Coors Field

2010 Regular Season: Colorado Rockies hosted the Chicago Cubs in this final game of a three-game series. The home team was looking for a sweep on this early Sunday afternoon. When in Denver, it may take some time for you to physically adjust to the thin air. City of Denver is a mile above sea level (Mile High City). A light-headed feeling and being short winded can potentially slow down any ambitious travel plans. It may have also affected Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Carlos Silva who left the game in the first inning and was taken to a local hospital with an abnormal heart rate. He returned to normal and was kept at the hospital overnight for observation. Aside from the change in oxygen and pressure, it was a beautiful sunny day for a ball game.

Coors Field is home of the Rockies since 1995. Before that, they played in Mile High Stadium which was also home of the NFL Denver Broncos from 1960 to 2000. Mile High Stadium was eventually demolished in 2002. Coors Field opened, way before that demise, in 1995. During construction, dinosaur fossils were found on site. Among the sea of dark green seats in the stadium, Row 20 on the upper deck is lined with purple seats to serve as the one-mile marker above sea level. Apparently its exact.

The Major League Baseball (MLB) collective bargaining agreement of 1985 allowed the National League to expand by two teams. This would equal membership between the AL and the NL. MLB expanded to Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins in 1993. The original “Rockies” were an NHL team from 1976-82. In 2007, the Colorado Rockies won 20 games in September to force a tie breaker, a seat in the post season, and finally a trip to the 2007 World Series where they faced the Boston Red Sox. Rockies lost it in four games. The final reward should always be to win but coming back from so far behind and so late in the season is a feat all its own.  

Another feature unique to Coors Field is a humidor, located somewhere behind home plate, where all game balls are stored. The dry air in high altitude hardens the baseballs, making them fly off the bat for hitters and having less effect on the curve ball for pitchers. The humidor allows for moisture control of game balls to deaden the spring like affect in dry air. After almost ten years of extraordinary offensive numbers, MLB approved the humidor in 2002.

Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies provided highlights the day before when he hit a home run to win the game and complete a hitting cycle. The first to do so since Dwight Evans did it for the Red Sox in 1984. At the time, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was still face of the Rockies franchise, a protégé from the school of Derek Jeter. In 2015, he was part of a deadline trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was informed in the middle of another game with the Cubs, this time in Chicago. For Troy, it was mixed emotions and things were heated between him and the Colorado Rockies’ front office. In this game, Colorado Rockies outfielder Dexter Fowler ran down a line drive hit by Alfonso Soriano in the ninth inning and made a catch that ended with a hard collision against the centerfield wall. It may have saved the game for the Colorado Rockies who won the slugfest 8-7 and completed the three-game sweep. But it cost Dexter Fowler a trip to the Hospital for an MRI. It was negative. Six years later he would be the lead-off hitter in the Chicago Cubs line-up and a catalyst to the that historic 2016 World Series Championship. Among the 2010 Chicago Cubs pitching staff was Carlos Zambrano who made a relief appearance in this game.

Chicago Cubs @ Colorado Rockies

This year, Coors Field became the site of the 2021 All Star Game. In just a few months short notice, it was moved from Atlanta to Denver in a controversial decision that continues to split fan reactions. The game finds itself at the crossroads of many changes. Baseball has always been a reflection of American society and no one will ever be greater than the game. If those truths ever disappear, then that’s when baseball is dead. While they are still evident, the game is just evolving.

Kauffman Stadium

2016 Regular Season. Kansas City Royals hosted Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City, Missouri), home of the 2015 World Champions. A capacity crowd of nearly 40,000 came to see the home team and it was a perfect day for a twilight game; clear skies, a temperature of 78 degrees, and featuring hues of the sunset beyond words. For this time of year, you couldn’t ask for more. Both teams came into the game with 11 wins thus far in the season. On this day, Baltimore Orioles outperformed the Kansas City Royals 14 hits to 7. Royals starting pitcher Kris Medlen went 3 & 2/3 innings and gave up 9 of those Oriole hits. Baltimore Orioles beat Kansas City Royals 8-3. But, its early and, until someone proves different, the Royals are kings of baseball. 2015 was the first World Championship for the Kansas City Royals since that magical year in 1985 and the second in franchise history. Salvador Perez, as well as outfielder Jarrod Dyson and pitcher Danny Duffy are the only players from that 2015 Royals team that are on the current active player roster. Pitcher Greg Holland was traded away, re-signed, and is also on the 2021 Kansas City Royals. Orioles third baseman Manny Machado and Royals first baseman Erik Hossmer would eventually enter free agency and are now teammates for the long term with the San Diego Padres.

2016 was the 50th anniversary of the Astro Turf. When it was introduced in the Astrodome (1966), it was merely replacing the natural grass that was dying from lack of sun light through the opaque panels that enclosed the ballpark. As we all know, Astro turf took on a life of its own after that, a viable low maintenance material that became the kneejerk selection for the post-modern designs, the cookie-cutter stadiums of the 1960’s & 1970’s. Kauffman Stadium took a role in that history (1973-1994). Before that, the Royals played at Municipal Stadium (1969-1972), a year after the Athletics moved to Oakland, California. I visited Kauffman Stadium in 1993 and, from a fans point of view, it’s a different game now. It seemed like a much smaller ballpark back then; Maybe it’s the renovations and better use of space. Or, maybe it’s just because, after many years, places tend to look smaller than we revisit. Or, is it the other way around?

