The baseball world has been abuzz recently due to Ryan Braun’s suspension being repealed by an independent arbitrator. In case you missed it, Braun tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and was facing a 50 game suspension. His sample had ridiculously high levels of synthetic testosterone, a banned substance. Braun and his lawyers argued successfully and won the first ever PED suspension appeal in MLB history.
The are two possible reasons for Braun’s positive test:
1) Braun is a cheater and actually did take illegal substances
2) Someone tried to frame Braun by tainting his sample and framing him.
The arbitrator agreed. Because the collector took the sample on a Saturday and didn’t mail it to the lab until a Monday, it was argued that during the 48 hour that a third party tampered with his sample. MLB disagreed because the seal on the sample wasn’t broken, making it thereby impossible that it was tampered with.
Braun will face increased pressure to follow up his MVP season with a similar performance. He has doubters all over the game right now. If his performance trails off, everyone will assume that he cheated and got off – a la OJ Simpson. Unfortunately for Braun, he no longer has Prince Fielder batting behind him, which helps him because pitchers may be more likely to pitch around him. Also, Braun is going to be mercilessly tortured on the road. Can you even imagine that insults that will be hurled at him in the left field bleachers. Here’s some advice – if the Brewers are in town and you have children, don’t sit in left field.
Last season, Braun’s WAR – wins above replacement was a 7.7, so his suspension would’ve cost the Brewers about 3 wins – that’s a big margin for an NL Central that is going to be tightly contested between the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds.
On another front, the Pirates organization was embarrassed when news that president Frank Coonelly was arrested on December 22nd for driving under the influence of alcohol. His blood alcohol content was .16 – twice the legal limit.
To Mr. Coonelly’s credit, he did own up to his mistake and took all of the blame. My problem with it is that he could’ve seriously injured someone else due to his lack in judgment. It also doesn’t set a very good precedence for the president to be DUI, while young players would be disciplined for a similar infraction.
I’m hoping that Mr Coonelly learns his lesson and gives up drinking altogether. I do not think he should be fired.
The main problem I have with his situation is that the Pirates kept it hush-hush for two months.
What are your thoughts on Frank Coonelly? Should he be disciplined?
What do you think about Ryan Braun winning his appeal? Do you think he was guilty and got off on a technicality or that he was actually clean? I’d be interested in hearing.
There’s only 41 days until opening day, 8 days until the first broadcasted game on MLB TV (Yankees vs Phillies), and 3 more days to win a Phillies shirt.
Also, 35 consecutive days of postings! (Just made it today – putting this one up at 11:50pm)
For the fifth year in a row, I decided to make the trek to Spring Training in Florida. However, this year, I would travel with my girlfriend Amy instead of my dad, who is recovering from surgery.
There was some early airport drama, where we arrived at the security checkpoint 12 minutes prior to the boarding of our plane due to flooding of rivers in Pittsburgh which led to the closing of 376 west, the highway that leads us to the airport. However, Amy did some smooth talking to a TSA agent and got us moved to the front of a lengthy security line, and we arrived at our gate just as the plane began boarding.
We arrived in Tampa at 10:30 and awaited our first spring training game the next day.
We arrived at McKechnie Field bright and early at 9AM and took the obligatory picture in front of the stadium:
And in front of a Spring Training sign posted there:
After taking several more photos, we walked around to the back of McKechnie Field, where I would do my ballhawking for the day.
We actually got there too early, as the cage wasn’t even up yet,
and the players were just starting to stretch
and have a meeting in the outfield.
Batting practice wouldn’t even get started until about an hour later around 10AM, as the players would do some baserunning drills and infield work first.
That left us ample time to explore the area behind the outfield wall. There were a few changes from last year in the area behind the fence.
First, there were a bunch of picnic tables installed, which would lead to crazy bounces and limited range if a ball hit in that area.
