Monday, April 26, 2010
The subway to Citi Field is a lengthy trip from Manhattan (30 minutes – especially when the Defensive Specialist gets on the regular service rather than the express) and meanders through some eye opening scenery, especially in contrast to downtown New York and Boston. The trip was also interesting in that it took busking and begging to new levels. A mariachi band jumped on at one stop and busted out a half decent version of ‘La Bamba’ before approaching each passenger with hat in hand looking for cash. This was topped by a sizeable lady walking through the carriage with a sign detailing her need for a serious stomach operation that she can’t pay for as she has no job. Obviously not everyone is as benevolent as the Defensive Specialist but she had a strategy for that – if you said no or ignored her, she flipped the sign over to reveal a gruesome picture of her scarred and mangled guts that had many of the commuters tasting their breakfast for a second time.
With spring in the air, the trees were in full bloom which provided an even better background for carved up stomachs and baseball stadiums that sprout in the suburbs. Citi Field is only in its second year of existence and it is definitely a majestic creation. The ball park sits opposite the site of the US Open (tennis) so you have two fairly sizeable sporting facilities in the same area. Interestingly enough, the new stadium is surrounded by either car parks or panel beaters making the stadium seem somewhat out of place.
Of the 3 parks the Defensive Specialist has visited in the past week Citi Field probably held the lowest level of expectation since it’s opening was overshadowed by Yankee Stadium, and Fenway is Fenway. The Defensive Specialist is pleased to announce that Citi Field blew Yankee Stadium away and more than held its own with Fenway. Now obviously that is totally subjective but Citi Field is a really nice ball park with plenty of quirks to keep you looking . The darker seats made the crisp green grass really stand out and it felt less sterile than Yankee Stadium. Like Fenway, the ushers were a lot more relaxed when it came to allowing access to different parts of the yard.
Saturday was a day game with picture perfect weather , and the added bonus that it was dog day (bark in the park), meaning that people could bring their canine companions to the field. Why anyone would want to bring their dog to a major league baseball game is beyond the Defensive Specialist’s comprehension and fortunately there were no beasts in the Defensive Specialist’s proximity. (Mrs Defensive Specialist tells me it’s an annual event and this year they broke a Guinness world record for something random like most dogs on a baseball field wearing team insignia)
The Defensive Specialist settled Mrs Defensive Specialist in her seat and then went to evaluate the concession stands. There was an impressive array of ball park food and beverages (especially fresh off the heels of the Fenway experience) with the only downside being the long wait. It was also amusing to be asked for identification every time the Defensive Specialist purchased a beer. Perhaps all those years of moisturising have finally payed off!
With a cold beverage and a pulled pork sandwich, the Defensive Specialist settled in to watch Jonathon Niese and the Mets take on Jair Jurrjens and the Braves. Both pitchers were rock solid although the Braves hurt themselves in the 5th inning with some bone-headed base running. With 1 out and Yunel Escobar on third and Martin Prado on second, Troy Glaus hit a deep fly to right. Jeff Francoeur caught the ball and came up firing attempting to nail Prado at third (assuming that Escobar would score easily). Prado tagged and broke for third only to notice that Escobar inexplicably didn’t tag. Prado stopped and was caught in a run down for the final out before Escobar could re-tag and score.
Both teams scored a single run in the 6th before the Mets stepped on the gas in the 7th with a long Francoeur double and a sacrifice fly enabling 2 runs to cross the plate. Francisco Rodriguez was summoned in the 9th to close the game down for a Mets win.
An afternoon sitting in the sun was a pleasant way to end the Defensive Specialist’s three game US baseball odyssey. The ballpark rankings would have to be Fenway, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium with the history and familiarity giving Boston’s home field the advantage.
Mrs Defensive Specialist seemed to enjoy the experience as well (that didn’t look to be the case when she found her seat behind a steel beam in Boston) but her trip was taken to another level OUTSIDE Citi Field when she noticed a large crowd of people cheering. Approaching the crowd, she was ecstatic to find Tillman the world famous skateboarding dog doing his thing. Of course the Defensive Specialist was made to stand and watch the dog skate back and forth. A small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Boston has a very different feel to New York – obviously there are less people and it’s less crowded, but it is also a little more laid back. It probably helped that the Boston Marathon had just been run and the entire population was knackered.