When in town, fan loyalty is not hard to find at all, banners on display and fans wearing their teams gear wherever you go. The great thing about being defending champions is you can relive the highlights of that magical season every day. As an added bonus, the fanbase enjoys a repeat appearance in the World Series (a feat in itself) to win it all after losing a hard-fought series to San Francisco Giants in 2014. This also means that, with rising ticket prices, loyalty is more expensive the year after. Still, there was a genuine feeling of a franchise and baseball family coming full circle from those pennant years of the 1970s & the 1980s. What happens at “The K” is held close to the cuff. Kansas City is the city with a thousand nicknames and they all describe royalty.

Kansas City Royals are one of four new expansion teams in 1969; Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots (later known as Milwaukee Brewers), San Diego Padres, and Montreal Expos later known as Washington Nationals). So, what’s the association with Kansas City and Royals? The franchise name is in honor of the “America Royal,” an annual event held throughout town since 1899 that features a livestock show, a horse show, a rodeo, and bar-b-que competition. It tends to get lost in translation but the honor was either “for cows” or “for an industry that helped create a strong economy in Kansas City and built by a strong working class, depending on how you look at it. But, the concept of royalty has evolved, identifying with every aspect of life in Kansas City; titles like the football Chiefs, the once basketball Kings, the Kings of Jazz, etc. The storied franchise of the Kansas City Monarchs was royalty in the Negro Leagues. And, speaking of royalty, there is one red seat in Kauffman Stadium that marks the spot where the Legendary Buck O’Neal sat for decades to watch and keep score of the Royals home games; a man with too many titles to mention them all. In short, he’s the soul of the game. And, if you don’t know who Buck O’Neal is, then you don’t know Kansas City.

Baltimore Orioles @ Kansas City Royals

Baltimore Orioles beat Kansas City Royals 8-3. Photos taken on Saturday April 23, 2016 by Miguel A. Sanchez.

Oakland Coliseum

2018 Regular Season. Oakland Athletics host Los Angeles Angels in late September and there are high hopes that the Athletics will reach the post season this year. October had become a time for Oakland Raiders football at the Coliseum. This year was different, there was a buzz in the air and it shined green and gold. On this day, the Athletics pitchers held Los Angeles Angels to a shut-out and the A’s line-up massed 10 hits and 10 runs. Athletics clinched a wild card spot the next week in Seattle to face the New York Yankees in New York. This, after coming off three straight last place finishes. Athletics would lose that wild card game in New York. But it helped to generate needed support for the future of a franchise who continues to find ways to compete in an elusive free agency market, a money ball team vs big money players. Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Bean’s version of the financially handicap “Swinging A’s” has been an experiment in development since the late 1990’s. Soon after becoming General Manager, he started getting results, going to the playoffs 4 consecutive years between 2000 and 2003. In 2002, the Oakland Athletics set an AL record with 20 consecutive wins late in the regular season. His application of sabermetric principles helped evolve the game to what we see today. Innovation has been the common thread in the team’s history.

In 2018, the Oakland Athletics also celebrated their 50th anniversary on the west coast. Before 1968, They were the Kansas City Athletics (1955-1967). And, before that they were the Philadelphia Athletics (1901-1954), one of seven charter franchises established with the American League in 1901. The team’s history is clear-cut yet has years of success that have put them in a position to be innovators of the game. Connie Mack’s tenure with the Athletics, along with his previous years with the Pittsburg Pirates, made him the winningest manager in Major League Baseball. His record still stands with 3,731 managed wins. In the early years of the modern era, those Athletics won 5 of the first 26 World Series titles, despite the naysayers who viewed the Athletics as having no potential of winning. New York Giants Manager John McGraw was among the critics who, from the beginning, dismissed them as nothing more than a White Elephant. Connie Mack was amused McGraw’s comments and decided to use the mascot for a logo on the Athletics uniform. And, that’s the way it was for 50 years until Charley Finley, the new Athletics owner, wanted to change the mascot to a mule which was more representative of the democratic party. This, in order to appeal to a democratic dominant Kansas City. When folks say “keep politics out of baseball,” they are left with the burden of prove that it was never there. Baseball history is littered with politics every step of the way. For better or for worst, Charlie Finley is an innovator of the game who moved the team to Oakland and managed to build the franchise to the success and dominance he enjoyed before free agency would liquidate the Athletics potential. The early years in Oakland are also considered dynasty years as they won three consecutive titles (1972, 1973, 1974). Charley Finley would not flex his buying power like George Steinbrenner did. As a result, the New York Yankees would enjoy the advantages of free agency with their own dynasty later that same decade. In the 1980’s, Athletics enjoyed some winning years but, with just one World Championship, it is debatable whether they can be called a dynasty. With (9) World Championship, the Athletics are tied with Boston Red Sox at having the 3rd winningest record in baseball, behind the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals, in that order, a silent race to see who will win a 10th title first.

