Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reds Win? An Evening at the Ballpark

I was at the Brewers .vs. Reds game Wednesday night, the 25th. I had a pretty darn good time and thought I'd share the experience with you.
My friend Chris and I have gone to several Reds games together in the past. We usually park on the Kentucky side and walk across the bridge, but this time one of Chris' friends drove us down to the ballpark. On our way in, I spotted the newest miracle on the baseball landscape -- automated ticket machines. We could hardly believe our eyes. We hadn't gotten tickets yet and picked up two upper-deck seats right along the 3rd base line (the upper deck at Great American Ball Park -- GABP -- isn't really as far away as it seems. Sitting there for $19 is a bargain, to me. It's a lot better than old Riverfront Park. Once when I was a kid (sometime in the late 80's) my Dad took my brother and I to an Opening Day game at Riverfront. We sat in the upper deck -- it may have been the very top, or maybe that's just my imagination. A blanket apiece didn't stop us from shivering and losing the feeling in our extremities. But I -- a budding 7-year-old sabermetrician -- still tried to keep score until I just couldn't write anymore. 20 years later and I still keep score at every ballgame.
When we entered, we got our Frank Robinson bobblehead (which doesn't look much like Frank) and headed to the not-so-crowded concession stand near Section 415. Chris thought about getting a $6.25 beer, then saw what size the cup was. Instead he got a Pepsi about twice the size for a dollar less. I realized that I need to start carrying a bag to games, because it's hard to hold a ticket, a scorecard, a full Pepsi, a bobblehead box, and a hot dog without spilling them all over the person in front of you. It took me a few minutes to get settled when we sat down, just in time for the first pitch.

The GABP has a great set of stats that it flashes on the scoreboard for every hitter. They've got all the basic baseball card stats, plus OBP and SLG. So it was to my GREAT dismay that I noticed that the foul pole blocked the part of the scoreboard with the AVG, OBP, and SLG. I was genuinely sad. I jokingly mentioned to Chris that I should make friends with someone across the stadium and have them send me a text message whenever a new hitter came up.
The starting pitching match-up was Jeff Suppan for Milwaukee against Kyle Lohse for the Reds. Chris was a bit bullish about Suppan, but I told him that (as I predicted) Milwaukee wasn't as kind to him. Later in the game I came up with a great nickname for Suppan when he gets older: Grey Suppan (it rhymes-with-Poupon). Kyle Lohse is one of those guys who isn't good enough to be valuable but isn't really bad enough for a team to just get rid of. I've actually heard that several teams are interested in possibly trading for Lohse. If I were the Reds, I'd send him off tomorrow. I actually hollered, "Trade him!" just in case Wayne Krivsky could hear me (doubtful).
The Brewers went down in order in the first, but while I was writing down lineups, I missed what happened to Craig Counsell, the #2 hitter. So I borrowed some terminology I read about in a scoring book: "WW (wasn't watching)."
The Reds got a runner on with one out in the first when Ken Griffey, Jr. stepped up. Now most everyone in the park was there to see Junior on his way to 600 home runs, so they came alive for him. But he popped out to Counsell at short. Brandon Phillips hit one to the warning track, but it was caught for the final out.
Geoff Jenkins hit a two-out single in the 2nd inning and then stole second base. As I saw him take off, my exact words were: "Geoff Jenkins?!" I guess Lohse wasn't watching him. But Tony Graffanino flew out to Griffey to end the inning.
I should note at this point that the Brewers were not fielding their A-team tonight, for reasons of injury and I guess just some days off. So the lineup was:

2B -- Rickie Weeks
SS -- Craig Counsell
RF -- Kevin Mench
1B -- Prince Fielder
CF -- Bill Hall
LF -- Geoff Jenkins
3B -- Tony Graffanino
C -- Damian Miller
P -- Jeff Suppan

