Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Video of Daytona Cubs vs Dunedin Blue Jays 8-28-2011

I made it back to Dunedin after the rained out game of last week. I once again brought my video camera. This video has a little more game action because of course there was more game action to see. Thanks to the staff at Dunedin for letting me bring my camera and enjoy their wonderful stadium.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Guilt of Not Going

I’ll admit, when reported attendance numbers are below 15,000 at Tropicana Field, I feel kinda guilty. I feel guilty because I think I could make a difference. It’s the same guilt I feel during an election when there is a candidate I support but I don’t bother to get out and vote. And then that candidate doesn’t win. Was it because of me? Or was it because of hundreds of other people like me who figured someone else would carry the burden of voting?

Although the worst a candidate can do is raise my taxes, approve or disapprove of transportation measures, cancel programs, stifle the economy, or generally cause the social fabric of the world around me to fall apart, for some reason I am more concerned about an empty seat at Tropicana Field that my tuckus could have sat in.

I wonder if I am the only one. Am I the only person who thinks if the team moves it would be partially my fault for not supporting them to the utmost of my ability?

I am a huge baseball fan. The fact that I am writing here is evidence enough that I am a huge Rays fan. So why aren’t I at every game contributing my +1 to the attendance total?

First and foremost, I am a partial season ticket holder. I go to over 20 games a season. I have the Rebecca Black Package, which means I am at Tropicana Field every Friday, Friday, Friday.

But what about Saturday through Thursday? I don’t have kids. I live 30 minutes from Tropicana Field. I don’t have a dog. I have a plant that requires watering once a week. And I’m watching most of those games on television. Why don’t I go?

There are a few reasons why I don’t go to very many games outside of my bundle. Number one, I am unemployed.

The fact that I lost my job two weeks ago and I am currently seeking employment is a huge factor in limiting my Rays live viewing experiences. I am now one of the 10-14% in the area out of work. It’s kind of a weird feeling. Every dollar spent is a dollar closer to running out of money.

Granted, it is only nine to 15 dollars to sit in the cheapest part of Tropicana Field, the TBT Party Deck. And I don’t think those are bad seats at all, although the experience of sitting the bleachers is different than sitting in other parts of the stadium closer to the action. But they are good seats, and live baseball is live baseball.

Number two, there is a lot more to a game than just a ticket.

Besides the cheap admission fee, there are other costs associated with going to a ballgame that send the cost up quite a bit. There is the gas cost – for me, about 10 dollars or so for a trip there and back. There is the often needed stop at the ATM for parking fee cash, because parking attendants never take credit or debit. And far be it for me to pass my usual bank for another God-forsaken ATM and its God-forsaken fees. That could cost upwards of another four dollars.

Then there is parking. Oh, beautiful parking. How much I would love to have public transportation. Or perhaps a Star Trek teleporter to “beam” me directly to the ballpark. But alas, as is, I must park. It’s free of course if I find a spot six blocks from the ballpark. And I just may if the total attendance is fewer than 15,000. But for a premium game, those few spots are as good as gone. So I must journey on.

There are a few five dollar parking lots around the vicinity of Tropicana Field. Those aren’t bad if I have my walking shoes on. Or I could park downtown for three dollars and take the shuttle bus. Or I can park across the street from an official lot for 10 dollars or so.

Or I could actually park on Tropicana Field property. Remember when parking was free? That was great, wasn’t it? I had a parking pass once and it was the greatest investment of my ballpark-going life. For nine dollars a game, I parked mere rows from the main entrance of Gate 1. Guards waved me in as I flashed my weekly pass like Wayne and Garth backstage at Alice Cooper. It wasn’t Milwaukee, but that part of the parking lot definitely was “the good land”.

Number three, the cost of satisfying my hunger.

I’ll admit, I am a sucker for good ballpark food. I’ve moved on from hotdogs and Cracker Jack and I would rather not go back. My dining area at the Trop is the hidden gem known as the Boar’s Head Spaghetti Bar on the third base side of the fourth floor from the Whitney Bank Club. The deli-spaghetti bar is the locale of choice of many of the vendors, staff, and even media types such as Fred McGriff and Orestes Destrade. The staff is friendly and the cheese-filled breadsticks are delicious.

But a drink and meal can cost at least 15 bucks. That adds up.

True, I don’t have to eat at the Boar’s Head Spaghetti Bar every time I go to the ballpark. I don’t have to check out the Everglades BBQ or Outback either. But I would rather spend good money on food once a week than spend five dollars on a hot dog and coke two or three times a week. If I am going to the ballpark, I want the trip to be a treat to myself.

So after averaging 15 for food, 10 for a ticket, 10 for parking, and 10 for gas, I’m spending roughly 45 dollars per trip to the ballpark. And that’s just me. Again, no kids, no family, and not even a date.

