Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Busted Bracket Means More NCAA Tournament Enjoyment

 I used to sweat over my NCAA Tournament bracket. I filled out test brackets, modified them, recalculated them, threw them out and started over, and spent ten minutes trying to figure out which 12 seed would upset which 5, and which 8/9 team could really give a one seed a challenge. I spent a long time staring at each matchup.

And of course, by the time Sunday night on the first weekend rolled around, if I was fortunate I'd only lost Final Four pick and maybe a couple of Elite 8's and look at that, 12 of my Sweet 16 got through!

One year I didn't get my bracket into the office pool in time, or there wasn't an office pool, or something like that, and I worried. What about my bracket? Who was I competing against aside from the random millions on or Yahoo?

I was forced to- gasp- just watch the games without any money or big prestige riding on my picks.

And I enjoyed it. I had a feeling I got from watching the tournament in previous years, but I couldn't remember why. All I could remember was the angst of hoping that my bracket wouldn't bust.

Then it came to me- it was the feeling I got after my bracket busted and I was just watching the games. It was a feeling of relief, that the busted bracket freed me from having to be right.

I haven't cared about winning a bracket since. (And yes, I have done better in my brackets since then.)

So if you did spend an inordinate amount of time filling out your bracket, allow me to hope that your bracket busts sooner than later, so that you can enjoy the tournament earlier than usual.

Once The Madness moved back to just being about the games and not about how good I was picking the games, I rediscovered the reason I like watching the tournament in the first place- it's about my team winning, of course, but it's also about the excitement of the games for kids who are playing on a stage they will never have again in their lives. (Side note worth yet another reminder: CBS/Turner is paying a billion dollars to broadcast these games and the kids get none of it. The chancellors and athletic directors and coaches and anybody on the staff and everybody except the players get money and bonuses for appearing in the tournament and the kids get nothing.)

It's about those reactions when they win, or when they lose- and instead of being these programmed robots to just play the game, they remind us that they are people and they are way more excited to be there than we can even imagine.

So go, fill out a bracket or six. Get in that office pool. But don't let that bracket's performance dictate how much you enjoy the tournament. It's three of the greatest weeks in sports. Before your bracket busts, set yourself free to enjoy The Madness.

Enjoy your March.

illustration: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, Link

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Spring Training in Arizona, Part II: Ballpark Rankings

(For Part I, Spring Training Travel Tips, click here)

Camelback Ranch, Glendale
There are really no bad spring training ballparks. Because you are on vacation at spring training. It's really that simple.

No matter where you go, one thing that doesn't change from place to place: all spring training complexes are essentially big, spread-out major league stadiums. At a regular stadium there are a couple of hidden batting cages and a couple of out-in-the-open bullpen mounds. On the same field, a group of players take infield or outfield practice while another group takes batting practice. They rotate. There is a clubhouse for guys to visit the trainer or soak in a hot or cold tub or eat or watch teevee or lounge around.

Well, the exact same thing happens at spring training, except there are close to four times as many players going through the drills. Camp opens with at least 60 potential major leaguers- the 40-man active roster and about 20 non-roster invitees hoping to make that opening day 25-man roster, plus all your minor leaguers coming up through the system. Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A... 25 guys per team times four teams equals 100 guys, and those are just the ones that get the job. Figure 125 players in the beginning. That means you need more space to accommodate everybody. As a result, it's a big complex with everything spread out. There are a bunch of fields so everyone cane do their own thing and there's no danger of somebody not paying attention getting whacked by a stray ball (okay, there's less of one, because it still happens). And there are a bunch of batting cages and pitching cages so nobody in the group has to wait to take their turn. Ten guys take BP at the same time, ten guys pitch at the same time. Rinse and repeat for six weeks. The result is a major league 25-man roster and a full minor league squad.

The question is how teams set up these complexes. The newer ones are set up like desert resorts, spread out with water features and statues and cacti and perennials and the like. The older ones are more utilitarian. 

Naturally, some complexes are better than others. 10 years of spring training brings makes my Arizona rankings list look like this:

1. Camelback Ranch, Glendale (Dodgers and White Sox)

Opened in 2009, Camelback Ranch was the first of the new breed of spring training complexes. The name "Ranch" implies this. The Dodgers were going to move their spring training HQ west from Florida regardless. The White Sox were training in Tucson, some two hours south of the Phoenix area and therefore increasingly isolated from the rest of the teams. The resulting complex set aside any lingering doubts either team may have had about moving.

While the two teams share the ranch, none of the players have to cross each other's paths on a regular basis. The Dodgers clubhouse and fields are based on the left field area, the White Sox get the right field area. Walking paths open to the public mean that fans can wander through and watch nearly everything. There are no secrets here, it's a simple game- you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.

Everything they do at Camelback is, simply, phenomenal. After charging for parking the first year they realized that was dumb, because there are plenty of other ways to get our dollars at the park. "Free parking" is a small, but significant gesture. Most of the other clubs haven't figured this out.

