A better minor-league town

This definitely goes in a unique “stack of stuff” but to me it’s also a springboard to a relevant point. Plus it’s a dead week between Christmas and New Year’s so it’s not a political week.

If you go back to post number 2 – number one being the “soft opening” URL placeholder – in this long-running saga of my political thoughts and life in general, you will find it’s related to my hometown baseball team. So it is with this post, as Toledo was named the nation’s top minor league town.

The hometown rag had a good time with this, but if you read the piece you’ll see why Toledo was selected. And it’s worth mentioning something the writer of the original assessment said in the Blade story:

“They took a big risk coming back to downtown when they did, and deserve a lot of credit for the excitement in downtown revitalization,” said Birdwell-Branson, who recently moved to Toledo. “Essentially, it came down to this: Toledo is not Toledo without its Mud Hens or its Walleye.”

“Toledo ranked No. 1 among minor league sports towns”, Mark Monroe, Toledo Blade, December 12, 2018.

Just for context’s sake, Toledo, with its metro area of about 600,000 hardy folk, has two major professional sports teams. Most not under a rock have heard of the Mud Hens baseball team, in large part thanks to a guy best known as Max Klinger, the dress-wearing corporal in the TV series M*A*S*H. (Far fewer know him as Jamie Farr and only real trivia buffs – or Toledo natives – know him as Jameel Farrah, but that’s his real name.) While 507,965 made it out this season, it was a down year for attendance: the Mud Hens’ worst since moving to Fifth Third Field in 2002 and despite winning their first IL West title since 2007. (Perhaps eight losing seasons in a row prior to 2018 dampened enthusiasm.)

It could also be that some of their thunder was stolen by the Walleye, as the hockey team set new attendance records in the 2017-18 season and finished second in attendance in the 27-team ECHL, a league analogous to the AA level in baseball. Had their Huntington Center been larger, it’s likely they would have led the league in attendance as the Walleye averaged 102% of capacity. In 2018 the Walleye season didn’t end until early May when they lost in their division finals – they have won their ECHL division in the regular season four straight seasons – so there was an overlap between the two teams that may have cut the Mud Hens’ attendance.

In the minds of ownership, however, it doesn’t matter if the fans flock to Fifth Third Field or the Huntington Center because both are owned by the same entity: Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club, Inc. (The Walleye are owned by the subsidiary Toledo Arena Sports, Inc. They purchased the former Toledo Storm ECHL hockey franchise in 2007 and put the team on ice, as it were, until the Huntington Center was finished in 2009.) It’s a business entity with an interesting background:

The unusual ownership structure was inaugurated in 1965 when Lucas County formed a nonprofit corporation to buy and manage a team. A volunteer board of directors appointed by the county board of commissioners owns and operates the team, with the county as the ultimate financial benefactor.

“Toledo Mud Hens, Walleye reorganize top management”, Bill Shea, Crain’s Detroit Business, June 15, 2015.

In Toledo, then, Lucas County (Toledo is county seat) owns both the teams and the venues, which are conveniently within blocks of one another in downtown Toledo. Spurred on by government money, the county has also invested in Hensville, a renovation project taking existing adjacent building stock and creating an entertainment center with the ready-made prospect of 7,000 or more fans at an adjacent venue on about 100 nights a year, mainly on weekends in the winter and spring and any night during the summer. (Note this doesn’t count concerts and shows held several nights a year at Huntington.)

Now let’s compare our scenario: the recent (2015) addition of Sussex County, Delaware and Worcester County, Maryland to the existing Salisbury metro area gives it a population of about 390,000, about 2/3 of Toledo’s but spread over a much wider geographic area. This difference, as well as the disparity in levels as the Delmarva Shorebirds are three steps below the Mud Hens, more than likely explains why attendance for the Shorebirds is less than half that of the Mud Hens, barely eclipsing the 200,000 mark in 2018 as an all-time low. Moreover, even if Salisbury had a hockey team, as has been rumored for the past few years, it would probably be at the commensurate level to the Shorebirds, and at least one step below the ECHL.

On that note, the two most likely possibilities for pro hockey in Salisbury are the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), a 10-team league as currently comprised, and the Federal Hockey League (FHL), which has six teams at present. The SPHL is the more stable of the two, and has better-attended games: league average attendance for the SPHL is 2,870 so far this season compared to a puny 1,409 between the six FHL squads – but only two Federal League teams are solidly in a four-figure average; a third is at 1,010 per game.

Unfortunately, the travel scenario for a Salisbury-based SPHL team would be dicey: the league’s closest franchises are in Roanoke, Virginia and Fayetteville, North Carolina and both are just under six-hour trips; moreover, six of the ten teams lie in the Central Time Zone. The most likely way Salisbury could be added to the SPHL would be in a pairing with another expansion team along the East Coast and a switch to a format with two six-team (or three four-team) divisions. On the other hand, while the FHL is somewhat spread out over a geographic area ranging from upstate New York to North Carolina to Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, Salisbury is within the footprint and the league only schedules games on weekends, with one team generally playing two consecutive nights against the same opponent. Placing an eighth team in the Midwest would allow the league to have two four-team divisions (and possibly even adding a weeknight game within the four-team blocks, expanding the FHL’s current 56-game schedule. The schedule is similar in the SPHL; by comparison the ECHL plays a 72-game season.)

While the lack of a hockey team is a major stumbling block, the bigger issue is a lack of synergy between the two venues because they are several miles apart. And since a downtown location is out of the question for these facilities, the next best scenario to me would be to eventually replace one of the two facilities and move it adjacent to the other. Of course, having just spent millions of dollars of state and county money to repair both facilities as part of renovations requested in part by the Orioles (for Perdue) and a county study (for the WYCC), that’s not happening anytime soon, either.

So we have to make do with what we have. While it won’t necessarily be pedestrian-friendly, there is available land adjacent to both venues that could be developed into further entertainment options. In all honesty, there are pros and cons to development at both locations: the Hobbs Road site has great highway access and open land with infrastructure in place as it’s already annexed to the city. Would it be out of character with the area to have an urban-style development close by Perdue Stadium? Perhaps, plus there’s also the aspect of certain city leaders who seem to want all the entertainment options to be downtown and not develop the outskirts as a competitor.

On the other hand, redevelopment of the Old Mall site would be a welcome lift to that part of Salisbury but it’s not going to happen without a steady stream of events at the Civic Center, and minor league hockey seems to have the same level of fickleness as independent league baseball.

Every town is different, but I think Salisbury is missing out on some opportunities. I’m truly hoping that renovations in progress at Perdue Stadium bring out some of that entertainment district element and the WYCC gets that hockey team tenant to help fill the venue another 30 or so nights a year. It’s probably the best we can do for the immediate future.

Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2018 edition

On August 30, the Delmarva Shorebirds were in a precarious position. But thanks to the prospect of free stuff through a Fan Appreciation Night raffle and a rare Thursday night fireworks show, a crowd of over 6,000 gathered to send the team off to its final road trip to Lakewood. Thus, by a margin of 1,330 fans the Shorebirds avoided their first-ever season where fewer than 200,000 attended the games.

One could blame the locally subpar spring and summer weather – a chilly April turned into a rainy summer that always seemed to time precipitation for the weekends – for the drop-off from last season’s attendance of 207,131. But you can’t do anything about the weather and we still managed 65 openings, 2 more than the league average. The 3,097 per-game average was the second-lowest in franchise history, besting only the 3,072 in 2011.

Honestly, though, I don’t believe weather was the deciding factor.

If you ask me – and by reading this it’s assumed you want my opinion as a renewed half-season ticket holder – the problem lies with the onfield product.

Over the weekend, with a little downtime from spending it with my grandson and his side of my family, I did a little catching up on the SAL to find that Lexington pulled a bit of an upset to win the SAL flag in four games over Lakewood. It was the end of a decade-plus drought for the Legends and it put Delmarva in yet another unique but dubious position: thanks to Lexington’s winning the second half SAL South title it meant that since 2013 every other franchise in the SAL has been in the playoffs at least once. And if you toss out Augusta (last appearance in 2013) the other twelve have made at least once it in just the last four seasons. Toss darts at a dartboard and you should get that sort of probability given two teams from each seven-team division qualify each year, so we must have a special kind of bad karma to miss the playoffs thirteen seasons in a row, and counting.

So I think it’s safe to say that the on-field product provided by the Orioles is lacking, especially since not a single one of their seven minor-league affiliates made the post-season this year. And it’s not just recent history: our “feeder” team in Aberdeen has made the NY-Penn League postseason exactly once in 17 seasons, only to be bounced out in the opening round. (That 2013 Ironbird team had six future SotW Hall of Fame players on the regular roster, as it comprised the base of our 2014 Shorebird team that has the most members of the SotWHoF.) Of course, we’re not going to scrap the Oriole affiliation any time soon so we have to hope that a renewed focus on Baltimore’s international scouting and player development bears fruit 2-3 years from now when these young players reach the full-season A-ball level.

But I also believe their development program is wrong. There are some franchises that develop players as individuals, and some that seem to emphasize winning more. Unfortunately, the “Oriole Way” hasn’t been a winning way since the halcyon days of a half-century ago.

I sat down with one of my favorite websites (Baseball-Reference.com) and did some research on how Oriole affiliates fared in the era when the Orioles were regularly successful – basically from the early 1960’s to the early 1980’s. As they went, oftentimes so did their affiliates:

Their lowest-level team in Bluefield had the Appalachian League’s best record or won its division 6 times in 14 seasons from 1963-76.

