Saturday, May 29, 2010

Target Field: The food

I wasn't sure what I was going to chow down on at the ballpark for my second visit. I considered going the traditional way of getting a hot dog of one variety or another. Or maybe I'd spot something that would make my mouth water as we made our lap around the concourse.

Instead, I went with the pizza that I had last time. You get two hunks of piping-hot, pan-style pizza for $6. Not a bad deal at an event where everything is overpriced.

A feast for the family
My dad, brother and I shared a canoe (yes, the paper container was in the shape of a canoe) of cheese curds from the State Fair food stand located in the outfield side of the stadium. The curds weren't nearly as greasy or salty as the ones you'll find at the Fair, but they were still pretty good.

Mom tried the Murray's steak sandwich, which looked good although messy. The bottom of the paper tray was filled with icky grease, and the roll was splitting apart at the top.

Dad, of course, had a classic hot dog, purchased for him by my brother Kyle. This was a big moment since Kyle had "owed him a hot dog" for quite awhile now.

With just one little complaint...
Our biggest complaint from the new park was that despite the huge concourse and multiple food vending areas, there were no high-top tables or ledges along the wall (like you'd find at the Xcel Energy Center, for example) that would greatly assist in someone trying to eat their overpriced food.

We had to walk awhile from the pizza stand back to our seats so we could enjoy our Italian goodness. For my first game, our seats were right near the pizza, so the thought about the tables didn't even cross my mind. Maybe a few tables could be an area of improvement for the Twins and Target Field to work some of the kinks out.

Stay away from the ice cream
As for the ice cream I tried, there's five bucks I'll never see again. I was debating between a Kiddie Cone ($4) or the classic ice cream helmet. I went with the helmet because, unlike at the Dome, there are toppings available.

I ordered vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and sprinkles. What I got was a soupy mess of hot fudge (big difference from sauce, making the ice disappear even faster) and sprinkles with a dollop of visible ice cream on top.

If I wasn't so concerned with getting back to my seat and the game, I should have asked for another one. And the ice cream isn't that creamy kind of soft-serve, it's more of a watery texture. I think I'll be passing on the ice cream from now on.

So there you have it, the low-down on what my family and I feasted on while at Target Field. It's almost as important as the game, right?

Target Field: Visit No. 2

First visit with the family to Target Field? Check. We made it to our first game as a family Friday night to see the Twins get a 2-1 win over the AL West-leading Texas Rangers. To quote Dick Bremer, "It was a beautiful day for baseball."

We arrived at the park quite early, entering thought the main Gate 34, so we had a chance to admire the surroundings. The first task as we began to walk around the lower-level concourse was to locate our seats on the first-base side. We were far enough back in the section to be under the overhang, near the Twins dugout.

Taking a lap
We then made a walking-lap around the ballpark, taking it all in, and picking up some food along the way (More on that later.). Once we made a full "circle," we stopped near the FSNorth staging area so my mom could take a few pictures.

While we were hanging around there, Roy Smalley came through the area. Another fan was setting up to take a picture of him, which Roy noticed, so he offered to pose for a picture with the whole family. Then he made small talk with them. That was a nice gesture to see.

Same old story with the bats
The game itself wasn't the offensive outburst the Twins produced the night before in an 8-2 salvage-win over the Bronx Bombers. Instead, we were treated to more of the same from them: A lack of clutch hitting, more double plays and yet another high LOB (runners left on base) count.

Designated hitter Jim Thome had a chance twice with the M & M boys on base, but failed to produce. Then he came up with the bases empty and knocked a double down the right-field line. Go figure. And I believe yesterday's LOB count was something like 9, but don't hold me to that.

Joe Mauer drove in the team's two runs with an RBI-single in the third, and by hitting into a bases-loaded double play with nobody out in the fifth. Want DP stats? Mauer has already hit into 12 this season; it was 13 for all of last year. As a team, the Twins currently lead the majors as they have hit into 61 double plays.

