Weekend Wrap Up: Kernels Clinch, Pub Crawl, MLB Blackouts

A lot of stuff has happened over the past few days.

Kernels are Playoff bound

First, the Cedar Rapids Kernels clinched a Midwest League playoff spot.

Whether they did this Saturday or Sunday is a bit hazy, but what’s certain is that the Kernels will be playing baseball beyond the scheduled end of the regular season on Labor Day. This makes the Kernels a perfect 2 for 2 qualifying for playoff work since affiliating with the Minnesota Twins.

Going strictly by “magic number,” the Kernels qualified for the playoffs on Sunday, when Peoria fell to Clinton. However, as Jim Ecker at MetroSportsReport.com pointed out, tie-breaking criteria favored the Kernels over Peoria, so in fact Cedar Rapids apears to have wrapped up their postseason spot late Saturday night.

Most likely, the Kernels will open the playoffs with a best of three series against Burlington. They would host Burlington on September 3 and then travel to Burlington for games 2 and 3 (if necessary) on September 4 and 5, respectively.

Unfortunately, I was not in attendance when the Kernels clinched, regardless of whether you consider that to have occurred Saturday or Sunday.

“Touch ‘em All”

Instead, I joined 100 or so Twins fans taking part in the second “Touch ‘em All Pub Crawl” sponsored by Twins Daily/Gleeman & the Geek.

The “Crawl” involved stopping at several establishments along the Twin Cities’ light rail line and ending with attendance at the Twins game Saturday night. It officially started at the Barrio Tequila Bar in St. Paul at noon, but since I was staying out in the southern ‘burbs and wanted to eat breakfast downtown at Hell’s Kitchen before getting started, I’d already spent at least 90 minutes on the rail before ever getting to the start of the official event over in St. Paul.

It was a great time, offering opportunities to renew friendships from prior TwinsDaily events and to meet even more fellow Twins fans for the first time. I’m always surprised how many people at these things have read the stuff I contributed to Knuckleballs and to TwinsDaily.

It was a great time with great people, all of whom just happen to be fans of a pretty poor baseball team. Despite that, the only real negative comment I heard was from Star Tribune Twins beat writer, Phil Miller, who thought the Kernels camo jersey I was wearing was ugly.

Hey, you can’t please everyone, right? And I enjoyed talking to Miller, once we moved away from fashion-related topics.

It really was a good time and I appreciate the TwinsDaily guys and Aaron Gleeman going to the effort to put it together. I always enjoy the events they organize.

Blackout News

Finally, some of you that have been reading Knuckleballs for a while may recall one (or more) of my rants concerning MLB’s TV blackout rules. Those rules result in Iowa residents being unable to watch games involving six diferent teams, the Twins, Brewers, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals and Royals, online via MLB.tv.

Late last week, the Star Tribune posted a story quoting MLB’s head of online business, Bob Bowman,  as saying that baseball is nearing a solution that will allow people to watch their hometown teams online, if they are also subscribers to cable and/or satellite services.

That’s great for people in Minneapolis that want to watch the Twins on their mobile devices.

I’m guessing it’s still not good news for Iowans.

As crazy as it sounds, what seems most likely to happen is that MLB will broker a deal to allow people who already have access to Twins games via their local cable company to also have access online. Meanwhile, those of us in areas where FSN is not even an option via cable will continue to be blacked out.

I do understand the theory. We are supposed to individually get so up in arms over this that we all march on our local Mediacom office and demand that they pay FSN whatever they want for fees to get the regional sports channel added to our Eastern Iowa cable options.

That hasn’t happened yet, it’s not happening now and it won’t happen… ever.

However, given that MLB and the teams let the regional sports networks set whatever they want as the “home market” geographic footprint (because, after all, those rights fees are pretty much the major thing propping up MLB teams’ revenues), it’s pretty clear that any relief from the bizarre and antiquated blackout rules for places like Iowa, Las Vegas and North Carolina, which several teams claim as part of their “home market,” isn’t likely happening either.

Instead, what I expect is that we’ll see MLB, under their new Commissioner, Rob Manfred, address the online issue for fans who could already watch their favorite teams on TV. Then, they’ll claim they’ve “solved” this problem and ignore the fact that they’ve solved nothing for the fans in areas like Iowa.

Maybe I’m wrong and there will indeed be a solution for the rest of us. But, given the selection of a Commissioner who got the gig basically by promising to be “Bud Light,” I’m not expecting anything remotely close to real solutions to any of MLB’s biggest challenges.

I’d be really happy to be proven wrong, of course.