Second, the garage where two mechanics used to work on cars had apparently been bought out by the Boys and Girls Club, as evidenced by the logo on the side of the building. This would lead to decreased competition, as the mechanics would typically try and compete for baseballs and subsequently sell them for $3 each at their garage.
Finally, an orange fence was installed to protect bus windows from being shattered by baseballs, and a basketball hoop had been erected in the area.
We made our way behind the old garage,
and over to the area behind the batter’s eye in center field.
All the while, I was keeping an eye out for easter eggs, but there were none.
In the area behind the wall in right center field, there is a small practice field.
After a while, Pirates pitchers came out to do some PFP, Pitcher’s Fielding Practice. Working with pitching coach Ray Searage, the pitchers first worked on taking grounders and making a throw to second base.
Then, they fielded bunts and threw the balls to third base.
Finally, the pitchers took line drive comebackers. The players appeared to be having fun, but none as much as Searage who was extremely cheery and enthusiastic.&nbs
This was my view from the security fence. I didn’t bother any of the players by calling out to them or getting their attention, I just stood and watched.
My girlfriend took a video, about halfway through or so, Evan Meek recognizes me and waves to me. You’ll also see Joel Hanrahan say hello to me. Both of the pitchers were very kind to me at batting practice and have had conversations with me on several occasions.
Check it out in Amy’s video:
There still wasn’t much going on, so I took a video of the area behind McKechnie Field.
Check it out:
Batting practice wouldn’t start for another 30 minutes or so, and the waiting took forever. There was a lot of standing around.
Followed by some pacing.
It allowed Amy to take some random photos, such as this one of a squirrel:
Or this one of an inch worm.
When batting practice finally got underway, it was more of the same. Standing around.
At McKechnie Field, you can’t see the ball until its about to leave the field. I absolutely hate it. It’s very tedious. Imagine doing that for two hours. I was kind of frustrated with the whole process, but I had my girl there to keep me calm.
There were only two competitors there with me. A man in a Barry Bonds shirt,
and his friend.
The two worked as a team. Later, they would be seen selling the balls on the street as we exited the stadium.
They stayed close to the secondary fence and had that whole area covered thanks to a 20 foot long ball retrieving device:
Since they played up, I waited back for any balls that would clear both fences. Unfortunately, there was NO wind at all today, so most fly balls died in left field before even reaching the fence.
I did get my first ball of the day near the end of the Pirates’ batting practice. Amy spotted it first and shouted “Erik! Erik! Erik!” and pointed towards the building. A ball had landed on the roof.
It rolled off the roof and I raced over to scoop it up before ballhawk #2 could get there.
Their session was ama
zingly disappointing. Since the Phillies had a split squad today, they brought all of their scrubs, and very few home runs were hit.
To pass the time, the guy in the Barry Bonds shirt offered to play catch with me.
Near the end of the Phillies’ BP, a batter crushed a home run that bounced on the pavement and into the cypress tree moss above. I crouched down and used my glove to snag it on the bounce.
Moments later, presumably the same batter struck again and ripped a home run that landed in the same place as ball #1, on the roof. I raced over and grabbed ball #3.
That would be all that I would get today. Three balls. I had fun with Amy, but I really disliked ballhawking in this venue. Not being able to see anything takes away a lot of the fun and skill needed. Despite having tickets to tomorrow’s Red Sox / Pirates game, I vowed not to return to McKechnie to ballhawk again.
Some pictures from the game:
The field from our seats, in Sec 8, Row 1.
Ahead of us was Pirates president Frank Coonelly who looked visibly agitated at the amount of runs given up, as well as four misplayed balls by outfielders during the first three innings.
I really like Ross Ohlendorf, but he didn’t have his best stuff today, and four missed catch-able balls by outfielders didn’t help his cause. Keep your head up Ross. That’s what Spring Training is for.
Pedro Alvarez has put on some weight and his range looks very limited, but I only saw two balls hit to him that he didn’t get to, so I’ll have to see a larger sample size to say for certain if he’ll be a liablilty at third.
