Crystal Ball Time – 500 Level Fan’s Fearless Second Half Predictions

With baseball’s second half set to kick off tonight I figured it was time to lose my prediction virginity.  I have never written a prediction article.  Not when I wrote for TO Sports.  Not when I briefly wrote for Fadoo.  Never. 

But – seeing how I love to read prediction columns, why not try to write one?  If even one of these come true it will be nothing short of miraculous.  The below predictions are split into Blue Jay specific and the rest of baseball.  Enjoy.

(Note: I have absolutely no inside knowledge from any viable source.  If I did, I would be in Vegas, not at work.)

MLB Second Half Predictions

Playoff Spots

– AL East: Tampa wins the division, Yankees fade a bit down the stretch but snag the wild card

– AL Central: Division looks set to finish as a three-way tie, but Minnesota surges ahead at the end to win it, mainly because Alex Rios hits .097 in September

– AL West: Texas in a landslide, teaching the Angels that Brandon Wood has no place on a major league field

– NL East: Philly has a solid September and passes Atlanta for the division title on the strength of Halladay

– NL Central: In a wild finish, Cincinnati holds off St. Louis for their first title since ’95.  The Cardinals get the wild card.

– NL West: San Diego falls apart when their young arms tire, Ubaldo fades, and the Dodgers self destruct.  Giants grab a much needed bat at the deadline and steal the division on the last day.

Awards

MVP – AL: Miguel Cabrera, NL: Joey Votto

Cy Young – AL: Cliff Lee, NL: Roy Halladay

Rookie – AL: Brennan Boesch, NL: Jason Heyward

Manager – AL: Ron Washington, NL: Dusty Baker

Random

– Roy Halladay goes 7-0 in September with two starts on three days rest to push the Phillies to the playoffs

– Prince Fielder is traded to San Francisco

– Ubaldo Jimenez completely falls apart in September, handing the NL West to the Giants and the Cy Young to Doc

– Albert Pujols hits 25 home runs in the second half, leading the Cards to the playoffs and me to my fantasy league title

– Pittsburgh continues to suck

Blue Jay Second Half Predictions

– Yunel Escobar hits 10 second half home runs.  In Atlanta, Alex Gonzalez hits 3.

– Lyle Overbay, John Buck, Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs, and Jason Frasor are all traded.  Jose Bautista is not.

– Bautista is caught by Miggy Cabrera of Detroit in the HR race, but sill finishes with 37, by far his career high.

– We are treated to the MLB debuts of JP Arencibia, Brett Wallace, and Brad Emaus in September.  Kyle Drabek is not called up.

– Johnny Mac outhomers Edwin Encarnacion in the second half 2-1.  I take back the apology I offered EE in early July when he had a 3-hit game.

– David Purcey gets an opportunity to finish games after Gregg is traded and finishes with 10 + saves.

– The Jays win their last home game on Sept 29 6-5 over the Yankees.  The fans give Cito a ten minute ovation in his final home game as Toronto manager.

– The Moustache Masturbator, and Bobby and Pingu make another appearance in the 500 Level Fan of the Game section.

– Toronto goes 30-43 in the second half to finish the season with 74 wins, about 14 more wins than the “experts” predicted.

– I likely never write a prediction article again

Bye Bye A-Gonz, Hello Yunel

The newest Blue Jay Yunel Escobar

Thank you Alex Anthopoulos.  On the worst day of the sporting calendar – there is literally nothing on tonight (looking forward to SportsCentre tomorrow) – the Jays GM made some news with a pretty major trade.  Gone is Alex Gonzalez and two prospects (Tim Collins and Tyler Pastronicky).  To the Jays comes SS Yunel Escobar and P Jo-Jo Reyes. 

After letting it sink in for a few hours I came to the conclusion that I like this trade.  A lot actually.  While Reyes might not be worth a lot at this point, Yunel Escobar is thought to be one of the best young shortstops in baseball.  Though he is having an off year and there are some questions about his work ethic, there’s no denying the fact that he has a lot of potential.  He could be a star. 

Gonzalez was having a nice year for Toronto, but he was simply a stopgap SS who was not going to be around for the long haul.

My support of the trade can be summarized by two numbers: .368 and 27.