I'm also not sure on the Twins' team average with the bases juiced, but it can't be above .200 (and that mark is being generous). With two months about to be in the books, clutch hitting for the Twins is still a struggling point.

The other side of the coin is if they can still win games (which they can) and still be in first place in the division (which they are), then who cares? True, but these stats are something that can be improved upon.

A home-run review and strong pitching
Anyway, I've already rambled on these things before. The game did have some exciting points. We experienced an umpire's review when the Ranger's Ian Kinsler hit a ball down the left-field line toward the foul pole. I didn't see where exactly the ball hit, but I saw it cross the pole on the foul side. Apparently, so did all the fans on the platform who were motioning foul.

The third-base umpire signaled a home run, but Gardy came out to make his case, and the umps headed in to look at the tape. They overturned the ruling, but Kinsler ended up scoring anyway, tying the game at one apiece.

Starter Kevin Slowey earned his sixth win by going 6-2/3 innings. He kept his pitch count manageable and, unlike his past outings, he didn't hit a wall in the fifth or sixth. Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier came on in relief and didn't allow a run.

Then Jon Rauch came in to close things down. He gave up a hit, but finished off the game and redeemed himself for his loss and blown save in his previous couple outings. The crowd was up on its feet during the ninth, cheering the home team on to victory.

We hung around afterward to take a few pictures before heading out. It really was a beautiful night for baseball. A sunny day with temps in the 80s. What's not to like?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Indy 500 qualifying

It's time for the Indianapolis 500 yet again. Sunday's race will be the 94th running of the greatest spectacle in motorsports. Who's excited?

Last year was the first time I was able to attend the Indy 500. I went with my family and had a blast. The few downsides were Marco Andretti crashing on the first lap of the race, and Helio Castroneves taking home the win. I was pulling for some of the "underdogs."

I really wish I was going back to the speedway this weekend to be a part of the largest single-day sporting event in the world, but I guess I'll just have to wait. For those that haven't been to see an IndyCar race in person, you're missing out. Television doesn't do the sport justice.

Now that I am the Marco Andretti Examiner for, I have been paying even more attention to everything related to the IZOD IndyCar Series. That includes getting fired up when the Indy 500 festivites commence.

Let the racing begin!
The drivers arrived at the brickyard a week before Pole Day (which was this past Saturday). They practiced all week leading up to the qualifying weekend, including Pole Day and then Bump Day on Sunday.

All week, the weather conditions at the track were mostly overcast and fairly cool. There were even delays for rain, and Monday's practice sessions were scrubbed altogether. But when the weekend hit, the sunshine beamed down onto the pavement, resulting in significant changes to the race track and therefore, qualification speeds.

Versus provided the coverage all day long on both Saturday and Sunday, so if you had nothing else to do, sitting in front of your TV watching racing would be a great way to spend your time. I watched all the coverage I could when I wasn't busy, and also stayed updated by my beloved Twitter.

Pole Day, Fast Nine and Bump Day
This year is the first for a new format on Pole Day. Positions 1 through 24 were decided, and the remaining drivers would have to try and qualify on Bump Day. In addition, the top nine drivers advanced to the Fast Nine 90-minute qualifying session to determine the pole position and the remaining P2 through P9 order.

The Fast Nine segment was exciting to watch. Although, Castroneves took some wind out of the sails when he posted laps in excess of 228 mph as the first car out on the track. Positions jostled during the rest of the session, but no one could match Helio's blistering speed.

There were a few crashes during the weekend. Tony Kanaan had near identical crashes in qualifying and then practice. His bad luck at Indy continued, and he was lucky to make it into the field on Bump Day. He'll start 32nd.

Poor PT
I think the biggest disappointment for me, and for a lot of race fans, is that racing veteran Paul Tracy failed to make the field. He was one of the first cars to attempt to make a qualification on Saturday morning, but his car decided to go into neutral on him.

