There are always a select number of events and stadiums a sports fan must visit before he or she dies. Fenway Park, Lambeau Field, the Final Four, the College World Series, The Masters, and, of course, the annual Hot Dog eating championship all make the list. But for the quintessential American sporting experience, nothing beats out spending a sunny afternoon in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.
16 years into my life and I can now cross Go to a Brewers-Cubs game in the Wrigley bleachers off my bucket list.
Still basking in the glow of the trip with Jordan and Tim, my two best (and partially Brewer-obsessed) friends, I’d say Wednesday’s trip was one to never forget.
When I found a posting online for Wrigley Field bleacher seats to watch the Cubs take on the Brewers for a more-than-reasonable price, it was an irrefragable offer. I couldn’t possibly think of a better way to spend a day on spring break than soaking of the sun surrounded by ivy and 38,000 of our not-so-closest friends clad in Cubbie blue.
The tickets for the game came in the mail and, thus, the anticipation began. To go along the lines of the overused cliche and to say I was like “a kid on Christmas Eve” would be an understatement. I counted down the days on Twitter, spent my idle time on the internet searching for tidbits of info and advice about Wrigley, figured out details. Heck, I even made an itinerary for the trip.
The weeks turned into days, and the days turned into hours, and, soon enough, the three of us were piled in Tim’s red Chevy, cruising down I-94 southbound–or should I say Wrigleybound?
As we reached the train station in Skokie, Illinois, the anticipation was turning into a reality. One of the seasoned Cubs fans in the station leaned over and said, “First time to Wrigley? Yeah? It won’t be your last.” There were still about three-and-a-half hours until the famous 1:20 first pitch time, but all three of us could tell that this wouldn’t be a trip soon to forget.
After about 10 minutes on the yellow line and 30 more on the red line, the three lone Brewers fans and many more in blue and red exited at Addison. Even at first glance, the view set me back to 1916, when Mordecai Brown was finishing his career and Hippo Vaughn was going the distance in the Chicago sun. I couldn’t even see inside the stadium, but the Cubs emblem on the Addison sign affirmed that you were in Wrigleyville.
Wrigleyville itself contributes additionally to the Wrigley experience. The bars (though that part doesn’t exactly apply to me), restaurants, stores, vendors, music, and overall coquetry of baseball and its fans is a scene difficult to find elsewhere. Brewers pitcher Chris Narveson even wanted to soak in Wrigleyville and was spotted two feet away from us, casually going for a run around the stadium. Brewers fans have our tailgating and Cubs fans, not exactly given the space to grill, have their Wrigleyville.
Luckily for us, we bought our tickets from a season ticket holder for the Cubs and were able to get into the stadium 15 minutes before the public. Those fifteen minutes had ‘front row’ written all over them. After getting scanned in, running up the stairs to the bleacher pavilion was nothing short of awe-inspiring. I’ve seen plenty of baseball fields before in my life, but none left the first impression that Wrigley did. The flags blowing in center field, ivy running down the outfield walls the classical look of the two decks of seats, and the unscented yet ever-prevalent smell of day baseball all hit me at once.
Immediately, the three of us informed our combined 856 devoted followers that, yes, we were in the front row, directly above the
Under Armour advertisement on the wall in left field. (#Swag?). We took the obligatory picture with Wrigley serving as our backdrop—only as soon as we saw a trustworthy Brewers fan, of course.
Everything about the stadium felt throwback, mainly because…it was. The ivy on the walls, the manual scoreboard in center field, no jumbotron or graphic scoreboard, baseball organ music, the baskets, and the high wall in front of the first row of bleachers contributed to that feel. While the newer stadiums such as Marlins Park and even Miller Park are held in high regard for their technological advancements, I loved Wrigley for just…being old, I guess.
I felt 12 years old again with my glove, which, in part, was a good feeling. The Brewers must have taken batting practice before the gates opened so we weren’t able to catch any bombs from Rickie Weeks or Ryan Braun in left field. When the Cubs hit, however, our luck changed.