The Oakland Coliseum is the fifth oldest active MLB ballpark after Fenway Park (1), Wrigley Field (2), Dodger Stadium (3). and Angels Stadium (4). As an observation, it’s hard to embrace that those ballparks in Los Angeles are older than the Coliseum, perhaps because of the industrial feel to the Coliseum, built from massive concrete formwork and surrounded by a subsequent industrial zone. Or, perhaps because the intent of the Oakland Coliseum has been more for football than baseball, a relic of the multi-sport cookie cutter stadium. It’s easy to get lost in this cavernous venue, a stadium that shuts downs its concessions in the upper deck to consolidate foot traffic. Besides the Moneyball problems, that is the other recurrent issue with the franchise’s future. Where is home? Major League Baseball has a vested interest in a state-of-the-art stadium that best represents the MLB brand. It seemed as though all parties were playing nice in formulating a development plan for a new stadium in the bay area. That is no longer the case.

Among the cities they can move to are the usual suspects waiting for an expansion team. After a lengthy process that had the optics of a bright new stadium, the team is left with a lease at the Oakland Coliseum that expires in 2024. Opponents to the plan preferred that the future site be at the current location of “The Coliseum” instead of the downtown waterfront site. Besides the site, there’s disaccord about who should pay for the needed infrastructure.  That is a slippery slope for Athletics Owner John Fisher who is worth $2.4 billion and is asking for a massive welfare assistance from government officials, in a climate where the NFL Raiders and the NBA Warriors have already left town. Between now and 2024, we shall see where the levers land, a push for project approval while looking for greener pastures?

Los Angeles Angels @ Oakland Athletics

Busch Stadium

2010 Regular Season. St. Louis Cardinals host Milwaukee Brewers at the new Busch Stadium (St. Louis, Missouri). to see two NL Central Division teams matched for the standings. Its the fourth of July game, when all players wear the specialty uniforms on the field for 4th of July weekend. Also included this year was the white cap with the team’s logo embroidered in the front with the stars and stripes of the red, white, and blue colored yarn. The Independence Day editions would also be worn on Memorial Day and on September 11th.

Public transportation will easily get you from Lambert–St. Louis International Airport straight to the trendy Union Station mall, to Busch Stadium, to The Arch, among other stops on the Metrolink train system. Stadium Station is across the street from the main entrance of Busch Stadium. If you’re a diehard Cardinals fan, you probably remember the first time you went up the escalators of the train’s platform to the street level and slowly started seeing the red brick architecture of the stadium. And, if you’re not aware of the baseball history that comes with the St. Louis Cardinals, look no further than the array of statutes in front of the main entrance. There are about ten of them.

This is actually Busch Stadium III (opened 2006). Busch Stadium I (1953-1966) was previously known as Sportsman’s Park III. And you guessed it, there was another lineage of fields named Sportsman’s Park. Baseball games on the site of Busch Stadium I, alias Sportsman’s Park III, can be traced back to the 1860’s. Busch Memorial Stadium, or Busch Stadium II (1966-2005) was among the cookie cutter parks built in the 1960’s & 1970’s. Baseball tradition in St. Louis is better known as the “Cardinal Way,” regardless of where home has been. St. Louis Cardinals are one of the winningest MLB franchises with (11) World Championships, second only to the New York Yankees with (27). They enjoy the loyalty of fans who know the history of baseball in St. Louis. They and the Boston Red Sox tend to have the better local market Nielsen ratings.

Prince Fielder, Ricky Weeks, and Carlos Gomez were still playing with Milwaukee Brewers. Lorenzo Cain was debuting with the Milwaukee Brewers before he was traded away to the Kansas City Royals. He won a World Championship with the Royals in 2015 and eventually found himself back in Milwaukee with another trade in 2018. He still plays with the Royals in the 2021 regular season. Craig Counsel, the current Manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, was still playing the last couple years of his 15-year career. Although the 2010 regular season ended with a losing record, they would keep grinding to win the NL Central Division the following year.

In this game, Albert Pujols went 1 for 3 with a run scored. The 2010 Cardinals did not play in the post season. But Albert Pujols would blaze a path to a historic free agency, after meeting these same Milwaukee Brewers in the 2011 NLCS and defeating them 4 games to 2, then winning the 2011 World Series where the Cardinals faced the Texas Rangers in one of the more memorable World Championships. In that series he would secure a place in history with Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson, hitting three home runs in Game 3.

Hard to believe it’s been 10 years and that Albert Pujols is at the tail end of that 10-year $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. The 2021 season was his farewell tour. That is no longer the case. Associated Press reported on May 7th that the Los Angeles Angels abruptly ended the future Hall of Famer’s tenure with the team. Apparently, Albert Pujols was dissatisfied with the irregular playing time and his demands did not mix well with his slumping offensive numbers. He was recently declared a free agent, the rumor is that of the possible teams looking at Albert are Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, and St. Louis Cardinals. Officials from Dominican Republic also reached out to have Albert play for the Olympics qualification team. Its obvious that he still wants to play. Only Albert knows what he has left in the tank. What we do know is that Albert Pujols will go into the Hall of Hame, in a league of his own and wearing the St Louis Cardinals cap.   

