Thanks, Chase

Aug 24

Chase Utley throwing a runner out. I took this photo in 2010.

This one hurts.

Many of you know how much of a baseball fanatic I am. Closer friends know my love of the Philadelphia Phillies.

As things have gone for the worse the past few years, I always knew players could be traded, though I thought one or two were basically untouchable. They’d been here for their careers … they won’t be leaving, right?

Baseball is a business, though. And it’s times like this when I question many things about the game.

For you Yankee fans, imagine a non-playoff year a couple of years ago … and imagine them trading Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera. How would you have felt?

It’s how I feel with Chase Utley.

Utley was traded to the Dodgers last Wednesday night in a move that feels like somebody kicked me in the gut.

Utley personified Philadelphia. He was a blue-collar player, hard-nosed and played the game the right way. He wasn’t afraid to do what he had to do to win. Needless to say, he was by far one of the most popular players in Philly.

He was definitely my favorite player. Still is. Even if he’s been cast off by an inept general manager who shouldn’t be making any moves at this point. This team doesn’t get better until he’s gone. This is a GM who took over for a Hall of Fame front office person and destroyed it.

And now, this is what happens. In the span of eight months, two franchise players (Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley) have been cast off. By franchise players I mean two who looked to play their careers with the team. Cole Hamels – another franchise face signed for a few more years – was traded in July.

Yet, Ruben Amaro is still making moves. Makes me shake my head.

But this isn’t about a GM who has destroyed something that took a while to build, this is about a 36-year-old second baseman who wanted to remain in Philly and is now being sent to the west coast. Yes, he had to approve the trade. But as I’ve noted to others – when your name comes up in the talks all the time, eventually you are going to look at the writing on the wall and agree to go somewhere, as long as it’s a spot where you would like to be. It’s not like he forced his hand to be traded here, by all accounts anyway.

Chase Utley gave Phillies fans a lot of memories. It’s going to be disgusting seeing him wear blue and white. I’ve seen him once since the trade — his final at-bat in his first game with the Dodgers, when they were no-hit by the Astros.

The game is a business and this proves it. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure.

Thanks for the memories, Chase.

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Summer of Baseball: Somerset experience gives good vibes

Jul 29

The Somerset Patriots on a nice spring evening.

The Somerset Patriots on a nice spring evening.

I have known about the Atlantic League for a while. If you are a baseball fan, you likely have as well. After all, the league isn’t afraid to do things slightly differently to make it a fan-friendly environment.

When the Baseball Pass-Port Program added an Atlantic League book this year, I quickly grabbed it and knew I wanted to hit several this season. Somerset was the first of four planned trips (so far three … and hopefully the fourth a few days after this has published) and it was a good introduction to the Atlantic League.

The stadiums have the same sort of feel to them, but there are definite differences, which makes it a solid all-around experience. Somerset was also a decent down-and-back trip (give-or-take three hours each way), so it was nice in that regard.

Playing ball at TD Bank Ballpark!

Playing ball at TD Bank Ballpark!

TD Bank Ballpark, built in 1999, has held its name since the 2009 season. With a seating capacity of a bit more than 6,000 it’s an intimate setting for a park. You are close to the action, which is always nice. As many stadiums are now, it’s an open concourse, so when you get up to grab a bite or drink, you can see the game.

The sight lines are good as it didn’t appear there were many places where you’d miss any of the action.

The one thing about this place – they lined up early! We got there a bit earlier than planned and parked. It was a warmer day, so we chilled in the car with the AC. A little before the gates opened, we decided to wander up and see why there was such a long line. Maybe we had missed a giveaway? Nope. People were just lined up getting ready to get into the stadium.

Overall, the atmosphere was pretty decent. People seemed into the game, which is a good thing. The players seemed engaging before the game started, which is always a good thing.

There’s a pretty good team store here and the food selections are solid. As with many places, I try and have something more “local” and I ended up trying a steak sandwich with bacon and ranch, which turned out to be a pretty good choice.

The seats in the stadium were fold down and a tad wider, so there was plenty of room.