On a day with the wind blowing in, few balls left the yard in BP, but I was lucky enough to snag one from Chicago utility man Jeff Baker using my 6-foot-4 frame. I was wearing a Ryan Braun jersey, so, of course, all the Cubs fans around me asked me if I used steroids to help me with that catch. Feeding off their calls, I “Braun’d” with the ball in hand for a picture.
The heckling was a part of the game I was heavily expecting coming into the game. You have frustrated Cubs fans under the influence of alcohol playing a rival team with the reigning MVP coming off a controversial off-season. I’d have been crazy to expect a peaceful game. But not only did they seem a bit harsh on the opposing fans, but their heckling wasn’t even good. After Nori Aoki struck out to end the seventh, one of the fans yelled, “Hey Ay-ahk-eye, nice strikeout, you suck!” as he ran to left field for the bottom half. Someone else shouted, “Hey Gomez, you’re not as good as Braun!” at center fielder Carlos Gomez.
Thanks for the great insight, guys. Oh, and to the Aoki heckler: you could at least get his name correct.
And somewhere during the day there was a baseball game to be played.
Milwaukee put runners on the corners with one out in the top half when former Cub Ramirez grounded into a double play. The Cubs struck first on a sac fly by Starlin Castro that plated David DeJesus in the first, much to the delight of the majority of those seated around us. If the first inning served as any indication, it was to be a game filled with base runners and scoring. That notion would be far from the truth by the end of the game.
Starters Ryan Dempster and Yovani Gallardo settled in after shaky first innings as Chicago failed to put a runner in scoring position again until the seventh inning. Dempster made the only mistake of the game and it consequentially cost his team the game. Dempster left a pitch over the heart of the plate to backup catcher George Kottaras, who launched the ball deep into the right field bleachers for a two-run home run. 2-1 Brewers.
Pandemonium ensued for the twenty or so Brewers fans in our section. Apparently the high-fives, standing, and clapping were too much for some fans who told us to “go home”. The truth of the matter was that they’d be the ones going home disappointed by the end of the game.
The next half inning was rather eventful. Ernie Banks led fans in the seventh inning stretch (which didn’t feel complete without a good old-fashioned “Roll out the Barrel”), Aoki was poorly heckled, and I was hit with popsicle sticks, hot dog wrappers, and peanuts. I’d like to thank Kottaras for helping to make me Wrigley Field bleachers’ most wanted man along with the rest of the Brewers supporters.
Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford struck out the side in the eighth and ninth to close out the win for the Brewers after seven one-run innings from Gallardo. The classic singing of “Go Cubs Go” would not be erupting on this particular day as the visiting fans would be the ones celebrating. Throw in a beverage coozie courtesy of the Chicago Cubs to go along with a win and it was a perfect day.
Looking back, I expected the stadium to be louder, but I guess a low-scoring game and few chances for the hometown team dampened the crowd. There were sporadic attempts at “Let’s Go Cubbies” chants in the final two innings, but none that spread throughout the stadium. The outfielders did a great job of engaging the bleachers, showing a true bond between the players and fans in Chicago. Before the top of the first, each player saluted, bowed to, or acknowledged their supporters in the bleachers. After each out, left fielder Alfonso Soriano would signal how many outs there were with the fans, who would signal back. I thought that was pretty cool and, honestly, would like to see that level of fan-engagement with the Brewers outfielders (outside of Nyjer Morgan, who regularly “chucks up tha T’s”.
Getting out of Wrigley Field was no hassle at all, unlike the effort to file out of Miller Park. The bromide yelps and shouts of victorious Brewers fans were still to be heard, however. We hopped aboard the red line to Howard with another group of Milwaukee-bound fans and reversed our trip.
Halfway back to Milwaukee, Jordan (the short one in the photo above) encapsulated the day into one simple quote.
“Dude. We just went to Wrigley.”
With Opening Day now only six days away, it is time for my obligatory 2012 MLB Predictions. Let’s skip the talk and jump straight into predictions, okay?
AL East- Tampa Bay Rays
David Price is my pick to win AL Cy Young, and he will lead the Rays to the AL East title. A healthy Longoria and breakout seasons from Sean Rodriguez and Matt Moore will propel them slightly over the Yankees in the division.