At the time, their A ball team was in Miami (before MLB expansion gave that city the latter-day edition of the Miami Marlins) and the Marlins/Orioles won their Florida State League division 8 times in 11 seasons from 1968-78.

At the AA level, the affiliation moved several times during that era: from Elmira, New York, then of the Eastern League (1963-68), to Dallas-Fort Worth of the Texas League/Dixie Association (1969-71, until the Washington Senators relocated to that metroplex and became the Texas Rangers), then on to Asheville of the reformed Southern League (1972-75) before the franchise moved to Charlotte for the 1976 season, remaining in the Southern League. But in 14 seasons their AA affiliate was 1st or 2nd in their division 11 times.

Finally, at the AAA level Rochester made the International League playoffs (top 4 qualify) 10 times in 11 seasons from 1966-76.

Obviously at that time the “Oriole Way” was as much about winning games and division/league titles as it was player development. Now they seem to be happy with winning a random league title now and then, and it seems like random doesn’t come our way: we get good players for a few weeks and they are gone to Frederick.

I believe winning comes from a culture where you are expected to win: look at the Patriots or Steelers in the NFL or, closer to home, Salisbury University’s lacrosse program. They don’t seem to accept anything less than a winning effort. The Orioles seem to be fine with developing a player like Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, or Trey Mancini every year or two (or guys that they trade away for a rare playoff push like Josh Hader, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Zach Davies) but maybe at the expense of the organization players who make up good teams.

So a sea change in attitude at the top is first on the wish list. Now I want to focus a little more locally.

As a half-season ticket holder, I have to say I’m very satisfied with the flexibility I have. Sometimes Kim wants to go to a game so the exchange policy is great – I don’t mind taking a vacation from my spot sometimes. The staff will generally bend over backwards for me, too. And aside from keeping some of the lame video promotions, I do like what they are doing with the interactive aspect of the now two-year-old videoboard. The “Shore Report” is a neat feature made possible by the investment in video equipment, so we can all “turn and watch it go!”

But I have to say that my other big complaint is the food, which has been a pan of mine for at least the last couple years. I don’t often eat at the ballpark, but on those occasions when I did I was too often disappointed with the quality and freshness of what I was served. For example, a hot dog would come with a stale bun, or the fries were too salty.

Adding to the frustration was the lack of availability of some products. A slice of the specialty pizza sounded good – but it wasn’t available that night. I wanted a lid for my souvenir cup, but they were out.

And then I heard horror stories about the wait time on some nights, particularly the scrapple night. Kim got a scrapple sandwich that she had to take back. I think it literally took her 2 1/2 to 3 innings to get back to her seat for a sandwich she still wasn’t really satisfied with. Granted, it was a special night and newly-created menu but that seems to me an issue with management not preparing staff properly.

A bad experience like that, along with a mediocre team that faded not once, but twice, after great starts, isn’t the best way to put casual fans in the seats. Granted, I don’t mind it so much when it’s just the diehards like me but if it comes down to having just them we eventually have an empty stadium because there are fewer and fewer rabid fans each season. Go and count the empty seats in Baltimore for one of their games of late to see what I mean – two straight losing seasons (as well as 14 of the previous 19) and the prospect of rebuilding from just about scratch thanks to a barren minor league system have taken their toll on attendance and interest. A humdrum, bottom-feeding team that plays at a stadium that doesn’t seem to have a great deal to offer in either food or amenities isn’t going to draw well, either. How many of those kids and families who get the “Hit the Books” free tickets in April and May come back over the summer?

However, with the promised construction of the 360-degree concourse on the horizon this off-season, we now have new opportunities for food and entertainment. And maybe it’s time to re-imagine things on an even broader scale.

If the new concourse is designed properly, not only does it open up the possibility of new and different vendors in those locations (imagine covered areas with local vendors, similar in style to a food truck) but even a venue for post-game concerts and entertainment. I know I’ve spoken to Chris Bitters about this as it related to another topic, but maybe it doesn’t necessarily have to be the full-blown shows of years past – maybe a diet of local solo performers can be the impetus to bigger and better things down the road.

And down the road is what I’m thinking of for the broader scale. What if that location were the linchpin of a new entertainment venue?

Once upon a time, I was part of a big dream: the idea of creating a hotel and office park along Hobbs Road, straddling the exit ramp from U.S. 13. Because of the work I helped to do, there’s infrastructure in place to develop the site, even though the collapse of the building market prevented further development a decade ago. They are discussing the site for usage as a new Sheriff’s office, but I must say to waste the opportunity for developing this site as an eating and entertainment venue to complement Perdue Stadium would be criminal.

One reason downtown stadiums are favored is this very opportunity to develop an year-round entertainment district in an area that has the infrastructure in place. My hometown has something along that line: just down the way from Fifth Third Field (home of the Mud Hens) is the Huntington Center, where the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye play. The two were built about seven years apart, but they function as a way to stretch the season for entrepreneurs who want to serve the half-million-plus Mud Hen fans in the summer and over a quarter-million Walleye hockey “finatics” in the fall and winter. (This doesn’t count the other events the Huntington Center hosts, such as concerts.)

But because Perdue Stadium isn’t close to downtown and plans to replace the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center at the stadium site have been shelved, the synergy has to come from something else. It’s obviously a more modest goal, but why couldn’t the LLC that owns the Shorebirds buy those nearby parcels (there are two, owned by the same LLC) and use their connections to bring in two to three attractions that can feed off having the stadium there? (This is where I would have loved to have a fall league team like the onetime Maryland Fall League that featured the Delmarva Rockfish, to give an extra 20 dates a year for the stadium.) Even some places that a family can go to in the afternoon before the game or a couple can go to afterward would be nice.

Another possibility: the new concourse becomes the passage between the stadium and a new building along the right field line. [Granted, this is a homage to Toledo’s Fifth Third Field (pictured below), although our version need only be tall enough to have the seating and deck overlooking the field.]

If the Orioles can have fireworks in downtown Baltimore, I’m sure something can be worked out in that event.

Certainly I’m glad the Shorebirds are finally going to get the 360-degree concourse they’ve been talking about for the last half-decade. But that should be just the beginning of rebuilding the team both on and off the field to bring back those days where a Shorebird ticket was a hot commodity.

Picks and pans from a Shorebird fan – 2016 edition

When the 2015 season came to a close in early September, you may recall that the Shorebirds embarked on a project that, it was hoped, would reduce the number of games lost to weather. By stripping the field down to bare earth and reworking the entire drainage system (along with redoing the sod) I have to say the field looked very good most of the season and perhaps that may have had a little to do with the Shorebirds finishing second in the league in fielding percentage. That set of renovations, along with improved lighting, was the second of three phases in a complete renovation of Arthur W. Perdue Stadium – the first phase, completed during the 2014-15 offseason, concentrated on player amenities.

With the field complete, Delmarva was closer to the league average when it came to openings. No SAL team went without at least one rainout (Columbia, Greenville, and Hickory came the closest by having just one) but the Shorebirds had 65 openings and the league averaged 66.3 per team. However, while attendance rebounded slightly this year to 209,120 patrons, the per-game average fell by 13 fans to 3,217. Given the performance around the league, however, holding virtually steady in attendance can be regarded as a victory: only three of the thirteen returning teams increased their gate average from 2015 to 2016 and the overall league average increased by just 62 per game despite the relocated Columbia Fireflies drawing nearly twice as well as the Savannah Sand Gnats they replaced. West Virginia, Rome, and (particularly) Kannapolis saw precipitous year-over-year declines in their average draw.

The program for this offseason, though, is an ambitious one, and it’s already underway.

(Photo credit: Delmarva Shorebirds)

One of the key changes will be all new seats, which includes the replacement of the bleachers that were the general admission seating with regular fold-up box seats. This can be a good thing – if the seats are the same size. While I am slowly losing pounds and inches, my concern is that the new seats may be a little bit smaller than the ones they are replacing since fewer seats fit into the original bleacher space because of armrests, so stadium capacity would decrease by some percentage. Of course, the sections can easily be rearranged to suit thanks to the way the seats were originally laid out (you just drill new bolt holes as needed.) I fit just fine into the seats that were there, thank you, so hopefully us bigger folks will have ample room on the new ones.

It’s my understanding that the other key construction project is the extension of the concourse to be a 360-degree concourse, presumably at the level of the top of the outfield fence (so a home run would likely bounce on the concourse.) When I discussed this idea last year, I used another SAL park I’ve visited as a comparison because I recalled it also had a similar setup.

Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park has most of the same amenities as Perdue Stadium but also uses their outfield concourse for a tiki bar, pizza restaurant, and a third picnic area. It’s nice but I think there are other food and drink possibilities that we could use as well, like moving one of the Dippin’ Dots carts out there or adding mini-hotdog stands. If some of the areas are made a little wider, such as the triangular area near the foul poles, they can use them to set up for postgame entertainment (such as the Thirsty Thursday postgame shows of a decade ago) or pregame activities like the player autograph sessions we also haven’t had in some time.