That left Bump Day, where he had appeared to make the cut. But if a driver wants to make another attempt to try and better his or her speed, he or she must withdraw the previous attempt - as if it never happened.

Tracy's team made the call to go out again late in the session because they felt PT would be bumped by rookie Jay Howard. He failed to make it in and was unable to make another run before the gun went off. As the saying goes, that's racing.

It's really heartbreaking for Tracy because he has unfinished business at Indy. He feels he should have won the 2002 race (instead it was Helio's second win), but was denied on a technicality regarding a yellow flag that came out around the same time Tracy made a pass for the lead on Castroneves.

There was so much more that happened over the weekend, and as usual, I'm already writing a lengthy entry. Check out or the Indy 500 website for more details and tidbits about qualifying and the race itself. Or, head over to my Marco Andretti Examiner page for the specifics relating to Marco and his Andretti Autosport teammates.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It's the Yankees

It's the same old story. The Minnesota Twins can't beat the Yankees. For one reason or another, they just can't get back into the win column. It really gets harder and harder to watch the match-ups between these two ball clubs.

This series in the Bronx between the Twins and Yanks early in the season has been both over-hyped and at the same time, downplayed. "Can the Twins finally beat the Yankees?" (hype) "It doesn't matter in May, what matters is beating them in October." (downplay)

While it's true that this is early on in the regular season, I still hold a lot of importance in this weekend series in May. If the Twins can't beat the Yankees now, therefore proving to themselves that they actually can accomplish the task, then how do they expect to beat them come playoff time?

Still looking for a win
The 2010 Twins are much-improved and much-hyped as a team that has the potential to be a contender deep into the postseason. They currently lead the AL Central with a 22-14 record. By losing the first two games in New York, the Twins have only dropped their second series of the season. They lost Friday 8-4 and Saturday afternoon 7-1.

Friday was another example of a typical game between these two. The Twins had a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning before, in classic, Yankee-like dramatic fashion, things unraveled for the Twins.

With two on and Brian Duensing pitching, manager Ron Gardenhire elected to intentionally walk Mark Teixeira to fill first base for a potential double-play ball. Typical textbook move. Then, with the ever-dangerous Alex Rodriguez due up, Gardy sent Matt Guerrier to the mound. The match-up by the numbers? A-Rod was 4-for-6 against Matty with three homers and a double.

Big mistake
As you might expect, the Twins got burned. Mr. A-Rod cracked a grand slam to put the Yanks in front for good. I have a couple of thoughts here. If the Twins are going to lose to the Bombers, why can't they lose in an average 5-3 game? Why must the Yanks always get that dramatic home run or big hit to prevail? It's highly annoying.

My other thought is that Gardy was acting quite hypocritical. Here's what he had to say after the game: "We have all the confidence in the world in Matty. Numbers aren't everything."

"Numbers aren't everything"? Right. Looking at the numbers and going "by the book" is how you manage your team, Gardy. I'll admit that I don't always like the textbook ways in every situation, but this was not one of them. If there is ever a time to go with the numbers, it's against the Yankees.

Of course there will always be second-guessing of managerial moves based on the outcomes. But I like how Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan put it: "Second-guessing riles big-league managers, but there was a lot of first-guessing going on in the Yankee Stadium press box on Friday night."

Yankee mystique
Also, I vote that giving intentional passes to put a pinstriped-man on base should be outlawed in the Twins rulebook. You're just tempting fate. Sure, the double-play-ball theory works a good amount of the time, but you always have to remember: It's the Yankees.

It doesn't matter how you try and justify things, that the Twins are no longer an underdog team, they have the ability to beat New York, etc. Leaving out all other factors, the Yankees still possess a mystique about them that is intimidating and lucky.

Denard Span led off Saturday's game with what looked to be a base hit to center field. Instead, a diving catch was made to start the game. That says it all. The Twins have had more than a few bad-luck balls for outs that could have easily been base hits.

