Author: Craig Calcaterra

Tal's Hill

They may get rid of Tal’s Hill at Minute Maid Park. Good.


Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has a story up in which Astros president Reid Ryan talks about renovations and upgrades to Minute Maid Park. One of the things which could possibly be changed? That weird feature in center field called “Tal’s Hill”:

“People talk about Tal’s Hill. ‘Is Tal’s Hill going away?’ We’re going to look at designs of, ‘What would that look like if we took it away?’”

Tal’s Hill is an incline in center field that can wreak havoc on outfielders, although balls are rarely hit far enough to reach the hill. A flag pole is also situated on the hill, on the playing field — an oddity in baseball.

It’s one of those oddities, the likes of which several teams that built ballparks from the early 90s on through the mid-2000s forced on everyone. “Quirks” to make the place seem unique but which in no way were organic. Dumb overhangs. Friezes. There’s a reason why Fenway Park has odd dimensions and the Green Monster. They literally did not have the land to build the park in a different way. That “quirk” was basically required and, only over time, became historic and significant. Most of the newer parks tried to manufacture their own instant history and most examples of it are silly. Tal’s Hill probably being the silliest.

We’ve mostly gotten out of that retro-era. The parks of the past few years like Nats Park and the park in Miami may or may not be to everyone’s tastes, but at least they’re not trying to ape history. Good riddance, Tal’s Hill.

I had Kansas City barbecue last night. It was OK. I guess. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.26.34 AM

KANSAS CITY — So many of you gave me crap yesterday for coming to Kansas City and eating a salad. So I figure I should let you know that, yes, I went and got barbecue last night at Oklahoma Joe’s.

I asked Twitter what I should get and sentiment was almost split 50/50 between the Z-Man sandwich (a brisket sandwich with an onion ring on it) and ribs. And everyone said I should get the fries. That’s a hard decision! But as Abraham Lincoln (I think) once said, “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice!” And I made mine. I got both!


Save it on the PBR. The beer selection wasn’t that great and I’d rather have a PBR than a Stella or whatever. I’m gonna get some Boulevard at the ballpark tonight, don’t you worry about it.

With the exception of a few of the fries, I ate it all. I regretted the hell out of it a few hours later and made a point to detox at breakfast this morning, but it was really damn delicious. Sometimes you gotta get a case of meat sweats and, later, after going to bed, meat terrors. I do this for you, my readers.

Anyway, it was among the best barbecue I’ve ever had, and I have had Bryant’s and Gates and lots of other places in KC, Memphis and the Carolinas. But . . . it’s not the best.

Here I realize I’m venturing into pure subjectivity, but even if Oklahoma Joe’s was fantastic, I’m partial to Texas barbecue. I like my brisket cut thicker (here’s some thoughts on that) and I prefer a dry rub on the ribs. Not gonna lie: the best ribs I’ve ever had were at my girlfriend’s uncle’s house in Boerne, Texas. He cuts and burns his own mesquite. This is him and his setup:


And his product:



It’s to die for. I like it better than Oklahoma Joe’s, even if he doesn’t make a Z-Man sandwich. And no, I’m not telling you how to find his place.

Thankfully, no one ever argues about food, let alone barbecue, so I’m sure the comments to this post will be reasonable and non-confrontational.

A veteran says enough is enough when it comes to tributes for the soldiers

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 9.57.50 AM

source: Getty Images

KANSAS CITY — We’ve touched on the idea of conspicuous patriotism and tributes to the soldiers before — ESPN’s Howard Bryant wrote an excellent article about it last year — but today we have a thought-provoking piece from a veteran, Rory Fanning, talking about tribute concerts and the public thanking of the troops at sporting events:

We use the term hero in part because it makes us feel good and in part because it shuts soldiers up (which, believe me, makes the rest of us feel better). Labeled as a hero, it’s also hard to think twice about putting your weapons down. Thank yous to heroes discourage dissent, which is one reason military bureaucrats feed off the term . . . Then you have Bruce Springsteen and Metallica telling them “thank you” for wearing that uniform, that they are heroes, that whatever it is they’re doing in distant lands while we go about our lives here isn’t an issue.  There is even the possibility that, one day, you, the veteran, might be ushered onto that stage during a concert or onto the field during a ballgame for a very public thank you. The conflicted soldier thinks twice.

Fanning makes the argument that by doing things like these, we necessarily give our approval to the country’s military policies of the past 13 years and stifle dissent. I think there is a lot of truth to that. But more broadly, I think the obligatory manner in which we have imported patriotism and honoring of the military into baseball has caused us to lose sight of the fact that — even if doing these things are good and admirable — when we make our patriotism mindless, we lose an essential part of it, which is thoughtfulness. And, yes, to Fanning’s point, when we make our acts of patriotism obligatory we take away another essential thing: the freedom of dissent.