But yet I still feel guilty. I feel if I spend another dollar or go to one more game a week maybe we won’t hear the attendance issue anymore. Maybe if the attendance was 10,000 and 1 we would be in the clear. I like to think my butt counts. I like to think I make a difference.

Even if I don’t.

What about you? Do you go to as many games as you would like? Would you like to go to more? How much do you usually spend at a night at the ballpark? Am I only one who feels guilty?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Talking Tarpons with Tampa blogger Clark Brooks - Part 2

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues Baseball.com)

This is part two of my interview with Tampa writer/blogger Clark Brooks. In Part 1, we talked about Clark's background working with the old Tampa Tarpons.

Bus Leagues Baseball: So were there any future major leaguers that you may have hung out with while working with the Tarpons?

Clark Brooks: I was pretty good friends with Chris Hammond, who made it to the big leagues with the Reds, then went to the Marlins, then had a noteworthy comeback with the Braves after he was out of the game for a couple of years. Chris was a good guy.

The Tarpons really didn’t push a lot of big leaguers through. A lot of big leaguers came through the other A club in Cedar Rapids. But the Florida State League at the time was a pitcher’s league and the Reds didn’t have a lot of pitching prospects coming through.

BLB: What about Tom Browning?

CB: Browning did, but he was before my time.

They had a club in ’83 that had Tom Browning, Paul O’Neill, Terry McGriff, Tracy Jones, they had a pretty solid club in ’83.

BLB: And Eric Davis would have been before that?

CB: Yeah, and I don’t think Eric Davis ever played for the Tarpons though. I think he went through Cedar Rapids.

We were the High-A club, but they put more prospects through the Midwest League for whatever reason.

BLB: Proximity to Cincinnati, possibly?

CB: Could be.

BLB: You sorta mentioned this earlier, but could you talk a bit more about your day-to-day actions?

CB: Well, I worked my regular job with the concessions at Tampa Stadium then head over to Al Lopez at night. It was like “Hey, we are shorthanded in the kitchen, so go in the kitchen and cook hot dogs.”

There were a couple of Saturdays where I mowed grass. One of our ushers, an employee, lived down the street. I would borrow his push lawnmower and I mowed the infield with that one Saturday morning. I put out the screen for batting practice, I lined the field, I did PA announcing for a couple of innings, and I sold souvenirs. Basically, whoever was available was available to do whatever.

It wasn’t departmentalized at all. I think there were maybe three fulltime employees. There was the GM, the Assistant GM, and one other person working in the office. That was it. The rest were game day employees only. Even bat boys were actually boys, like Little League-age kids.

I don’t think anybody gets by without a staff of at least five or six now. Plus interns, plus sales people. The idea of having sales people was a completely foreign concept.

BLB: So it was basically just tradition that drew people to the Tarpons games? Did they do any kind of marketing at all?

CB: Well, they put out the free tickets at the restaurants and you could pick the free tickets up. One of the good things about the Florida State League is that teams are always sending their major league players down for rehab assignments. So occasionally you get a big leaguer playing and people find out about it and they will come out for that.

We did promotions. We did giveaways. We did fireworks. Stuff like that.

BLB: Any promotions stand out?

CB: From the Tarpons? Everything was always trade; there were some giveaways, but nothing crazy.

BLB: Have you been to any Tampa Yankees games and how does that compare?

CB: Not a fan. First of all, I am not a Yankees fan. Secondly, Steinbrenner Field holds about 10,000 fans, which for a minor league game, especially when nobody draws, is way too big. And I don’t get the minor league vibe there like I get at some of the smaller ballparks. It seems kinda sterile and cold and empty. They are not drawing any more than we used to draw with the Tarpons.

BLB: Do you have a favorite Florida State League ballpark, past or present?

CB: I like the Lakeland ballpark. I also liked old Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater. It was almost a copy of what Al Lopez Field looked like. The seats were real low, almost a foot or so higher than the field itself. That was the same as Al Lopez, which where the seats were maybe two feet or so above field level. Real intimate and real close to the action. You could sit right next to the dugout. The grounds crew at Jack Russell was amazing.

BLB: And yours was you.

CB: Well, me and a few other guys. It wasn’t just me. But I think the Tampa Sports Authority would only come out to mow the grass with a tractor like once a week. And the rest of the time we had to make due with a push lawnmower. Like I said, the Tampa Sports Authority basically ran that team out of town, the Reds and the Tarpons both.

BLB: You mentioned you worked for Mike Moore. Could you talk about that?

CB: Mike was the GM at the time, from 1987 to 1988. Then he left and went to the National Association to become the president, which is now Minor League Baseball. It was known as the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues at the time.

