Big Giants!

While it wasn’t as long since I went to a San José game, it’s been way too long since I’ve been to any Major League game. The last time I had tickets was 2020 and that didn’t turn out well. We’d had hopes of getting to a Giants game this summer though* and, thanks to the recent swoon, I was able to find tickets for super cheap. This would be the first game I went to with both boys since I’d previously only taken one at a time in 2018 and 2019 for their own personal first game experiences.

*Also want to get to an A’s game but for the life of me I cannot figure out why upper deck tickets for the A’s are so expensive. $30 for field level. $30 for upper deck. Makes no sense to me at all. 

I didn’t take many photos. Not a first and I didn’t want to make as big deal of it. Plus we’re all wearing masks on the train* and in crowds so the photos aren’t as nice. We got to the stadium early enough to walk around a little bit, see the World Series trophies, and hit the Coca Cola slides (not as exciting as they remembered) but didn’t do the full slow circuit either. While I don’t want the stadium experience to become routine, not every visit needs to be treated the same as a first visit.

*Amusingly this was both boys’ first train ride since 2019. Usually we train to Newark Airport but this year got caught up in a wildcat strike. They’d forgotten what it was like to ride a train. 

Thanks to Trenton being awesome and providing free programs and scorecards at every game, the boys have become accustomed always acquiring a scorecard and keeping score. Much to my surprise when I hit the Giants souvenir stand, I discovered that the Giants no longer make either scorecards or programs.

I understand that they may not be big sellers anymore but not having anything available just feels wrong. Buying a scorecard and keeping score is one of those old-school baseball traditions and it’s really rough, especially in this day and age of no ticket stubs, to have no scorecards available either as a handy binderable souvenir.

As unimpressed as I was by this, at least the Guest Services desk was offering free copies of the scorecard printouts that they provide for the press. These are actually pretty nice except for the fact that they’re legal sized pieces of paper that you can’t write on unless you have a desk. Thankfully I had a notebook and folder in my bag that were hard enough to write on.

We made it to our seats in time for lineups and the national anthem. Same spot I grew up with up high and behind the plate. Things felt more like the Giants games I used to attend up there with a much looser crowd that thinned out even more as you moved away from the plate

My eldest has turned into a pretty observant fan and is noticing things that have changed since his last visit and how the teams are arrayed on the field. My youngest was sick to his stomach because he was worried the Giants would lose again and that he was bringing them bad luck. He was however into the game even, as with his first game, though he couldn’t keep up with the scorecard because he was sort of overwhelmed.

Turns out that he shouldn’t have been too concerned. Alex Cobb settled down after a rough first inning and somehow got through 6 innings in under 100 pitches while only allowing one run. The team got some clutch hitting, drove in runners in scoring position, and both took the lead early and never let Arizona get back into things.

Was nice to see Madison Bumgarner pitch* even though it does hurt a little to see him get jumped on. But it’s cool to be able to give him a proper ovation as thanks. He’ll always be welcome in San Francisco.

*My youngest wore a Bumgarner shirsey even though he knew he was starting for Arizona.

Lots of excitement with Longoria’s home run being the first Giants home run either of them has seen live. And with Joey Bart first laying down a perfect bunt then smacking the absolute tar out of the ball with a double that went off the top of the arcade and a single off the left field wall. Either ball is slightly higher and Bart has two home runs including a splash hit from a right-hander.

My youngest wasn’t comfortable until the last out was recorded though. Then it was big smiles as we walked out and I realized how serious he had been taking things. Hopefully now that he knows he isn’t bad luck he’ll be able to relax more. Either that or we just have to go to more games next summer.

Because we have to rush to catch the train—Caltrain only gives us 15 minutes after the game ends to get to the station—we finished up our scorecards on the ride home. Not a bad way to do things and wrap up the night. Has been a while since I kept score on a nicely laid out scorecard too. My only complaints are that four lines for pitchers makes zero sense in the modern game and it would be nice to have substitute lines for all the players too.

