The final day of the 36th annual SABR convention was Saturday in Seattle. Some interesting speakers and a trip to Tacoma to boot!
The day began with some presentations. Sean Forman (pictured below), the brains behind Baseball-Reference.com had a talk about finding ways to measure if certain catchers were better at blocking pitches than others. I can't find the citation to Sean's study online right now, but in the period, Sean studied, 1957-2005, the best catcher at preventing wild pitches and passed balls was ... Mike Piazza. Sean did point out that Piazza's deficiencies in allowing stolen bases was far greater however. Update - Sean's presentation won the award for best presentation. Congratulations Sean!
There were also interesting presentations by Rob Fitts on which Japanese stars (position players) prior to Ichiro could have made the jump to MLB. Not suprisingly, Sadaharu Oh was cited as a player who would have likely done pretty well in North America, however, Shigeo Nagashima, might have had problems.
Peter Morris reported on the history of groundskeepers in baseball and how they helped to develop the game and that they have generally been an unknown bunch. But the changes in field conditions from the 19th Century to today are staggering. Baseball games aren't played on fields with trees or corn fields or railroad tracks anymore.
Rob Neyer (pictured below) hosted a panel discussion on Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement.
On the panel were (from left to right): economist Andrew Zimbalist, former general counsel of the MLBPA as well as player agent Dick Moss, and former player and player representative Mike Marshall.
Marshall was the most entertaining member of the panel in my opinion. While Zimbalist and Moss obviously know their stuff extremely well and were able to relate the positions that baseball's ownership has used throughout time, Marshall had a particularly different outlook.
When the CBA was first being hammered out, Marshall suggested that the players just find out what percentage of revenues they were entitled to and then have the players apportion out the salaries. Generally, Marshall wanted every player to make just about the same. He decried the high salaries paid to guys like Alex Rodriguez and argued that no player should be able to make more than three standard deviations more than the median salary. Marshall also decried baseball's refusal to deal with the problems of player health and he thinks that he (a holder of a Ph.D. in kinesiology) could aid pitchers and keep them from breaking down.
Then it was time to head off to Tacoma for a PCL game at Cheney Stadium (shown below) between the Rainiers (a Mariners affiliate) and the Fresno Grizzlies (the Giants AAA team.)
The stadium was built in 1960 and used seats from old Seals Stadium in San Francisco until last year. And those seats were originally used by the Hollywood Stars as far back as 1930. Or so I was told, the 1930 Hollywood Stars shared Los Angeles's Wrigley Field with the PCL Angels. Regardless, there were a few rows left of old seats and I managed to snag one of them, although not the Felix Hernandez bobbleheads they were giving out. They just went out to the first 1500 fans and I missed out by a few people.
As you can see from the photo that if you were sitting behind home plate (like I was), you have a net to protect you from foul balls. Or so I thought.
Turned out that there is a gap in the netting.
And a foul ball rolled through it and hit seat #9 in the photo below. And I was seated in seat #7 in the row in front of it.
The ball caromed off the seat and bounced two sections away. I take this as a sign that I am not meant to catch a foul ball/home run at a baseball stadium. Sort of like how I missed catching a Jerry Grote batting practice home run at the 1977 World Series because I was reading my program intently and didn't look up in time to see the ball bound off the bench at Dodger Stadium.
As for the game, the Fresno took a lead in the first on an unearned run thanks to Tacoma's center fielder Adam Jones booting a Todd Linden single, giving Linden an extra base. Mike Cervenak singled him home.
In the bottom of the first, Shin-Soo Choo singled and was forced out at second by Jones. Chris Snelling singled Jones to third. Greg Dobbs struck out against Fresno starter Matt Kinney. Then came a weird play where Snelling tried to steal second and was called out. The only problem was that Snelling knew that Fresno second baseman Jed Hansen dropped the throw. Especially since the ball was on the ground and Hansen was in pain. Meanwhile, Jones strolled home. The umpires got together, got the call right and Jones was credited with a steal of home to tie the game.
But the Grizzlies came right back in the second when catcher Justin Knoedler crushed an offering from Cha Seung Baek over the leftfield fence.
The Rainiers threatened in every inning from the third through seventh, but couldn't score against Kinney, who struck out six while walking four and hitting a batter. Four times, Dobbs made an out with two runners on base, three times to end the inning.
But in the eighth, Brandon Villafuerte came in to relieve and got into immediate trouble for Fresno. He walked shortstop Mike Morse (freshly sent down from Seattle) and DH Jeff Clement got an infield single. At this point, Tacoma manager Dave Brundage brought in two pinch runners. Hunter Brown sacrificed them both over and Villafuerte came out and Carlos Hines relieved.
Hines walked catcher Rob Johnson to load the bases. Second baseman Ismael Castro managed to roll a ball to the right side and Fresno could only get an out at first and the game was tied.
And then came Choo. He slammed an offering from Hines on a line to center. Fresno centerfielder Fred Lewis broke in for it at first and then realized that he was going the wrong. He ran back, but the ball sailed over his head and all the way to the fence in center, which is 425 feet away from home. Choo, one of the Mariners fastest prospects, easily rounded the bases for an inside the park homer and a 5-2 Tacoma lead. The Rainiers got another run to make it 6-2 and Emiliano Fruto threw two perfect innings to get the win.
And today at Cheney Stadium, the first 1,500 fans through the gates a Shin-Soo Choo Choo-choo model train.