Happy New Year

Happy New Year. If you bought an extended service plan on 2017, it has now expired, and the full cost of all repairs or replacements will have to be paid out of pocket. Regrettably, the Office of Chronological Mismanagement is no longer offering service plans of any sort. So enjoy 2018 while it still has that new car smell. Soon enough we’ll have to break out the duct tape and patch it up.

In any case, we had a very pleasant end to 2017 and beginning of 2018. You may have gotten the impression from my posts that this family likes fireworks–and that would be a correct impression. We go to New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July fireworks shows whenever we can.

Last year, we caught the show in Berkeley, but this year there wasn’t one. Nor, as far as I could tell, was there one anywhere in the East Bay. All the municipalities were very quiet about it; we don’t know if the lack of shows was due to financial problems, fire worries, security concerns, a lack of desire to compete with San Francisco’s show, or something even less sensical.

But regardless of the reasons, we had a firework gap that needed to be filled. We’ve always steered clear of San Francisco’s show, figuring it would be an enormous hassle, with an impossible parking situation, horrible crowds, and hours-long delays getting out of the city. Turned out we were wrong.

I won’t tell you exactly where we were. For one thing, the parking garage we found will be closing before the end of 2018, and for another, if all of the readers of this blog showed up in our spot this coming December 31, it would…well, okay, nobody would know the difference. But why take the chance of the post going viral? I’ll just say we were south of the Ferry Building and north of the Bay Bridge and let it go at that.

We arrived around noon–far earlier than we needed to–and had our choice of parking spots in the garage. With apologies to those of you north of Eureka or east of Carson City or Phoenix for sounding like I’m gloating, the temperature, even as midnight approached, was in the fifties with scattered high clouds and exactly three drops of rain. The city of San Francisco had kindly provided large planter boxes with cement walls that made excellent seats. And once we got through the line to pay for parking, our time from the garage onto the Bay Bridge was no more than twenty minutes. In rush hour, that same part of the drive frequently stretches to an hour or more.

If there was one downside to the day, it was that few businesses were open near the Embarcadero, and those that were closed early. I believe that, with the exception of a few restaurants, nothing was open past seven. Was it because NYE was a Sunday? Or is it standard for New Year’s Eve? Memo to San Francisco: encourage more vendors to show up and stay open later. It’ll bring more people into the city earlier in the day, they’ll spend more money, improving both vendor profits and city tax and parking revenue. Just a thought. And next time we do it, we’ll bring books, a deck of cards, or something else entertaining.

Because, yes, there will be a next time. The show was wonderful. If not the best ever, right up there at the top of the list. Yes, the hearts were all lazy, lying on their sides and all but a few of the smiley faces were significantly distorted, but those mishaps just added humor to the show. There was a good mix of high and low bursts, some effects we hadn’t seen before, and a clear–and spectacular–finale.

Consider this an open invitation to blog readers: if you’re freezing your tails off again in December 2018, come to San Francisco. We can hang out together and watch the show. I won’t promise you it’ll be as warm as it was Sunday, but I think it’s safe to promise it’ll be warmer than Times Square.

Halfway There

Here we are at the All-Star Break again. The official mid-point of the season, also known as “The Week Without Baseball”.

OK, yeah, I know it’s only four days, but I figure that if MLB is allowed to promote the game as something larger and more important than it really is, then I can do the same for the break itself.

Anyway, last night was the Home Run Derby, which isn’t baseball, but is entertaining. MLB addressed my biggest complaint about last year’s event. The threshold to earn bonus time was raised from two 425-foot home runs to a pair of 440-foot shots. That was high enough to avoid making it a “gimme” and I’m fairly sure it influenced the results.

It’s a shame Madison Bumgarner wasn’t allowed to play. Note to MLB and the Players’ Association: nobody wants to see a separate pitchers-only home run derby. We just want to see MadBum launch a few. Let’s be honest–we don’t expect him to win. But watching him try? That’s entertainment. And he certainly couldn’t have done much worse than Robinson CanĂ³’s pitiful seven home run performance.

When Giancarlo Stanton racked up twenty-four in the first round, everyone knew he was moving on, but darn it all, Robbie, couldn’t you at least have managed double digits?

Oh, well. Stanton’s performance was awe-inspiring; well worth the time spent watching a meaningless, made-for-TV entertainment extravaganza.

And, per my usual fascination with side issues: the kids in the outfield made some nice catches this year. Kudos!

Moving on.

The actual All-Star game is tonight. Real baseball, even if it doesn’t matter as much as MLB wants us to think it does.

And then we get two days without baseball.

Well, not really. Don’t forget the minors. The AAA All-Star Game is tomorrow, and if you’ve got the MLB Network on your cable or satellite lineup, that’ll be televised. And minor league play resumes on Thursday. It’s a great opportunity to hunt up your local minor league team and catch a game without feeling like you’re neglecting your major league team-of-choice.

Speaking of catching a game, I’ve been to a pair of minor league games this year.

July 5 was the San Jose Giants. I’ll spare you the pictures, since (a) I didn’t take any and (b) if I had, they would have looked a lot like last year’s.

Then, on the ninth, I went up to Sacramento, home of the River Cats. Until last year, the River Cats were the As’ AAA* affiliate. Now they’re affiliated with the Giants. But I didn’t go to root for the ‘Cats. Oh, no. Y’see, the Tacoma Rainiers, AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners were in town.

