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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Baseball Weekend

Two weekends ago the Cubs made their annual trek to the Mile High City and my family and I made the most of it.

On Friday the game started at 3:05PM and I was scoring for MLB.com. Before the game in the press box I was hoping to run into Ron Santo in order to procure an autograph (I had brought a ball) but the closest I came was rubbing shoulders with his broadcast partner Pat Hughes in the cafeteria.

Mark Prior pitched for the Cubs and had excellent stuff from the start. He went on to pitch 6 strong innings, giving up two earned runs and striking out 10. What I found most interesting about the outing, however, was the way he continually nibbled at the corners with two strikes. He was ahead of most of the hitters but would end up with a lot of 2-2 and 3-2 counts after wasting a slider away in the dirt or trying to be too fine with his fastball. As a result he threw 118 pitches in those six innings. It seems to me he should trust his stuff a little more and be a bit more aggressive in going after hitters.

On the offensive side the Cubs jumped on Byung-Hyun Kim early with a Jeremy Burnitz single that scored Todd Walker in the first. The Cubs got another run in the fourth and two in the fifth courtesy of a Todd Walker homerun and Aramis Ramirez single that scored Derrek Lee. That was all the Cubs needed as they went on to win 5-3.

Kerry Wood pitched an impressive 8th inning striking out two while throwing 98 mph fastballs and 88 mph sliders. Pitching out of the stretch he looked much more in control of his body and didn't fall off the mound as he's prone to do from the windup. It's nice to see that his surgery was a success and so it looks as if he'll be back in the rotation in 2006.

On Saturday afternoon I headed to the SABR Rocky Mountain chapter meeting held from 12:30-3:30PM at a building down the street from Coors Field. It was the first meeting of this chapter I had attended since moving to the Front Range. Although the meeting was delayed by a mix-up that left the 20 or so attendees out on the street until almost 1PM, I had a good time.

The featured speaker was Rockies radio broadcaster Jeff Kingery who was very cordial and had prepared a bit for his talk. Kingery has been with the Rockies since the beginning and is the only original broadcaster remaining. He started by discussing how statistics do and don't translate to the radio by giving an example of how it would be difficult to discuss some of Todd Helton's accomplishments without simplifying by making comparisons to other players rather than reading off a list of numbers. Interestingly, in talking about Helton's big numbers he didn't allude at all to park effects which made me wonder how much or if that ever enters his commentary when discussing Rockies hitters.

He also noted that he'll open a file on his laptop for a player when he talks with them and gleans an interesting anecdote that he can relate on the air. Of course, they have to be short and to the point in order to get it in during an at bat and because of the transient nature of the listeners who are often in the car for a few minutes and picking up just short snippets.

One story he related was of Luis Gonzales of the Diamondbacks in left field at Wrigley when a fan came running down the aisle and dumped something onto the field. Gonzales, thinking at first he was target, moved under the basket and when security arrived realized that the man had dumped his father's ashes on the field per his father's request. After pleading his case the security guard said drly, "well, your Dad can stay but you have to go" before escorting him out of the park. He mentioned that the worst thing for him is to have to try and continue a story or finish a point across innings.

When asked about his use of statistics and the pregame notes provided by the teams he said that he would consider it amazing if they used even 20% of the information and he doesn't rigorously go through them each night. Having seen those pregame notes I'll attest to the fact that they're long indeed and contain lots of pretty useless information based on very small sample sizes along with a few gems. When I was at Kauffman Stadium I noticed that Paul Splittorf went through the notes and highlighted various things before going on the air. I saw the Rockies TV broadcaster doing the same last night before the Rockies/Dodgers game. He also said that during the broadcast they'll use BaseballReference.com (he called it Baseball Research but I'm pretty sure that's what he meant).

In talking about scouting and how reports are put together he also had collected some funny assessments made by scouts on scouting reports such as the one for one player that read, "sets low personal goals and consistently fails to achieve them".

During the question and answer time he was inevitably asked about winning at altitude. His take was familiar in that he thought the Rockies needed four or five big homerun hitters ala the "Blake Street Bombers" and that the Rockies simply need better players. This mantra has been repeated ad nauseum in the local papers this season. He was hopeful that Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Todd Helton, and Ian Stewart would fill the bill. However, he also pointed out that a deep bullpen is important and pointed to this season where early on the bullpen blew game after game because it was filled with rookies and just not very good pitchers. Sadly, had the Rockies had their act together in April, they would still likely be in the race since they've had the best record in the NL West since June 1st. He then noted that the Rockies have said they're going to try and shore up the catching position along with the bullpen for next year. They also, of course, desparately need a centerfielder in case the Larry Bigbie experiment flops.

