February 2012

Pirates Tonight

As I was getting ready to leave for a Friday evening of work, I heard a welcoming sound.

It wasn’t my mother telling me to hurry up and not forget my lunch — it was the glorious horns of Baseball Tonight on ESPN.

Jayson Stark joined Karl Ravech for the afternoon and led off with Pirates talk.

I was shocked too.

For the past few days, rumblings have been that A.J. Burnett was being swapped for the Pirates’ Garrett Jones. Well, as of yesterday, Pittsburgh seemed to pull the plug on that deal. But work truly isn’t done yet.

Stark said that there is mutual interest on both ends of sending Burnett to the Bucs. The Yankees appear to be desperate to let go of the pitcher who went 11-11 last year with a 5.15 ERA. Still, they’re not going to let him go for free.

The Pirates have a host of prospects who may be on the block that would work well in this deal. 1B Matt Hague is said to be Major League ready, or, if New York wants a pitcher — the Pirates have Tim Alderson or Bryan Morris that would be well worth the Yankees’ interest.

But with two polar opposite teams like the Pirates and the Yankees, money is the motive.

The driving factor for the Pirates would be for the Yankees to eat as much of Burnett’s contract as possible. He is owed $33 million over the rest of his contract — Pittsburgh doesn’t want to pay over $10 million of that.

After the Pirates failed to lure Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt to PNC Park, it may have been figured that they were done with their pursuit of a pitcher.

That’s not the case.

Stark also commented that if the Burnett deal does fail — or even in addition to it if it does go down — Pittsburgh has its sights set on a pair of other well-known pitchers.

He first mentioned Joe Blanton.

Blanton is a 31-year old righty with a low-90’s fastball and a notorious killer curve. He came to rise with the Oakland A’s, but has since ruffled through a period of injures with the Phillies.

Secondly, Stark brought up John Lannan.

Lannan is 27 years old and has been floated around ever since Jackson decided to play with the Nationals, next year. He’s a solid lefty who has been with the Expos/Nats organization for his entire career. He’s an innings eater, which is something else Stark said the Pirates are interested in.

All of these developments have been pretty encouraging news for Pirate fans. The team needs a starter, desperately, to strengthen and solidify a shaky rotation. All three will certainly not be coming to Pittsburgh. One might, two might. Either way — any of them are upgrades.

However, it’s easy to get caught up in what could be. Hearing news that West Virginia was for sure heading to the SEC rocked my world a few months ago. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen yet the Mountaineers will be in good hands with the Big 12.

The same could happen here.

It’s nice to be graced with a positive sighting and that’s what this Friday afternoon held for the Bucco faithful. It may not be an SEC_like destination, but if two of theses solid starters are nabbed:

it’ll be a Big12 landing for the Pirates.

Photo Credits: yankeeanalysts.com, thebiglead.com, espn.com

Visiting with the Bronx Bombers

It’s early February, the Super Bowl just ended and we’re riding out the seemingly endless winter months.

Even though at 52 degrees — it feels like springtime.

Still, with Opening Day just two full months away, the reality is that we all must play the waiting game for our pastime. Spring Training will soon fill the void and the Grapefruits and Cacti of Florida and Arizona will be ripe. But I like to prepare for baseball with some reflecting.

My favorite lyric of West Virginia’s unofficial state anthem, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” is “all my memories gather ’round her.” I have many memories with baseball. So many summer nights spent watching the game I love. Here’s a tale of last summer’s adventure with my family to New York City where we crossed yet another stadium off our list. Yankee Stadium would be our 27th of out 30 big league ballparks, but our day in mid-July started in Hoboken, New Jersey. The world-famous Carlo’s Bakery was our breakfast stop. Made popular by the TLC show “Cake Boss” Carlo’s is a bustling bake shop in the heart of Hoboken. The line to get in wrapped around the corner of the shop and you needed a number just to get in. Us, along with hundreds of other fans, waited just for the chance to sample some desserts and rub it in our friend’s faces that we actually experienced it. After over an hour wait, we finally made it in. Part of the feeling of the bake shop was the crazy fans just there to catch a glimpse of it all — much like the Peaslee family. It was jam-packed in the tiny bakery. There was no sign of the infamous, Buddy, but there was plenty of merchandise with his face on it. We left with a nice haul of delicious cupcakes, cookies, pastries and a coffee mug. All for less than 30 bucks, not bad for a breakfast in one of the most famous reality TV show sets in one of America’s most bumping metropolitan areas. As we ate on the drive over, our next stop was Yankee Stadium. It’s more than a stadium, though. While new Yankee Stadium doesn’t, I’m sure, have the charm of the old — it’s a baseball mecca. There was an aura about it that I’ve never felt before entering a ballpark. I had the feeling that I was going to something special, that it was a limited invitation that only a select few receive. Maybe I just take for granted that I get to go see Pirates games whenever I want, but the Yankees aren’t the Pirates. Love them or hate them, there is no in between. And there really is something romantic about the Yankees. They’re the most successful sports franchise ever and, believe it or not, they’re fans have earned a sense of entitlement. Yes it might be easy to be a Yankee fan, but there’s a lot of history, tradition and a legendary aspect you have to uphold. It’s a title that bears great responsibility. The sights and sounds were enough to give you chills. Although if you actually got chills, there’s something wrong with your health. Temperatures reached the high 90 and I’m pretty sure they even cracked 100. Wrapping soaked paper towels around our neck came in handy and so did the many water stations like this one. Free, unlimited water was available throughout the whole game. It was the first time I’ve ever seen such a table at a game. Definitely thoughtful and, honestly, the staff was courteous and helpful around the large spacious concourses.