AL Central- Detroit Tigers
The Royals may put up a fight early in the season, but no team in the Central division can keep pace with Cabrera, Fielder, Verlander, and the Tigers.
With CJ Wilson, Dan Haren, and Jered Weaver (in no particular order), the Angels have the best top of the rotation in all of baseball. Offensively, Albert Pujols will obviously help, but won’t be good enough to win Most Valuable Player. Jordan Walden is one of the top young arms in all of baseball and will reach 45 saves in 2012. There is too much talent for the Angels to not make the postseason, especially with seasoned manager Mike Scioscia.
AL Wild Cards- Texas Rangers over New York Yankees
Both reach the inaugural one-game Wild Card round safely, resting up their pitchers for the game. In Yankee Stadium, Yu Darvish out duels CC Sabathia.
Even without Ryan Howard’s bat for the first half of the season, the rotation holds the Phillies in first place. With Howard back, the offense picks up as they storm through the up-and-coming Marlins and Nationals in the East. John Mayberry finally emerges as a star for the Phils.
As much as this pains me to say, the Reds will win the NL Central. The top-to-middle of their lineup is lethal and Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos create a formidable 1-2 combo for the Redlegs. Latos’s era will rise in Great American Ballpark, but he eventually adapts to the park and finds success. The bullpen is still in better condition than it was last year, even with the season-ending injury to Ryan Madson.
In what will be the closest division race in Major League Baseball, the Giants pitchers will once again get the job done. The offense will still be statistically one of the worst in the National League, but Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval’s returns in the middle of the lineup provide enough run support for the pitching. Lincecum finished second in Cy Young voting (only behind Zack Greinke) but Matt Cain wins 16 games and keeps an ERA below 3.00.
In a rematch of last year’s thrilling NLDS matchup, the Brewers use home field once again to beat Arizona. Future NL Cy Young Zack Greinke comes through with seven strong innings as Mat Gamel is the hero of the game.
ALDS- Rangers over Tigers
In the words of Dick Vitale, “UPSET SPECIAL, BABY!” Justin Verlander can’t pitch three games for the Tigers, but the Rangers are able to defeat him in Game One and their offense proves too much for the rest of Detroit’s pitching. The top-to-bottom power in the Rangers lineup proves stronger than Detroit’s once Texas gets past Verlander.
Rays over Angels
With two seasoned managers, the Rays win a five-game thrilling series. I have a hunch that Evan Longoria will be this year’s David Freese in October. Tampa is able to match the Angels’ rotation with Price, Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson and relies heavily on a steady bullpen. Defense plays a large role in the series and Tampa makes fewer costly errors.
NLDS- Phillies over Brewers
The Brewers offense finds itself in one of its infamous slumps and can’t get out until it’s too late. Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum, and Wolf hold their own on the rubber, but the Phillies do enough offensively to win three close games.
Reds over Giants
They say good pitching beats all, and that is usually the case. But the Reds light it up at Great American Smallpark against San Francisco’s pitching. They win Game Five behind Mat Latos’ effort at home and a large offensive output.
ALCS- Rays over Rangers
The third time isn’t the charm for the Rangers, as they fall to Tampa. Evan Longoria gets the series MVP award as the Rays take this one in six. Tampa Bay does enough to keep the offense of Texas dormant, and the Rangers pitching isn’t deep enough to match up with Hellickson.
NLCS- Phillies over Reds
The Reds were able to defeat Lincecum and Cain in the LDS, but the Phillies a whole new problem. The Phillies blow the series open against Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake as Charlie Manuel sends out Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay against them. Last year’s early exit won’t happen again for the Phightin’s.
World Series- Phillies over Rays in 5
The 2008 World Series rematch ends the same with Philadelphia taking home the Commissioner’s Trophy. Cliff Lee wins the MVP award after throwing a shutout in Game Two. The Rays aren’t able to manufacture runs per their usual standard with the sound defense of the Phillies in the series. The 3-man rotation of the Phillies works perfectly with three horses out on the mound. Tampa’s only win comes against Halladay in Game Four as they avoid a sweep.