The first is Escobar’s career OBP.  Let’s face it: the Jays might hit a lot of home runs, but they are terrible at getting on base.  Their team OBP is .306 – 28th in baseball, ahead of only the Pirates and Astros.  Toronto’s top OBP this season belongs to Jose Bautista at .361.  Even though Escobar’s stats are down, his .334 OBP this year puts him in third place on the Jays, behind only Bautista and Molina.  Not bad.

The second number is his age.  At 27 Escobar is just coming into his prime.  He is six years younger than Gonzalez and should give Toronto several years of good production.  He has averaged 12 HR and 68 RBI the past two seasons, very good numbers for a shortstop.  Maybe a change of scenery is all he’ll need to snap out of his 2010 funk.

As far as the prospects the Jays gave up, Tim Collins appears to be the bigger loss with his dominating performance at AA this season.  I contacted Ottawa correspondent WCF (Willie Canate Fan), a Blue Jays minor league expert, to get his take:

I loved Tim Collins, really hurts to see him go.  But I can’t believe they got Yunel Escobar, it would have taken the whole farm system to get him last year.

 

Pastornicky was a decent SS prospect, there was an interview with the farm director or something today at battersbox (from before the trade) where they said he probably profiled better as a 2B long-term, and most likely a utility player.  He had good defensive and contact skills, but was still pretty raw, has very little power, its a longshot for him to be an impact player.  For whatever its worth, JP Ricciardi said earlier this year that the Jays didn’t really need to sign Adeiny Hechevarria because they already had their future SS in the system, Tyler Pastornicky.  JP drafted him, so it kind of makes sense.  Plus its JP.

 

Collins is tiny but he has video game numbers and a great story.  I think he’s going to be good, I’ve seen video of him pitching and he looks great, like a baby LH Lincecum.  He has a smooth delivery, he leans way back and comes right over the top so he develops all kinds of torque.  The other thing is that he hides the ball until the last possible minute, so he throws 93mph, but it probably looks like 103.  His pitching coach at AA said that its fun to watch him pitch, guys go up there sitting on the fastball and still can’t catch up to it.  And he has an insane curve as well.

 

Tough loss, but then even if he turns out to be a great reliever, he’s still a reliever and they basically traded him for one of the best young SS in baseball (albeit one having an off year).  And his size probably makes it unlikely that he has a long career.  Although it will be entertaining while it lasts.

Two Reasons Why the HR Derby Sucks

There was no Bautista.  Vernon Wells sucked.  Nick Swisher was in it.  David Ortiz won it. 

All of those are valid reasons why the derby stunk last night.  Our friend the Blue Jay Hunter wrote a nice piece about the derby and touched on some of those.

But I have two main problems with the home run derby that were either only briefly touched on, or else not at all discussed.  What you’re about to read might seem like a hard rant against one of baseball’s most popular annual events, but I think a lot of people share my opinion on this.  I’ll even go so far as to offer some potential solutions.  Some might seem far fetched or unreasonable, but hey – it’s my blog so suck it up.  Please let me know your thoughts, and maybe we can expand this discussion further.

Anyways, here goes:

Reason #1 the HR Derby Sucks…..Announcers

Twitter erupted last night about how badly the home run derby announce team performed, and I whole-heartedly agree.  Chris Berman’s “back back back back back back” bit has clearly had its day.  Joe Morgan’s fascination on David Ortiz’s shoes was just plain weird.  Bobby Valentine made an absolute fool of himself…twice.  First, he predicted the derby would be won by “Jose Ortiz” a made up player starring in his fantasy land.  Second, after Berman mentioned that today marks the 50-year anniversary of the untimely death of Mark Scott (the host of the original HR Derby TV series), Valentine poked fun of him.  “How did he die of a heart attack, he never got excited!”  Even Berman was stunned about the stupidity of the comment.

If that wasn’t enough, the guests that were brought into speak were dreadful.  Nobody cares about how A-Rod feels when he hits a post-season HR.  Will Ferrell was not funny.  It was a train wreck, all night long.

Bottom line – something needs to change as people all across North America have clearly grown tired of the ESPN team.  Let’s shake it up.

