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My Cubbies are doing pretty awful this season. Currently they are sporting a record of 43-64, and they are sitting 22 Games Back of 1st Place.  Yet, for all of the bad this season, there have been some exciting developments.  The Cubs have debuted a lot of young talent this year.  Chief among these is our future-star First Baseman – Anthony Rizzo.

Cubs First Baseman Anthony Rizzo

“Since making his debut June 26, Rizzo was second among NL rookies with a .314 average behind the Rockies’ Jordan Pacheco (.327), but led in home runs (eight) and RBIs (20)” (source).  Rizzo has been a blast to watch.  I haven’t been this excited about the promotion of one of the Cubs’ prospects since this kid named Starlin Castro got called up.

Starlin Castro 2x All Star

Starlin has been to the All Star Game twice already.  I predict Anthony Rizzo will join him there next year.  While they are no Tinker, Evers, and Chance, I expect great things from Castro, Barney, and Rizzo.

All of us (Cubs fans) knew this season was not going to be great.  It was pretty obvious it was going to be a rebuilding year.  This was confirmed by our abysmal first half of the season, and left no room for doubt at the trade deadline.  Thus far this season, we have traded away Marlon Byrd, Reed Johnson, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker, and Ryan Dempster for a heap of minor league players.  It was hard to see most of those guys go (even though Marlon Byrd has subsequently fallen from my graces for testing positive for PEDs).  I was a huge fan of Reed Johnson, Paul Maholm, and Ryan Dempster.  All three of those guys were super classy.  I am thankful that the Cubs traded them to the Braves and Rangers respectively.  The Braves are my second-favorite National League team, and the Rangers may be my favorite American League team (close contest with the Red Sox).  I’ll admit…it’s a little difficult to see a bunch of quality players traded for players you’ve never heard of.  But then, I remind myself that players like Ryne Sandberg and Fergie Jenkins came to the Cubs via trades.  Maybe one of these anonymous minor leaguers could be the next Cub legend.

As a result of all of this trading (and an unfortunate injury to Ian Stewart – a very classy player in his own right), the Cubs made a big move on Sunday.  They called up two of their prospects that Cubs fans have been begging to see in the MLB for years: Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.

Josh Vitters (3B) and Brett Jackson (CF)

I am excited about these guys.  I am especially excited that they get to play 50+ games this season without any pressure of a playoff run.  I personally don’t think they’re ready to shine at the MLB level yet, which was evidenced by Jackson’s 4 strikeouts yesterday.  People are worried about Jackson’s strikeouts and Vitters’s defensive play.  I think calling them up now is great.  Let them work on those things at the MLB level, and then they can produce like crazy next season.

Overall, in spite of the fact that the Cubs are terrible this year (and will only get worse since we traded our best pitchers and Matt Garza is hurt), I am enjoying the developments of this season.  An infield of Vitters, Castro, Barney (who just broke Sandberg’s single-season errorless game streak), and Rizzo is very exciting to me.  The influx of young talent (14 rookies debuted this season) on this Cubs team has me hopeful for the future.  It makes me feel like we are getting back to our winning roots, because the Cubs earned their name for having so many young players back in the day when they dominated the National League.  Here’s hoping

 

Until later friends…

The regular season is over.  It took the full 162 games to decide the playoff contenders, but now it is time for the playoffs.  I was sorry to see the Red Sox and Braves utterly collapse.

The Red Sox and Braves utterly collapsed. (These photos belong to professional photographers and can be found with a basic google search)The Cubs are my absolute favorite team.  Other than the Cubs, I cheer for the Red Sox and the Braves, and I cheer against the Yankees.  So, this was not a great week for me as a baseball fan.  I am very excited to see what the Cubs will do this offseason.  I think they are going to make some good hires (and some good fires).  I have some suggestions for the Cubs’ success, which I think should be heeded.  But today is not about the Cubs.  Today is about the 8 teams left in the playoffs.  So congratulations to the playoff contenders.  The final standings look like this:

National League Standings 2011

American League Standings 2011

I made my predictions at the beginning of the season, but I only correctly picked the Phillies, Rangers, Yankees, and, if you don’t count my shameless placing of the Cubs, the Brewers to make the playoffs.  Now it is time for the playoffs.  Here are my picks for the MLB 2011 Playoffs:

MLB 2011 Playoff Bracket

Here is my reasoning:

Phillies vs. Cardinals:

Even a team with the likes of Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman will not be able to beat the rotation of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels.  Halladay and Lee are almost untouchable in October.  With them on the same team, there is no way they lose any series.