Other than that this got me thinking seriously about designing my own scorecards and getting them printed. Will be good to not have to rely on them being available at the stadium as well as have a layout that doesn’t suck.

Little Giants!

Much of my love for Minor League Baseball is because I grew up going to San José Giants games. Their affiliation started in 1988—right at the beginning of my baseball fandom*—and the idea of seeing players who I could later see at Candlestick was definitely compelling right out of the gate. But the games were just fun. A more raucous environment. Being able to sit nice and close. Crazy contests like Smash for Cash.** They all made me appreciate minor league ball and we were quickly going to multiple games a year and I even had my birthday party at a game.

*I knew about the Bees and even got the one and only foul ball I’ve ever gotten when I was walking past a Bees game a the exact right moment but never went to a game.

**Late in the game when the Peter Gunn theme started and the Rotten Robbie truck rolled out onto the field was always a highlight.

I missed going to a game when I was visiting California in 2019 and had zero idea that it would be another three years before I had a chance to go back. Thankfully I finally got back to a game last week. Turkey Mike’s BBQ is still there. As are the Churro guy* and the Beer Batter.** Since our tickets were free we got BBQ and churros. Unfortunately though Smash for Cash is gone…so it goes.

*I still need to get his card.

**A gimmick that Trenton tried this year but hasn’t figured out how to do it as well as San José. Sadly it looks like Martinelli’s has dropped its sponsorship so he’s no longer the apple juice batter after the 7th inning.

The big news is that the Giants are in Low-A now. And it kind of shows with baseball that’s closer to what I saw in the Draft League at Trenton than in AA Somerset. The Giants spotted Stockton with a 7–0 lead after 1.5 innings (making us question whether we’d wasted our money on the tickets) and proceeded to tie everything up at 8 apiece via a grand slam and Earl Weaver through three complete.

Utterly wild but absolutely in keeping with this level of ball where no lead is big enough and no pitcher can be relied on. Or fielder. The second Giants pitcher (Joe Kemlage) took over in the 3rd and pitched a great game—2 earned runs in 5 innings—with his biggest problems coming as a result of some sloppy shortstop play that gifted Stockton a run.

Unfortunately the Giants could never get the lead despite making it exciting in the 9th and lost 10–9. Kemlage got hung with an undeserved Loss but we went home happy after a game that started off so badly ended up being surprisingly crisp and exciting.

Oh, and the Beer Batter hit the absolute tar out of the ball all night as he not only never came close to a strikeout but got thrown out trying to stretch his second double into the cycle in the 9th inning.

The boys and I also got some autographing in. Travis Ishikawa is the Giants hitting coach and we caught him before the game. San José Muni is one of the lousiest places I’ve ever seen to get autographs* so I counted that as a win. Both boys know Ishikawa and his eponymous game so they were very happy too.

*It wasn’t easy when I was a kid but it’s gotten worse. There’s basically zero access to the players on the field and no place to hang around after the game.

We got some excitement as well. Dave Righetti and Bruce Bochy were in the house that night (probably in town for that weekend’s 2012 reunion). We saw both by the cages and it was nice to say hi. We had nothing proper to get signed (plus we’ve gotten them TTM) so we didn’t bother them much. It was funny to see the boys get a bit star struck by Boch since they did not expect him to be so big.

Really interesting for me to compare the player behavior to what I see on Somerset. Guys in San José are clearly still excited to have cards and are perfectly willing to not only sign a ton but chat about what pens they prefer. A shame they lose that joy by the time they reach AA.

All in all a great night. San José Muni is celebrating its 80th birthday this season which sent me to the googles to see how many professional baseball stadiums in the US are older than it. From what I can tell there are 7 older stadiums (5 MiLB and 2 MLB) currently in regular use which is about what I expected.

