The Covid-19 Pandemic has slowed the world down and given people time they would otherwise spend working to do other productive things. Sir Isaac Newton invented Calculus during the Great Plague of London. We have not been that productive, mainly we just miss baseball. Anything to return to normal, even for a few hours, is a welcomed distraction.
Derek was perusing Twitter when he came upon @DanClarkSports.
The 9/9/9 Challenge (Twitter/@DanClarkSports)
The Winning Run decided to partake in the 9/9/9 Challenge. The Challenge is eating 9 hot dogs, drinking 9 beers, in 9 innings. The average game during the 2019 season took 3:05. 185 minutes to eat 9 hot dogs and drink 9 beers. Baseball+Hot Dogs+Beer= a great socially distant Saturday night. Much like our annual season predictions, we predicted how we would fare before beginning the challenge.
Derek- 8 hot dogs and 7 beers
Jesse- 8 hot dogs and 8 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Bernie- 7 hot dogs and 7 beers
Kevin- 5 hot dogs and 8 beers
Derek- 7 hot dogs and 9 beers
Jesse- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Bernie- 8 hot dogs and 8 beers
Kevin- 5 hot dogs and 5 beers
Derek- 9 hot dogs and 7 beers
Jesse- 9 hot dogs and 8 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Bernie- 8 hot dogs and 7 beers
Kevin- 6 hot dogs and 8 beers
Bernie- 9 hot dogs and 7 beers
Derek- 9 hot dogs and 8 beers
Jesse- 8 hot dogs and 9 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Kevin- 5 hot dogs and 6 beers
Derek- 8 hot dogs and 5 beers
Jesse- 6 hot dogs and 8 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Bernie- 6 hot dogs and 5 beers
Kevin- 4 hot dogs and 6 beers
Derek- 8.6 hot dogs and 6.8 beers
Jesse- 8 hot dogs and 8.4 beers
John- 8.6 hot dogs and 9 beers
Bernie- 7.6 hot dogs and 6.8 beers
Kevin- 5 hot dogs and 6.6 beers
John was the clear favorite to finish the 9/9/9 Challenge. Kevin on the other hand was not looking great, having gone a year without eating pork or beef makes eating 9 hot dogs difficult. He refused to eat non-meat hot dogs. Derek, Jesse, and Bernie had a chance to complete the Challenge but it would take dedication.
Our rules for the 9/9/9 Challenge:
- 8 of 9 hot dogs must have at least one condiment.
- No sleeping.
- Entire beer/ hot dog must be consumed before it counts, no half credit.
- Challenge ends when the final out is made.
- You puke, you are disqualified.
We have plenty of games to choose from, but we decided to stick with the evening’s theme. We watched the May 1, 2019 game with the Colorado Rockies visiting the Milwaukee Brewers, Coors Field against Miller Park. Sadly there are no ballparks with a hot dog corporate sponsor. Brewers Starting Pitcher Chase Anderson suffered a finger laceration warming up, forcing Jacob Barnes to make his first, and so far only, career start.
The Rockies did not care that Barnes was making his first career start. Charlie Blackmon led off with a Walk, Trevor Story did the same. 12 pitches in, Colorado had runners on First and Second, 0 outs, with Daniel Murphy at the plate. Murphy struck out swinging, but Barnes threw a Wild Pitch, allowing Blackmon and Story to advance. Second and Third, 1 out, Nolan Arenado up. First pitch was a ball. Next pitch, a rocket to deep Left-Center for a 3 Run Home Run. 3-0 Rockies. Ryan McMahon reached on an infield Single. Ian Desmond Walked. Thankfully for Barnes, Raimel Tapia and Drew Butera both went down swinging to end the inning and his day. Barnes went 1 Inning, allowed 2 Hits, 3 Earned Runs, 3 Walks, 3 Strikeouts, and threw 38 pitches. Not the ideal first career start.
Milwaukee’s bats tried to exact a bit of revenge against Antonio Senzatela as he took the mound for Colorado. Lorenzo Cain led off by lining out. Eric Thames Singled. Mike Moustakas took the first pitch he saw and deposited it beyond the Leftfield fence. 3-2 Colorado. The score stayed 3-2 until the 5th Inning. We watched at the game, none of us were especially glued to the action. The Brewers and Rockies are not our favorite teams, plus it had been a while since we hung out. The social aspect of baseball, and the Challenge, took over. The joy of eating hot dogs, drinking beer, and watching baseball brought a sense of normalcy that has been lacking recently.
