Wooden's World of Baseball

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

It's The Loudoun Hounds

In my less-than-frequent meanderings here, a common topic was the proposed team in Loudoun County for the Atlantic League. Without further ado, it's the Loudoun County Hounds.

As I semi-suspected, this development has breathed new life into the Potomac Nationals quest for a new stadium though I doubt it will result in a race to see who builds first. Suffice it to say, the folks in Loudoun have a lead and given the parsimony of Prince William County, I have my doubts that ground will be broken before the recently renewed PDC is more than halfway through.

What perhaps is more interesting is that the business interests related to the Atlantic League are angling after the lease at Harry Grove Stadium. This almost makes me wonder if they're looking for a fail-safe option if there are delays in the building of the new stadium in Loudoun County.

In any case, if there's any team that's in a position to suffer from the Loudoun team, it's the Frederick Keys, but here's my take: Not likely. The drive between Loudoun and Frederick counties is a meandering Route 15 that, like much of the area, needs to be widened and made safer but won't anytime soon. I don't see folks bypassing the Keys in favor of the Hounds whenever they have a choice.

Most likely: They'll primarily draw from Loudoun County and points east, and secondarily folks from the edges of Fairfax and Prince William Counties when the P-Nats are out of town. Of course, the elephant in the room is how the construction in Tyson's Corner will progress. Thankfully, this is not my primary team to see and root for, but it could be come 2015.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

These Are The Days

The 2010 season is now over, having ended nine days ago with the second Potomac championship in three years.  But the headline refers to the 2010 season overall that saw my previous record of games attended (75) obliterated with 88 games in seven states and the District of Columbia.

When I moved here in 2006, I thought I would be seeing less baseball, but it turns out that the opposite has been true. The longer season (vs. the Can-Am League) and the more temperate weather is primarily what makes this possible. Three baseball roadtrips also helped. 

The first was to Winston-Salem, completing the Carolina League circuit (I've now seen every opposing team's stadium, a dream that I never could realize with the Can-Am, though I sure tried). The second was to Albany, NY and Burlington, VT, a detour en route to visiting my Mom in WMass, plus a chance to see the Nationals' northern-most affiliate.

But the big one was my trip to Tennessee, what I called my Appy League Adventure. It was inspired in no small part by my friend Shawn's trip in the summer of 2007. Two years ago, I had noticed while planning some baseball while we were vacationing in Western North Carolina, a cluster of teams in Northeast Tennessee.

"I'm gonna plan a trip to see all those teams someday in one trip," I told the Mrs. at the time. This year, the stars aligned.

Here's a peek at some of what I saw...

First stop was Bristol, Va., home to the Chicago White Sox's Advanced Rookie team. It's also the site of the greatest bar-bet question: "What's the record for the most strikeouts in a nine-inning game?"
Yep. That's 27, thrown in no-hitter in 1952 in the Appy League.

As a minor-league aficionado, this what made my jaw drop:
That night cost me $10... $6 for the ticket, $2 for a soda, $2 for a program.

The next stop was Greeneville, TN, and the best retro stadium I've seen in the minors:

Yes, I made it B&W for artistic purposes, but you can see the 1920s-style brick&steel architecture that they were going after. This was the outlier, though. Most of the Appy League facilities were like that of Johnson City:

Pretty basic (though the roof is a very nice touch) just like the souvenir stand:

I left my cameras in the car in Elizabethton, but a last-minute decision to skip going to a local BBQ stand after a long day at touristy Gatlinburg paid off big time as the local church was serving up this:

The price? Free. Just something they do on the last home game of the season. Talk about luck...

The last of the Appy-League stops was Kingsport, where this seat cost me $2 as they were giving away free admission to all comers (the $2 is the charge for the premium seats, a.k.a. the ones with a back):
Like the headline says, these are the days to be a baseball fan. Even if Potomac hadn't won it all again, it still would have been a great summer. In fact, this six-day adventure (the next night was in Salem with Potomac taking on the Red Sox) was a little bit of a break from the ordinary as it was purely for fun. I had no rooting interest in either team, thus no need to stress about the outcome. It was just a chance to sit back, watch some baseball, and keep a scorecard.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Summer Update

As I expected some months ago, when I began to write for NationalsProspects.com, this blog has gone fallow. Not quite dark, but fallow. I don't expect this to change until after the baseball season is over, though I'll probably document my trip to Tennessee here

Soon, I will own the NationalsProspects.com domain as its owner is looking to devote all his time and energy (and money) into his primary site, which is devoted to the Orioles. And that's fine by me. I'm willing to own and operate it through the rest of the summer and then see what happens.

