Tag Archives: Altoona Curve

The First Two Baseball Games of 2012

When June arrived and I realized I had yet to attend a baseball game in 2012 I realized I must remedy the situation. And so I embarked on a trip to Altoona. Earlier in the week I noted that the game on Saturday evening was scheduled to start at 7:00pm. I decided to visit the Boyer Candy Factory Outlet (I’ll write a post about this later) before the game. Since I love getting to baseball games early I arrived at 5:50–thinking there was an hour and ten minutes till the first pitch would be thrown. I was shocked at how busy the ballpark was as I walked to the box office. Normally when I arrive more than an hour before a game things are much quieter. Well, it turns out the game the previous night had been rained out, so a doubleheader was scheduled. The first game started at 6:00pm. Perfect!

I got to my seat just as the game got underway. It was an absolutely beautiful late afternoon for baseball (it would turn into a chilly evening–but still quite pleasant). I sat in the terrace level (section 214) for the first game.

My view from the terrace level.

One inning Curve second baseman Jarek Cunningham (yes, his name is Jarek) was hit in the forearm by a pitch, which then redirected and struck the Portland catcher, Dan Butler. Both players would have preferred this play had never happened. I took a picture of the play (see below). The batter has not reacted yet to being struck. The ball is hitting the catcher on the edge of his chest protector. I zoomed in on that for the insert on the right; you can see the ball just above the catcher’s right hand.

A painful pitch.

In the bottom of the 3rd inning I saw a great play. The Altoona left fielder, Qunicy Latimore, made a catch over the wall in left-center, bringing back a home run. It was one of the best catches I have ever seen in person. Latimore would later throw out a runner at the plate in the second game, turning in a solid day in left field.

Throughout the evening the Curve were advertising an upcoming promotion: COWBOY MONKEYS. I saw them in State College last summer, and I feel seeing a monkey wear a vest and chaps is worth the price of admission.

A powerful advertising campaign.

Late in the first game the Portland bullpen began to stir. The bullpens in Altoona are located along the foul territory in the corners. This arrangement means that when a pitcher warms up, another pitcher must stand guard to protect the catcher from foul balls that might be hit into the bullpen. In the picture below the guy wearing the jacket in the foreground is standing nonchalantly after just saving the catcher’s life by catching a vicious line drive that would have struck him in the neck. The catcher and pitcher that is warming up are oblivious to the near disaster as they communicate via sign language to coordinate pitches [notice the pitcher signaling 1 (I want to throw a fastball!) and the catcher signaling 2 (throw a breaking ball)].

A scene from the bullpen.

The Pittsburgh Pierogies and Parrot were in town for the night, and the Pierogies raced with the Altoona bagels during a changeover–the Parrot watched. I was impressed by the effort the runners turned in. These mascot novelty races are much more entertaining when everyone is legitimately trying to win.

The finish line.

After the race the Parrot and Pierogies spent some time on the rollercoaster that overlooks the field.

Mascots on a roller coaster.

Portland won the first game 5-3. For the second game I moved to a table on the concourse. I had brought a manuscript to revise with me, so I spread out my tables and charts, got out my red pen, and did some editing. I heard several people making remarks about me as they walked by. Things like: Look at that guy, he’s a scout. See all the papers he has? He’s charting the pitches and how fast the players run to first. Little did they know my charts and tables were about fir trees.

The second game started with a home run for the Portland lead-off hitter, Jeremy Hazelbaker, right to the base of the rollercoaster in right field. In the bottom of the 2nd inning Charlie Cutler hit a home run to the exact same spot for the Curve. The game remained tied for several innings, then Portland took a 2-1 lead (on the same play in which Latimore threw a runner out at the plate). In the bottom of the 7th (the final inning in Eastern league doubleheaders) the Curve rallied to win 3-2 in a walk off hit by Jarek Cunningham. I had an amazing view of the final play. The ballpark was nearly empty by that time. It was after 11:00pm, and it was cold. As the final inning started I walked out to the outfield seats for a different vantage point. By the time the Curve loaded the bases I was standing by the left field foul pole. That’s when the game winning hit occurred. It was a screaming line drive over third that hit right beside the chalk and scored two. It was a pretty sight.

A beautiful scene.

It was a good night. I saw 14 innings of baseball, had two ballpark hotdogs, and edited a manuscript.

