JD’s Ballpark Tour, Bottom of the Fourteenth Inning (San Bernardino, CA)

(AKA: Cal League Playoffs with Daisy)

The week after that minor league game in Rancho Cucamonga, it was a tumultuous week as I sustained a bad injury. As they say in hockey, I suffered a “lower body injury.” With my mobility dramatically reduced, I spent time writing, doing a baseball podcast, reading some math and/or baseball books, and looking up possible Angels games to attend. In addition, I was trying to find a good time to make a trip to the Bay Area to see two more ballparks, which would make fifteen stadiums in one season. Finally, I was also keeping track of my local minor league teams in the Cal League playoffs. While the previously featured Quakes did not make the playoffs, the Inland Empire 66ers (Angels) not only made the playoffs, but they won their first-round series. This would set up a South Division championship series against the Lancaster JetHawks (Astros). Game three of that series fell on a Monday, which is their usual “Man’s Best Friend Monday” promotion. I thought about going to that game anyway since it was a big Cal League playoff game, and a friend of mine was working at that game. With the added bonus of being able to bring my dog, I thought, “why not?”

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The ballpark: San Manuel Stadium, elevation about 1020 feet.

The game: JetHawks @ 66ers on September 8, 2014

This is one of my favorite minor league ballparks, and this is easily Daisy’s favorite park. The 66ers are known for their dog-friendly promotions, and they usually get a good amount of dogs to come out for games, but I’ll get to that shortly. The Inland Empire 66ers are named because Route 66 runs through San Bernardino, which is where the team is located. Their home stadium is less than a mile from the famous road, and features an awesome view of the San Bernardino mountains. The 66ers are currently affiliated with the Angels and frequently see MLB players making a rehab assignment start through the season. The last player I saw make such a start was Dan Haren two years ago… he got roughed up that night.

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Continue Reading the Bottom of the Fourteenth Inning

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Post Season Baseball, Pod Casts, and Predictions (Fourteenth Inning Stretch)

The funny thing about writing a traveling baseball blog during the summer is the drama that can unfold over the course of a season. When I first began this journey, I didn’t expect to see the large amount of traveling Royals fans as I did in Arlington, Texas. I also didn’t expect to see some of the crazy baseball I saw in the month of September (and October), but more on that later!

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Continue Reading the Fourteenth Inning Stretch

Putting the Fight in the Phillies and Dodgers

 


nlcslogo.jpgI know this post is coming a week late and a dollar short, but I wrote this out about a week ago, but never had the time to finish the post and put it up. This is how it was written a week ago. Enjoy!

So with a soft autumn breeze in the air, the Dodgers were behind two games to none, and I was arriving at the stadium about four hours before the game. I wanted to get a good parking spot out on the streets, and decided to blast the Dodgers music I brought, and bring some sandwiches. It was fun for a little over an hour, and then my friend, Matt, and I decided to get in the stadium early to see what was going down. Unfortunately, there was no early entry for batting practice down in the field level, but it was good for my friend who had never met Sweet Lou Johnson before. He got that special treat in autograph alley. As soon as we got to the front of the line, he recognized me from the last time I was there at the stadium (I had been there for the one NLDS game, as well as the Dodgers’ home season finale when they won the NL West title). Of course, who could mistake a Mexican Dodger fan with an easily recognizable orange Wheel of Fortune bag? That’s besides the point. After saying hello to Sweet Lou, Matt finally got his autograph and a picture with the former Dodger. After taking some batting practice along the outfield warning track, we made our way to our seats and sat back with a Dodger Dog, a drink, and the pregame ceremonies beginning shortly. It was nice to just sit back and watch all of this as the afternoon came to a slow and beautiful close.

 

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nlcsflag.jpgThe player introductions of the whole team was awesome, but there is nothing quite like seeing that enormous American flag waving in the outfield with the national anthem being sung so well. Yes, it was great last time in the division series… but this was with the sun setting on the third base side, and a bit of that golden sun shining on the flag. Moreso, this was the National League Championship Series! It was the first time the Dodgers had seen the NLCS in twenty years, the feelings were pretty overwhelming.

 

nlcsfirstpitch.jpgOne of the best parts of the pregame festivities was the first pitches. The four star infielders from the Dodgers for nearly a decade in the 70s and early 80s came out for the first pitch. How awesome is that? We had Ron Cey at third, Bill Russell at shortstop, Davey Lopes at second, and Steve Garvey at first. Catching the first pitches from the legendary infielders were the current starting infielders for the NLCS: Casey Blake at third, Rafael Furcal at short, Blake DeWitt at second, and Nomar Garciaparra at first. What’s funny is that I’ve met three of the four legends this season and have all of their autographs in the same book! (I still haven’t met Davey Lopes yet) Fun times!