Stadiums don’t really last that long and Muni is definitely showing its age. It’s almost embarrassingly bare bones compared to Trenton or Somerset but it’s got a lot of character and has definitely gone around to being funky old instead of just a dump (replacing the fiberglass bleachers with aluminum ones helped a ton) and as the Bay Area has gotten increasingly new and shiny and characterless it’s nice to spend time in those places that essentially haven’t changed.

Little League

After a two year hiatus we got back to playing Little League. I’ve missed it. Weird being in the kid pitch division but also great since it looks like baseball. We had a great team this year with about 8 kids who could throw, almost all of which turned up to every event early and ready to play. A super positive group which might spoil me moving forward.

My youngest went into the season a bit shy and scared of pitching and came out of it with more self confidence than I ever expected. Not only did he turn out to be one of the most accurate pitchers in the league (1.11 WHIP when the league average WHIP is probably over 5) but he was willing to participate in the home run derby in front of everyone. We’re incredibly proud of him.

I was no longer a head coach since tweaking mechanics and stuff like hat is way beyond my ken. Instead I signed out to help out in the dugout and as a result, had a lot more time to take photos. Especially when our team is in the field.

One of these days I’ll get a proper autofocus lens which but for now I’m still using manual glass and prefocusing on things like the mound and home plate. I can’t complain about the results though. It’s nice to be able to send these to the parents and it’s nice for my kids to be able to see them as well.

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Project 1991

A couple Christmases ago my eldest received his godfather’s set of 1991 Topps. When we started going to Trenton Thunder games that spring I realized that a lot of the coaches coming through town were players in 1991. And so a project was born. That year we tried to get as many of his 1991 Topps cards signed as we could.

Turns out it was just four—Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, and two Frank Violas—but we had big plans for 2020 and were excited to continue. Yeah that never happened, but during that year my youngest ended up with a set of 1991 Score and so he decided to join us on this quest in 2021.

We’ve been working them the past two years now. Casey Candeale. Jeff Manto. Derrick May. Scott Bradley. Dennis Rasmussen. It’s been a lot of fun and gives them an entry into those 1991 sets.* They may not know all the players but they’re connecting to them as coaches. And by being pulling cards they end up really looking at the sets and how their photography is different.

*I have previously wondered about what it means to collect cards of players you don’t know.

It’s also just been fun for my eldest’s godfather to watch as well since it’s not just letting a set sit in storage they’re doing something with the cards. Every time we get one signed I send him a text to show the new addition.

My eldest is up to ten cards now.* In an ideal world this would be twelve but we missed out on Devon White with Buffalo/Trenton and Pete Incaviglia with Sugar Land.

*Yeah I know I haven’t mentioned Jim Gott yet. Just keep reading.

My youngest meanwhile has seven. He missed out on Oliver, Harper and Viola in 2019 but picked up Oliver this year.

The interesting thing this year is that these went from being a bunch of individual projects to something we’re all doing together. When we got Dennis Rasmussen’s autograph, my eldest couldn’t make the game but my youngest insisted on bringing the Topps card. He was just as happy, if not happier, to get a card signed for his brother as he was to get his own signed.

Last weekend neither boy could make the game so I ended up going alone. Jim Gott was the visiting pitching coach and was super nice abut signing the boys’ cards but also signed a couple for me as well.

I was only going to ask for the 1986 (I usually limit myself to two so pushing to four felt wrong) but he just asked to sign everything. I’d gotten him TTM a few years ago but in person is always better. I texted the boys a photo of their signed cards as soon as I sat down. Very fun. I won’t make a habit of doing this for them since the entire point is that we’re doing it together but once in a while is acceptable. Plus Gott was another guy who we’d missed last year.

I also got a pair of cards signed by Trenton pitching coach Shawn Chacon. Chacon may be most famous for how his career ended but hung around in the majors for eight years before then. This was another fun request where the Draft League players got super excited to see their coach have real MLB baseball cards. Just goes to show how much cards mean in terms of having made it to the show.