But the crowning achievement in all this will be the new videoboard. Over the last two to three years the stadium has lost use of the videoboard, the bottom section of the scoreboard (where the player information used to be) and, at times, the scoreboard itself would go on the blink. In truth, a videoboard could serve as a scoreboard with one panel reserved for that purpose. It would also be nice to have an alternate ribbon scoreboard located on the opposite end of the stadium – if the main scoreboard stays in left field, the ribbon would be placed along the first base side. Then you could linger in the outfield concourse but still be able to keep track of the score, inning, balls, strikes, and outs while watching the action.

If you look at the minor leagues from a promotional standpoint, over the last decade the trend has gone away from one-night novelty acts (like Myron Noodleman or Reggi) to a plethora of giveaways of everything from bobbleheads to hats to posters to beach towels to doormats. Fireworks continue to be a staple as well, although my perception is that the difference in attendance isn’t all that great anymore – then again, I don’t go to more than one or two fireworks nights a season. They’ve also become far more clever in figuring out ways to fill the sixteen half-innings that a normal game features with games and giveaways.

But something I think would be interesting (and it can be done with a new videoboard) is a game with no between-inning promotions, walkup music, or PA announcer. It would be sort of like those April midweek nights when there might be 300 people actually in the stands, which is neat because you can hear the players and umpires. It’s probably not in the cards because it would be a promotion aimed at traditionalists like me – the guy who thinks the designated hitter and interleague play should be eliminated – but put it in the hopper.

And lastly, the concern on everyone’s lips regarding the improvements to the stadium is: what’s it going to cost me? They raised the parking fee this year to $4 from $3, although I’ve been a fan long enough to remember when parking was free. (I think some selected ticket prices went up this season, too.) But I have been told that the idea is to hold these fees steady for several years if possible, so once they go up they should be constant for 3-5 seasons.

However, if they eliminate the general admission bleachers for what I would guess is ticketed individual seats, will that now be considered a box seat? Presently there is a $5 difference per seat from general admission to reserved box. My guess is that the new box seats will have their own tier priced somewhere between the current GA price and the reserved box cost (but kept under $10 so it’s still considered affordable.)

If you consider the league as a whole, it’s something of a wonder that Delmarva makes it to the middle of the pack in attendance because it’s among the smallest markets. (The most comparable SAL franchise in terms of population and metro area is Rome. Hagerstown and Hickory are in slightly larger cities and counties, while the city of Kannapolis is of similar size to Salisbury but lies on the edge of the much larger Charlotte metro area. The rest are significantly larger in population.) And once the thrill of getting a new team wore off after the first few years, in recent seasons the attendance has been remarkably consistent at around 3,200 per game – which translates to just over 200,000 per year.

These improvements probably won’t bring back the days of 300,000 or more attending Shorebird games over the course of a season, but I think 250,000 can be a realistic expectation if the product on and off the field is improved. For the millions of dollars spent on renovations, it bears noting that each person probably spends at least $20 at the ballpark so an extra 50,000 patrons brings in at least $1 million. If you add that much value to the experience, the dollars spent on renovation will be worth it.

I had no idea until I checked out the hotel the first night I stayed here (to interview for my old job the next morning) that Salisbury even had a minor league baseball team – I basically followed the Mud Hens so I knew a little about the other Tiger affiliates and the other teams in the International League where the Toledo nine plays. Since the Shorebirds were in neither category, I was pleasantly surprised to find that out about the city I would adopt as my hometown.

To be quite honest, though, having a brand new, critically acclaimed stadium (at the time, Fifth Third Field was 2 years old) in a much larger AAA market spoiled me for Delmarva, so I was left a little bit wanting for the first season or so. It took getting used to. But now that I am here and have probably attended a couple hundred games or more, I would like them to stick around so I’m pleased to see someone else wants to improve the Shorebirds’ nest and maybe make it like new again.

I can’t wait to see what the old place looks like come April. But it would look a lot better with the 2017 SAL pennant on the flagpole.

Labor Day standings report

My final look this season at some of my favorite teams (unless events warrant) as well as the local big league clubs. The Shorebirds will be covered separately in an article Thursday.

I have to start with the team doing the best, my hometown Toledo Mud Hens. They clinched their third consecutive IL West title on August 26th and will face the IL South champion Durham Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. It was Durham who knocked out the Mud Hens when they began this run of four IL West titles in six years back in 2002, so there’s a score to settle. With just today’s game against the last-place Columbus Clippers remaining, the Hens are 82-60 and have a chance to finish tied with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees for the loop’s best mark (SWB is 83-59). Toledo begins the IL playoffs Wednesday at Durham.

Talk about a collapse. At the beginning of August, Detroit led the AL Central by a game over the Cleveland Indians. But only playing .400 ball since (12-18) has set the Tigers back to second, 5 1/2 behind the Tribe and 3 in back of the Yankees for the wild card. So the Tigers are now 73-64 and if they play as badly in September will be lucky to break even.

What bothers me is this quote from Jim Leyland after the Tigers traded outfielder Craig Monroe to the Chicago Cubs:

“It was just a situation where we felt here that, this year, it wasn’t going to get better, and you have to start making decisions on what you want to do with people in the future,” Leyland said. “That’s basically why that was handled that way.”

(The Tigers designated Monroe for assignment, which meant they had 10 days to make a deal for him or allow his release.)

Now maybe Leyland was talking only about the struggling Monroe, but it also sounds like Detroit’s already bagged the season to me – and they’re playing like it. But if they do decide to suck it up, the schedulemaker made September pretty kind. They start with a long homestand against Chicago, wild card contender Seattle, and Texas with a makeup game against Toronto tossed in. Then their last 15 games are against AL Central foes as they travel to Minnesota and Cleveland, host Kansas City and the Twins to close out the home schedule and wrap up at Chicago.

Of course, two teams who bagged the season pretty much after the All-Star break are local favorites Baltimore and Washington.

Let’s see…in the last month Baltimore has allowed an AL record 30 runs in a game against Texas (a game they were up 3-0 after 3 innings, by the way), endured a 9 game losing steak that began with the 30-3 debacle, blew a 6-3 lead by giving up 11 runs in the 8th to lowly Tampa Bay and losing 15-8 in game number 7 of the losing streak, and were no-hit by Red Sox rookie Clay Buchholz on Saturday. I’m not sure if a team’s endured a worse month, even my 2003 Tigers didn’t have moments like that. As it is, the Orioles are 59-76 and now just four up on the last-place Devil Rays. Their elimination number is five so by the end of this week the demise will likely be official.

The minor-league kids sure to be brought up in waves by the O’s will have their first trip be a quickie to Tampa Bay before they return to Camden Yards to meet Boston and Los Angeles. The O’s final road trip of the season takes them to Toronto, New York, and Texas before they finish at home with a makeup game against Kansas City, 3 against Toronto, and 3 against New York where they could impact the playoff picture.

Oddly enough, Washington finds itself with almost the same record as Baltimore (the Nats are 60-77) but they’ve been much more quietly mediocre. They’re also fighting a Florida team to stay out of the cellar as they enter today’s game tied with the Marlins at the bottom of the National League East, 16 1/2 back of the New York Mets. It’s possible they could be out at week’s end as well, their elimination number is 10.

It’s all NL East foes remaining for Washington now after two long trips out west in August. They have 12 straight against the Marlins and Atlanta Braves followed by 13 games to wrap up the year against the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. The last game in RFK is scheduled for September 23 against Philadelphia.

Except for my Shorebirds coverage, this wraps up my standing reports for the 2007 season. Labor Day is traditionally when people begin getting interested in politics again and this year is likely not an exception because of the absurdly early primary season.

Standings report: early August

Yeah, I’m a few days late. I like to do this at the end of each month but you know that I like doubleheaders too. Since the Shorebirds had back-to-back ones this week, I didn’t get to the standings report until today.

Speaking of the Delmarva nine, going into tonight’s game against Asheville the Shorebirds are 18-23 for the half and buried in 7th place in the SAL North. Only the woeful Hagerstown Suns are holding them up at the moment. With 29 games remaining on the schedule, the trouble isn’t the seven game deficit they currently trail Hickory by, it’s the five teams that fall between Delmarva and the first-place Crawdads. Both Lake County and Lakewood rest 3 1/2 back, Greensboro is 5 1/2 out, meanwhile West Virginia and Lexington are 6 1/2 back and 1/2 game ahead of Delmarva with identical 19-23 marks. Aside from Hickory, the SAL North is the weaker of the two divisions.

Of the 29 games left, 15 are away from Perdue Stadium (trips to Greenville/Augusta and Lake County/Hagerstown) while 14 are within the friendly confines (3 more against Asheville, 4 against Lexington, 3 against Hagerstown and 4 to finish the campaign against Lake County.) To have a realistic chance at the second half title, Delmarva would have to win 21 or 22 of its remaining games. Hickory is on a pace to go 42-28 so they would need a bit of a collapse by the Crawdads as well.

The news is much, much better for the team representing my birthplace. As they go for a Governors’ Cup threepeat, the Toledo Mud Hens are now blowing out the rest of the IL West. They’ve opened up an 8 1/2 game lead on Indianapolis and sport the loop’s best record at 66-48. My only caution is that the 2003 Mud Hen squad started August similarly and finished on a 5-24 skid. Oh, do I remember that collapse. But aside from a handful of games against Norfolk, Durham, and Richmond (total of eight) they finish inside their division so they won’t have to watch the scoreboard – the Hens can take care of business on their own.