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A Field of Dreams in Altoona, PA

Today I had to visit one of my experiment sites to collect root and soil samples. Since the site is about halfway to Altoona I decided to attend the final Altoona Curve game of the season. They were playing the Reading Phillies, so I donned my R-Phils hat and sat on the left field side (the visitor’s side) of Blair County Ballpark. The last time I attended a Curve game I learned that a re-enactment of the Field of Dreams cornfield scene occurs at the final Curve game of the season. I wanted to see it.

The game was scheduled to begin at noon. I got there an hour and a quarter before game time. After buying a ticket behind the visiting dugout I settled into my seat to witness the pregame festivities. It was hard to miss the corn shocks assembled in center field.

At 11:10 the scene from Field of Dreams where James Earl Jones recites the baseball monologue appeared on the big video board. Then the players slowly began to filter through the “cornfield” in center field. As they walked toward the plate they laughed, talked, and admired the field.

The players emerge.

After lining up at home plate briefly the players wandered through the stands talking to fans, posing for pictures, and signing autographs.

Justin Wilson signs autographs in the stands.

As this was going on a work crew removed the corn from center field, leaving a single row lined up against the fence (I really wanted to see a ball hit into the corn, one ended missing it by just a few feet, but sadly it did not happen).

The center field "cornfield" disappears.

A few of the more sociable Reading players joined in and began signing autographs and talking to fans.

A visitor signs a baseball.

Drew Naylor started for the R-Phils and threw a complete game shutout. The Aussie looked sharp throughout the game and got into very few jams. I knew his ERA was near 5.00 in a considerable number of starts, so I did not expect to see him pitch so well.

Drew Naylor on the mound.

The R-Phils hit back-to-back solo home runs and tacked on an insurance run with a couple of hits. Tagg Bozied hit the first homer, Kevin Nelson the second. Bozied led the Eastern league in batting average this season. He played third base and first base for the R-Phils this year (he was at first today).

Tagg Bozied playing first base.

Freddy Galvis made some nice plays at shortstop. I’ve heard a few rumblings of him being a solid prospect. From the limited amount I’ve seen this year he looks promising.

Freddy Galvis playing shortstop in the final game of the year.

I got very lucky with my seat placement. I was sitting between two middle aged baseball fans. We talked about baseball for most of the game. I got to hear some great stories. A particularly good one involved a minor league game in which Joey Belle (before being known as Albert Belle) was playing for Akron and got thrown out trying to steal second with a 3-0 count on the hitter, the manager promptly removed him from the game. On the bench Belle ignored the manager and coaches when they tried to talk to him about it. Topics of conversation included the designated hitter, Cooperstown, the Louisville Slugger Museum, the current MLB standings, great ballparks, minor leaguers that dominate but fail at the next level, scoring games, Tommy John surgery, and many other baseball related things.

Gabriel Suarez played in the outfield for the R-Phils. He started last Thursday in the Reading home game I went too as well. I noticed that he did not have a nameplate on his home or road jersey; he was just listed as #5.

Gabriel Suarez (#5) with no nameplate on his road jersey today.

Gabriel Suarez in a dark home jersey with no nameplate last Thursday.

I’m not sure if he had a nameplate on his regular white and red pinstripe home jersey.

One final note on the baseball game. Today–and the game I attended last Thursday– the Star Spangled Banner was played by a brass band. I’ve decided that I prefer a brass band to a vocalist when it comes to the national anthem about 90% of the time.

When the game had concluded I drove to my experiment site and collected the samples I needed. Right now they are sitting in my lab, destined to be plated and/or baited tomorrow.

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A Tall Pitcher

A few weeks ago I made a mental note of this date. Today at 6pm was the final game of a three game series in Altoona between the Curve and the New Britain Rock Cats. Why did I make the mental note? There is a player on the Rock Cats roster who is far from ordinary. His name is Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, and he is 7′ 1″ tall. That makes him the tallest man to play professional baseball.

I was tired this afternoon and I had some work I should have done. I wrestled with the decision. Should I go or should I stay? Van Mil is pitching out of the bullpen–and coming into today’s game had only four appearances all year–so the odds of me seeing him pitch were low. But I decided to go anyway.

Just seeing the team line up for the National Anthem was worth my ticket price. Van Mil stood beside teammate Chris Cates, who happens to be 5′ 3″ (an undersized David Eckstein). It was evident from the joking and laughing taking place among the players that Cates and Van Mil lined up beside each other intentionally.