BLB: Could you tell us a little about working for Mike Moore?

CB: Mike practiced what he preached. He would cook hot dogs and work the PA. Mike was a local Tampa sports legend before he got the job with the Tarpons. He was on TV with some of the old TV personalities in the 70s. He used to call pro wrestling in the area.

Mike just liked to do his job and not be bothered. He had a radio code – I don’t remember what the signal was – but when the owners were there we were to give Mike a radio so he could hide in the tunnels and not have to deal with them. He loved the game but he was not into the “big timeness” of being in professional baseball. He didn’t kiss the ass of dignitaries and he wasn’t impressed by celebrities.

BLB: Did you stay in touch with him as he became President of Minor League Baseball?

CB: Yeah, I kept in touch with him. I haven’t talked to him in a while. He is retired now. I think he spends all of his time fishing. But yeah, I stayed in touch.

I actually married the girl I was dating with the Tarpons after Mike left. And he was the best man at our wedding. So we used to socialize with him and his wife.

BLB: You said you were married at home plate, right?

CB: Yeah. Married at home plate at Al Lopez Field. Al Lopez was there. Which is very cool. My grandmother was swooning over him. That wedding was the last event at Al Lopez Field, as they tore it down the next month. And while Al was still alive, too. Which is basically an embarrassment of huge proportions.

How you let someone outlive their own monument is beyond me.

BLB: Any funny individual stories before we go?

CB: Yeah, the last year we were with the Reds, we had a centerfielder named Steve Davis. He was one of the guys I hung out with. He was talking to a little kid before the game who had this little novelty glove. The kid wanted Steve Davis to use it in a real game. Davis knew he wasn’t in the lineup that day, so he took the kid’s glove and said, “Yeah, I’ll wear your glove on the field.”

Right about the fifth or sixth inning, Davis got put in as a pinch hitter and was told to stay in the game. So the guys on the bench told him that he had to take the kid’s glove out. They told him that he promised so there was no way he could go out there and not take the glove. Davis objected, saying he couldn’t go out there with a kid’s glove, literally the size of his hand. But he took it out there and played centerfield.

Sure enough, a ball is hit to him.

He makes this long run and makes this amazing over-the-shoulder Willie Mays catch with this kid’s glove on. Nobody knew he had this glove on except for the kid and the guys who knew he promised. The dugout is going nuts. Great play. One of the greatest plays of the year.

He goes back to the dugout and all he hears is that he was making a mockery of the game. They can’t believe he wore that glove out there. They called him a clown. They were all giving him crap.

So that was kinda fun.

We definitely want to thank Clark for his time and be sure to check out his writings at RawCharge.com and at this personal blog Ridiculously Inconsistent Trickle of Consciousness.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Talking Tarpons with Tampa blogger Clark Brooks - Part 1

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues Baseball.com)

One of the more interesting sports folks I've met since I moved to Tampa, Florida is local blogger Clark Brooks. Clark has been around Tampa sports since the mid-80’s and has worked with the nearly every professional sports team in the area. Although I have known Clark for a few years, after he told me recently that he got his start working for the Tampa TarponsTampa’s old minor league team, I knew he and I had to sit down for a chat.

This is a two-part interview. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

Bus Leagues Baseball: So who is Clark Brooks?

Clark Brooks: Who is Clark Brooks? Wow. I am a writer. I do a lot of freelance stuff. I do a lot of self-publishing. My main professional gig as it pertains to sports right now is that I am a staff writer for Raw Charge.com (ed note a Tampa Bay Lightning blog). I have previously been involved with SBNation’s Tampa Bay hub. I used to write for the Rays for a column called “Clark Calls It” for DevilRays.com, when it was the Devil Rays. I had a column for America Online called “Deep in the Cheap Seats”, which was a Minor League Baseball column, back in the early days of AOL.

I also have a professional background working in sports for hockey, NCAA college sports, and Minor League Baseball.

BLB: Can you talk about your start in the Tampa sports scene, and with Minor League Baseball in particular?

CB: I moved down to Tampa, Florida in 1986 from Michigan. I like to tell people that we were doing the bad economy thing before it was fashionable everywhere else. So I have been here since 1986, and the first job I got here was a part time staffer at the old Tampa Stadium with a concession company. At that time, right next door was Al Lopez Field, which was the home of the Tampa Tarpons, the Single-A affiliate for the Reds at the time, as well as Spring Training home for the Reds.

I ate dinner at a local Denny’s and there were free tickets to a game right by the cash register. I thought it was the greatest thing ever that there were free tickets to a baseball game, so I snatched them up thinking they would go fast. I got to the game and saw that there were about 200 people there and quickly learned that Minor League Baseball was not a big draw in Tampa, Florida. But I enjoyed the atmosphere and I enjoyed the fact that I could sit wherever I wanted. I had great access – the equivalent of Major League seats that would have cost around 30 dollars at the time I could sit in for free, or on a pay night, for only 2 bucks. And since it was right next door from where I worked, I would go there all the time.