Now to the big leagues. It’s pretty much the diehards who are following the Orioles and Nationals now. And the team goal for both should be to not finish last in their division. Since the O’s are 10 games up on a terrible Tampa Bay squad that shouldn’t be difficult to achieve.

At 51-57 the O’s would need to finish 30-24 for a breakeven season. Since they’re 14 1/2 games back of the Red Sox and 10 out in the wildcard race, that’s really all the Orioles have left to play for. And after concluding this series underway with Tampa Bay, Baltimore plays three teams in the thick of the playoff chase, hosting Seattle and Boston before starting a roadtrip with the Yankees. After that, they play easier teams as they conclude that trip in Toronto and return home for a long homestand with Texas, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay again. Going into Labor Day weekend they hit September on a trip to Boston and Tampa Bay (yeah, they play the D-Rays a lot.)

Meanwhile, at the start of the season it appeared the Nationals could hit the century mark in losses. While they’re by no means the cream of the National League crop, they have rebounded into a halfway decent team and are battling the Florida Marlins to get out of the NL East basement. At 49-60 after a 9-25 start, the Nats have a real good shot at posting a respectable 75 wins. They’re actually closer to the NL East leader (New York) than Baltimore is to the Red Sox, 13 games back. The same goes for the NL wild card as they’re 9 1/2 out there.

Will the Nationals make a sensational playoff run? No, but as I noted they can finish with 75 to 80 wins this season and that’s not a bad base to build from as they open their new park next season. It might be difficult to keep momentum this month though as they wrap up their series with the Cardinals and embark on the first of two long West Coast trips this month (San Francisco/Arizona and Houston/Colorado/Los Angeles) that sandwich a short homestand with Philadelphia and New York. Going into Labor Day they face the Giants and continue that homestand with Florida.

I was a little bit pissed this morning when I checked the standings and found out the Tigers lost again to slip behind the Cleveland Indians. Not only have the slumping Tigers (losers of 8 of their last 10) fallen out of the division lead, now Seattle is nipping at their heels for the wild card lead as the Mariners are only 1/2 game back. At 61-47 the Tigers and Mariners are even in the loss column while the New York Yankees lurk 2 1/2 out.

The Tigers just opened a huge homestand with division rival Chicago, to be followed by Tampa Bay and Oakland. But the stretch between August 14-27 will likely determine their playoff fate. The Tigers play 13 straight games against the AL Central-leading Indians and the Yankees – the first 6 on the road, the last 7 at home. Then they head off to Kansas City and Oakland again as Labor Day passes.

So now you’re up to date on how my teams are doing. After Labor Day I’ll wrap up the minor league teams and take another look at how the bigs are doing. Hopefully Detroit will be firmly cemented back where they belong, in first place.

April standings report

Having just wrote up my pick for this week’s Shorebird of the Week (to come up at its usual Thursday night time slot), I’m in a baseball mood. So I’m taking a break from watching my Tigers play the Orioles (2-0 Orioles, get on it guys!) to update the standings as I do on a monthly or so basis.

I’ll start with our hometown Shorebirds. April was not a good month for them, nor was the first of May (since they’ve already completed today’s loss to Greensboro, their seventh straight.) Right now Delmarva is last in the SAL North with a sad 8-16 record. What makes it worse is that West Virginia has gotten off to a blazing 18-4 start so the Shorebirds are already 11 games in arrears at a point where this half is barely 1/3 completed. Possibly the only solace is that we trail cross-state rival Hagerstown by just 1/2 game (they’re 9-16) so we can put a little bit of daylight behind us by passing them this weekend as the Suns come to town. Current opponent Greensboro is second in the SAL North, trailing the WV Power by 4 1/2 games despite playing .600 ball so far (15-10). The rest of the North in standings order: Lake County, defending league champs Lakewood, Lexington, and Hickory in 6th, followed by the Suns and Shorebirds.

Their prospects in May might be a little better. When the preliminary schedule for this season came out at the tail end of 2006, the Shorebirds were slated to begin an almost half-season stretch of consecutive games this weekend with either Hagerstown, Lakewood, or Lake County. We got a slight reprieve in the revised schedule, as our next roadtrip which begins after Hagerstown departs this coming Sunday takes us to Hickory and a return series at Hagerstown. That series with the Suns begins what’s now 59 straight games against our three familiar division foes. For the rest of the month after being at Hagerstown, we host Lakewood and Lake County before a month-ending roadtrip to Hagerstown and Lakewood.

I’ll briefly mention the Shorebirds’ parent club, as the Orioles sit in 3rd in the AL East with a 12-14 mark. They got off to a pretty good start but have faded as their pitching has worsened, particularly in the walks department. They do have some opportunities to make up ground this month though. After tomorrow afternoon’s matinee at CoPa they head home to tangle with the AL Central leading Cleveland Indians before a midweek series next week against Tampa Bay. Then it’s off on a nine game roadtrip to Boston, Toronto, and Washington, followed by Camden Yards visits from Toronto and Oakland. For Memorial Day the Baltimore nine head out on a west coast swing – first stop Kansas City to face the Royals before going into June out in Anaheim against the LA Angels. That trip extends to Seattle before the Orioles head home June 7th.

It seems to me that my Toledo Mud Hens started out last season slowly as well. Right now they’re 11-13, third in the IL West behind Indianapolis (3 back) and Louisville (1/2 game behind the Bats.) But the two-time defending Governor’s Cup champions have several of the IL bottom-feeders on their docket this month, with the exception of IL East leader Rochester for a four game set. That series is the sandwich of a 10 game trip starting with 2 in Columbus and ending with 4 in Pawtucket. They’ll begin this roadtrip after wrapping up four with the Yankees’ new AAA affiliate, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Hens also close the month at Scranton, and have a home-and-home series with Columbus over Memorial Day weekend. Also featured in May will be a homestand with Louisville and Charlotte in mid-month after the swing east.

Well, no one said it would be easy. The AL Central is probably the most loaded division in baseball and this year it’s already a dogfight. My Tigers are 14-11 and 1 1/2 games back of Cleveland – but once again they’re leading the wild-card chase along with the 14-11 Twins. And this won’t be an easy month for the defending AL champions. They start out by finishing the Baltimore series, then a quick roadtrip to Kansas City. The Mariners provide a little better competition, but then the gauntlet begins as they travel to Minnesota and Boston before hosting a World Series rematch with St. Louis. After the Cardinals depart, the homestand continues with the LA Angels and Cleveland. At month’s end the Tigers start a grueling roadtrip to Tampa Bay, back north to Cleveland, then right back south to Texas.

And now the Tigers lead the O’s 3-2. Keep it up!! My next standings report will be at month’s end.

Joy in Mudhenville – again!!

It’s back2back championships for the Toledo Mud Hens!!! They won the IL pennant tonight by blasting Rochester 10-1 in front of a sold-out frenzied crowd of 10,300 at Fifth Third Field.

2006 was much different for the Hens. Last year they cruised to the best record in the IL and, after escaping Norfolk to get past the first round, they swept the wildcard Indianapolis Indians to win their first pennant since 1967 (I was 2 years old when they won.) This year, they blew their first opportunity to lay the hammer down and win the division on the last day of the season, so Toledo fans had to sweat out a one-game playoff at Fifth Third against Indianapolis just to become eligible for the playoffs with the worst record of the four IL playoff teams at 77-66.

After a Game 1 loss to Charlotte at home, the Hens recovered in Game 2 to even the series – however, the last 3 games were scheduled in the Knights’ Castle, when Toledo was 0-4 this season (the last two scheduled regular season contests for the Hens in Charlotte were wiped out because of Tropical Storm Ernesto in late August.) But the Hens managed to broom the two contests in Charlotte and advance to the IL finals against the Rochester Red Wings, who were the IL wild card but knocked out the league’s best team recordwise (Scranton-Wilkes Barre). Much like the 2005 IL playoffs, the team with the better record (Rochester) was forced to play 3 road games, but this time it would be to Toledo’s advantage.

Toledo won the opener in New York, but dropped the second game there and the first back at home to fall behind in the series 2-1. But last night’s 6-0 whitewash of the Red Wings evened the series and set the stage for tonight’s heroics. Toledo took a 2-0 lead in the first, added 4 in the second on three homers and never looked back as the party could begin at home this season.

And as an added bonus, the Mud Hens advance to play the PCL champion Tucson Sidewinders in the first “Bricktown Showdown” on “the deuce” (ESPN2) Tuesday night from Oklahoma City. (Of course, that’s my bowling night. Hopefully they start at 7 p.m. local time so I can catch the end.)

Now I hope this is a sign of things to come. As the playoffs turned out, the Detroit Tigers’ top farm club first disposed of the Chicago White Sox’s top affiliate then defeated the top-level Minnesota Twins farmhands. I’ll happily take that Detroit/Minnesota/Chicago order in the AL Central this season as well.

Labor Day +1 standings report

I wanted to do this last night, but, number one I was dog-tired for reasons I’ll explain in a future post, and number two, the Mud Hens lost yesterday and set up a one-game playoff, winner take all, with Indianapolis for the IL West title.

Now, on Sunday night I was watching the Tigers play the Angels (who beat us, much to my chagrin) and the Tigers inserted a pinch-runner in the ninth just called up from Toledo by the name of Kevin Hooper. Seeing that, I assumed the Mud Hens were knocked out of the playoff picture but au contraire. Instead, they simply needed to beat the last-place Columbus Clippers at home on Monday to secure a playoff berth. Failing that, Indianapolis had to lose to Louisville. Neither happened.

