A little help from the experts

Wayne Peterson, owner of the Hamm’s Bears (est. 2010), recently attended a First Pitch Forum headed by fantasy guru Ron Shandler in Chicago. Just so he doesn’t get too far ahead of the rest of us, Wayne has agreed to answer a few questions about the experience.

Wayne, this isn’t the first time you’ve attended a Shandler forum, so what is it that brought you back?

You sure ask a lot of questions for somebody from New Jersey!

This may be the fifth time I have attended a BaseballHQ.com First Pitch Forum in the Chicago area. It’s a chance to sit down in a hotel banquet room with anywhere from 60 to 100 baseball junkies and 8-10 industry experts on a cold day in late February or early March to talk fantasy baseball for 3+ hours. It’s the first sign of Spring in Chicago!

What’s the general experience? Are there a lot of people there? Does he speak for awhile and then answer questions?

Ron Shandler is the headliner, but a boatload of Baseball HQ writers and researchers are on the road show, which usually starts in Chicago and hits 10-12 cities. Others who spoke included Ray Murphy, Brent Hershey, Doug Dennis (my personal favorite, because he’s a riot), Joe Hoffer, Alex Beckey and Steve Nickrent. Jim Callus used to be a regular when he was with Baseball America, but MLB.com may not allow that.

Everybody presents one position or area, Shandler does several areas and moderates. Q&A includes everyone at end, and they stay and just talk baseball until they have to head for O’Hare. It’s always a good event.

How much of what you heard related to general strategies and how much related to individual players and what to expect from them?

They touch on strategies for draft and auction leagues, but with so many disparate league setups it’s hard to be specific. It’s more overall roster building and individual player expectations, breakouts, etc. And hunting for the elusive Black Swans.

There’s always a new theme, and this year’s was “Beyond the Wisdom of the Crowd.” It looked at average draft positions (ADPs) of players and frequently asked why Player A (with stats but no name) and Player B (and maybe Player C, too) were drafted at 10, 95 and 175, with stars that are not too terribly different. We were asked to guess who each player was.
For example, why is Trea Turner (a proud member of the Hamm’s Bears) being picked at #10 overall in draft leagues, based on a relatively small sample size?

Without giving too much away, what did you learn that affected the way you’ll approach the auction and the season?

What did I learn? That crowd sourcing isn’t always right. That I should trust my gut more often.

Did he mention Kerry Sewell during his presentation?

No mention of Kerry Sewell this time, but I believe I heard someone say to watch Whit Overstreet in a few years.

If you have the opportunity, will you go to another Shandler show?

I would absolutely go again, and I hope to get to First Pitch Arizona in early November. It’s 2-3 days off seminars with lots of baseball people, as well as Arizona Fall League playoff games, where the best prospects​ in the game are on display. I think the CDRL fall meeting should be held in Scottsdale at the same time.

Interesting shop for us baseball fans

As Mel Allen used to say, well hello, everybody!

This will be short. Thought some of you might be interested in a place I just found on Twitter that actually leads to a place that sells cool baseball stuff. This is NOT team paraphernalia. They have created shirts, hats, hoodies (hey, Bill Belichick might be reading this!), signs and more, and all with unique, baseball-related designs. The site is called Baseballism. They have several brick-and-mortar stores, including one in Scottsdale, if the Bears are anywhere near there right now. There’s also a version in Nashville. But you can buy everything online too.

Here’s one t-shirt I liked

Here’s another, just to give you examples.

I pass this along NOT because I get a cut from them (I don’t), but with Christmas coming, my family is always asking me what they can get me and I never have good answers, mainly because there isn’t a store called CLOSERS ‘R’ US.

ASIDE: As I wrote this, I started wondering if there would be a market for some of the things I yell at the television while watching Crusoes perform:

** Can’t you get ANYbody out?


** Sure, why not?

** C’mon, REALLY?


** I should trade this guy to the Kings.

Here today, gone tomorrow

The high was 81. The low was 37.

No, that’s not the weather forecast for Memphis this week, although it was still reaching the 70s here last week.

Those numbers represent the most and fewest players employed by the teams in CDRL in 2016. The champion Memphis Kings rolled through 81 players during the season. Stephen Piscotty managed the most at bats with 582 in a Kings uniform. Taylor Featherston, who modeled several jerseys during the season, didn’t get an official at bat for the Kings, but did steal a base. On the flip side, Corey Knebel pitched in one game for the Kings, retired no batters and gave up two hits and a walk.