If you don't have a rooting interest, go to a White Sox game and not a Dodgers game. My group and I went to the Very 1st Game Played in 2009 (the Dodgers were the home team and the White Sox the visitors) and it was jammed full as you would expect, but mostly by Dodger fans so thrilled that the team was now within driving distance from L.A.

The next day, we went to the "White Sox home opener" (even though they had played the day before as the "visitors") and, in the days before Stubhub, walked right up to the box office and bought 4th-row seats. There were maybe 1,500 people in the park as opposed to 11k+ the day before.

It's been like that since. Dodger games are much busier than White Sox games. Either way, it's my favorite park in Arizona.

You already know where this place is- ever watched an Arizona Cardinals home football game or the Fiesta Bowl or the Phoenix Coyotes play hockey? Those stadiums are right next to a big mall next to a freeway which is about a miles and a half from Camelback Ranch, on the same road. The only issue is that it's nowhere close to downtown Phoenix or Scottsdale, where most of the hotels and restaurants are. But there are several hotels near the mall and in Glendale. 

2. Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale (Giants)

In the interest of disclosure, I am a Giants fan and I do like coming here, but most of my group hates it. In fact, a few times they bought me my own ticket and loaned me a car and said "go by yourself" and I did and had amazing times, which really might be the best way to enjoy this park.

The original park was built in 1955 for the Baltimore Orioles, and although there was a near-complete overhaul in the early 1990's it still has a classic ballpark feel, probably a big inspiration for AT&T Park.

The biggest issue is I've paid $40 for standing room only spring training games- remember, we're talking about practice- and I consistently get regular season game tickets in San Francisco for $6 on the Hub of Stubness.

While there's very little reserved stadium parking, the nearby hospital opens its spacious parking garage to be run by local community groups- so they charge but it at least it isn't a total cash grab by them- and anybody with enough space to park a few cars will open it up for a price.

The only other issue is that because it's a short flight from the Bay Area, the place is usually pretty full of Giants fans, or people who want to impress people that they're at a Giants game in Arizona. I've seen plenty of people go to the game and never actually watch a pitch because they're too busy schmoozing, which is a real Bay Area-techie-look-how-much-richer-and-therefore-better-I-am-than-you-because-I-paid-so-much-to-be-here-and-now-I-don't-even-care thing to do. I do my best to avoid those people, because it makes my visit so much better. 

3. Hohokam Stadium, Mesa (A's)

The unfortunate distinction about Hohokam is that it is the only spring training stadium that is better than its team's major league home. Hohokam is everything that the Oakland Al Davis Memorial Mausoleum isn't. I wish somehow helicopters could lift up Hohokam and fly it to Oakland, where it would be dropped on a lower-level bowl to more than double capacity from 12,000 to 35,000 or so and the A's would have one of the best damn ballparks in the bigs.

My second wish is that whomever's designing the A's new park will just take the Hohokam blueprint and add a lower lever bowl to increase capacity to 35,000 and then they will actually have one of the best damn ballparks in the bigs (kind of like what I figure the Giants did with Scottsdale Stadium/AT&T Park).

I almost don't recommend A's fans go to spring training because they will just be depressed that Hohokam is so much better. Actually, they should all go because then they'll just get mad.

A's fans, look away!!!

If you're wondering why the A's have such a nice park, the answer is- they didn't build it. They left Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the second-oldest Phoenix spring training park still standing (built in 1958 for the Giants) for Hohokam when the Cubs got their new park built. The A's gave it a new coat of paint or two (every time I go I look for blue walls they were too lazy to go over- haven't found any yet but I guarantee you they're there-) and called it good.

And it's still better than the Coliseum.  

4. Tempe-Diablo Stadium, Tempe (Angels)

 I swear to you this place is just about next to the airport, so an out-of-town Angels fan could be in-and-out on a day trip before anyone knew they were gone. Built in 1969 for the Seattle Pilots, it's got a very Spanish explorer/Mexican feel- they've done it up mission-style- and there's a damn big rock behind center field with a hotel and restaurant next to it.

Even though I've been going to spring training for a decade and we pass this place all the time, my group had never been there until last year. Every time we passed it we wondered why we never stopped. Finally, we got there, and as soon as we parked we all said "Why did it take so long for us to get here?" Even though it is next to the interstate (and when I say "next to the interstate," I mean the parking lot ends because it runs into the wall of the interstate) and the airport, it is nicely done.

5. Sloan Park, Mesa (Cubs)

Wrigley Field West
It would be higher on the list if it wasn't jammed full every damn game. When the Cubs said they were looking to move from Hohokam, the city of Mesa practically fell over trying to make sure the North Siders didn't leave. That's because there were cities in Florida ready to do everything but fill in the Gulf of Mexico to attract the cash cows known as affluent Cubs fans. Because Mesa has been the Cubs spring home for the most part since 1952, they preferred to stay and Sloan Park is the result. Good place if you can get in.