This pair of cards also filled two holes in my one-per-year pseudo project. For 1957–2021 I’m now just missing 1971, 1996, and 1999* which still boggles my childhood mind.

*I’ve got a reprint in the 1971 slot on the tracking page.

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Anyway aside from the autographs Trenton opened the stadium a half hour earlier than usual which meant that I got to watch batting practice for the first time in ages. Game started off great too. Super crisp with the Trenton pitcher being lights out in the first three innings.

Sadly the wheels fell off in the 4th and he game degenerated into everything you’d fear about the draft league. Bad pitching. Sloppy defense. Local fans weren’t happy and I can tell they’re not used to this level of play after a couple decades in AA.

Trenton ended up losing 12–8, outhitting State College 14-6 but also committing 5 errors and walking 4 guy in one inning.

Track and Field

I hesitate to say that things are back to normal but the new normal has at least opened up school sports to my eldest in a way he didn’t have last year. Even last fall, since vaccines weren’t yet available to all kids, the travel squad was super small and so we only had an opportunity to see a couple cross country races. This spring though I’ve had a chance to go to a bunch of track meets and take different photos of the kids. I’m not shooting for art or anything, these are just photos for the parents who I know. But it’s been a lot of fun to follow their progress and see how they all support each other.

And it was a good program for my son too. He’s not fast but he’s enjoying getting better and spending time with his friends. Track doesn’t cut anyone and encourages all kids who want to work hard to come out. And work hard he did. Lots of practice and it was wonderful to see his results as he chopped over 40 seconds off his 1600m time and over 15 seconds off his 800m time. Both of those were huge improvements that went far beyond what he thought he was capable of doing.

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Back in Trenton

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The biggest problem with Trenton being in the Draft League now is that the season doesn’t start until June. This is a shame since I really like the Trenton baseball experience and cutting over two months off the season makes me feel like I’ve been robbed.

Anyway the season finally started and my youngest and I made our way out to the ballpark last Friday night. Frederick was in town and their coaching staff is all former Major League players so we got there early to hang over the rail. This is a lot of fun with the low-key nature of the Draft League. Zero autograph hounds prospecting just a couple older fans who remember guys from their youth.

Which meant that we just got to hang out at the railing and watch the grounds crew set up the field and just get ourselves into the mood of things. It’s relaxing just being there and my youngest is perfectly happy to pay attention to how the field is set up before the game and get fist bumps (and a lump of gum) from the players as they warm up.

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We had great seats for the game too, Right behind the dugout just safe enough behind the screen. Draft League games seem to be pretty fast and crisp. Maybe not the best defense but the pitching is good and Trenton puts on a good show so you don’t realize that you’re at the lowest possible MiLB rung.

They really do deserve a full season team.

So we got a crisp 2–0 Trenton win in about two and a half hours. Frederick was held to one hit and aside from one string of three singles in a row, Trenton never manufactured much danger either. Might’ve been a little quicker but the last half of the game was a bit Spring Training-like with wholesale substitutions from both sides that made keeping score a bit of a pain.

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All in all a perfect night with the only blemish being that they sold out of Pork Roll by the third inning. My youngest got autographs from both Joe Oliver and Dennis Rasmussen. We’d gotten Oliver a couple years ago but since then my youngest had picked up a 1991 Score set that he’s working the same way my eldest is working 1991 Topps and getting cards signed by all the coaches that come through town. To-date that’s been Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, Frank Viola, Casey Candeale, Jeff Manto, Derrick May, Scot Bradley, and Dennis Rasmussen.* And he also got a practice ball and some scorekeeping practice.

*We’ve missed a few too including Devon White, Pete Incaviglia, and Jim Gott.

Was fun getting a chance to talk to Rasmussen and Oliver too. This level is very laid back and I can see they’re enjoying teaching. Rasmussen was wearing an MLBPAA shirt and seemed tickled that I both noticed and liked it. Oliver meanwhile was chilling in the dugout when one of the players noticed my youngest had a card and went to bring it to him. So he came over and chatted a bit.

