Major League Baseball is awash in money. There are many reasons for this but one of the biggest ones is the local television money. Teams are signing contracts with Regional Sports Networks (RSN’s) and the League is getting new national deals for billions—with a B—of dollars. These deals are centered on the RSN’s having exclusive rights to broadcast these games in a particular region (hence the name). Teams and networks are more or less free to define what this “region” will encompass. That is how you end up with maps like these:
This shows the “home” region of 29 teams (the Blue Jays get all of Canada). If you fall in this region, unless you have the full sports package for your TV subscription, you will be “blacked out” of that team’s games. Las Vegas and Iowa famously are blacked out of 6 teams’ games each, but let’s zoom in on Memphis, where I live. Blackouts mean I cannot watch the Cardinals (286 miles away) or the Braves (377 miles) with my MLB.tv subscription. Oh, and the Cincinnati Reds—486 miles away—are also blacked out from MLB.tv in Memphis. So rather than stick to radio broadcasts or pirated feeds (Reds only show weekend games in Memphis, so I couldn’t even go to a sports bar), my wife and I drove 7+ hours to spend the Memorial Day holiday in Cincinnati.
First, my general impressions of Great American Ballpark, home of the 2015 All Star Game. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were founded as the first ever professional team in 1869 and they have capitalized on an old timey feel while still maintaining a clean, modern feel. Great American, opened in 2003, features wide open concourses, white-painted steel mimicking a wood-frame construction, old timey mosaics and the Bootleggers Bar. The stadium sits on the north banks of the Ohio River, which carries riverboats up and down its waters often—in fact, there were some out there during game 1—so throughout the outfield you’ll see smokestacks and other riverboat aesthetics. And, of course, there is a lot of red.
The best part, though, was the view from our seats in the second row of the third deck on Monday. From this vantage point we could see beyond the aforementioned Ohio River to the rolling Kentucky hills. There were no high-rises, no yachts beyond the right field wall, just homes and even a large water tower. So, even in the middle of the bustling metropolis of Cincinnati, there was this pastoral feel to the game. If you could tune out the loudspeakers and the wall-to-wall advertisements, even for just a moment, you could imagine the game being played around the turn of the century. For a team that was founded in 1869, I’m sure they wouldn’t want it any other way.
There are statues all over the front plaza, in recognition of a team almost 150 years old. Joe Morgan (FIRE HIM), Ted Kluszewski, Johnny Bench, and Joe Nuxhall are all immortalized on a ball-field shaped area. Every staff person we encountered was incredibly pleasant, even in the face of our full #PurpleMonday efforts, offering to take pictures and quick to discuss baseball, whether it’s controversial manager Bryan Price or the Hall of Fame case for Pete Rose. Several folks also wanted to talk about whether or not the Rockies will trade Troy Tulowitzki and hey what’s the deal with him only having 2 home runs? Yes, this is definitely a baseball town.
With that said, onto the games!
Game 1: Rockies 5, Reds 4
We arrived in Cincinnati around 11pm Sunday—but we still beat the Rockies there, after a long rain delay meant that their previous game at Coors Field didn’t finish until after 9pm ET. We spent the morning strolling around a soggy downtown, hoping the Rockies wouldn’t once again find themselves rained out. We got some famous Skyline Chili for lunch (spaghetti, chili, and mounds of cheddar cheese—it’s a little strange) before moseying over to Great American Ball Park.
But there was also baseball to be played, and the game started right on time despite some spitting rain. Fun fact, this was the first time since 1933 that the Reds had their pitcher hit eighth. When you’ve lost 8 in a row, you might as well try something.
It didn’t help much. Charlie Blackmon, who was scheduled to get the day off until Carlos Gonzalez was scratched from the lineup about an hour before first pitch, led off the game with a walk (!), stole second, and was driven in by the red hot Nolan Arenado. Arenado ended up having quite the day with the glove, making me stand up out of my seat to receive the aspersions of the Reds fans in my section no less than 3 times
Eddie Butler struggled a bit with his location, allowing 9 hits, including long home runs from Todd Frazier (understandable) and Marlon Byrd (why?). Despite these struggles, he did manage to give the Rockies 6 innings while throwing just 89 pitches, a far cry from his previous 2 starts. Still, it was 4-4 going into the ninth inning when the famous Aroldis Chapman came in to pitch for the Reds. Immediately even the Reds fans around me knew something was wrong, as he was “only” hitting 95 mph or so on his fastball in walking Charlie Blackmon. He went first-to-third on a stupid bloop single from DJ LeMahieu when Nolan Arenado, who homered earlier, stepped to the plate. A long drive to center field plated Blackmon and gave the Rockies a 5-4 lead, which John Axford would wrap up in the bottom of the ninth.
Game 2: Reds 2, Rockies 1
Our seats on Tuesday were a bit better—Thanks SeatGeek.com!—but the game was an adventure all its own. We got the chance to look around the stadium a bit more, including the truly impressive Reds Hall of Fame. Again, when you’ve been around for nearly 150 years, you have quite the history to tell. I won’t go too much into the Hall of Fame and museum, but it was surprisingly worth the time and money. You’ll even get to see this Frank Robinson jersey, which is why I will never trust Mr. Redlegs again.