 

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nlcs-dewittrbi.jpgAfter all of that, the game finally started and so did the Dodgers’ offense. Right away, the Dodgers put up a run with Manny Ramirez driving in Furcal, followed by an RBI single by Casey Blake, and then a huge three-run triple from Blake DeWitt to put the Dodgers ahead 5-0 in the first. Talk about a quick start! So with the moon slowly rising up and the sun slowly setting, it was getting a little testy when Russell Martin nearly got hit by a pitch in the second inning, after he already got hit by a pitch in the first frame. He didn’t appreciate that inside pitch in the second, so we knew he would get even later.

 

nlcsfight1.jpgIn the top of the third inning, Shane Victorino came up to the plate, and he got an inside pitch that HE didn’t appreciate. At this point, both benches were warned. Shane and Russell were exchanging some words with each other, and then Shane and Hiroki Kuroda got into it a little bit. Shortly after that, Victorino slammed a 1-1 pitch towards first base. While Garciaparra easily got the force out at first, Kuroda went over to cover first base… and right after the play, Kuroda and Victorino crossed paths… and then it began.

 

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nlcsfight3.jpgThey exchanged pleasantries, got into each other’s faces, and then right before any fists went flying, or any leg kicking occured, the benches began to clear. First, the players on the field came to their team’s defense. Then the players from the dugout came out and tried to make peace, but that wasn’t going to work. So then, finally, both bullpens emptied and the pitchers also charged down the field. Players had to be restrained to stop the pushing and shoving. No punches were thrown, but it looked like it was about to happen if people didn’t get in the middle of things. Also, the umpires did a great job of breaking up the fracas pretty quickly before it escalated. Of course, there were now six umpires instead of the usual four. At the time, this needed to happen. The Dodgers needed to show that they had a little fight in them, and they weren’t going to back down easily.

 

nlcskuroda.jpgAfter that whole scene happened, Hiroki Kuroda really got in a groove and got Phillies retired left and right! He put on a masterful pitching performance that evening and deserved the standing ovation he got when he was finally pulled late in the game. Those final three innings were fun to watch because we knew that the Dodgers had this game. Finally, the final out was recorded and Angel Berroa caught the final ball of the game. Dodgers win!

Since I didn’t have tickets for the other two games of the NLCS (and was hoping the Dodgers would pull off the NLCS victory so I could go to the World Series), I had a feeling that this may be my last time at Chavez Ravine for a Dodger game, so I decided to take a bunch of pictures down in the loge level, and finally of that famous club level entrance. It looked pretty nice that night!

 

jdcanters.jpgAfter the game, my friend was really in a celebratory mood since the Dodgers won. Even though I told him it was only one game, he still wanted to celebrate and I ran with it. So I finally gave him the idea to head out to Canter’s restaurant on Fairfax because I wanted some good dessert. When we got there, I quickly noticed a mural of one of my favorite all-time Dodgers, Sandy Koufax. I said at the end of the night, I would get a picture with the mural. When we got inside, that’s when I saw the poster that said “Canter’s Celebrates 60 Years on Fairfax.” On Tuesday, they would be offering 60-cent meals of corned beef sandwiches, and other little goodies! I knew I had to go back on Tuesday. After having a delicious Chocolate Napoleon dessert, I decided to have my friend take the picture outside with Sandy Koufax.

Pretty nice way to end the evening, I thought. It was quite the game, and a great memory etched in my mind. With that, I bid you all adieu, and I will post again soon!

 

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PS: More pictures to come soon! (EDIT: Updated with pictures on 29 Oct. New post tomorrow!)

How Sweep It Is! (aka: Dodger Clinch Day part 2)

Wow, my voice is pretty much gone at the current moment, and I think I may need to rest all day tomorrow to recover… but it was all worth it.

 

nldslogo.jpgIn three very exciting games, the Dodgers completed an improbable sweep over the cursed Chicago Cubs, winning game three, 3-1. This NLDS has been a thrilling one, and if you were there for that game…. you were among the lucky ones!

As you may have read from the previous post, the day started off with me meeting former Dodger, Bill Russell, and him being very excited that the Dodgers were about to sweep the Cubs. It was an omen… a sign, if you will. That early meeting in the morning was like a foreshadowing of just how great of a day it was going to be.

After taking a short and well-deserved nap, I had to leave the house early so I could visit my cousin, who was having his going-away party. The reason he was having a going-away party is because he’s off for military service. He’s in the Marines…. and he will be in Camp Pendleton for a short stint before… being shipped… overseas. Yeah. =/ Please wish him well. This picture I took before the game is for him.

 

bigflag.jpgRight after that, I headed off for the game. After darting my way around the packed freeways through the surface streets and taking shortcuts, I got slammed right as I was making my way through the gates. The way I look at it, if I had stayed on the freeway, I may have gotten to the stadium at 6:50pm, instead of around 6pm. Next time, I’m not taking any chances and getting there MUCH earlier. So we get to the stadium, and my buddy, Matthew, brought out his broom and waved it around like crazy before we headed to the stadium. We got in there with rally towels, got settled in, and saw an amazing introduction with the huge flag that you see above. Simply incredible.

