tonight, weather permitting. CC Sabathia goes against Doug Fister. Fister is 3-11 this season, 12-29 for his career (though his career ERA is 3.81 and his WHIP is 1.24, not bad numbers in the AL, but Safeco Field is a pitchers' park), and he's opposing CC. But he's not familiar to the Yankees... uh-oh.

He has faced the Yanks twice in his career, both in his first season, 2009: Pitching 7 strong to beat them at The Stadium on August 16, and then getting pounded in 4 at The Stadium on September 19. He's 27, and hasn't done much in the majors. Hopefully, the Yankees can prevent him from doing much tonight.

The Mets came from behind to beat the Reds in Cincinnati last night, 4-2. Good pitching from R.A. Dickey, and Jason Isringhausen got his 3rd save since coming back to the team that started, and nearly ruined, his career.

Somebody forgot to tell the Minnesota Twins that you gotta come OUT of the clubhouse to play the ballgame. The Texas Rangers were leading them 18-1 after 5, before the Twins mounted a comeback to make the final score 20-6. Michael Cuddyer actually pitched the 9th for the Twins, their 6th pitcher -- and, like only 1 other, held the Rangers scoreless. So, on the day the NFL lockout ended, both Yankees-Mariners and Rangers-Twins had football scores.

Jeter hits 3017 DONE
Rivera saves 584 17
A-Rod homers 626 137
A-Rod hits 2762 238

Monday, July 25, 2011

BAM! Said the Grandy Man

In the middle of one of the nastiest heat waves of my lifetime -- even Richard Castle wouldn't like THIS heat wave -- the Yankees needed a hot pitcher.

(Yes, that was a Castle reference. "BAM!" said the lady. No, there won't be a Firefly reference in this post.)

They got a hot pitcher in Bartolo Colon (7-6), who revived his revival. He pitched 7 strong innings against the Oakland Athletics, 2 runs, 8 hits but only 1 walk.

He was backed up by Curtis Granderson, who hit his 27th home run of the season in the 5th inning, off Gio Gonzalez (9-7). "BAM!" said the Grandy Man. The Yankees took a 6-2 lead into the top of the 8th.

But Colon had thrown 98 pitches, and, slave to the pitch count, Joe Girardi wouldn't let him back onto the mound even though he was cruising. So he sent in David Robertson. Not a bad move, right? Robertson has been fantastic this season.

Except this time, he nearly blew it, and Girardi had to do what no manager wants to do: Bring Mariano Rivera in for the 8th inning. Somewhere, Luis Arroyo, Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage all had to be thinking the same thing: "Why not, I used to do that." But while Mo is great for one inning, he's usually not good for two -- the one temper to his supposedly unassailable claim to being the "greatest relief pitcher ever."

Mo got out of the 8th, and it was 6-4. The Yanks got a run in the bottom of the 8th, and, as so often happens, that insurance run was needed. Mo allowed a run in the 9th -- including on a hit by ex-Yankee Hideki Matsui, who went 5-for-5 on top of his home run the day before -- but finally closed it out for his 25th save. Yankees 7, A's 5.

The Yankees' homestand continues against the Seattle Mariners, who gave them no help over the weekend, rolling over and playing dead against The Scum, and putting together a club-record 15-game losing streak. Let's make it 18. Tonight's starting pitchers are Freddy Garcia (8-7) for the Yanks and Jason Vargas (6-8) for the M's.

Jeter hits 3015 DONE
Rivera saves 584 17
A-Rod homers 626 137
A-Rod hits 2762 238

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Logan's Home Run

Three games have come and gone since I last posted. Don't worry, my computer didn't melt in the heat. (108 degrees in Newark yesterday -- hottest day in New Jersey history. New York City got up to 104; Philadelphia, 102.)

Thursday night, CC Sabathia went the distance, allowing just 2 runs on 5 hits and 4 walks -- but it wasn't enough, as James Shields stopped the Yankees cold, allowing just 1 run, on a double by Robinson Cano. To make matters worse, the Yankees couldn't score off Kerosene Kyle Farnsworth in the 9th.

