Hope Springs Eternal in Florida and Arizona

The 2013 Major League baseball season kicks off this month as players report to their respective camps in Florida and Arizona. Many teams were busy over the winter revamping their rosters.

In Los Angeles the new owners of the Dodgers didn’t sit in the cheap seats after purchasing the team for $2.15 billion. Led by former Lakers star Magic Johnson the Dodgers spent more than $200 million this offseason on just three players – Zack Grienke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon League. The Dodger lineup is loaded with big name players like Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Andre Either. Only time will tell if the West Coast version of the Yankees can gel into a contender.

Another team making a big splash over the winter is the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto took advantage of the Miami Marlins fire sale and acquired Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle and Emilio Bonifacio. But the Blue Jays weren’t done. A trade with the New York Mets brought knuckleballer R.A. Dickey north of the border to bolster a formidable pitching staff. Suddenly (on paper), the AL East looks like the toughest division in baseball.

620653_24123006The defending World Series champs San Francisco Giants stood pat, not signing any big name players. The Giants will rely on pitching and defense again. Mait Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum will anchor a solid pitching rotation. Pitching health will be important as the Giants’ bats produced the fewest home runs in the National League last year. The Giants need another MVP-type season from Buster Posey to carry San Francisco to another postseason visit.

Change is afoot in Texas as the Houston Astros make the move to the American League. The rebuilding Astros don’t have any household names and look like they are headed for another 100 loss season. The good news is the minor league system continues to improve. Be patient, Astros fans. Houston will join the Texas Rangers in the AL West. Rangers’ fans did not enjoy the last three months of 2012. First the team blew a three game lead with three games left in the regular season to lose the division title to Oakland. Texas was then quickly dismissed from postseason play by Baltimore. Things got worse when Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young left via free agency/trade. Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski were brought in to help fill the void. Pitching now seems to be the strength of the team. Yu Darvish and Derek Holland anchor a strong rotation. Star prospect Jurickson Profar gave Rangers’ fans a glimpse of the future in a late-season call up. He needs to make an impact in 2013 to help fans forget about the offseason departure of key players.

Here are our players to watch in 2013:

  • Tim Lincecum (San Francisco Giants) – The Freak had a forgettable 2012 season. He will need to rebound if the Giants hope for a repeat World Series visit.
  • Adrian Gonzalez (LA Dodgers) – a mid season trade brought Gonzalez to LA. Unfortunately he left his power in Boston. A resurgent Gonzalez will offer protection for Kemp and gives the Dodgers legitimate power at first base.
  • Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals) – Strasburg was on a pitch count in 2012 following Tommy John surgery. The Nats sure could have used him in the postseason. The pitch count has been lifted and Strasburg will be counted on to lead Washington back to the playoffs.
  • Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles) – Jones had a breakout season in 2012. With the AL East wide open the Orioles will need Jones to duplicate last season if they hope to contend.
  • Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers) – The Rangers lost a ton of offense in the offseason. Beltre will be the focal point in the lineup. Will he be up to the task?

The great thing about Spring Training is everyone starts anew. Optimism is high, and the excitement of another baseball season can help fight the winter chill. Tell us how you think your team will do this season.

 Jeff is a former semi-professional baseball player and contributor to the TicketCity Blog.

Rarer than Rare

Saturday, July 21st, the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies took to the field for the second game in a three game series. Matt Cain was on the mound for the Giants and Cole Hamels for the Phillies. What started as just another baseball game took a turn for true rarity in the third inning. It started with Cain’s at bat in the top of the third, where he took Hamels’ 88mph off-speed pitch yard to left field. The pitcher’s homer alone is something that is rarely seen in the MLB. What makes this game rarer than rare occurs in the bottom of the third when Hamels does the same to Matt Cain. In true payback fashion, Cole Hamels unloads on Cain’s first fastball and sends it over the wall in right center. Not only do two pitchers have home runs in this game, but they did it off one another in the same inning. This is something that has not been done for over 20 years. The last time it happened was in 1990 when Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers and Kevin Gross of the Expos put on the show.

To keep the theme of rarity going, I decided to give the TicketCity Play of the Week a double dose of features. The second play this week comes from the NBA summer league. With the clock winding down in the fourth quarter of the Memphis Washington game, the Grizzlies point guard Jeremy Pargo displays some incredible ball handling and passing skills. After splitting the defense with a few crossover dribbles, Pargo makes a sly no look pass to Mitchell Watt for the two point bucket. In all, the point guard shakes off three defenders and leaves the other two staring in awe as they try to comprehend what they just witnessed. The Gonzaga point guard went undrafted in 2009, spending two years in various summer league programs and playing ball in the Israeli Basketball Super League. It wasn’t until December of last year that the Memphis Grizzlies extended a two year contract to Pargo.

To see the rare double pitcher home run video click here.

Here is the Jeremy Pargo show.

Some Of MLB’s Most Interesting Promotional Nights (And Days)

On the field, baseball has certainly changed a lot over the years, but it has also evolved in the stands as well. Long gone are the days of the only giveaways being the occasional hat, t-shirt or, if you’re extra lucky, a bat. Even bobbleheads are in the rearview mirror. Now, most clubs have a promotional giveaway on a daily basis – some of which are downright bizarre. Here are some of the coolest (and not so cool) giveaways this year.

