2014 Baseball Predictions

These are never close to right, but I still do it every year, so…

AL EAST:
1. Tampa Bay Rays (93-69)
2. Boston Red Sox (91-71)
3. Toronto Blue Jays (81-81)
4. New York Yankees (79-83)
5. Baltimore Orioles (76-86)

AL CENTRAL:
1. Detroit Tigers (94-68)
2. Kansas City Royals (89-73)
3. Cleveland Indians (82-80)
4. Chicago White Sox (72-90)
5. Minnesota Twins (66-96)

AL WEST:
1. Los Angelels Angels (96-66)
2. Texas Rangers (87-75)
3. Oakland Athletics (81-81)
4. Seattle Mariners (73-89)
5. Houston Astros (63-99)

AL WILDCARDS:
1. Boston Red Sox
2. Kansas City Royals

ALCS:
Angels vs. Rays

AL PENNANT:
Los Angeles Angels

NL EAST:
1. Washington Nationals (95-67)
2. Atlanta Braves (86-76)
3. New York Mets (79-83)
4. Miami Marlins (71-91)
5. Philadelphia Phillies (68-94)

NL CENTRAL:
1. St. Louis Cardinals (95-67)
2. Milwaukee Brewers (87-75)
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (80-82)
4. Cincinnati Reds (77-85)
5. Houston Astros (63-99)

NL WEST:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (93-69)
2. San Francisco Giants (92-70)
3. Arizona Diamondbacks (83-79)
4. Colorado Rockies (73-89)
5. San Diego Padres (65-97)

NL WILD CARDS:
1. San Francisco Giants
2. Milwaukee Brewers

NLCS:
Cardinals vs. Giants

NL PENNANT:
St. Louis Cardinals

WORLD SERIES WINNER:
St. Louis Cardinals

MVP: Mike Trout, Ryan Braun
CY YOUNG: Masahiro Tanaka, Madison Bumgarner
ROOKIE: Masahiro Tanaka, Billy Hamilton

Off-Day Adventures: PGA TOUR Championship at East Lake

Finding an adventure for my days off was not difficult this past week. The final event of the PGA FedEx Cup Playoffs, in the city I live in, Wednesday practice round tickets for 10 dollars, then the first round on Thursday? No-brainer.

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Here are some random thoughts and observations from my time at East Lake Golf Club:

The golf-watching experience: This was the first time I had ever attended any kind of golf event at every level, but I having watched plenty, I felt like I knew what I was in for. As expected, being a spectator for golf is a unique experience compared to other sports. To get the most out of my day, I had to be mobile and strategic. On Thursday I decided to rotate around the green of the first hole and all of the par-three second, catching at least a couple shots of most players. When the last pairing of Tiger Woods and Henrik stenson came through, I followed them the rest of the way. Again, as expected, this was what most people did. Also no surprise: the crowd was more male-dominant and older than any other sports crowd I can think of.  What really made the experience was seeing these guys actually hit these shots. You know they can do it, but television makes it look so easy… seeing how far and how precise they can hit a golf ball was really awesome. As a whole, although I had never been to a golf event before, not much really surprised me about the experience.

Cell phones: Cell phones and photography were allowed on Wednesday, but strictly forbidden on Thursday. Example:

On Thursday, I was a few rows of people back from the front of people watching Tiger and Stenson tee off somewhere on the front nine. They hit and the crowd started to make its way down. As I started walking, I took my phone out of my pocket, looked at the time, and put it back. A few seconds later, a worker came up to me (clearly having seen me do that from a bit of a distance) and says, “Don’t let me see that again within 50 feet of the rope or I’ll confiscate it.”

Whoa. I get that you don’t want flashes or sounds while the players are taking their shots, but I wasn’t expecting that kind of strictness. Kind of makes the “interact with us on Twitter” ads seem pointless.

Tiger’s putting: After walking around for a bit on Wednesday, watching Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley play together for a few holes, I returned to the practice area hoping more players might be starting soon. Sure enough, a sizable crowd was gathered around an empty practice green, indicating something might be going on. The green was completely empty save for a golf bag — which had a  tiger club cover on it. After finding somewhere along the front of the barrier before too many people caught on to what was about to happen, it was about 15 minutes before the Tiger Woods came out to practice.

He putted for a while in front of the cameras, but didn’t do a practice round. As it turned out, maybe he should have spent even more time on the green. On Thursday, I watched a lot of this:

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Screenshot from SportsCenter, I’m in red.

I can’t remember a time that Tiger didn’t at least two-putt. It was just the eighth time in his career he went a whole round without a birdie. While I do still have a new answer to the question “Who is the best athlete you have ever seen in person?” his performance was a bit disappointing.