So tonight in the friendly confines of Fifth Third Field there was a one game playoff for the IL West title, and a rematch of last season’s IL championship series. The great news is that Toledo won 4-0 and secured a second straight IL West title – their first back-to-back division titles (the IL has had a division format since the late 1980’s.) They finish with a 77-66 record and progress to meet South Division winner Charlotte in the IL playoffs. This season they will have to play 3 of 5 series games in Charlotte but get home field advantage should they get by the Knights. Now it’s time to defend that IL title we waited 38 years to secure!

Meanwhile the Tigers are hanging on to first place in the AL Central with an 85-54 record. Minnesota is now lurking 4 games back and Chicago has faded slightly to being 5 1/2 back. A HUGE series awaits the Tigers this weekend, 4 games in Minnesota.

Just for fun, I’ve jotted down the schedules of all 17 teams that are reasonably alive for the baseball postseason (7 in the AL, 10 in the NL.)

American League:

DETROIT (85-54) – 1 vs. Sea, 4 at Min, 2 vs. Tex, 3 vs. Bal, 3 at Chi, 1 at Bal (makeup game for an earlier rainout), 3 at KC, 3 vs. Tor, 3 vs. KC. (11 away, 12 home; 12 vs. teams over .500).

New York (82-55) – 1 at KC, 4 at Bal, 3 vs. TB, 4 vs. Bos, 3 at Tor, 4 at TB, 3 vs. Bal, 3 vs. Tor. (12 away, 13 home; 10 vs. teams over .500).

Minnesota (80-57) – 1 at TB, 4 vs. Det, 3 vs. Oak, 4 at Cle, 3 at Bos, 3 at Bal, 4 vs. KC, 3 vs. Chi. (11 away, 14 home; 13 vs. teams over .500).

Oakland (79-58) – 2 vs. Tex (counting game in progress), 3 at TB, 3 at Min, 3 vs. Chi, 4 vs. Cle, 3 vs. LA, 3 at Sea, 4 at LA. (13 away, 12 home; 15 vs. teams over .500).

Chicago (79-59) – 1 at Bos, 4 vs. Cle, 3 at LA, 3 at Oak, 3 vs. Det, 4 vs. Sea, 3 at Cle, 3 at Min. (13 away, 11 home; 13 vs. teams over .500).

Boston (75-64) – 1 vs. Chi, 3 vs. KC, 3 at Bal, 4 at NY, 3 vs. Min, 4 at Tor, 2 vs. TB, 3 vs. Bal. (11 away, 12 home; 12 vs. teams over .500).

Los Angeles (73-65) – 2 vs. Bal (counting game in progress), 3 vs. Tor, 3 vs. Chi, 4 at Tex, 2 at KC, 3 at Oak, 3 vs. Tex, 4 vs. Oak. (9 away, 15 home; 20 vs. teams over .500).

I think it’s going to come down to the final weekend whether Detroit hangs on to its AL leadership record-wise; either way the playoffs are beginning to shape up as New York vs. either Minnesota or Chicago and Detroit vs. Oakland. The reason it doesn’t matter is that the team with the best record plays the wild card UNLESS they’re in the same division. Barring an utter collapse by 2 of the 3 AL Central contenders, the wild card will come out of the Central; I believe that would be the first time it’s happened in the 12 seasons this playoff format’s been in existence. Thus, that places the Yankees against the wild card whether they finish first or second in the league – it only becomes important in a Tigers-Yankees championship series.

Meanwhile the National League is an absolute scrum – really there’s 10 teams with some shot at the playoffs. In order of standings (for the moment anyway):

New York (84-52) – 2 vs. Atl (doubleheader tomorrow), 4 vs. LA, 3 at Fla, 3 at Pit, 4 vs. Fla, 4 vs. Was, 3 at Atl, 3 at Was. (12 away, 14 home; 11 vs. teams .500 or above).

St. Louis (74-63) – 1 at Was, 4 at Arz, 3 vs. Hou, 3 vs. SF, 3 at Mil, 4 at Hou, 3 vs. SD, 4 vs. Mil. (12 away, 13 home; 3 vs. teams over .500).

Los Angeles (73-65) – 1 at Mil, 4 at NY, 3 at Chi, 4 vs. SD, 3 vs. Pit, 3 vs. Arz, 3 at Col, 3 at SF. (14 away, 10 home; 8 vs. teams over .500).

San Diego (71-66) – 2 vs. Col (counting game in progress), 3 at SF, 3 at Cin, 4 at LA, 3 vs. Arz, 3 vs. Pit, 3 at StL, 4 at Arz. (17 away, 8 home; 7 vs. teams over .500).

Philadelphia (70-68) – 1 vs. Hou, 4 at Fla, 3 at Atl, 3 at Hou, 3 vs. Chi, 3 vs. Fla, 1 vs. Hou (makeup game), 3 at Was, 3 at Fla. (16 away, 8 home; 10 vs. teams .500 or above). Florida is the only break-even team they play.

Florida (69-69) – 1 vs. Arz, 4 vs. Pha, 3 vs. NY, 3 at Atl, 4 at NY, 3 at Pha, 3 vs. Cin, 3 vs. Pha. (10 away, 14 home; 17 vs. teams over .500).

Cincinnati (69-70) – 1 vs. SF, 3 vs. Pit, 3 vs. SD, 3 at Chi, 3 at Hou, 4 vs. Chi, 3 at Fla, 3 at Pit. (12 away, 11 home; 6 vs. teams .500 or above).

San Francisco (69-70) – 1 at Cin, 3 vs. SD, 3 vs. Col, 3 at StL, 3 at Col, 4 at Mil, 3 vs. Arz, 3 vs. LA. (11 away, 12 home; 9 vs. teams over .500).

Houston (67-71) – 1 at Pha, 3 at Mil, 3 at StL, 3 vs. Pha, 3 vs. Cin, 4 vs. StL, 1 at Pha (makeup game), 3 at Pit, 3 at Atl. (14 away, 10 home; 12 vs. teams over .500).

Atlanta (66-71) – 2 at NY (doubleheader tomorrow), 4 vs. Chi, 3 vs. Pha, 3 vs. Fla, 3 at Was, 4 at Col, 3 vs. NY, 3 vs. Hou. (9 away, 16 home; 11 vs. teams .500 and above.)

As you can see, even Atlanta has a shot if they somehow get on a 12-1 tear and beat up on some of the teams they’re chasing. Almost every NL team is going to make an impact on the race as either contender or spoiler.

My guess is that the order of finish amongst the three NL division titlists will be New York, St. Louis, and Los Angeles. San Diego will likely fade at the end and miss the wild card, right now I’d have to say Philadelphia is the favorite. If an NL East team gets the wild card it will be bad news for whoever has the worse record between the other two division winners, since they’ll get the Mets. Let’s say Philadelphia does make the playoffs, it would be (under my scenario) St. Louis vs. Philadelphia and Los Angeles drawing the Mets. But if a team like San Francisco, San Diego, Cincinnati, or Houston gets the wild card then they get the Mets first.

Obviously this was the intent when the powers-that-be in Major League Baseball thought up the three division + wild card system. There’s even the possibilty (probably slim though) that the NL wild card could finish with only 80 wins. No team with a losing record has ever made the playoffs in baseball, the closest was last year’s 82-80 San Diego club.

On Thursday I’ll wrap up Delmarva’s season as I announce my pick as Shorebird of the Year.

Oh, and by the way, I do have some choice words for Ron Alessi, but I wanted to get this post out of the way first. Don’t worry, I didn’t miss his comments this morning.

July standings report

Tonight it’s not just about the standings, there’s commentary below. Bear with me.

But first, it’s time to take a look at how my teams are doing.

The Shorebirds have one piece of good news. While they are last in the league in batting, they’re not last in the SAL North standings anymore as Lexington (the first half champion) has slipped below the 13-23 Delmarva mark (the Legends are 13-25.) But as it stands, the Lakewood BlueClaws are taking advantage of a relatively easy second half schedule to reach just past the midpoint of the second half with a 26-12 record. This puts Delmarva 12 games in arrears with only about 32 games to go. The BlueClaws are 5 clear of Lake County, who’s second at 20-16. In the middle, the remaining SAL North teams are tightly bunched 2 1/2 games apart – in order it’s Hickory, Greensboro, Hagerstown, and West Virginia. (The latter two are actually tied at 17-20.) On the south side, recent departee Augusta took 3 of 4 from us and is blowing away that division with a 30-8 record. With just over a month to go, it’s starting to look like a Lakewood-Lexington showdown for the North title while an all-Georgia South tilt would feature Rome and Augusta.

The rest of the season for the ‘Birds has a shortage of home contests. They’re off tonight as they’re en route to North Carolina for sets with Asheville and Kannapolis, then it’s home to face the West Virginia Power. That brief homestand rolls into their final 8 games outside Maryland, a roadtrip to Lake County and Lakewood. They close out the home season with Hagerstown and Lakewood before the last series across the bay in Hagerstown ends the campaign. All of these are 4 game sets.

