The launchpad in New York

The big story that emerged out of baseball this weekend is that the new Yankee Stadium is a launchpad. Buster Olney, a guy who I normally agree with, wrote the article I linked, and he does give some pretty hard evidence that the new stadium is homer-friendly: in the first four official games, plus the first two unofficial games, there have been 28 home runs (the article was from yesterday morning, the Indians and Yankees totaled 3 home runs yesterday). For those of you keeping track at home, that’s more than four home runs a game. (To put this in perspective: in the 2007 season, 4,957 home runs were hit in Major League baseball games during the regular season. That’s 30 teams, playing 162 games, divided by two for overlap (someone correct me if my math is wrong, but I think I’m right) to total 2430 games. This means that in 2007, there was an average of just about two home runs per game.)

But here’s a thought: ever considered the fact that the Yankees pitching (and the Indians pitching, to a lesser extent, for that matter) is just bad? Remember the Indians of the late 90s? Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Matt Williams and others led the Indians to winning seasons because of their offense. The pitchers consisted of starters like past-his-prime Orel Hershiser, flash-in-the-pan Jaret Wright, that-guy-from-Geneva Brian Anderson, past-his-prime-part-deux Dennis Martinez and others. (Oh yeah, I almost forgot not-even-steroids-can-save-you-now Jason Grimsley.) In the bullpen, Paul Assenmacher (probably the best of the bunch), Eric “Ker” Plunk…and the biggest goat of them all, Jose Mesa.

Anyone noticing a trend here? In the 90s, Jacobs Field was a hitters park because the Indians lineup had at least two Hall-of-Famers, probably three. The guys I mentioned above have over 2000 home runs between them. They know how to hit.

But what happened in the 2000s? The Indians got some pitching! CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook, Bartolo Colon, and others forced opposing offenses to manufacture runs the old fashioned way, because you weren’t going to hit many home runs off of these guys. On the other side, since the Indians could no longer afford Hall of Fame power, they settled for the likes of Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, etc. Grady Sizemore is the only one out of that group who might hit 500 home runs in his career, and he isn’t even a power hitter! With good pitching on that side of the ball, and back-to-earth hitting on the other, Jacobs Progressive Field has become a pitchers park.

Now back to Yankee Stadium. First of all, it’s early. This stadium will probably be standing in the Bronx for another fifty years. That’s 8100 4050 games, assuming the Yankees never make the playoffs. You can’t judge how the ball jumps off the bat based on four games. The wind might have been weird for that series, space aliens might have taken an interest, who knows. The point is, the sample size is too small to make such generalizations.

Secondly, I know this might be hard for Yankees fans to believe, but it’s possible that your pitching just isn’t that good. On Saturday, during the Indians’ 22-4 drubbing of the Yankees, Indians hitters teed off against Wang (whose sinker is completely flat), Claggett (who was making his major league debut), Ramirez and Veras. Of the six home runs, three of them went to right field, and three of them went to left field. If the ball carries so much to right field, why did the Indians have no problem hitting them to left? (The hitters that hit them to left were DeRosa, Choo and Hafner. Choo and Hafner are left-handed, so they hit the ball the other way, and Choo hit his to left-center, a longer shot.) And if the ball was carrying in both directions, why didn’t the Yankees hit six home runs and score 22 runs?

Occam’s razor suggests that the solution to this problem is that the Yankees pitching was just worse than the Indians on Saturday. Before we go jumping to the conclusions “it’s the park, it’s the park! There’s no way they could spend $300 million on free agents and still stink! Who are they, the Mets?”, just remember that we’re four games in, and the new Yankee Stadium has a lot more games left to be played.

EDIT: Math correction.

The stadiums in New York

So over the last weekend (long weekend, including Monday) my dad and I took a trip up to New York City and Cooperstown to visit Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium and the Baseball Hall of Fame (in reverse order). As promised, here’s the write-up on my impressions of the two stadiums (check out the photos, too).

Yankee Stadium: Bronx, NY

Yankee Stadium is perhaps the most legendary venue in all of sports (except for maybe The Horseshoe). If you have watched ESPN at all in the last year, you know that this is the final season at Yankee Stadium and so I wanted to catch a game there before it was closed. Seats this season are in high demand – the ones closest to the field go for as high as $2500 a seat. Our seats were 1/100th of that, but still had a pretty nice view:

Yankee Stadium

One thing that you don’t see in the pictures are the concourses. Both stadiums had narrow concourses (as most are in old stadiums) but for some reason Yankee Stadium’s seemed a lot less claustrophobic. The concourses in Yankee Stadium had the appearance of a New York subway station, which was a nice touch.

We weren’t able to see Monument Park – for some reason it was closed just after we got to the park. There is a picture of it from afar in my gallery.