Finally, a few pictures from Saturday’s “Touch ‘em All Pub Crawl.”

The meeting spot, Barrio Tequila Bar, St. Paul

The meeting spot, Barrio Tequila Bar, St. Paul

Campus Pizza, which will be on my list for a return if/when I journey up for Hawkeyes/Gophers in the future. Friendly service, good thin crust pizza.

Campus Pizza, which will be on my list for a return if/when I journey up for Hawkeyes/Gophers in the future. Friendly service, good thin crust pizza.

BarZia in downtown Minneapolis. Met a number of the hard working moderators of TwinsDaily's forum section. I'm not sure what possesses these people to put in the work being moderators, but I'm sure glad they do it.

BarZia in downtown Minneapolis. Met a number of the hard working moderators of TwinsDaily’s forum section. I’m not sure what possesses these people to put in the work being moderators, but I’m sure glad they do it.

Mason's, near Target Field, was the last stop. Gotta be honest, I wasn't impressed with Mason's this time. TD has used Mason's as a meeting place in prior events and I've always liked it. But this time, some of us got the sense from their people like we were imposing. They closed off two of their seating areas to us, requiring most in our group to stand. Not a big deal, perhaps, but I can tell you it cost them some food orders, not to mention general goodwill, among some of the people I was hanging with.

Mason’s, near Target Field, was the last stop. Gotta be honest, I wasn’t impressed with Mason’s this time. TD has used Mason’s as a meeting place in prior events and I’ve always liked it. But this time, some of us got the sense from their people like we were imposing. They closed off two of their seating areas to us, requiring most in our group to stand. Not a big deal, perhaps, but I can tell you it cost them some food orders, not to mention general goodwill, among some of the people I was hanging with.

The view from our Home Run Porch seats at Target Field were better than what this picture might indicate. First time I've watched a game from these left field seats and it really is not a bad place to watch a game from.

The view from our Home Run Porch seats at Target Field were better than what this picture might indicate. First time I’ve watched a game from these left field seats and it really is not a bad place to watch a game from.

I Survived #GrandDrunkRailroad

It probably shouldn’t warrant a headline, but given that I have 20-30 years on almost everyone else who participated in the light rail pub crawl co-organized by the folks at TwinsDaily.com and Aaron Gleeman, I know there were some people out there that did not believe my survival was going to be a given. Some of them are related to me.

I can honestly say that I have never had such a great time attending such a really bad baseball game.

I drove up from Cedar Rapids Friday night and by about nine o’clock Saturday morning, I was ready for breakfast. I grabbed an all-day light rail ticket at the Mall of America and by 10:30 or so, I was sitting down at a table at Hell’s Kitchen, which has become my favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities and especially so for breakfast on the weekends.

HellsKitchenBreakfastI’m no rookie at this pub crawl kind of thing (though I’m certainly a bit out of practice). We didn’t have a name for it back then, but I’ve been moving from one bar to the next with a group of friends since the early 1970s and I learned early on that if you know you’re going to be doing that kind of thing, eating first is a really good idea.

Thus, the breakfast quesadilla, bacon and bison sausage from Hell’s Kitchen. When you’re listening to a guy on stage singing “Sitting on the Dock at the Bay” as you’re being seated for breakfast, you know it’s going to be a good day. I probably didn’t absolutely need the second screwdriver with breakfast, but I figured, “what the heck.”

After breakfast, I hopped back on the rail to head back out to the Fort Snelling stop, where we were scheduled to “check in” before moving on to the first stop on the crawl. I’ve never “checked in” to go drinking before so I wasn’t sure what this involved, but the Twins Food Truck was supposed to be there (not that I was feeling the need to eat more).

Upon arrival, I immediately found a couple of familiar faces in Jeremy Nygaard and Topper Anton. I was relieved to discover they didn’t know any more about what getting “checked in” meant than I did.

I was also relieved that I didn’t count on getting my pre-crawl food from the Twins Food Truck, because they were a no-show. The word we heard was that the truck showed up and left because they couldn’t find a place to park, despite a half-empty parking lot next to the light rail stop.

Before long, Parker Hageman, Nick Nelson and John Bonnes of Twins Daily showed up and we all filled out name tags. So checking in wasn’t too complicated, after all.

My plan going in to the day was simple. I would have a beer at each of the four stops, maybe some water, as well, and generally just pace myself.

That plan worked well right up to the point where we bought pitchers instead of individual beers at the Cardinal Bar across the street from the 38th Street Station. Oh well, best laid plans, etc.