* For the uninitiated: AAA is the highest level of the minors. In theory, the teams are made up of youngsters who are almost ready for the majors. In practice, there are also major-leaguers reconditioning after injuries, and older players on the way back down.

Both the San Jose and Sacramento games were, by the way, followed by fireworks shows. That’s not a minor inducement. Ballpark fireworks are generally excellent.

Anyway, the River Cats game was
STARWARS Night
As promotions go, STARWARS Night is fairly harmless. A few gratuitous stormtroopers, Darth Maul throwing out the first pitch, and similar oddities don’t greatly detract from the Baseball Experience.

We had excellent seats.
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Third row back from the Rainiers’ dugout. No protective netting, which made that sign at the lower right take on new layers of significance.
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Odd. I’d never realized that women were at higher risk of injury from flying bats, but flying balls target men. I’d like to see the study that supports the theory. Anyway…

The highlight of the game, at least for Tacoma fans, was once-and-future Mariners’ catcher Mike Zunino. He went three-for-five with two home runs, drove in all five of the Raniers’ runs in a 5-3 victory, and–on a personal note–tossed this into the stands:
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My first-ever game ball. It may not have come to me via a home run or a foul, but I really don’t care. Two people missed their catches, it came to me, and I’m thrilled.

Less thrilled: the kid sitting two rows in front of me, whose father was one of the people who missed the ball. He gave me one heck of a dirty look. I considered giving it to him–especially since he and his father were also rooting for Tacoma–but decided to keep it. Not only was it my first, but I thought the odds were good that he’d have another chance that day.

And I was right. A couple of innings later, his father missed another catch. That ball went to the father/son duo sitting just to their left.

Never fear, though, he didn’t go home disappointed. Not only did the kid’s father finally snag a ball for him in the eighth inning, but at the end of the game somebody in the Tacoma dugout slipped him a used bat.

Very well-used. Dented, scuffed, and with a large crack in the handle, it was obviously not a usable bat. But he was thrilled. And rightly so. He’ll be a fan for life, no doubt.

I confess to a modicum of jealousy, but I’m bearing up. Holding that ball is remarkably soothing. Thanks, Mike!

Moving on.

This is getting long, so I’ll let you go. You’ve got minor league tickets to order.

And Thursday I’ll check on my predictions for this year’s playoff teams. That should be exciting.

Sights of the Week

Because I can: A few thoughts and pictures from my holiday week.

7/3 – Mariners vs. As
O.co is a lousy place to watch a ballgame, and I gather that it sucks to play there too. All the worst features of a generic stadium planned for multiple sports and none of the good–assuming there are any.
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But when your team wins, you can forgive a lot. The Ms’ four two-run home runs suggested they might finally be pulling out of their extended hitting doldrums. It’s only a suggestion, of course: Wednesday’s 0-14 with runners in scoring position shows they still have a lot of work to do, but, y’know. Hope.

And a very impressive fireworks show after the game. If you’re one of those heretic non-baseball fans, you should consider going out to the ballpark on a fireworks night just for the show. And if you wind up enjoying the game too, so much the better.

7/4 – San Pablo 4th of July Family Celebration and Fireworks Show
09-3(My first opportunity to use the Android Photo app’s Panorama mode. It works amazingly well.)

A relaxing way to spend the Forth. Carnival games for the kids–and a rock-climbing wall and pony rides–a few local merchants and community organization booths*. Amateur entertainment: a karate demonstration, Zumba demonstrations, a clown act. Fortunately, this year’s acts didn’t include any singers. And the lion dance was very impressive. Outlining the lions in color-changing electroluminescent wire was a great idea.

* I got a key chain from the San Pablo Police Department, a flashlight from the San Pablo Senior Center–and joined the San Pablo Friends of the Library.

The fireworks weren’t as technically impressive as the As’ show, but were just as satisfying.

7/7 – Manuscript editing
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Sachiko was kind enough to offer her thoughts. She wasn’t impressed. I don’t think the chapter can be salvaged to her standards: it doesn’t have nearly enough scenes of cats being fed.

7/7 – Blaze vs. Giants
Minor league baseball at its best. Perfect weather, excellent seats, and a good game.
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One of the beauties of lower-level baseball is the small parks. Sitting close enough to the field that you an read players’ lips after they commit an error gives you a totally different impression of the game than you get from a seat in the upper deck at a major league stadium.

San Jose won the game 9-4. At the same time, the San Francisco Giants beat the Mets to end their seven game losing streak and the Mariners came from behind to win their game against the Tigers in extra innings. So the only team that didn’t have a good time was Bakersfield.

The most dramatic play of the game was Angel Villalona’s long, high home run to center field. Villalona, San Jose’s first baseman, has a body that puts one in mind of Pablo Sandoval, and when he gets it behind a ball, one suspects he could hit it through the fence.

Despite the majesty of Villalona’s home run, the most interesting sight of the day was pitcher Tyler Rogers. He has one of the purest submarine deliveries I’ve ever seen, and he uses it to great effect: 39 strikeouts to 9 walks in 37 innings for San Jose so far this season. I expect him to move up quickly–he had a rough time in a brief stint at AA Richmond (Go Flying Squirrels!) but he seems to be putting the pieces together well, and I expect him to do much better on his next try.
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