The Defensive Specialist checked into the Sheraton, opened the room blinds and lo and behold, there was Fenway Park! The hotel overlooked the Charles River with the famous ‘Citgo’ sign just off to the left. With a couple of days in town, the Defensive Specialist decided to hit a few tourist destinations. After stumbling around the MIT campus looking for blackboards with complex mathematical equations on them waiting for a genius janitor to complete (see Good Willing Hunting) with no luck, the Defensive Specialist decided on a Duckboat tour. These amphibious craft drive you throughout the city (both on land and water) while pumping out historical facts. Another key piece of information for would-be travellers is that all kids (and there were a lot of them) are equipped with an apparatus that when blowed simulates a duck quack. While this seems innocent enough, imagine being stuck on the vessel with these kids while they blow them incessantly for an hour and a half. Forget about a leisurely trip around Boston’s historical sites. The Defensive Specialist nearly committed homicide.
With the Red Sox playing the Texas Rangers at 7pm, it was time for the Defensive Specialist to get his game face on at about 4pm. Fortunately the Boston weather was substantially warmer than what was experienced in New York and the Defensive Specialist did not require thermal underwear. Fenway was a ten minute walk from the hotel and is situated a little outside of town. What’s nice about Fenway is that it’s not your typical monstrous stadium which means it blends into the surrounding suburb. If it didn’t have huge light towers and it wasn’t painted green, it could easily pass for a giant warehouse (without a roof).
The surrounding streets are alive with bars, restaurants and street vendors creating a cool atmosphere. One notable thing about Boston is that its people are incredibly passionate about their sporting teams. Nearly every person was outfitted in Red Sox apparel, (Making the Defensive Specialist and Mrs Defensive Specialist stick out like dogs balls in normal clothes). Entering through Gate D, you are quickly reminded that Fenway is an old ballpark by the antiquated food service areas and restrooms. In newer ballparks, the food is slanted towards gourmet dining. Fenway pays little attention to that by only supplying traditional baseball fare.
The Defensive Specialist grabbed a beer and headed for his lower grandstand seats. Once again, as you walk through the entrances to the seats, the field explodes into view. Having seen hundreds of Red Sox games on television, it was surreal to be there in the flesh. It’s amazing how close to the action you are in Fenway. The seats are close to the action, and the Green monster really is only a short distance to home plate. Watching batting practice, the Rangers hitters were either peppering balls off it or easily launching balls over it.
Fenway is different to Yankee Stadium in that its ushers were significantly less maniacal about keeping people within their ticketed areas. It was easy to walk up to the fence and take in batting practice during pre game.
Mrs Defensive Specialist was most definitely not.
A quick call up to Theo Epstein’s GM suite had the ticketing situation rectified and the Defensive Specialist (and an appeased Mrs Defensive Specialist) had prime seats for the game.
Red Sox ace, Josh Beckett took the ball and was shaky early on, giving up a quick 3 runs. The Rangers countered with Matt Harrison who had a funky windup and dialled it up to 96mph. Harrison gave up a monster home run to leftfield by Mike Lowell - DH’ing ahead of Big Papi who can no longer remember how to hit. Harrison ran into trouble in the 2nd when he loaded the bases and surrendered a walk-the-dog (meaning he got out in front of it) grand slam to JD Drew taking the score to 5-3. The Red Sox added 2 more runs before Beckett put two runners on in the 7th and saw Josh Hamilton absolutely destroy a 2 strike fastball to straight away centrefield for 450 foot (by the Defensive Specialists estimation) homerun. Extremely impressive piece of hitting.
The Red Sox then brought in flamethrower Daniel Bard who consistently hit 97-98 mph with a hellacious slider that froze hitters. The Rangers rolled out Neftali Feliz who looks like he weighs 45 kilos but pumped 99-101 mph fastballs with what appeared to be little or no effort. It was the first time the Defensive Specialist had seen two guys generate so much velocity and it was quite an experience to ‘ride the lightening’ as these guys went at it. In the 8th inning ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond was played with everyone in attendance singing along while adding their own touches to it.