They always have a great selection of food trucks beyond the right field berm and plenty of Wrigley-Field like things to make Cubs fans feel at home- there's a replica of the marquee and you can put your name up there and get a picture, but the line is always super long- but again, the biggest problem here is getting a ticket. Cubs fans are rabid. (More details in Part I.)   

6. Goodyear Stadium, Goodyear (Reds and Indians)

The furthest east-based clubs, curiously, play at the furthest west complex in the Phoenix area (slightly beyond Surprise but easier to get to). There's an odd sculpture out front called "The Ziz" which makes virtually no sense but is certainly memorable and stands 60'6" high- the exact distance from home plate to the pitcher's mound.

In case you weren't sure it was the desert, lots of palms
Because in the movie "Major League" the Indians train at Hi Corbett Field (in Tucson) most people probably figure that is their spring training home, but it hasn't been for almost 30 years. Cleveland actually went back to Florida in the 90's and early 2000's, before agreeing to do the "Ohio double" with the Reds in Goodyear. (I just made up that phrase but it sounds good.) And yes, the city of Goodyear was founded by the Goodyear rubber people as a company town to grow cotton for tires.

Though it's a wide open area they charge for parking, which feels like a scam. As the westernmost complex, if you are a Reds or Indians fan make sure your accommodations are nearby (I go over this a lot more in Part I). 


7. Salt River Fields, Scottsdale (D'Backs and Rockies)

My buddy always sings the name of this park like it's "Strawberry Fields Forever."

The best thing about this place is the trivia: it's the only spring training facility shared by two teams in the same division (NL West). Otherwise, it's just the compact version of Camelback Ranch. Seems like the exact same design, just pushed together. And that's a problem. Whereas CBR is open and airy, I always feel like I'm in a pinball machine at Salt River. We once spent 90 minutes trying to get out of the parking lot. It's a spring training stadium that maxes out at 11k- how could it take more than half an hour to get out?

This is also the only ballpark where I've seen an entire section evacuated because of a bee swarm.

No, I was not kidding about the bee swarm

8. Surprise Stadium, Surprise (Royals and Rangers)

Goodyear is the westernmost spring training complex, but it's pretty close to the freeway so it feels fairly simple to access. Surprise Stadium, on the other hand, might have that name because it's a surprise anything is out here. (I was amazed to find the city of Surprise has 125,000 residents.) It's really not that bad, it's just not even close to the freeway, which makes it seem like it's even further away from everything. Surprise is one of the few places my group goes that we never explore the surrounding area. I'm sure it's fine, it just feels like if we linger we will never get back to where we once belonged.

In praise of Surprise, it does have one of the better right-field bars, and an upper deck (rare in itself) with open seating, basically barstools around a counter that overlooks the field- I'm always worried I'm going to knock my beer over the side.

Surprise! It's an upper deck!

Like I recommend in part one, if you're a Royals or Rangers fan, please find accommodations near here and not in Scottsdale or anywhere on the east side of the Phoenix area, because you will regret the drive every time you get in the car to come or go from the ballpark.

Our big celebrity sighting here was my buddy going out to smoke a cigar near the end of a night game and spotted Nolan Ryan doing the exact same thing! My buddy gave him a nod but didn't engage in conversation as he is a White Sox fan and didn't want to tempt Nolan to re-create the famous Robin Ventura incident.

9. Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria (Mariners and Padres)

Peoria is so far away it feels like you are closer to Las Vegas than you are to Phoenix. Honestly, one time we thought it would be cheaper to fly to Vegas and drive to Phoenix than flying directly to Phoenix (our discovery: it isn't). When we got to Peoria and passed the stadium we thought, oh good, we're here! And then I'm pretty sure another hour and a half passed before we got to Phoenix and where we were staying.

The Mariners and Padres are just kind of average, middling franchises who can't make the playoffs no matter how hard they try, and they have the perfect Spring Training facility for that. We haven't been out here in years. Surprise and Peoria are really the same places and the only reason Surprise is higher on my list is that we'll consider going to Surprise if it's a good reason- we rarely consider Peoria (and never actually go). Since the last time we've been the complex has gotten redone and is allegedly much improved, but unless that improvement included moving it closer to where I am most of the time in Arizona, it's not going to help.

10. Maryvale Ballpark, Maryvale (Brewers)

Maryvale, 2009
Look, somebody has to be last. The photo you see here was taken from my only trip to the Maryvale ballpark- in 2009. When my group decides on where to go for spring training games, nearly every park is up for consideration. We go to Sloan Park even though it's ridiculously crowded, we go way the hell out to Surprise, we even consider Peoria if we really, really have to (but never actually go).

We don't consider Maryvale.

This is not because it's bad, it's just... so... ordinary. Despite being built in 1998, it also has very little parking. You park in the neighborhood and nobody really cares how long you stay (again, it's been ten years since I've been there).

Update: As this review was going to press (I know, it's the internet- it just feels fun to pull the editorial "this was important enough to include" implication) the Brewers just announced a big upgrade to the Maryvale complex. So even they know it's past time for some serious work on the place.