Solution: Why not have each players local broadcast team call their turn at bat?  For instance, Buck and Pat could have called Vernon’s time at bat.  The weirdos from NESN could have called Big Papi, and so on.  The ESPN idiots could take over in round two and in the final, ensuring that they still get air time to annoy people.  But the first round would be different.  It would allow a national audience to hear local announcers and maybe hear a few stories about players that they don’t know.  What did we hear last night? “Nick Swisher’s dad played in the majors.”  Thanks Joe Morgan.

Hart sat idle for 90 minutes. Boring. (from daylife.com)

Reason #2 the HR Derby Sucks…..It’s Boring

Be honest.  Did anybody sit through the entire thing last night?  It is way too long, and way too repetitive.  If it’s even too long for the players (see Corey Hart sitting for over 90 minutes after his first turn at bat) it is wwwwwaaaaayyyyy too long for the viewers.  I couldn’t handle it and switched off for a while.  Thought it always promises to excite, the home run derby rarely does.  Only once did it enthrall me, and that is when Josh Hamilton was at Yankee Stadium two years ago.  And even that fizzled out in the final.

To make matters worse, Angels Stadium is boring.  Every home run ended up in the stands, or against a rock.  Wow.  Amazing.  Give me Fenway or Wrigley, where balls can actually leave the stadium and hit cars.  Give me Yankee Stadium where balls can go deep into the upper deck.  Even give me the SkyDome, where balls can pepper Window’s restaurant or the 500 Level.  Every hit looked the same last night.

So how can this be fixed?  I have two solutions, one simple and one radical.

Simple Solution: Change the format.  Corey Hart clearly deserved a better fate last night.  Justin Morneau actually won the derby that Josh Hamilton absolutely dominated.  How does that happen?  Completely unfair.  How about this: instead of having three rounds, where the drama is far too drawn out and the players get tired, cut it to two.  Eight players hit.  Top two make the final.  Done.

Radical Solution: Add some flair to the competition.  Set up a point system, where not all home runs are created equal.  Yesterday, Matt Holliday’s 497 foot blast was worth one.  Vernon Wells’ first home run that didn’t even technically clear the fence (a fan reached over and caught it) was worth one.  Make longer bombs worth two points.  Put targets all over the outfield stands.  If a guy hits a target 450 away on the fly he gets 5 points.  If he nails a sign in the upper deck 500 feet from home plate?  25 bonus points.  Foul balls are negative, and foul tips (this is for you Swisher) count as two outs.  That would make the derby much, much, much more exciting for fans and TV viewers.  Probably for players too.

Will any of my solutions happen?  Not a chance.  Why?  Money.  Flying in eight local announce teams is expensive.  Shortening the format loses advertising time.  Having players aim for far away targets might open them up to injury by swinging too hard, causing insurance problems.

It will never happen.  But wouldn’t it be nice if for once baseball listened to its fans?

Three Things From Week Fourteen

In the last full week before the All-Star break, the Jays rebounded nicely from a dismal Week 13 to finish 3-3 in Week 14 of the schedule (July 5 – July 11).  Taking into consideration the opposition – two legitimate contenders in Boston and Minnesota – a .500 record isn’t all that bad.

So at the break the Blue Jays sit at 44-45, exactly the same record they had through 89 games in 2009, and about 10 or more games ahead of where most experts thought they would be.  All in all it was a successful first half for the Jays.  They lead the league in home runs, are sending three players to Anaheim for the ASG, and are a fun exciting team to watch – all setting up for what should be an entertaining second half.

Here are three things that emerged from week 14:

1. Effing Red Sox

It doesn’t matter where.  It doesn’t matter when.  Toronto just can not beat Boston this year.  The Red Sox came to town on the weekend with multitudes of their annoying, rude, and obnoxious fans, and promptly took two of three, including a Friday night massacre.  The 14-3 loss was the worst this season for the Jays, and would have looked a lot worse if not for a few late game home runs.

Toronto is now 2-7 on the season against the Red Sox, including 1-5 at home.  The record is very discouraging because for the most part the games have been close.  Boston has outscored the Jays 54-37 this year, but 11 of those runs came Friday.  Five of the six losses have been by two runs or less.