      Milwaukee Brewers @ St. Louis Cardinals

Wrigley Rebuild

Wrigley Field 1060 Project is a 5-phase $575 million renovation plan. Chicago Tribune reported in July of 2014 that $375 million were for the stadium overhaul and $200 million for surrounding areas, including a hotel, an office building, and the plaza. Phase one started in the 2014-2015 off season and phase five completed during the 2018-2019 off season. The vision for the Chicago Cubs organization was to “ensure the viability of the ballpark for future generations of Cubs fans, while preserving the beauty, charm and historic features fans have come to know and love.” Photos were taken during phases one and two.

Phase one visit on October of 2014:

With the exception of the scoreboard beyond center field and its supporting structure, the surrounding bleachers along right field and left field were completely demolished and removed, making way for the design of a new infrastructure that completely rethinks the use of space behind the ivy. The cold days of fall in Chicago are also short, as the sun starts to set 4:30-5:00pm. Not only is it a challenge to see the work in progress, it’s a challenge do get it done in a busy timeline. Both Sheffield and Waveland Avenues were fenced off to the side walk across the street. Cautions were taken to protect the brick wall that is traditionally covered in the iconic ivy that we all associate with Wrigley Field. Something universally true about a renovation plan of this scale is that every step of the way is critical, a path if you will. But this was an especially fragile part of an otherwise crude site, as the only thing supporting the freestanding brick wall during construction was a system of forms and braces. Meanwhile, huge holes were bored into the ground for improved foundations, not to mentioned all the secondary vibrations from the heavy equipment. The braces in the photos represent the back of that iconic ivy-covered wall. The only elements still visible were the manual score board behind center field that towered over the ground where bleachers once stood, waiting out the frigid winter with short days to rebuild its bleachers.

The weather created delays from the beginning that would complicate the start of the 2015 regular season. Installation of some 5,000 missing seats wear eventually completed in May of 2015. Aside from making state of the art accommodations, the newly reconfigured bleachers would house the new bullpen locations under the bleachers and give every visitor a great view of the game regardless of where he or she is sitting. By the end of phase three, the iconic bullpen locations along the foul lines would also be gone.

Phase two visit on April of 2016:

Taking the official Wrigley Field Tour on another cold Tuesday morning to see the recent changes. This was somewhere midpoint of the five-phase timeline. Future tours will allow more access to all new areas after construction is complete. Due to work in progress, the clubhouse was not available for touring. Overall, the upgrades were seamless with the historic elements of ballpark. A walk through the hallways under the bleachers was especially interesting, an up-close look at a re-purposed space. It was surreal to listen to the tour guide discussing life in the Wrigleyville neighborhood during the 1970’s and 1980s, like something from urban legend. Hearing the tour was like thinking out loud. For anyone who grew up in Chicago, Wrigley Field is the story of us. From the “Bleacher Bums” who all knew each other, going to the home games all summer watching their cubbies, to the guys on the corner of Waveland Avenue & Kenmore Avenue who would all claim a part of that corner to catch the home run ball on game day, we all have a story about Wrigley Field, where we’ve been there or not. “As you look out to the buildings across the street, you will see that most of them have rooftop bleachers available for rental with Wrigley Rooftops,” she said. As I remembered how rare it was to see someone on the roof back in the day, she quickly mentioned that it wasn’t always like this.

This ballpark first opened in 1914 as the home of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. Chicago Cubs first played here in 1916. The evolution of Wrigley Field has been one rebuild after another over the years. Yet, there is still a timeless connection to this ballpark once known as Weeghman Park. Like the history of baseball that’s been played here, it’s been the mark of time.

A Braves’ New World

Milwaukee Brewers @ Atlanta Braves

2017 Regular Season. Atlanta Braves hosted Milwaukee Brewers at Sun Trust Bank in its inaugural year. It’s a hitter-friendly park. Wind was blowing out and Milwaukee Brewers brought their hitting sticks. On this day, the Brewers mustered runs in the first four innings to win 7-0 and ultimately salvage the last of a 3-game series with the Braves. They’ve been hot on the trail in the NL Central Division since, a thorn on the side of the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. Something unique to Truist Park has been “The Freeze.” Otherwise known as Nigel Talton. He is an Olympic sprinter who races a fan every game in the seventh inning along the outfield warning track. Volunteers are given a head start and can win $100 if they beat “The Freeze.” His plans to compete in the 2020 Olympics were cancelled in the process of qualifying. Maybe he will surface in Tokyo for this summer’s game. As for the Atlanta Braves, they went on to earn a wild card in the 2017 Play-offs and clinched the NL East Division the following 3-years after that. In their short time at Truist Park, Atlanta Braves have been in the Post Season all 4-years. 