Nolan Arenado hit bombs during the 9/9/9 Challenge. (Benny Sieu- USA TODAY Sports)
John announces in the 5th Inning that he was done. 9 hot dogs, 9 beers, 5 Innings. All hail the victor. The long 1st Inning allowed John to down 5 hot dogs and 5 beers. Bernie too had sprinted out of the box, demolishing 8 hot dogs. Kevin and Jesse also polished off 5 hot dogs in the 1st Inning. Meanwhile, Derek was cruising along with just 3 hot dogs gone.
Kevin overtook Jesse in the 7th Inning. He took advantage of Jesse talking to close the gap, finishing his final beer and hot dog before the 7th Inning Stretch. Jesse quickly finished his final hot dog, ensuring his place on the medal stand. He started celebrating too early and Kevin passed him just before the finish line. Bernie had gone out hard on the hot dogs and was paying the lethargic price. Meanwhile Derek was the tortoise of the race, slow and steady.
In the Bottom of the 5th, Ben Gamel Singled, scoring Eric Thames and Yasmani Grandal. 4-3 Brewers. The Rockies retook the lead in the Top of the 6th. Ryan McMahon scored on a Wild Pitch. Tony Wolters Singled home Ian Desmond. Raimel Tapia scored on a Charlie Blackmon Double to make it 6-4 Colorado. The score remained 6-4 until the 8th Inning as the Challenge for some became keeping down the hot dogs.
Colorado added to their lead in the 8th. Tapia Doubled to Right, followed by a Mark Reynolds Walk. Tony Wolters hit a Sacrifice Fly, scoring Tapia. Blackmon was Hit By the next Pitch, forcing Reynolds to Second. Story followed with a 3 Run Home Run, scoring Reynolds and Blackmon. The Rockies scored 4 in the 8th pushing their lead to 10-4.
Jesus Aguilar Walked and Gamel Singled to give Milwaukee a bit of hope to start the home half of the 8th. However, those hopes were quickly dashed when Scott Oberg induced an Orlando Arcia 6-4-3 Double Play. Derek was finishing his last beer and hot dog as Nolan Arenado launched a 3-2 pitch from Jeremy Jeffress beyond the Left-Centerfield wall. 11-4 Colorado. Derek’s slow and steady pace meant he missed the podium, but still conquered the 9/9/9 Challenge. Only Bernie was left. After the Arenado dinger the Rockies went down in order. The Brewers put the first two on, a Lorenzo Cain Single and Eric Thames Walk, but down by 7 there was little hope for a comeback. Mike Moustakas Lined Out, then Yasmani Grandal Struckout. As Travis Shaw stepped to the plate, Bernie made his mad dash for home. He finished his final beer just moments before Shaw popped out to end the game and the Challenge. The Rockies won 11-4.
Derek- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Jesse- 10 hot dogs and 9 beers
John- 9 hot dogs and 10 beers
Bernie- 9 hot dogs and 9 beers
Kevin- 9 hot dogs and 10 beers
The average MLB game in 2019 took 3:05. This May 1st battle between beer sponsored ballparks took 3:44. The long 1st Inning plus several half innings with multiple runs scored gave us extra time to complete the 9/9/9 Challenge. It was not the most exciting game to watch. However, it was a great reason to get together with friends, via the internet, watch baseball, and forget the chaos of the real world for a few hours. We could have spent our time doing something far more productive, but what could be a better waste of time than baseball and friends. Challenge completed.
Baseball is a team sport. Individual players do not guarantee World Series Championships, if they did Mike Trout and the Angels would have several Fall Classic victories already. Baseball fandom is the same way, individuals can enjoy the game, but baseball with friends is always better. Watching a baseball game on TV or in the stands, allows people to indulge themselves with the game and pause the rest of the world. Watching with your friends is even better as you self indulge and grow your friendship.
Bernie, Kevin, and I met in graduate school. Bernie and I met when he kicked a water bottle out of my hand at shoulder level to prove he could to someone. Critical life skills. I met Kevin through Bernie and other mutual friends. Unfortunately Kevin does not possess the same skills as Bernie, so our friendship followed a more usual path. Our individual love of baseball quickly became apparent, which after graduation led to our annual baseball road trip. This year we ventured to Denver to watch the Colorado Rockies host the Toronto Blue Jays in a three game weekend series.