T. Plush. Gotta go. Plushdamentals. Namesake of this very blog. Tony Tombstone. .304 hitter. NLDS hero. Beast mode. Alberta Pujols. Master of the postgame interview. Gentleman. Tony Plush.
We get it–Nyjer Morgan had one hell of a 2011. But, in all honesty, that was 2011 and should be left as 2012. His profound craziness on and off the field won’t be taking Brewers fans by surprise anymore, though they will still be nonetheless entertaining. Morgan put up career numbers across the board in 2011 and experienced a career resurgence in a city that grew to adore him. But is it realistic to expect the same out of Morgan in 2012?
We’ve seen Morgan draw negative attention to his name for throwing a ball at a heckling fan and charge the mound against Chris Volstad and the Marlins. Both of these instances came in 2010 with Washington, previously his only full season in the Majors until 2011. These were the memorable moments of his season, which finished with forgettable .253/.319/.314 numbers and a league-high 17 times caught stealing. The Brewers took a risk in trading for a talented-yet-troubled outfielder with a past history of nothing but trouble.
But in Milwaukee, Morgan turned his career and reputation around. With clutch hits and “tickling” the ball into the outfield, he became a fan favorite. Insert in the memorable post-game interviews, Tony Plush alter-ego, and Jim Rome correspondent video and you have a national media hit. He finished the season batting .304/.357./.421 with 20 doubles, 6 triples, 4 home runs, 37 RBI, and 61 runs. To cement his legacy with the Brewers, he hit the walk off single in Game 5 of the NLDS against Arizona to propel Milwaukee to the NLCS.
Last time Morgan experience this kind of success, however, was in Washington in 2009. After being traded from Pittsburgh, where he hit .277 in 71 games, Morgan batted .351 and stole 24 bases in 49 games. Nothing similar to his 2009 numbers were emulated in 2010, a season in which the Walla Walla Community College product played in 16 more games. We’ve already gone through his statistic drop-off, which was in part due to his inability to keep a level head. He was suspended seven games for throwing a ball at a fan. He missed a fly ball against Baltimore and threw his glove on the ground, giving up on the play. While I don’t see anything of this magnitude happening in Milwaukee, where the environment is “Nyjer-friendly”, there are too many unpredictable things that can go against Morgan that can affect his season.
That being said, Morgan is still expected to be a solid contributor to the Brewers in 2012. He, Carlos Gomez, and Nori Aoki will split time in center field. Each will also get more playing time to begin the season, with Corey Hart expected to begin on the DL. His stellar defense is both center field and right field add to his already-solid value.
Speaking of value, you can’t place one on Morgan’s clubhouse impact. On a team full of eccentric personalities, Morgan, with regular help from the ubiquitous Tony Plush, was the center of the pack. When introducing himself mid-Spring, he ignored the customary greetings of his name and former baseball pit stops. Instead, he screamed, “What up f******!”. His twitter account (@TheRealTPlush–follow him. If you aren’t, what are you doing with your life?) has over 78,000 followers. Brewers pitcher Chris Narveson has just over 1,000.
So Nyjer Morgan is good in the clubhouse. Got it.
By no means should Morgan have the kind of drop-off he did from 2009 to 2010; he’s in a place and on a club where his emotions won’t get the most of him….very much. He’s a player who derives his production on the field from emotion–of which he has plenty. While 2012 may not have the T. Plush magic of 2011, don’t expect him to drop off significantly. His role may be slightly decreased with the addition of Aoki and the health and hopefully rejuvenated play of Gomez, but his Plushdamentals–running over the catcher, laying out in center, and gettin’ dirty on a triple–will still be there.
He’s an intricate part of an intere……….ya’ know what? I gotta go.
*What Can the Brewers Expect from Nyjer Morgan in 2012 is the “sixth inning” in a series of nine posts on An Infectious and Unconditional Love for The Game. Read each of the first five posts here.
Here are each of the Brewers Spring Training games scheduled for March, with the opener on Sunday against San Francisco.
Coming off a successful first season with the Brewers, the focal point of Zack Greinke’s off-season workout regiment was to avoid pick up basketball games at all costs.
