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Staff Picks: Justin’s 2012 MLB Predictions

National League

West: Arizona

Central: St. Louis

East: Philadelphia

Wild Card: Washington

Wild Card: Miami

NLDS: Phillies def. Nationals in four; D-Backs def. Cardinals in five

NLCS: D-Backs def. Phillies in six

NLCS MVP: Justin Upton


NL Rookie of the Year (hitter): Devin Mesoraco

NL Dark Horse Rookie of the Year (hitter): Yonder Alonso

NL Rookie of the Year (pitcher): Drew Pomeranz

NL Dark Horse Rookie of the Year (pitcher): Trevor Bauer

NL Reliever of the Year: Brian Wilson

NL Dark Horse Reliever of the Year: Rex Brothers

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey

NL Dark Horse Comeback Player of the Year: Adam Wainwright

NL Strikeout King: Clayton Kershaw

NL Dark Horse Strikeout King: Stephen Strasburg

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

NL Dark Horse Cy Young: Zack Greinke

NL Batting Champ: Joey Votto

NL Dark Horse Batting Champ: Carlos Gonzalez

NL HR Champ: Mike Stanton

NL Dark Horse HR Champ: Jay Bruce

NL MVP: Joey Votto

NL Dark Horse MVP: Troy Tulowitzki


American League

West: Los Angeles

Central: Detroit

East: Tampa Bay

Wild Card Winner: Texas

Wild Card Winner: New York

ALDS: Tigers over Rangers in four; Angels over Rays in five

ALCS: Tigers over Angels in seven

ALCS MVP: Brennan Boesch

AL ROY (hitter): Mike Trout

AL Dark Horse ROY (hitter): Jesus Montero

AL ROY (pitcher): Matt Moore

AL Dark Horse ROY (pitcher): Jarrod Parker

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Joe Mauer

AL Dark Horse Comeback Player of the Year: Joe Nathan

AL Reliever of the Year: Jose Valverde

AL Dark Horse Reliever of the Year: Joe Nathan

AL Strikeout King: Felix Hernandez

AL Dark Horse Strikeout King: Yu Darvish

AL Cy Young Winner: Felix Hernandez

AL Dark Horse Cy Young Winner: Max Scherzer

AL Batting Champ: Miguel Cabrera

AL Dark Horse Batting Champ: Dustin Pedroia

AL HR King: Jose Bautista

AL Dark Horse HR King: Adam Dunn

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera

AL Dark Horse MVP: Jacoby Ellsbury

2012 World Series

2012 World Series: Tigers over D-Backs in five

2012 WS MVP: Prince Fielder

Come on out to the ballpark with us, Part II: One fan’s top five MLB venues

5. Angel Stadium of Anaheim (Anaheim, CA)

Angel Stadium, despite being the fourth-oldest ballpark in the Majors today, is definitely an interesting ballpark and a fun place to watch a ballgame.  One of its notable features is the rockpile in left center field.  Scattered with a few palm trees and set against a background of hundreds of parked cars beyond the outfield gates, the rockpile gives Angel Stadium a unique feel.  A couple of blocks away in the parking lot, a huge Angels logo known as “The Big A” lights up after all Angels victories.  But perhaps my favorite feature of Angel Stadium is the famous Rally Monkey, who of course earned national prominence in the 2002 World Series.  Late in the game, with the Angels down a run against the lowly Indians, a playoff berth well out of reach, southern California’s favorite primate made a dramatic appearance on the video board, shown saving the world from Armageddon much to the delight of the hometown crowd.  The Angels went quietly in the ninth and lost the game 3-2, but the Rally Monkey no doubt made for some excitement in the late innings, even during a lost season for the Halos.

4. Busch Stadium (St. Louis, MO)

Busch Stadium may have been placed unfairly high on this list due to the fact that my most memorable game there was the Cardinals’ 2006 Series-clinching win over the Tigers in Game 5, enjoyed in the comfort of the exclusive Redbird Club.  Every part of the ballpark was state-of-the-art, including the gourmet pizzas served in the Redbird Club.  Still, the downtown location of the five-year-old ballpark and the rabid St. Louis fans also helped make this ballpark special.  Despite boasting football and hockey teams, St. Louis is and always has been a baseball town, and the fans there love their Cardinals.  Of course, having stars like Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter around certainly doesn’t hurt, but I quickly got the feeling that that fans would fill Busch Stadium night after night even to see a seventy-win team.  And since the Golden Sombrero’s base of operations is still located in the St. Louis area, I know one day I’ll be back at Busch Stadium, and I certainly look forward to that day.

3. Yankee Stadium (Bronx, NY)

Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009, is the newest ballpark I have visited, and it obviously has several features that set it apart from other venues.  Among the most notable of these are the legendary “Bleacher Creatures” in right field.  The Creatures are known chiefly for their “roll call” in the top of the first inning, when they chant the names of each Yankee infielder and outfielder until they offer their acknowledgment.  The creatures are also known to mercilessly heckle opposing teams, fans and (especially) right fielders.  Fortunately for Eric Young Jr., the Rockies do not inspire too much venom in opposing fans, because his bumbling performance the last time I was there left much to be heckled.

I think the mere words “Yankee Stadium” raised my expectations to the point where I was somehow expecting the hallowed grounds of Ruth, Gehrig and so many others to be something more than just a nice place to watch a ballgame.  Make no mistake—it’s a very nice ballpark, and the Yankee Museum inside the ballpark (which I had time to visit while the Bombers were crushing a hapless Aaron Cook) is also a very cool feature of the park.  Watching Mariano Rivera nail down a save to clinch the AL East title (on their way to a world championship) over the Red Sox was certainly one of the more memorable events in baseball that I’ve witnessed in person.  Yankee Stadium misses the #1 slot not for any shortcoming in its own right, but merely because as a non-Yankee fan, I suppose I never felt its “Yankee mystique” that I assumed would touch every fan to pass through its gates.

2. Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore, MD)

Camden Yards ushered in a new era of ballparks when it opened in 1992.  Just two years later, Jacobs Field opened in Cleveland, mercifully shutting the doors on Cleveland Municipal Stadium.  Coors Field opened the following year, and others such as PETCO and AT&T Park quickly sprang up before the decade was out.  Located in Baltimore’s beautiful Inner Harbor neighborhood, by far the nicest area of the city, Camden is truly a choice destination for any night on the town.  It’s also easily accessible from Washington via a quick trip on the Camden line of a local commuter rail.  Although fans are very casual about the game and largely treat it as more of an event, much like in PETCO Park or Dodger Stadium, the actual ballpark itself is very well-constructed and there’s hardly a bad seat in the house.  With Eutaw Street fronting a red brick building in the background, it has a true baseball feel, even though it was built in an era when many facilities were used for baseball and football.  The ballpark has never hosted a World Series game, and has only been home to two playoff teams in its twenty-year history, but is still a fun place to enjoy a ballgame.

1. Coors Field (Denver, CO)

Coors Field, home of my beloved Rockies, has truly set the standard for me as to what the ideal ballpark experience should be like.  Aside from one game in the old Mile High Stadium when I was six years old, Coors Field was the first major league park I ever visited, and the other nine ballparks I’ve visited (some newer, some with more tradition, some with more features to keep fans entertained) simply have failed to top the experience of watching a ballgame at Coors Field.  The ballpark is located in the heart of downtown Denver on 20th and Blake Street, surrounded by bars, restaurants and entertainment as far as the eye can see.  $15 will buy you a spot in a parking lot just a five-minute stroll from the home-plate gate.  And once inside the ballpark, nothing can get me ready for baseball like the PA announcer’s booming voice proclaiming, “This is Coors Field—home of the Colorado Rockies!”

The Rockies have struggled as a franchise for many years.  Outside of a strike-shortened 1995 season, the second half of September 2007 and a few months of the 2009 season, the team has been mediocre at best.  And without a rich, tradition-filled history, it can sometimes be tough to get people excited at the ballpark, especially when the home team falls behind early.  Not so at Coors Field.  From the Blake Street Bombers era of 1995 (which saw the Rockies routinely pound out double-digit runs and cobble together game-winning rallies in the late innings) to the more mainstream brand of baseball today, the game is simply never over at Coors Field.  Fans know this too, and it’s why you won’t see anyone head for the exits trying to beat the Denver traffic with the Rockies down three in the bottom of the ninth.  It is this element of Coors Field that I like most of all—the fact that, humidor or no, Rockies fans have simply been trained never to give up on their team, and they enthusiastically support the hometown nine until the final out is recorded–or, in more cases than rival NL West teams would care to count, not recorded.

Coors Field certainly isn’t the newest ballpark I’ve ever visited.  It doesn’t have the best concession-stand food, nicest bathrooms or most comfortable seats.  And it definitely doesn’t sport an array of pennants along the outfield wall marking World Series titles of long ago.  But there is simply nothing like the experience of watching a game at Coors Field.  So come on out to the ballpark with us—and let’s go Rockies.

Come on out to the ballpark with us, Part I: A ranking of ten MLB venues

As I sat in the left field corner of Nationals Park last Friday evening, enjoying baseball, banter and beer with friend and colleague Jimmy Chiang, I was reminded once again that watching a baseball game live at the ballpark is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and even the occasional cry of “Get your ice cold [nine-dollar] beer here!” all make the ballpark a special place, even for those with only a passing interest in the game.

In my 24 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the home venues of ten of MLB’s thirty teams.  While each may provide a different type of baseball atmosphere, some ballparks are certainly better than others, so as I wait to add to the list, I decided to rank the ballparks I have already visited.  Rankings are based not only on the quality of the parks’ bricks and mortar, but also on the experience each provides on any given night at the ballpark.  I am hopeful to one day compile a comprehensive list of all thirty ballparks, but now that I am a third of the way there, here is how each of the first ten stacks up:


Pandemonium in the Parking Lot and Other Stories: What I Learned During Spring Training

Spring Training is a wonderful time of year.  It portends warmer weather, hope for the future and of course, the beginning of a brand new baseball season.  As someone whose spirits lift dramatically at the mere utterance of the words “pitchers and catchers report” each February, I truly believe that Spring Training conveys much more than simply “preseason baseball”, as an ignorant colleague of mine spoke of it a few days ago.  However, one very important aspect of Spring Training that is not often mentioned is its educational power.  While players learn offensive strategies, signs and new practice drills, managers and executives take a look at their teams and try to learn as much as possible about each player’s level of talent and where their skills would be best used to begin the upcoming season.

The educational process does not stop there, however.  To the contrary, even the average fan can pick up insights into the lives of those around the game, gain a better understanding of the motivations of Maricopa County’s aging population, and garner plenty of other valuable information simply by staying around the game they love in the middle of March.  In no particular order, here are some of the important life lessons my dad and I gleaned from our father-son trip to the Valley of the Sun.


Sombrero Staff Prognostications: Justin’s 2011 Predictions

AL East:

Boston Red Sox

New York Yankees (Wild Card)

Tampa Bay Rays

Toronto Blue Jays

Baltimore Orioles

AL Central:

Chicago White Sox

Minnesota Twins

Detroit Tigers

Cleveland Indians

Kansas City Royals

AL West:

Texas Rangers

Oakland A’s

Los Angeles Angels

Seattle Mariners


Red Sox def. Rangers in 5

White Sox def. Yankees in 4

Red Sox def. White Sox in 5 (MVP: Carl Crawford)