Well...that was a long and hot day at the ballpark!
Baseball road trips are a great part of any summer. Whether they are long drawn out weekends with old friends serving as mini-reunions or quick one day trips with your family, the grand old game serves as a vehicle for getting outside and creating memories with each crack of the bat.
On Sunday I took my 10-year old daughter to Target Field in Minneapolis to catch the wrap up of the four game series between the Tigers and the Twins. It was finally decided to take in this game after several plans changed over the last few weeks. First, I was supposed to go with a buddy of mine and see Friday's game and the Saturday doubleheader. But that fell through, happily as it turned out from a baseball perspective as the Tigers were thoroughly routed in Games 1 & 2. Then I was going to take my daughter up for the doubleheader only. That changed too. We decided to do a one-day ride to Minnesota to catch a game. Seeing Max Scherzer one more time before free agency was a major draw for me.
We took off at 7:20AM from the Des Moines, IA suburbs. My daughter is a great car traveler. No real drama...no extra stops. We alternated musical selections off our playlists. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Seasick Steve, U2, and Jack White for me...Ariana Grande', One Direction, and other Top 40 stuff for her. With only one stop made in Northfield, MN (no sign of Jesse James or his gang), we were in downtown Minneapolis right around 11AM.
You could tell immediately upon getting out of the car it was going to be a hot and muggy afternoon in Minneapolis even though it wasn't sunny yet. The air was thick as I took my daughter on a quick walking tour of the area around Target Field. As a former Minneapolis area resident, I was struck by the amount of change since we left there in 2007. We walked the Nicollet Mall area, got her a quick smoothie from Caribou Coffee, and headed to the stadium.
My daughter had been to three big league parks but this was her first visit to Target Field. We immediately, as is her tradition, journeyed to the highest point in the stadium to get the view from the Bob Uecker seats. One thing they did right building this park was give fans an amazing view of the Minneapolis skyline and we took the obligatory pictures.
Then we took off to get down to field level in hopes of seeing some of the players get ready and take more pictures. We learned a pretty good lesson. A Sunday morning after a long hot doubleheader on Saturday is no time to expect many player to be moving around. The field was pretty dead. Unless you were hankering for a picture of Jim Johnson and Blaine Hardy. Joba Chamberlain was hitting fungos to a child as well.
That was about it. Fans were reduced to asking pitching coach Jeff Jones for an autograph. Then one newsworthy moment happened. Injured reliever Joakim Soria emerged to throw off flat ground for several minutes. He looked to be moving free and easy and ended the session by smiling and nodding with Jones. It certainly seemed like he was on track to return soon.
Then it was finally 1:10pm and game time. I had strongly suspected that Miguel Cabrera would get Sunday off after watching him limp around the previous day. Sure enough, Don Kelly was at first base and batting ninth. Despite Cabrera earning the nickname "Singuel" after the loss of much of his power this year, you'd still rather see him in the lineup. With Kyle Gibson on the mound it certainly appeared like a day where the Tigers were going to need to scrounge up runs and hope that Max Scherzer held the Twins in check until they did.
That turned out to be a rather poor assumption.
The Tigers bats came ready to rake. They turned the tables on the Twins after Gardenhire's charges had massacred the Tigers on Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Line drives were ringing out all day. Each Tigers starter had at least one knock during the 18-hit/8-walk barrage.
Victor Martinez was so impressive. Each of his three hits came while behind in the count but he was doing an amazing job of fouling off pitches until he got the pitch he could drive. The double off the left-field fence over the outstretched Jordan Schafer was a great at-bat that featured Vmart grinding it out, taking the best the fading Gibson had left to offer.
Torii Hunter and Eugenio Suarez were also looking very solid on the plate throughout the day to lead the attack. Hunter is on to something if he continues to attempt to smash liners to the opposite field. I like that look from him then the big pull "swing for the downs" look he all too often flashes.
Scherzer on the other hand...well...he had a slog of a day. Staked to a 3-0 lead, Scherzer immediately coughed it up. His pitch count quickly ballooned and you could tell quickly it would be a short day for Max. Luckily he ended his day with a bit of good fortune. With a 5-3 lead, Scherzer served up a ball that Trevor Plouffe barreled up nicely and it looked like a 3-run shot off the bat. It was hit just about 100 feel from where we were sitting at the time in the left field bleachers. But it was to the deepest part of the field and Rajai Davis raced back to catch it at the fence. There was a euphoric yell from the rather large cadre of Tigers fans sitting around us in the bleachers. It got my daughter jumping...that's all I can ask for.