Meanwhile, it looks like things are back to normal for my Toledo Mud Hens. After leading the IL West at the All-Star break, they’ve slipped back into the pack, now residing in third place behind both Indianapolis and Louisville. Their 57-53 record places them 3 1/2 behind the Indy Indians (Pittsburgh’s AAA affiliate who’s 59-48) and 1 1/2 games behind the top Cincinnati farm club (the Bats are 58-51.) But look for the Hens to go in the tank as they’ve announced the sale of playoff tickets beginning Thursday.

Toledo does get some advantages the remainder of the way, however. The schedulemaker was somewhat friendly to the Hens as they face Louisville 6 more times, all at home. Meanwhile, they face Indianapolis just 4 more times (including tonight and tomorrow in Indiana) with the last two at home. The Hens will see Columbus 12 times in that stretch, along with 12 more games against the whole of the South Division (4 with Richmond and Durham, 2 with Norfolk and Charlotte. Except for Charlotte, the South teams are all under .500.) But Louisville and Indianapolis see more of the South than the Hens do, which may be a benefit – plus they square off just 8 more times against each other.

Of course, then you have the mack daddy, the Detroit Tigers. With a 70-35 record going into tonight’s game at Tampa Bay, the Tigers stand atop the AL Central with a 7 1/2 game bulge over Chicago and 8 1/2 over Minnesota. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Tigers have a 95.7% chance of making the playoffs. A win tonight and the Tigers will equal last season’s victory total with 56 games to play. (Yes they did, routing Tampa Bay 10-4.)

The stretch before Labor Day does have possible landmines though. After finishing with Tampa Bay, the Tigers face the bitter rival Indians at home before a critical three-gamer against Minnesota. Then a huge six-game road trip against both colors of Sox (White then Red) looms. Doesn’t get much easier at home either as Texas and the White Sox invade for four games apiece. The month ends with another tough six-game trip to Cleveland and New York. Finally, Labor Day weekend begins a six game homestand against Los Angeles and Seattle. But no real breathers until September is a few days old.

So that is your standings report about the teams that matter. Now I’m going to write about something that’s relatively near and dear to my heart.

People who know me and my passionate love of baseball probably know that I’m a frequent patron of Perdue Stadium. So far this year I’ve made it to 23 games, which is about on pace with last year (think I was at 27 last season.) Despite all of my seasons in Toledo, I doubt I made it to many more than 100 Mud Hens games, most of which I attended at the old Skeldon Stadium during the 1980’s (before I was married.) In some respects then, our humble stadium is my second home.

Last night’s power fiasco made it clear that Perdue Stadium is overdue for some renovations. If you weren’t there, you wouldn’t have seen anything about it in the Daily Times. But the game started with the first base side’s concession stands on the disabled list due to a mechanical problem. They finally did get them fixed about the third or fourth inning, but then the scoreboard began to malfunction around the seventh inning.

But the coup de grace was a subtle “pop” that I heard which made me look and realize the entire second and third levels had lost power. This included all of the concession stands, restrooms, luxury suites, and press box. The final 3 1/2 innings were played (it was an 11 inning game we lost 8-5) with the only noise coming from the crowd (a pretty sizeable one that was plenty loud and spirited enough). They did eventually restore power to the second level but the luxury suites, press box, and scoreboard didn’t function the rest of the way. In the last inning they were giving away hotdogs, likely as an alternative to them spoiling.

However, the problems with the electrical system didn’t begin last night, for pretty much the last month the fans have done without at least some of the scoreboard and video board elements. This started with the heavy Fourth of July storm.

It seems to me that stadiums come due for renovations every 10 to 15 years. Obviously I was not here in 1996 when the stadium opened, but I have it on pretty good authority that the scoreboard and video board are original with Perdue. Electronic equipment, particularly that which sits in the elements, does have a limited life span.

But another question occurs to me – is the team in a sort of limbo because of offers to buy the club from Comcast? I’m of the thought right now that the Shorebirds management will likely get whatever repairs need to be done to get the stadium through the final 12 games this season, but any long-term fixes will not occur unless and until ownership is settled. More worrisome is a persistent drop in attendance.

In 2002, the Shorebirds drew 253,171 fans for 68 home games, or an average of just over 3,700 patrons each night. The total fell to 228,344 in 2003, rebounded slightly to 230,536 in 2004 (I believe this was the first year Comcast owned the club) but again slipped last season to 219,361 despite having a playoff team. This season, if the current average is maintained for the final 12 home games, we’ll have just over 207,000 pass through the turnstiles. (The Shorebirds have had some bad luck weatherwise, though, they’ve lost 5 of their 70 home dates this season.) Through 53 games, the total attendance mark stands at 168,872 – a shade under 3,200 per game.

Now because they have 5 fireworks games scheduled in August plus an appearance by the mascot Reggy, they might get enough behinds in the seats to pass last year’s total by a few thousand. But I think the Shorebirds need to work on ways to create a little more buzz, and one method would be to invest in items that make the fans’ experience more comfortable.

I’ve been to a number of minor and major league parks over the last half-dozen years and there’s items I’ve seen in and about them that I think would be a good fit for Perdue Stadium (and not cost a whole lot.) But they enhance the enjoyment of the game moreso than the between-innings antics do.

To me, the first order of business is (preferably) replacing the scoreboard and videoboard or at least giving them a major overhaul so they work properly. It would also be nice to have a smaller auxiliary scoreboard installed on the first base side between the upper and lower deck, this board would simply have the score, balls/strikes, and outs. This way folks on the third base side (like me in my usual place) could glance up to see the count while being able to watch the pitch on the way, rather than turn my head. Toledo actually installed one after the first season in their new stadium because the third base side fans complained about the lack of a second scoreboard.

Another nice touch would be to expand the TV service that exists in the luxury box areas and do a closed circuit broadcast to the concession stands so those waiting in line can still follow the action without turning around. The new stadium in Cincinnati has this feature at their upper deck stands as the concourse is below the highest seats. In some parks, they instead place certain food and pop vendors on the side of the concourse facing the field so one can buy his or her items without losing sight of the game. Toledo is one park that features this (so do Detroit and Indianapolis, among others.) You still can’t do items requiring heavy cooking this way, but ice cream and pop can be done thusly. If they’re going to revamp the electrical system, why not add that capacity?

I’d like to see our hometown team stay that way. We got our team from another city that didn’t support it when they had the chance, so it’s up to the fans to support the one we have. But Comcast, or whoever may become the owner of the club, needs to meet the fans at least halfway and improve the facilities that the team calls home.

And as a final P.S. – tell Cheap Channel to bring back the local bands for Thirsty Thursday next season. Whiskey and Cowboy are a pretty damn lame substitute.

Standings report: All-Star break

Back once again, this report comes as the leagues above the AA level take their annual All-Star break. But we’ll start with our local Delmarva Shorebirds. I’m hoping placing them in this report works the same magic for them as it did my Mud Hens (see below.)

As of tonight, though, it’s been a REALLY tough start to the second half for the Shorebirds. They are in the basement of the SAL North with a 5-12 record, and the only team holding them out of the league basement is the woeful Kannapolis Intimidators. While the Pirates and Royals are tanking in the bigs, they have nothing on the 24-63 (combined record) train wreck that is Kannapolis. But this stretch of bad baseball has placed the Shorebirds at .500 for the season (42-42) and sank them 9 1/2 games behind division-leading Lakewood, who has shaken off an 0-9 start to the season and stands 3 games clear of 10-8 Lake County in the SAL North. In particular, Lake County has fattened their second half record at the Shorebirds’ expense. The Captains are 8-3 against Delmarva in the second half, which means that they are 2-5 against the rest of the SAL.

Now I thought that the second-half schedule looked really easy for the Shorebirds because they played Lake County so much. But the Captains turned the tables and, with Lakewood, have used Delmarva as a springboard to pace the division.

The saddest part about this season is that I’ve been to 17 Shorebird games so far, and 9 of those have been against the Captains. Fortunately, we play them just one more series away, and guess where I’m going on vacation? It’s my week off and my stepdaughter lives near Cleveland, what can I say.

Now, speaking of Ohio teams, the last time I did a standings report my Toledo Mud Hens were tanking. Whether it was the excitement of hosting the AAA All-Star game, learning from their parent club Detroit, or just an early-season slump shaken, the Hens have surged into first place in the IL West at the break with a 50-41 record. It could be home cooking as well, as Toledo has crafted a league-best 30-16 record at Fifth Third Field. But their lead is tenuous as bitter rival Indianapolis lurks just a half-game back at 48-40 (and has 3 games in hand to the Mud Hens.) The Indians currently are positioned as the league wild-card, just as they did last season. Louisville sits just 1 1/2 back in third at 48-42, which means the IL West has all the makings of a late-season shootout. Only instate foe Columbus appears out with a 9 game hole (39-48); however, Toledo was 6 back at the first pole and the IL generally has all divisional games to round out the end of the schedule. Right now it appears that a wide open race is also going for that wild-card spot, as 9 of the league’s remaining 11 non-division leaders are within 9 games of the wild-card, four are within 4 1/2 games. Only the two Virginia teams (Norfolk and Richmond) appear out of the running.

And then you have those Tigers. Restore roar – check.

Last season I did an in-depth analysis of all the American League teams by remaining schedule and how easy or hard it was. This year it’s back, because it was so fun to do last year! Teams are listed in order of overall standing, which I like a lot better this year than I did in 2005! Schedule rank is easiest to hardest.