Coors Field is a beautiful venue to watch baseball. The stadium was built after baseball realized cookie cutter stadiums were boring. Even the seats tucked behind support columns in right field have a good view of the field. Fans do not feel like they are passing through a cave when they are walking around Coors Field. You can see the field as you circle the lower level. Coors Field embraced the radical concept of fan comfort and enjoyment of their day at the ballpark.
Game 1- Friday
Coors Field has many great view points to watch a game. Our first night in Denver we sat in the Left Field bleachers, the Rockpile. The view was outstanding. We were aligned with first and second base, perfect for watching both teams turn a double play. The true artistry of baseball is lost on TV, players gracefully gliding across the diamond, a ballet in spikes.
Edwin Jackson started for Toronto, pitching for his record 14th MLB franchise, surpassing former teammate Octavio Dotel. Jackson entered the game with a 9.00 ERA in three starts for the Blue Jays. In the top of the first, Toronto drew two walks before a double play and a ground out ended any hope for early runs against German Marquez. In the bottom of the first, the first five Rockies reached base. Colorado scored four runs on three hits, including a two run home run by Trevor Story, a walk, and David Dahl reached on a strike three wild pitch. Jackson did strike out the side in the middle of the mess.
The Blue Jays fought back in the top of the second, with a lead off home run by Randal Grichuk and Cavan Biggio scoring on a Luke Maile RBI groundout. Colorado scored a run in the second and five in the third forcing Jackson out of the game. He gave up 10 runs in just 2.1 innings, ballooning his ERA to 13.22. Relieving Jackson was Elvis Luciano, the first MLB player born in the 2000’s. A Nolan Arenado RBI double in the fifth off Luciano and another two run home run by Story off Sam Gaviglio in the seventh gave Colorado a commanding 13 to 2 lead.
Toronto made one final push in the eighth inning. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a lead off solo home run on the first pitch from Chris Rusin, in to relieve Marquez after seven innings. Grichuk scored Brandon Drury on a sacrifice fly to right. Jake McGee came in to relieve Rusin with the bases loaded. Rusin faced six batters, allowing two runs, four hits, and a walk. McGee walked Maile to score Lourdes Gurriel and a sacrifice fly to right center scored Biggio before shutting Toronto down. Both teams had lead off hits in the ninth, only to leave runners stranded. The Rockies’ early onslaught was too much for the Blue Jays, as Colorado won 13 to 6.
Game 2- Saturday
We always pick good seats for one game, usually the best pitching matchup. Saturday night was Marcus Stroman against Jon Gray. Both Righties, so we sat just beyond Third Base, 11 rows from the field. Stroman is a master at altering his delivery to fool batters. It is difficult for hitters to time Stroman when he is unpredictable. Gray is a solid pitcher for the Rockies, which has often been a difficult task at Coors Field.
After the drumming Toronto took Friday night, one might expect the Blue Jays to come out with some energy. Nope. The Blue Jays went down in order in the top of the first. In the bottom of the first, Stroman allowed four consecutive hits, three singles and a double, giving Colorado a 3 to 0 lead. Toronto mustered only a single, weakly hit infield as they took the field in the bottom of the fifth. After Jon Gray struck out looking, Raimel Tapia stepped to the plate. Tapia lined a double to Centerfield on the first pitch, then circus music began to play. Centerfielder Jonathan Davis had trouble picking up the ball, allowing Tapia to reach third. On the relay throw, Second Baseman Cavan Biggio threw the ball out of play, awarding Tapia home. Yes Stroman allowed the hit, but his defense dug him an even deeper hole. The Rockies brought in Carlos Estevez in the ninth to close out the Blue Jays. He served up a lead off solo home run to Justin Smoak. Biggio reached on a Trevor Story throwing error and scored on a Danny Jansen double. Estevez eventually got the final out, securing the 4 to 2 Colorado victory.
Marcus Stroman is one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball. However the young Toronto team has wasted his 2.84 ERA (post game), leaving him with a 3-7 record. Toronto is extremely young, hopefully Stroman gets help soon and does not become the American League Jacob deGrom.