Henrik Stenson’s performace made up for it, though. The guy had five birdies on the first seven holes, and was making it look so easy with approach shots coming close to the hole again and again. My makeshift scorecard from the day:

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Just another off-day adventure in Atlanta.

Off-day Adventures: Chattanooga, Tennessee

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I just wanted to go somewhere new. It occurred to me the other day that I had not left ITP (in the perimeter) Atlanta since the day after I moved here. The city life has been fun, but it was time for a change of scenery. I did a bit of research and realized that Chattanooga, Tennessee was less than two hours away. I had never been to Tennessee before.

Before this week, the extent of my knowledge of Chattanooga was that it, and some kind of train associated with it, was the subject of a song I played in junior high jazz band. That’s all.

Well there is certainly more to Chattanooga than that, right? Time to go explore.

My main goal for the day was to go to Point Park at Lookout Mountain, so after I picked up some good, old-fashioned southern fast food (sweet tea and all),  I headed up the mountain. I drove up the zig-zagging skinny road, passing some tourist traps, sneak previews of the view at the top, and a surprising number of houses. That must be some prime real estate. I reached Point Park, a national park dedicated to the Civil War history of the area. The man inside the bookstore gave me a brief overview of what there was to do at the park, and off I was.

The view, as expected, was absolutely spectacular. Making my way around Point Park, I looked over Chattanooga and the Tennessee River, as well as into the mountains along the Georgia-Tennessee border. It was one of those views that as it appears makes you just stop and stare in awe and wonderment of the wide-open spaces and natural beauty. Here is a panoramic picture I took:

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And I thought this was interesting, one on Wikipedia from 1864, the year after the Civil War battles that took place here:

lookout panoramic 1864

The Battle Above the Clouds, as it came to be known, was part of a group of battles in the Chattanooga area in late 1863 that gave the Union control of the city, severely damaging the Confederacy’s ability to transport goods and supplies. In addition to its access to the Tennessee River, Chattanooga was a major rail hub at the time. I won’t keep regurgitating all the history, but if you’re interested, here is a gallery of some pictures I took.

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Point Park also had a small room inside which gave more details about the battles. One wall of this room was a gigantic, paining depicting the battle at Lookout Mountain.

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The time I spent at Point Park alone made the trip worth it. It’s neat to spend time at a place that looks so much like what it did 150 years ago, when a pivotal moment in the nation’s history occurred there. Learning about the specifics of the battles reminded me of how important it is to make trips like this–and how enjoyable it can be, too. Especially in our culture in which Miley Cyrus gets significantly more public play than Syria, it can be hard to take the time to experience the reminders and lessons of our country’s past. When you manage to do it, it is quite rewarding. If you’re ever in the area of Chattanooga, I definitely reccommend checking this place out.

I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next. I had already hit the one spot I definitely wanted to, and it was only 2:30. I drove back down the mountain with no real aim and headed toward downtown Chattanooga. I found a parking spot on what seemed to be the main drag, got out and started walking to the river. I had seen from a map that there were parks on both sides of the river, so it seemed promising. Then I saw this.

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YES.

Atlanta does a lot of things well, but encouraging and enabling people to use forms of transportation other than their car is not one of them. I loved riding my bike when I was in Baldwinsville for the summer. I didn’t bring my bike down to Atlanta, and that’s probably a good thing, because it is not a bike-friendly city. When I saw Chattanooga’s bike share program, it was a no-brainer–I’m getting one.

I took a ride over the bridge to the other side of the Tennessee River, where there were actually two parks. One was a little older, and had some more Civil War historical plaques in it, and one seemed pretty new. With so many American cities attempting to revitalize their waterfront areas, Chattanooga seems to be doing pretty well in that department.

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After wandering aimlessly on the bike for a little while, I made up my mind as to what I was going to do next. Now that I had the bike, I put a couple more quarters in the parking meter, determined to find an answer. I couldn’t come to Chattanooga without finding the Chattanooga Choo Choo, could I?

But what, exactly, is the Chattanooga Choo Choo? It must be a train, right? Is it even still around?

I pulled out my phone and searched directions to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and indeed, it does exist. It turned out to be just a little ways down the street I was already on.

I arrive at my destination, and…

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You’re joking, right? The Chattanooga Choo Choo is a hotel? The song Glenn Miller made famous is about a hotel? No, it had to be a train. That’s why it’s the Choo Choo. This can’t be right.