It was easy to get out of the park after the game, which was nice. Overall, I enjoyed checking out a game at TD Bank Ballpark and could see myself going again.

Park Notes:  

TD Bank Ballpark
Bridgewater, NJ
Home of the Somerset Patriots (Independent – Atlantic League)
Visited on: May 9, 2015
Opponent: Bridgeport Bluefish

Ratings (out of 10)

  • Stadium: 8/10
  • Concessions: 8/10
  • Parking: 8/10
  • Ambiance: 7.5/10
  • Friendliness: 9/10

I am continuing the Summer of Baseball from 2014 and hope to blog about each new stadium I visit in 2015. Ones visited in the past can be viewed linked up in the 2014 version.

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Summer of Baseball: Vermont brings a lot of nostalgia

Jul 23

If you are a fan of old stadiums, then a trip to Burlington, Vermont should be on your list.

Centennial Field’s first game was held on April 17, 1906. Wrap that around your head a little bit when you think about how old it is. The stadium seats nearly 4,500 people and when you walk in, it’s definitely an old-school feel.

The concourse sits outside the main playing area, much like older stadiums. Inside, beams can obstruct your view (as was the case with us, but not too bad). The dugouts are a tad farther down the lines, so it’s almost odd to see where players come out and where they swing as they wait to bat.

An old-school way of watching baseball at Vermont.

An old-school way of watching baseball at Vermont.

It’s a cool little stadium, though. Concessions are in booths, and the souvenir store is a spot where you can go in and see at the stand, but can’t walk through a store. It makes for some slow service, though, as people will often look for a while and block the way. Such is the way of these older stadiums.

Parking is awful. There aren’t many spots at the stadium and surrounding streets have “no parking” signs all over. You park in a parking garage (free) on the University of Vermont campus and take a school bus shuttle to the game. It actually added to the experience, but it was definitely different.

The crowd gets into the game, so it’s definitely a “baseball” stadium. You could tell they understood the game and such, so that was a good thing. Tickets weren’t easy to get (at least what I like), and they had a good crowd when I was there, which is also a good sign. When I visited (August 2014), I felt like it was definitely for baseball.

The food selection is average and there was a good selection of beer, which would be expected in Vermont. There are some good craft beers up that way.

If one is smart, you’ll spend a night or two in the town as well and venture out and about around Burlington. It’s a nice area and I wish I had spent a little more time there.

Park Notes:  

Centennial Field
Burlington, Vermont
Home of the Vermont Lake Monsters (Short-season A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics)
Visited on: Saturday, August 2, 2014
Opponent: Mahoning Valey (Short-season A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians)

Ratings (out of 10)

  • Stadium: 7.5/10
  • Concessions: 6/10
  • Parking: 1/10
  • Ambiance: 8/10
  • Friendliness: 8/10

I am continuing the Summer of Baseball from 2014 and hope to blog about each new stadium I visit. Ones visited in the past can be viewed linked up in the 2014 version. I’m also catching up on some 2014 stadiums to make sure all are completed.

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Team USA women’s baseball visits Cooperstown

Jul 14

Do you remember the old baseball saying “Chicks dig the long ball?”

Maybe that should be changed to “Chicks hit the long ball.”

Now, I didn’t see any home runs on a warm and sunny afternoon in Cooperstown. But I did see some long balls hit. I also saw some solid baseball, great plays and some good pitching.

Still in high school... and pitching for Team USA.

Still in high school… and pitching for Team USA.

And it was done by a bunch of “chicks.”

OK, we know that’s not the PC way of saying things, so let’s cut from the “ha ha” moments here for a second. The United States Women’s National Baseball team – ranked second in the world – played a four-game series against the Madonna Stars (Japan) in the Cooperstown area this past weekend. The opener on Friday was played at SUNY Cobleskill, with the remaining three games (two on Saturday, one on Sunday) played at historic Doubleday Field in downtown Cooperstown.

These ladies can play, too.

I first heard about this series from a Cobleskill graduate who told me the game was taking place there. I wanted to go up, but was heading out on a baseball weekend. Then I heard they were playing this whole series. I knew it was something I wanted to go see, considering I didn’t even know there was a women’s national team before this.