1. DETROIT (59-29), 1st in AL Central by 2 over Chicago.

Remaining games: 74 (33 away, 41 home).
Opponents: Chicago 13, Boston 3, New York 3, Toronto 3, Minnesota 10, Oakland 3, Texas 6, Los Angeles 3, Seattle 3, Cleveland 9, Baltimore 4, Tampa Bay 4, Kansas City 10.
Finished with: None.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +164 (3rd)
September opponents: -53 (1st)
Last two weeks: (at Chi, at Bal for a makeup game, at KC, Tor, KC) -50 (2nd)

Critical stretch: All 13 games playing against the White Sox. The Tigers must do better than the 1-5 mark they’ve had thus far against the Pale Hose.

2. Chicago (57-31), 2nd in AL Central by 9 over Minnesota, lead wild card by 6 over New York.

Remaining games: 74 (40 away, 34 home).
Opponents: Detroit 13, Boston 3, New York 6, Toronto 3, Minnesota 12, Oakland 3, Texas 3, Los Angeles 4, Seattle 4, Cleveland 7, Baltimore 3, Tampa Bay 3, Kansas City 10.
Finished with: None.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +296 (8th)
September opponents: +38 (5th)
Last two weeks: (Det, Sea, at Cle, at Min) +81 (10th)

Critical stretch: The White Sox come out of the break with 15 of 21 on the road, including a trip to New York and Detroit, and a longer trip to Baltimore, Kansas City, and Toronto.

3. Boston (53-33), 1st in AL East by 3 over New York.

Remaining games: 76 (32 away, 44 home).
Opponents: Detroit 3, Chicago 3, New York 9, Toronto 8, Minnesota 3, Oakland 10, Texas 1, Los Angeles 6, Seattle 6, Cleveland 4, Baltimore 9, Tampa Bay 5, Kansas City 9.
Finished with: None.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +10 (1st)
September opponents: +83 (6th)
Last two weeks: (Min, at Tor, TB, Bal) +18 (7th)

Critical stretch: The 9 games with the Yankees are on 7 dates because of first half rainouts. The Boston nine also has two west coast trips in late July and late August, the August trip has no scheduled off days on either side of a 9 game trip to Los Angeles, Seattle, and Oakland.

4. New York (50-36), 2nd in AL East by 2 games over Toronto.

Remaining games: 76 (38 away, 38 home).
Opponents: Detroit 3, Chicago 6, Boston 9, Toronto 13, Minnesota 3, Texas 3, Los Angeles 7, Seattle 6, Baltimore 13, Tampa Bay 10, Kansas City 3.
Finished with: Oakland, Cleveland.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +265 (6th)
September opponents: -44 (2nd)
Last two weeks: (at Tor, at TB, Bal, Tor) -8 (5th)

Critical stretch: The Yankees play their last 24 games against AL East foes, but just 4 against Boston – all in Yankee Stadium. The other three teams they play home-and-home.

5. Toronto (49-39), 3rd in AL East by 9 games over Baltimore.

Remaining games: 74 (39 away, 35 home).
Opponents: Detroit 3, Chicago 3, Boston 8, New York 13, Minnesota 4, Oakland 7, Texas 3, Los Angeles 3, Seattle 9, Cleveland 6, Baltimore 6, Tampa Bay 6, Kansas City 3.
Finished with: None.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +298 (9th)
September opponents: +245 (12th)
Last two weeks: (NY, Bos, at Det, at NY) +254 (14th)

Critical stretch: The schedulemakers gave the Jays a sick last two weeks, didn’t they?

6. Minnesota (47-39), 3rd in AL Central by 7 1/2 over Cleveland.

Remaining games: 75 (34 away, 41 home).
Opponents: Detroit 10, Chicago 12, Boston 3, New York 3, Toronto 4, Oakland 3, Texas 3, Cleveland 14, Baltimore 6, Tampa Bay 7, Kansas City 10.
Finished with: Los Angeles, Seattle.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +293 (7th)
September opponents: +113 (7th)
Last two weeks: (at Bos, at Bal, KC, Chi) +14 (6th)

Critical stretch: 46 of their last 75 games come against AL Central foes. The Twins were hot during June and particularly during interleague play, but could do no better than putting some daylight between themselves and the Indians.

7 (tie). Oakland (45-43), tied for 1st in AL West with Texas, 2 games ahead of 3rd place Los Angeles.

Remaining games: 74 (39 away, 35 home).
Opponents: Detroit 3, Chicago 3, Boston 10, Toronto 7, Minnesota 3, Texas 9, Los Angeles 10, Seattle 9, Cleveland 4, Baltimore 6, Tampa Bay 6, Kansas City 4.
Finished with: New York.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +191 (5th)
September opponents: Even (4th)
Last two weeks: (Cle, LA, at Sea, at LA) -51 (1st)

Critical stretch: The Athletics can help themselves out immensely by doing well on an East Coast trip to Boston, Baltimore, and Detroit coming out of the All-Star break. They end with 17 games in 17 days, but the last 14 are against teams currently under break-even.

7 (tie). Texas (45-43), tied for 1st in AL West with Oakland, 2 games ahead of 3rd place Los Angeles.

Remaining games: 74 (43 away, 31 home).
Opponents: Detroit 6, Chicago 3, Boston 1, New York 3, Toronto 3, Minnesota 3, Oakland 9, Los Angeles 13, Seattle 13, Cleveland 6, Baltimore 7, Tampa Bay 4, Kansas City 3.
Finished with: None.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +110 (2nd)
September opponents: -17 (3rd)
Last two weeks: (Sea, Cle, at LA, at Sea) -45 (3rd)

Critical stretch: Eerily similar to Oakland, the Rangers can help themselves out immensely by doing well on an East Coast trip to Baltimore, Toronto, Boston (for a makeup game) and Chicago coming out of the All-Star break. While their last 4 opponents are common with Oakland’s, they do have the advantage of two off-days in that stretch.

9. Los Angeles (43-45), 3rd in AL West by 1/2 game over Seattle.

Remaining games: 74 (35 away, 39 home).
Opponents: Detroit 3, Chicago 4, Boston 6, New York 7, Toronto 3, Oakland 10, Texas 13, Seattle 7, Cleveland 6, Baltimore 3, Tampa Bay 6, Kansas City 6.
Finished with: Minnesota.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +185 (4th)
September opponents: +152 (10th)
Last two weeks: (at KC, at Oak, Tex, Oak) -30 (4th)

Critical stretch: Los Angeles has a huge early September homestand where they host Baltimore, Toronto, and Chicago. They can gain quite a bit on teams ahead in the standings should they get hot in August. Their last two weeks are rather easy schedulewise.

10. Seattle (43-46), 4th in AL West, 1/2 game behind Los Angeles.

Remaining games: 73 (40 away, 33 home).
Opponents: Detroit 3, Chicago 4, Boston 6, New York 6, Toronto 9, Oakland 9, Texas 13, Los Angeles 7, Cleveland 3, Baltimore 3, Tampa Bay 6, Kansas City 4.
Finished with: Minnesota.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +307 (10th)
September opponents: +115 (8th)
Last two weeks: (at Tex, at Chi, Oak, Tex) +122 (11th)

Critical stretch: Seattle embarks on a 11 game road trip in as many days to all three of their division rivals August 10th through 20th.

11. Cleveland (40-47), 4th in AL Central by 9 games over Kansas City.

Remaining games: 75 (40 away, 35 home).
Opponents: Detroit 9, Chicago 7, Boston 4, Toronto 6, Minnesota 14, Oakland 4, Texas 6, Los Angeles 6, Seattle 3, Tampa Bay 7, Kansas City 9.
Finished with: New York, Baltimore.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +401 (11th)
September opponents: +170 (11th)
Last two weeks: (at Oak, at Tex, Chi, TB) +48 (9th)

Critical stretch: The Indians probably need to be at .500 by the end of July to have a chance. They face Minnesota 7 times, the Angels, Detroit, and Seattle 3 games each, and finish the month with a game against Boston. Tall order. Last year they had the easiest second half schedule, what goes around comes around.

12. Baltimore (41-49), 4th in AL East by 1 1/2 games over Tampa Bay.

Remaining games: 72 (36 away, 36 home).
Opponents: Detroit 4, Chicago 3, Boston 9, New York 13, Toronto 6, Minnesota 6, Oakland 6, Texas 7, Los Angeles 3, Seattle 3, Tampa Bay 9, Kansas City 3.
Finished with: Cleveland.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +505 (13th)
September opponents: +329 (13th)
Last two weeks: (at TB, makeup game vs. Det, Min, at NY, at Bos) +123 (12th)

Critical stretch: Baltimore only plays 18 more games against teams currently under breakeven. Nine of these come prior to August 2nd, along with seven against Texas and Oakland, who are each over .500 by just two games. To have any chance, they need to win about 14 or 15 in that stretch before the schedule hammer comes down.

13. Tampa Bay (39-50), 5th in AL East by 1 1/2 games behind Baltimore.

Remaining games: 73 (34 away, 39 home).
Opponents: Detroit 4, Chicago 3, Boston 5, New York 10, Toronto 6, Minnesota 7, Oakland 6, Texas 4, Los Angeles 6, Seattle 6, Cleveland 7, Baltimore 9.
Finished with: Kansas City.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +423 (12th)
September opponents: +137 (9th)
Last two weeks: (Bal, NY, at Bos, at Cle) +44 (8th)

Critical stretch: Between September 22 and 27 they play New York four times in Tampa and the Red Sox twice in Boston. That will likely be their only impact on the division race.