The Kings employed 44 hitters and 37 pitchers.

Memphis Mojo, the 2013 champ, used only 37 players during the season. Tommy Pham, who got one at bat for the Kings, had 137 for Mojo, the fewest of his 16 offensive players. Chad Qualls, who bounced around the league like one of my errant wedge shots hitting a cart path, toed the slab for an inning for Mojo.

Here’s the complete list, showing hitters, pitchers and total:

1. Kings: 44-37 — 81

2. Crusoes: 37-32 — 69

3. Bears: 32-26 — 58

4. Shibe: 32-21 — 53

5. (tie) Bake’s: 30-19 — 49
(tie) Keynesians: 23-26 –49

7. (tie) MOB: 22-23 — 45
(tie) Knights: 26-19 — 45

9. Hose: 23-18 — 41

10. Joes: 23-17 — 40

11. Suspects: 22-17 — 39

12. Mojo: 16-21 — 37

It’s all about sponsorships (CDRL style)

Spurred by an e-coupon for a meal at the Memphis Mojo cafe (defending champ Dave Smith said I should try to skip out on the bill and then tell them I know the owner!), the crack(ed) research staff at g-rob.com set out on an e-journey to look for sponsorship potential for our teams.

Here’s what they found:

McBrides: The best pub in Rhode Island. We do wonder if anyone has visited that place after a visit to this one.

Carmine Hose: New York City’s “legendary family style Italian restaurant.”

Cincinnati Gators: A youth sports program in Cincinnati that stresses staying in shape by playing sports. OR … Jacksonville’s Best BBQ.

Crusoes: Noted for its famous fried chicken “To Go Box.”

Hamm’s Bears: It’s “refreshing as the land of sky blue waters.”

Memphis Kings: “Scooting together for 11 years.”

Memphis MOJO: Their weekly special is a BBQ Meatball sandwich served with slaw. And if you want some sightseeing after your meal, you can find it easily on a bus.

MOB Squad: After all this eating and drinking, we’re going to need some entertainment. What’s your favorite name in that bunch? We like Elsie.

Pale Hos: This place in Indiana serves not only a Pale Ale, but a Hos IPA.

The Flash: Because we can’t stand around all day

The Keynesians: Wow! A whole town!

Usual Suspects: It fuses the classic swank of exposed brick walls with an inviting interior (they say). And can someone please identify the meal in the last photo on the right at the bottom?

Announcing the end of a good idea

It’s the Reserve Draft, 2013. To be precise, it’s late in the Reserve Draft, 2013. The $2 rounds, where you take longshots on guys like, well, Whit Overstreet.

In the Crusoes’ war room, eyes are checking lists. One name stands out: Rafael Furcal. Furcal is going to miss most — if not all — of the 2013 season because of Tommy John surgery. But at $2, he seems like a bargain. What if he comes back in September to help the Cardinals? What if he misses the year but comes back in 2014 as the starting shortstop? This seems like a good idea. So the card goes to the commissioner: RAFAEL FURCAL STL SS.

Those of you who are avid followers of CDRL transactions know that the Crusoes make liberal use of their roster for trades and free-agent acquisitions, but somehow, they keep Furcal rather than trading him (only if nobody was stupid enough to agree to take him) or dropping him in a waiver claim.

Then comes the offseason news that Furcal is signing with the Marlins and will be their second baseman. BINGO, think the Crusoes, a starting second baseman for $2. This really WAS a good idea.

But around rolls spring training and Furcal, to the astonishment of all, falls to an injury. The news about the injury is sporadic and varies between minor progress and major setback.

The last shows Furcal at least a month away, having been moved from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL to accommodate the addition of a reliever that not even the Marlins-bullpen-happy Kings would pick up.

Finally realizing Furcal has as much chance to contribute to the Crusoes as Maury Wills does, the Crusoes saw that Chone Figgins has been dropped and springs into action. The waiver claim to acquire Figgins is successful and dropped in the process is Furcal.

“We appreciate the effort Rafael put toward making the Crusoes a better team,” said Crusoes managing general partner Gary Robinson, who was unable to think of even one thing Furcal had done in that regard when asked later. “We wish him well in his future endeavors. We suspect they won’t include much baseball.”


