One final weekend
In July 2013, Jordan and I went to the Baseball Prospectus event at Nationals Park. At that point, the Cespedes Family Barbecue had existed for six months, and had about 85 followers on Twitter. We were writing at least twice a week—way more often than we do now—exclusively on our own site because no one would ever have asked us to write on their site. For some unspeakable reason, we purchased a set of 400 business cards that had our name, number, and Twitter handle on them. Keep in mind: There was no #brand at this point; it was just two idiots, thirty dollars, an internet connection, and a bulk order from Vistaprint.
I remember the event itself rather vividly. I remember mixing up Ben Lindbergh and Jason Cole, which, in retrospect, is hilarious because Ben and Jason don't sound, look, or act like each other at all. Someone asked a Nationals front office official about why the coach assigned to hit Bryce Harper outfield fungoes was doing so from the pitcher's mound and not home plate. Someone asked Jay Jaffe about the market inefficiency of defensive indifference. We sat through the panel and soaked up everything the BP guys and the Nats guys said. After the event, we introduced ourselves to Jason Parks, told him we were big fans and watched someone hand him a Puyol action figure. We then gave Parks our business card and made a joke about Andrelton Simmons' sixth tool. "You guys are weird, but this is pretty funny," he laughed. "I'll tweet this out for sure." The rest was history. Extremely underwhelming, unimportant, and completely irrelevant history. Parks gave us a small platform and we ran with it the best we could.
On Saturday night we participated in another panel, except this time we were up "on stage" instead of in the audience. We partnered up with the SBNation Mariners blog Lookout Landing to put on an event titled "The Lookout BBQ." Over 100 people showed up to the event, which featured Mariners front office folks Jeff Kingston and Wes Battle and Mariners marketing genius Kevin Martinez. Against our best efforts, the whole thing turned out to be a resounding success. There were interesting questions followed by insightful answers, jokes about who gets whose coffee, and t-shirts for all. For some reason, the Mariners made somewhere around 300 shirts for an event that was being held in an area that would probably only hold 150 people safely. Either the Mariners were jonesing for a fire hazard or there was a miscommunication at some point. But hey, baseball teams are baseball teams you know?
The panel ended, people clapped, some people introduced themselves to us, and some faded back into the mystery of the Twittersphere. Jordan and I soon realized that we had at least 200 shirts too many. "What are we gonna do with all these, man? We can't just bring 'em back with us." That's when Celine, the stadium employee given the unfortunate duty of looking after our event, said, "If you walk out there and scream 'free shirts!,' you'll get rid of these puppies in no time." I walked out into the middle of the concourse, channeled my ancestral Jewish Russian roots, and started peddling those bad boys like my life depended on it. "FREE SHIRTS," I screamed. "OH MAN, FREE SHIRTS!" was the last thing I heard before I was surrounded by a throng of grabby people. Like sharks to an open wound, they swarmed around me, hungry for a taste of the Lookout BBQ. Those shirts could have read "I love Chone Figgins" in Comic Sans and they still would have been gone in five minutes. People like shirts. Shirts, man. You never know what'll happen when you have 200 extra of them lying around. —Jake Mintz
Felix Day Game Notes: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Seattle Mariners
Through the fleeting highs and painfully persistent lows of the past decade of Mariners baseball, there has been one constant: Felix Hernandez. Since Felix arrived in Seattle as a 19-year-old flamethrower in 2005, the M's have gone through two general managers, seven managers, and at least one binky to ward away the terrors of the night. Felix has been a part of three winning teams in his first ten seasons and has never been to the postseason. On the final day of the 2014 season, with the Mariners one win and some luck away from the playoffs, Felix pitched accordingly. He was tremendous. The A's beat the Rangers, and it didn't matter. Another October off for the King.
Felix entered the 2015 season as the longest-tenured Mariner on the current roster by a long shot. Dustin Ackley and Tom Wilhelmsen, the second-longest-tenured M's, are currently in their fifth season with the team. This is Felix's 11th. Two active Mariners left Seattle long ago before returning to the organization in recent years: Willie Bloomquist left after 2008 and eventually made the playoffs with Arizona in 2011; Mark Lowe was traded to Texas in the Blake Beavan deal and went on to allow one of the greatest home runs in World Series history. Sorry, Mark Lowe. Should've signed a $175 million extension.
In a world of horrendous player-specific fan sections, the King's Court at Safeco Field stands head and shoulders above all other competitors as the crown jewel in its category. Introduced in 2011, one year after Felix won the Cy Young, the King's Court consists of several sections down the left field line designated for Felix's biggest supporters, all dressed in bright yellow Felix-centric shirts. Every time Felix gets two strikes on a hitter, the Court rises up together and chants "K! K! K!," eager to see the King add to his already historic career strikeout total. We were fortunate enough to sit on the edge of the King's Court to watch Felix's seven strong innings on Saturday night, and it was an experience I will never forget.