So there you have it. 10 ballparks, 15 teams, and one man's opinion. The truth is, whether you are at Camelback Ranch or in Maryvale, you will have a good time at spring training if you are a baseball fan. You will find fun nooks and crannies, you will pick up good souvenirs, you will eat, drink, and be merry.

There are really no bad spring training ballparks. Because you are on vacation at spring training. It's really that simple.

photos by author. map courtesy

This. You need to experience this. Somewhere. (This is in Scottsdale.)

(For Part I, Spring Training Travel Tips, click here)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Winter Olympics: Don't Elizabeth Swaney, Blame the System

You may have heard of Elizabeth Swaney by now, or you may have seen her Winter Olympics halfpipe run, and you must have wondered what the hell is going on.

Swaney barely did any tricks in her two halfpipe runs (but she did get a little air and did survive the halfpipe, which in itself isn't that easy for a weekend skier) and has been roundly ridiculed and called the "worst Olympian ever."  Because she is from California and has competed for Venezuela and Hungary on technicalities and found a loophole to qualify for the Olympics, she has been heavily criticized for "gaming the system."

If you want to blame anybody for Elizabeth Swaney's Olympic Moment, you should not blame Elizabeth Swaney, but the Olympics themselves.

The International Olympic Committee games entire countries every four years and has for a century. Cities go into massive debt to build stadiums and venues that will be used for two weeks and then left to rot. The IOC doesn't care what happens to your country after the Olympics, because some other fools have bid- bid! Bid millions of dollars! Of public money!- to go into massive debt to build stadiums and venues that will be used for two weeks in the next Olympics and then left to rot. (After hosting the World Cup and Olympics within two years of each other, Rio is essentially broke. Russia spent $50 billion on the Sochi Olympics and there's no timetable as to when it'll finally be paid off.)


Remember, the IOC is the same group that refused to allow athletes to be paid at all until the 1970's under the guise of "pure sports" while the IOC executive committee took millions.

Jim Thorpe won the very first Olympic decathlon gold medal in 1912 at Stockholm, and also won pentathlon gold. After it was found he took $50 for playing semi-pro baseball before the 1912 Olympics, his medals were taken away for, for he was a "professional."

Jim Thorpe in Stockholm, 1912
In truth, Jim Thorpe didn't know how that particular game was played back then. Hundreds of athletes kept their "amateur" status and played pro ball or took money for loosely professional games by playing under assumed names. Thorpe, fresh from the Carlisle School and not knowing this, played pro ball under his real name. After this, Thorpe played in the MLB and helped found the NFL. He is widely considered the best all-around athlete of the first half of the 20th century.

Thorpe died broke in 1953. His family and supporters tried to get Thorpe's medals restored for decades. Avery Brundage, Thorpe's teammate in Stockholm (he was soundly beaten by Thorpe in both events) and long-time president of the IOC, refused to even consider their pleas, saying "Ignorance is no excuse." In other words, because Thorpe didn't know how that game was played, it was his fault. Brundage denied he refused the request because he couldn't hold a candle to Thorpe on the field and held it against him.

Finally, after Brundage died, the medals were finally restored to Thorpe in the 1980's. The IOC hedged, though, calling Thorpe a 1912 "co-champion." They continue to refuse to acknowledge their mistake.

Meanwhile, the Olympics continued to grow. The first Winter Olympics happened in 1924.

After Jesse Owens won four golds in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he wanted to go home and earn some money in appearance fees. The U.S. Olympic team had been invited to tour Sweden after the games, but Owens declined the invite. Avery Brundage, then head of the U.S. Olympic committee, and others were furious at Owens, and as punishment declared him no longer an amateur athlete.

Denied his ability to do what he could do best, Owens raced horses for money, and ended up working as a gas station attendant. He died broke in 1980.

Let's take a little time off from the Olympics, Elizabeth Swaney, Jim Thorpe and Jesse Owens and how athletes have been exploited to visit the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, which has one of the greatest collections of art in the world. From India to Singapore to Vietnam to Korea, as well as China and Japan, the variation of the collection is amazing. Small Hindu objects thousands of years old, Japanese paper rice curtains from the 1500's, and so on and so on. It is impossible to put a price on what the collection is worth.

Of the nearly 18,000 objects the San Francisco Asian Art Museum has, almost 8,000 come from one collection. The donation of this collection in the 1960's provided the basis for the museum, and even if they only had this collection they would still have one of the best Asian Art Museums in the world.

The private collector who donated those 8,000 items to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum is none other than Avery Brundage.

Jim Thorpe died broke. Jesse Owens died broke. Avery Brundage made so much money as president of the USOC and IOC he bought 8,000 pieces of antiquity- and then, when he donated his collection, he demanded that San Francisco foot the bill for the museum to house his stuff, taking what he learned as IOC president. "Here, want this? Pay for the building and I'll give it to you."