That tells us that though Toronto has been competitive they still lack the finishing power against good teams.  In other words they still have to learn how to win.  With nine games remaining against the Red Sox they still have plenty of time to learn.

Romero has struggled his last two starts (photo from daylife.com)

2. Growing Pains for Ricky

Ricky Romero was cruising along this season until last Saturday.  Heading into that game he had was 6-4 with a 2.83 ERA and 103 strikeouts.  Then he went out and got blown away two starts in a row, the latest coming on Friday night against the Red Sox.  In each of those starts Romero failed to make it out of the third inning, combining for 5 IP, 13 ER, 5 BB to 5 K, an ERA of 23.40 and a WHIP of 3.40.  His season ERA rose all the way 3.71.

If it’s true that all young pitchers go through growing pains then this should just be a bump in the road for Romero.  Plus, there are three “silver lining” items to prove that things aren’t all bad:

1. The Boston game wasn’t as bad as it looked, with four of his runs allowed being unearned and Brian “I can’t get anybody out” Tallet letting in a few of his baserunners.  Let down by defense and bullpen.

2. The early exits will keep his total innings down.

3. According to Richard Griffin, Joe Girardi named Romero one of the great young pitchers in the game today.  Not bad…

3. HR Derby Continues

A lot of debate, disappointment, and anger around Toronto these days due to Jose Bautista’s exclusion from tonight’s MLB Home Run Derby.  I wrote a post about it yesterday.  But for a moment let’s stop talking about Bautista, and start talking about the Blue Jays’ proficiency at slugging bombs.   When April ended and Toronto lead all of baseball in HR (35, one ahead of Arizona) people thought it was a fluke.  The Jays were supposed to struggle offensively.  They would slow down.

Then Toronto went out and slugged 54 long balls in May to extend their lead.  While they did slow a bit in June (26 HR, T10th in MLB), they are back with a vengeance in July, with 21 bombs in only 10 games.  Critics around baseball now have to take notice – at this point in the season it is no longer a fluke.  The Jays power is for real.

Toronto took it to another level last week.  They slugged multiple home runs in seven consecutive games, one shy of the franchise record of eight, only to have the streak stop on Sunday.  The Jays could only manage a single blast yesterday, a two run HR by Aaron Hill.  In a year when offense is down across the board, the fact Toronto continues to belt home runs at such a terrific pace is nothing short of amazing.

A Quick Comment on the HR Derby

J-Bau will not be in the HR Derby (photo from daylife.com)

There is a lot of anger and outrage around Toronto today, due to the fact that Major League Baseball’s home run leader has NOT been invited to participate in the Home Run Derby.  That’s right – Toronto’s own Jose Bautista, with 24 HR this season, was passed over for David Ortiz, Nick Swisher, Miguel Cabrera, and teammate Vernon Wells.  Personally I don’t really care.  The second half curse of the derby has been well documented over the years, with several players losing the rhythm of their swing trying to hit home runs.  Do I believe that?  Not really, but I’d rather have a Yankee or Red Sox player prove it wrong than J-Bau.

But this is what isn’t right about the players in the derby field: they’re not the best HR hitters this year.  If the Home Run Derby is supposed to celebrate the best power hitters in the game, it should probaly have the top HR hitters participating.  Look at the participants and where they stand on the HR leaderboard:

American League

– Miguel Cabrera, Tigers – 22 HR, T2nd

– Vernon Wells, Blue Jays – 19 HR, 12th

– David Ortiz, Red Sox – 17 HR, T17th

– Nick Swisher, Yankees – 15 HR, T30th

National League

– Corey Hart, Brewers – 20 HR, T7th

– Matt Holliday, Cardinals – 15 HR, T30th

– Chris Young, Diamondbacks – 15 HR, T30th

– Hanley Ramirez, Marlins – 13 HR, T49th

In the meantime, the following players are at the All-Star Game but are not competing:

– Jose Bautista, Blue Jays – 24 HR, 1st

– Josh Hamilton, Rangers – 22 HR, T2nd

– Joey Votto, Reds – 22 HR, T2nd

– Albert Pujols, Cardinals – 21 HR, 6th

– Vladimir Guerrero, Rangers – 20 HR, T7th

– Paul Konerko, White Sox – 20 HR, T7th

That makes six players in tthe top-10 in all of baseball in HR who are not participating.  I understand that many turned down the opportunity, and that is their choice.  But when so many sluggers, so many more prolific and powerful sluggers, will be on the field watching, it kind of takes the shine off of the event.