I'm not trying to get the Twins off the hook here, they still need to find a way to get the big, clutch hits, drive in runs and get wins against the Yanks. But there is also a small percentage of luck that just never seems to be there for them, and is always there for the Yanks. Of course, that's just my opinion.

In other sports news...
Yesterday was Opening Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the IZOD IndyCar drivers began a string of practice sessions in preparation for the Indy 500. Practice sessions will take place every day next week (weather permitting) leading up to Pole Day next Saturday.

The month of May is always an exciting time for race fans. After all, the Indy 500 is the biggest one-day sporting event in the world. I'll be keeping up with all the action at Indy, and driver Marco Andretti, on my Marco Andretti Examiner page. Be sure to check it out to see the latest information with Indy.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

High LOB count catching up with Twins

"That's why they play the game." It's a rather common saying in the sports world. Basically it means that just because a team is theoretically better than another on paper (overall records, stats, etc.), that doesn't mean the outcome of the games will always work out that way.

Twins versus Birds
Case in point: The Minnesota Twins versus the Balitmore Orioles in a four-game set May 6 through May 9 at Target Field. The Twins (19-9 before series) are in first place in the AL Central; the Orioles (7-21 before series) bring up the rear in the AL East.

If you're thinking the Twins should have no trouble brooming the Birds, this time you're wrong. Sure, on paper you'd be a wise better to pick the Twins. But if you did for this series, you've lost some money. Heading into the nightcap of the split doubleheader on Saturday (Friday's game was rained out.), the Twins were down two games to none.

They lost 2-0 on Thursday night, and 7-3 on a chilly, rainy Saturday afternoon. Thursday's loss was particularly hard to take. For his second outing in a row, Carl Pavano got zero run support for his stellar pitching performance. The two runs were scored on an early-inning two-run shot by veteran Ty Wiggington, who's second in the league in homers.

Struggling with runners on
The Twins' bats struggled yet again with runners on base, and also with the bases full. It's been the story all season. Heading into Saturday, the Twins were an abysmal 7-for-47 (.149) with the bases juiced. That's not good.

If the LOB (left on base) count was looked at as a serious statistic, I wouldn't doubt that the Twins would be leading the majors in this category. Game after game it seems they continue to leave multiple men (sometimes in the double digits) on base, failing to bring those runs around to score.

Of course, it's a little nit-picky to focus on such a what if?-statistic. The LOB count is like shots-on-goal in hockey. It doesn't matter. What matters is how many goals/runs you score.

Throughout April, the Twins kept up their trends of leaving runners on base. The important thing is they were winning ball games. Good teams get some luck, and I think that's what happened to the Twins. They were finding ways to win without the big hits.

Gotta win the easy ones
Now it's catching up with them. A team comes in here with a horrible record, and also some not-so-amazing pitchers with hitter-friendly ERAs. And what have the Twins done? Struggled. Yes, it's only two games, but these should be "gimmes" for a team that's supposed to be a contender.

On Thursday, it was the bats that went silent. The Twins had a chance to set a team record for scoring in the first inning for seven games in a row. That obviously didn't happen.

Saturday afternoon it was a little bit of the offsense and the fact the Francisco Liriano had an off day, giving up 10 hits and five earned runs in six innings of work. Of course, Jason Kubel (.209) continued his hitting slump, and designated hitter Jim Thome struck out and hit into a double play.

On the bright side, Justin Morneau hit his first bomb at Target Field for a two-run shot in the first. Michael Cuddyer continues to enjoy the new digs as he went yard yet again for his fifth homer of the season.

Why they play the games
It's nothing to panic about, but the bottom line is the Twins should be beating up on the Birds, especially at home. After two 163-game seasons, we've learned every game means something.

These guys have a great lineup of hitters, and eventually the average with the bases loaded has to get better, and the clutch hits will start coming. As for when, time will tell. "That's why they play the game."