2015 Atlanta Braves Opening Day

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In what is becoming an annual tradition here, today is the day in which we celebrate the (should be considered) national holiday of Opening Day in MLB! This is the point where I usually write several paragraphs about how his is the year in which everything comes together and the Braves finally realize their potential. This is the year that the Braves make a deep run in October. This is the year their young talent fully matures and makes that next step. This could be the year that the Braves return to the World Series. Well, a funny thing happened between the last pitch of 2014 and this first pitch of 2015. The Braves went into full-fledged rebuild mold.

Julio Teheran is the Opening Day starter for your Atlanta Braves

Julio Teheran is the Opening Day starter for your Atlanta Braves

Gone are prodigal son Jason Heyward, the savior at second base Tommy La Stella, both Upton brothers, the best closer in the game Craig Kimbrel, feel good story Evan “El Oso Blanco” Gattis,  the 2014 Tommy John casualties Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, and Jonny Venters, the hired gun Ervin Santana (who is now gone from his new team for 80 games for using PED’s) and nearly every setup man in the bullpen from last year. Gone is the hopes of the Braves celebrating their 20 year anniversary of being World Champions with a repeat performance of this feat. Gone is the general manager to either praise or blame for the current state of the Braves. Gone will be several fans (not this one) upset and hurt by the moves. Rather, enter the pains of rebuilding.

Taken from the Braves Facebook page

Taken from the Braves Facebook page in 2013…  😦

The Braves did not just give away these players (well, Melvin Upton, Jr., they certainly tried and his transaction became the toughest, but more on this later). The fact was that the Braves team of the past few years was talented, but flawed. They did win 96 games and the NL East only TWO years ago! With a young, and mostly returning team. The originally projected Braves team for 2015 would have been decent. The problem is that is was unlikely that the Braves were going to be great, and then next year, there were going to be a massive exodus of talent due to the team’s corporate ownership, Liberty Media, and the bottom line. In reality, the looming exodus after 2015 did not have to happen, but was going to, regardless of what we fans think. And with the new park opening in 2017 (a subject for another day), the new front office decided to punt on the last two years at Turner Field and have hope for Sun Trust Park. So here we are, a team of misfits, scabs, and a couple of remaining stars from the past half decade, and a wounded fan base.

The Braves have certainly found a way to dominate the offseason chatter. They have actually done this for three consecutive years now. 2013 they signed the then BJ Upton to the largest free agent contract in team history, traded for his brother Justin, and had what many people, myself included, felt was the most talented outfield in the game. Ultimately we were wrong, but it was exciting and fun. 2014 saw several extensions for the rising young stars of the team. Freeman, Kimbrel, Simmons, Teheran, and Johnson signed huge extensions days after news of the new park was announced. The GM Frank Wren and Manager Fredi Gonzalez received contract extensions. Heyward had his arbitration years bought out, creating hop a longer extension was still an option. And after Medlen and Beachy had their right elbows fail them again, the Braves made a huge splash by signing Ervin Santana to save the rotation. The 2014 season did not cooperate. The hitters regressed, the pitching was solid, but not exceptional, and the team only won 79 games. A drop of 17 games with a very similar roster is troubling, but what if 2014, and not 2013, was the aberration?  A couple of moves could be made to bolster the roster, and look out MLB in 2015! Sadly, that is not the direction the team went.

Pic from MLB's Facebook page (2013)

Technically true! Pic from MLB’s Facebook page (2013)

The alarming strikeout rates, lack of power, and complete failure with runners in scoring position prompted a complete overhaul. Young second baseman Tommy La Stella was sent to the Cubs for a former Braves pitching prospect derailed by injuries. Heyward was sent along with primary setup man Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals, just so all my friends and family can enjoy their talents at my expense, for young pitching prospects. Justin Upton was moved out west to the Padres for more prospects, including one recovering from Tommy John surgery, which is the Braves way, of course. Bullpen arms David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve were sent to the Yankees for a former highly touted prospect returning from Tommy John surgery. Then El Oso Blanco was sent to the Astros for more prospects. Then yesterday, as everyone was preparing for a 2015 season that may or may not be good, the Braves pulled the trigger on another deal. The best closer in baseball was packaged with the worst contract in baseball and sent to the Padres for a couple of warm bodies for the outfield (one of which was immediately DFA’d) and a couple more intriguing prospects.