** This is how you know your team isn’t doing well. Saturday morning, Cody Asche’s name on the roster included an orange “hot player” icon. Asche has been hitting the ball well of late, so I was eager to see what they had to say about the winter waiver acquisition. Under the headline CODY ASCHE CATCHES A BREAK was a note that said, “Phillies third baseman Cody Asche is not in the lineup Saturday against the visiting Dodgers. He has been replaced at that position by Cesar Hernandez. Asche has been on a roll over the last six games with 10 hits in 24 at-bats and six RBI.”

** Trading seems to have slowed considerably after an early-May spurt. No deals have been struck since May 13, a trade in which Jean Segura became the Crusoes’ shortstop and Chris Owings took over the spot for the Suspects. Rumors are swirling that there might be one or two more big ones left to swing, but nothing has happened recently.

** Speaking of trades, the pace was torrid early. Through May 11, 11 trades involving eight teams and 56 players had been swung, the most since four-time CDRL champion Kerry Sewell joined the league in 2006 and changed the way we all thought about trading. The fewest trades through May 11 in that time frame? In 2012, only one deal was consummated — the Kings sent Drew Storen and Clint Barmes to the Suspects for Matt Holliday and Jonny Venters.

** And speaking of trades and the Kings, we went back in the archives to find the first trade Kerry made. It was May 26, 2006 (what took so long?). The Kings sent Todd Coffey, Jeremy Hermida and Merkin Valdez to the Flash for Todd Helton and Trevor Hoffman.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

This is why he’s the best ever

I offer this without further comment, because greatness needs no setup. Click here to see it.

Putting the MAJOR in major deal

Did you see that? In a deal that was sent for commissioner review/approval at 5:12 a.m. — 5:12 a.m.!! — Thursday morning, the Kings and the Suspects lit up the transaction board with a 12-player deal that is the highlight of the early 2015 trading season.

This blockbuster tops a 5-for-5 deal the Suspects engineered with the Flash earlier this month.

“Knowing that Justin had made a few moves to better his chances for this year, it didn’t occur to me that he would be looking for something big,” Kings’ owner Kerry Sewell said.

Historically, a 12-player deal is big, but not the biggest, even in recent CDRL history. Fifty-one weeks ago, the Crusoes and the Midtown Knights put together a 15-player extravaganza that included Aroldis Chapman and Steven Strasburg going from the contending Knights to the rebuilding Crusoes. The Knights got back Cliff Lee, Aramis Ramirez, then-Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt, Kyle Lohse and Alfonso Soriano.

If you want to include future considerations, that deal was overshadowed just two weeks later by a Kings-Hamm’s Bears deal in which nine active players and 10 2014 reserve picks were exchanged. Key players in the deal were Ryan Braun, Bryce Harper, Gio Gonzalez, Starlin Castro, Gerrit Cole and Oscar “The Grouch” Tavares.

How does a deal get that big? Do owners start with the idea of trading a bunch of players somewhere all at once?

Not so fast, says head Suspect, Justin Kreis.

“In my experience a deal usually doesn’t start out as a blockbuster, but it is very easy for a 6-player deal to grow in a hurry,” Kreis, who has helped construct several major deals. “Usually there are maybe 2-3 guys that I am really targeting and then the rest of the guys involved are there to keep rosters balanced and legal.

“For example, in my 12-man mega-trade with Kerry, Kyle Blanks wasn’t a guy I was targeting; I just needed an active hitter that I could slide into a corner spot. I also like to keep trades even. If I am getting 4 guys back in a trade, I don’t see the point in trading just 2 guys to get them. Then I would just have to drop 2 guys anyway to get my roster back to 40. I prefer to go ahead and send the guys that I would drop to the other team.”

While owners like Kreis and the Crusoes’ Gary Robinson always try to trade the same number of players as they receive, that isn’t shared by everyone. For instance, the biggest deal of 2012 was between the Kings and McBrides when nine players changed locker rooms. Jayson Werth, Madison Bumgarner and Andrelton Simmons were big names in that one.

In previous years, there were plenty of deals involving eight, nine and even 10 players, but nothing like we’ve seen recently.

Thursday’s Kings-Suspects deal shows off another reason trades get bigger. It’s the difference in the philosophy between a contender and a rebuilder.

“I also think that ‘win now vs. building for the future’ trades just tend to be bigger,” Kreis said. “When you are trading for prospects, some of them aren’t going to work out. Getting several back in a deal helps mitigate the risk involved with trading for guys with no track record.”

Sewell was surprised that the Suspects were moving in another direction. But once the seed was planted, it sprouted quickly.