Tampa Bay Rays 2, Yankees 1. So the Yankees only split the 4-game series in St. Petersburg. WP: Shields (9-8). SV: Farnsworth (19). LP: Sabathia (14-5 -- breaking a streak of 8 straight winning decisions.)

The Yankees went from scoring just 1 run on Thursday night to scoring 9 on the Oakland Athletics last night.

How many times did they score, Ed Rooney? "Nine times."

In the 3rd inning.

This after 5 in the 2nd.

This after allowing 2 in the first 2. It was 0-2, then, next thing you knew, it was 14-2.

But then, just like that, it was 14-7. It ended 17-7.

WP: Hector Noesi (2-0), pitching very well in relief of Phil Hughes, who did not have it at all. LP: Trevor Cahill (8-9). Yankee home runs were hit by Nick Swisher (his 11th) and Mark Teixeira (his 26th, a grand slam in the 3rd).

It was 100 degrees at first pitch, and still, 46,921 fans came out to Yankee Stadium II. Yankee Fans are nuts. Sometimes, that's a good thing. This time, I don't know.

Seventeen runs last night. If only we could've taken 2 and applied them to the night before, and 2 more and applied them to today. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way (as the Yankees found out back in the 1960 World Series).

A.J. Burnett started, and a daylight start usually means "Good A.J." Not today: "Bad A.J." wilted in the heat, not getting out of the 6th inning. Cory Wade got the last out, holding the A's to 3-1. Swisher homered in the bottom of the 6th, and the Yanks looked like they could come back from a 3-2 deficit.

But then, Yankee manager Joe Girardi did something no one but a fool would do.

He brought Boone Logan in to pitch the 7th.

How does that old Hank Williams song go? "It's Boone Logan, I could cry."

Logan gave up a home run, and, as Ol' Hank would say, "There's a tear in my beer." True, it was to Yankee Legend (now with the A's) Hideki Matsui, but that didn't make a difference. It was now 4-2 A's.

Memo to Girardi: BOONE LOGAN CANNOT PITCH! SEND THIS NUMBSKULL DOWN TO THE MINORS!

The Yankees threatened in the bottom of the 9th. They got men on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. A hit would tie it. But Teixeira juuuust got under a pitch, moving the runners over, scoring Brett Gardner to make it 4-3 and moving Derek Jeter to 3rd, but now there were 2 outs, and Robinson Cano grounded out to end it.

The Yankees had won 11 straight against the A's, and 25 of their last 29 against them. Not this time.

WP: Rich Harden (2-1). SV: Andrew Bailey (11). LP: Burnett (8-8).

To make matters worse, The Scum keep winning. They're playing the Seattle Mariners this weekend at Fenway, and the M's are pathetic, tonight's game will be their 14th straight loss. They're sinking faster than the Titanic, and there hasn't been this much whooping of Bostonians on mariners since the original Tea Party in 1773. (At least, unlike the politicial idiots who call themselves the Tea Party, most of the idiots at Fenway Park, drunk like their 1773 forebears, are Democrats. Politics trumps sports -- but I still hate the Red Sox.)

Tomorrow, the Yankees close out the series with the A's. Bartolo Colon pitches against Gio Gonzalez.

The Red Bulls managed a home draw tonight against the rather imaginatively named FC Dallas, with Thierry Henry getting the equalizer in the 85th minute. Not great news, but I'll take it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ranking the Ballparks

Here is it, my ranking of the current Major League Baseball stadiums. All of them.

Rankings were based on grading each park on a zero-to-ten basis in these categories:

* Automobile access.

* Public transportation access.

* Layout. As in, how does the place look, overall? And how easy is it to get around the place, get to the concession stands and bathrooms, to the "special stuff" at the ballpark, and back to your seat?

* Upkeep. Is the park in good condition? (Since the average ballpark is now 14 years old -- and that includes 99-year-old Fenway and 97-year-old Wrigley -- it better be.) And is it kept clean?

* Seating. How comfortable are the seats? Do they offer good views? Any obstruction?

* Field. How good does the field look? (This is separate from Upkeep.)

* Scoreboard. Does it look good? Is it informative?

* Food. Are there enough concession stands? How long do the lines get? Is there a good selection? How much does it cost? Does it taste good?