Just sayin…

Blast From the Past – John Candelaria

John Candelaria is one of many Blue Jay players to make only a brief stopover in Toronto, just half a season in 1990.  But unlike a large majority of those players, Candelaria was actually good at one point in his career – good enough to receive some Hall of Fame votes in 1999.  

He was also one of the most colourful people in the game in his younger years.  According to his Wikipedia page Candelaria was on the verge of signing with the Dodgers when he showed up to a tryout wearing a shirt with a marijuana leaf on it that said “try some, you’ll like it.”  For some reason LA decided not to sign him after seeing that.  Strange.  And – also – amazing.

Unfortunately, he was neither good nor colourful as a member of the Blue Jays.  He was instead a shell of his former self, a 36-year old pitcher on the downside of his career when he made his brief stopover north of the border.

Candelaria was drafted by the Pirates in 1972 and made his debut with Pittsburgh in 1975.  For the next 11 seasons Candelaria dominated the National League as a Pirate, pitching a no-hitter in 1976, making the All-Star team in 1977, and winning the World Series in 1979.  His ’77 season was so good (20-5, 2.34 ERA, 133 K’s) that he finished 5th in Cy Young voting, and 18th in MVP voting.

But we don’t care about that. 

We don’t care that he spent the next five years bouncing around from team to team, AL to NL and back.  No, what we care about as Jays fans is what went down in late July of 1990.  On July 27, 1990, Toronto was in first place in the AL East, one game ahead of the Red Sox.  The Jays were trying to win their second straight division title and make it back to the ALCS for the third time in franchise history.  The Jays had a good team, with McGriff, Fernandez, Gruber, Bell, and Mookie leading the offense, a rotation of Stieb/Stottlemyre/Wells/Key/Cerutti, and the dynamic Henke/Ward duo in the bullpen.

But Toronto was scuffling.  On the morning of July 27 they might have been in first, but the club had gone a mere 11-16 over the past month.  Something needed to be done to shake things up.  Later that day Pat Gillick sent Nelson Liriano (he of the fantastic Dominican moustache) and Pedro Munoz to Minnesota for the veteran presence of Candelaria.  The hope was that he could stabilize the bullpen, make a few spot starts if needed, and provide a veteran voice down the stretch.

Unfortunately for Toronto he sucked.  He was far, far removed from his glory years but had been providing decent work out of Minnesota’s bullpen at the time of the trade (7-3, 3.39 ERA in 58.1 IP).  But in Toronto he only pitched 21.1 innings over 13 appearances, going 0-3 with a 5.48 ERA and walking nearly as many batters as he struck out.

He also failed to provide the Jays with the leadership they badly needed.  With the painful collapse of the 1987 team still fairly fresh in the minds of players and fans, they fell apart again at the end of 1990.  Toronto lead the division by 1.5 games with only eight games remaining but collapsed, finishing 2-6 to end up two games back of rival Boston.  One month later, Candelaria was gone, signing with the team who spurned him due to his weed shirt long ago – the Dodgers.

But his time in  Toronto wasn’t a total disaster. 

He was resp0nsible for one very important thing that helped pave the way for Toronto’s back-to-back World Series teams. 

John Candelaria, known as the Candy Man, gave Toronto its first taste of men named Candy, ensuring that any future Candy’s would fit in without prejudice or discrimination.

In August of 1991 Candy Maldonado was acquired.

The rest is history.

John Candelaria: Career Major League Statistics

19 seasons (1975 – 1993)

8teams (PIT, CAL, NYM, NYY, MON, MIN, TOR, LAD)

177-122 record, 2,525.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 1,673 K:592 BB

*Blast From the Past is a feature dedicated to bringing back the memory of classic Jays from days past – the lesser known the better.  If you have any suggestions please contact 500 Level Fan.