With a little more exploring, I discovered that the area behind the hotel resembled a train station. I found out that there is a pretty good reason for that–it used to be one. And all of a sudden, there it was:

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The Chattanooga Choo Choo. I found it. But still, what does it mean? Why is it called that? The answer was on an old-looking plaque, right in front of me:

It was on March 5, 1880, that the first passenger train leaving Cincinnati for Chattanooga was nicknamed the “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.” This historical occasion opened the first major link in public transportation from the north to the south. The “Choo-Choo” was operated by the Cincinnati Southern Railroad, America’s first municipal railway system.

Satisfied, I got a bike and took it back to the waterfront and did some more walking around. There was a nice area by the river, a man-made waterfall-type structure that paralleled the steps down. After taking some time to relax and catch up on the day’s news, I wanted to find some dinner at a local establishment.  Thanks to a recommendation by a co-worker from the area, my day in Chattanooga was capped off with a fantastic burger and beer from Big River Grille & Brewing Works.

This was the first of what I am sure will be many off-day adventure blog posts as I make my way around Atlanta and the surrounding area. It’s amazing what you find when you decide to start looking.

Atlanta update: One month in

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Piedmont Park

It’s not that I had not traveled before I left Syracuse on July 27. But before I moved to Atlanta, I can’t remember a time where I spent more than a week and a half outside the Empire State. Vacations and trips came to an end, and I always found myself back in New York. So it’s safe to say that after packing up and moving to Atlanta, Georgia… the past month has been a little different for me.

And different, in this case, is great.

I love it here so far. Nothing against New York, as I do miss Syracuse and Marist, but living life in Atlanta has been a blast. Here are some of the highlights from my life so far in the south:

The job

I’m working in sports. If you know anything about me… yeah, I find that pretty exciting. When I was younger and watching sports seemed to be more important in my mind than studying for a chemistry test, I always said, “I’m studying for my career.” Turns out, I was.

Working for Turner, editing and writing for NCAA.com has been a thrill. The highlight of the job so far has been getting my first byline on the site, which came in our “Countdown to Kickoff” series, getting readers prepared for the beginning of college football. We came up with a list of 10 topics for the 10 days leading up to the season, and the interns were given a choice as to which topic we wanted to work on. Of course, with “Battle of the Bands” being one of the options, my choice was easy.

So my first project at work, one that has my name on it, was about marching bands. It really couldn’t have been more perfect. I picked what I found to be the best halftime shows from last year, being sure to select some different styles, and left it up to our readers to pick which band was best. Here’s a link:  http://www.ncaa.com/news/football/article/2013-08-19/battle-bands

I was floored by the response it got – more than 60,000 people voted. People were tweeting about it, encouraging people to vote. I’m used to having my work be published and read by other people, but not that many people. So it was pretty exciting to realize the scope of the work we are doing.

Another perk of this job – there are some other people that are employed by Turner that you may have heard of. One day, I heard a loud, deep voice from the cubicle over… “Hi, I’m Charles.” Yup, it was that Charles.

sir charles

Charles Barkley with me and some of the other interns.

One day had a staff-wide meeting in Studio J, where they do Inside the NBA. There are pictures of sports all over the walls in the office, including one of Pablo Sandoval from Sports Illustrated that I pass every day. So yeah, working here is pretty cool.

Braves games

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Chris Johnson had the walk-off hit against the Indians last week.

The great thing about baseball is that more so than any other sport, you have no idea what you are in for when you show up to the ball park.

The other interns and I decided to go to a game together. We had a Saturday off (before college football started), so we took in a game between the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals. I was thinking it would be a good pitcher’s between Mike Minor and Stephen Strasburg. My excitement was tempered a little when I got an alert on the way that Bryce Harper was scratched from the lineup due to an injury suffered when he was hit by a pitch the day before, but still, I was looking forward to a good matchup.

Strasburg hit Justin Upton on the first pitch as revenge, Upton just put his head down and went to first, and we seemed to be in for a normal game the rest of the way. Then, baseball happened. Mike Minor couldn’t throw strikes and he was taken out of the game in the top of the second. In the bottom of the second, Strasburg threw behind Andrelton Simmons (which I don’t think it was on purpose, it seemed he simply lost control) and was ejected. So much for the pitcher’s duel.

Tanner Roark, who I saw pitch in Syracuse earlier this year, came in to relieve Strasburg. He pitched very well, and had an RBI double as his first major league hit to boot. Scott Hairston got himself ejected in the eighth, forcing the Nationals to bring in Bryce Harper. As if the game wasn’t already of of the craziest games I have seen live, Jason Heyward hit his second homer of the night in the ninth to force extras.