The Yanks hosted the Oakland A’s on that hot Saturday afternoon. Zach, my brother, was all set in his Athletics attire. It was also kid’s truck day. I thought it was a great promotion and judging by his reaction here, Zach didn’t.

Our seats were in the last row, nearly behind home plate. Leaning up agains the final chain fenced was comfortable and a timely breeze cooled us off every once in a while. The best part of our seats was the perfect head-on view of the jumbo, and I mean JUMBO, jumbo-tron.

Hideki Matsui made his return to the Bronx after his first season away. He received a large ovation from the sellout crowd at each plate appearance.

He was only upstaged by Jorge Posada.

Recently retired here in the offseason, Posada played sparingly during the season and every time he was seen was special for the fans who cheered him throughout 17 years. He pinch hit for Gerald Laird in the eighth inning and got a base hit.

Some other special moments happened during inning breaks, too.

I was looking forward to this tradition from the start. During a sixth inning break, YMCA plays and the grounds crew dragging the infield dirt go insane. You won’t find personalities like this anywhere else in the MLB. It was pretty cool to see them, and the fans, get excited.

Sundays are always reserved for the playing of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch. Not in New York. Every game is an opportunity to honor the country and, even on a Saturday, they still played it before Take Me Out to the Ballgame. It was the most moving part of the game, because I’m sure a lot of the people in attendance were in some way affected by 9-11. The only thing that would’ve made it better would be if Ronan Tynan was there to belt it out.

Just the week before our trip, Derek Jeter blasted a home run for his 3000th career hit. Jeter-fever was still in the air.

Like I said before, everything about this ballpark is amazing. It’s a pristine stadium big enough to house the masses of fans, but small enough to still let you know that the game on the field is the most important thing going on. I rank Yankee Stadium in the top five of my favorite ballparks, probably behind San Francisco’s AT&T Park and, of course, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.

After a late rally in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees still lost, 4-3.

We still had plenty of Saturday evening ahead of us and some of Sunday morning to check out the rest of what NYC had to offer. For my family, it was their first time in the city. Me, well I spent an evening there back in 2007, my freshman year of college. Along with some other friends, I took a bus trip to Piscataway, NJ for a WVU football game against Rutgers. That night, we had a few hours to roam about the city. This weekend was a nice refresher on the city that never sleeps.

A New York City Subway ride jumpstarted the rest of the night. An experience in itself, we were small fish in a big pond. It’s crazy to figure it all out. Yet it was still a beginning gateway to the Big Apple.

We started with a great dinner at Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant.
Just like Pit Bull said, go to Times Square and take a picture of me…

with the Naked Cowgirl!

I ran into some more buddies at the FAO Schwartz store.

The Plaza Hotel, New York’s most exciting hotel experience.

We didn’t wake up early enough to see the Today Show live. But we were right there, live from studio 1A in Rockefeller Plaza on a Sunday afternoon.

What’s the next best thing to exploring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island? Posing by a sign for the two national landmarks!

While a mass —in Spanish — was going on, the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was a bustling tourist destination. It was a beautiful worship place and the fanciest church I’ve ever been in. In shorts and t-shirts, we were surely underdressed for mass and late, no less. Nonetheless, ushers encouraged any Catholic tourists to go receive Holy Communion. So, we did.

With our vagabond shoes still longing to stray, our final stop of the evening was at the MLB Fan Cave. I tweeted (follow me @pittpeaswv!) mercilessly to its account to see if somebody would let us come take a tour to no avail. From the outside looking it, it looked like a cool place that any baseball fan would love to spend a season in..

Maybe next year I’ll sen in my application to be the next Mike O’Hara and whoever wins for this season.

Until then, I’ll enjoy my travels and I’m already planning 2012 trips.

Only Seattle’s Safeco Field, Toronto’s Rogers Centre and the other New York team, the Mets’ Citi Field are left.