14. Kansas City (31-56), 5th in AL Central by 9 games behind Cleveland.

Remaining games: 74 (38 away, 36 home).
Opponents: Detroit 10, Chicago 10, Boston 9, New York 3, Toronto 3, Minnesota 10, Oakland 4, Texas 3, Los Angeles 6, Seattle 4, Cleveland 9, Baltimore 3.
Finished with: Tampa Bay.

Strength of schedule, all opponents: +505 (14th)
September opponents: +362 (14th)
Last two weeks: (LA, Det, at Min, at Det) +208 (13th)

Critical stretch: The stretch could begin as early as July 31 if there’s any viable veteran trade options, but certainly the 27 games in September against some stiff competition will prove to be a test for the Royals’ top prospects, who will have a lengthy audition.

I was going to do the National League, but after interleague play it’s apparent the AL is dominant, and the Nats are pretty much out of it anyway. And by the way, since all this numbercrunching took so long, I went to the Shorebirds game tonight and they won 7-6 in 11, so make the ‘Birds 6-12 on the half.

May standings report

A day late, but not a dollar short. Here’s the standings report for my teams through tonight’s contests.

With tonight’s loss to Greensboro, the Delmarva Shorebirds are dead even with the Lexington Legends for first place in the South Atlantic League’s North Division. Lexington was rained out tonight, so they’ve at least temporarily lost their standings advantage over the Shorebirds (the Legends had played one more game than Delmarva, so being even in the loss column was to Lexington’s benefit.) But both teams are 31-20, and I’ve found out that Hagerstown is making up tonight’s rainout. So Delmarva has just 17 games left in the half compared to Lexington’s 18. Additionally, Lexington will get a “ringer” in the rotation for at least one start as Roger Clemens will work himself back into shape with his son Kody, already a member of the Legends. (Unfortunately, the elder Clemens will likely be long back in Houston before the Legends return to Perdue Stadium in July.)

So both teams stand at 31-20, but you can’t count out Greensboro or West Virginia, 29-23 and 28-23 respectively. They lurk just a few games back, with 26-26 Lakewood being the dark horse. Hickory, Lake County (who faded from being first at the start of the month), and Hagerstown round out the North field. Meanwhile, the Rome Braves are punishing the South Division.

This month will be a month of transition for Delmarva’s roster. After the amateur draft is held next week, the rookie leagues start up, and it’s likely a few Shorebirds will be sent down to those teams in Bluefield, WV and Aberdeen, MD while our club is possibly receiving some of the higher draft picks deemed ready for A ball. So some guys you’ve come to know over 50 games won’t be here much longer. It just may be the end of the road for a few.

June’s schedule finds Delmarva starting with 4 games here against third-place Greensboro (the first was the 2-0 loss tonight), then taking a brief trip north to face Lakewood for 4 contests. Coming back home, it’s 3 with last-place Hagerstown before 4 home games once again facing Lakewood. The final series before the SAL All-Star break will find the Shorebirds squaring off with the Hagerstown nine over in western Maryland, quite possibly with a playoff berth at stake.

The rest of June has us playing home and away with both Hagerstown and Lake County. Remember, the standings are refreshed at the All-Star break, so these two second-division clubs will have new life in the second half.

By the way, Lexington will have the 4 games with Hagerstown before spending the rest of the half battling Greensboro 6 times and Lake County for 8 games. So don’t count out the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

Moving to the International League and my former hometown, the Toledo Mud Hens continue to scuffle along with a 25-27 record, 6 games and counting behind Indianapolis in the IL North. It’s back to the reality of Toledo baseball after the dream 2005 season, or so it appears. The Indy club has won 5 in a row to open up that lead over the second-place Mud Hens. Louisville and Columbus bring up the rear of that four-team division, but they’re just 2 and 3 games in back of the Hens now. Toledo has one of the better home records in the IL at 17-12 but they have been dreadful on the road.

Coming into June, they began a 32 game stretch against the IL’s East Division. This month they’ll have 4 game sets at Ottawa (current series) and the three New York teams (Buffalo first, then Rochester and Syracuse on the later trip) split up by a pair of 4 game home sets against Ottawa and Syracuse. On the 26th they start a long homestand against Norfolk, Charlotte, and Indianapolis that concludes their home schedule prior to the AAA All-Star Game being held at Fifth Third Field this year. They go into the All-Star break with a trip to Louisville and Indianapolis.

However, the Hens’ parent club is still kicking ass. The Detroit Tigers came back tonight from 5-0 and 6-5 deficits to beat the Yankees and snap a 4-game losing streak. This win puts them right at the 1/3 mark of the season with a 36-18 record, best in the big leagues. (It’s about freakin’ time.)

With the White Sox losing again at Cleveland, the Tigers regain the 2 1/2 game cushion over the Chicago squad, with the Indians sticking 8 1/2 back. The Twins are 11 back at the moment (playing late in Oakland) and the Royals are 21 1/2 games out in early June. The only Achilles’ heel the Tigers seem to have at the moment is their struggles against other good teams. They’re killing the bottom-feeders but are just 1-6 against the Yankees and White Sox (all at home.)

June will see the Tigers playing more good teams, starting with this weekend’s series at home to Boston. then it’s off for a critical three-game set in Chicago with the White Sox before they play their ’80’s archrivals in Toronto for a 3 game series. (I sort of miss them being in our division.) They return home for 4 with Tampa Bay before heading back out on the road to begin a 15 game stretch of interleague play. They’ll tangle for 3 games at Wrigley against the Cubs and up in Milwaukee, return to face the Cardinals and Astros, then end the month by starting a long roadtrip in Pittsburgh. That trip will also send them back out to the west coast (Oakland and Seattle) to wrap up the pre-All Star part of the schedule.

The next standings report will be a wrapup of the Shorebirds’ first half on June 19th. I’ll save the other two clubs for the major league All-Star break in July.

April standings report

Something I did in 2005 with the ttrwc website was from time to time go through the baseball standings of my favorite teams. I’m continuing this practice with monoblogue, so this will be the first of this year’s standings reports. It’s a good time to check in as we are a month into the season. (Oh, and just wait until the All-Star break, you sports haters are going to just love that post. Hehehehehehehehehe.)

I’ll start with the local heroes, the Delmarva Shorebirds. Tonight they sit with an 11-10 record, good for third place in the South Atlantic League’s North Division behind the Lexington Legends (a Houston Astros farm club) and the Lake County Captains (affiliate of the nearby Cleveland Indians.) Both of those teams are 14-10 so the Shorebirds are trailing due to games not played as opposed to being behind in the loss column. This is because of the two rainouts last weekend. One thing that could hurt the Shorebirds later is not making up a rainout against Hickory since the Crawdads don’t visit Delmarva again this season.

Coming up for the Shorebirds, they continue the stretch they began last Sunday of playing 34 straight games against three teams: Lakewood, Hagerstown, and Lake County. We see a lot of these opponents as the SAL tries to eliminate travel as much as they can by grouping teams, and those three teams make up the rest of our group. (Unfortunately we get stuck with the frequent 8 hour trips to Lake County this way, as do they to come here.) We don’t see a team other than those three until May 27, when the Shorebirds wrap up the month by traveling to Lexington to face the Legends.

My old hometown Toledo Mud Hens are off to a slow start in defending their IL pennant, as they’re just 11-13 after a rainout today at Louisville. They are tied for second in the International League West standings with the Louisville Bats (Cincinnati’s top farm club) and the Tigers affiliate resides 2 games out of first. They’re trailing the IL runners-up from 2005, the Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh’s top farm team), who have started out 13-11.

The month of May will see the Mud Hens make their first trip to Virginia this season. After 2 games to start the month in Indianapolis, they’ll host the two Virginia teams (Richmond and Norfolk) before traveling south to end a 16 game stretch against these IL South foes. In addition to the games in Virginia, they tangle with instate rival Columbus in the state capital for a pair of contests before wrapping up the month back in Toledo with 4 game sets against IL East challengers Buffalo and Rochester.

Then, of course, there’s my Detroit Tigers. After simply annihilating the Twins this weekend (sweeping the series 9-0, 18-1, and 6-0) they stand second in the American League Central division with a 16-9 record. It’s their best April start since their last world champion team in 1984 – the “Bless You Boys” team started 18-2 in April on their way to a 35-5 record after the first 40 games. The only AL team with a better record is the defending World Series champion Chicago White Sox, who stand 1 1/2 games ahead of the Tigers with a 17-7 record. The Tigers are 2 games clear of the Boston nine (and possibly Cleveland if they win tonight) for the wild card lead.

On the May schedule for the Tigers, they wrap up their current homestand with a pair each against the Royals and Angels before going on their second three-city roadtrip in 2 1/2 weeks. That trip takes them to Minnesota, Baltimore (a midweek series, darn it!) and Cleveland. A midmonth homestand brings the Twins back to Detroit along with the first interleague series against the surprising Cincinnati Reds. Then, after a brief 4 game roadtrip to Kansas City, the Tigers close out May with a key homestand against the Indians and Yankees.

Gee, maybe if they keep up this start, ESPN just might carry one of the Tigers vs. Yankees games. I know, it’s not a Red Sox-Yankees matchup that they can hype for a week beforehand nor is Barry Bonds involved, but at some point the national media’s gotta show the Olde English D a little love.