Harriet Brewing, near the Lake Street Station, was the next stop and I was doing a much better job of limiting myself to one beer, partially because there was a pretty long wait to use the one uni-sex restroom. But then Bonnes made me buy another beer, so again my plans were going down hill. The Korean BBQ from the Gogi Bros food truck was excellent, though.

Waiting for a beer at Harriet's. The line for the restroom was longer.

Waiting for a beer at Harriet’s. The line for the restroom was longer, but just as gender-diverse.

Moderation was finally achieved at the Franklin Street stop due in large part to the lengthy walk from the station to The Joint. By the time I finished one beer, it was pretty much time to hike back to the rail line and the ride to the Warehouse District stop and Mason’s Restaurant Barre.

By this time, the Iowa-Iowa State football game was starting and it’s pretty much impossible for me to watch the Hawkeyes these days without drinking to excess, so there was no way I was going to get by with one beer, even though I’d only be able to watch about half the game before the Twins game was scheduled to start.

Of course, the fact that the organizers had arranged keg of free beer for everyone wearing the GrandDrunkRailroad t-shirts made sticking around for a few rounds a pretty easy decision.

I did find some fellow-Hawkeye fans in the group (and even a table of women who were Cyclone fans, but at least one of them had the smarts to marry an Iowa fan and they were on a Twins pub crawl so I guess they weren’t all bad) and even one of the crawlers wearing a Cedar Rapids Kernels’ cap.

It started to rain, so that meant an even longer stay at Mason’s than planned. Eventually, I did make my way over to Target Field and to the center field section where our group had tickets. I picked up some Walleye and fries, which was very good, despite being pretty wet by the time I finished eating it. I also did, finally, have that water that I’d been promising myself I would drink.

It’s funny. I’ll sit in rain and watch football, but I have trouble bringing myself to enjoy doing that when it’s baseball I’m watching. If it’s a good game, sure, but on Saturday night, the Twins were not playing a good game. So I found one of the phone-charging stations located on the concourse and had a beer while I charged my phone.

That’s where I was when the umpires apparently decided they didn’t want to watch the game in the rain any longer, either, and imposed a rain delay. It’s also when a number of our group migrated to Hrbek’s bar, just inside Gate 14 at Target Field.

I had pretty much decided I’d had enough beer for the night when it turns out Twins closer Glen Perkins had sent word to Hrbek’s to buy a round of beer for our party. How many times do you get a beer bought for you by a Major League Ballplayer… during a game? So, I obviously had no choice but to have another.

That’s about the time someone had the bright idea to get a group picture.

GrandDrunkRailroad2013Now, I’ve heard there were something in the neighborhood of 100 people participating in #GrandDrunkRailroad and there were fewer than 20 in the bar for that picture, but it was a representative sample of the group. Men, women, bloggers, readers of our blogs, young and… thanks to me… old.

It was a great time. I needed some tylenol on Sunday, but it was more for my back than my head. I realized I haven’t stood so much in a really long time.

It was fun to talk to a number of people I’ve met at prior gatherings and to a number of people I haven’t met before. I’d like to thank Parker, Nick, John and Aaron for putting together a really fun event and for making an old Twins fan feel welcome. Of course, I also want to thank Glen Perkins for the beer!

– JC

Surviving TwinsFest

It has taken me a little longer than expected to put up a post here about my trip up to Minneapolis for TwinsFest. That’s because it took me a little longer than anticipated just to get home from TwinsFest.

The plan was simple:

  • Drive up to Minneapolis Saturday morning
  • Go to TwinsFest Saturday afternoon
  • Go to Hubert’s Saturday night for the TwinsDaily-hosted social event
  • Sleep a few hours at my hotel
  • Go to brunch with my Knuckleballs “family” Sunday morning
  • Drive home Sunday afternoon

Easy.

Yes, I got a later start than I expected Saturday morning, due, to some degree, to staying at the local sports bar with my family alonger than I’d planned Friday night, but I made it to my Eagan hotel by 1:00-ish. It was about that time that I realized I hadn’t brought my camera with me, which is kind of a big deal for me (some of you may have noticed I enjoy taking pictures when I travel). I got to the hotel early enough that they didn’t have a room ready for me to check in to. They were more than happy to take my credit card information, of course, so all I would have to do would be pick up my door card when I got back from downtown that night.

TwinsFest2013

TwinsFest 2013, with a glimpse of Puckett’s Pond writer Paul Pleiss (in the Koskie jersey)

After taking the Light Rail from the Mall of America to the Metrodome, I wandered around the place for a bit. I ran in to several familiar faces, caught up with a few friends and listened in to some of the interviews taking place on the 1500ESPN stage.