 

mattbroom.jpgI know that Dodger fans get a lot of crap about arriving late and leaving early. When I walked inside the stadium before the game, our section was almost full already! Before the game even started, there were already about 50,000 fans in the stadium watching the pre-game festivities. These are the true fans. The passionate fans. The fans that will always be behind their Dodgers through thick and thin. Through the victories and heartbreaks (notice that heartbreaks is underlined), they showed up.

Throughout the night, we had some drizzle here and there, but nothing too significant. But when the Dodgers took an early 2-0 lead thanks to our awesome offense, the fans didn’t seem to care.

 

mannynlds.jpgBy the way, I’d like to send a thank you note to Jim Reynolds for giving the Dodgers that close call at third base when Russell Martin slid into third while trying to avoid the tag. On the replays, it looked like it was a bang-bang play, but when I got home and looked at that play even closer… Martin was out by just an eyelash. But at full-speed, it looked like Martin was safe, and that call really could have gone either way. It’s not as obvious as the play from the Rays/White Sox game earlier this week, or the 1985 World Series. But let me say this one more time.
THANK YOU, Jim Reynolds!

 

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kurodanlds.jpgThose two runs seemed to be all we needed because we have awesome starting pitching. I’ve been saying this all season, but I love seeing Hiroki Kuroda starting at home because at any given home game, he can pitch a shutout. Last night, he had pretty much everything working for him. With every pitch, the crowd cheered, and with every strikeout, there was a definite roar across our section. Once it got into the fourth inning, the crowd could see Kuroda really settling down, and every Dodger fan there was behind him 100% of the way. At the end of each inning, when Hiroki had a two-strike count, everybody was standing up hoping for a strikeout, and he got it three innings in a row… all of them swinging! I’ve never heard the crowd so pumped up in all my years at Dodger Stadium. It was amazing.

That’s when I started counting down the number of outs for the Dodgers to advance to the NLCS.

Eight. Huge ovation for Kurdoa. Seven. Six.

With a three run lead, and Wade and Broxton closing the game out, there were at least two people that left the game early. The two Cubs fans that sat next to us during the game had enough, and one of them had that same sad look when they lost the NLCS in 2003, and the NLDS last year. Even though I was a little happy to see them leave, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sympathetic towards those fans. They haven’t seen a World Series title in over a century and counting. I felt for them. The countdown was back on.

Five. Four. Run scored… crowd gets a little tense. Broxton enters for Wade. Three outs to go!

The excitement level is rising very quickly throughout the stadium as the Dodgers are that close to clinching their first NLCS appearance in two decades. The Dodgers get out of the 8th inning very quickly, and the countdown is on!

Ryan Theriot up to bat. He quickly gets the count against him… he strikes out swinging. Two outs to go.

 

out25nlds.jpgNow it’s Kosuke Fukudome’s turn to try and turn this thing around. He fouls one off…. and then he grounds out to Furcal. Oh man, only one out away! The place is going berzerk!

 

out26nlds.jpgAlfonso Soriano is the Cubs’ last hope. He swings and misses for strike one. The dugout is looking on in anticipation. Almost everybody is on that front step!

 

dugoutnlds.jpgSwing and a miss! Another strike! The Dodgers are now one strike away! Everybody is on their feet waving their towels. Almost everybody. I wasn’t waving a towel…. I was taking this picture.

 


out27nlds.jpgSTRIKE THREE! The Dodgers sweep the Chicago Cubs! The celebration is on!


 

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nldswin2.jpgI will admit this right now. I shed a couple tears. I could hardly contain myself. Imagine if they make it to the World Series? If they win the whole thing, I will probably lose it. I laughed, I jumped for joy. I high-fived everyone around me. Heck, I even hugged a few people. We were all united as a legion of Dodger fans. It was an amazing feeling. The last time my Dodgers made it this far was twenty years ago. Even though it’s been over a century since the Cubs won it all, 20 years is still a long time!

After watching some of the celebration, I was pretty adamant in my wanting to get a closer look of the celebration before all of the players came out from their locker room. We raced our way down the stairs from the top deck, to the reserve level, and finally arriving at the loge level since the ushers wouldn’t let us go down any further. That’s fine, I was totally okay with that.

 

tommynlds.jpgRight when we got there, several players came out, and we heard a couple speeches from Joe Torre, and one from the legendary Tommy Lasorda. Overall, it was an amazing day that I will never forget.

*chuckles* …and to think, it all started when I met Bill Russell earlier that day. I told you it was an omen!

Once again, much congratulations to your division series winners, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Bring on the Phillies!
-JD

Deuces Wild!