Heyward and Justin Upton were pending free agents, so moving them was rationalized simply by stating the obvious, they were gone after 2015 anyway. Sell now, and get max value. Gattis was a cheap power hitter, but really had limited options on the Braves roster due to rising catcher Christian Bethancourt, Freeman at first, and the scary prospect of him lumbering in the outfield. If MLB had the DH in both leagues, then maybe Gattis will still be in the middle of the Braves lineup, but they do not, so he is now in Houston. All the setup men are gone because bullpen arms are mostly expendable when you are not going to contend. La Stella played the wrong position and the Braves could get a high ceiling arm (who is now suspended for 80 games for PED’s…). Kimbrel is gone because a closer like him is a luxury and dumping him and his salary allowed for the Braves to also jettison the other Upton’s albatross of a contract while still getting impact prospects in return.

The Chop

The chop!

 

Whereas 2015, and probably 2016 are going to painful to watch, there is a plan in place. The Braves farm system went from the bottom five in baseball to the top five in the matter of months. Draft picks were acquired and a focus on scouting has returned. Even a greater nod to analytics has begun with the inclusion of Coppolella in the front office. Several veteran players were signed and even if half of the new pitching prospects realize their potential, the rotation will be scary good in the near future. Rebuilding sucks, but you know what else sucks, mediocrity. Year after year of being just good enough to contend, but ultimately not being good enough to excel is hard to endure. The string of recent first round exits and Braves postseason heartaches has not been fun. My Cardinals friends give me grief about the Braves only winning one World Series in the 90’s. All of that talent, and only one ring to show for it. I always respond with something about the Buffalo Bills or decades of losing in markets like Pittsburgh or the hell that was the 80’s for Braves fans. But the truth is that the 90’s do sting a bit. The 1991 and 1996 World Series were very winnable. The 1997 NLCS still haunts me. Even one more World Series win changes everything. If this rebuild is what it takes to get there, then so be it. I will still watch more than my fair share of Braves games this year, including this afternoon’s opener. I am honestly excited to see how this team does. The offense of the past few years has been painful to watch, so this new look team should at least be a little bit more exciting to watch. I could be wrong and this could be a callback to the 1980’s Braves with Freddie Freeman playing the modern day Dale Murphy.

I'm going to miss seeing this (photo from NBC)

I’m going to miss seeing this (photo from NBC)

So here is to another year of baseball! My team may not be favored to win it all, but wait ’til next year (in my best Cubs’ fan voice)!

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Angels Game During Disneyland Half Weekend

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Another stadium marked off my 30 MLB park tour

Another stadium marked off my 30 MLB park tour

One of my non-running goals is to attend a baseball game at all 30 MLB stadiums.  This is not an original goal, but much like the 50 half marathons in 50 states goal, it is a great way to see the country.  Angels Stadium marked my fourth active MLB stadium to attend a game at, joining Turner Field, Busch Stadium (the third one), and Fenway Park.  I have also attended games at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, the second Busch Stadium, and Riverfront Stadium, but those do not count on the 30 parks tour.

No ballgame is complete without a beer and a hot dog.

No ballgame is complete without a beer and a hot dog.

Going to an MLB game requires at least one beer and hot dog.  This trip lived up to this expectation, even if it was not the best meal to eat the night before a race.  Luckily it was before the 10K, and I did not overindulge in anything.

Panorama of Angels Stadium

Panorama of Angels Stadium

The game was between the top team teams in the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Oakland A’s.  The weeks prior to the game, it was looking like the game would potentially be for possession of first place in the division.  However, by August 29, the Angels had started to pull away in the division, but I was still able to watch two aces go at it.  Jon Lester was pitching for the A’s, and Jared Weaver for the Angels, and both pitched well.

Yes, this is a helmet full of nachos. No, I did not order these.

Yes, this is a helmet full of nachos. No, I did not order these.

The game ended 4-0 Angels, with home runs by Chris Iannetta and Albert Pujols.  Sadly, Mike Trout did not do anything SportsCenter worthy during the game, but it was still a good game.

T-Shirt giveaway from the game

T-Shirt giveaway from the game

Honestly, the stadium was better than I expected.  There were a ton of food options, and while the stadium is one of the older ones in the league, it holds up well.  The organization does it best to make the game day experience a fun one, and the fans were much more rabid than I was expecting. The helmet nachos were very popular, partially because at $16.50, they were a good value by ballpark standards.  I cannot imagine eating all of those nachos in one sitting.

With my fourth active stadium marked off the list, I have no clue which one will be next, but it probably will not be until next season that I will be able to travel to a new stadium.

It’s Braves Opening Day!

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Back to my regularly scheduled running blog later, but today is Opening Day in baseball and that takes top priority.  As you can probably tell from my random posts, I am an avid fan of the Atlanta Braves.  This has left me disappointed most seasons, especially in the playoffs, but they are still my team.  And on the first day of the year, everyone is in first place!  Unless you are in the NL West where the Dodgers have already played three games.

Hoping for a successful year!

Hoping for a successful year!