I actually had to stop and ask myself how these guys were winning the division. But then I remembered that the Brewers' ideal lineup includes guys like Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, and Johnny Estrada, none of whom started that night for various reasons.
One thing I notice at GABP is something that seems to get worse every time I go there; between-inning distractions. I guess this is happening all over the country, but at GABP, there's a special event for almost every mid-inning break. It's an orgy of product-placement and fan involvement. I could pass judgment on this, but then MLB has been trying stuff like this for years to make baseball interesting to non-fans. But some of the bits are just silly. They're hosted by one guy (whom my friend Chris claims has the easiest job in the world) who has to try and make all of this happy and positive. He brought up on kid who he tried to connect with by saying that he was from his "home zip code." I remarked to Chris whether or not there was, is, or should be such a thing as "zip code identity."
There's the Skyline chili challenge, which is a much simpler version of the old shell game on the big video screen. I haven't seen anyone get it wrong yet, but then that's hardly the point, is it? There's also the Mr. Red race, which is legitimate, since that's been going on since I can remember at Riverfront. The difference is that now, instead of Mr. Red #1, 2, and 3, they each have personalities. I picked Mr. Redlegs (the old-fashioned one), but Rosie Red won when she turned into Wonder Woman and raced down the home stretch. No kiddin'.
One of my favorites used to be the "Song of the Week," where the fans got to pick one of three songs to play during a later inning. In the past, they would play each song and "measure" the cheers. Now, the contest is brought to you by Verizon, so you text in your choice. I would grumble about modern technology, but maybe it's best that you don't know what a grumpus I am.
Back to the game: in the bottom of the 2nd, Adam Dunn led off with a single (which he did not stretch into a double. Chris and I love Dunn, but we did poke a lot of fun at his lack of raw footspeed). The next guy up was shortstop Jeff Keppinger. I turned to Chris and said, "Jeff who?" I know I haven't been keeping up with the game as much as I should, but I figured I would at least know the guys in the Reds' starting lineup. I looked him up after the game and was actually fairly impressed. Keppinger looked like a minor-league lifer with several organizations and came into the season with 176 big league at-bats. But his minor league numbers show a guy who hits for a good average and can take a walk. I can't comment on his defense except to say that he looked good tonight. Usually when the Reds promote an unknown in the majors, they were unknown for a reason. But Keppinger looks like he could be a useful utility infielder if his defense is good. He's doing well so far at the plate (314/368/486), albeit in 12 games.
Keppinger tried to bunt, which got my dander up. You're bunting in the 2nd inning with your #6 hitter? Someone should give Mr. Mackanin a free copy of some Baseball Prospectus books. Keppinger flew out, and after Edwin Encarnacion reached on a fielder's choice, David Ross ended the inning by flying out. Now I know that lineup order isn't a big deal in the scheme of things, but why in the world is Keppinger hitting ahead of Encarnacion? Don't the Reds know about the danger of judging by small sample sizes? Well, in this game at least, Jeff Keppinger made me eat my words (I'll get to that later).
David Ross is the Reds' everyday catcher. I hung my head when I heard that they were going with him full-time this year. Well, I will admit that I was wrong about one thing; his power is sticking around. Ross has hit 15 HR this year. He hit 21 in about the same amount of time last year, but 15 HR in about 250 PA is pretty good.

The problem is that the baseball player David Ross consists of nothing more than those 15 HR. Ross is hitting 193/247/399 this year. That's absolutely dreadful for even a somewhat full-time player. He must tell some GREAT jokes in the clubhouse.
Lohse allowed a hit in the third, but ended it with his first strikeout of the game, against Counsell. He was giving up a lot of fly balls, but it hadn't become a problem yet.
The Reds struck against Suppan in the bottom of the 3rd. It's hard to pitch to contact in the GABP, because if you're off by just a bit, the hits just keep on comin'. That's what happened to Suppan in the third. Lohse led off the inning with a ground-out, but then the next two batters reached base. Ken Griffey, Jr. came up . . . and popped out again. Luckily, Brandon Phillips followed with an RBI single (Reds 1-0). Suppan walked Dunn to load the bases and face Keppinger.
This is what I was talking about earlier: Encarnacion should bat behind Dunn. Because here, they're just walking Dunn to get to Keppinger. And Keppinger . . . hit a bases-clearing triple (Reds 4-0). That shut me the hell up for a while, especially when Encarnacion -- my hero -- grounded out to end the inning.