“I sent him an email about swapping a pitcher or two for a bat,” Sewell said. “His response was that he was coming to the realization that he could not compete and was willing to blow things up for Bryce Harper. The Kings have a reputation to protect as one who makes big deals so I shot him a list of guys I was interested in with a package built around Harper. I asked if it was too big and he laughed me off (Justin likes to deal as much as I do). He sent back an offer with some prospects switched around.”

Big trades usually mean having to give up something you don’t want to lose. In the aforementioned Crusoes-Knights deal, the contending Knights gave away a great starter (Strasburg) and a great reliever (Chapman) but got plenty of talent in return.

“For me, I hated losing Cashner at a buck, but felt I could get similar performance from Strasburg,” Sewell said. “The addition of Jansen was another big deal for me as I have a ton of Saves to make up. Acquiring Jansen and Street(from Crusoes) should make some of that up quickly. In my rebuilding year last year, I targeted Bryce Harper as the guy I wanted to build around. You can see how the talent and picks that Hamm’s picked up last year in the Harper trade have solidified him for the future. Hopefully Justin will have the same success that I had in building a contender for this year.”

Auction backpats and faceslaps

We are one month after the auction, held at the gleaming new CDRL Auction HQ of Memphis Kings boss Kerry Sewell (Thanks, again, Kerry! It was great!), and it’s a good time to assess the damage.

It’s easy to get lost at the auction — and I don’t mean because Kerry won’t let you turn into the Auction HQ from Ridgeway. Even though the pace is less than frenetic, we’re all digesting a ton of information as it happens and comparing it to preconceived notions we had.

I find myself too often refusing to go the extra dollar or two, although I did with Chase Utley, and then being stuck late trying to fill out categories when all the good players are gone.

As I take a look at my roster, I’m proud of speculating on Justin Morneau (a bargain so far at $20) and being willing to go to the mat to get Chris Owings at $15. Time will tell whether I was right on Tanner Roark, who followed up a brilliant effort a couple starts ago by getting his head bashed in last time out.

Then my eyes light upon Jordy Mercer. I spent $13 of my $280 to buy the services of Jordy Mercer. Jordy Mercer. It still hurts just to type his name. I knew it was wrong when I clicked one more time to raise the bid to $13. I know it’s wrong now.

What was the one move you were proudest of during the auction? What player were you happiest to get? What player has absolutely turned your stomach?

A baseball trip to remember, Part 3

Whit discovers the world of autograph seeking. His subject? Cubs coach and former major league third baseman of some note David Bell

From June 28 through July 7, Commissioner Emeritus James Overstreet and his son, Whit, embarked on a baseball trip. I asked James to chronicle the trip because I thought it would be fun to read. He wrote so much and sent so many pictures that I’m going to break this up into multiple blog posts over the next few days. TODAY: From the Friendly Confines back to Memphis, with a stop in between:

Seventh Inning: 3:05 p.m., Friday (July 5), CHICAGO
Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
W: 75 degrees, partly cloudy
T: 2:48
A: 38,615
Seats: 235, 5, 101 & 102 ($131)
Ballpark: Wrigley Field
Opened: 1914
Capacity: 41,159
Cost: N/A

Whit and the Friendly Confines

Warm-ups: I was up at 5:30 a.m. and left the knucklehead sleeping while I wandered down to a deserted Wrigleyville. Stopped at Starbucks right across from Wrigley for a quad. Walking around the park at 5:45 a.m. was just beautiful. No crowd. No noise. Just me and Wrigley. It was a religious experience. By 9 a.m. Whit was ready to roll. And at about 10 a.m. he stumbled into a new passion: autographs. As we walked around the park, checking out the sights, Whit noticed Starling Marte hustling into the park. Like ugly on an ape, Whit was asking him for an autograph — and Marte obliged and was quite friendly. We continued walking around the park onto Waveland Avenue and noticed a 50-something guy standing at the fence at Gate K. Curious, we stopped as a car pulls into a private lot at the gate. The guy pulls out a sharpie and a 10×12 photo of David Bell while Whit frantically flips through his Topps Cubs team set looking for Bell. The guy notices, pulls out a 2005 Topps baseball card of Bell in a Phillies uniform and gives it to Whit. Out hops Bell, a Cubs coach now, and Whit lands his second autograph. Minutes later, a gimpy Bryan Bickell of the Stanley Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks (he was there to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”) wanders across Waveland. Whit’s third autograph and he was hooked. Finally, after a few more autographs (and several rejections), we decided to go get a Chicago dog and an Italian Beef at Cubby Bear on the opposite corner to the main entrance of Wrigley. After wolfing that down, we were the first in line at the gate. Then we were the first at the LF wall for BP. And he was the first to get a BP ball — from a exceptionally friendly and chatty Edwin Jackson. So a day after being robbed of a ball, he landed an ivy-stained BP ball at Wrigley Field. All was right in the world. Obviously, you can write a book about Wrigley. Suffice it to say that it is a pilgrimage that every baseball fan must make. The Ivy, the brick, the atmosphere, the neighborhood, the fans. A Cubs game is truly a religious experience. It is one of those places, like Fenway, that lives up to the hype. We’ll definitely be going back.