Gaming the system? Elizabeth Swaney doesn't hold a candle to Avery Brundage. Stick that in your halfpipe.

photos:, San Francisco Asian Art Museum
from the Avery Brundage Collection

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Spring Training in Arizona: Winning Suggestions

Sunset in Scottsdale (almost got killed by a foul ball)
(For Part II, Spring Training Ballpark Rankings, click here.)

It's never too late to make a quick Spring Training trip. Well, as long as it's still Spring Training. If it's July and you've got a hankering I can't help you.

But if you're watching pitchers and catchers report and you've got the jones, there's still time. Because there are so many games in the Phoenix area every day for about six weeks, sellouts are rare. If you wanted to you could fly to Arizona on a Friday and go to a night game, go to a day game and a night game on Saturday, go to a day game Sunday- different parks each time- and be home in time to go to work Monday morning without anyone being the wiser. Unless you're sunburnt and hung over. Again, can't help you there.

The point is if you want to go, you can go! It's not like some sort of exclusive club. If you can get there, you can make a spring training pilgrimage.

However, the idea of spring training as you would like it to be is long over. The last time you could wander around camp without any trouble and chat with Duke Snider or Ernie Banks was- well, the days of Duke Snider and Ernie Banks. Spring training is a hot destination and the clubs know it. Tickets now cost as much or more than a regular game. Beer is definitely 12 bucks a pull. Hot dogs are $8.75 and souvenir hats are at least $30.

So, in reality, if you have any sort of access to a minor league game already you can get pretty much the same experience if you're okay with not seeing players you recognize. In addition, you don't have to drop at least a grand on airfare and hotels and rental cars and drive around unfamiliar cities and do your best to avoid going to Buffalo Wild Wings because my god there's one so close at home and I can't be the only one who remembers their service is atrocious and how can you forget the time they charged us extra for changing the sauce on the wing special even though the option was right on the menu and it didn't say a damn thing about charging extra because it's on the damn menu and can we try avoiding chain restaurants on vacation for once in our damn lives?

Besides all that there's a tremendously awesome quote that is particularly applicable to this situation which is, after all that hassle, we are still talking about practice, and not a game.

Still, it's generally awesome and if you are any sort of baseball fan you need to go at least once. But you can't go just once, it's like the Pringles slogan (and not Pringles themselves, because I find it quite easy to eat just one. Or none at all, for that matter).

Since I've never done Florida Spring Training I can't specifically help you on your trip to Clearwater or Tampa, but some of the general rules to successful spring training are true whether you're headed to Glendale or Dunedin, like the first one.

1. A little map knowledge will help prevent you from driving a long way

See for yourself that this is a big swath of land
Nothing ruins a vacation more than being in the car 5 hours a day. While all Arizona spring training complexes are in the "Phoenix metropolitan area," the Phoenix metropolitan area is bigger than nine states (about 14,600 square miles, larger than Maryland if you want a comparison).

So if you want to go see the Padres or Mariners in Peoria and book a hotel in Scottsdale, congratulations, you're in the car at least 4 hours a day. And that drive is lousy, because I have done it.

Pay attention to where you want to go the most. The Indians and Reds share a park in Goodyear, which is also way the hell out there. And you will be tearing your hair out if you have to drive from Scottsdale to Surprise on a regular basis to see the Royals and Rangers. At least the Goodyear ballpark is near the highway. The Surprise park, to the best of my recollection, is near nothing except the Surprise park. The real Surprise is that there's anything there. What's fortunate is that every ballclub trains in a good sized town (yes, even Surprise has 125,000-plus residents), which means decent hotels and house rentals nearby aren't hard to find.

Though my Florida Spring Training knowledge is limited, I do know spring training locations are even more spread out there than they are in Phoenix, because they are spread throughout half the state. While I have annoyed native Floridians by saying Daytona is in "South Florida," my counter is always "As far as I'm concerned, every part of Florida is South Florida," although some parts are way more "souther" than others. In other words, don't book rooms in West Palm Beach if you need to go to Sarasota every day.

If you're at all like me, you'll justify booking rooms "wherever" because you'll think "At least I'll be there, which is closer to spring training than where I am now. I can deal with driving."

But if you do that, you will change your mind very quickly once you arrive. Even on vacation, being in the car a long time is lousy. Know where your park is, book near your park. You'll be much happier. Don't have a Surprise waiting for you. But that being said...

2. Every park is different. Explore the others.

Wait, didn't I just go on and on about not driving 4 hours round trip to see your team play? Of course I did. But I meant that on a daily basis. You could do it once if you're in town for a week. There are no cookie-cutter spring training complexes. I review the Phoenix-area ones in Part II, but the important thing to remember is to go somewhere else. At home you go to the same park all the time because the next nearest major league park is far away (unless you're in Chicago, the Bay Area, L.A., the D.C. Area or New York). Go see different ones while you can reasonably easily. (And you can feel a lot better about not having to drive to Surprise or Peoria or Goodyear every damn day.)