Loek Van Mil stands beside teammate Christ Cates.

The Curve were wearing high socks as a team; it was a good look. I still think the Reading Phils had a sweeter home uni, but this wasn’t bad. Justin Wilson started the game for Altoona.

Justin Wilson on the mound.

On this day I did not have to hunt down a baseball connoisseur to talk to. In the third inning a long-time Curve fan sat beside me and we talked baseball on and off for the remainder of the game.

Mark Dolenc lines a single.

The teams traded blows before settling into a 4-4 tie for a few innings. During one changeover there was a pong-based game that pitted two fans against each other. The two contestants were rather young girls. One of the girls had serious pong skills and demolished her opponent.  I’m not sure if her parents were proud or embarrassed.

Underage pong.

In the 7th inning the New Britain starter ran into some trouble after a few easy innings. Van Mil suddenly began throwing in the bullpen. Just when it looked like he might enter the game a double play ground ball was hit.

Van Mil warming up in the bullpen.

When the bottom of the 8th inning started, the game tied 4-4,  the Rock Cats’ bullpen was quiet. I began to abandon all hope of seeing Van Mil pitch. Then Altoona put together a couple hits. And then another one, which gave them the lead with two outs. In all likliehood there was only one out left for New Britian to record.

I had been watching the Rock Cats manager Jeff Smith the entire inning, trying to will him to emerge from the dugout. It finally worked. He walked onto the field, signalling for the right handed relief pitcher. Van Mil!

Van Mil on the mound.

Van Mil came in throwing 93 mph fastballs. The scouting report I read on him was very accurate, for that is exactly what they reported. He ran a full count to the hitter, then gave up a single on a line drive up the middle that hit his glove (the Curve scored a run on the hit). The next batter he promptly struck out, so his line for the evening was 0.1 IP, 1H, 0BB, 0R, 1K.

New Britain rallied for one run in the 9th, making the final 6-5 in favor of Altoona.

I’m very glad I made the trip. It’s not every day you get to see a 7′ 1″ guy play baseball.

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Strasburg’s Minor League Debut

This afternoon I went to Altoona to see Stephen Strasburg make his minor league debut with the Harrisburg Senators. The afternoon was glorious for April, with the sun shining brightly, a slight breeze blowing, and enough clouds to make the sky interesting to look at.

I pulled onto the Frankstown Road Exit in Altoona at 1:03pm. It took me almost 40 minutes to get from that point to the ballpark (it should take about 2 minutes). Traffic was intense. My car decided to produce troubling amounts of rather conspicuous smoky exhaust while I was stuck in traffic. It looked like I was driving a steam locomotive to the ballpark. I’m afraid I might need to get that checked out.

The mood was festive around Blair County Ballpark. It was by far the fullest I have ever seen the park (the announced attendance was 7,887). I was sitting in the second deck, all the lower level seats were sold out when I bought my ticket days ago. This year the Curve have the slogan “Curve, PA” all over the place. Insinuating that the team name is a location in Pennsylvania. By the end of the game I found the signs, graphics, and mentions of Curve, PA annoying.

Where exactly is Curve, Pa?

In the bottom of the first inning the moment of truth arrived. Mr Strasburg took the mound.

Strasburg's first official minor league pitch.

The person running the radar gun came up small in a big moment. Strasburg’s first five or six pitches were not displayed. But he needed a lot of pitches to get through the first inning, so the radar glitch was fixed in time to document that his fastball was locked in at 97 mph. The Curve plated a run, the only earned run they would get against Strasburg.

Strasburg on the mound.

Strasburg settled into a rhythm in the second and third innings. He threw several 98 mph fastballs, and looked untouchable. In the fourth inning faulty defense by the Senators allowed three unearned runs to score. In that inning and the fifth inning Strasburg broke out all sorts of offspeed pitches. On the day his pitch speed ranged from 79 mph to 98 mph. I could recognize three distinct pitches, which I assume were fastball, changeup, and curveball.

He cranked the gun to 98 several times.

In the top of the sixth inning Strasburg knocked in the tying run with an impressive double to right field. It was a frozen rope over the right fielders head. He then scored what turned out to be the winning run. The Senators turned to the bullpen to start the bottom of the sixth, so Starsburg’s day ended with 5 innings pitched, 1 earned run, 8 strikeouts, plus an RBI and run scored (he would later get the win).