Roy Halladay is a beast

Brewers vs. Diamondbacks

Zach Greinke + Prince Fielder beats this young Diamondbacks team, although it will be close.

National League Championship – Brewers vs. Phillies

The Brewers have decent pitching, but the Phillies have phenomenal pitching.  Brewers might win one…maybe two games.

Cliff Lee Home Run

Yankees vs. Tigers

Yankees pitching is weak.  Justin Verlander is amazing.  I hate the Yankees, so I am cheering for them to fail.  This is the most emotional of my playoff picks

Well-bred Young Men Hate the Yankees

Rangers vs. Rays

The Rays are good, but the Rangers have been consistently good in the playoffs.  I expect the Rangers to win a close series.

Texas Rangers are Winners

American League Championship – Rangers vs. Tigers

The Tigers will be exhausted after facing the Yankees, and the Rangers have Josh Hamilton.

Josh Hamilton at bat

World Series – Phillies vs. Rangers

Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee will dominate the Rangers.  It will be a sight to behold.

Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee Phillies

That’s all my baseball talk for today. Until later friends…

Today, I will continue on with my Fields of Dreams blog series.  In my last post in this series I talked about the first Cubs vs. Red Sox game we went to, and what a shellacking it was. Friday night after game 1, we didn’t get back to the hotel till around 1:00am.  On Saturday, we got up and went on a Duck Tour of Boston, which was a lot of fun.


After we finished riding a duck around, we met up with my friend Matt.  He gave us a walking tour and took us to a cool coffee shop called Thinking Cup (where I had a nice cup of Kenya from a Bee House).  After that, we went to Fenway for a tour.  The tour was fun, and we got to watch some of the Red Sox batting practice.  After the tour, I looked for a t-shirt for Jen.  While walking down Yawkey Way, I ran into Bill “Spaceman” Lee.  He was very friendly – even though I was wearing all Cubs gear.

Bill "Spaceman" Lee

Once again, I waded my way through the crowd to get close to batting practice.  This time I changed my strategy and went to left field.  I was really hoping to get Kerry Wood to sign a ball, but he never came close.  I did, however, get to meet 1984 Gold-Glove winning Bob Dernier.  He was super friendly, and he signed stuff for a lot of people (would you really expect any less of a teammate of Ryne Sandberg?).

Now onto the game.  The game was great.  They decided to celebrate that this was the first series these two teams played at Fenway since 1918 by wearing throwback jerseys.

Carlos Zambrano started for the Cubs and Alfredo Aceves started for the Red Sox.  We were seated in center field for this game, and it was great.  Whereas Boston had jumped out to an early lead the night before, this game started off pretty even.  The first play worth noting was an awful HBP.  In the second inning, a fastball got away from Aceves and hit Marlon Byrd right below the eye.  It hurt from where I was sitting.  It was a really scary moment, and Byrd got taken to the hospital immediately (he is ok now, and hopes to return to play in a couple of weeks).

The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the third, but then the Sox went up 2-1 in the fourth and 3-1 in the sixth.  I thought for sure the Cubs were going to hand this one in too, but then the 8th inning came.  The Cubs scored 8 runs in the eighth inning to make it a 9-3 game.  It was beautiful.  The Cubs held on to win, and I was very pleased.

One interesting feature of the night was all the references to the 1918 World Series.  In honor of that series, Fenway Park regressed to 1918 technology for two innings.  That meant: no broadcaster announcing names of batters, no digital pitch count or mph for all to see, and the only ball/strike counter was on the Green Monster.  I was keeping score throughout the game, and I became really popular at this point in the game.   It was amazing how quiet the whole park got.  Everyone was intent on watching the game, because they had to in order to know what was going on.  I really liked it.

Overall, it was a great experience.  I loved Boston.  The Boston fans were still friendly, even after the Cubs laid it on the Red Sox that night.  I like Boston as a city, and I recommend that you visit if you haven’t already.  Stay tuned for a post on my first trip to the Bronx.

Until later friends…

This was the first time the Chicago Cubs played at Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series.  I was super excited.  Cubs fans and Red Sox fans get along really well.  Up until the BoSox won the World Series in 2004, the Cubs and Red Sox fans had shared decades of misery.  I find it often to be the case that Cubs fans will cheer for the Red Sox and Red Sox fans will cheer for the Cubs, because their games rarely affect one another.  I found Fenway Park to be a very welcoming place.  There were many Cubs fans there, but there was no real trash-talking until people had had their third or fourth $8 beer in the fifth inning.  The atmosphere around Fenway is reminiscent of Wrigleyville, in that everyone for 5 blocks is excited about the ballgame.