While the constant cheering and chanting is a ton of fun to actively participate in, you can replicate much of that experience while watching a Felix home start on MLB.tv: The Mariners broadcasts cut to the Court frequently, and you can hear the "K" chants pretty easily. However, the coolest thing about the King's Court is something you couldn't tell by seeing brief shots of it on TV broadcasts, where the Court is one amorphous yellow blob of Felix fanatics. Being up close makes you realize the remarkably diverse demographic of people that make up the Court. People of all races, genders, and ages were packed in these three special sections to passionately support their 29-year-old Venezuelan King. Even amid the team's seven-game losing streak and Fernando Rodney's 122-game blown save streak, these fans knew they had to come out to support the one superstar who's never turned his back on the city.
When we confirmed that this year's road trip would be taking place on the west coast, a primary objective arose almost instantly: Felix Day in Safeco Field. It had to be done. Felix Day is unlike any other Awesome Pitcher X Day, and experiencing it in the city that loves him so dearly was an absolute must. Originally, we had planned for Felix Day to kick off our road trip sometime in mid-May before driving south to California, with San Diego as the final destination. Due to some careful planning and a few convenient inconveniences, we ultimately decided to plan around Felix Day as the grand finale. It's safe to say we made the right decision. —Jordan Shusterman
When you're on the road, a few things happen to you. You eat like crap, you get stuck listening to the same songs on repeat, you meet awesome people, and you do things that you never could have anticipated. In the last 18 days, Jordan and I were lucky enough to do some pretty incredible stuff. Here's a list:
There are very few things we enjoy more than being on the road. It's something that we look forward to throughout our whole school year, it's something that we know we are very lucky to be able to do, and it's something we would do whether or not anybody on the Internet cared about it. During our first road trip in 2013, we joked about how awesome, but ultimately inconceivable, a trip from Petco to Safeco might be. As we drove through the bottomless mug of cornfields that is Iowa, we laughed off the possibility of such a journey, all the while knowing that there was something undeniably attractive about driving north up the coast toward Seattle. Two years, 50 hours in the car, and almost 3,000 miles later, we proved that inconceivable pipe dream conceivable, as San Diego, Seattle, and all the baseball in between already seem like distant memories in our rear-view mirror.
Before we drive off into the proverbial sunrise (in this case it's literal because it's 7 a.m. on Monday morning and I have to drive Jordan home), we have a few people to thank, without whom this trip would have remained a pipe dream.
Our biggest roadblock in planning for this trip was renting a car. Because Jordan and I are both under 21, we struggled to find a place online that would rent to us, either at all or for a price anywhere below our annual college tuition. Just when we thought we would have to rework our plans, Chris Crawford came to the rescue and volunteered his car as the CFBBQ's noble and mobile steed. Chris' willingness to let two teenagers he had never met in person borrow his car is both fundamentally concerning and eternally appreciated. Your car might not have cruise control, grab handles, the best speaker system, good gas mileage, or the ability to go over 85 mph, but it got the job done. We owe you one. Long live the Chris Carford.
We should also thank our parents, who raised us poorly enough that we'd want to spend three hours driving to baseball games in Bakersfield, but also right enough that we were able to keep ourselves out of trouble. They've supported almost everything we do—my mom still won't let me eat a baseball—and we are beyond thankful. I feel confident saying we are the only teenagers to ever thank their parents on the Internet.
Thanks to all the people we met out on the road for making conversation, making us laugh, and making us dinner. Spending 18 days with one other person can get extremely tedious and tiring and repetitive (I wouldn't know; ask Jordan, I'm the annoying one), from drunk Cindy on our flight out to Celine the Mariners ball girl, the people we met on our trip were the supporting actors our C movie needed to survive.
Big thanks to Sam Miller for allowing us to put our posts up here at BP and for dealing with our media credentials along the way. Also to our editor, Bret's Hair, for editing our stuff every night/morning/twilight zone we decided to send it in.
Biggest thanks to Jason Parks. He was the first person to give us a shot and (un)seriously consider us. He also came up with the idea of us writing a travelog here at BP in the first place. If he hadn't taken our business card and laughed at our Andrelton Simmons nether regions joke, we wouldn't be anywhere near Baseball Prospectus, let alone contributing to it. Jason gave two idiots a chance. For that, we are forever in his debt, which is an exhilarating place to be.
Before this trip, both Jordan and I knew that we wanted to work in baseball after college. I assume that for a lot of people, seeing 18 baseball games in 18 days would make you want to burn your season tickets, cancel your MLB.tv subscription, and throw your MacBook into a river. But after spending 18 straight days at baseball stadiums, the only thing we want to do tomorrow is go watch a 19th game. In every way possible, this trip solidified our long-term intentions to make this sport not only our passion, but our profession. In exactly what capacity? We have no idea. But we do know that there's no place we'd rather be than right behind home plate. (Besides the King's Court, anyway.)
People have asked us where we are going to go next year. We've bounced a few ideas around about Florida, Denver, and Omaha, among others. Rest assured that as soon as the minor league schedules come out in January, I'll be spending hours on Google Maps and team sites trying to fit all the moving pieces together. Who knows? Maybe we'll bring the Family BBQ back to Cuba. Thanks, Obama. —Jake Mintz
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