Game: Samardzija falters and Cubs stifled by Pirates’ Liriano
The team with the best record in baseball came to Wrigley and lit up Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija, who gave up five runs, nine hits and five walks, including one to opposing starter Francisco Liriano, in six innings. Meanwhile, Liriano threw his second career complete game — the Pirates’ first of the season — allowing two runs and four hits while striking out seven and adding an RBI single to help his cause in the second inning. The only mistake he made was to Scott Hairston, who unleashed a towering two-run home run that landed in the left-field bleachers to give Chicago a 2-1 lead. But it was all Pirates after that.

Between Innings: With a no-no, a walk-off and a complete game under our belts, we left Wrigley wondering what was in store for us in St. Louis. We discussed the possibilities while driving the 164 miles to Bloomington, Ill., where we crashed for the night.

Old Hoss and friends

Historical Stop: Before leaving Bloomington at 7 a.m. the following morning, we made a quick detour to the burial site of Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourne, a butcher-turned-pitcher who won 59 games for the Providence Grays of the National League in 1884. It’s a record that will never be broken. Old Hoss also is credited with hitting the game’s first walk-off bomb in a deadball era when home runs were few and far between. By this time, Whit wanted nothing to do with my baseball history lessons. So I tried to entice him with another interesting tidbit about Old Hoss: he’s the first known athlete to flip off the camera during a team photo. Whit was unimpressed and anxious to get to St. Louis for BP — and the Matt Holliday jersey give-away.

Eighth Inning: 1:15 p.m., Saturday (July 6), ST. LOUIS
St. Louis Cardinals vs. Miami Marlins
W: 82 degrees, partly cloudy.
T: 2:44
A: 45,475
Seats: 135, 26, 1&2 ($216)
Ballpark: Busch Stadium
Opened: 2006
Capacity: 50,345
Cost: $365 million

Busch Stadium is all about the history of the National League’s most successful franchise.

Warm-ups: When you spend nearly $400 million, the result is going to be fabulous. And that is certainly true with Busch Stadium III, or the New Busch Stadium. The ballpark blends the past with the present with an eye toward the future. It’s a beautiful red-brick edifice in the heart of downtown, half a mile from the Gateway Arch. All of the traditional ballpark food is available, but Whit and I spotted Kohn’s Kosher Deli and landed an awesome mile-high pastrami sandwich on rye bread ($12.75 each). Note: Kohn’s Deli changes names to Coney Island Deli on Friday and Saturday games to respect the Jewish traditions of the Sabbath. There’s really nothing to complain about Busch Stadium, but I’ve grown accustomed to being able to see the game while visiting the concessions, and unlike all of the new stadiums of the last 20 years, the main concourse at Busch is closed off from viewing the game. So the venue lacks the inclusive feel you experience in almost every other ballpark. It’s a small complaint but I really enjoy being able to walk around the entire field and never miss a play. But it won’t prevent me from returning many times.

Game: Walk-off error hands Cardinals 5-4 win over hapless Marlins
Matt Adams sent the Redbird faithful into a frenzy with his game-tying two-run blast in the seventh, and Jon Jay capped the comeback by scoring the go-ahead run on a throwing error from Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton on Shane Robinson’s single in the ninth. After the game, Cardinal skipper Mike Matheny said his team was “very aware” that they were the only Major League team yet to win in walk-off fashion. “That’s why, whether it’s strange or not, we’ll take it. Gladly,” Matheny said. “We’ve had a lot of close games like this that we couldn’t quite pull it off at the end, so it doesn’t matter to me how, just that we did.”