Before long, I made my way to the “Down on the Farm” area and chatted a while with the folks at the CR Kernels’ booth, including General Manager Doug Nelson.

I didn’t do the autograph thing this year, but I did enjoy seeing some of my own boyhood heroes signing. Rollie Fingers, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins were at one station on the main floor of the Dome and seeing them all together made me smile.

As TwinsFest was getting set to close down for the evening, just before 6:00 pm, I wandered across the street to Hubert’s for the little social event planned there by the good people at Twins Daily. I wasn’t sure how many people to expect to see, but the guys were promising free beer, so I really didn’t need much additional incentive to show up. My plan was to stick around long enough to talk with a few people I don’t get to see often, then part at an hour appropriate for someone of my advanced years. It was a reasonable plan.

I’m not sure how many people the Twins Daily guys were expecting, but it seemed like a great turnout to me. People came and went, but I’m almost positive at least 100 different people showed up. It’s a considerable understatement to say I had a great time. I got to spend time talking to a few people I have met before at other blogger gatherings and a lot of people I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting before. We talked Twins, we talked Kernels, we talked about writing. We watched the Timberwolves blow a lead and lose.

Time really just flew by and the next thing I knew, it was after 11:00 and I was finally getting around to eating… at a totally different place, where a number of us had moved to as things wound down at Hubert’s.

Fast-forward a couple of hours and I finally made it back to my hotel where, it turns out, they lock the doors to the lobby at 11:00 pm. Of course, you can let yourself in with your room key… and they assume all guests would actually HAVE a room key. It took a little longer than expected, but I did eventually get checked in to a room for what was left of the night.

By 10:00 am Sunday, I was sitting down for brunch at Chammp’s in St. Paul with fellow Knuckleballers KL and Babs (and her hubby, Andrew).  I can’t say I was 100% on my game, at that point, but I’ve been much worse.

It was just starting to spit a little something when we left the restaurant, though I wasn’t sure whether it was rain, sleet or snow. Before I got out of the Twin Cities area, heading south, things were a much worse. By the time I reached Albert Lea, I’d pretty much seen it all: Freezing rain. Some ice. A bit of snow. Cars and trucks in ditches. Cars and trucks actually leaving the road and driving in to ditches. In short, I saw enough to know I didn’t want to join them, so I pulled in to my old home town and found a hotel room.

Not only did I find a hotel room, but the hotel had a nice little sports bar/restaurant attached to it! The waitress/bartender was kind enough to find the Iowa-Purdue basketball game on one of their TVs for me while I enjoyed an excellent quesadilla and a beer or two before heading back to my room for the night.

When I looked out the window of my hotel room early Monday morning, I couldn’t see my car. In fact, I couldn’t see anyone’s car. Fog had pretty much engulfed us. Not being all that interested in getting on a slick interstate with no visibility, I had breakfast and spent a couple hours working in my room before checking out.

By then, you could see maybe 200 yards in front of you on the interstate, so it wasn’t too bad. I had to make two more stops of an hour or two each to deal with work-related phone calls, but finally rolled in to my garage around 4:00 pm… almost exactly 24 hours after I SHOULD have been home.

While things didn’t exactly go as planned, it was definitely worth the trip just to have a chance to see so many friends Saturday and Sunday.

We don’t all agree on everything Twins-related. In fact, some of us rarely agree on anything Twins-related. But we all have a mutual interest in the Twins. In fact, for most of us, it’s probably more accurately called a mutual passion for the Twins.

I don’t know how the upcoming Twins season will turn out, but it’s great to know we’ll all share the experience together.

I’ll wrap up with a handful of additional photos I did manage to take with my phone-camera.

– JC

Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins

Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Fergie Jenkins

Twins prospects Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson at the autograph station, with Twins Clubhouse manager Wayne "Big Fella" Hattaway peeking in from behind the curtain

Twins prospects Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson at the autograph station, with Twins Clubhouse manager Wayne “Big Fella” Hattaway peeking in from behind the curtain

Twins prospects BJ Hermsen, Pedro Hernandez and Trevor May at the autograph table

Twins prospects BJ Hermsen, Pedro Hernandez and Trevor May at the autograph table

Radio broadcaster Cory Provus interviews Twins execs Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter

Radio broadcaster Cory Provus interviews Twins execs Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter

The gathering at Hubert's, hosted by Twins Daily

The gathering at Hubert’s, hosted by Twins Daily

Knuckleballs at the Ballpark with the Internet (bloggers)

Blogger Day with FSN (L to R: John Bonnes, Me, Bill Paker, Aaron Gleeman, Nick Nelson and the FSNorth Girls, Angie Avestruz and Kaylin Cockriel)

This past Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a baseball game at Target Field as the guest of Fox Sports North. In addition to myself, Twins bloggers Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Nick Nelson, and Bill Parker were all in attendance to take in a day game against the Orioles and help Fox Sports promote their recently upgraded GameConnect service.*  A great big thank you to Becky Ross and Laura Beshire from Fox Sports for hosting us, and Robby Incmikoski for stopping by the suite to talk to us and share some of his humorous baseball stories from the recent past.

