April 2006

Ten Random Thoughts on the Home Opener

  1. Really nice game by Mulder. Got the Ks when he needed, got the groundballs when he needed, looked like a hitter, etc. etc. etc. Impressive. As has been discussed all over the Cardinals blogosphere, Mulder’s K rate is something to be aware of. Not just in the abstract, but situationally. K rate is an indicator of future success, and it’s something for the team to watch as they decide whether to commit big dollars to him long term. But the ability to get A strikeout can help you win some games in the short term too.
  2. Rolen’s play in the eighth inning was one of the best I’ve seen him make. Looked just like any time in 2003 or 2004. His arm is ridiculous. His quickness getting to that ball was ridiculous. Wow.
  3. To borrow an observation from a scribe sitting near me up here, the ballpark is nice — not magnificent, not an amusement park, just nice. It’s a ballpark. It’s a good place for a game. It doesn’t feel really gimmicky, and that’s something to like. Better than Cincinnati, no doubt. Not as nice as San Francisco, no doubt. Still, it’s just a good place for a baseball game, and what else do you need?
  4. There’s a lot not to like about the press box, but I know you guys don’t want to hear that. They pay me to come to the park, so basically life is good. But let’s just say I’m very, very glad my seat isn’t in the second row. Actually, personally I have a very good seat. So that’s nice.
  5. Everyone is talking about the food options. It seems to be the one thing that has impressed the most people. I heard of a dessert stand with things like red-velvet cake, and all sorts of intriguing meal choices. Can’t wait to sample.
  6. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous day. If you believe in omens, this was a good one. Especially after the misery of the weather in Chicago.
  7. The view really is cool. From my seat, I can see the courthouse, the arch, the Millennium Hotel, all sorts of other downtown buildings… Plus, we were able to watch as they officially put the "Hilton" sign atop the hotel that used to be the Marriott, right across the street from the stadium.

    Here’s my view, as taken on my phone pregame: View_from_seat_1

  8. It was such a treat to see Stan Musial out and doing pretty well, and to hear him speak at the dedication ceremony this morning. I only wish he’d played the harmonica.
  9. Big thanks to the Cardinals’ tech guy, Greg, who was extremely helpful in solving my connectivity problems. Just had to get that in there.
  10. Albert Pujols’ single-mindedness, his obsession with hitting, and with playing the game and winning, is a huge part of what makes him great. But sometimes, I find myself wishing he had a little more fun with things. The guy hit the first Cardinals home run in the new ballpark, and he said it didn’t matter to him at all. You just kind of wish anybody in that position would really be able to enjoy it, to appreciate it. He is what he is, and he’s the MVP and the best right-handed hitter in the league in large part because he’s so driven to win and to get better. But I just have to think there’s a little room to step back, take a deep breath, and say, "Hey, that’s a pretty cool thing to have done."
  11. OK, one more. As I write this, they’re turning the lights on. And it’s pretty impressive. I’ve been told that the lights are one of the biggest improvements in the new place, and if this evening’s partial test is any indication, I was told correctly.
  12. And one small anecdote. I shaved my beard off last night, and I’m thrilled about it; much more comfortable. Lots of people notice, some gave me grief. When Brad Thompson noted it, I joked to him, "I’m just trying to look younger than you." He said to me, "You succeeded!" That’s saying a lot, but I think he’s right. I expect I will get carded to rent R-rated movies at the video store now.

-M.

Forward into the future, or past to the back

I’m off Sunday before the home opener on Monday, so herewith, a few thoughts on what I saw here in Chicago…

  • As I posted in response to a comment lower on the page, I had no problem with taking Carpenter out after six innings. The bullpen has been exceptional up to this point. It was cold, windy and miserable out there. Carpenter was at 97 pitches, a heavy load for six innings. And there are reports that he’s had a little back stiffness. No reason at all to push it. Trust me, I’ll have my tactical disagreements with TLR over the course of this season; but in this case I think he made the right move.
  • Man is Skip Schumaker taking some nice at-bats. I preach major, major caution on guys who have big springs and guys who have hot starts, and I certainly don’t expect Schumaker to hit .357 this year. But I’m really impressed with the sense he seems to have for the situation — when it’s time to be aggressive, he’ll go after the first good strike. When patience is called for, he works the at-bat.
  • If the manager reads this, which is admittedly unlikely, he’ll think I’m piling on, but I don’t like Encarnacion in the 2 spot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Not because he’s left runners on — in fact, that’s the one thing I expect him to do really well over the course of the year, is come through with some base hits and sac flies in RBI chances. But because he makes too many outs. And I definitely disagree with TLR’s statement that Encarnacion’s out on the bases wasn’t a mistake because he was stealing — watch the replay and you’ll see he has the time to assess the play and still keeps going around second. Bad play, IMO.


I’ll be watching on TV like many of the rest of you on Sunday night. Actually, Sunday is looking like a heavenly day for me, other than my early morning flight. Get home, nap a little bit… watch the NASCAR race and the final round of the Masters while lazing on the couch with the beautiful bride, the dog and the cat… go out to dinner with the beautiful bride… come back and watch the Cards on TV in the warmth of our house. Good times indeed.

Then it’s back in the saddle for Monday, and I’m definitely starting to get geeked for the opener.

Currently playing on the iPod: U2, The Joshua Tree. Yep, still old.

-M.

Those are good burgers, Walter

So here’s the natural follow-up to a post about in-the-park food.