SPECIAL – 100 Level Fan of the Game – July 7th, 2010

I know what it looks like: the 500 Level Fan has been to three consecutive games in the 100 Level.  But don’t worry, my G20 tickets are gone, and I will be back with my beloved 500-ites soon.  Last night was potentially my final trip to the good seats this season, and man-oh-man was it a classic!

There was very nearly a tie in the fan of the game voting.  In the first two innings, Samuel P. Clapper was a heavy favourite.  Mr. Clapper looked to be in his 30’s, and loved to clap.  Trust me, he LOVED to clap.

It is normal fan behaviour to clap when a Jays pitcher reaches two strikes on a batter.  The entire stadium wants to see him finish off the strikeout.  But normally, the vast majority of fans wait until the late innings or for pressure packed situations to get involved in the 2-strike clap.

Not Mr. Clapper.

Beginning with the first batter of the game to reach a two strike count (Joe Mauer, top of the first), he started clapping: clap…clap…clap, slowly picking up speed until the pitch was delivered.  This practice continued the entire game.  Every single two strike pitch.

The thing about Mr. Clapper that made him so lovable was the fact that not only did he clap, but he had to be the FIRST in the entire Rogers Centre to clap.  And he was.  Every time.  And more – when his clapping did indeed lead to the strikeout, he unleashed an incredibly exaggerated fist pump.  Beautiful.  Check out the video of him in action.

Mr. Clapper in Action

But unfortunately for Samuel P. Clapper, one man caught him and then overtook him as fan of the game.  He looked to be in his 50’s, sitting directly behind me.  He was a half-intelligent baseball fan, meaning he knew enough about the players, the teams, and recent history to get by and sound smart, but a lot of his factual information was wrong.  Example – Orlando Hudson used to play for the Jays (correct) until they traded him (correct) for some bum pitcher (incorrect – Hudson left in the Troy Glaus deal).  And he was negative.  Very, very, very, very negative.

Ladies and gentlmen, may I present….the Anti-Fan.

I wasn’t able to snap a photo of the Anti-Fan, and there really isn’t a story that goes with him.  But take a moment to read the below quotations – verbatim quotations I might add – and you’ll get an idea of what a treat it was to sit within earshot of him.  Enjoy.

“The Jays have pretty good pitching this year, but can’t hit a lick.  They suck at hitting.   Imagine how good we’d be if we could hit” (Fact – the Jays lead of all baseball in home runs.)

“They are all hovering around the Mendoza line.” (Fact – the Mendoza line is a .200 batting average.  Only Adam Lind and Aaron Hill are hitting below .210)

“Oh, here comes Vernon Wells.  This guy sucks.  We’re paying this retard 20 million bucks a year.” (Fact – Vernon Wells is an all-star)

“Do you know how many players we could get for this stiff?” (Fact – probably none due to his contract)

“I don’t know why we didn’t re-sign Rolen and instead went out and signed this stiff Encarshin.” (Fact – Rolen was traded for Encarnacion.  Re-signing him was not a possibility, especially after he asked to be traded.  And it is Encarnacion, not Encarshin.)

“Encarnashin is useless.” (Fact – well, he might indeed be.  Anti-Fan is correct.)

“See that?  That is the 500 Level, where all the rowdy people go.  You don’t want to go up there.” (Fact – yes you do.)

“This guy is Mr. Pop Up tonight.  Holy sh*t.  Fred Lewis.” (Fact – Fred Lewis went 1-4 with a triple, two fly outs to left, and one (ONE) pop out)

“This guy can’t throw a strike.  Holy sh*t.  He’s got a left handed hitter.  Holy sh*t.” (Fact – Marc Rzepczynski threw 99 pitches, only 36 were balls.  He walked one batter – Michael Cuddyer, a right handed hitter.)

“Double play coming up.  Here watch this.  Nope – the pitcher threw him a changeup and the idiot retard bit.  Unbelievable.” (Fact – Alex Gonzalez batted with a man on first, one out, in the 5th.  Anti-Fan predicted a double play, but instead Gonzo swung and missed.  The pitch was 91 miles-per-hour.  That is a fast changeup…)

The end.  And I swear that is entirely true.

I Don’t Believe It!!! Another Courtyard Fan of the Game!!!