* Restrooms. Are there enough of them? How long do the lines get? Are they kept reasonably clean, considering that anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 fans can be expected at a game on any given day?

* Fans. Do they generally behave themselves? Are they into the game? Or are they just businessmen there to entertain clients?

* Atmosphere. Admittedly, a judgement call. It boils down to this: Does the place "feel like a ballpark"? Or does it feel more like a multipurpose facility that, today, is hosting a baseball game?

You will not be shocked at the part that's at the bottom. You will be shocked by the fact that Yankee Stadium II is not Number 1. Or Number 2. In fact, you may be really shocked by which park is Number 2.

Note that I have not been to all 30. I have observed all 30, at the very least, on television, and checked the teams' websites to see what's available at the parks I haven't visited.

30. Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg. It's a dome. Not a retractable one. It's got artificial turf. It has catwalks. It has a ray tank. It damn near has an echo, what with all the fans not showing up -- and, of those who do, half of them root for the other team, because, while they may live in Central Florida, they're usually from somewhere else. For years, we were told what a great baseball area Tampa Bay was. Sure: For spring training! After the Twins, Mariners, very nearly the White Sox, and damn near the Giants almost moved there, the Devil Rays came in, and showed that all those other teams were right to stay put. The Rays need to build a new ballpark, but do their fans deserve one? Get 'em out! Move them to a better baseball city. I understand Montreal has a stadium ready to go. At least, as a stopgap facility. At least the few fans who came out to see the Expos in their last years were all root, root, rooting for the home team.

29. Chase Field, Phoenix. Formerly known as Bank One Ballpark, calling this thing a ballpark is like calling Rebecca Black's "Friday" a song. Sure, you CAN, but WHY? The place looks more like an airplane hangar. True, it has real grass, but it doesn't look good. Yes, the roof can open, but why would you, when Phoenix is usually over 95 degrees -- even at night? And the fans have the same problem as Tampa Bay, with whom their franchise arrived in the majors in 1998: Too many of them come from somewhere else. Note that this has nothing to do with the 2001 World Series. This would still be a bad stadium even if the Yankees had won it.

28. Rangers Ballpark, Arlington. What's wrong with this place? Not a whole lot, really. It only scored poorly in 2 categories. One was Fans: They hardly showed up until last year's Pennant, and that stupid Antlers thing has got to go. The other was Access, Public Transportation. There isn't any. No subway. No light rail. No city buses. In Dallas, there are light rail trains and buses. But to the ballpark? Not so much as a shuttle bus from downtown Dallas or Fort Worth. It was the only zero I gave in any category. (Even the Tampa Bay and Toronto fields, the only artificial surfaces left in the majors, got 3s.) So if you don't have a car, you can't get to a Rangers home game. If so much as one bus line went out here, it would rise from 28th to 24th. Plus, the heat drives down the atmosphere. Until the Arizona and Florida teams came along, Texas was the State most in need of ballpark roofs. The old Arlington Stadium was a quirky, sometimes fun ballpark, but was nonetheless a frying pan. This place is an improvement, but not enough of one.

27. Rogers Centre, Toronto. Formerly known as the SkyDome, this place wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The turf is bad, but the seats -- in the 100 and 200 Levels, not the faraway 500 -- are reasonable. The place looks weird when closed, though, and the carpeting in the concourses makes it look like an oversized movie theater. I especially don't like that it's a 10-minute walk from Union Station -- and thus from the nearest subway stop. This is a far cry from the Air Canada Centre (the home of the Maple Leafs and Raptors is attached to Union Station), Maple Leaf Gardens (the former home of the Leafs was a 2-minute walk from the subway), and BMO Field (a streetcar goes right to the home of Toronto FC). Canada has done great things, but they've still never built a good Major League Baseball park. (The old Exhibition Stadium, on whose site BMO Field was built, may have been the worst MLB park of the modern era.)

26. Dolphin Stadium, Miami suburbs. Admittedly, the Marlins' ballpark rating will go up when the new stadium opens next season. But sharing a stadium with the local football team should have been a five-year proposition at most, not 19 seasons like it turned out to be. The atmosphere is dreadful, and aside from access (right off the freeway and it has a MetroRail stop), the former Joe Robbie Stadium does not excel in any category.