Game 3- Sunday
Day baseball is perfection. The sun shining on the green grass, the extra white baseballs, the game is more alive. The Rockies were looking to sweep the Blue Jays in the final game of our baseball road trip. Toronto finally showing some life as Eric Sogard and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit back to back singles off Colorado starter Antonio Senzatela to begin the game. Justin Smoak grounded into a Fielder’s Choice at first, scoring Sogard and giving the Blue Jays their first lead of the series. Again the offense could not sustain the momentum, scoring just one run despite sending seven batters to the plate. In the bottom of the first, Raimel Tapia lined out before Blue Jays’ starter Aaron Sanchez surrendered consecutive singles to David Dahl, Nolan Arenado, and Daniel Murphy to tie the game.
Toronto went down in order in the second, third, and fourth. Colorado scored a run in the second and third. Our seats for the finale at Coors Field were in the upper deck, first base side. Looking out, the Rocky Mountains rose beyond left field. Sadly thunderstorms rolled through Denver, forcing us to retreat. Despite the huge raindrops from the soaking downpour, the game was not delayed. The rain faded and Chris Iannetta launched a lead off home run in the sixth that may not have returned to earth yet. Nolan Arenado hit a solo home run in the seventh extending the lead to 5 to 1. Justin Smoak walked to lead off the Toronto eighth, but was stranded by two fly outs and a Brandon Drury strike out. Luke Maile’s single was Toronto’s last gasp as Bryan Shaw struck out the side to complete the Colorado sweep.
The Rockies began the home stand 23-26, fourth in the NL West, 4.5 games behind the second Wild Card. They won eight of nine games on the home stand; winning two of three from the Orioles, before sweeping the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays. Colorado finished the home stand 31-27, second in the NL West, 0.5 games behind the second Wild Card; most likely saving their season.
Baseball is beautiful wherever it is played. A sandlot in Georgia, a high school field in Ohio, a Minor League park in Indiana, or a Major League park in Colorado. Since graduation we have scattered across the country, our annual baseball road trip allows us to get together, catch up, and enjoy the game we love. Our lives constantly change, yet baseball remains constant. Next year will be no different.
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again”
The line from the 1980 Willie Nelson classic On the Road Again, originally recorded in 1965 by Bob Dylan, especially resonates with me this time of year. Bernie, Kevin, and myself are just a week away from our third annual baseball road trip. Few, if any, days go by throughout the year without us talking baseball. Our love of the game led to the creation of our annual baseball road trip, which is now a fixture on the calendar.
The first year we met in Pittsburgh, as it was a good meeting place between Cincinnati and Washington D.C. We watched the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Mets on a Sunday night and then the Diamondbacks on a Monday day game. We played catch in a parking lot across the Allegheny River from the Park and had a full baseball weekend. What could be better than watching baseball at PNC Park and playing catch with friends.
Our first baseball road trip was to Pittsburgh, this year we head to Colorado. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Last year, Kevin bailed on the road trip for an extended scouting trip in New Zealand. Bernie and I solidified the tradition without him with a true road trip. We met up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he was for work and drove to Lansing. We played catch in Adado Riverfront Park before watching the Lansing Lugnuts take on the Dayton Dragons. The next day we drove to Detroit to see the Tigers play the Minnesota Twins. We tried both American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit’s ongoing Coney battle. The Fort Wayne TinCaps followed the next day, as they took on the West Michigan Whitecaps. Our final stop on our four games, four teams, in four days trip was to see the South Bend Cubs play the Lake County Captains on Mr. Rogers Day. Bernie has the jersey to prove it.
Bernie had the winning bid for the Mr. Rogers jersey worn by South Bends winning pitcher, Enrique De Los Rios. (The Winning Run/ BL)
Each trip means exploring a new city or two. Sampling the local culture and food scene. Indulging in baseball for a few days. Simply it is hanging out with friends. This year is no different. Kevin is back and the three of us are meeting to explore Denver and watch the Colorado Rockies host the Toronto Blue Jays in a three game series. This is the furthest our road trip has taken us from home, and for me it comes just a month before becoming a first time Dad. One last trip before Fatherhood truly begins. What better way to send it than with friends, at a baseball game, inside a Major League park I have never seen a game at before. I just can’t wait to get on the road again.