Turner Field, the old home field in downtown Atlanta, was only 20 years old. But, the positive economic impact of a baseball stadium on any surrounding development is hard to ignore. Globe Life Field in Texas is the latest example of that. Construction of a new stadium is also a contentious issue in the communities they are built in. Those attractive growth numbers on paper do not always translate well to the bricks and mortar. Tensions bemoan the question “who will pay for it.” But that hasn’t been a deterrent by no means. The trend is that we see more ballparks going up more often. Hence, the case in Cobb County. SunTrust, the naming rights owners, merged with BB&T Bank in 2019 to form Truist Bank. The home of the Atlanta Braves is now known as Truist Park serving as the catalyst to the “2040 Comprehensive Plan, a vision for a new era.” Much energy went into this area 18 miles north of downtown Atlanta. making it a place to live, work and play, a place to attract visitors, residents, and businesses for the next 25 years.

For generations, fans have followed this franchise steeped in history, to the near inception of baseball itself. This oldest continually operating a professional baseball team in America can be traced back to the Boston Red Stockings, established 1871 and evolving to 10 different teams, in 3 different U.S. cities, and in 9 different ballparks. If baseball is still America’s pastime, then this may be the face of the pastime. In that timeline, they’ve won 17 NL Pennants, 20 Division titles and 2 Wild Card berths. Since the inception of the World Series in 1903, they’ve won 3 World Championships; one in each city they played in (1914 Boston Braves, 1957 Milwaukee Braves, and 1995 Atlanta Braves). And in the age of Ted Turner, the Atlanta Braves became “America’s Team” in the eighties and nineties, thanks to the innovations of cable and TBS Superstation. They would broadcast games beyond regional restrictions and across the country.

Four legends of the Atlanta Braves family, who recently passed away, were honored in the 2021 home opener. They all have had an impact on the franchise as well as the game.

  • Bill Bartholomay (1928-2020)

“Mr. B” a pioneer who brought Major League Baseball to the deep south. He was a Chicago Business Executive who joined a consortium that would buy the team. Despite a successful run in Milwaukee, his vision for the future of the franchise was in Atlanta. After legal battles and death threats, there would be a National League team in Atlanta. Bill Bartholomay was instrumental for over 50 years in this endeavor, ultimately partnering with Ted Turner in the 1970’s, the genesis of “America’s Team.” He will be honored throughout the 2021 regular season.  

  • Don Sutton (1945-2021)

In his 22-year Hall of Fame career as pitcher in the Big Leagues is well known. He never played for the Atlanta Braves. But, his first years in broadcasting was in Atlanta (1989). He would eventually become the voice of “America’s Team” for decades on TBS Superstation. Dependable, durable, and consistent are the words the Atlanta Braves use to define Don Sutton. He will be honored throughout the 2021 regular season.  

  • Phil Niekro (1939-2020)

The greatest knuckle ball pitcher of all time, an ace on the staff, a true great on and off the field, a brave to his core, he was an intense competitor who forced his hitters to swing at junk. He pitched 23-years in the big leagues that included 2-tours with the Atlanta Braves. In his first tour, he debuted in 1964 with Milwaukee Braves and was part of that historic move to Atlanta, Georgia. His number 35 will be worn on the caps of the Braves players this year.

  • Hank Aaron (1934-2021)

Model of dignity, an example of excellence in the face of adversity for all Americans to celebrate. April 8th, 2021 marked the 47th anniversary of his all-time home runs record at 715. This was the first time we remembered it without him. In his story, there is a 24-year Hall of Fame career with statistics that will give you brain freeze; just dominant. Through it all, his answer was simple, “keep swinging.” He was a humanitarian whose actions spoke louder than his words, a sense of courage and nobility that went beyond the diamond. His number 44 will be worn on the caps of the Braves players this year.

After a busy winter, Atlanta Braves are still ranked at the top of the NL Eastern Division this year, expected to win +90 games and putting them in a good seed for the post season. But, the elephant in the room will be the recent decision by MLB to move the All-Star Game and MLB Draft out of Atlanta due to recent legislation aimed at voter restrictions to the ballet box. In a statement by Commissioner Rob Manfred (released April 2, 2021) he wrote, “We will continue with our plans to celebrate the memory of Hank Aaron during this season’s All-Star festivities. In addition, MLB’s planned investments to support local communities in Atlanta as part of our All-Star Legacy Projects will move forward. We are finalizing a new host city and details about these events will be announced shortly.” Opinions are split on the issue, a reflection of the polarized society that we live in. But, its simple.

Baseball reflects American culture in many different ways. In hindsight, there have been more than just a few crossroads along the way where social issues were merged with the game. James Earl Jones once said as Terrance Mann in the film Field of Dreams, ‘America has been erased like a blackboard and rebuilt again. But baseball has been the mark of time.” For the most part, the Braves have been a witness to that. Coincidence is more than just ironic that the Braves are in the midst of another contentious moment. In a Braves’ new world, they celebrate the life of  four legends while having the All-Star game and MLB Draft moved out of town on short notice, yet another model of a country divided.