As a fail-safe, I've reserved the Blogspot name of "Nationals Prospects" which has a very small chance forcing a name-change here, since I try to keep Peter Parker and Clark Kent separate, if you know what I mean. It's also a little insurance against spoofers, spammers, and malcontents.

This offseason could possibly see the non-renewal of the Potomac-Washington PDC, but that's a subject I prefer not to discuss in depth. Ballparkdigest.com suggested a scenario in which that could happen, but as my buddy Shawn says, it's awfully hard to get back into the Carolina League once you get out. As much of a sh!thole the Pfitz is, I believe the Silbers could leverage their grandfather clause as a pre-1990 facility and lure a team that wants in at any cost.

But I'm not going to fret and worry about that just yet. After what happened three years ago, I think I could figure out some alternatives, not the least of which could be simply buying weekend tickets to Frederick, Hagerstown, Bowie and Waldorf and/or making pilgrimages in every which direction. And there's always a chance that that proposed team in Loudoun County will actually get off the ground.

Thirty-four games in 9½ weeks. Eighty games doesn't seem so far-fetched. Now that's something to shoot for and look forward to.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Last Sunday Afternoon of Spring

Well, no, not in terms of the calendar, climate or meteorology. But for a baseball fan, summer is not Memorial Day to Labor Day — It's Opening Day (or Night) until the rosters expand to 40 men on September 1st. Fall follows and lasts until the final out of the World Series. Then it's Winter until pitchers and catchers report.

Yes, that makes for a very lopsided year... 20 weeks of Summer, eight weeks of Fall, six weeks of Spring, eighteen weeks of Winter. This week, I got my tickets to the Potomac Nationals and now I've got my "calendar" posted next to my laptop here, as I pinned up the ticket brochure that folds out to 15" x 17", depicting last 4th of July's record crowd of 10,789 at "the Fitz."

This could be the final year there for the franchise, but I have my doubts that there's a greener pasture elsewhere. Sure, there are other places, but I don't see it happening until the PDC is signed beyond 2010 and especially not when there's a new team that's planning to move in just one county north. Most likely: A two-year renewal and no new changes. Second-most likely, a four-year renewal and some renovations.

As always, the plan is to see a game every weekend that Potomac's away, and complete the Carolina League circuit. Last year I got the two most difficult sites squared away. This year, I've got five chances to get to Winston-Salem, which I missed in 2007 due to the cold.

And the big road trip for 2010? Tennessee, baby. Inspired in part by my friend Shawn, I've booked motels in southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee for late August to check out the Appy League and let the longest Potomac roadtrip (Aug. 26-Sep. 3) go unnoticed. In fact, the last game of the six that I hope to catch will be in Salem, VA.

Summer starts tomorrow!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

An Update To The CanAm League Saga

Though I no longer have a dog in the Can-Am League "fight," I still am a big fan of the independent game and keep tabs on the league that I followed very closely for five years.

Last month, it was officially announced that the team formerly known as the Nashua Pride would relocate to Pittsfield. Earlier this month, the team name was announced.

Without further ado, it's the Pittsfield Colonials.

While I would have preferred a revival of the Berkshire Black Bears*, the Colonials ain't so bad. It appears that they've hired the same marketing folks that launched the Worcester Tornadoes, and from what we can see from the "coming soon" website, it looks like yet another red-white-and-blue team. How novel.
* Contrast that with the new tenants of Dodd Stadium in Norwich who are renaming their team the Connecticut Tigers instead keeping the old name of the Connecticut Defenders. I'm sure it's probably a case of not owning the rights, but it still smacks of greed. I strongly suspect the name could have been negotiated for something simple; something is better than nothing.

Overall, though, this is good news for the folks in Pittsfield. Wahconah Park is one of my favorites, probably because it's one of the few remaining wooden-grandstand ballparks still standing. It's also one of the first places I went to see a minor-league ballgame as an adult, as I used to drive out to Pittsfield once or twice a summer in the late '80s and early '90s. Somehow, I suspect it's not changed much, as these shots taken in 2001 (link1, link2*) demonstrate.
* Yes, that's the sun setting and yes, there are sun delays.

Time will tell if these folks can hit the ground running as successfully as the Tornadoes did. The last time a team got such a late start — the New Haven County Cutters in 2004 — attendance, etc. suffered greatly. It's also not going to help that the NECBL may have adjusted folks' expectations/tolerance for pricing, as these outfits are run much more cheaply than professionals because, well, they're not.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Waxing On Realignment

A friend of mine commented about a radical realignment plan that was floated this week and I began to write a long-winded comment that's more suited to a post.

So here goes...

