Saturday, March 20, 2010

Noteworthy people and places

I'm heading to Scottsdale Stadium in a little while to watch the Reds play the Giants. It should be interesting to see how Travis Wood and Mike Leake do today. Usually home teams play their starters, and Travis and Mike are both scheduled to pitch three or four innings. This will be a solid test for their candidacy to be the fifth starter.

Over the past days here in Arizona, I've collected a few pictures of noteworthy people and places and thought this would be a good time to post them, including a restaurant review at the end.

People of interest

A few former Reds have appeared on opposing teams. Former Reds' outfielder Norris Hopper made a short (no pun intended) appearance for the Brewers. Objectively speaking, Hopper has never been a great, or even a good, MLB player. But in the summer of 2007 he did become a Reds fan favorite when the only thing going right for the Reds was Norris Hopper, who seemed to get a hit every time at the plate. In 2007, he had a .371 on base percentage in 305 plate appearances.

This day, playing for the Brewers, Hopper swung at the first pitch in his only AB and he grounded into a double play. He probably should have tried one of his famous push bunts up the first base line.

Josh Hamilton still plays for the Texas Rangers. I saw a few innings of a Rangers-Giants game last week. Josh played left field that game. Hamilton played for the Reds in 2008 and was traded to the Rangers for pitcher Edinson Volquez. The "throw-in" player in that deal was a small, left-handed relief pitcher named Daniel Herrera.

Two former Reds' pitching greats -- Jack Billingham and Jim Maloney -- were in uniform and standing together in the dugout.

Jim Maloney pitched for the Reds from 1960 to 1970. He had a career ERA of 3.19 and threw 74 complete games, including three no-hitters. His best season was 1963 when he earned a 23-7 record, an ERA of 2.77 and struck out 265 batters in 250 innings. In a sense, he was an Aroldis Chapman of his day, considered a hard thrower. His pitches were estimated in the 100 mph range.

Jack Billingham came to the Reds in the blockbuster trade with the Astros that brought Joe Morgan and Cesar Geronimo to Cincinnati and sent Lee May and Tommy Helms, among others, to Houston. Billingham was a cornerstone of the Big Red Machine's pitching staff, pitching for the Reds from 1972 to 1977 and winning 87 games over those six years. In 1973 he threw 293 innings with a 3.04 ERA, 19 wins, 16 complete games (no easy feat with Sparky 'Captain Hook' Anderson as the manager) and seven shutouts. Billingham saved his best for the World Series, where over his 7 appearances he was 2-0 with a microscopic 0.36 ERA.

My seat at Goodyear Ballpark affords me close proximity to the Reds brass. Owner and CEO of the Reds since 2005, Bob Castellini sits a few rows in front of me. He has used his field seats (I'm sure he has a nice suite, too) every game I've attended. He stayed in his ballpark seats all nine innings last night.

Hall of Fame announcer, Marty Brennaman, has watched several games in sections with regular paying customers. Marty has been the voice of the Reds since 1974 when he took over for Al Michaels. He worked side-by-side with Joe Nuxhall for 30 years. Marty's signature call "And this one belongs to the Reds!" began in his second game broadcasting for Cincinnati.

Through his tenure, Marty has called Pete Rose's hit number 4192, Henry Aaron's home run number 714 (which was given up by Jack Billingham), the Reds' 1975, 1976 and 1990 World Series championships, and Tom Browning's perfect game. Other Reds' broadcasters, Chris Welch and Jeff Brantley, have been regular observers at Goodyear on their "off" days. Brantley frequently sits in the first or second row behind home plate scoring the game. Here, Marty is sitting at Goodyear Ballpark with his son Thom, who is also a Reds broadcaster.

Walt Jocketty, the Reds' General Manager, usually watches games from upstairs, but on occasion has ventured down into the cheap seats. Last night he watched the entire game from about 8 rows back behind home plate. A few days ago, against Cleveland, toward the end of the game he watched inconspicuously standing and then sitting among the crowd.

Before working for the Reds, Jocketty was the GM for the St. Louis Cardinals for 13 seasons. Over that time the Cardinals won a World Series and seven NL Central Division Championships.

Places of interest

I've seen a few ballparks in Arizona. Maryvale Baseball Park, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers, sits in a residential area on the outskirts of the city of Phoenix. It was built in 1998 and seats 7,000 people. It was mostly full yesterday in a day game between the Angels and the Brewers. The dominant sense I had at Maryvale was the ever-present smell of fried dough, from their funnel cake booths.

Camelback Ranch is the new home of the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. This is the Dodgers inaugural year at Camelback, and the second year for the White Sox. Camelback has a very distinctive southwestern style which I found appealing. The two team administrative offices back up to the outfield fences - the Dodgers in left field, the White Sox in right. Camelback is about 15 minutes northeast from Goodyear Ballpark. It opened in 2009 and seats 13,000 people, which is the largest seating capacity in the Cactus League.

Surprise Stadium is the shared home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. I watched a game between the Rangers and the Giants there last week. It opened in 2003 and seats 10,500 people. Surprise Stadium is about 20 minutes from Goodyear, due north.

UPDATE: The San Francisco Giants play in Scottsdale Stadium, which sits in downtown Scottsdale, just northeast of downtown Phoenix. It opened in 1992 and does have a few touches of old-stadium design - very small seats that face straight ahead, not angled toward home plate. It has a capacity of 12,000 and was completely packed today as the Reds played there.

Goodyear Ballpark, the Reds new Arizona field, also opened in 2009 and seats 10,300.

Among the parks that I have visited in Arizona, Goodyear is the only one that charges for parking. In Florida, the only free baseball parking I experienced was at Disney in Orlando, the home of the Atlanta Braves. But here, parking has been free at Camelback, Surprise and Scottsdale, where I'm headed in a few minutes.

Matt's Big Breakfast

A few weeks ago, Matt's Big Breakfast was featured on the Food Network show "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." I've been there twice and the food is simply, utterly, fantastic.

There is nothing big about Matt's, except the breakfast, however. It is a tiny, tiny spot, perhaps seating 35 people. I waited both times I've been there, but it was well worth it.

Matt's features basic breakfast dishes, like eggs, meats, pancakes, a waffle, as well as a few lunch items. It isn't open for dinner. Here you see my first breakfast at Matt's -- an omelet of grilled onions, sausage and cheese, their delicious crispy hash browns (although I liked their home fries better on visit #2), and great toasted wheat bread with local strawberry preserves.

I give Matt's Big Breakfast my highest culinary recommendation.

1 comment:

  1. I seem to recall that Dick Williams manager of Oakland, said that during the A's 3 world series championships, Billingham was the toughest pitcher they faced. Pretty impressive, considering they faced Seaver, Koosman and Sutton during that period.