As a general rule, day games can be a little tough, just because they throw your rhythm off. Day-after-night is pretty brutal when you work until 2, 2 1/2 hours after the game and then try to get there at least 3 hours before the next day. (for reference, I arrive at least 3 1/2 hours, ideally 4, before a night game).

But there’s one major upside to a day game — the chance to get out and sample the grub in the city where the team is playing. And few cities are better on that score than Chicago — I had pizza from Gino’s East this evening.

Side note — I have the Bulls-Sixers game on in the background as I type this, and they just showed Carlos Zambrano at the arena. TLR is there as well; I’m doubting they hung out together. Anyway…

Favorite places to eat after a day game around the NL…

* Florida — There’s a Cuban place in Fort Lauderdale that I used to love, but I had a bad experience last time I went there. I’ll need to get around to finding somewhere else.

* New York — What’s NOT to like? There’s too much good food in New York to mention, but as a general rule I always try to get at least one Italian meal when I’m there.

* Cincinnati — Skyline Chili. Not exactly highbrow, but so, so, so very good. Three-way chili, or of course the aforementioned cheese Coney at the park.

* Houston — Whataburger before a night game. For a sit-down meal, there’s a place called Irma’s right by the ballpark, Southwest/Mexican stuff, and it’s fantastic. Not to mention affordable. I’m a fan.

* Milwaukee — The Pasta Tree, near UW-Milwaukee, is excellent and reasonably priced. I also have a coffee place that I love there, but installment three of the NL eating tour will focus on non-meal options.

* Chicago — Gino’s East is it for pizza for me, though Giordano’s is high-quality and so is Due. I also absolutely love Heaven On Seven, which is a Cajun/Creole place with at least two locations — one downtown and one right near the ballpark.

* San Francisco — Another place with scads of great options. I love The Stinking Rose, which is a garlic restaurant. And I always have to go get a burrito in the Mission district. My favorite taqueria in the Mission is Taqueria Cancun, but it’s like the North End in Boston — you can’t go wrong anywhere. I had an unbelievable steak at Harris’ steakhouse there once, but that’s the kind of place I can’t afford on a regular, or even sporadic, basis. Let’s just say if I see ballplayers at a restaurant, it’s probably out of my price range.

* San Diego — Old Town Mexican Cafe. The beer is good and cold, the food is better and hot, and their freshly made tortillas are just wonderful.

* Anywhere in Southern California or Arizona — In-N-Out Burger. The reigning champ. There is none better. Phoenix has both In-N-Out and Whataburger, and that’s not even fair.

If I didn’t list a city, it’s because I haven’t found a favorite place there yet. But I’ll keep looking. Because I’m always looking out for you, the readers. Yeah, that’s it.

Now playing on the iPod — Cat Power, The Greatest

-M.

Whiz without

The weather is miserable (cold and windy), but your faithful correspondent’s tummy is full. I just polished off a Tony Luke’s cheesesteak. Mmmm… cheesesteak. My favorite cheesesteak at Citizens Bank Park was Geno’s, but there is no longer a Geno’s stand here. Second-best, however, is still pretty doggone good.

In honor of Philly’s great delicacy, here is a list of my top-5 favorite ballpark concessions items from around the National League. (in no particular order)

* Nachos at Shea Stadium, but only from a particular stand around home plate on the mezz level. If you know the place, you know what I’m talking about.

* A cheesesteak at CBP — Tony Luke’s is the place to go for me these days.

* Skyline Chili cheese coney at Great American Ball Park.

* Garlic fries at AT&T Park, with honorable mention to the Krispy Kreme doughnuts at AT&T, and also the beer selection — you can get Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada on tap. Obviously the beer is not for work days.

* Garcia’s burrito at Chase Field (the artist formerly known as the BOB). This item gets a special mention because there’s a special press/employee discount. Very good times indeed.

Sadly, Super Smokers is gone, or a pulled pork sandwich from Super Smokers at Busch Stadium would crack the list. Super Smokers, you are missed.

A couple of AL favorites, though I can’t really list them knowledgably since I don’t get to AL parks that often: Corn off the cob at U.S. Cellular Field (I wrote an entire story centered on this item once); a sausage from a sausage stand outside Fenway Park; BBQ from Gates BBQ at Kauffman Stadium.

What are your favorites?

-M.

Shout-outs

As KISS once sang, "Shout it, shout it, shout it out loud!"

Anyway. Apparently the trail I blazed last season is finally being followed. Two more of my colleagues at MLB.com have begun blogging. That makes a total of four of us, and the other three guys are three of our very best (not to mention friends of mine, so maybe I’m biased, but so what?). I’ll be checking out their offerings on a regular basis, and so should you.

Ian Browne, of Redsox.com, introduces Brownie Points.

Mark Feinsand, of Yankees.com, brings you Mark it Down.

And don’t forget Jason Beck over at DetroitTigers.com, who has for quite some time been weighing in with the somewhat less cleverly-named (but still high-quality) Beck’s Blog.

Finally, not an MLB.com beat guy, but a pitcher I used to cover, brings you Haren’s Heat. I enjoyed covering Dan(ny) when he was in St. Louis. And I offer him congratulations on his offseason accomplishments — becoming engaged, getting a dog and buying a house. Nicely done.

I’ll get back to regular topics soon, I promise. Here’s hoping the weather in Philly holds up tonight.

Ready for a cheesesteak tonight,
-M.

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