Everyone was friendly and in a great mood (except for the heretics standing on the corner proclaiming that Jesus was coming back May 21st).  Dad and I got to the park early, and we went inside as soon as they opened the gates.  I was very excited to discover that we had made it in time to see the Cubs’ batting practice.  I was able to get right up next to the field in my attempt to get autographs, however, there were roped off sections and none of the players came near me.  I did get to meet Jim Hendry (General Manager of the Cubs).  I got my picture taken with him on my phone (which I lost in Philadelphia…bummer).  I abstained from asking him about signing Pujols next year, no need to jinx that just yet.

After batting practice, I went and found my dad and our seats.  We were seated 14 rows back in right field, behind the Cubs’ bullpen.  I enjoyed being behind the bullpen, because I got to see the different pitchers warming up.  The first pitch was thrown out by former Red Sox and Cubs pitcher Dennis Eckersley to the former Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.  That was really cool to see both of them.

The national anthem was sang by some 10 or 11 year old girl.  It was obvious that she was extremely nervous, but everyone cheered loudly for her, which was nice.  After that, it kinda went all down hill for the Cubs.  The Cubs play was just awful. The Cubs were incapable of throwing strikes, and for some odd reason they continued to put in pitchers that have historically been incapable of throwing strikes.  When they did throw strikes, the Red Sox hit the ball directly at the Green Monster (or over it).  Here is the hideous box score:

The Cubs hit pretty well (especially Jeff Baker who went 4-5 with 2 runs), but they couldn’t hit with guys on base.  Also they committed 4 errors (3 in one inning, yikes).  Despite the awful play of my Cubbies, I enjoyed the game.  I especially enjoyed the singing of Sweet Caroline in the 8th inning, which is a pretty sweet tradition at Fenway Park.  Although I have no idea why they sing “Sweet Caroline” every game at Fenway.  Do any of you?

I also enjoyed the four, mildly drunk fans three rows in front of me singing the Notre Dame fight song to Jeff Samardzija while he warmed up.  They also made many Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders comments towards him.  I cheer for my Cubbies faithfully, but I honestly think Jeff should have stuck with football.

This game – although a blowout of my beloved Cubbies – was a great start to this trip of a lifetime.  I had a blast, and I look forward to telling you about the rest of the trip too.

Until later friends…

You read that title correctly, I did mean to say “Fields.”  Field of Dreams is one of the best baseball movies ever. No question.  It examines the National Pastime and father-son relationships.

I’ve always loved Field of Dreams, and I’ve grown to love it more as I have gotten older.  Unlike Ray Kinsella, I have always had a great relationship with my dad.  Like the Kinsella’s – and many other American fathers and sons – my dad and I have a lot of baseball memories.  I remember playing catch with my dad in the front yard while pretending to be Ryne Sandberg or Nolan Ryan or Mark Grace.  I remember my dad computing my batting average for me when I was playing little league, and explaining to me that a fielder’s choice was not a hit (much to my chagrin).  Dad and I have been wanting to go on a major baseball park tour for a long time, and we finally got to do that last month.  This post (and several subsequent posts) will be about this “Fields of Dreams Baseball Park Tour” as I have decided to call it.  Today, I will give a basic overview, and I will go into more detail for each park in subsequent posts.

May 20-21 – Chicago Cubs at Boston Red Sox

We saw two games at Fenway Park between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox.  This was the first time the two teams met in Fenway since the 1918 World Series.  It was a great experience.  Fenway Park was a great ball park – the only ballpark older than Wrigley Field.  The fans were nice, and the traditions were great.  Boston was also a great city for a history nerd like me.

May 22 – New York Mets vs. New York Yankess

Next, we went to New York via the Amtrak to see the Subway Series.  Yankee stadium was ginormous.  It was a really interesting experience.  We sat in the right field bleachers and were neutral observers as the Yankees and Mets fans around us cussed one another out for several hours.  The subway to the Bronx was…interesting.