Between Innings: After the game, we stood outside an unmarked door through which the players are known to exit. Whit chatted with Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Adeiny Hechavarria and Rob Brantly while getting autographs. Great guys. However, his main target — Giancarlo Stanton — literally jumped in a golf cart and sped to his hotel. A game-losing error will do that to a man! No-hitter, walk-off bomb, complete game and walk-off error. Wow. All the way to Lambert’s Cafe (Home of Throwed Rolls) in Sikeston, we talked about how one of the beautiful things about baseball is that you can watch it every day and still see something you’ve never seen before.

All good things must come to an end, but not before one final game at AutoZone Park.

Ninth Inning: 6:05 p.m., Sunday (July 7), MEMPHIS, Pacific Coast League (AAA)
Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals) vs. Nashville Sounds (Brewers)
W: 88 degrees, partly cloudy
T: 2:28
A: 4,751
Seats: 111, D, 1 & 2 ($42)
Ballpark: AutoZone Park
Opened: 2000
Capacity: 14,320
Cost: $80.5 million

Warm-ups: Knowing AutoZone Park like the back of our hand, we got right to business: collecting autographs. Before the first pitch, Whit had collected a dozen. After the game, we sat in the plaza (with the players’ wives and girlfriends) and collected another dozen. It was a fun end to a truly awesome road trip.

Game: Adron Chambers Grand Slam Sparks Late Eight-Run Rally
Redbirds starter Tyler Lyons gave up three runs on two hits and a walk over eight frames, matching a season-high with nine strikeouts, spearheading a 13-3 rout of the cross-state rival Nashville Sounds. Lyons’ only hiccup was a Hunter Morris home run, his team-leading 18th big fly over the right field wall and onto 4th street. The ‘Birds offense exploded for 13 hits and three home runs, including a grand slam that sparked an eight-run eighth inning. Jamie Romak went yard for the third consecutive game, the longest home run stretch by a Redbird this season. Second baseman Kolten Wong added his second home run in consecutive games. Outfielder Adron Chambers drove in a career high five runs with a grand slam.

NEXT: Some final thoughts

A baseball trip to remember, Part 2

Whit kept the scorebook for every game on the trip. This one was especially significant.

From June 28 through July 7, Commissioner Emeritus James Overstreet and his son, Whit, embarked on a baseball trip. I asked James to chronicle the trip because I thought it would be fun to read. He wrote so much and sent so many pictures that I’m going to break this up into multiple blog posts over the next few days. TODAY: Leaving Bristol, headed for history:

Between Innings: From Bristol, we drove 228 miles through the Bluegrass State for Lexington.

The Lexington Hustlers

Historical Stop: Lexington can lay claim to fielding the first integrated baseball team in the South when in 1947 — just weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier — the Negro League Lexington Hustlers signed Bobby Flynn, a white ball player. By 1949, one-third of the team was white.

Fourth Inning: 7:05 p.m., Monday (July 1), LEXINGTON, Ky., South Atlantic League (A)
Lexington Legends (Royals) vs. Greenville Drive (Red Sox)
Seats: 103, 3, 1 & 2 ($25)
Ballpark: Whitaker Bank Ballpark
Opened: 2001
Capacity: 6,500
Cost: $13.5 million

There are always things to do at the ballpark, even during a rainout.

Warm-ups: We arrived at beautiful, 12-year-old Whitaker Bank Ballpark 30 minutes before the gates opened and hit the team store — they have done a great job with the team logo. The marketing motto is “Believe in the Stache!” in a reference to the team mascot, Big League. Big L is an old-time ballplayer with a Rollie Fingers mustache. Great hats, shirts and other gear featuring the Stache. The ballpark itself is a gem that honors the horse-racing traditions of the region with a racetrack theme, an exterior reminiscent of a Churchill Downs and iconic racing images throughout the ballpark. Whether it’s the spires on the grandstand roof or Budweiser Stables — an area for group parties down the right-field line, festooned with racing memorabilia and a large statue of a thoroughbred — you’re always reminded of horse racing. Concessions are well done with Gold Star Chili from Cincinnati and a Kentucky Proud stand serving local fare in addition to the standard hot dogs and beer.

Game: (ppd due to rain) We settled in for a disappointing on-again-off-again game between the Legends and Drive. After three hours, they called the game. Not to be deterred, we immediately exchanged our tickets for Wednesday night’s game — which, for us, was supposed to be a travel day from Cincinnati to Chicago.

Between Innings: After enjoying room service at the Hyatt Regency and taking a peek at the Rupp Arena (home of the University of Kentucky Wildcats), we left for Cincinnati on Tuesday morning, the easiest leg of the trip: 85 miles.