25. Turner Field, Atlanta. Looks terrific. But being built just south of Fulton County Stadium was a mistake, because that makes it an even further walk from the subway. And Atlanta, as another city with a lot of transplants, is another city with attendance problems: Not enough show up, and many of those who do are rooting for the other team. And, face it, with their stupid War Chant and Tomahawk Chop, Braves fans are dumb. Just plain dumb. They make the Met fans who sometimes outnumber them in their own house look brilliant.

24. Oakland Coliseum. Not that long ago, this was a great place to watch a ballgame. Granted, the miles of baseline foul territory kept a lot of seats a long way away, and it's not exactly in a great neighborhood. But once you got in, you were usually guaranteed a good time, whether the A's were great (1971-75, 1980-81, 1988-92, 2000-06) or lousy (1977-79, occasionally since). But the Raiders moving back in led to the building of the outfield seats known as Mount Davis, and it ruined the atmosphere. The A's need to get out of the Mausoleum, and if they don't, they will be getting out of the Bay Area entirely. Note that, once the new Marlins' ballpark opens next spring, the A's and the Blue Jays will be the only remaining MLB teams sharing their home stadium with a professional football team.

23. Minute Maid Park, Houston. It's better than the Astrodome. A lot better. It's right downtown. The terrace is quirky, the train is cute. And Astro fans are a lot smarter than Ranger fans. But there's nothing really special about this park. Maybe it's because the Astrodome was once hailed as the wave of the future, but the former Enron Field's retroness doesn't make it feel like professional baseball has been played here since the Houston Buffaloes won the 1928 Texas League Pennant (which they did -- and again in 1931, led by Dizzy Dean). Copying the CITGO sign from Fenway wasn't as nice a touch as anyone thinks. Let's face it, nobody is going to be fooled into thinking they're in Boston. Not even if the Astros win a World Series (by any means, fair or foul).

22. Angel Stadium. Formerly Anaheim Stadium and Edison International Field, the Big A has managed to feel lived-in while staying fresh, especially now that the bleachers built for the Rams have been demolished. The ThunderStix and the Rally Monkey need to go, but Angel fans are better than their blue bretheren up Interstate 5.

21. Fenway Park, Boston. Don't let the bottom-third ranking fool you: I love Fenway. Hate the Red Sox, hate many of their fans -- which is probably a big reason why Fenway didn't make the top half of this list -- but love Fenway. No, you shouldn't drive there: Access from the Mass Pike is bad, parking is worse. Yes, the bathrooms, while not 1912-quality, are decidedly 20th Century. Yes, the corridors can be a little creepy. But Fenway Park IS baseball. Every fan should see a game here. Preferably one not involving your favorite team, so Red Sox fans can treat you like a tourist and not as one of the enemy. I've been there as a neutral and as a Yankee Fan. Believe me, the former is better.

20. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. It's easy to drive to. It's clean. It's got history. (Hard to believe that Walter O'Malley's monument to himself and his own greed is now the 3rd-oldest stadium in the majors.) But you can't get there without a car, except maybe by shuttle bus from Union Station. The view of the San Gabriel Mountains is no more special than the view of the Rocky Mountains from Coors Field -- or of the downtowns from the ballparks in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Baltimore. Face it, if Sandy Koufax had played basketball like he once preferred, there would be very little special about Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers have won a bunch of Pennants at their current stadium? So have the A's, and who calls the Oakland Coliseum special?

19. Miller Park, Milwaukee. I loved Milwaukee County Stadium. This retractable-roof facility isn't bad, but it doesn't have half the atmosphere of its predecessor. Still, Milwaukee's a terrific city, it's easy to get in and out of the park (by car or bus from downtown), it's clean, the food is great, and Wisconsonians know their baseball.

18. Coors Field, Denver. This is one of the nicer ones. Although there's little about it that's great, there is nothing it does badly. Good access, clean, good sight lines, nice view, and Colorado fans are wonderful -- as long as you're not wearing Oakland Raider gear, but that won't be a problem in this sport.