Following Bard, the Red Sox used their closer Jonathon Papelbon who was introduced to the field with the Dropkick Murphy’s ‘Shipping Out to Boston’ which is a pretty cool song in its own regards but even better when 35,000 people sing it as their hard throwing reliever jogs in.
Neither team could score in regulation and we found ourselves in extra innings. In the bottom of the 12th, Marco Scutaro singled and then astutely tagged on a routine fly ball to centre. It was a ballsy move by Scutaro but questions must be raised over the centrefielders inability to throw him out at second. Pedroia was intentionally walked and Kevin Youkilis banged a ball off the centrefield wall for a walk off Red Sox victory.
It was an awesome end to a great night.
As an interesting aside, the Defensive Specialist was sitting in the lobby of the Sheraton making use of the free wi-fi, typing this post up when he noticed 2 large trolleys being wheeled over loaded with food and drinks. The Defensive Specialist was flattered at the Sheraton's hospitality and generosity until he noticed signs on the counter saying “Orioles Players”, “Orioles Staff” and “Orioles Media”. Obviously the Baltimore Orioles were arriving for their series against the Red Sox starting on Friday. All of a sudden, the entire Oriole team was in the lobby. They simply walked up to the counter, grabbed an envelope with their name on it, loaded up on goodies and headed for their rooms (they flew overnight from Seattle- 5+ hours and it was 8am). The Defensive Specialist contemplated grabbing Nick Markakis and Matt Weiters to give them a pep talk so that they would hit better and help his fantasy team but thought better of it. It must be said that although the dress code was obviously coat and trousers, some of the players had a liberal interpretation of it. Markakis took the cake for worst outfit, wearing an apricot coloured number that looked like a baggy safari suit. It was offensive. Miguel Tejada’s shirt collar was all over the show, but since he had a Versace man bag, the Defensive Specialist left him to his own devices.
And within 5 minutes they were gone.
Next stop on the itinerary – Citifield to see the Mets take on the Braves.
Monday, April 19, 2010
New York is an amazing city, and even better when the Mets and Yankees are in town. Today the Defensive Specialist had to stave off sleep deprivation to take in the Yankees as they played host to the Texas Rangers. The last time the Defensive Specialist was in town, he took the opportunity to visit old Yankee Stadium. While the place was steeped in history, it is fair to say that it was kind of a dump! New Yankee Stadium – all 1 billion dollars of it, was an exciting proposition to the Defensive Specialist.
The Defensive Specialist did what all baseball fans should do – caught a subway to the stadium. It’s only a short trip from midtown Manhattan to the Bronx by subway and definitely worth battling your preconceived ideas of how dangerous the subway is to make the journey. As the subway springs out of its tunnel and hits daylight, the passenger s are hit by the confronting remains of old Yankee Stadium. As a baseball fan who has possibly logged over 20,000 hours of baseball viewing on television, it was a weird feeling to see such a famous ballpark in the state it was. Twisted metal and piles of rubble in the outfield was all that was left of the place.
Fortunately the new stadium is right across the road and is such a beast that you’re quickly distracted. The stone facade is enormous, with Yankee Stadium etched in gold. The stadium is surrounded by stores selling both legal and illegal Yankee merchandise which means the place is teeming with Yankee fans in their navy blue costumes.
The options were to buy a Yankee sweatshirt ($95 from the team store) or tough it out. The Defensive Specialist decided to tough it out (The Deep in the Hole CFO is surely nodding in pride). Food always helps to get the core temperature up so the Defensive Specialist decided to peruse the multitude of options at the yard. Being a premium athlete in peak physical condition, the Defensive Specialist was keen to avoid standard baseball fare like hotdogs and pizza (with two more games to go, the Defensive Specialist will surely relent). Mrs Defensive Specialist settled for beef noodles while the Defensive Specialist went for the Cuban sandwich. So far on this trip the Defensive Specialist has indulged in a number of fine American brews but at the baseball dodged these gourmet options for a Bud Light which is effectively beer flavoured water and should be avoided at all costs – another rookie mistake by the Defensive Specialist!
The Defensive Specialist settled in for the contest and quickly noted that the attendants were absolutely on their game when it came to keeping people out of areas that they didn’t have tickets for. This was great for the Defensive Specialist whose seat was in a decent viewing position which means the sight lines weren’t blocked constantly. It was not so great for the Defensive Specialist when he and Mrs the Defensive Specialist began suffering hypothermia in the second inning.