Historical Stop: Cincy is full of baseball history as it is arguably the birthplace of the modern game, having fielded the first true professional team in 1869 (prior to that, the game was staunchly amateur with the thought of paying men to play a child’s game being disdainful). Cincinnati was also a founding member of the American Association in 1881, when the Reds joined the St. Louis Browns (later renamed the Cardinals) to challenge the puritanical National League by allowing beer sales at games and playing on Sundays. The NL owners referred to the upstart 10-team league derisively as the “Beer & Whiskey League.” In 1891, after 10 seasons of successfully going head-to-head with the National League (even winning the forerunner of the World Series several times), the NL owners gave up the fight and took in the Browns/Cardinals, Reds and Dodgers, effectively killing the AA. But our primary historical target was the site of Crosley Field, which is now nothing more than an industrial site without any marker to note the significance of the area. Still, we drove around the site, which was the home of the Reds from 1912 to 1970. Honestly, I’m very disappointed that the city leaders have not done more to highlight the historical significance of Crosley Field. How about a simple historical marker? Or even just a sign indicating you are now at the site of the former Crosley Field? Something.

Fourth Inning: 7:10 p.m., Tuesday (July 2), CINCINNATI
Cincinnati Reds vs. San Francisco Giants
W: 80 degrees, partly cloudy
T: 2:43
A: 27,509
Seats: 133, FF. 16 & 17 ($106)
Ballpark: Great American Ballpark
Opened: 2003
Capacity: 42,059
Cost: $290 million

Warm-ups: We arrived at Great American Ballpark at about 10 a.m. by walking over the bridge from Covington, Ky., where we stayed in the Embassy Suites. It’s the perfect location for either a Reds or Bengals game as the walk from the hotel to both stadiums is less than 10 minutes. We walked around the park, which is loaded with statues of famous Reds and other historical markers, then we hit the team store to load up on Reds gear, media guides, yearbooks, etc. Then we took the official ballpark tour.

After walking back to the hotel for a couple of hours of R&R, we were back at the gates at 5 p.m. to catch BP. (Note: Aroldis Chapman is a jerk. While Whit and several other kids hung over the RF wall, desperately seeking a BP ball, Chapman was shagging balls and taunting the kids by fake tossing balls to them and then tossing them back into the infield. Thankfully, Jack Hannahan was stretching in the OF and tossed five or six balls to the kids before heading to the cage.)

You can’t do a trip like this without proper sustenance. The famous Skyline Chili in Cincinnati provided it.

Fantastic ballpark. Crosley Terrace. The plaza with statues of Joe Nuxhall, Frank Robinson and Ernie Lombardi as well as Ted Kluszewski. The Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. Walk around the entire park while seeing the game and downtown, including Paul Brown Stadium, the Ohio River, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge and the Cincinnati skyline. The scoreboard is more than 200 feet wide.

When you think of Cincinnati, you think Skyline Chili. Get a chili cheese coney. Along the right field foul pole you can find Mr. Red’s Smokehouse serving beef ribs, Kobe beef sliders, smoked turkey legs and pulled pork sandwiches. And they also offer famous fare from the opposing team’s ballpark — in our case, we were treated to San Francisco crab cakes with Parmesan-garlic fries. And I found the Farmers Market fascinating — everything from fruit to sun screen.

One of the best MLB parks, period. And the area around the park is clean, safe and beautiful.

A game to remember

Game: Bailey overwhelms Giants for second no-hitter
All of you are familiar with this game by now — Homer Bailey silenced San Francisco’s bats by pitching his second career no-hitter in a 3-0 win. Only Gregor Blanco’s seventh-inning leadoff walk separated Bailey from a perfect game — Whit insists the 2-2 pitch to Blanco was a strike; I think the pitch was a tad high. But that was Bailey’s plan: he struck out nine, getting many swings-and-misses with fastballs that grazed the upper portion of the strike zone. As Giant SS Brandon Crawford said: “That fastball that he throws ‘up,’ it looks good out of his hand and stays up there. Ninety-five, 97 at the end of the game, that’s tough to hit.”

Between Innings: Wednesday, July 3, was supposed to be a day at King’s Island amusement park in Mason, Ohio, about 30 minutes north of Cincinnati and then a two-hour drive to Lafayette, Ind., which is itself about two hours from Chicago. But we were determined to make up our Lexington Legends game, so we left King’s Island (roller coaster heaven!) at 4 p.m. and navigated Cincinnati rush-hour traffic to get back to Lexington to see the Legends and Drive.