The spring was a roller coaster for the Braves this year.  It started with Braves fans despondent because the team made no off-season moves of note while losing Tim Hudson and Brian McCann to free agency.  But then, during the first couple of weeks of spring training, the Braves started locking up much of their young core of players to long-term deals, which has been unheard of in the past few years, and things began to look up!  Then Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy hurt their arms, needing their second Tommy John surgery, which does not have a good track record for a return to success.  The Braves have the dubious honor of leading the majors in Tommy John surgeries and they added three more (two for sure) to that total this spring.  That is why the Braves opening day rotation is not quite what us fans had expected.  Well, that and another pitcher having his urethra operated on in the off-season.  So the Aaron Harang era is about to begin in Atlanta!  These injuries also led the Braves to sign the best available free agent pitcher, Ervin Santana, blowing up the projected budget in the process. Of course, blowing up the budget is different for Atlanta than say the Yankees, because at the projected Opening Day budget around $111 million, the Braves are still ranked 14th in baseball in payroll.

Not a chart you want to be leading

Not a chart you want to be leading

But today is Opening Day, a day for optimism and excitement.  We finally get to see our favorite teams on the field again and at least for one day, they all have a chance to make it special.  162 games is a long time, and many things can and will happen.  Last year, the Braves were given zero chance of winning the division and by the end of April, they had already buried the rest of the division, so it can happen.  If the young core of Heyward, Freeman, Kimbrel, Teheran, Simmons, and Justin Upton continue their growth, a long with Gattis replacing McCann and Uggla and BJ Upton remember how to play baseball, even at a replacement level, this year still can be special.

Julio Teheran is the 2014 Opening Day starter for your Atlanta Braves

Julio Teheran is the 2014 Opening Day starter for your Atlanta Braves

I spent more time yesterday watching Braves highlights from years past than I care to admit.  I watched Brooks Conrad’s walk off grand slam from 2010, both of Chipper’s walk off home runs against the Phillies in 2012, Bream’s slide in the 1992 NLCS, David Justice’s solo shot in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series to give the Braves their only World Series championship in Atlanta.  In fact, while watching Justice’s home run, I noticed the one and only Bill F’n Murray in the stands with Ted Turner.  Murray is a Chicago guy and I believe a Cubs fan, but it was still cool seeing him there when then only celebrity I remember from the 1990’s Braves was Jeff Foxworthy.

Turner and Murray, 1995 World Series (photo from Sports Illustrated)

Turner and Murray, 1995 World Series (photo from Sports Illustrated)

So I think that the Braves should bring back Murray to throw out the first pitch of a game and maybe channel some Groundhog Day (yes, I went there, and yes, I am sorry) magic into the organization because October 28, 1995, would be a mighty fine day to relive.  Well, expect for one minor detail.  This is the only Braves post season game that I have missed in my entire life!  Yep, the biggest game in Atlanta Braves history and I missed it because my parents made me go to a Tim McGraw concert!  This was before the age of smartphones and I sat there, in my Chipper Jones jersey, nervously waiting for score updates anywhere that I could get them.  I was even interviewed by a local radio station that was doing a remote from the concert.  They could not believe that I was there instead of watching the game.  But I was 13, and did not have much say in the matter.  This night will haunt me for the rest of my life!  And of course, there is no Tim McGraw song presently on my iPhone.

Pic from MLB's Facebook page (2013)

Pic from MLB’s Facebook page (2013)

Sadly, I am at work today, so I cannot watch the game, but I will be following along on my phone and hopefully my 1 o’clock clients will leave quickly so I can return to my office and listen to the game.  Despite the injuries, I still have high hopes for this season.  I still feel that the Braves will win over 90 games and make the playoffs.  Maybe a year full of doubters and pundits claiming that the Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees, Nationals, Giants, Red Sox, and Tigers are obviously better teams will help the Braves come out of no where (as much as a defending division winner can) like the Red Sox did last year.  Who knows, but it is baseball season once again, and that is always a good thing.

Randomness

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It has been an insane week for me thus far, but I decided to take a break from my office duties to allow my faithful readers to indulge in some randomness.  I could probably write longer entries on the majority of what will be included in this post, but I honestly do not have time to do so right now.  So enjoy this ADHD blog post!

Meet Molly

Meet Molly

1. Meet Molly.  On Wednesday, Susan and I drove to Hayden, AL to rescue the newest member of our family, Molly.  She was at a pet rescue there and had previously been rescued from a kill shelter.  When she was rescued from the kill shelter, her hair was matted to the point that it had to be cut off by scissors because the shears would not work.  Susan and I cannot fathom anyone ever surrendering a dog to a kill shelter, but especially not a dog as comfortable around people and playful as Molly.  She took to us immediately and once we got home, Beau and her acted like they had been brother and sister for years.   We are not 100% of her breed or age, but we know that she is at least part doodle, which is great for me and my terrible allergies, and estimate that she is between one and two years old.  She was found in the same area in which we got Beau, so I feel that there is a high probability that they both came from the same breeder and that her original owner came upon some hard luck that led to the less than ideal situation for Molly.  Susan and I are happy that we found out about her and were capable of rescuing her.