The Yankee fans in right field perform their ‘rollcall’ in the top of the first where they start with the Yankee right fielder and chant each player’s name repeatedly until they acknowledge the crowd with a wave or salute. Andy Pettite was on the bump for the Yankees and after giving up 2 early runs settled in for the next 8 innings and shut the rangers down. Rich Harden took the ball for the Yankees and only lasted into the 4th while walking six. The Defensive Specialist was pleased to see Mark Teixeira finally go big fly after starting the season 3 for 30 odd. In the Defensive Specialist’s fantasy league, Tex has been the bane of one competitor’s existence. The homerun may potentially get him going and allow the owner to come off suicide watch.
By the 7th inning, with the score 5-2 and the Defensive Specialist suffering frost bite of his left thumb, thoughts turned to making an early break for the exit. While this is a poor form move, the Defensive Specialist could hear Mrs Defensive Specialist’s teeth chattering. All thoughts of leaving were put to an end with the site of Mariano Rivera stirring in the bullpen. Mrs Defensive Specialist scrambled a couple of sets of gloves that eased the numbness and the Defensive Specialist steeled himself.
The top of the 9th was marked by the dulcet tones of Metalica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ which is Rivera’s entrance song. This juiced up the crowd and Rivera easily mowed through the Rangers in order for the save.
So, that’s Yankee stadium down. Fenway and Citifield to come. The Defensive Specialist will be back later in the week with updates and in warmer clothing.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Dear old mate Defensive Specialist,
No one will argue this game is one of inches, a game that can eat you alive if you let it, or make you a hero if you work at it. I find myself in a respected junior college program with nothing to do but go to class and work on this infuriating game. “Its everyday” as we are constantly reminded - you can wake up in the morning and feel like a sack of shi*, but you still gotta strap it on and find a way to get something out of the day. This time of the year is big! Right around half-way mark of the season with a couple of conference weekends down (double dips Saturday and Sunday), one or two mid-week games and practice every other day. Mentally you begin to see men around you stand up or sh*t the bed.
I apologize for not writing more often, but I’m not going to sit here and make excuses – the Defensive Specialist gives me a hard enough time about it! I play for Southeastern CC in Iowa and we are sitting pretty well so far this season 22 – 8 after a shaky start to the season with the absence of our head coach for the first 15 games (he was suspended). We are poised now to step it up a notch.
What was I ranting on about at the start of the blog? Well lately I have noticed this game has a crazy way of humbling the bigheaded and rewarding the humble. If you were to talk to me only 2 weeks ago I’d tell you how legit I was that weekend when I managed to go 7 for 9 and felt almost unbeatable. During the week I found myself sitting on the pine because of a sore back. Tough to do when you know you’re swinging a hot stick. So the next weekend rolls around (one week ago) and it’s opening weekend for conference play. It was a big weekend for the team looking to get off to a good start to conference play with that little bit of extra hype in the air.
Oh how a hot stick can be struck down when it’s yielder has his head in the clouds - 1 for 10 on the weekend, time to check yourself! Next day I got in the cages and got to work! Where did I go wrong? Well I stunk it up against their lefty (as I am lefthanded) so a chat with the hitting coach and we get into a backwards short toss drill. This drill is designed so the hitter has nowhere to hit the ball except opposite field or else the ball tosser cops a ball in the face, which in turn has you swallowing a fist when he recovers. In addition the hitter gets to see the ball coming across the body, a big part of lefty - lefty at bats.
The next midweek game arrives and surprise surprise another lefty on the hill. Do I become a mental midget and worry about the 1 for 10 weekend? No, it’s time to work; 1 for 1 off the lefty but 0 for 3 off a couple of junk righties with an end result of 1 for 4 on the day- back to the drawing board. This year I am hitting in the 4 hole, something completely new to me but something that is challenging me to become a better all round hitter. I’m not smug in the 7 hole sitting cock shot fastballs every pitch anymore! We need a plan and an approach to off speed. A chat with the hitting coach about struggling to get the bat off my shoulder when I know a “get me over” curveball is coming and it’s in the wheelhouse. The only thing that can be done here is to do just that, get it off ya shoulder!
