Wishing luck to Puma and Roy, sort of. And Minute Maid gets a facelift.
Random thoughts as I rejoin the living after seven glorious days of doing absolutely nothing (other than catching up on sleep, watching the playoffs and enjoying dinner with Milo)…
1. Reds vs. Phils: Rooting for the Reds, for Roy, for the underdog, for Lidge. Yes, I’m conflicted. And exhausted.
A lot of you have asked who I was going to pull for in the Reds-Phillies division series and I honestly had no idea how I was going to feel until I actually sat down to watch the games. After a while, it became pretty clear I was pulling for Cincinnati, with the exception of Game 2, which Roy Oswalt started last Friday in Philly.
I parked myself on a stool my favorite Mexican restaurant and hoped for the best for Oswalt, but I also groaned along with the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area every time the Reds bumbled and fumbled and gave the game away to the Phillies (whom I was not rooting for, only because they’ve been there many, many times in the last few years and won it all in 2008.)
I guess you could say I suffered from multiple personality disorder through the duration of the Reds and Phillies series. Mad when Roy gave up a run, and mad when the Phillies scored. It reminded me of the 2003 World Series — I couldn’t root for the Yankees, because, well, you just don’t do that. But I really didn’t want Marlins fans, who drew about 7,000 per game for most of the season, to get a taste of World Series victory either. So I pouted the entire week and called it a wash.
Now, about Puma’s Yankees. I truly want Lance Berkman to get a hit every time he comes to the plate, but I just cannot, and will not, root for his team. Again, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel once I actually sat down to watch the Twins-Yankees series. It didn’t take long for me to realize which way I was leaning. I was completely disgusted when the series ended without the Twins getting one stinking win. I turned the TV off and tossed the remote control, so clearly, Puma’s presence on this Yankees club didn’t do much to sway me.
Because I like the underdog and root for parity in baseball, I am not rooting for a Yankees-Phillies World Series. We just watched that last year. As far as what I’ll do if it comes down to Oswalt vs. Berkman in a Game 7 situation, I’d do what any good FOR (Friend of Roy) or FOP (Friend of Puma) would do — hide under the bed and hope it ends quickly.
2. Call Weezie. We’re movin’ on up.
So you’ve probably heard by now that the plans for Minute Maid Park renovations for 2011 include moving the press box up a level. In truth, this is hardly shocking news, considering we always knew we were on borrowed time in our current digs. The press box at Minute Maid Park provides the best vantage point you’ll find in any of the 30 ballparks, and quite frankly, it’s a view that would be an attractive draw for fans who pay to come to the games, not reporters who get paid to be there.
So we’re moving up a level, where the broadcasters live. That will require reporters and your friendly neighborhood blogger to climb an extra 15 steps per game to get there. No disrespect to my esteemed colleagues, but a little uphill exercise is probably not going to kill us, and over the course of 81 games, it might even prove beneficial. (It reminds me of one of my favorite athlete-scribe exchanges. Slumping superstar, to portly reporter: “Maybe next time, you should mix in a salad.” Portly reporter: “Maybe next time, you should mix in an RBI.”)
Anyhoo, back to the press box. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the broadcast level, either to hang out with Brownie and J.D. or to track down Ed Wade, whose booth is also on that level. The view from up there is not only suitable for work purposes, it gives a much broader perspective of the seats, field and dugouts. It’s a great view and still one of the best seats in the house.
Trust me, it could be worse. Much, much, much worse. Try finding some of the press boxes we visit on the road. A few — not all, but a few — are located at the very top, so high that you actually are looking down at the patrons who bought the five dollar nosebleeds. To be honest, I don’t mind those high-up press boxes, but for broadcasters, it’s a nightmare. You lose all sense of depth perception, and every routine pop up to the second baseman looks, upon contact, like it could be a home run. Thankfully, we don’t have that problem in Houston.
These days, press box placement isn’t such a big deal for beat writers anyway. Here’s our dirty little secret: we watch most of the games on the five-second delayed TV broadcasts.
In the old days, beat writers were responsible for an 800 word game story and a few dot-dot-dot notes at the bottom of the game story (known as “gamers.”) In today’s era of the internet, where there are no deadlines or space limitations, covering a game (I speak as a former beat writer for MLB.com) includes 800-900 word notes packages, sidebars if there’s really big news (key player injuries, trades, controversies, etc.), a gamer and a preview for the next day’s game. Add to that tweeting, blogging and surfing our competition’s web sites to see what stories we’re being beaten on, and we are pretty much occupied throughout the duration of the game.
Subsequently, we catch most of the action on one of the five or six TVs that hang in the front of the press box and show the broadcast five seconds after it happens in real time.
It goes something like this: innings one through three, reporter hastily transcribes tape from pregame interviews and writes, non-stop, in an effort to get the notebook filed by the fourth inning. With barely enough time to look up from computer screen, reporter depends on sounds to dictate important moments during the game.
1) Hear crack of bat. 2) Hear crowd react. 3) Look up at TV and find out what happened. 4) Look back down at computer. 5) Keep typing. 6) Hear another crack of bat. 7) Look up in time to watch player run down the baseline. 8) Look up at TV to see what pitch was thrown.
What does this all mean? It’s simple. Where I’m watching the game isn’t as crucial as the quality of the television broadcast. So the only thing I’m really hoping for is that the Astros chuck the old TVs that were installed when the ballpark opened and replace them with shiny new HD versions in our shiny new press box.
(Years ago I vowed never to write about things the fans don’t care about, and this rambling blurb has already broken that vow. So I’ll end the press box conversation here.)
Meanwhile, the new scoreboard sounds pretty cool. I’ve had the great fortune of checking out a bunch of the gigantic HD scoreboards in other ballparks like Atlanta and Kansas City, and I’m pretty excited that we’re going to have something similar in our ballpark. The Astros are in need of some upgrades in that area, especially if they can’t even get replacement parts for the old one anymore. The size of the new one appears to be just right — large enough to make an impact, but not too big that it’ll be a distraction.
Here is a rendering of the new scoreboard, and an illustration of how it compares to the size of the old one:
* We’re still waiting for Jeff Bagwell to make his decision about returning as hitting coach. Even though he’s been offered a two-year contract, if he wanted to come back on a one-year deal only, I sense the team would be OK with that. But I haven’t talked to Bagwell and I don’t know if that’s what it will take for him to return. So we wait. And hope.
* I was really happy to see the Astros extend Brad Mills’ contract by picking up the ’12 option and adding an option year for ’13. That was a mere formality; there was no way the manager was going have less job security than the coaching staff, which is signed through ’12. Wade all but solidified that last month when he said as far as he’s concerned, he’s hired his last manager. Mills did a tremendous job this year and I think we all saw what happened as soon as he was given a younger, less experienced but more enthusiastic club in the second half.
* I was terribly sad to watch Billy Wagner leave with an injury Friday night during the Braves-Giants game. An injury of that severity, at this point of the season, probably means he has thrown his last Major League pitch. Every professional athlete will tell you ending a career with an injury is one of their worst nightmares. Wagner has steadfastly held onto his insistence that he’s really, truly done after this season, and it’ll take something short of a miracle to recover from a pulled side muscle quickly enough to pitch in the World Series, if the Braves make it that far.
Every player wants to go out on his own terms, and Wags came so close to doing so. It’s a shame to see it end like this.
* Our friends in Round Rock are finding ways to keep the ballpark lively during the offseason. If you like live music, wine and/or baseball, click here.
From the photo vault:
Here we have former starting pitcher Wade Miller, who had just made a play on softly-hit grounder back to the mound. He bends, fields, and throws to ….no one.
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