Yeah I also got a handful of cards signed. Nice to add Rasmussen and I picked two Oliver cards with photos I really liked. I got Angel Sanchez after the game and that was fun too. He seemed a bit surprised that I had cards and when he was signing all the Spanish-speaking players crowded around to take a look and were excited to see them. Sanchez asked to keep a card as well.

I’m happy to have this one since it means that I finally have a 2011 Topps card in the album leaving me only a few years short of something that would truly blow my childhood mind. Since I wrote that post I’ve filled things in quite a bit and am now missing only 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2007 (and a non-reprint 1971) to have a signed Topps card for each year from 1957–2021.

Time Capsule

Way back when the pandemic started I decided to load some film and take photos of my kids remote schooling and other things as we were all suck at home together. I figured it would be a nice project to work on until things got better. I’ve been having problems for a while getting into the photography groove again and hoped this would help.

Yeah I know. Things never got better. Yes the kids made it back to school for  relatively normal year but I never got into a groove. Still haven’t really. I forgot about my roll in 2020 and only picked it up to kill it a couple months ago. Then I found out that the place where I used to develop film had shut down during the pandemic and had to find a new one.

Was a lot of fun to finally see my pictures though. I haven’t had a  proper time capsule like this in decades.

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I also discovered that I did take my camera out a couple times in summer 2020 and winter 2020/21 even though I’d completely forgotten doing so.

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And the last couple of shots killing the roll this year.

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Home Opener

It’s cold this week but last Saturday was one of those weird spring days which alternated between being cold, drizzly, & miserable and being warm & sunny. Not the best day for a baseball game but with Princeton not having played a season in 2020 and 2021 I was well overdue for some college ball and there was no was I was going to miss the game.

As much as I love pro baseball, I spent way too many years going to Stanford games and associating the ringing of metal bats and chatter from the dugouts with the true beginning of the year. My soul needed the reset especially after the past couple of years.

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Yale was in town for both the home and Ivy League opener and while Ivy League ball isn’t to the standard of Pac 10* ball it was a nice crisp game. Made it through four and a half innings in an hour with starter working quickly and into and out of jams. Both struggled in the 6th as Yale strung some hits together to manufacture two runs before each team hit a solo home run. Then the last couple innings were a return to form.

*Having never ben to a Pac 12 game I’ll have a hard time calling it that. I really just miss the original Six Pac which I grew up with.

Princeton rallied in the bottom of the ninth by putting runners on the corner with one out and getting the go-ahead run to the plate. Unfortunately, while the scored a second run on a sacrifice fly, Yale threw out the runner trying to advance to second and ended the game with one of the weirdest sacrifice double plays you’ll ever see. An exciting end for Yale and a gutting one for Princeton as he game ended 3–2.

We didn’t stay for the second game* since the weather looked to be deteriorating and the boys were getting cold.** We did however manage to get cards signed by both John Stuper and Scott Bradley before we headed home.

*Ivy League ball involves two 9-inning games in a Saturday doubleheader followed by a single Sunday game. 

**Game 2 was not as crisp either with Princeton making 6 errors and Yale scoring seven runs in one inning en route to a 14–8 win. It also snowed on Sunday so we didn’t even think about going to the final game.

Stuper has been the Yale coach since 1993 and is a really nice guy. He chatted with us as he was signing and I know he’s been good to people via TTM as well. The boys like that he won a World Series in 1982.

Bradley meanwhile has been the Princeton coach since 1998. I asked him about the 1986 Donruss card where he’s holding four gloves and he said it’s because he was goofing around and having some fun with the photo due to being a utility guy. While I was aware of the four gloves I had not noticed that he was listed in three different positions on the card as well.

Nice to get Bradley’s signature out of the way in game one too. My eldest continued his 1991 Topps quest (he’s up to eight cards now) and now we can just go to subsequent games this year without looking out for autographs.