All (bad) jokes aside, Greinke was, at times, the most dominant pitcher on the Brewers rotation in 2011, but failed to maintain his consistency throughout the season. In wins, Greinke held a 2.55 era with a 10.9 K/9 ratio, but struggled mightily when he was the losing pitcher. The 28-year-old right hander held a 7.96 era and averaged just over five innings pitched per start in games in which he was handed the “L.” Overall, Greinke finished with an impressive 16-6 record, a respectable 3.83 era, and a dazzling total of 201 strikeouts in merely 171.2 innings due to an early-season rib injury. He led the National League in K/9, beating out Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and All Star Game starter Roy Halladay.
Yovani Gallardo is expected to get the Opening Day nod from manager Ron Roenicke, and this should come as no trouble to Greinke. The starter has a past of a social anxiety disorder that delayed his progression into the Majors.
Greinke can be slotted in to be an above-average second starter for the Brewers in 2012. Batters have yet to figure out his delicate mix of a high-velocity fastball with late life, improving change-up, low-70’s sharp curve, and nasty slide piece, and it’s unlikely Greinke will stray away from his four consecutive productive seasons, including the American League Cy Young Award in 2009.
His innings and pitch count will not be monitored as they were for his first three or four starts in 2011. Barring any injuries or other major setbacks, expect Greinke to top 200 innings pitched as he did from 2008-10 while in Kansas City. The late innings will be important for Greinke to keep the bullpen relatively fresh. After going the distance in nine games over the previous two seasons, he had no complete games in 2011. As a staff, Milwaukee only had one complete game for the entire season (Yovani Gallardo vs. Atlanta in April) and was aided by a very deep bullpen. The bullpen, with the losses of Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins, doesn’t have the sixth-and-seventh-inning arms it possessed last season. More starters, Greinke specifically, will have to go deeper into games to prevent Roenicke from using Marco Estrada or Brandon Kintzler in the eighth.
Greinke’s mechanics are easily repeatable and his release point remains the same regardless of the pitch. Unless he simply loses his All Star-quality heater, hoopdy scoopdy, and slider, expect another phenomenal, punch out filled season from Greinke in 2012.
2012 prediction: 18-8, 3.30 era, 33 starts, 207 IP, 225 K, 59 BB, 1.13 WHIP, always wears the proper jersey.
Tim Dillard may have been the reason the Brewers reached the National League Championship Series in 2011, and he wasn’t even on the Postseason roster. Sound crazy? Probably is.
Let’s set the stage. June 5. Bottom of the ninth. Tie game. One out. Heart of the Marlins order coming up. Bases loaded. Ron Roenicke summons Tim Dillard out of the bullpen. Dillard’s side-winding delivery baffled All Star Gaby Sanchez, who grounded out to Craig Counsell, who came home for the force out. 2 outs. Dillard then shattered the bat of slugger Mike Stanton on a harmless fly out to Ryan Braun in left. He would come out and complete a scoreless tenth inning as well. Game preserved.
Utility infielder Josh Wilson would hit the game winning homer in the top of the 11th and John Axford would preserve the lead and
secure the win. The Brewers would go on to barely secure home field advantage in the Divisional Series. Without Dillard’s heroics, they probably would not have, which would have sent Game Five of the NLDS to Arizona…and we know how the Brewers performed on the road in the Playoffs.
Skip ahead to 2012.
Dillard is now competing for one of the Brewers final three bullpen slots. His experience and relatively successful 2011 season will undoubtedly help his position and chances at making the Opening Day roster. Dillard should be used as a righty specialist; he could end up as the right-handed version of Brian Shouse or Javier Lopez. This is exactly what Dillard can bring to the table that Brandon Kintzler and Mike McClendon, others competing for bullpen spots, are not as good at.
He was drafted in 2001 as a catcher, but could not come to an agreement with the Brewers. Milwaukee’s front office took another shot at him the next year, and he converted to a pitcher almost immediately. In 2003 with the Helena Brewers of the Rookie League, Dillard went 1-2 with a 3.32 era in 14 games. He made a name for himself in High A ball in 2005, going 12-10 with a 2.48 era in 185.1 era. He has made appearances with the Brewers in 2008, 2009, and 2011, holding a career 4.91 era.