Next Year is Here

Detroit Tigers @ Chicago White Sox

2012 Regular Season. Chicago White Sox host Detroit Tigers at US Cellular Field on the South Side of Chicago, their first home game of the new year. It’s a great time of year. Those up north can take a break from the long winter and breath in renewed hope for the new season. On Opening Day, everyone is in first place. Its theirs to lose. For the rest of us hopeless fans, It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Next year is here.

Recently minted 25-man rosters hit the floor running and can go from weathering the climatic shock of the beaming grapefruit or cactus hot sun to working the layers of thermals, stretching, and warming up in more ways than one. The weather during game time held near 65 degrees.

It’s Opening Day on Friday the 13th which is ironic in the baseball world of superstition. On this day, an estimated 38,676 paid. When prices at the ticket window are $75.00 for standing room only, you get in the Chicago way, or the second market. Lots of people not at work here, controlled chaos. The crowd was elbow to elbow, like a scene at your friendly neighborhood nightclub. although the drunk and obnoxious may outnumber the bouncers if something breaks out. It’s “Sweet Home Chicago” no less.

For the most part, Chicago White Sox start the season on the road before settling into the south side. The first game ever played here at US Cellular Field was also against the Detroit Tigers in the 1991 inaugural year, when it was Comiskey Park II. You won’t see that game in any Chicago White Sox highlight reels. Detroit Tigers massed 19 hits and scored 16 unanswered runs. On a good note, Chicago White Sox had some winning moments, later in the nineties, to drown that day out.

2012 was the first year without Ozzie Guillen as Chicago White Sox Manager. He and former White Sox teammate Robin Ventura have a side game of career jeopardy throughout the season. Ozzie Guillen jumped ship, as skipper, to accept the manager position with the newly rebranded Miami Marlins. White sox granted him a release from the one year remaining in his contract, within a couple of days, the news came out, leaked by Ozzie Guillen, that he would be heading for South Beach, departing before the start of the final 3-game homestand in the 2011 season with the Toronto Blue Jays Apparently it was part of a marketing campaign to stage Ozzie’s arrival in south Florida and to usher in a new era. Pitching Coach Don Cooper managed the last three games for the Chicago White Sox.

Former White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura was enjoying retirement life with his family in his oceanfront property in California when Owner Jerry Reinsdorf and President Kenny Williams came knocking on his door, during the off-season, to pre-emptively offer him the job as Chicago White Sox Manager. Meanwhile, the party at South Beach would take a hard turn when Ozzie Guillen made comments favorable to Fidel Castro during 2012 spring camp that infuriated the Cuban-American community in South Florida. In Chicago, he would probably get a little shade at most. In Miami, its equal to hugging the third rail. That was the beginning of the end for the Miami Marlins. A sequence of controversial moves from the front office led to a mid-season free agency yard sale and Ozzie Guillen’s dismissal of his duties when the season ended. Robin Ventura was busy with the growing pains of his new position while steering his team to a record of 85-77. After constant pushback for his laid-back demeanor and the upcoming losing seasons, he eventually saw the writing on the wall and ended his tenure in 2016.     

So, what is the name of that park on the south side? Like other naming rights arrangements, it’s a series of shameless bids focused on the highest bidder as opposed to the ring tone of a pronoun mounted over the main entrance. From 2003 to 2016, the name was US Cellular Field. Now, it’s come down to the current “Guaranteed Rate Field.” Maybe it was a good payout but the red arrow on the logo that points down is not good optics, the most out-of-touch signage. But, the good people at Miami Marlins organization said “hold my beer,” securing naming rights this year with loanDepot. They have dropped big money to enter the world of baseball. They will also be sponsoring award presentations and are the official mortgage company of Major League Baseball.   

Opening day this year is on April 8th to start a 3-game home stand against the Kansas City Royals. They started on the road again for a 4-game set with Anaheim Angels. Chicago White Sox come into the 2021 season as an off-season winner. They were busy on the hot stove making additions to put them in the post season conversation. And, there’s another familiar face at the manager position in Tony LaRussa to keep things controversial as usual. Sometimes, bad guys wear black.

Land of Kaline

Welcome to “Tiger Town.” Since 1934, the City of Lakeland & Detroit Tigers have had the longest working relationship between any spring training city-host and a Major League Baseball team. Oddly enough, 1934 was the year Detroit Tiger Legend Al Kaline was born. He passed away on April 06, 2020; one of 11 Hall of Famers who have died in the last year or so. Just recently, son Mark Kaline posted a message of gratitude to the team for keeping a locker in the Tiger clubhouse with a uniform ready to go for his dad in the 2021 spring training this year as a sign of respect. In 1954, a 19-year old Al Kaline ventured into the City of Lakeland for the first time to report for spring training with the Detroit Tigers. Back then, Tigers trained at Henley Field just a mile and a half north of here. Joker Marchant Stadium didn’t open until 1966. He signed with the Tigers in 1953 and joined the team shortly after high school. Not only did he play for the Tigers his entire 21-year MLB career, he went on the work for the team as a broadcaster, a special assistant to the team President, and a series of coaching positions. Keeping the number 6 uniform in the clubhouse is a tradition 66 years old and counting. Yes, this is the Land of Kaline and it has called me back many times over the years. Visit the City of Lakeland long enough and it will start to grow on you as it did for “Mr. Tiger.” Here are two of my visits.

