Sunday, July 5, 2009

Day 3 - Baseball Trip - Cleveland vs. Chicago White Sox

Day three started the same as day two, in a Comfort Inn in Pittsburgh. This one was not as nice as the first one, sans one difference; the wireless network worked much better here. The question of the day was "What to do before the Indians game". We knew we had the Indians-White Sox game at Progressive Field (I still like to call it Jacobs Field, it's previous name, named after the owner Dick Jacobs, who got the new ballpark project done). Not really sold on things to do in Cleveland (sorry guys) and since we had our golf clubs, we went to the front desk of the hotel to see if they recommended anything. Sure enough, they had a pamphlet for the Birdsfoot Golf Club. The forecast called for inclement weather, so after thinking about it for a minute or two, we decided "Why Not?!" and left the hotel in search of golf.

So we headed to Freeport, PA, a town located inside what's called the Buffalo Creek Valley, which is north of Pittsburgh. The golf course is basically nestled in the woods of Freeport, PA in the aforementioned Buffalo Creek Valley. In fact along the very tree lined Furnace Run Road, we ran into something that was right out of "Field of Dreams". More on that in a little bit. So after we cleared the woods we ended up at Birdsfoot. It's a very open course, well certainly at least the front nine. There was a large tent by the parking lot and good number of golf carts awaited us with a sign "Help Yourself to a Cart and Drive up to the Clubhouse" (or something to that effect).

It's a really nice golf course and plays very well. OK, it plays very well for bad golfers like me. Somehow though, this course is sneaky. The rough eats up golf balls, or at least it ate up Tieff's and mine if we weren't on the fairway (which is often the case for "Five Iron" Gary). There is one really rough hole that I actually didn't play. That's number nine, which is shown to the left here. Notice the rough right after the women's tee box. Since I tend to be a line drive hitter (good for my years of playing softball, bad for golf), I was going to lose several in the rough. So I let Tieff play this hole and I headed for the safety of my cart.

That's because, when we got to the ninth hole, the skies darkened as you can tell from the picture. It started thundering and lightning strikes were nearby. Soon as Tieff finished putting, it started pouring. We made it to the clubhouse and much needed shelter. While in the clubhouse restaurant (which was really a small bar with food), we had a decision to make. We could just take the nine holes and head to Cleveland or wait it out and play the back nine. Just then, the clubhouse manager we had become friendly with, Dennis, a retired steel mill worker, talked about his homemade Pepperoni hoagies. He buys fresh sliced pepperoni, mixes it in a pot with onions and peppers and serves it on hoagie bread. Let me tell you, it was perhaps the BEST hoagie I have ever had. Washed it down with a nice 24 ounce Brooklyn Lager. Damn that was really good.

I have learned over the forty three years that God has graciously granted to me in my life that you will find very good food in the strangest of places. When my wife and I were on our honeymoon in 1996 in Bar Harbor Maine, the best pizza I ever had (until I had Frank Pepe's Brick Oven Pizza in Connecticut this past year) was a seafood pizza in a diner called the Blue Berry on Route 1 in Bar Harbor. Now the best hoagie I ever had was in a golf course in Freeport, PA. By the way, Dennis only does this on Tuesdays and rotates between homemade meatball hoagies and Pepperoni hoagies.

The storm passed and we played the last nine holes. Figures my best golf came after having a beer (seems to relax me on my tee shots). We played our last nine holes with a guy named Chris, a very friendly guy who originally was from California but now lives in Pittsburgh and is a huge Steelers fan. I called him "Big Chris" after the mechanic of the same name from my oldest son Matthew's show that he watches called "Roary the Racing Car". Somehow that came to mind when he introduced himself, and I told him that's what I was calling him. Yeah, I am a dork. Thankfully Chris didn't mind that and he fit right in with us as we talked about each other's sports trips.

So, now back to my Field of Dreams reference. When we came up on the golf course, as we were driving we noticed that we past this little league ball field built right into the middle of the woods. We thought it was so cool, that we decided to stop on the way out and take a picture. Now of course, unlike when we drove by it the first time, there were several people there, fixing up the field due to the rain. A couple of them looked at me like I was nuts for taking pictures of it. But it was just like right out of Field of Dreams, but instead of plowing down corn fields, they plowed down a whole bunch of trees. Hey, "if you build it, he will come and take a picture". I know, that was dorky. Told you I was a dork.

So we drove from Pittsburgh into Ohio. First thing we noticed, the Ohio Turnpike doesn't take EZPass. Yes, you read that correctly. The Ohio Turnpike doesn't take EZPass or any kind of electronic pass. It's the old 1970's take a ticket and pay a ticket taker when you get off the exit. Nice. Second, Ohio is flat. Very flat. Too flat. Lots of farms. Say what you want about driving in western Pennsylvania, but at least you have large hills and winding roads. I am glad we set up the trip to go to Cleveland then stay in Columbus, then drive to Cincinnati. Splits up the boredom. :-) There, I said it. So we got into downtown Cleveland and parked a Hilton Garden Inn parking lot that had event parking ($10). It was only a short walk to the Park and saved us ten dollars as the closer lots were all $20. Now Progressive Field is another field that's right in the heart of the City with things to do around it. There are bars, restaurants and hotels right within walking distance. Are you listening Fred Wilpon and the Steinbrenners??!