Lyle Overbay, the Pirates new first baseman. Hopefully he brings a line of .275-20-85 this year at least. We’ll see.
The Phillies didn’t bring many of their regulars, but at least Ryan Howard was there.
Ryan Howard at bat:
Pedro Alvarez digs in. I’m hoping for 35 home runs from Pedro this year, but I fear it may come with a .240 average and lots of strike outs. He’s still young though.
Neil Walker, the Pirates’ second baseman at the plate:
And finally a panorama of McKechnie Field from our seats:
We left after a few inning
s to go enjoy ourselves in Florida.
We headed to the beach.
There weren’t too many people there.
We went for a long walk. And found lots of sea shells.
We eventually came to parts of the beach where there weren’t any people around. So we went exploring.
The second best highlight of going back there was finding a Sting Ray skeleton. Check it out:
We found it here:
The 2011 is getting close, as my Season Tickets have arrived.
This year I will only hold season tickets to the Pirates. Last year, I was a 20 game Cleveland Indians season ticket holder, and a 13 game Cincinnati Reds season ticket holder. I decided not to renew either of those plans. I’ve also decreased my Pittsburgh Pirates season ticket account from three tickets per game to two tickets per game.
Here is the booklet cover design for the 2011 season:
The 2011 season tickets feature four players: Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata – the core four young players. I like the design. Last year’s featured Zach Duke, Charlie Morton, Andy LaRoche, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, and Ross Ohlendorf. Each player took up one ticket on an uncut sheet of six. The tickets looked good, but Andrew McCutchen was the only player that had a decent season of the six. Now, a look at the tickets:
Also, in the package was my 2011 Pirates season ticket card:
The card is key for me, as it allows for me to get in early for batting practice. I’ll need it, since I want to trade in many of my season tickets for give away games and use the free tickets that my girlfriend gets each game from the Pirates as my game entry tickets.
Also included was a letter from Frank Coonelly. Previous letters focused on all of the improvements that the team had made during the off-season. They often predicted a return to glory, etc. Well, coming off of a 105 loss season, this letter basically stated that we play the Orioles in Interleague play, and thank you for coming back.
Dear Erik Jabs,
Enclosed you will find your season tickets for the 2011 season. Opening Day is almost upon us and we are anxious to get the 2011 season started.
On behalf of the Pirates organization, I want to express our sincere thanks for your support. Your loyalty to and faith in the organization make every member of the Club even more determined to perform at a very high level, both on the field and in every other aspect of our relationship to you. You deserve nothing less from us.
As you know, we have an outstanding home schedule this season, including Interleague series against the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. In addition, we have many terrific promotions on the schedule in 2011, highlighted by the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1971 World Series Championship when we host another exciting Interleague series against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday June 21st.
As always, if you have any questions about your tickets, your account or anything as it related to the Pirates, please do not hesitate to contact your account representative.
Again, thank you for choosing to get on board for the 2011 season of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball, and I look forward to seeing you at PNC Park on Thursday April 7th at 1:35 pm for the Home Opener against the Colorado Rockies.
The letter barely makes me excited for the outlook of the team for the 2011 season. I am very excited though, as I am planning on attending many games at PNC Park again this year, as well as making road trips to Washington, Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee, with possibly a few more cities.
Spring Training coming up soon for me…
Today was the first day of a weekend long event at the David L Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh known as ‘Piratefest.’
Piratefest has been going on since the late 1980’s, as I remember going to a Piratefest in Monroeville and getting a baseball signed by Jim Leyland, Bill Landrum, Mike LaVailliere, Randy Kramer, Bobby Bonilla, Jeff King, etc.
The Pirates dedicated this first day to season ticket holders only. Earlier this month, I received four tickets to this day, plus 2 additional passes that could be used for any of the three days this weekend. In essence, I was given six tickets. So, I sold two of the for $25 earlier in the week. Leaving me two for today, and two that I would use on Sunday.