How about these playoffs we are having this season? For the second year in a row, the four division series all start off with a 2-0 lead. Before I talk about my boys in blue, I feel like I should give some attention to the other three series first.

Who could have ever imagined that the Tampa Bay Rays would be one win away from making their first trip to the ALCS? After being a perennial sub-.500 team for the better part of this decade, the Rays have transformed into a solid offensive and defensive team with a wacky stadium. I have to give props to Evan Longoria for being the man in this series, thusfar. This kid is a freakin’ stud, and his star will continue to rise for years to come. I think Tampa Bay will finish off the White Sox in 4, only because Ozzie Guillen won’t let his team get swept out of Chicago like that other team from the Windy City will.

As for the Angels-Red Sox series… how disappointing is this?!? I expected better from the Halos. I really did. If a team wins 100 games in a season, they should not lose their first two games of a playoff series at home! I’m sorry, but that performance was pretty pathetic. Now they are in serious trouble and should probably start making plans for next week in Cabo San Lucas. Boston should sweep this series only because I don’t think the Rally Monkey will work at Fenway Park.

Now on to the Fightin’ Phillies. They look tough… very tough. Philadelphia is about to sweep the Brewers and they are looking primed and ready for the Dodgers.

Speaking of LA… how about that stunned crowd at Wrigley Field? Manny Ramirez.

Manny Ramirez.

What else can be said? Oh yeah, Chad Billingsley.

Chad Billingsley.

I expect a party-like atmosphere in the drizzling rain after the Dodgers sweep the Cubbies out of town. As always, I’ll be there early!

Before I head off into Dream Land, and on the off-chance that those of you reading this are in or near the Inland Valley, there will be a former Dodger making an appearance and signing autographs Saturday morning!

Former Dodger infielder, Bill Russell, will be signing free autographs (only one per person) at Honabach & Sons, 3857 Schaefer Ave. #G, Chino, CA 91710. This is taking place Saturday, October 4th. Lucky for me, that’s only five minutes from my house! He will there from 10am to noon, so be sure to get there early! That’s all from me for now. Have a great night, and let’s wrap it up at home with a sweet sweep!

Think Blue!
-JD

This Grand Ol’ Game

How about that first game of the NLDS between the Cubbies and our Dodgers? In any ballpark, a sinkerball pitcher like Derek Lowe should be able to win and flourish against seven free passes. With that 7-2 victory in game one, the Dodgers have come to Wrigley Field and swiped away the homefield advantage from the hapless Cubs.

What went right for the Dodgers was definitely the pitching. Even though the major networks like ESPN and TBS will harp about the grand slam (which I will get to in a moment) and Manny’s solo golf-shot bomb, pitching was the key. Derek Lowe only made one mistake in his six innings of work. He gave up a home run that was given a very generous boost thanks to that famous Chicago wind. Only a few feet to the right, or a few feet short, and that would have either been a long fly out or a foul ball. I actually thought Lowe’s pinpoint accuracy with some of those sinkerball pitches were quite masterful throughout the first six innings, including that inning-ending double play in the bottom of the third. He induced another double play in the fifth, this one off D. Lee… with great control all around. If it wasn’t for that one pitch, he may have stayed in the game for another inning and hurled seven shutout innings. As it is, he gets credit with a nice quality start, and more importantly, his team up 1-love in the series.

I also must give a ton of credit to the excellent bullpen of the Dodgers. Where in the world did Cory Wade come from? This kid is a stud pitcher, and if he continues pitching the way he has been, Wade could become a very formidable set-up man for Jonathan Broxton, the closer. (Wade is only 25, and Broxton is only 24) I know I should be thinking about the current situation, but I smile when I think about what the future could possibly hold for the Dodgers with that pitching duo closing out games. Heck, imagine if Wade was the setup to the setup? What a trio of closers! Wade in the 7th, Broxton in the 8th, and Saito in the 9th. Of course, I could be getting way ahead of myself, but can you blame me? While I’m still going on about the pitching, big ups to Greg Maddux for coming in and shutting the door in the 9th. When it comes to big games, he’s still got it.

Now a brief snippet about the offense. James Loney is the man. That’s all that really needs to be said. He is the man. It takes moxy to step back into that batter’s box and either be the grand hero, or the grand goat. With a two-strike count and the bases loaded? Ryan Dempster was one pitch away from getting out of another bases loaded jam. Then James Loney lowered the boom and cranked one into left field for the grandest of grand slams. Wrigley Field went silent. It was the best sound ever. Those three walks finally caught up with Dempster and ultimately cost him. How sweet it is.

…and now the Dodgers are two games away from making their first NLCS in twenty years. Let’s hope LA can steal another game in Chicago and come back to Chavez Ravine with a 2-love series lead. Game 2 is later today!

Think Blue!
JD