There is not much that needs to be said about this man.  I was at a company lunch barbeque when we stumbled across him, in line waiting for a burger.  He clearly does not work and had no place at the company function.  But who was going to tell him otherwise?  Not with that shirt!  Coincidentally this is the same courtyard where I found the original courtyard fan of the game.  Maybe this is the new Blue Jays paradise.

And for those wondering – yes, it appears as if his shirt is homemade.  Looks like Blue Jays is written in blue marker.  A super fan AND a fashion designer?  AMAZING!

Excellent Craftsmanship

A Night in the Good Seats

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love the Jays, love going to the games live, and love the 500 Level.  But the good seats?  Not so much.  True the 100 Level isn’t without it’s perks.  It offers a better view of the game (in most places).  It gives fans a better chance to see players up close.  And it brings foul balls into play.  But one thing is always missing – crazy fans.

Last night I made my fourth trip to the 100 Level of 2010, using my free voucher received as a result of the G20 Summit.  The seats were terrific – three of us sat in row 13, almost parallel to the first base bag.  We were so close that when one friend yelled “O-Dog!” to former Jay Orlando Hudson, he actually looked up and nodded to him.  Pretty cool.

But as cool as that was, the experience was lacking due to the surrounding fans.  Here are several explanations why:

1. Families

Where on some occasions you might get a few families in the 500’s, the lower level is full of them.  While most of them are fine and just there for entertainment, some are annoying.  Very annoying.  Take, for example, the family sitting directly behind us last night – a mother, father, and young boy named Cooper.  I don’t think Cooper really cared that he was at the game, but his dad sure wanted him to care.  Inning after inning after inning, we were treated to this:

“Coop-a-loop”

“He broke his bat Cooper!  His bat broke Coop!  Wow Coop!  See that Coop?  Coop, Coop, Coop!”

“Wow Coop!  That ball is high Coop!  See the ball Coop?  See the high ball Coop? Coop?  Coop!!!”

“Coop-a-loop, Coop-a-loop, Coop-a-loop, Coop-a-loop, Coop-a-loop, Coop-a-loop…..”

SHUT UP!

2. Hecklers

I don’t get it.  In the good seats the fans are so close to the players they can actually see the sweat on their faces.  Players are so close that they no doubt are able to hear hecklers loud and clear.  But for some reason, fans in the 100 Level (for the most part) are TERRIBLE hecklers! 

In the 500 Level, you hear gems.  You hear witty and sarcastic remarks.  You hear nonsensical, drunken drivel.  All of them are fun.  And none of them have a chance in hell of being heard by a player.  But down low, you hear stuff like this:

“Hey Pavano!  You just gave up a home run to Lyle Overbay!”

“Hey Pavano!  I’ve never heard of you.  You’re a nobody!”

“Hey Pavano!  Stop meddling and throw the ball!”

Are you serious?  You paid $60+ to sit close to the field, and THAT is all you can come up with?  No mention of his porn-star ‘stache, his brittle arm, or his stupid, ugly face?  Come on!

3. Bored Fans

It’s inevitable in any sport that you will get some people in the crowd who don’t really want to be there.  For some reason, however, I don’t come across bored fans in the upper deck too often.  Maybe people feel like they have to pay close attention down low, but by being far away they are allowed to be distracted and have fun in other ways.  Whatever the reason, last night we sat behind one BORED lady.  She didn’t speak to the man she was with.  She never left her seat.  She didn’t eat or drink anything.  She just sat there.  I was able to catch a glimpse of her face a few times.  She looked pained.

Finally, in the 7th, she couldn’t take it anymore.  Out came her iPhone and an electronic crossword.  Not kidding.

You would never see this in the 500 Level

 

4. Sense of Entitlement Idiots

I have talked about this before, but it seems that many fans in the good seats feel that they are entitled to something.  They paid more money than those in the upper deck, so they should be treated like royalty.  Of course there are only a few who act like this, not the entire level, so this is not an indictment of everybody.  But here are a few treats of what I am talking about:

– Our seats were in the middle of the row, meaning we had to walk by people to reach them.  Upon reaching our row, we were greeted with a gruff look and a roll of the eyes from the guy sitting on the aisle, who then slowly and dramatically rose to this feet to let us pass.  Douche bag.  Then, a few people further in, sat a young guy – about 22 – who simply refused to stand up.  We had to wait and look at him before he finally (with another eye roll) stood.  Of course we took much delight by continually going up to the concourse level for beers.