Besides, as opposed to the regular season, nobody looks at you funny if you're decked out in White Sox gear at a Rockies-Royals game. You're there to see your team and you're exploring other parks while continuing to show team pride. Go ahead and be that guy, because everyone else is too. Though if you're wearing your gear at a rival's home park- Dodgers and Giants comes to mind- you're going to get heckled. It should be light, friendly heckling (anyone who goes over the top is just being a jerk), but it'll happen, and if you don't expect it to happen you're not thinking very clearly. 

Glendale, home of the White Sox and Dodgers

3. Go see someone besides "your team" and enjoy the ballpark experience from a neutral side

You do things differently when "your team" isn't involved. You're more likely to explore the place during the mid-innings and sit down on the patio or various picnic areas (and there are plenty). At Sloan Park, home of the Cubs, they have a big food truck lineup that- well, maybe it doesn't change every game, but there's certainly a rotation- and deserves some personal research before making a decision. But that's only an option if you actually get in the park, because...

4. Nobody sells out every game. Except the Cubs.

Sloan Park, home of the Cubs
Cubs fans are insane. We already knew that, but this is more true in spring training. The only games that are guaranteed to sell out and be zoos from start to finish are Cubs games. Places that only rarely sell out (like Surprise, Goodyear and Peoria) are jammed when the Cubs play. Dodgers home games at Glendale are tough tickets, while their "away" games are generally not super-crazy-packed. Giants games in Scottsdale are pretty full and pretty pricey (blame the Bay Area tech market for that, too), but reasonably easy to come by when they're the visitor. Cubs games anywhere in Arizona are the exception. They are always, always, always, sold out.

5. Don't watch a game like you watch a regular season game

How do you watch a regular season game in your regular home park? You probably get in, find your seats, sit down and only move to go get food or use the bathroom.

It is very important to remember while at spring training that these games don't count. So you don't need to be as vigilant about seeing every pitch that you might be at home. So get up and wander around the park. You'll find something cool in nearly every corner of the place. I am not necessarily talking about "a right field patio bar" (though there are those in most of the parks, my top picks being at Salt River Fields, Surprise and Scottsdale). Because the stadiums are small, sightlines are fantastic no matter where you are and you can walk all the way around (unlike some major league parks), so you can watch the game from different angles.

My personal habit is after the second inning is over, it's time to "take a lap." This means go get a different beer at a different beer stand, check the souvenir shops and generally get a bearing on what's around. Usually somebody in my group is looking for something and that gives me a quest and even extra reason to walk around the park. Which brings me to another big thing...

Mesa, home of the A's (only spring ballpark better than actual ballpark)

6. Talk to everybody 

Everybody there is from somewhere else, they are all on vacation and they all have their own different reasons why they came to the park that day. While wandering around parks I've found Australians seeing their first baseball game ever (they don't understand it) and I've found people who have had Chicago White Sox season tickets since the days of Nellie Fox. Get chatty. In truth, this is a fantastic guideline everywhere you go, but the ballpark is about the last place everybody doesn't have their nose in their phone all the time (just most of the time). You're on vacation and will never see these people again, so let 'er rip.

7. Go early for practice

Early in the spring training season even the regulars will do the morning warm-ups with the rookies and spring training invitees hoping to catch on. The later the season gets, the more the regulars get mornings off. Every day there's a game somebody is out there doing morning workouts that you can get close to at most facilities. If you don't mind who you see, go wander from pitchers to the batting cages to the practice fields. The closer it gets to Opening Day, the more likely you won't recognize anybody doing intense morning workouts. But then you have a better chance of getting an autograph (if you're into that kind of thing) or seeing "the future" of your team.

8. Make sure you get the right souvenirs!
My top Spring Training souvenir, no question.

We all own too much stuff and continue to get more. The key for any useful spring training souvenir is making sure it actually says "Spring Training" on it! Why get a regular Reds t-shirt when right next to it is the "Reds Spring Training, Goodyear Arizona" t-shirt?  You're at spring training!

I don't get too many t-shirts any more since I already have a billion. I now get pins or keychains or bottle openers and I always make sure it says "Spring Training" and the year.

My travel apparel suggestion is always to get something slightly unusual. When I went to the Statue of Liberty I got a beanie, and when I wear the beanie I remember that vacation (so I should probably get rid of it. It wasn't the best trip). The point is that sweatshirts, hats and t-shirts are standard daily wear for most people. San Diego Padres Spring Training Sunglasses or Flip-Flops or Something Quirky Like That are different and will trigger a different memory bank in your mind.

Besides, you'll feel clever-er for not just buying another damn t-shirt.

9. Wear sunscreen all the time

And don't forget your ears. Just trust me on this one.

And have a Good Year at Spring Training! (Good year... Goodyear Ballpark. Get it? Oh, never mind.)