New York Yankees @ Detroit Tigers

2010 Spring Training: Detroit Tigers hosted New York Yankees at Joker Marchant Stadium; named after a late parks and recreation director. In his first game against his old Yankee teammates, Johnny Damon was back to his Yankee killing ways with 2 hits, including 1 home run, and 2 RBIs, just like his days with the Boston Red Sox. The 2010 regular season ended in an 81-81 record for the Tigers, an even .500. Longtime voice of the Tigers Ernie Harwell passed away little after spring training on May 4th. He spent a big part of his broadcasting career calling the games Al Kaline played in. From 1960 to 2002, his career with the Tigers started and ended here in Lakeland, Florida. First game was called in Henley Field. The last game was here in Joker Marchant Stadium where he held an end of spring training press conference to announce his retirement. Another Tiger tradition was when Ernie Harwell would kick-off with a biblical recital of “Voice of the Turtle.”

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of the birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land.

Ernie Harwell lived in Lakeland, Florida and only missed 2 games in his 55-year career. Something unique to his life was that, after discovering he had an inoperable tumor, he clearly knew his time in this earth was coming to end. It was a farewell tour like none other.

Florida Southern College Moccasins @ Detroit Tigers 

2017 Spring Training: Detroit Tigers hosted Florida Southern College Moccasins on Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, the first game of the young season. There was a celebration of the longstanding relationship between City of Lakeland and Detroit Tigers. A new agreement of $37 million in renovations and a 20-year deal that ensures “Tiger Town” will be here for an un-precedented 100 years. Publix. the new sponsor, is a large chain of supermarkets that also has their Headquarters here in town.

The Florida Southern College Moccasins is a local Division II program. At the time, they had 9 National Championships and 41 post season appearances, were invited to open Spring Training 2017. Campus is located approximately three and a half miles south of this stadium. Baseball Almanac lists 12 Alumni who have played in MLB.

  • Greg Pryor (1968-1970)
  • Andy Mc Gaffigan (1977-1978)
  • Ralph Citarella (1977-1979)
  • Rob Dibble (1983-1983)
  • James hurst (1988-1989)
  • Carlos Reyes (1990-1991)
  • John Hudek (1987-1988)
  • Brett Tompko (1995-1995)
  • Eddie Gaillard (1992-1993)
  • Lance Niekro (2000-2000)
  • Matt Joyce (2005-2005)
  • Gus Schlosser (2010 2011)

Detroit Tigers selected Colin Kaline (grandson of Al Kaline) in the 2007 MLB draft. He did not sign and instead played for Florida Southern College. He later did sign with the Tigers and played in their minor leagues (2011-2012). SB Nation staff writer Ashley MacLennan reported that Manager Brad Ausmus offered the Moccasins a pitcher or two that he had as extras. Florida Southern College declined the offer. Regardless of the crushing results in this game, surely it was a once in a lifetime experiences and Moccasins begged to differ on anyone suggesting this was not a real game.

Grapefruit Classic

Team Puerto Rico @ Minnesota Twins

2013 Spring Training: Minnesota Twins hosted Team Puerto Rico at Hammond Stadium, in Fort Myers, Florida. This area in Southwest Florida is the commercial center of Lee County. Twins have trained here since 1991. The Boston Red Sox also train in Fort Myers. It helps with the schedule to have another team in town. Still, its a challenge to get around in Florida when road trips can be 2-3 hours if you’re lucky. In contrast, the training complexes in Arizona are all 30 minutes from each other. It’s been something to consider for teams who moved from Florida to Arizona. Nonetheless, the game of baseball has thrived in Fort Myers since Thomas Edison lived here over 100 years ago.

Terry Park, located 22 minutes north of Hammond Stadium, first held professional games in 1914 when the Louisville Colonels of the American Association trained there. Roberto Clemente first reported to spring training at Terry Park in the 1950’s. The Pittsburgh Pirates trained there at the time. Little would he know that a team representing his homeland would visit a Major League Team here almost 60 years later. This was an exhibition game to promote the upcoming 2013 World Baseball Classic. On this day, New York Yankees also hosted Team Dominican Republic 125 miles away in Tampa, Florida. Over in the Arizona Cactus league, it was Team Mexico vs Chicago White Sox and Team USA vs LA Dodgers. Today it’s not so easy to understand how important these games where. Back then, if anyone said these games didn’t matter would be lying to themselves. There was no way these matches would end in a tie or a “mercy rule” as is the case in 2021 Spring Training. The thought process is understandable given the concerns coming off a truncated season in 2020. But the optics are terrible for ticket paying customers.