Clean fielding.

Clean fielding.

I’m glad I went.

Hit, run, throw – the ladies were talented from both teams.

Was it like watching men play baseball? Not at all. But was it still quality? Absolutely.

Two of the Japanese pitchers had funky submarine-style forms. The starting pitcher for the USA is, apparently, just going into her senior year in high school. Meanwhile, there’s another player on the team who was born in 1974. The youngest? Born in 1999. Think about that one for a bit.

They  bunted. They ran. They stole bases and took two. They found the gaps, had Texas-League singles and smashed balls to the base of the wall at Doubleday.

In the field, the ladies on both teams laid out for balls in the hole, made routine plays look easy, and showed a lot of athleticism in making plays.

Making the scoop,

Making the scoop,

All in all, it was a pretty cool experience.

It wasn’t a crowd of thousands who came out to watch, but there was a decent amount of people in the grandstand behind the plate. I had the freedom to roam all over Doubleday’s bleachers and tried to take some different angles and such with my photos. I enjoyed taking different looks at the game and watching the teams as they battled it out.

The Americans won this game, 6-2. The weekend series was 2-2, showing how equal the two teams are. I’m not sure if the Madonna Stars are the full Japanese National team, but I think many are on it (if not all). Japan is ranked No. 1 in the world. The U.S. is No. 2.

I have no idea what kind of crowd they had for the two games Saturday. The crowd at Cobleskill, from some photos I saw, looked decent.

The game featured some top-level action.

The game featured some top-level action.

Women’s baseball has challenges — just like every other women’s sport. It’s about getting eyes on the players and the team to show what they can do. There’s not a professional league (at least that I’ve seen), but with having national teams and international competitions, it has to show that the ladies can handle their own on the baseball field. It doesn’t always have to be softball (and, as many could verify, I’m a big softball fan).

When I first got there on Sunday, I had only planned on staying for a handful of the 7-inning game. I ended up staying until the end and I’m glad I did. It was quality baseball and showed what the women can do on the diamond. If you get the chance to see our National team play baseball — take the opportunity. It’s well worth it.

For a full gallery of photos from the game, please check out the album on my Flickr page.

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Mo’ne and Monarchs dazzle during barnstorming tour stop

Jul 06

It shouldn’t be all about Mo’ne Davis.

Heck, I’m sure she’d even say that.

A group of 13-year-old (maybe a few are 14, too?) kids from the Philadelphia area are embarking on a 23-day, 21-city journey as a tribute to Jackie Robinson, the Negro Leagues, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Mo'ne Davis delivers a pitch at Damaschke Field.

Mo’ne Davis delivers a pitch at Damaschke Field.

They are doing so in the luxury of a 1947 Flxible Clipper touring bus — one with no AC and all that good, modern stuff (such as electronics). This “barnstorming” tour has taken these kids through the Deep South, the Midwest, and back to the East Coast. When all is said and done, they’ll have traveled more than 4,000 miles together.

The team — named the Anderson Monarchs — had the chance to see some of the most historical spots with the Civil Rights Movement. They met African-American players who played during that era. They played against local teams in the cities they visited. They threw out first pitches at games.

The Monarchs even got the tour of the White House!

With what these kids are learning along the way, this tour shouldn’t be about Mo’ne Davis.

Riding in style in a 1947 touring bus.

Riding in style in a 1947 touring bus.

But, in a way, it is.

The intrepid group of kids visited my area Sunday, July 5. That came after a stop in Binghamton on July 4. They were at Oneonta’s historic Damaschke Field on a warm and sunny summer day to play one of the local traveling teams.

Damaschke Field is an historic spot. The former home of the Oneonta Tigers (New York-Penn League), and before that the Oneonta Yankees, Damaschke has seen a lot of incredible players start their professional careers.

Originally built in 1906 (the grandstand was added in 1939), Damaschke is a throwback field. It’s not the prettiest place, but it’s baseball in the truest form. Barnstorming tours came through here many years ago, so having one in the modern era — with a throwback feel — seemed fitting. 