(For Part II, Spring Training Ballpark Rankings, click here.)

photos by author
map courtesy:

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Amazon Is Going To Deliver Your Mail

I was working on this when I went to my local Whole Foods and saw that. It's called Amazon Locker and it's the reason that Amazon is going to deliver your mail.
Future mail box

Let me connect the dots for you if that comes as some sort of surprise.

Amazon didn't buy Whole Foods to get into the fresh food business. Oh sure, it kind of seems like they're similar companies who fit together, and they do, sort of, but at least half the reason (and maybe more) was to immediately have a massive delivery system. Instead of Amazon building it up truck by truck and warehouse by warehouse and product manager by product manager, they bought it lock, stock, and barrel. It's ready to go. So now all they have to do is put a kiosk in every store to handle Amazon shipping. They're calling the kiosk "Amazon Locker."

Some companies who share mall space or shopping center space with a Whole Foods already saw this coming, belatedly but at least they anticipated it. They had their leases updated to essentially say that any pre-existing Whole Foods in that particular shopping center or mall can only distribute and sell food and food related items. Mattresses, computers and t-shirts don't count. However, refrigerators and ovens and bbq grills and tables and high chairs and forks and cups do count. (My local Whole Foods, which is on its own corner and shares space with no other business, has already added in a very small clothing section- only scarves and gloves and hats- but it's like watching the tide come in. You know it's going to happen, you see it start to happen and you watch it happening.)

Anyway, these restrictions won't last long and will get torn up because there's no going back now. The mall will have two choices. 1) Keep the exclusivity lease and see ALL customers leave because Amazon put a kiosk in the strip mall or building across the street.


Allow Whole Foods to have a kiosk that can distribute whatever the hell it wants to distribute. I originally anticipated this as needing a human to run the kiosk, kind of like a pharmacy or a small post office inside a grocery store, but they've decided to use the locker and that means they don't need people. And this means they can put it practically on every corner if they want to.

(On a personal note, the Whole Foods where I saw the Amazon Locker was a fading grocery store called "Jerry's Meats" when I was a kid, and the only reason we ever went there at all was because it had a post office kiosk. I don't know if the kiosk closed before Jerry's closed, but either way the Amazon Locker installation at this particular Whole Foods seems like things coming full circle, at least in this regard.)

But the toughest mile in distribution is always the last mile to the house.

Think about the internet in the early days. Phone companies had the monopoly on the internet because they had already strung cable to every house and apartment building in America. Developing the technology is easy compared to getting it to everybody. My beginning journalism teacher (Tom Volek, for you University of Kansas types) told this to our whole class in 1994, and it stuck with me because I'd never thought of it like that: the toughest part is the last mile.

It's like a bus route. It's reasonably close to get a bus near your house, but unless you live on a main thoroughfare the bus can't directly take you home or pick you up.

This is why Amazon wants to use drones to deliver packages. It's that final mile. If they can do that, then they can bypass the postal service completely.

The post office doesn't deliver on Sunday. Right? That's how it's been forever, really. Nothing on Sunday.

So how stunned were you the first time you saw a mail truck buzzing through your neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon? You were probably really confused and wondered if you weren't accidentally missing work or turned into Rip Van Winkle or something like that.

Nope. It was Amazon.

Amazon has enough money to hire the post office to only deliver packages for them on Sunday, not actual mail.

That is why, eventually, maybe sooner than we all think, Amazon is going to buy the post office and deliver your mail. And get even more of your retail dollar.

A small section of clothes at Whole Foods

 photos by author

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Kansas Jayhawks Football: The Case For David Beaty

After the Kansas Jayhawks football program gained just 21 yards in an entire game against TCU and dropped to 1-7, the grumbling turned to shouting.

Fire David Beaty!

Fire the whole coaching staff!

Get rid of everybody!

We need to rebuild this program!

My response is:

Rebuild to what, exactly?

The football program is broken. On that we can all agree. But to fire David Beaty and the entire staff does absolutely NOTHING to change that. In fact, it makes it worse.

In two-plus years at Kansas, yes, Beaty has won just three total games. What the hell did you expect? If you wanted a bowl game by now, you are crazy. (Fine, Beaty said it. But if you are a head coach and go out and say "we expect to not go to a bowl game," you are crazy and deserved to be fired before the press conference is over.)

Change takes time. Changing something bad into good, especially something as broken as Kansas football, takes longer than three years.

Well, you say, Mark Mangino had KU in a bowl game in his second year!

Yes, and Mangino also got KU in the Orange Bowl. AND Mangino violating NCAA rules throughout his KU career also got sanctions, and him fired, and the Hawks in the mess we have been in since then.

Mangino broke KU. Because Mangino didn't prepare the program for long-term success. Mangino built fast without caring for the rules. The consequences are still being felt RIGHT NOW.

KU tried to hold on to some of that Mangino success by hiring Turner Gill. What Gill did at Buffalo- getting them to a winning record in his second year and a bowl game in his third- KU officials hoped to replicate. You know what happened there. KU immediately- IMMEDIATELY- dropped to 3-9, and then 2-10, and then Gill was fired, with KU boosters basically passing the plate to pay off his contract.