No comparison to the loud cheers in the stands from the Team Puerto Rico faithful at Hammond Stadium. The band even came out to play the “Parrandas” of the island. A source of pride or obnoxious, depending on how you look at it. A win would be hard earned from the Twins. And, that it was; a slugfest. Outfielder Angel Pagan, who’s day job was with San Francisco Giants, led the offense going 2-3 with an RBI. Eddie Rosario was in the line-up for Team Puerto Rico. He was drafted by the Twins in 2010 and eventually debuted for them in 2015. Some of the other known Major Leaguers on Team Puerto Rico were Alex Rios, Carlos Beltran, Mike Aviles, and two of the Molina Brothers (Yadier and Jose). The lead changed 4 times while Team Puerto Rico massed 17 hits to barely top the Minnesota Twins 8-7. After this, Team Puerto Rico would head for San Juan to begin the 2013 World Baseball Classic for the first round in pool C at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico.

Minnesota Twins ended the 2013 Regular Season 4th place in their division with a 66-96 record. Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections have the Twins heavily favored in the AL Central Division for 2021. They have good reason to feel this way. But, as someone once prophetically said in hindsight, “that’s why you play the game.”

True Blue Birds

Spring Training 2012: Toronto Blue Jays hosted Detroit Tigers at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida; a final tune-up game before team’s head north for the regular season. Blue Jays have trained here since their first year of expansion in 1977; the only Major League franchise to have never changed where they play spring training games. The playing surface has always been known as Grant Field. But, the naming rights to the stadium have changed several times. Today, its known as TD Ballpark and construction broke ground in 2019 on major renovations that increased seating capacity from 5,500 to 8,500. Blue Jays signed a leasing agreement with City of Dunedin, Pinellas County, and state of Florida in a state-of-the-art stadium. Included is a nearby complex. This ensures that there will be spring training baseball in Dunedin for the next 25 years. It’s a beautiful part of Florida best known for the attractions to state parks on Honeymoon island and Caladesi Island; scenic beaches, boating, and trails.

The 2012 Blue Jays were a far cry from the Blue Jays of today. They consisted of journeyman and free agents whereas the upcoming 2021 roster is loaded with young phenoms, highly touted prospects, and overall talent from within the organization. It has been a busy off season as the Blue Jays continue to find the pieces that will make them relevant this 2021 regular season. Omar Visquel signed with the Blue Jays in 2012, his 24th season and on his 6th team. This would be his final year in MLB; an unofficial farewell tour. For the previous 4 years, he averaged 60 hits a year. At the time, he was chasing 3,000 career hits, along with Johnny Damon who was playing for the Cleveland Indians. Omar Vizquel ended with a grand total of 2,877 while Johnny Damon ended his last year in MLB with 2,769. It’s an amazing career without the 3,000 hits. While some of his contemporaries were long retired and settled into a coaching career (like Ozzie Guillen), Omar Vizquel managed to tap into the fountain of youth; sustaining the conditioning needed for a 45-year-old to compete with players twenty something. He even outlived his longtime nemesis pitcher Jose Mesa who retired in 2007. He pledged to hit Omar Vizquel every chance because of a beef from an incident in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.

For the Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera was in the line-up; starting the 2012 season as the reigning 2011 AL MVP. He was back in the lineup after a scary moment when, just days before, he caught a hard grounder hit by Hunter Pence under his right eye. CBS Sports writer Matt Snyder reported that Miguel Cabrera left the game bleeding profusely. Apparently, the ball hit the sunglasses Miguel Cabrera was wearing which took the direct hit and drove the sunglasses into his face. As it turns out, that was a blessing in disguise. It could have been more devastating had the ball hit his eye. He played third base in 2012 to make room in the line-up for Prince Fielder at first base. Victor Martinez was the Designated hitter, Prince had just signed with the Detroit Tigers for $214,000,000 a at 9-years; storybook contract for a kid who grew up having batting practice in Tiger Stadium with his dad Cecil Fielder. That honeymoon ended early. Although he had his best season batting average of .313 in 2012, the following year was lackluster for Prince Fielder. He played all 162 games and reached the milestone of 500 consecutive games played. Yet it also led to an abrupt trade to the Texas Rangers in 2014. Financial consideration and neck surgery would affect tenure with the Texas Rangers. There are many debatable reasons for the trade, from his sub-par performance in 2013, to putting Miguel Cabrera back at first, to a laid-back attitude that didn’t sit well with certain folks, etc. Nonetheless, it goes to show that baseball is a fickle game. Loyalties are like apples; they do not fall far from the tree. Miguel Cabrera went on to win the Triple Crown in the 2012 regular season, the first time anyone has reached that feat since Carl Yastrzemski did it with the Boston Red Sox in 1967. It helped that Prince Fielder was hitting behind him in the batting order; pitchers were obligated to pitch to Miguel Cabrera and not give him a base on balls for Prince Fielder to drive him in.

Miguel Cabrera has been delegated to the DH position the last few years. But he’s expected to play more time back at first base this 2021 regular season. Although his time there will be limited, he may need to play first base to stay in the line-up when the Detroit Tigers play in a National League park. Once again, he has the autonomy in the Grapefruit League to work on those grounders. Currently, he has 2,866 lifetime hits, 487 home runs, 1,729 RBI, and a .313 life time batting average. His 8-year $248,000,000 contract carries him to year 2025. That should give him enough time to improve those numbers to a league of their own.