Strasburg a millisecond before scoring his first ever minor league run.

I think Strasburg pitched quite well. He had the Curve hitters off balance, and some of the strikeouts were almost comical.

A common sight on the day: Strike Three.

One of the little on-field promotions during a changeover involved jousting. The winner wasted no time. As soon as the referee said go he promptly blasted his opponent’s “head” off, which I believe was the goal of the game. The green contestant was guarding his body, leaving his head totally exposed. It took about two seconds.

A short contest.

The last few innings moved by fairly quickly. There were two pretty double plays turned on line drives, one in the infield and one in the outfield. The final score was Harrisburg 6, Altoona 4. Late in the game I took a few pictures to create a panorama with. At this point the crowd has diminished a bit because Strasburg was out of the game.

Blair County Ballpark this afternoon.

During the game I spent a good bit of time getting work done (when Strasburg was not on the field). I reviewed lecture notes for tomorrow and experimental design notes in preparation for a meeting I have with a statistician tomorrow morning. I’ve never brought work to the ballpark before, I most definitely do not want that to become a normality.

Now I’ll probably need to pull a late night to accomplish what I should have done instead of going to a baseball game this afternoon. It was worth it.

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Baseball Doubleheader: Game 2

The game between the Altoona Curve and Reading Phillies was scheduled to start at 7:05. I arrived just before the gates opened. I noticed the tarp was on the field when I arrived.


The field is tarped and ready for rain.

I bought a ticket and that prompted the begin of the rain. As I walked to the back of the line forming at the front gate the rain began to increase in intensity. Soon after I walked into the ballpark it really started to pour.

As the rain came down something strange happened. Two people emerged from the dugout carrying a third person duct taped to a chair. They placed him on the field near home plate, then disappeared back into the dugout. The man taped to the chair was not going anywhere.

A man taped to a chair sitting in the rain.

A man taped to a chair sitting in the rain.

He seemed to be in good spirits. From time to time he tapped his feet with the music being played over the PA system. I estimate he was sitting on the field 30 minutes before the rain stopped. Then the grounds crew started removing the tarp. You’ll notice the man taped to the chair in the bottom of the photo below.

The grounds crew removes the tarp.

The grounds crew removes the tarp.

As the tarp was being rolled up a man with a knife approached the man in the chair. After a short conversation the tape was cut. I wonder if this was hazing, discipline, or just a joke?

Due to the rain delay the first pitch was rescheduled for 8:15. In the moments before the game the players milled about on the field, stretching and warming up. My seat was behind the visitors dugout. A familiar face suddenly emerged from the dugout. He was there for but a moment, then ducked back in. I snapped a quick picture.

Mike 'Bronco' Zagurski.

Mike 'Bronco' Zagurski.

Mike Zagurski pitched in the Majors for the Phillies in 2007. He suffered a nasty hamstring injury at the end of the year and missed all of 2008. Now he is closing games with Reading, hopefully destined to reappear in the Big Leagues soon. Zagurski quickly became a fan favorite in Philly; he is the kind of guy you like to root for.

And the game began. Reading got out of the gates quickly, scoring a run in the first inning and three in the second.

Quintin Berry has just stolen second base.

Quintin Berry has just stolen second base.

Kyle Drabek pitched very well. He threw a crisp fastball (the fastest I saw on the gun was 96 MPH), complimented by a nasty offspeed pitch, and showed good command. He pitched eight innings, giving up two runs and striking out seven. The Curve hitters were off balance all night. It was a very nice showing; I hope to see many similar starts for the Phils in the future.

Kyle Drabek on the mound.

Kyle Drabek on the mound.

During the 7th inning stretch I struck up a conversation with an elderly man sitting in the neighboring section. He moved over to my section, and we spent the rest of the game talking baseball. He owned Curve season tickets for the past decade, but just gave them up this year. I asked him about the best players he had ever seen in person. We talked about Richie Allen, Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax, and others. He told me about going to games at Connie Mack Stadium. We agreed that Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. It was a wonderful conversation. When the end of the game arrived I was sad it had come so soon.

The final score was 7-2, Drabek got the win.

Blair County Ballpark under the lights.

Blair County Ballpark under the lights.

Attending professional baseball games at two different ballparks on the same day was a goal of mine (I have such lofty and noble goals). So I achieved a goal today. What did you do?

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