I've always felt that the solution to this problem is simple: weight the schedule NFL-style. The wild card has already cut into the meaning of a division title and has already given us a World Series winner that had a losing record against its own division.

Instead, why not regroup into six five-team divisions based on geography. This is the hard part, actually, but for the sake of speed/simplicity, add Arizona to the A.L. West move back Houston to the N.L. West. Ideally, you'd have the Texas and Florida teams in the same division with the team from Georgia.

Then... play an equal number of games (10) vs. the other 14 teams in your league. Reduce interleague to six games against your opposing league's equal finisher. The remaining 16 games are then scheduled against the four teams closest to your finish in the previous year.

There would always be a World Series rematch in season — satisfies the TV angle.

Interleague play wouldn't be as much of a luck-of-the-draw that could affect a playoff spot — and every team would play an equal number of games.

And those extra 16 games? Four more games against four teams of your caliber.

A team like Baltimore would benefit the most — they'd face Boston and New York 20 times instead of 38 (last year, 7-31 against). Sure, that'll hurt at the gate, but then they'd be playing more games against Cleveland and Kansas City (6-9 against).

Let's say the Orioles are potentially a 70-win team with the current schedule. With a weighted schedule, they could be 75-80 wins. And it cuts both ways... the Cardinals would be playing the Pirates and Astros 10 times fewer and the Phillies and Dodgers 10 times more. Likewise, St. Louis could drop from a 91-win team to an 81-86 win team.

And the thing is, this plan isn't all that radical. It's more of a swing back to the scheduling prior to the three-division format, which folks initially thought would be a disaster but has turned out to be a pretty good thing by keeping teams mathematically alive longer. So-called purists hate it, but these are usually the same folks that think that baseball's golden era was when the World Series was always played in New York.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Spring Training Thoughts

Looking back at my post from this time a year ago, I can see some thoughts on spring training, so here are my takes on the Nationals and Red Sox...

...It's a whole new ballgame in Viera. Last year, the Smiley-gate fiasco hung in the air, with the eventual dismissal of Jim Bowden, who's now become the Michael Scott of GMs, past or present.
Now, it seems like a new attitude is pervading.

...Some of that, of course, is the virtual masturbation excitement surrounding #1 pick Stephen Strasburg who, for better or worse, has become the franchise's savior. I have mixed feelings about the prospect of him pitching in Potomac. Sure, it'll be great to see a blue-chip prospect that's on our team for once, but I'm concerned about having to fight off the crowd that seems certain to be there. That said, my seat is available for sale: asking price $840* per Strasburg start.
* Not coincidentally, the price for my entire season-ticket package

...As always, the Red Sox camp is more boring. Mostly, it's concern about the "distraction" about Mike Lowell, who's a man without a position after the acquisition of Adrian Beltre and is unlikely to split time with David Ortiz at DH. To a lesser extent, this is true of Tim Wakefield, too, but methinks that it's too soon to tell if both Dice-K and Clay Buchholz are healthy and effective.

...I'm liking the idea that defense has become the new on-base percentage. To the uninformed, "Moneyball" was all about that, despite Billy Beane's numerous reminders that it was about finding market inefficiencies — "the closer" is overvalued* for example. It's still amusing how many people still believe that there can only be one "closer," despite mountains of evidence that show historically (read: since 1901) a team with a lead in the 9th inning wins the game 95% of the time.
* My favorite take on this comes from the late Dick Radatz, who essentially said of his bullpen for the North Shore Spirit: Roles? Bullshit. Your job when you're on the mound is to throw strikes. Period. End of discussion.

Some of that "liking" of course comes from a brilliant insight from Joe Posnanski, who I believe is the best sportswriter in the business these days. The "Pozterisk" is his invention (the italics above) and I steal it in the spirit of plagiarism being the most sincere form of flattery. I couldn't find the link, but it's basically that people become fans of the players that are similar to themselves as a player. When I played baseball as a boy, I was a catcher. When I began playing softball in my mid-20s, I soon realized my strengths were hitting to the opposite field and utilizing my speed, which helps me get to more balls than most guys my age. Consequently, I have more of an affinity for catchers and defensive guys that can really run.

...MASN this year is actually going to show eight spring training games for the O's and Nats, all in HD, and none of the games are against each other. Of course, seven of those eight games involve the Red Sox and Yank-mes (the Braves are the outlier). Like most fans, I'll be happier when either MASN is broken up or the Nationals are given a dedicated channel, but it's still encouraging. Some people think that it's a function of their losing that keeps the ratings low, but making folks constantly have to guess which channel it's on cannot help.

...Otherwise, I'm in the best shape of my life