It was at this point, I believe, that the ubiquitous mid-inning announcer/salesman offered a young fan a chance to win a prize. He had to pick between boxes 1, 2, and 3. The young man picked Box #2. The announcer, with glee, announced that he had won a complete set of GABP 2007 bobbleheads. The camera cut to the kid . . . who just stared. The announcer offered the kid a chance to give up this prize for one of the other boxes, and he did without hesitating. He chose Box #1 . . . and will be going home with a complete set of Big Red Machine bobbleheads. I thought it was hilarious and laughed out loud. The kid seemed pretty disappointed. I joked to Chris that the Reds might offer him the 10-15,000 leftover Frank Robinson bobbleheads (paid attendance: 30,976) and make him pay for the truck to haul them.

The Brewers went down in order in the 4th, and the Reds bounced back with another run in the bottom of the inning. David Ross led off the game with a double, but injured himself and had to leave the game. Brought in to pinch-run for him . . . was Javier Valentin, who is built like a fire hydrant. I guess Mackanin didn't want to waste an actual runner for Ross, but I still found the announcement, "Pinch-runner Javier Valentin" pretty funny. We later found out that Ross had a sprained pinky finger and was day-to-day. Chris remarked that that was pretty low on the scale of injuries, but then I speculated as to how it would feel if you made your living catching fastballs.
It actually took some time for the Reds to send a pinch-runner to second, making me wonder what the discussion was that ended with Valentin running out there. At one point, with Ross off the field and no pinch-runner selected, I hollered, "Ghost man on 2nd!" Chris laughed at this childhood reference. The other people around me just stared.
Lohse sacrificed Valentin to third, and he scored on a Ryan Freel single (Reds 5-0). Ken Griffey, Jr. put the thought of his two pop-outs behind him as he stepped up to the plate and . . . popped out again.
Lohse looked like he was cruising in the 5th, retiring the side in order, but then he did it with two more balls hit to the outfield. Griffey notched his 4th put-out of the game at the halfway point.
In the bottom of the inning, Brandon Phillips led off with a single. Dunn followed up with another single, which he did not stretch into a double. Phillips, however, tried to go to third, but was thrown out with some ease. Bill Hall may not have a great arm in center, but it sure looked like he did tonight. Keppinger followed with a pop out and then Encarnacion singled. With runners on first and second, Suppan was nearing 100 pitches and clearly out of luck. So he mustered what he had left to record his first strikeout of the game, retiring Javier Valentin to end the inning.
Lohse reached the end of his rope in the 6th, as the Brewers led off the game by hitting three balls at Ken Griffey, Jr. in right. To give him credit, Junior probably wasn't hitting because he was wearing a path in the right field grass. The first ball, hit by pinch-hitter Corey Hart, was a fly ball (I don't know how hard it was hit without the aid of video tape). Griffey caught it. The second ball was a serious line drive scorched by Rickie Weeks. But it was within reach of Griffey, who hauled it in for out #2. With Craig Counsell, however, Kyle Lohse had tested his limits. He had recorded 17 outs; 9 of them fly outs and 7 of those caught by Griffey. Junior is only one man. And as I said to Chris as Craig Counsell made contact, you can only be a fly-ball pitcher in GABP for so long before you get hurt. It was Counsell who provided the hurt, with a 350-foot home run that just got over the glove of a leaping Griffey. Griffey actually mis-timed it somewhat, and the ball hit off the top of the fence. The crowd went, "Awwww," in a universal condemnation of such a cheap home run. But a home run it was (Reds 5-1), and Counsell trotted home.
The next batter, Mench, singled. Prince Fielder was next, and he hit a grounder to third that Encarnacion bounced past Hatteberg, sending Mench to third. I admit that it's a lot easier to be patient with Edwin's defense when you don't have to watch it. Hatteberg saved him in the 1st inning with a great pick on a low throw to first (I called out, "Pickin' machine!").
Bill Hall came up next and single in a run (Reds 5-2), which meant the end of the night for Lohse. He got some applause as he came off the field, but I didn't participate. It's nothing against Lohse; I'm one of those guys who won't give a play a standing ovation unless I think it deserved it, regardless of what the people around me do. Lohse went 5.2, allowed two runs and left two more on base. He walked zero and struck out 1. That's not awful, but it doesn't merit applause.
The Reds unleashed their bullpen on the world, and it was a sorry sight. They brought in Jon Coutlangus (and I'm sorry, but that just sounds dirty) to face the lefty Geoff Jenkins. Coutlangus walked him to load the bases and bring the go-ahead run to the plate. I explained to Chris the term LOOGY (Left-Handed One-Out Guy) as Mackanin came out to relieve his reliever. I'm sorry, but the Reds don't have the luxury of using their lefties one batter at a time. And when they do, it's nice if they actually, you know, get that lefty out. More often than not.
Coutlangus was relieved by Jared Burton as part of a double-switch/shift that sent me into Scorecard Anxiety. Burton got Graffanino to ground into a force out, and the Reds dodged a major bullet.
Norris Hopper led off as part of the double-switch and flew out to right field (naturally). I heard one of the Reds' TV announcers talking about what a great guy Hopper was as a player. I just thought of how many other teams keep mistaking speedy fourth outfielders for everyday players. The same announcers probably said the same thing about Ruben Mateo.