Also, since I worked for the concession company, and since the Tarpons were kinda of Mom-and-Pop operation, which was still the case in Minor League Baseball back then when they had such things, we were frequently in the position of lending food prep equipment and that type of thing to the Tarpons for their use. And I got to know people in the front office and I wound up dating the assistant general manager and I was at the Tarpons game almost every single night.

I was 22 at the time, so basically the first people I met that were my age were ballplayers for the Tarpons. So I started hanging out with those guys. Up until the point that I realized they didn’t have to be at work until 4 o’clock and I had to be at work most times at 8 AM. So hanging out was kinda limited to weekends after I realized I couldn’t hang with their schedule.

So it was just a good match for me, falling in with those people and meeting them, with me loving baseball and the proximity of the team being right there. I just kinda worked my way into the Tarpons family at that point.

And being that it was a mom-and-pop thing, that when people talk about the legendary days of Minor League Baseball where one day you are painting fence lines and the next day you are mowing grass and the next day after that you are cooking hot dogs, that’s pretty much what I was doing. But I dug it.

BLB: I was wondering if you could tell me a little about the significance of the Tarpons to the community. Were they big here?

CB: Well, they were an established team. They were kind of an institution in that they had been there so long. They played in Al Lopez Field, which was the namesake for Tampa’s first Hall of Famer and the guy who put Tampa on the map as far as baseball is concerned. They had been a Reds affiliate since the '50s and Pete Rose played there (Ed Note: The Tarpons were a Phillies team from 1957-1960 and a Reds team from ‘61 to ‘88.). It was the kind of thing where everybody had been to a Tarpons game, but not everybody went to a Tarpons game every night. So it was kinda like an institution that people took for granted.

BLB: So they didn’t draw very well?

CB: No. And being that they were my first real exposure, I thought it was a Tampa problem, but after traveling around I found out that the Florida State League and baseball in general wasn’t a really big draw.

And this was prior to the big boom that hit Minor League Baseball in about 1988 or 1989 when Bull Durham came out and the Carolina Mudcats came around and everyone took off with the quirky mascots and nicknames and Minor League Baseball was big all over the country. That boom never hit Florida, for whatever reason.

BLB: What happened to Al Lopez Field? Is that where Raymond James Stadium is now?

CB: It is. The owners of the Tarpons, the Mick Family, Mitchell and Buddy Mick, two brothers, and they didn’t have a lot of money and the Tampa Sports Authority was not real receptive in keeping Al Lopez Field. They wanted the land the ballpark sat on for other considerations. At the time, a basketball or hockey arena was planned for Tampa – this is before the Lightning were a gleam in anyone’s eye. Everyone saw the location as prime real estate and for lack of a better word they basically forced the Tarpons out of business.

They stopped maintaining the ballpark, they put minimal effort into upkeep, and the stadium deteriorated. Part of that is where the Yankees’ complex is now, and was the Reds Spring Training Complex. They let that deteriorate to the point where the Reds moved out. They let that go downhill to the point where the Reds moved out of Tampa and moved to Plant City. Conditions were so bad, the building couldn’t be salvaged and they weren’t going to put any more upkeep into it. Well, the same building is still there 20 years after the Reds moved out. It is a workout facility near the cloverleaf of practice fields – it’s the same building. They just put work into it once the Yankees got involved.

So things got so bad and conditions got so bad, the field was a joke, and we didn’t have a full tarp. We had tiny, six foot sections of tarp that we had to cover bad spots with. We were fixing puddles with kitty litter. There was a pronounced lip coming off the outfield into the infield were you could physically see a hill. It was awful. I remember our screens for batting practice were chain link.

They tried to hang on as long as they could. Everyone was thinking that Major League Baseball moving to Tampa Bay was eminent. If you were the holders of a franchise, you stood to cash in, as the Major League team would have to buy out your rights for professional baseball in the area. So the Micks held on as long as they could hoping they could last until Major League Baseball expanded or moved to Tampa Bay and they just couldn’t do it. Once Al Lopez was untenable and they couldn’t get an agreement to go to the University of South Florida, they pretty much had to sell the franchise.

BLB: Baseball in Tampa Bay, you are talking about 1988 with the White Sox and 1989 with the Giants, right?

CB: Right, and I think the Twins and the Mariners before that. They kinda flirted with the idea too. So at that point everybody was thinking a move was much more likely than expansion. Everybody thought the next time Tampa Bay was going to be given a team. And that was pretty much the climate for a long time in Tampa Bay.