Apart from that, I feel Yankee Stadium is the absolute best place to watch a baseball game, in terms of atmosphere, history, and the fans – in fact, it might be the best place to watch a sporting event period.

Shea Stadium: Flushing, NY

Shea Stadium is also in its final season, but because no one is really going to miss it, it’s not quite getting the attention. Whereas Yankee Stadium is a park that is completely designed for baseball, it’s apparent that Shea Stadium was also designed to play football and the shape is a little unnatural. The prices at Shea were also a little higher – a hot dog there costs $4.75 compared to Yankee Stadium’s $3. Overall, I was a bigger fan of Yankee Stadium than I was of Shea, but the seats at Shea were pretty nice too:

Shea Stadium

Play Ball!

Well, it’s finally here: Opening Day 2008. Actually, it’s Opening Morning 2008, but nonetheless, in about 10 hours the Indians will take the field against the White Sox. But today is far bigger than a game in Cleveland: Opening Day is taking place all over the country. In New York, the Yankees will open their season against the Blue Jays one last time. In Los Angeles, Joe Torre will begin another chapter of his Hall of Fame career. In Chicago, the centennial season begins as the Cubs play the Brewers and try to end a 100-year World Series drought.

And actually, as you know, the season has already begun. First it was in Japan at about this time a week ago (timecheck: it’s 5:43 AM), and last night the Washington Nationals began a new era in the nation’s capital with a win over the Braves. The Japan games were nice – kind of a gimmick, and I did enjoy seeing the Red Sox lose – but I have to feel like the Red Sox feel like the real season begins tomorrow.

I caught most of the game in D.C. tonight, and for what my opinion’s worth, Nationals Park looks like a great baseball stadium. However, did anyone notice that the behind-home-plate camera (the one that is usually on-screen when a ground ball is hit to short, for example) was high? Kind of felt like we were looking at the action from a blimp. I guess I could get used to that if I watched those broadcasts all the time, but I wasn’t able to judge the height of a line drive and the speed of a grounder as easily as I am from a Progressive Field broadcast.

In the end, last night, Ryan Zimmerman, the franchise third basemen for the Nationals, christened the new park appropriately with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth. You could kind of feel that it would happen that way once that passed ball slipped through Lo Duca’s legs in the top of the ninth, and pretty much as soon as that ball was hit I could tell it was gone. Anyway, good for them. If you don’t remember, the Indians opened at Jacobs Field much the same way, with a game winning single in the 11th inning against the Mariners (Wayne Kirby anyone?).

My first Opening Day that I cared about was in 1996, so I guess this year is my 13th Opening Day. I remember a few of them, but a lot of them seem to run together as many childhood memories seem to do. Most of these are Home Openers, so they might not have been the first game of the season, but you get the idea:

  • 1996: Opening Day was snowed out, but rescheduled for the day after and the Indians lost to the Yankees 8-0. I remember reading it in the paper the next day but don’t think I saw any of the game.
  • 1999: I remember watching this Opening Day in science class in 7th grade… don’t really remember what happened, but I think Fryman hit a grand slam.
  • 2005: I remember looking forward to this Opening Day a lot and I was pretty let down when the Indians couldn’t even score a run.
  • 2006: This was the first year I actually went to Opening Day. My friend Alex was trying to scalp our last ticket until a few minutes before the game started so I was about 10 seconds away from missing the first pitch. We had terrible seats (relatively; most seats in Progressive Field are pretty good) but the Indians won 12-6 against the Twins. Travis Hafner hit two monster home runs, Casey Blake hit a grand slam, and it was overall a pretty fun day. I think that day was also the day I got caught in my first downpour here at Case so I ended up wearing shorts (my only dry pants) to the game…it was cold.
  • 2007: I’ve been to over 50 games at Progressive Field; I don’t know that I’ll ever forget this game. Seeing snow fall through the architecture at the stadium was just surreal; and with the way the events transpired throughout the day and the weekend, you kind of got the feeling it would be a special year for the Indians.

I’ve noticed Opening Day is kind of a singularity. Everything is at 0: 0 wins, 0 losses, 0 hits, 0 at-bats, 0 runs, 0 home runs. If you tried to calculate a batting average at the beginning of the year, you’d end up calculating 0/0, which is one of those undefined values in math and you’d have to end up using L’Hopital’s Rule (and you’d undoubtedly find that the average is 1 – no matter how many times I got 0/0, the answer seems to always eventually get to 1).

I’ve been looking forward to this day for almost 5 months – since the end of the 2007 baseball season. I’ll be watching the Yankees/Blue Jays game on ESPN at 1 PM and then switching over to the Indians at 3 (and if you’re reading this Mom, I will go to class… maybe…). So in closing, good luck, go Tribe, boo Red Sox and play ball!