This may not be relevant, but I have to say that Thom Brennaman, who has joined his father on the Reds' announce team, really gets on my nerves. He's so obnoxious and intractable in his beliefs that he's actually off-putting. His father, on the other hand, might as well be mayor of Cincinnati.

After Hopper, Scott Hatteberg hit into an interesting 3-4-1 force out. The ball was to Fielder, but it rolled right up his arm. Luckily, Rickie Weeks recovered and threw to first, where the pitcher was (good job, Spurling) to retire Hatteberg. Ryan Freel struck out to end the inning.

During the 6th inning, the Reds flash their trivia question on the scoreboard. This one was interesting: name the 6 players who accumulated more than 600 extra-base hits as members of the Reds.
Chris and I got 4 out of 6. The first four names we reeled off were the ones we got right: Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Barry Larkin. Then we had to think for a while for good power hitters who spent a lot of time for the Reds. Chris suggested Frank Robinson (of the bobblehead), but I didn't think he'd been with the team long enough to get 600+ EBH (or XBH, if you prefer). I went with Joe Morgan, who wasn't with the team for that long, but enjoyed some very productive seasons here. We were stumped for number six, though, as I tried to think of some guys. I dismissed the first half of the century, which says a lot about the Reds of that period (although they did have some fine pitchers, to be fair). I spent some time trying to remember Frank McCormack's name, but he wasn't on the list as it turned out. The list was:
Bench, Perez, Rose, Larkin (we got right), as well as Frank Robinson (Chris was right) and Vada Pinson. I got to explain to Chris that Vada Pinson was a genuinely great player who had a long stretch of good seasons in Cincinnati and might have made it to Cooperstown if his career had ended as well as it began.

Burton stayed in to pitch the 7th and retired the Brewers in order. Likewise, Chris Spurling pitched the 7th for Milwaukee. The first two hitters went down easily. Next up was Adam Dunn, who did stretch a single into a double. Wait -- that can't be right -- let me read that again . . . yup, Adam Dunn stretched a single into the double. It was a gapper, and Dunn took advantage of the outfielders, who were probably as surprised as I was. He must have overheard Chris and I dissing his speed. Jeff Keppinger grounded out to end the inning.