What happened next? Do you need me to remind you what happened next? Fine. Charlie Weis happened next. Clearly the same thought process was in play- winning quickly. Charlie was a popular pick because people knew who he was. The hope was that recruits would flock to him.

They didn't. Charlie was reduced to begging fans to come to games. He was fired that weekend, four games into his third year.

So, when you want to rebuild KU football, what do you want to rebuild it to? The Charlie Weis era? The Turner Gill era? Terry Allen? (Terry was a nice guy but completely overwhelmed by D-I football, left under cloudy circumstances, and finished over .500 once in 9 years at Missouri State. No, Terry Allen is not an era to remember fondly.)

Let me tell you who KU needs to emulate, and who I think they are trying to emulate, and this is going to sting: Kansas State.

The Wildcats are one of the worst football programs in FBS history. (Your other candidates are Indiana, Northwestern, Wake Forest, Iowa State and Rutgers.) While KU is only ahead of K-State in the loss column by about 15, the Wildcats would have to win 10 games a year for an entire decade- and KU would have to not win a single game that same decade- for K-State to catch KU in the win column.

 KU was still above .500 as a program until Charlie Weis, while I feel it is safe to say K-State will never be over .500 as a program. But 200 of K-State's 500+ wins have come in the last 30 years and under one coach- Bill Snyder.

The Bill Snyder model is the one KU simply has to follow. One coach, for a long time. For a loooonnng time. Like until they don't coach anymore. Remember when Bill Snyder retired and they hired Ron Prince? He lasted three years and the exit was tumultuous (not Mark Mangino tumultuous, but pretty good for K-State).

This is the model KU HAS to follow.

So what did K-State do? They begged Bill Snyder to come out of retirement. That's because they know- and you know, and I know- when Snyder retires for good, K-State is done. DONE. They have NOBODY to follow Bill Snyder. It is not a destination program for any coach except Bill Snyder.

And David Beaty is KU's Bill Snyder. Beaty believes KU can compete, and win bowl games, and challenge for conference championships. KU already had that guy 25 years ago. His name was Glen Mason. HE got KU to a bowl game in his 5th year. (And then he left, because Glen Mason had more aspirations than being at Kansas. It's not for everybody.) That's about right. Nobody is going to quick-build KU football in three years.

KU football is broken. If your car was totaled, would you rebuild it or get another car? Beaty has no choice. He HAS to rebuild his totaled car. It's not going to be done this season.

"Rebuilding" is not what this program needs. It needs to be changed completely. It needs to be done piece by piece.

Firing Beaty now sets KU back ANOTHER ten years. Anybody who doesn't see that is crazy. If Beaty gets fired, K-State might really pass KU's all-time win total in a decade.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Kansas Jayhawks Football Week 2: Not North Michigan or South Michigan

Sims on the run
The Kansas Jayhawks football team last won consecutive games in.... what year? Can you guess?

Unless you really, really, follow these things you have blocked it out of your memory because it was so long ago and KU football has been bad for so long.

Don't look it up because I'll tell you: it was the first two games of the 2011 season.

In other words, the final season the Big 12 actually had 12 teams.

It's been a while.

Is it coincidental that David Beaty was on the staff as co-offensive coordinator that year? Probably.
KU beat McNeese State (FCS) and then Northern Illinois. And since then, nothing that can even be interpreted as a winning streak. In 2013 they opened by winning two of their first three. Same with 2014. But not two in a row. Now they have a chance, if they beat Central Michigan this week at Memorial Stadium.

I couldn't figure out how Central Michigan did in their first game last week, and there's a reason for that, because they didn't play.

This, as I mentioned last week, was a big problem for the Kansas Jayhawks for a few years, especially during the Charlie Weis era, and I'm sure that's purely coincidental. There are an even number of FBS football teams, but several of them play FCS or lower teams in week one just to guarantee themselves a win. Somebody's going to be left out. Central Michigan got left out.

So we know nothing about them. Which is fine, because we really know nothing about Kansas after week one. They rolled Southeast Missouri. They were supposed to. In truth, we will still know nothing about KU football after this week, either, unless of course they lose to Central Michigan, in which case we will know they are still really, really bad.

It's all well and good that Peyton Bender- there are so many ways the jokes about his name can go. Peyote? Peyton Place? Bender from Futurama? Going on a bender with peyote? I can't decide. Anyway, it's all well and good that Peyton Bender had the best first game of any KU quarterback ever, throwing for 364 yards and 4 TD's. But he might as well have done that against the Lawrence High Lions for all it means in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't tell us anything except he could do that against SEMO  

I also said last week that KU needed to put up big plays against SEMO early and often. The 77-yard TD pass from Bender to Steven Sims Jr. on the first possession qualified. That's a start.

Which is all last week was. A start. Can KU win two games in a row for the first time since the Turner Gill era? Grab a beer and find out, just like Bender would.

photos courtesy:,