The main highlight for me as the game wore on was from an unlikely source. Phil Coke! Phil's moment came in the 6th. Al Alburquerque inherited a 7-3 lead and proceeded to attempt to muck up the inning by plunking the lead off man, walking a batter, and giving up a single to load the bags. After retiring Brian Dozier on a shallow fly ball, Ausmus removed Alburquerque to bring in Coke to face Joe Mauer. This seemed like a moment where we were about to get a game again. By this time we were sitting near the Tigers dugout in seats vacated by fans looking for shade. I figured I would have a good view of Coke's undoing. He jumped out 0-2 on Mauer and then surrendered that commanding position by throwing three balls, none of which were remotely tempting to a batter of Mauer's patience. Then with doom impending, thunder struck! Coke reared back and fired a bullet past Mauer for a stunning strike out. I was shocked...relieved...ecstatic! I am generally a very reserved fan...this brought out the crazy person in me. Great stuff Phil! (we won't bring up what happened the next inning when you were yanked unceremoniously)
Joe Mauer has been hot since returning from the DL. However he looked very pedestrian on this day. A couple of lazy flyouts against Scherzer left runners on base and then getting fanned by Coke when he had a chance to get his club back in the game. He simply wasn't a scary 3-hole presence on this day. As the Twins system produces more and more talent, it will be interesting to see what kind of presence Mauer morphs into for their lineup. His game isn't profiling the same as it once did. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano (although both hurt this year) can't get there soon enough for Twins fans.
Twins rookies Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas both impressed. Santana looks like he has excellent bat control and solid speed on the basepaths. Certainly looks like a player the Tigers will be dealing with a for a few years. Vargas is a behemoth. He didn't flash big power on this day, but he lashed three singles with authority.
I was happy that the Twins left Glen Perkins on the bench until mopping up in the 9th down by nine runs. I would have let Perkins pitch an inning earlier when it was 7-3 at least to try and restore order. The Twins had nearly gotten back in the game, why not hold the Tigers and give your club another shot against the shaky Tigers bullpen. Instead the Twins put Sam Deduno out there to get killed. Thanks Gardy.
Four hours and ten minutes for a nine inning game? Total joke.
Fourth longest game in Twins history according to their radio team afterwards.
Certainly when the pitching is as bad it was, a long game is in the offing. But baseball needs to take steps to limit mound visits by the catcher and perhaps by the coaches. They need to shorten the time it takes to make pitching changes. Mostly they need to keep batters in the batter's box.
Selling commercial breaks is a big part of baseball and, therefore, some time factors can't be changed too much. But the ones that can change need to be identified and attacked. Soon.
As usual, a great showing of Tigers faithful was on hand in an "enemy stadium". All age groups represented. "Trammell" jerseys, "Kaline" jerseys, and even a "Willis" jersey were seen on the day in addition to today's stars. (I mean, seriously, kudos to the gent in the Willis jersey for keeping that dream alive!)
My daughter did the ice cream, bratwurst, french fries trifecta on the day. She was perfectly happy.
I have been doing a high-protein deal lately. So I gravitated to the "pork chop on a stick" and then visited "Bizarre Foods" host Andrew Zimmern's food cart in the left field concourse. It was loud and I wanted to get back for the Tigers looming at-bat...so I pointed at some tasty looking meat and just said, "I'll have that, no bun!" I'm not sure what it was. I think it was lamb. It was great.
The Twins have a self-serve beer stand now! I did not partake, this was a water and diet soda day...if my initial plan had been in place, I would have. But you have to love that this option exists....the baseball world is now a better place.
So the Tigers are 2-0 for my daughter and me on our one-day baseball adventures in 2014. We saw Verlander and the Tigers scorch the Royals in a May blowout down in Kansas City. Hopefully we get down to KC again in September and take a shot at 3-0!
The long game pushed our departure back. We left after the Tigers scored more runs in the top of the 8th. We were in the car before the rain downpour. 3.5 hours and one quick stop in Albert Lea, MN, we were safely back home.
Another great baseball day for father and daughter. I think she even thought so!