– A man two rows in front of us took up four seats.  Literally.  He paid for one, and took up four.  Not sure if the rightful owners ever showed up, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did and he simply didn’t let them sit.  Amazing.

The Space-Taker-Upper, or Four-Seater

Bottom line: the Jays lost, the seats were great, the fans were not.  But hey, nothing better than a day at the ballpark.  Can’t wait to get back tonight.

Not Your Average, Everyday All-Star Snub Column

Could this man have been an All-Star? (photo from daylife.com)

The MLB All-Star game is set for next Tuesday, July 13th in Anaheim.  Baseball’s All-Star game has many detractors but I for one enjoy it.  I like seeing the best players in each league playing a game for fun with nothing really on the line.  Sure it has problems.  Do I think the winner should get home field advantage in the World Series?  No.  Do I think rosters should have been expanded to an astronomical 34 players?  No.  But even with those corny initiatives, the baseball’s game is far superior to the other major sports.

But I’ll tell you one thing I do hate about the All-Star game: the inevitable snub columns.  As in every other sport, many players having excellent years miss the cut.  That’s the way it goes.  But on every sports website you will find multiple columns outlining who should have made it and why.  I have read that Joey Votto was screwed by eight different sportswriters.  Enough is enough.

So instead of jumping into the fray to tell you that Votto, or Kevin Youkilis, or Miguel Olivo, or Jered Weaver should have made it, I thought I’d switch it up.  Instead of focusing on the obvious, I am focusing on the more obscure.  Below are 13 players that many fans might not have heard of, or who were all but washed up last year.  Each are having excellent years, but none were recognized with an All-Star spot.

*Note: OPS rank is per position – min. 240 plate appearances

C – Geovany Soto, Cubs (.277 avg, 8 HR, 23 RBI, .872 OPS – 2nd)

1B – Aubrey Huff, Giants (.294 avg, 15 HR, 49 RBI, .916 OPS – 9th)

2B – Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks (.265 avg, 13 HR, 38 RBI, .851 OPS – 4th)

3B – Casey McGehee, Brewers (.274 avg, 13 HR, 52 RBI, .806 OPS – 9th)

SS – Alex Gonzalez, Blue Jays (.258 avg, 15 HR, 42 RBI, .782 OPS – 4th)

OF – Josh Willingham, Nationals (.281 avg, 15 HR, 46 RBI, .926 OPS – 4th)

OF – Colby Rasmus, Cardinals (.278 avg, 16 HR, 40 RBI, .916 OPS – 6th)

OF – Brennan Boesch, Tigers (.344 avg, 12 HR, 46 RBI, 1.001 OPS – 1st)

You won’t find any superstars on that list.  Huff is a journeyman who has bounced around a lot of bad teams over the years.  Johnson was deemed expendable by the Braves.  Rasmus is a second year player and Boesch is a rookie.  Gonzalez was supposed to be an all-glove no-bat player, and Soto was coming off an abysmal year where he was criticized for being overweight and getting caught with marijuana at the world baseball classic.  If anybody stands up and says they saw excellent seasons coming from this bunch they are both a liar and a coward.

Now for some pitchers.  I named three starters and two relievers, but did not include any closers.  Closers get all the attention – middle relievers get none.

SP – Mat Latos, Padres (9-4, 2.62 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.22 K/9)

SP – Jaime Garcia, Cardinals (8-4, 2.10 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.35 K/9)

SP – Colby Lewis, Rangers (7-5, 3.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 8.34 K/9)

RP – Luke Gregerson, Padres (2-3, 2.23 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 11.38 K/9)

RP – Tyler Clippard, Nationals (8-5, 2.65 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.06 K/9)

Again, take a look at the names.  Coming into this year Latos had 10 career starts and Garcia had one.  Gregerson is in his second major league season.  Clippard plays for the Nationals.   Colby Lewis spent the last two seasons in Japan.  Enough said.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know some other players I might have missed, or if you think any of these shouldn’t be included.

A View From the Cheap Seats