Fifth Inning: 7:05 p.m., Wednesday (July 3), LEXINGTON, Ky., South Atlantic League (A)
Lexington Legends (Royals) vs. Greenville Drive (Red Sox)
W: 76 degrees, overcast
T: 2:18
A: 5,521
Seats: 103, 5, 1 & 2 ($25)
Ballpark: Whitaker Bank Ballpark
Opened: 2001
Capacity: 6,500
Cost: $13.5 million

Warm-ups: Since we had toured every inch of the ballpark two nights before, we were all business this time around. One thing that was very helpful for the serious scorekeeping fan is the white board at the main entrance, outside the stadium bar & grill, that has the starting lineups posted. Additionally, there is a board listing the 10 longest home runs hit at the ballpark — Hunter Pence still holds four of the top 10 spots.

Game: Starling’s two-run bomb leads to series sweep
One of the prospects Whit was most eager to see was Bubba Starling, and he did not disappoint as he crushed a two-run homer in the sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie and lead the Legends to a 4-2 win over the Drive. Coincidentally, the rain-out from Monday was supposed to feature another Royal prospect, lefty Daniel Stumpf, pitching. The game was rescheduled as the first game of a doubleheader on Tuesday and Stumpf hurled a no-no as we watched Bailey throw his no-no.

Between Innings: The rain-out-induced route change required us to leave Lexington at about 10 p.m. and make the 255-mile, four-hour drive to Lafayette, Ind., where a Holiday Inn Express awaited us for a quick few hours of shut-eye. We skipped the fireworks at the Legends game but we hit Louisville just after the Bats completed their game and were treated to a nice firework display over the river as we sped through the city. We reached the hotel in Lafayette right at 1:30 a.m., crashed hard until 6 a.m. and hit the road by 7 a.m. Whit wanted to be the first in line at the gates to Comiskey on the South Side of Chicago.
Historical Stop: No time for a history lesson; the boy was on a mission for a BP home run ball.

Batting practice provides chances for souvenirs.

Sixth Inning: 1:10 p.m., Thursday (July 4), CHICAGO
Chicago White Sox vs. Baltimore Orioles
W: 82 degrees, partly cloudy
T: 2:45
A: 21,321
Seats: 147, 17, 10 & 11 ($98)
Ballpark: U.S. Cellular Field at Comiskey Park
Opened: 1991
Capacity: 40,615
Cost: $165 million

Warm-ups: The mission for a BP ball resulted in the only tears of the trip. Whit was parked on the LF wall during BP when a ball was crushed right to him. He reached for the ball with his glove when suddenly a teenage South Sider shoved him out of the way and caught the ball. Whit held it together for a few minutes before joining me in the seats halfway up the bleachers. And then the tears began. I busted out the baseball quote that I haven’t had to use in a couple of years: “Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball!” So I took him on a stroll around the ballpark, found him a fitted-hat with the old-school SOX logo (circa 1980) and regained the big toothy smile. The Cell is clearly among the first of the new retro-parks built, evidenced by some noticeable flaws. But it’s still a great place to watch a game. Definitely walk around the concourse and stop by all of the statues: Fisk, Baines, Fox, Thomas, Aparicio, Comiskey, Pierce, and Minoso. As with most newer ballparks, you don’t miss any of the game while visiting the concession stands. And Chicago ballpark food is just plain good. Main targets: Chicago dogs, deep-dish pizza and Italian beef.

Game: Quintana K’s 11 in seven shutout innings before Dunn crushes walk-off bomb
Jose Quintana struck out a career-best 11, including eight of the final 13 hitters that he retired consecutively, and scattered two hits before leaving after the seventh with a 2-0 lead. Alas, the pen coughed up the lead as the Orioles tied the game 2-2. With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Adam “The Big Donkey” Dunn lumbered to the plate, carrying a .193 average. The slugger smacked his 23rd bomb of the year over the left-field wall, taking Baltimore reliever Tommy Hunter’s full-count breaking ball to the opposite field, redeeming himself for an eighth-inning error that forced another half inning in the first place. The Comiskey kranks went full-on nuts as the players mobbed Dunn at the dish. After the park settled down and Whit finalized the totals in his scorebook, he looked up at me and said: “I’m sorry for crying earlier; I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” No worries, son, we’re headed to a cathedral now: Wrigley Field.

NEXT: The final three games