I was fed with BP breaking balls for the rest of the week. The idea was stay within myself and above all stay on the pitch! The problem seemed to lie in me giving up on the breaking ball even though I knew it was coming. The plan was to see the ball all the way and stay through the pitch as much as possible. Not worrying so much about being fooled out front, provided I kept my hands back long enough. If I could do this, I could still stay back and drive offspeed.
Which brings me to this weekend, the 2nd conference match-up for the season. It’s been only 2 weeks and I’ve gone from hot to not, worked my arse off however and felt like I could get my head down and rack up a couple right here! First 2 at bats of game one: strike out; strike out (“seriously, this game will be the death of me!”). Normally this would ruin me, but if one part of the game is struggling, step up the other part. Next inning on defense (I play first); 2 outs runners on 2nd and 3rd, ball in between 1st and 2nd I laid out to make an inning ending play saving possibly 2 runs. Next at bat base hit to left threw 5.5 hole. “Respect the game, and it respects you back, I guess”. 1 for 3 - bring on game 2.
Doesn’t starting games with 1st ab hit get ya sox off? Especially when it was with 2 strikes and a change piece I was able to show off the week’s work and stay with it to drive back up the middle. A HBP next at bat, then a fist in the arse 3rd ab from the blue with a fastball inside with two strikes. Last ab of the day, one thing you must never do is waste an ab! Up 8-1 in the bottom 6th runners on 1st n 2nd, I get down quickly 0-2 in the ab, easy would be to waste the ab but I watch two off-speed pitches that missed, then a third left up that I turned on. Walk off 10 run rule and so the game has rewarded me, who would have thunk it!
Day 2, Game 3: after an overall successful day yesterday it was important that I stayed fully locked in and take advantage of hot form. That I did with a 3-3 game 3, and next was game 4 of the series. Which brings me to my next point of finishing a team that is down and out of a series in game 4. Easier said than done, but it is crucial. The opposition are trying their best to salvage some sort of pride and all you want to do is strangle the team you have dominated all weekend. In this situation we had mercy ruled them 3 times and we started off rolling as we had all weekend with our starter consistently challenging up and doing work. So its 5-1 going into the 7th. Our starter gives up a lead-off double and the coach decides to give the ball to the closer who hadn’t thrown all weekend until now. Walk the bags loaded, couple of knocks and before you know it we’re down 5-7, blink and you could miss it kind of stuff. Deflating if nothing else, as the now full of confidence bad guys go out and shut it down in the 7th.
Impossible to feel content with that kind of ending to an almost flawless weekend, but that’s the game we love. Adversity needs to be dealt with in the right way, strap it on tomorrow and get ya work in. The best thing about this time of the year is it’s only a couple of days before you’re between the lines again, out to kick someone’s arse.
Jesus Adam! Way to get verbose on the Defensive Specialist. Another great effort and many thanks for taking the time to talk about your approach and your series. It’s always intriguing to hear about young hitters finally starting to figure out their swing and approach at the plate. Good luck for the remainder of your season.
Right, the Defensive Specialist will be on location next week – live and exclusive from Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Citi Field. If the Defensive Specialist can break away from defensive fundamental drills with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriquez, he may be able to blog about the experience!
Monday, April 12, 2010
Sunday, April 11, 2010
The red vests with navy sleeves have to go – the Defensive Specialist will not bend on that topic, they just look amateurish. The Washington Nationals work with a similar colour palette and their white and grey ensembles don’t look too bad so the Defensive Specialist would recommend that as a starting point in any redesign that may take place.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Ok, for those arriving late to the party, this is part 2 of an interview the Defensive Specialist conducted with NSW Patriots General Manager Eddie Bray over a delightful high tea featuring fresh scones. Eddie went on so long that the conversation morphed into a full degustation meal with accompanying wine selections.
- Continual games in the one venue possibly could lead to what I call ‘crowd fatique’.
- Taking the game to an area of Sydney / NSW that doesn’t traditionally travel to BOP will provide access to ‘fresh’ spectators leading to longer term potential to grow the game.
- Good quality baseball on Australia’s premier baseball diamond
- A competitive baseball team.
- Great entertainment all game long.
- Excellent $ value.
- Something for all the family.
- A ‘bloody’ good time!