I asked Garrett Jones to sign one of the balls from my decoy collection (which is slowly dwindling away.) Decoy balls are balls I take to games to give away on occasion.
I didn’t ask Correia to sign anything, that was probably a jerk move, and in retrospect, I should’ve had him sign the Pirates 2011 Calendar that was given away.
Speaking of that Calendar, it was the highlight of Piratefest for me. The Pirates passed out a bag that included the Piratefest schedule and program along with a full 12 month 12 page Color calendar.
Here’s the front:
It included coupons, which are pretty useless to me.
The $5 off at the Pirates Clubhouse store is only valid on non game days. Also, the buy one get one free ticket offer doesn’t really help me out since I’m a season ticket holder.
Pedro Alvarez, April,
Jose Tabata, August
Andrew McCutchen, October
Pirate Parrot, December
After getting Jones to sign, we headed over to the Piratefest stage and watched ‘Minute to Win It’ Pirates Edition.
The game was hosted by PNC Park ballpark host Joe Klimchak and featured contestants trying to complete tasks in less than 60 seconds with every day household items. For each challenge that a contestant successfully completed in less than 60 seconds, they were awarded a prize and given the option to continue to the next ‘level’ or accept their prize and walk away.
The first two contestants were duds. The first was a young boy who was about 7 years old and was outmatched by the first game, known as Vacuum.
The boy had to transport five M&M’s from one side of the stage to the other using only a straw and his lung capacity to suck an M&M onto the end of the straw and keep it there until dropping it into a bucket at the other side of the stage. He couldn’t manage to get one M&M to even stay on his straw.
The second contestant we dubbed as ‘Perfume Lady’ because she had so much perfume on that it was overpowering. We could smell her from four rows away.
She managed to transport one M&M, which Joe Klimchak decided was ‘good enough,’ then failed miserably at the next task, which was blowing 20 cups off of a table using only a balloon that they could blow up multiple times.
The most successful contestant a fan named Bob, who went through all of the Minute to Win it tasks, before failing to keep three balloons in the air for a minute.
I recorded several of his challenges.
‘Bucket Head’ with Garrett Jones
There are four other videos that I’ll link instead of embedding in this blog of the fan’s other Minute to Win It Challenges. Click the links below to go to see them on youtube:
Defying Gravity (keeping three balloons in the air)
Junk In the Trunk (dancing around to empty 8 ping pong balls from a Kleenex box on one’s hips)
Quick Draw (empty a box of Kleenex using only one hand)
Cup Blow? (blow 20 cups off of a table using a balloon – not sure of the name here)
The other entertainment at the Piratefest stage included an ask the Pirates management session:
It featured Manager Clint Hurdle, General Manager Neal Huntington, and President Frank Coonelly.
We really didn’t hang around to watch because it was rather packed.
On the other side of the convention center, Garrett Jones was challenging fans at Guitar Hero. Yawn. No interest here.
Nearby were the Pirates promotional items for 2011. There aren’t as many as in years past, but here’s what you can expect in the coming year at PNC Park:
The most useful giveaway, and the only one that I ever keep will be Pirates T-Shirts, given away every Friday. Here are several of the shirts that you can look forward to in 2011:
There will be a 1971 Pirates World Series Celebration Canvas Photo Wrap:
A Neil Walker bobblehead (the only one of 2011) and a Pirates Stars and Stripes Floppy Hat:
An Andrew McCutchen Action Figurine and a Pirates hat:
And several of the kids Sunday giveaways:
The Friday session of Piratefest ended at 10PM, but we ended up leaving around 8, having seen enough.
Before taking off, I did the strike zone challenge, and threw two balls from about 15 feet away towards a 1 foot by 1 foot strike zone. One ball in the zone won a PNC Park photo wrap, while two out of two through the zone would win a Pirates T-Shirt.
We’ll be back at Piratefest on Sunday. An entry will be forthcoming.