17. Safeco Field, Seattle. The retractable roof hanging over right field, ready to slide over and close to protect you from the Pacific Northwest rain, looks very weird. And the horns from the adjoining King Street Station are a bit loud, although not nearly as bad as the planes in Flushing. Other than that, I have no complaints about Safeco. A lot of people love it, and it's certainly a ginormous improvement over the hideous Kingdome. I don't think it's one of the very best, though.

16. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City. For years, there was only one complaint about the former Royals Stadium: It had artificial turf. Other than that, it was held up as a model of modern baseball construction. Then came Camden Yards and its wave of copycats, just as K.C. switched to real grass (in 1993). Out went the plastic-grassed suburban concrete doughnuts of the LBJ and Nixon years. In came the downtown classic-feel baseball palaces. Next thing anyone knew, K.C.'s famed fountains didn't seem special anymore. In his book Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks, written about his 1985 tour of the 26 ballparks then in use, Bob Wood, a teacher from Michigan then living in Seattle (now in Cincinnati), and a childhood Tiger fan and a grownup Red Sox fan, had Royals Stadium tied with Dodger Stadium for best ballpark overall -- and few thought his choice a bad one. Now, I can't even put Kauffman in the top half. It's still a decent ballpark -- especially if you can get one of the shuttle buses that goes around the major hotels -- but it's no longer a big deal. And Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Chiefs next door, while it has one of the best gameday atmospheres in the NFL, is a really, really weird-looking place.

15. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati. I don't know about great, but the replacement to the concrete ashtray that was Riverfront Stadium is a pretty good American ballpark. It's right downtown. It's easy to get into and out of. It's got a nice view. There's hardly any bad seats. It's got some quirks. And Reds fans are really good fans. There is only one thing that I don't like about the Cincy park: There aren't a lot of food options.

14. Comerica Park, Detroit. It is a crime that Tiger Stadium was demolished, but I understand. There's only so much you can do to modernize an 87-year-old stadium, and the surrounding Corktown neighborhood was rather dodgy. Comerica is right downtown, next-door to the Lions' Ford Field, and the fact that it isn't where Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline and "TramWhit" played is the only bad thing about it. No, the Tigers haven't played there since 1901, but it feels like that COULD be true. Even your car will be safe from the legendary Detroit crime.

13. Target Field, Minneapolis. Baseball's newest park until the Marlins open their new place next season, but even the Marlins couldn't improve as much in one off-season as the Twins did in 2009-10 when they got the hell out of the Metrodome. Or, rather, they got themselves out of the hell. The Metrodome was awful well before that December 2010 snowstorm tore and collapsed the roof and forced the Vikings into the University of Minnesota's new football stadium. Although Harmon Killebrew died a few weeks ago, he did live long enough to see this place open, and if you forget that the 1987 and 1991 World Series were played at the Homerdome, it's not that hard to believe that this is where "the Killer" crushed tape-measure jobs, where filthy curveballs were tossed in Pennant-winning seasons by Camilo Pascual in 1965 and Bert Blyleven in 1987, where Rod Carew stole home 7 times in 1969 and nearly batted .400 in 1977, and where Kent Hrbek and the late Kirby Puckett thrilled the loudest fans in baseball (at least, they were the loudest when they had a dome to keep the sound in). The Twins were seriously considering moving to Tampa Bay in the late 1980s and were nearly contracted out of existence in the early 2000s, but with Target Field in place, they have a good home for baseball for at least the next half-century.

12. Jacobs Field, Cleveland. I refuse to call this place Progressive Field. I would, however, call it a dandy. Designed as a retro park before construction began on Camden Yards, it's no copycat. In fact, Citi Field and the new parks in Philly, Seattle and Denver seem to be copies of this one. Good choice, the atmosphere is great, and even when the Indians aren't winning, their fans are a lot louder here than they were at the old Municipal Stadium (though I can't say for sure how loud they were when the Indians were really good in the 1940s and '50s, capable of packing over 80,000 into that place).