Six more innings later, we walked out of the park after midnight and the Nationals won 8-7. Never would have thought it going in, but I saw way more of Harper than Strasburg. And all of that was in just one of the games I’ve been to.

I have also seen the Rockies, Phillies, Marlins and Indians in games that included two other early ejections, a lone run scored on a wild pitch, and a walk-off win. If you can get past the excessive number of times the fans do the silly Tomahawk Chop, Turner Field is a cool place to see a game. And Craig Kimbrel is really good at pitching.

Other highlights and thoughts on southern living:

- The best food I’ve had so far: Fox Bros. BBQ. Amazing pulled pork sandwich.
- People… move… and… talk… slower… down… here…
- Atlanta pro sports fans get a lot of slack for being fair-weather fans. There is definitely some truth to the stereotype, but it is somewhat excusable by the number of transplanted people living here. So many people grew up somewhere else.
- As for college football, I had heard about how much they love the SEC here. It was not exaggerated at all. I was listening to the radio when a guy literally started crying because he wants Mark Richt gone after Georgia lost by three on the road to a very good Clemson team.
- Piedmont Park is really nice, as shown by the picture at the top of this post.
- Atlanta Fun fact: The Bank of America Plaza in Midtown is the 10th-tallest building in the country, and the tallest that is not in New York or Chicago.
- Southern dialect is actually much more pleasant to listen to (to me, anyway) than how many downstate New Yorkers speak. I’ll take the all the y’alls before waiting “on line” and “having a catch” any day.
- Before I moved, many people back in New York referred to my new city as “Hotlanta.” Since I moved, I have barely heard the term. That doesn’t mean it’s not an accurate name.
- Another cool sports experience here: I found a bar, the Brewhouse Cafe, that is owned by an Arsenal fan from London. I went there with a couple interns to watch the North London Derby last weekend, and for the first time in my life, watched the Gunners with fellow Arsenal fans. I’ll be back.

I’m sure many more Atlanta adventures are to come, and I will tell the stories on here, so stay tuned.

An ode to CNY: Things I will miss about home

Don’t get me wrong—I am thrilled to start calling Atlanta home. It seems like a really cool place to live. But as I spend my final days in Syracuse, I have been thinking about some of the things I’ll miss. I have been used to being around these things, and all of a sudden I won’t be anymore.

I’m sure I’ll come up with more things I miss after the move, and there will be plenty of things I don’t miss (like the weather). For now, here’s a little tribute to my hometown. These are a few things I’ll miss about living in Central New York.

Living by water

I have lived by water my entire life. I have passed over the Seneca River in Baldwinsville thousands of times and have spent plenty of evenings at one of the parks around the river and Lock 24. I took this picture of the river on a bike ride last week:

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There is Onondaga Lake, too. Although I knew growing up that it was the dirtiest lake in the country, it’s still nice to go for a walk or bike ride in Onondaga Lake Park, and it provides for some cool views of the Syracuse skyline.

From Syracuse, you can go east and get to Oneida Lake, north to Lake Ontario, and east to the Finger Lakes, all within an hour’s drive. Water is easy to come by here in Central New York. Naturally, I chose a college that is on a river, and not just any river—the Hudson River. I tried not to take it for granted, but I did grow accustomed to the gorgeous views up and down a body of water so entrenched in America’s history. I loved to go down to the Hudson and find a quiet spot to read a book. On the surface, it was simply nice to have the river right there It added a unique element to the campus, made it quite photogenic, and served as a reminder of the importance of history in the Hudson Valley. The train ride south to New York City along the Hudson is incredibly picturesque and is something that I would recommend to anyone to do at least once in their lives.

After a quick Google Maps search, bodies of water of the magnitude I am used to are few and far between around Atlanta. I am sure I will still find a nice, quiet spot somewhere around a pond in Piedmont Park, but being so far from the lakes and bigger rivers will take some getting used to.

Wegmans

I won’t waste words trying to explain it, because I have tried before, and it just does not work. If you have been to Wegmans, you know, but if you haven’t, you probably can’t comprehend how Wegmans is “so much more than a grocery store.” But it is SO much more than a grocery store. Nothing else comes close, but I am cursed to compare any grocery store I enter to it in my head anyways. Walking into grocery stores, for the rest of my life, will be a disappointing feeling unless I am walking into a Wegmans.

I will let Alec Baldwin do the rest of the talking. (Wegmans talk starts 2:30 into the video).

Dinosaur, Rossi’s, and other favorite food places

Yes, I know, there is no barbecue like southern barbecue. Trust me, I am quite excited to try it. But I took one last trip to the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que this week, and man, I am going to miss this place.

