Alcatraz was once the Barry Bonds of the United States Penitentiary System. Today, it is merely the Barry Bonds of San Francisco’s tourist attractions. The island, located about a mile and a half away from shore, was once home to the country’s most secure prison. From 1934 to 1963, some of America’s most dangerous criminals spent time behind bars on what many call “The Rock.” Jordan and I are big history buffs who have never been to prison (yet) so we decided to hop on the ferry, head over to The Rock, and buy an Al Capone shirsey or two.
If you haven’t been to Alcatraz, you should definitely go. It’s unlike anything else you can actually go see. Walking up and down the rows of cellblocks is surreal, creepy, interesting, engaging, and bizarre. While most people think of Alcatraz as a strictly a prison, there’s actually a lot more to it than that. Alcatraz was also home to a United States military outpost, a Native American self-determination movement, and most importantly, a baseball field.
Erected in the recreation yard of the main cellblock, the Island’s baseball field was one of the most interesting things we’ve seen on the entire trip. Built for inmates to use during recreation time, the field has aged significantly since its heyday 75 years ago. AT&T Park sits just across the bay from “Alcatraz Field”, but it might as well be on a different planet. Alcatraz doesn’t feature garlic fries or chocolate shakes or an herb garden, but it does have more bird poop than you could ever imagine. The differences are endless: AT&T hosts MLB games, Alcatraz does not, etc. But the biggest thing that separates the two parks is their respective run-scoring environments. While AT&T is regarded as one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in all of baseball, Alcatraz’s unbelievable dimensions make it extremely conducive to high-octane offensive frenzies.
Just look at those right and left field porches. You thought the Crawford Boxes in Houston were close? Well, Alcatraz Field measures at 98 feet down both lines. It’s pretty hard to hit it out to deep center, but anything off the stairs is automatic extra bases. The Giants abandoned the Polo Grounds when they moved out of New York, but if they ever want to relive their history, a smaller, smellier, and more absurd version of their old stadium is right in their backyard. The coolest part of the field on Alcatraz is that it’s completely accessible to anyone. If we had brought a ball and gloves in my bag and played catch, I don’t think a soul would have bothered us. On Alcatraz. Pretty amazing. Don’t worry, we found some time to act like idiots before we left. No matter where we are, we always find time to act like idiots.
On the boat back to the mainland, Jordan recognized a familiar face. Seated across the boat from us was none other than Allen James Burnett. How did Jordan spot him? Well, no one else on Alcatraz (full name also Allen) was 6’4”, 230 pounds with tattoos all over. Burnett must have signed with Alcatraz in the offseason, even though it’s a bit far from the Maryland home that he always reportedly wants to be close to. He wasn’t alone though, as a smaller, more slender looking young man was standing by his side. “Nice that he brought his son with him, huh?” my mother quipped in a completely serious tone. “Mom,” I said, “That’s Jeff Locke.” She turned to me, looked into my soul, discovered the answers to all the universe’s questions and then said: “Don’t you mean, All-Star Pitcher Jeff Locke?” She was right. I forgot to mention that Jeffrey Allen Locke was an All-Star.
After our tour was done, we said goodbye to all the Allens,—Jeffrey, James, and Catraz—and made our way over to AT&T Park to see the Giants take on the Pirates in the Bonds Bowl. –Jake Mintz
After spending all of 2014 in the Kansas City Royals organization, outfielder Justin Maxwell signed with the Giants last November in hopes of finding more playing time at the major league level. With Hunter Pence on the DL for the first few weeks of the season, Maxwell got 25 starts in right field before recently being returned to primarily pinch-hitting duties with Pence back. Maxwell is one of the rare major league players to come from where we grew up: the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. We asked him about his formative baseball years, his current role on the Giants roster, and more.
On getting scouted out of the DC area:
ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿I was fortunate enough to get on some AAU travel teams. I played for the Montgomery Patriots and we traveled all around in the summer time playing AAU tournaments…that's where I got some looks.
ï»¿On choosing to go to the University of Maryland instead of Harvard:
ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿I always wanted to play professional baseball. That was my goal as a high school kid: to try to get a chance to play pro ball and try to make it to the big leagues. I felt like playing in the ACC—Maryland was in the ACC at the time—would give me the best opportunity to be seen and get some looks from scouts.