I brought my father along with me last Tuesday.  It was nice to bring him along as my guest, an opportunity for me to repay him for bringing me to so many Twins games in the Metrodome in the early/mid 90s when I was a young boy.  We arrived on the suite level (just above the Legends Club) about 40 minutes before the first pitch so we took some time to wander around and check out a part of Target Field where we had never been before.  The suites are arranged around the infield lines from first base, back to home plate and then over to third.  In addition to being numbered, the suites are named after Minnesota lakes. My father and enjoyed looking at the images of the lakes and reminiscing about fishing trips at Pelican Lake or a vacation up north at Kabetogama Lake, as we walked through the halls.  On the wall opposite the suites were pictures, poster sized baseball cards, and paintings of great Twins players and management dating all the way back to the origins of the Minnesota Twins franchise as the Washington Senators.  I knew the names of a lot of those Twins greats (Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison) but my father could remember watching these guys at Met Stadium.

My father and Danny Gladden (who may or may not be my step-mom’s all-time baseball crush).

Eventually we made our way into the suite, introduced ourselves to the rest of the bloggers and their guests and settled in with a couple of beers and brats to take in a game of baseball.  In the past when I have attended games I am usually locked into the on field action.  I know who is on deck, who is warming up in the bullpen.  I like to watch the ways that players communicate with each other between plays and I am always trying to decipher the signs coming in from the dugout or third base coaches.  Up in the suite, hanging out with the bloggers I found myself spending time socializing and talking about baseball things not necessarily happening on the field below.  Numerous times I found myself searching the scoreboard to find out not just what the score was, but what inning it was and who was ahead.

After the game was over (the Twins bullpen ultimately coughed up the lead in the 8th) we joined the Twins Geek, Aaron Gleeman and Nick Nelson at the Fulton Tap Room for a beer (compliments of Mr. Gleeman) before heading back to the car and returning to Wisconsin.  All in all it was a really fun day and I cannot thank FSN enough for giving me a chance to spend a day doing the things I love: tweeting, watching baseball, and spending time with my father.

*The GameConnect webpage designed to be a tag-along feature to enhance your game watching experience.  It is updated live and provides a plethora of stats and has an integrated twitter feature to connect you to social media.  While you are not going to grab a bunch of advanced stats GameConnect gives you enough information to heighten your awareness of what is going on in the game.  The Twitter feed is a little clunky, but it searches Twitter and pulls in tons of tweets referencing the current game.  It is a great place to find new twitter followers and gives other Twins tweeters a chance to find you.  

-ERolfPleiss

TwinsCentric Viewing Party #4

 

Date:
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Time:
2:00pm – 7:00pm
Location:
Park Tavern
Street:
3401 Louisiana Avenue
City/Town:
Saint Louis Park, MN

 

The TwinsCentric group is proud to present the fourth TwinsCentric Viewing Party of the 2010 season!

As the Minnesota Twins tangle with the Phightin’ Phils on Saturday, June 19th, come join other Twins fans at the Park Tavern in St Louis Park and enjoy discounts on drinks and food in addition to the chance to win many great Twins prizes!

Those that come out donning Twins gear will receive $2.25 domestic/rail drinks and full-size appetizers for $5.95. In addition to the great specials, come get the chance to win:

- A $100 worth of gift cards
– Free drink tickets
– A free Thome Is My Homey t-shirt
– A 10-person bowling party with two complimentary pizzas
– Tickets to Target Field

See you then Twins fans!

TwinsCentric Viewing Party #3

 

Saturday, May 15, 2010
Time:
11:30am – 5:30pm
Location:
Major’s Sports Cafe – Bloomington, Minnesota
Street:
8301 Normandale Boulevard
City/Town:
Bloomington, MN

 

This seemed like a good rainy-day heads up!  These gatherings are always a lot of fun.  I encourage anyone who’s free to join the TwinsCentric crew for food, fun and baseball.