In all, he was a great speaker and I appreciated Ray Luurs being able to get him. This chapter is also having it's annual banquet in November where the SABR president, Jim Burris (assistant to Ford Frick and one-time GM of the Denver Bears), Jack Corrigan (Kingery's broadcast partner), and Ed Henderson (well known scout in the Denver area) would all be speaking. Most interesting, however, was the plan to put a plaque near Invesco field that points out the location Mile High Stadium as the home of professional baseball in Denver during much of the 20th century with hopes to put plaques at the other six locations in the area where pro baseball was played. Hopefully, the project will move forward as I can't think of a better project for SABR to engage in.

Have I ever mentioned that you should become a SABR memebr if you're not already? Just checking.

After the meeting adjourned around 3:30 I headed over to Coors Field where the gate behind centerfield allowing fans to watch batting practice in left field opens two hours prior to game time. The weather had turned threatening and so the Cubs weren't hitting on the field. So I took a leisurely stroll through the park before the entire park was made accessible at 4:30. After an excellent burger and fries at the restaurant in the right field corner of the park I headed to my seat behind home plate in the upper deck where the rest of the SABRites were to congregate. At game time it was 65 degrees and drizzling although the rain held off for the remainder of the game.

I took my seat in the "mile high row" that is marked as being 5,280 feet above sea level and soon 10 to 15 other members found their way as well. From the Cubs perspective the game was a bit lackluster. Aaron Cook was in control from the start used his off speed pitches effectively to keep the Cub hitters off balance in his 7 innings giving up one run, walking only one, while failing to strike out a batter. Glendon Rusch for the Cubs looked better than in his previous starts and pitched 6 innings giving up 2 earned runs and unearned run courtesy of a Todd Walker error in the first. With runs in the 7th and 8th the Cubs were able to get Walker on as the tying run in the 9th before Derrek Lee facing Brian Fuentes grounded weakly to Helton at first to end the game and sealing the Rockies 4-2 win.

Kerry Wood once again got into the game but didn't look quite as sharp. After falling behind to Dustan Mohr in the 8th the fellow SABR member sitting next to me remarked that Wood better not groove a fastball knowing that Mohr hits little that is not a fastball out over the plate. Of course he did and Mohr deposited it some 420 feet over the center field fence. It was great to sit with such knowledgable fans and enjoy the baseball discussion.

On Sunday the sun was bright and the weather warm as I packed the entire family, clad in our Cubs gear, in the car after church and headed to the park. We arrived just before the first pitch and took our seats down the first base line in the lower level. I was excited to point my two daughters attention to the fact that Greg Maddux, perhaps the last 300 game winner in a generation, was pitching for the Cubs. They nodded politely as their thoughts returned to dip'n dots. Just as well I suppose as Maddux didn't have it and gave up 6 runs in his 6 innings of work including homeruns to Mohr in the 4th and back to back homers by Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins in the 5th.

The Cubs kept it close by getting five runs in the 5th off of rookie Jeff Francis on homeruns by Neifi Perez and Jeremy Burnitz. Of course my wife, who complains she never actually sees the action, was taking a walk with one of our daughters. But just as soon as the Cubs were back in it Scott Williamson gave up a three-run homer to Jorge Piedra in the 8th giving the rockies a 9-5 lead.

In the 9th Derrek Lee hit a 435 foot leadoff homerun off of Brian Fuentes (the blow the Cubs needed the night before) followed by a 400 foot homerun to right by Aramis Ramirez to make it 9-7. Over half the crowd of 40,000 were Cubs fans and so Coors Field was as lively as I've seen it this season. Unfortunately, Nomar Garciapara (who had hit two doubles and looked good returning from the groin injury), and Jeremy Burnitz made outs. Michael Barrett, however, hit a triple off the right field foul pole that Clint Hurdle briefly protested. Todd Walker then came in to pinch hit against the lefty Fuentes. The lack of a credible right-handed bat on the bench cost the Cubs as Walker did not have good swings and finally struck out to end the game.

The Cubs dropped two of three, which all but ended their hopes of a wild card spot. But still it was a great weekend of baseball.

1 comment:

Ron Hostetter said...

Sounds like fun! Your post makes me miss the days when I would look forward to heading out the "K."