While it’s not reasonable to expect Dillard to became a part of the back end of the bullpen, I expect him to make the Opening Day roster as a right-handed specialist in the sixth and seventh with the ability to eat innings up, if necessary. The Tim Dillard Experience may be headed to a ballpark near you soon.
To say Ryan Braun had the first successful positive drug test appeal ever merely because of a technicality is more than fallacious. There is no way the Braun camp or MLB would have leaked the results. No luck is involved in appealing a positive drug test.
The rumors are running rampant over the internet over the Braun case. Granted, many of them are simply comments from vehement fans on articles and posts, but those still count as rumors. After all, wasn’t this post “just a rumor” a week ago?
How and why Braun was proven innocent (or not guilty, however you choose to say it) is ultimately in the hands of the opinion holder. Understandably, every person will have a separate opinion on how Braun’s suspension was overturned and, though it shouldn’t have to be this way, whether or not the Brewers left fielder got off lucky. The most trustworthy source in this situation should be Ryan Braun, as he is the one who beat out Major League Baseball, which, in return, released an angry statement.
Rumor 1: Ryan Braun got off on a technicality
For starters, a mishandled urine sample is no technicality; it’s a major misstep in the drug testing process. Anything could have happened to that sample in the 48 hours the sample was missing, and arbitrator Shyam Das was not willing to put Braun’s career and reputation at stake with such a large question surrounding the test.
Additionally, Braun’s lawyers gathered weekly weight, strength, and speed information taken by the Brewers. As he said in his Friday press conference, there was no significant change in weight, strength, or speed on the bases throughout the season. Braun’s training regimen remained the same, as well. Let’s put two and two together: Braun’s test result showed testosterone levels three times higher than any other test recorded under the current MLB drug policy, but records show no physical change. Add to this the fact that the urine sample went missing for 48 hours, opening the possibility of a tampered test, and there is no “technicality” involved.
It would take more than merely a technicality for Das to overturn a positive drug test and 50 game suspension.
Rumor 2: The sample was handled correctly
Major League Baseball remains firm on the notion that Braun should have been suspended and the test was not mishandled.
“The extremely experienced collector in Mr. Braun’s case acted in a professional and appropriate manner,” MLB said in a statement.
“He handled Mr. Braun’s sample consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency. The Arbitrator found that those instructions were not consistent with certain language in our program, even though the instructions were identical to those used by many other drug programs — including the other professional sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency.”
Notice that not once did MLB refute what Braun said about the absence of the urine sample for 48 hours. After contradicting much of what Braun said (including that the system is “fatally flawed”), all that has been said of the collector is that he “acted in a professional and appropriate manner”.
If not reporting the sample for 48 hours is acting a professional manner, then something is wrong with the drug policy.
Braun is the first player to successfully appeal a positive drug test, proved there is no substantial case against him, had his reputation at stake, was tagged a PED abuser, and is now being called “lucky” for emerging on top.
Braun’s camp spent all winter contriving a case that would prove a) He is completely innocent or b) the testing process was flawed or mishandled. The primary issue with option a is that it’s virtually impossible to completely prove your innocence and no PED was ever taken. When they found out the test was mishandled and not delivered to FedEx immediately, the focal point of the argument was established.
Over the course of five weeks, Braun and his lawyers proved, for the first time in Major League history, that he was not guilty. Braun had his name “dragged through the mud” with reports of STD’s and major baseball writers such as Buster Olney calling for him to give back his MVP award. Major League Baseball was obviously against him, as was a significant amount of baseball fans. To overcome all this requires more than luck.
Rumor 3: Bud Selig played an undercover role in the appeal
This is without a doubt the worst rumor I’ve seen yet. If all the rumors were true, then Bud Selig was the reason behind the reversal of the suspension because he used to own the Brewers. Not only is this completely crazy, but Selig sold the team to the Attanasio family seven years ago.
Yep. Ryan Braun will be playing this year because Bud Selig wanted the team he used to own to be able to compete.