May 23 – Cincinnati Reds vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Contrary to everything I’ve ever heard about Philadelphia fans – Philadelphia was great.  The fans were super nice.  I was really excited to be there for Chase Utley’s first game of the season following an injury last season (I think he is a super classy player).  Philly was just a great city.  Loved all the historical places.  I also enjoyed getting to go to a couple of quality coffee shops while sporting my Prima Coffee T-Shirt (interestingly the two shops I went to, and had great experiences at, served Stumptown and La Colombe coffee respectively – and those roasters decided to get into a tizzy shortly after I dropped by).

May 24 – Kansas City Royals vs. Baltimore Orioles

I absolutely loved Camden Yards.  We had great seats (as evidenced by the photo above).  The game was also won with a walkoff home run (also evidenced by the photo above).  It was a great experience, and I look forward to blogging more about it.

Overall we had a great trip.  I am looking forward to posting more about each game.  We saw all sorts of great things, and I am so thankful my dad wanted to take me on this trip.  Being away on this trip explains my absence from blogging, but I will now be back in full force. So, stay tuned.

Until later friends…

April 20th.  It is one of those days in history that you have to acknowledge.  I’m sure there are going to be several blogposts around the world today talking about the fact that this day is the anniversary of Hitler‘s birthday and the Columbine shooting.  I don’t really want to blog about Hitler other than to say that he was absolutely evil.  I think it is interesting that in our culture where so many people poo-poo on the idea of applying labels of “evil” and “sin” to people, we can all still agree that Hitler (and Nazism) was evil.  No one can deny that a man brute responsible for the creation of a political system that oversaw the murder of over 6 million people is evil.

In regards to Columbine, I think all of us that witnessed the news coverage that day were changed.  In some way, I know that my worldview changed just a little bit on April 20, 1999.  Five Iron Frenzy (Denver natives) wrote a song about Columbine entitled “A New Hope” that I think characterizes the shock well:

A darker world lies behind this one
Cryptic it hides beneath perception
We all saw it on that day
Stunned we stood stuttering
What did the news say

April 20th is also a day when potheads celebrate their complete apathy towards life, but this is barely worth mentioning.

All of these dark events could lead you to ask, “Does April 20th ever produce anything good?”  In fact, it does.  I have decided to give you a short list of some of the blessings April 20th has bestowed upon the world over the years.

  • 1718 – David Brainerd was born (one of the most influential missionaries ever).
  • 1976 – Joey Lawrence was born, and if he had not been born, we never would have had one of the best catchphrases of the 90s:

  • 1916 – Wrigley Field hosted its first Chicago Cubs game.

  • 1972 – Apollo 16 lands on the moon
  • It is also the birthday of two of my friends Lindsay and Jande, to whom I give a shout out.

So, go make this April 20th a good one! Until later friends…

I found this video this weekend, and it made me laugh.

I am a die-hard Cubs fan, but if I had to choose my favorite American League team, I think it would have to be the Red Sox.  I like the Red Sox for two reasons: 1) They are the Yankees biggest rival & 2) Their defeat of the Curse of the Bambino gives me hope concerning our little Billy Goat Curse.  So, here’s to you Red Sox fans. Continue cheering against the Yankees in every single home game, no matter who you are actually playing.

Until later friends…

Chicago Cubs

Happy Opening Day everyone. I think Opening Day should be a national holiday…just saying.  Today is a great day.  The world’s greatest sport begins afresh today.  On this day I can still delude myself into thinking that the Cubs will go 162-0 and the Yankees will go 0-162 (what a glorious season that would be).

I have a feeling this is going to be a great season.  I have plans to visit at least 4 Major League ballparks this season, and I’m pretty stoked about that.  In honor of Opening Day, here are my picks for the season.

NL East

1. Phillies

2. Braves

3. Nationals

4. Mets

5. Marlins

NL Central

1.  Chicago Cubs (Probably will actually get 2nd or 3rd, but I have to pick ’em for 1st)

2. Brewers

3. Cardinals

4. Reds

5. Astros

6. Pirates

NL West

1. Rockies

2. Giants

3. Dodgers

4. Padres

5. Diamondbacks

NL Wild Card

Giants

AL East

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Rays

4. Orioles

5. Blue Jays

AL Central

1. Twins

2. White Sox

3. Indians

4. Tigers

5. Royals

AL West

1. Rangers

2. Angels

3. Mariners

4. Athletics

AL Wild Card

Yankees

Well, those are my predictions of how the 2011 season will shape up.  Anyone beg to differ? So, strike up the band with Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Let’s Play Ball!

Until later friends…

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