At this point in the game, our attention was wandering a bit. We started making some bizarre observations. I noticed for the first time that the Reds have cheerleaders. I can't say as it bothered me at the time. I suggested that every roving vendor in the stadium should be a very attractive girl. It sounds exploitative, I know, but I think we've already crossed that bridge, and you can't tell me that it wouldn't raise concessions sales. I should also mention that the GABP has a great concessions gimmick. Cincinnati has a hometown pizza chain called LaRosa's, which is pretty darn good, and it's served at GABP. LaRosa's has several stores, but one phone number -- ingenious, if you think about it. You don't have to worry about which store to call, you just call the number (which is on every bit of advertising) and they route it to the right store.
But LaRosa's went one step further. You can now sit in your seat at GABP and call the LaRosa's number. You can tell them you're at the game, give your section and seat number, and they will bring pizza to your seat. This isn't just for the club seats, this applies to the upper deck, too. It's a great idea; they already have the pizzas at the ballpark concession stands, and people will be much more likely to order pizza if they don't have to get out of their seat and stand in line. I don't know what sort of surcharge there is for in-seat delivery (ay, there's the rub), but it's still a great gimmick. I'm planning on going to the ballgame on my birthday in a couple weeks and may ask my friends to indulge me the in-seat pizza service.
A little later, Chris pointed to the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. Right next to Newport on the Levee (a big-time entertainment complex to "regenerate" Newport, KY) is even more space occupied right now by low-income housing. Chris, who lives right down the street, says that soon most of the Kentucky riverside will be high-level condos. There's already one nearly completed near Covington called The Ascent -- it looks cool and even has its own billboards. I remarked that this will displace even more low-income housing. I said to Chris that I remembered that the Levee and the Newport Aquarium also displaced a lot of low-income families. He said that was true. I hate to bring up subjects other than baseball, but this is indeed the downside of urban renewal -- which is usually just a reshuffling rather than a renewal. The poor of Newport don't have their lot improved -- they just move to Covington.
On a more humorous note, Chris pointed out a very bizarre advertisement on the scoreboard. It said:
"Regular Mammograms Keep You in the Starting Lineup."
I found that so funny and absurd that I won't even comment on it.

The Brewers finally got to Burton in the 8th. They led off the inning with a walk to Counsell and a single by Mench. The Reds again tried the whole LOOGY thing, bringing in Mike Stanton to face Prince Fielder, and again it failed; Fielder singled in a run (Reds 5-3). Stanton came right out in favor of closer David Weathers. I was amazed that somewhere in the Reds brain trust the utter absurdity of these decisions didn't ring any bells.
But they did make the right move by bringing in Weathers. He faced two batters and struck them both out to end the inning; just like that he struck out more guys than the other four pitchers did in 7.2 innings. The second strikeout was pretty dramatic and may have been the difference in the game. With Geoff Jenkins up and runners on the corners with 1 out, the Brewers tried a delayed double-stea. Jenkins struck out, and Valentin threw to second where Prince Fielder was, to say the least, not quite there. Ross did delay the throw to second, because when he did let go, Kevin Mench broke for home. Shortstop Pedro Lopez fired home, and Mench was out easily. It was a strike-em-out, throw-em-out, except it killed a rally, and the runner was thrown out at home. That's a move that's ripe for second-guessing, but I'll give Ned Yost the benefit of the doubt to try a double-steal with slow runners (double play a possibility) and Tony Graffanino on deck. The only problem I have is that he chose to do it with runners named Fielder and Mench.