ï»¿On when he was suddenly the biggest kid on the field:
ï»¿ï»¿I never lifted any weights when I was in high school. I didn't start lifting until before my freshman year in college. That summer after you graduate in May, you have the whole summer. So I would go to Maryland and work out with their strength coach and some of the football guys. That's when I started to gain some weight; I gained like 25 pounds that summer, it was pretty amazing. In high school, I was a real skinny kid. I didn't really know my body physically. I was pretty slow; my fastest 60-yard dash was like a 6.9 in high school. It wasn't until I got to college that I got faster.
ï»¿On how he prepares to pinch-hit when he's not playing every day:
ï»¿It's definitely hard. You try to stay sharp off the machine, try to see some breaking balls and fastballs off the machine, try to see some extra velocity. Also watching video of the relievers that you're gonna face later. With our equipment, you can watch all the guys' last outings and see what kinds of pitches they like and what they like to do with guys in scoring position. Before, I would just watch the starter's last start and then see what the bullpen guy has when I see him on the field, but now I gotta watch the relievers because those are the guys I'm most likely to face.
ï»¿On hitting a ball into McCovey Cove as a right-hander:
ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿It depends on the elements. I've hit a few balls pretty well to right field that get destroyed by the wind coming off the water. It would take a Roy Hobbs-type bolt to get it out there. –Jordan Shusterman
- Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are the two best players in baseball right now, but Andrew McCutchen might be the most amazing. We’ve watched a lot of players take batting practice on this trip, at both the minor and major league level, including some guys with obscene power: Justin Upton, Joc Pederson, Miguel Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, etc. McCutchen’s BP was the most impressive out of all of them. I’ve watched his at bats on TV before, but seeing him up take BP from up close gave me a deeper appreciation for just how incredible his whole swing is. He combines the otherworldly bat speed of a Javier Baez with the short, compact stroke of a Derek Jeter. During BP he made AT&T look like the Barry Bonds Junior Giants Field across the cove. With his hand-eye skills and athleticism, Andrew McCutchen could have been immensely skilled at anything he wanted—hockey, karate, lumberjacking—but we should all be thankful he chose baseball.
- Pittsburgh right-hander Gerrit Cole was absolutely filthy in seven dominant innings, allowing two unearned runs while striking out nine and walking two. Last year, in his first full season in the big leagues, Cole’s secondary arsenal consisted of two different breaking balls and a changeup, which he used sparingly. This year, he’s ditched both the curveball and the changeup all but completely in favor of more fastballs and a whole bunch more sliders. This shift in his repertoire seems to be working rather well, as last night’s performance lowered his ERA to 1.90. Despite throwing exclusively fastballs and sliders, Cole had the nastiest stuff I have ever seen in person, and it wasn’t particularly close. The fastball sat 94-97 MPH, touching 99 MPH, with incomprehensible movement that you almost never see from a fastball at that velocity. The slider—at 86-89 MPH (!!!)—was simply vicious, garnering ugly swings and misses from both righties and lefties all night long. Cole’s final pitch of the game was an absolutely flawless 97 MPH fastball on the outside corner to strike out pinch-hitter Justin Maxwell looking. From strictly a stuff standpoint, Cole is nearly unrivaled by any other pitcher in baseball. It’s an elite fastball, it’s a near-elite slider, and he apparently has pretty damn good changeup that he barely even throws anymore. It’s all coming together for him now, and it’s a whole lot of fun to watch. After the game, a reporter asked Cole if he had his best stuff. Cole responded flatly, “No”. Somehow, I believe him.
-Meals at In-N-Out: 3
-Mexican Food Meals: 8
-Dr. Peppers consumed: Jake – 20/Jordan – 20
-Times we listened to Evergreen by Westlife: 58
We didn’t have time on Monday to properly pay homage to greatest baseball player ever, Barry Lamar Bonds, so we are going to spend at least part of the morning crushing baseballs into McCovey Cove from the aforementioned tiny field across from AT&T Park. The day after that is relatively wide open. Depending on a Twitter direct message, we may or may not get lunch with a notable baseball blogger. Our game on Tuesday evening will be some combination of Pacific League action, either in San Rafael or Sonoma. The Bay Area has been nice to us, but it’s time to drive north. Seattle: tomorrow, we start towards you.