Side view of my apple after starting with the top.

Side view of my apple after starting with the top.

2. Thanks to a Facebook post, I have discovered a new way to eat an apple. So yesterday I saw a post on Facebook about how we have been eating apples wrong for years.  Today, I happened to have an apple in my lunch, so I thought that I would try this fancy new way of enjoying my apple.  And to my surprise, the new way worked!  I feel like Charlie Kelly discovering fruit for the first time in the “The Gang Hits the Road” episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  You can read the whole article here.

Infographic on the financing for the new Braves Stadium

Infographic on the financing for the new Braves Stadium

3. The Atlanta Braves are moving to Cobb County.  On Monday, the Braves dropped a bombshell on their fans by announcing the intention to move the Atlanta Braves from their current downtown ballpark, Turner Field, to the suburbs in Cobb County.  The new stadium would still have an Atlanta address, but the local fans have been freaking out a little bit.  My take is that this is great for the team because the construction of Turner Field was done with very little imagination or planning, and the place is just OK.  Theoretically, the new stadium will provide a new revenue stream for the team (which hopefully will be applied directly to the roster) and should help with the gameday experience.  Traffic is terrible everywhere in Atlanta, but currently, the Braves do not have a real interstate exit for Turner Field that can be accessed before and after games.  Also, there is one bar or restaurant within walking distance of the stadium and crime kinda sucks there too.  For a Braves fan from Tennessee, I say “Bring on Cobb County!”

Memphis

Memphis

4. Advice for travelers to Memphis.  I have come across a couple of articles today about food in Memphis.  I have eaten at the majority if the places mentioned in both, and I can vouch for most of the content in both of these articles.  My one exception is that locals go to Charlies Vergos’ Rendezvous for dry rubbed ribs.  This is false.  Locals do not eat at Rendezvous.  It is a tourist trap these days.  You can find better ribs at Blues City Cafe and Central BBQ.  You can read the articles for yourself here and here.  Also, Susan, maybe we should try Restaurant Iris for the first time for my birthday next month…

5. I saw Thor: The Dark World this week.  It was better than the first Thor movie, but not as good as The Avenger’s or Iron Man.  They did a fantastic job of establishing the characters and it is a fun movie.

Grit 'N Grind, a staple of the Grizz

Grit ‘N Grind, a staple of the Grizz

6. Maybe Lionel Hollins was a great coach.  After the first eight games of the season, most people here in Memphis have given up all hope on the Memphis Grizzlies.  The Grizzlies are 3-5 and not playing good defense, which was a staple of their success over the past few seasons.  But, it is November and there is a new coach, so I will wait a little while longer before passing judgment.  Also, I think fans need to start a petition to stop The Commercial Appeal from abbreviating the name to Griz.  It is Grizz.  Griz looks stupid and is not how the team shortens their name on social media.  The Commercial Appeal argues that the mascot’s name is Grizz, and when you are referring to the team, the spelling should be different.  It should not.

7. My running is back to normal.  After a horrendous run on Sunday, I have been able to hit the reset button and had a couple of good runs this week.

8. One more race?! Unbelievably, I only have one race left this year.  My goal for the year was to run in at least one race per month in 2013, and I have blown that goal out of the water thus far with 27 races so far.  The St. Jude Half Marathon on December 7 is my last scheduled race for the year.  This definitely feels a little weird.

The First Platinum Sombrero of the Year!

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Tonight, in the 9th inning of the Atlanta Braves – Pittsburgh Pirates game, Craig Kimbrel did what he does historically better than anyone else, strike guys out (he had an absurd 16.7 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched last year).  The second batter of the inning was Starling Marte.  Marte had struck out three times against Braves starter Julio Teheran. He added a fourth against Anthony Varvaro in the sixth inning.  So coming into the ninth inning, the chances of the first platinum sombrero of the season was good.  And the combo of Kimbrel and Marte did not disappoint, delivering the sombrero in four pitches!  I was just happy that the first platinum sombrero was delivered by the Braves pitchers, not one of their hitters.  Now, I have to think of a good giveaway to do for my registered runners each time this happens.  I will ponder this and get back to you.  In the meantime, please register for my race and help the children of St. Jude.

This is still primarily a running blog, but with the theme of my event and my favorite baseball team delivering the platinum sombrero, I had to update about it.  Now it is TRX time to stay prepared for the Warrior Dash this weekend.