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Chicago Cubs (Sunday, July 10): Kids Pierogy Wind-Up Racers  
The Pirates have led the way in interesting promotions over the years, but this is a head-scratcher. It’s kids day, so the toy is understandable, but the pierogy? What’s next, beet action figures?

Tampa Bay Rays – Free Shirt Friday
Tampa Bay often has trouble drawing fans, but they’ve come up with a good fix – free shirts every Friday home game. Twelve times throughout the year, the first 10,000 fans will get a free t-shirt. Nothing special, but a cool tradition. 

San Diego Padres vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (Saturday, September 24): Padres “Beat LA” Rally Towels
Sure, the Padres and Dodgers are divisional rivals, but “Beat LA?” Really? This isn’t confirmed, but it’s its’ pretty widely known that a certain Boston basketball team has cornered the market on that rallying cry.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres (Sunday, May 1): Retro ’81 World Series T-shirt
This is probably one of the coolest promotions of the year. Throwbacks are always cool, especially since it’s the 30th anniversary of the championship. What better way to pay tribute to players such as Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia and Dusty Baker?

Kansas City Royals vs. Minnesota Twins (Sunday, June 5): Kids Pillow Case
Nothing gets you in the mood for baseball like bedding, especially when it features the likeness of the Royals mascot (a lion). Nothing like going to sleep dreaming of a sub .500 record.

New York Yankees vs. Colorado Rockies (Sunday, June 26): Old-Timers Day
It’s a yearly tradition, but it never gets stale. With so many famous faces in Yankees history, it’s always nice to see them put back on the pinstripes years after retiring. 

Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox (Sunday, May 25): Weather Education Day with Weather Curriculum Book
This kind of speaks for itself, nobody wants to go to a baseball game to learn about the weather. While it’s an admirable cause to educate America’s youth, doing so at the park is not the way to go. 

Tampa Bay Rays vs. St. Louis Cardinals - Sunday, July 3: DJ Kitty Puppet
It’s unclear what the folks at Tropicana Field were thinking here. Your guess is as good as mine.

How Much Does One Player Affect Your Ticket Buying?

When Blake Griffin was drafted last year by the Los Angeles Clippers (and subsequently missed the season due to an injury), not many people imagined he would be this awesome a force so quickly. Sure he was the number one pick in the draft, but the Clippers have had a lot of those and none ever turned out as well as he has. The amazing dunks like this group from this weekend’s game against Toronto…

… and consistent double-doubles have made the Clippers a must-see team both on the road and at home, something they never were before. On the flip-side to that is the St. Louis Cardinals’ situation with their All-Word player, Albert Pujols. He has given the team a finite date to end contract talks so it won’t interfere with his season. With that is a looming gloom and doom scenario amongst Cardinal fans who are saying they won’t buy season seats (or as many) until the Pujols situation resolves itself.

Sure these are extreme examples, but when buying tickets, how much does an individual player factor into your decision?

Fair or Foul: The MLB Instant Replay

Yesterday was a landmark day in professional baseball history.  For the first time ever, Major League Baseball implemented limited instant replay technology at three baseball games on Thursday.  Instead of your typical hooded camera or call-box replay technology used for football and other sports, umpires had access to a flat screen television and a telephone mounted in the umpire room just behind the Chicago Cubs dugout at Wrigley Field.

The instant replay was never used Thursday, though batters went yard all night long.

The MLB has promised the new replay technology will only be implemented to review disputed home runs.  This comes as  a response to three suffered miss-calls in May, which cost players their earned runs.  Mets’ Carlos Delgado, Cubs’ Geovany Soto and Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez all had home runs taken away by misjudged calls made far from the fence.  In light of ever-expanding ballparks and the resulting spatial limitations of umpires, the replay sounded like a good idea to Bud Selig, MLB commissioner.  Selig announced that the replay is in the best interest of the game.  Selig has debated the use of the technology, questioning whether it would be a detriment to the image of America’s favorite pastime.  As a lifetime baseball fan, I am a little apprehensive about the instant replay, though I admit it could be useful.  Here are some thoughts to consider:

Of the three examples of erroneous calls in May, not one of the three player’s teams faced defeat due to the miss-calls.  The Cubs, Yanks and Mets easily slid past their respective opponents that night by five or more points.  The bad calls simply evened the score a bit, if nothing else.

Also, how often are home runs contested?  Just because there were three bad calls made within a short period from each other, that doesn’t mean these abnormal homers happen everyday.  I can think of much more to be contested in baseball that could potentially make or break a game other than a home run:  missed tags at first base on a pick-off, missed tags at home plate, a line drive on the line, an early jump on a stolen base, a missed bag on a double play, a close play for the force out at first base, a ball that should have been a strike – the list goes on.

I am only slightly skeptical about the new technology because I am afraid that in the near future, baseball will lose its flavor due to the implementation of micro-management mechanisms.  First it’s home runs, then its everything else.  I like the idea of the limited replay for contested home runs, since they are so rare.  However, I’m just not certain if professional baseball teams will feel completely competitive without safety nets in place – and that makes me a little nervous.

How do you feel?