So it made sense for this group to stop here. To see some history. And it was a good spot to stop before they continued to Cooperstown the following day.

And Mo’ne was front and center.

Despite being in the spotlight for the better part of a year, Mo'ne Davis seemingly stays grounded.

Despite being in the spotlight for the better part of a year, Mo’ne Davis seemingly stays grounded.

For those who aren’t sure who Mo’ne Davis is, well, do a quick Google search and at the top of the page it will show you that there is almost 6,000,000 results. At the top of the search is her Wikipedia page. Yes, a 14-year-old teen girl has a Wikipedia page.

Last summer, she took the sports world by storm as she became the first girl to earn a win and pitch a shutout at the Little League World Series. According to her Wikipedia page, she’s the 18th overall girl to play at the LLWS, the sixth to get a hit and the first African-American girl to play in the LLWS.

How to top that? Well, she’s also the first Little League player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. All in a day’s work, right?

With everything that this tour is about, it shouldn’t be about Mo’ne Davis.

But those who come to these games make sure it is. 

Her star power draws people. Yes, she’s just 14 (she turned 14 in late June), but she’s been through more in the past year and change that most teens will see in a lifetime. She’s been under the spotlight and in the eye of the world.

Her smile is shy. She laughs with her teammates. On the field, she plays just like everybody else. She pitches like a fierce competitor. When not pitching Sunday, she played third base. There were times she seemed to let her eyes wander, almost to absorb the surroundings. From watching her, it seems like she would rather take photos with her teammates and with other kids, rather than adults and others who were enamored more by the name than who she is. 

The Monarchs -- not just Mo'ne Davis -- put on a fine baseball show, hitting, fielding and playing the game the right way during their stop in Oneonta.

The Monarchs — not just Mo’ne Davis — put on a fine baseball show, hitting, fielding and playing the game the right way during their stop in Oneonta.

Mo’ne walked a few times at the plate, too. Like many kids her age, she jogged down to first, almost upset with the free pass. Hey, she probably wanted to swing the bat and who can blame her?

She gave high fives to her teammates and was part of the team — an important concept to always keep.

To be fair, her teammates and others truly seemed to understand the magnitude of how big Mo’ne is. A year removed from the “spotlight” and she’s still going strong. People clamor to see her. But her teammates — from the average eye — treated her just like a teammate. A friend. Not a superstar who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. And good for them — it’s how it should be.

It shouldn’t be all about Mo’ne Davis.

This trip is special. It teaches these kids the history of the Civil Rights Movement. It teaches them the history of our country. It teaches them about such leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. Hopefully, it gives them an appreciation for what we have today, yet still reminds them that our country has a long way to go in many aspects. Visit the team’s website or the blog of the photographer following them on this tour, and you’ll see what these kids get to learn — an important aspect of this whole experience. 

Mo’ne Davis helps bring this tour and the team to the forefront. Every pitch she threw. Every time she batted. Every time she was in viewing — people took photos. They sought autographs. They wanted their photo taken with her.

Star power.

That night, she threw out the first pitch at an Oneonta Outlaws game. The Outlaws are a collegiate wood-bat league team. After her game, there were some from the teams looking to take a photo with her, too. They then had the chance to head over to one of the local baseball camps. 

And, I’m sure, if you spoke to Mo’ne, she could talk about this tour and what it means. What it’s like to spend this journey with her teammates, on this bus, and through all of these cities and all of those miles. I’m sure she could tell you stories of fun and learning and the experiences they’ve had together. In 20 years, I’m sure each of these kids will look back at this trip as something that helped shape them in life.

Maybe it shouldn’t be about Mo’ne Davis.

For her teammates, friends, and others associated with this tour, it probably isn’t, which is good. But for the places they visit and when the people come out to see this group — it is about her.

And for that, this tour becomes bigger and gets the word out there even more, which in the end is the most important aspect of it all. This trip isn’t just about baseball and getting more eyes to what these kids are doing and experiencing is important, no matter how it happens.

See a photo gallery of the images I shot on my Flickr page.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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