Progressive Field opened up as Jacobs Field in 1994 and like Camden Yards, it was one of the first new ballparks that went retro and was truly built as a baseball only stadium. In a recent Sports Illustrated Poll from 2008, Progressive was named the Major League's Best Ballpark. I can see why, it has a lot of character. It too offers a nice downtown backdrop view like PNC. It has a great scoreboard in left center field, with the left field stands underneath. Progressive field also offers the left field Home Run Porch where fans can stand and watch the game while taking in the great foot court that is there. It's slightly larger than PNC, as it seats 43,515. It is definitely a hitters park. It's 325 down the left field line, left center is 370, right center is 375 and the right field line is 325. And it played like a hitters park Tuesday night.

Now as you can see from the view in the previous picture, we had terrace box seats behind home plate. We were underneath an overhang and that came in handy big time Tuesday night. First, due to a rainstorm that hit prior to us getting there, the game start time was delayed 30 minutes. Now notice something with the scoreboard in the picture to the left. During rain delays, the Indians show other major league baseball games being played on the scoreboard! I have never seen that at any other ballpark that I have been too, except I think when the Mets were in the 2000 playoffs and they showed the Braves-Cards game on the scoreboard at Shea. So, again Wilpon, Steinbrenners, take note of this during rain delays!

As for the game, there weren't a lot of fans at the game. In fact, the paid attendance was 14, 793, which was even less than the night before in Pittsburgh. There were a good number of White Sox fans, but not as many as there were Cubs fans for the Pirates game (Cleveland is about a five and half hour trip from Chicago). The Indians have struggled this year with a current record of 33-50, which is the worst in the American League. This is due in large part to an absolutely terrible pitching staff outside of Cliff Lee (more on that in a second).

Just two years ago, the Indians were in the ALCS and had the Red Sox down 3-1 before the Sox came back to win the series then the World Series. That was the beginning of the downturn for Cleveland. Favored the next year, the Indians struggled at the start, then traded pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Paul Byrd, two guys who led them in their ALCS charge the year before. The current owners of the Indians don't have the payroll that perhaps they had under Dick and Richard Jacobs and they certainly couldn't afford CC. Again, the economy has hurt midwest/mideast cities like Cleveland. The Indians had just recently pawned off Mark DeRosa, a free agent signing who led the Indians in RBIs with 50 to the Cardinals for a minor league reliever in Chris Perez (once a top Cards prospect) and a player to be named later. The trade was hammered by many in the Cleveland press.

As for the game itself, the Indians ace, Cliff Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award Winner was pitching against the White Sox' Clayton Richard. The advantage seemed to favor the Indians as Lee had pitched very well despite his 4-6 record with an ERA of 2.92 going into the game. However, Lee did not have his usual stuff in the game that night and never made it out of the fourth inning. The White Sox torched him for seven earned runs on eleven hits in three plus innings. The picture featured here is of the very talented rookie Gordon Beckham smacking a single off Lee. Beckham went 3-4 with a HR. Paul Konerko absolutely crushed a homer off Lee to dead center.

The Indians fans were very restless and they took it out on their star player, Grady Sizemore. Sizemore has struggled this year, hitting .231 as of this article. He had a bad night against the White Sox going o for 3 with a strikeout. And the fans let him know it. There were comments about his movie star looks etc etc. The only positive note was Asdrubal Cabrera's bases clearing double, pictured here, in the fifth inning that cut the lead to 9-4. But Mike Gosling gave up two home runs in the sixth, one to Beckham and the lead was 11-4.

There was a brief rain delay early on in the game with the White Sox up 7-0, where I am sure Ozzie Guillen was screaming for it to stop. Guillen's team is very talented with good hitting up and down the lineup and pretty decent starting pitching. However, the White Sox are inconsistent and their mercurial manager has recently shown his frustration about his team in the media. But tonight, Guillen could be happy with the performance his team showed.

Finally the thunderstorms that the forecasts had promised showed up in the bottom of the seventh. It came down hard for a long time. Our seats underneath the overhang came in really handy this time. We passed the time away by watching the games on the scoreboard. Finally, we decided to walk around this great ballpark. It had some nice open areas and a lot of charm to it.

However after what seemed to be an hour and with no letup in sight, the officials called the game and the White Sox won a rain shortened 11-4 contest. It was apparent why the Indians have the worst record in the AL. If the Indians don't get good starting pitching, and outside of Lee, they don't, their bullpen will get hammered, because it just wasn't very good. They used Gosling who was a reject from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Matt Herges, the well traveled journeyman. In fact, Herges was designated for assignment this weekend, which tells you how good he has been.

The Indians have given up the most runs in the majors with 456. If they could acquire some good pitching in the off-season, there is hope for the Rally Squirrels. The Indians are tied for third in the majors with 427 runs scored, so they can hit (and this is with an off season from Sizemore, their best player). The question is, will the Indians be willing to invest some money in pitching or will they stand pat. There is even talk of the Indians trading Victor Martinez. I know if Dick Jacobs were running this team today, that wouldn't happen (Jacobs passed away earlier this year). Right now they could use Ricky "The Wild Thing" Vaughn and the spitballer Harris from "Major League"!

So after the rain let up a little, we headed back to our car and starting make our way to Columbus, which was the halfway point to Cincinnati and our next destination, the Great American Ballpark. We were thoroughly satisfied with Progressive Field (which by the way is literally right next to the Quicken Loans Arena where Lebron and the Cavaliers played) and definitely could see why it is so beloved. Howver, all that was playing on sports radio was who the Cavs were going to sign as NBA free agency started at midnight. There were a few calls about the Indians being so bad, but it was mostly the Cavs. Two years ago it was all about the Indians and C.C. winning the Cy Young. My how things change.

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