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I started with the Dinosaur’s own Ape Hanger Ale made by the Middle Ages Brewing company and an order of wings. I have yet to have chicken wings that I like better than the ones at the Dinosaur. I then went with my go-to order—a pulled pork sandwich topped with cheese and sides of fries and mac and cheese. There are plenty of sauces to try, and I can never decide on one, so I mix them all in at different points. The Wango Tango, the spicier Garlic Chipotle Pepper sauce, and the spiciest Devil’s Duel all make for a great array of tastes. I have heard about the wonders of barbecue in the south, but if I have a meal that is better than your average Dinosaur plate, I will be surprised and very impressed.

It may not be CNY, but I already miss Rossi’s, a small Italian Deli in Poughkeepsie. This place is so good that they don’t have to advertise. I didn’t ever know it existed until my junior year at Marist. It is so popular that the family who owns it can take the entire month of August off to travel to Italy. There is not much space on the inside, partially because the food selection is so huge, but the line is always to the door around lunchtime. You may think you have had a good deli sandwhich, you haven’t until you have had a Rossi’s panini, made with all imported or fresh-made ingredients. In the heart of Poughkeepsie, it feels like the genuine Italian deli experience.

I know I’ll eat good food in Atlanta. Doesn’t mean I won’t miss these places.

Honorable mentions: Tully’s Tenders, Hoffman Hots, New York pizza in general.

Minor League Baseball

If you couldn’t tell by my Twitter feed or by most of the other posts on this site, I allow baseball to occupy some of my free time. Okay, that may be the understatement of the century. I grew up on baseball. Playing it, studying it, creating my own leagues, and of course, watching it. I have been going to P&C Stadium Alliance Bank Stadium NBT Bank Stadium for as long as it has been open, which is about as long as I can remember going to baseball games, period. Sure, the Syracuse Chiefs may be poorly-run. But with me caring more about the baseball than the experience, that never mattered much to me. I can remember seeing Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells before they made it to the majors, and more recently, I saw Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper play in Chiefs uniforms before they donned the red of the Washington Nationals.

I covered the Hudson Valley Renegades and had the opportunity to watch a lot of New York-Penn League baseball. It is an intimate situation to watch a game in, and provides a pretty cool small-town America experience. I covered some prospects, either fresh out of college or a couple years out of high school. The communities at this level, especially in the Hudson Valley, support their teams very well. It is a neat combination of just going to watch a baseball game because it’s there and because it is fun to go to, and knowing that virtually none of these players are famous, but one or two of them might be someday. Minor League Baseball is a perfect example of the “American Dream” living on in today’s society.

In all, there are 11 minor league teams in New York State. Georgia? Just four, and only the Gwinnett Braves are remotely close to Atlanta. I am quite excited to live closer to a Major League team than I ever have before, but I’ll miss knowing that a fun, quaint baseball experience is a short drive and a few dollars away.

Now it’s time to put all of that behind me, at least for now, and start anew in the ATL. It’s exciting, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bittersweet. Thanks for everything, Central New York.

Tim Lincecum tosses a no-hitter

My favorite things from Timmy’s no hitter:

6. The line: 9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 13 K, 148 pitches. No way he was going to come out of that game. Pitch counts are overrated, anyways.

5. The embrace between Buster Posey and Lincecum after the final out. Of all of the things that have been over-analyzed in the last few years of the San Francisco Giants, few have been more scrutinized than the relationship between Posey and Lincecum. They can’t play together, they don’t get along, blah blah blah… that can go away. At least, for a while.

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4. The fact that this was Jeff Francoeur’s first game in a San Francisco Giants uniform. He didn’t play, but hey, welcome to the club, Frenchy.

3. Listening to Jon Miller call it. Him and Mike Krukow not only called a great game, but didn’t allow any of those silly “can’t mention it” superstitions to get in the way. Way too many broadcasters would have been saying stuff like “check out that line score, through seven, Lincecum has something special going,” as if them saying the words no-hitter would actually impact the game. Miller and Krukow kept it professional, which made it more enjoyable to watch.

2. The timing. This is a Giants team that was no-hit less than two weeks ago and somehow found ways to keep hitting rock-bottom after that. After having the worst record in baseball over a two-month span, this is the kind of game that can change a team’s season. I also feel good for Lincecum, who has seen his fair share of struggles lately, but seems to have reworked something in his mechanics recently and has discovered the bite and life that his old stuff had. In a rotation that has struggled mightily this year, he is starting to step up.

1a. This.

1. This.