As has become a theme for the Rockies in the month of May, the tarp was on the field for most of the afternoon leading up to the game. I stood down by the Rockies dugout during warm ups and even got to chat with Christian Friedrich about this tweet from earlier in the day. We retreated to our seats in the Scouts Section—which is a name only a baseball town would give to such an area—to take in the game and keep score using my beautiful Eephus League Halfliner. I would have used it the previous day but the threat of rain spooked me. Turns out this was the game I should have worried about. Fortunately, the stadium employee for our section noticed me trying to protect my book and offered to move us to 2 empty seats at the top of the section out of the rain, which was great because I got to meet my new role model.
As for the game, Rockies fans quickly went from “Who the heck is this nobody?” to “Where has this guy been?” with Chris Rusin. Called up to make a spot start for Jorge De La Rosa, who had his start pushed back to Saturday due to a cut on his hand, Rusin pitched brilliantly. He allowed 1 run on 4 hits and 4 walks while striking out 5—4 of them looking—and going 7 innings, giving the Rockies much needed length. Unfortunately the Rockies offense was similarly stymied by Michael Lorenzen, who took advantage of some aggressiveness (18 of 23 first pitch strikes) to keep the Rockies at bay. In the ninth, Chapman again came in and, though his velocity was there, he struggled with his command. After striking out Blackmon, LeMahieu blooped a single into center and Cargo worked a 4-pitch walk. Unfortunately, Chapman went on to strike out Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado to escape the jam.
This would come back to bite them. Brooks Brown, in for the second consecutive inning for some reason, walked the leadoff batter Marlon Byrd, who eventually came around to score on Skip Schumaker’s pinch-hit, game winning double, ending the Reds’ long losing streak at 9 and the Rockies winning streak at 3.
Game 3: Rockies 6, Reds 4
We should’ve known this would happen. We only planned on seeing 2 games and then making the long drive back to Memphis on Wednesday. But seeing live Major League Baseball when you live in a minor league town has an addictive effect. Fortunately, the boys in purple did not disappoint.
— #VoteRox (@Rockies) May 27, 2015
It seemed like the 3-run lead was going to be all that was needed for the Rockies because Kyle Kendrick was #GoodKendrick today. Put him down for 7.1 innings and just 75 pitches. Todd Frazier was the only one who seemed capable of figuring him out, knocking him for a 1st inning home run and a double in the 4th. He entered the 8th inning with a 6-1 lead and only 61 pitches. But a lead-off “home run” from catcher Tucker Barnhart, a pop-out, a single and a walk ended Kendrick’s day. Boone Logan did his best impression of a gas can, walking the first two batters he faced, forcing in a run, then a bloop single to Jay Bruce before being pulled for Rafael Betancourt, who was able to lock it down and preserve the 6-4 lead. Axford retired the side in order to earn his 8th save of the season.
So the Rockies leave Cincinnati and head north for Philadelphia with two wins, while we head south back to Memphis with a wonderful experience on the banks of the Ohio River. Ultimately, what set Great American Ballpark apart for me was the fact that it is most certainly situated in a baseball town. The park’s intimate, almost pastoral feel makes it a unique and lovely place to watch a game and the knowledgeable fans—from the ushers to the regular Joe chatting us up in the various restaurants we visited (shout out to Wick Terrell and friends from Red Reporter for the recommendations!)—made it even more enjoyable.
The Week in Links:
Connor Farrell of Rox Pile looks into a concerning trend for Eddie Butler since his big league call up. After striking out just 1 batter (the opposing pitcher) on Monday, Eddie Butler now has a 3.97 K/9 ratio (or, if you prefer, a 9.3% strikeout rate).
Also from Monday’s game, David Martin of Rockies Review is ready to deem Nolan Arenado as the new face of the Rockies, and Bryan Kilpatrick over at Purple Row seems ready to agree. While I’m not convinced the Rockies could get a good enough package for Troy Tulowitzki right now, Nolan’s play this season has made it easier for me to think that the Rockies might be okay in the Franchise Player department if a trade does happen. Again, I think the Rockies should hold out for a king’s ransom, lest we end up with the modern day equivalent of the Frank Robinson trade.
And speaking of Tulo, Thomas Harding chatted with him this week about something many of us around the Rockies—and around the country—are noticing about his struggles at the plate. Tulo insists he needs more time, noting the time missed from his labrum injury last year might be having lingering effects.
Of course, this isn’t just a Tulo problem. Ryan Hammond profiles the Rockies’ struggles with plate discipline, which went surprisingly better this week in Cincinnati. Hopefully a turning of the tide is in order.
Colorado Rockies Record: 19-26
Run Differential: -37
NL West: 5th, 9 GB Los Angeles Dodgers (28-17)
NL Wild Card: 8th, 7.5 GB San Francisco Giants (28-20), 6.5 GB New York Mets (27-21)
Games Remaining: 117
Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds: 1.2% (well that’s just sad)
Next Series: 3 games @ Philadelphia Phillies (19-30, 4th, NL East, 9.5 GB Washington Nationals)