11. Nationals Park, Washington. How wonderful it must have seemed to the Expos/Nationals who had played the last days of Olympic Stadium in Montreal and the 3 years at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium -- which was a great football stadium and is still a very good soccer ground, but not a very good place for baseball. Nats Park has good freeway and subway (Metro) access, the statues (Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard) and the Washington Wall of Stars display give it a history it doesn't really have, the Racing Presidents give it fun, and the food... The best ballpark food I have ever eaten, even better than a Tiger Stadium hot dog and a Milwaukee County Stadium Polish sausage, is "The Rough Rider" barbecue sandwich at Nationals Park. Twelve bucks and worth every penny. The old Washington Senators had the problem of D.C. being a federal government town, and thus a lot of people who showed up at Griffith Stadium and RFK were from elsewhere and didn't become Senators fans, and those who did didn't stay Senators fans when they returned home. But with the growth of Washington's Maryland and Virginia suburbs (for a long time it looked like northern Virginia, rather than the District, was going to be where the park was built) has led to the locals having a real pride in their hometown and its team. The Nats may not be very good yet, but the ballpark experience there is.

10. AT&T Park, San Francisco. Perhaps the biggest improvement in the history of ballparks was from Candlestick Park to this place, originally known as Pacific Bell Park. You had to be a real solid 49ers fan to love The Stick. I don't think any baseball stadium has ever been more hated by its own team's fans. But the new park, just off downtown in the China Basin region, has the easy access, the close seats, the big glove, the promenade and McCovey Cove. And now it has a World Championship. All it needs now is to not get wrecked by The Big One: If The Stick can survive the 1989 World Series earthquake, hopefully The Phone Booth can survive the next big quake.

9. Busch Stadium, St. Louis. The 3rd stadium to have the name -- the first was the renamed Sportsman's Park, the 2nd the one we know from the 1967, '68, '82, '85, '87 and 2004 World Series -- it's the best. The Cardinals really tried to make Busch II not feel like one of the concrete ashtrays of the Sixties, by replacing the turf with real grass, planting those flowers behind the outfield fence, putting up the hand-operated scoreboards. Nothing worked like building a real park, with close seats and a great view. There are a lot of people who say that St. Louis is the best baseball town in America. Busch III is a big argument in their favor.

8. PNC Park, Pittsburgh. A huuuuge improvement over Three Rivers Stadium. The view alone is magnificent: Those skyscrapers, old and new, with their height and their contrasting styles, make Pittsburgh feel like a much bigger city than it actually is. And yet it feels like an oversized small town, too. PNC is one of the smallest parks in the majors (or, at least, with the fewest seats), but it's not a forced intimacy. No, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell didn't play here -- but it was built pretty much on the site of Exposition Park, where the Pirates played before Forbes Field, so you can say, more or less accurately, that Honus Wagner did play here. All PNC needs is another name (not a fan of that bank), and a winning team. Hey, look, the Pirates may finally have one again.

7. Petco Park, San Diego. Another suburban football stadium (Jack Murphy/Qualcomm) is replaced by a downtown gem. Like Camden Yards, it had a warehouse built into the park, with seats built into the warehouse wall. The Padres, the team of Nate Colbert, Randy Jones, Dave Winfield and Tony Gwynn, always did feel like they deserves a homey ballpark. Now, they've got one, and they don't have to play second (or third) fiddle to the L.A.-area parks anymore: This one is better than Chavez Ravine or Anaheim.

6. Wrigley Field, Chicago. If it could be modernized, it might well be a contender for Number 1. You'd have to be a serious Met or Cardinal fan not to like Wrigley -- or someone who visited at night, when the locals have had more time to get tanked. Chicagoans really, really like to drink. But in daylight, as God and Ernie Banks intended it, Wrigley is everything they've been saying it is for nearly a century. The only thing bad about it is that you'd have to be an idiot to drive there. And the food is, for whatever reason, well below what you'll get at the Sox' park. Who cares, you can get decent food at Murphy's or the Cubby Bear after the game.

5. Citi Field, New York. WHAT? Mike is rating the Mets' park ahead of Wrigley? No, you're not imagining things. I like Citi Field. I'd like it a lot better if it wasn't full of Met fans... well, half-full of Met fans. And I'm glad Fred Wilpon finally put that Mets Hall of Fame off to the side of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda in the Ebbets Field-like entry. It's about time the Mets, who will have (if not quite "celebrate") their 50th Anniversary next year, admit that, no, they are not an expansion team anymore; and, yes, they do have some good history. Shea Stadium always topped Yankee Stadium in two categories: Parking and food. Citi Field tops YSII in those categories as well. Just make sure you hit Shake Shack before first pitch, or else you're going to miss an inning. The only thing I don't like about the place. That, and all those Met fans.

4. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore. Or, as it's better known, just "Camden Yards" -- the one U.S. baseball park whose name sounds like that of an English soccer ground. (Highbury, Anfield, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, etc.) Having been to Memorial Stadium 3 times, I really liked it, and I know that the Orioles haven't been playing in the Inner Harbor since the Roaring Twenties. But it sure feels like they have. This is the park that every post-1992 park wanted to be. And, a generation later, it still has a great atmosphere. Especially when there's 20,000 Oriole fans dueling with 20,000 Yankee Fans to see who's louder. THAT is when it sounds like an English "football ground"! One thing bothers me, though: The light rail isn't as convenient as it appears, and trying to get back to Baltimore's Penn Station (so you can get back to New York's and not have to pay for a hotel) in time to catch the last Amtrak out is not easy.

3. Yankee Stadium, New York. That's right, it's only Number 3 on this list. It deeply saddened me that the original Yankee Stadium was demolished. After all, you can't go to the new one and say, "This is where (great historical moment) happened" -- unless you're talking about the 2009 postseason or Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit. But... In every measurable way (except, obviously, for prices), the new Stadium is an improvement on the old one. More escalators. Elevators. The concourses are wider. The seats are wider and have more legroom. You can see the game while on line for food. There's more concession stands with a much wider variety of food (although the Mets do still do food better). The scoreboard is an improvement. And, as George Steinbrenner demanded, there are more and bigger bathrooms, and you won't lose an inning in there. If there HAD to be a new Yankee Stadium, they got it right. Except for "Monument Cave." That bothers me. But, overall, the new Stadium has done everything we've asked it to do... including host a World Championship.

2. U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago. A lot of White Sox fans did not want to leave the old Comiskey Park for this place, originally named the new Comiskey Park. A lot of them hate it, calling it "Mallpark," and pointing out that the first row of the upper deck is further from the field than the last row of the upper deck at the old Comiskey. But the alternative to getting this park approved in 1988, to open in 1991, was the White Sox moving to Tampa Bay and playing in the Number 30 stadium on this list. Maybe it's the physical resemblance to Yankee Stadium, 1976-2008 style (wraparound blue decks, big white bleachers, before the exterior and seats were painted and the little roof was added), but I liked it the moment I saw it. Some changes have added a little bit of intimacy, and it's still got the same Dan Ryan Expressway and El access, gritty South Side feel, and amazing variety and great taste of food that old Comiskey had. And it's got an "exploding scoreboard" that's a good copy of the old one. As with Yankee Stadium, if the old one had to go, this was a good replacement.

1. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. The Phillies, formerly in rundown Connie Mack Stadium and the much-maligned Veterans Stadium, now have the best ballpark of them all? As Richie Ashburn would say to his broadcast partner, "Hard to believe, Harry." No, more like, "Bet yer house on it, Harry!" Now that, as Harry Kalas would say, the Vet "is... outta here," Delaware Valley fans are enjoying what they were missing all those years. I don't like that it was built to the right of the Vet, thus making for a longer walk from the Broad Street Line subway. Other than that, this park does not have a flaw. It's spacious in the concourses and in the seats, yet every seat, even in the upper deck (the 400 Level, not the 700 Level like in the Vet) is a good one. I love the Liberty Bell that lights up and tolls whenever the Phillies hit a home run or win the game. No ballpark has more food, and hardly any has better food. The Phillies embrace their history with Ashburn Alley in center field, including a statue of the man himself, Philly's version of Phil Rizzuto, with a bar named for Kalas, Harry the K's, in the left field corner and Bull's BBQ, run by Greg Luzinski (and he's usually there), in right. Philly fans love their football, their basketball and their hockey. But it took Citizens Bank Park to remind them of just how much they love baseball. And they're much better behaved while watching that sport than the others, too. Anybody who goes there is going to come away loving baseball, too.