Pedro Lopez, another double-switchee, led off for the Reds in the 8th. I had to double-check the scoreboard to see who was pitching for the Brewers ; it was Matt Wise. As I turned to look back at the plate, I saw it in an instant: Lopez got hit right in the face with the pitch and went down. The stadium gasped and I yelled, "Holy Mackerel!" We all got pretty scared as Lopez just lay there, kicking his legs in the air in pain. They didn't show a replay, so we couldn't tell for sure just where it hit him, except that it was in the head. I didn't even see the pitch itself; all I saw was the impact and the fall. The stadium got pretty quiet for a while as we all wondered if Lopez was okay.
I'll tell you who was more concerned than anyone: Matt Wise. The dad behind me explained to his daughter that he probably wasn't throwing at him on purpose. I was glad. Right after the hit, Wise got a few scattered boos, and I actually yelled out, "Come on! He didn't f***ing do it on purpose." Right after the hit, Wise was right at home plate with his hat off staring at Lopez. I could practically see the look in his eyes from Section 415: it was "Oh my God." Later he went and sat at the back of the mound. Some of his teammates talked to him to try and settle him down. Chris said that his later struggles in the inning were because he was rattled. He was probably right; it's definitely why he went 3-0 to the next hitter he faced.
After a while, Lopez sat up and Chris saw that he was bleeding. They were bringing out some towels for his face. I hoped that it was just his nose. I did get scared when they brought out the plank to support his neck and back and the injury cart drove in from the bullpen. The cart didn't drive straight to the outfield; it drove around the warning track and through foul territory before cutting across the infield. To myself, I though, "Yeah, we wouldn't want to drive on the f***ing grass." It might not be a fair criticism, but I was in a bad mood.

As it turned out, Lopez didn't need to lie down. They picked him up and sat him in the cart. He was holding a towel up to his mouth, which reassured me that he had been hit in the nose or jaw. Not that that's a good thing, but I know I wasn't the only one that had the name "Coolbaugh" running through his head. Lopez left the field to strong applause. says that Lopez was hit in the left side of the face and had been taken to the hospital to check for a fracture. Hopefully, he'll be okay.
Javier Valentin was the next hitter, and I'll admit to another WW -- wasn't watching. We were all a little distracted. But not distracted enough to miss Jeff Conine steal second. Ya gotta love baseball. Norris Hopper doubled in Conine (Reds 6-3), and Hatteberg sent him home with a double of his own (Reds 7-3). After Ryan Freel flew out (guess where? yeah, right field), Ken Griffey, Jr., came up for another shot at home run number 588. We all held our breaths as Junior went from 0-4 . . . to 0-5, with a strikeout. Ah well, I forgive him. Junior recorded nearly 1/3 of his team's put-outs (8 of 27). That may not be a record for a right fielder (I dunno), but it has to be a record for a 37-year-old right fielder with bad knees.

Weathers had an easy time with the Brewers in the 9th. After all he was, as I said at the time, facing "two bad hitters and Corey Hart." Weathers struck out the first bad hitter -- Graffanino -- and got the second -- Damian Miller -- to ground out. Corey Hart grounded to the pitcher, and this one belongs to the Reds.

Winning Pitcher -- Kyle Lohse
Losing Pitcher -- Jeff Suppan
Save -- David Weathers
Time: 3:06
Paid Attendance -- 30,976 (the Frank Robinson bobbleheads were meant for the first 40,000 fans; ah, the vagaries of supply and demand . . .)

Chris and I made our way out of the stadium. We noticed that at a certain point in the concourse, the walkway outside the stadium is just a short jump to the walkway inside the stadium. We joked that this would be an easy way to get inside, but then Chris brought up the whole risk of sudden death thing. And I remarked that there were a much better ways to die, in which we would not be immortalized in America's Dumbest Criminals 4.
Chris tried to convince one of his friends to drive to the game and pick us up. Since this guy was less than a mile from us at the time, we didn't think it was a huge deal. But apparently he got confused when we said to drive across the big white bridge and meet us at the bottom of it. That was a bit complex for many people, I admit.

All in all, I had me a baseball game. I had me a bobblehead. I had me a carefully crafted scorecard, which would be double-checked accounting-style when I got home. And I had a friend.

And I can't wait to do it again.

Baseball . . .

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