I think we’ve reached that point in baseball. Major League Baseball’s charitable efforts, specifically for the Welcome Back Veterans and Wounded Warrior charities are admirable. And there is no question in my mind that they are well-intentioned. But, at times, one does feel the sense of formality and a sense of the obligatory with respect to all of this. And no small amount of corporate sponsorship is involved, in effect, allowing corporations to ride on the back of patriotic sentiment in an effort, intentionally or unintentionally, to bolster their own image.

Before Game 1, Major League Baseball issued a press release with the following pre-game agenda items. Remember: this is all just for Game 1:

  • COMMISSIONER SELIG’S VISIT WITH LOCAL VETERANS: The day of special activities designed to honor veterans will begin with Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig visiting local veterans at the Kansas City VA Medical Center Honor Annex. He will be joined by MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred, David and Dan Glass (Royals Chief Executive Officer and President, respectively), Royals Legend John Mayberry, the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James A. Winnefeld.
  • PRE-GAME CEREMONY AND CEREMONIAL FIRST PITCH FEATURING LOCAL VETERAN: A special pre-game ceremony will feature Secretary Robert A. McDonald and Admiral James A. Winnefeld, who is the Nation’s second highest ranking military officer, along with Staff Sergeant Pedro Sotelo (disabled and separated from service).
  • Singing “God Bless America” before the bottom of the 7th inning will be Retired Naval Petty Officer 1st Class Generald Wilson.
  • NEW WBV PSAs ON GAME ONE FOX TELECAST: Major League Baseball will unveil two new public service announcements (PSAs) in support of Welcome Back Veterans. The spots capture both the emotional spirit and significance of baseball’s unique role in welcoming back our service men and women. The creative and production of both spots were handled by BarrettSF. The PSAs can be WATCHED at the following links: WBV – Royals Surprise & WBV –
  • BANK OF AMERICA SUPPORT: Bank of America, the Official Bank of Major League Baseball, will provide American flags for fans at each Kauffman Stadium entrance, and ask those in attendance to participate in a “Stand and Salute” moment during the 7th inning stretch, immediately following God Bless America, to honor service members and veterans. This moment will culminate the bank’s efforts to capture one million expressions of thanks for members of the military in 2014 as part of its “Express Your Thanks” campaign.
  • BUDWEISER OUR HERO SEATS: Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, the pride of Russell, Kansas, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II as a combat infantryman, will be honored in the Budweiser Our Hero Seat. After suffering serious injuries, Dole studied law and went onto serve in the Kansas Statehouse and later the U.S. Congress for more than 35 years. Dole has donated his actual seats to SSGT Matthew Gonzales, of Raytown, Missouri, who served in the U.S. Army for nine years, and is now battling a rare and aggressive service-related cancer that developed during a deployment to Iraq 2007.
  • BUCK O’NEIL LEGACY SEAT: Continuing the Royals tradition of honoring a member of the community who embodies an aspect of the spirit of the former Negro Leagues Baseball player,U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Tony Clark will sit in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat. The Augusta, Kansas native Clark now uses his experience in the battlefield to run ultra-marathons and marathons in his efforts to raise awareness and funds for several military and Veteran causes.
  • “PLAY BALL!”: Austin Sides, the son of United States Air Force Major Robert Sides (both of whom were featured in the WBV – Royals Surprise PSA), will yell “Play Ball!” before the start of Game One.

It’s hard to take issue with any one of these efforts — why wouldn’t one want to do things to help wounded veterans? — but at what point did all of this cross over from admirable gesture to de riguer, corporate-sponsored events? For so long in our history, sports had been more or less apolitical. Or, at the very least, places where we could escape the politics of the day for a little while. Now it’s clearly a place where a certain type of nationalism and pro-military sentiment (which itself has practical political implications), however well-intentioned, is acceptable. And even expected.

I’m not sure what to do about this. I don’t want Major League Baseball to stop giving money and doing things for veterans and veterans charities, obviously. I like that we sing the National Anthem before sporting events. There is something nice about the blending of Americana and baseball. And, as is obvious from my writing over the past several years, I do not think baseball should be a politics-free zone.

But I wonder if, in our efforts to do good things, we have lost other good things. Or, at the very least, devalued good things by overdoing it and taking the thoughtfulness out of it. Difficult issues to be sure. And ones that, I do not think, will be tackled before we have our next round of warplane flyovers, tribute concerts and several hundred more renditions of “God Bless America.”


“Marlins man” is now signing autographs for people

Marlins man

We’ve all seen the guy behind home plate during the World Series known as “Marlins Man.” And we’ve linked to stories about the guy, in which it is explained that he’s just some rich lawyer from Miami who likes to buy tickets to big time sporting events.

But apparently, merely being on TV in unexpected, out-of-context clothing is enough to make one famous these days. Indeed, he’s actually signing autographs:


You guys, if you want an autograph from a lawyer who goes to World Series games in bad clothes all you need to do is ask me. I’m right here.

Ian Desmond taunts Bryce Harper over the Cowboys loss

Bryce Harper Getty

Despite playing in Washington, Bryce Harper is a big Dallas Cowboys fan. I was informed by people who do silly things like watch football that the Cowboys were beat by the Redskins last night in somewhat improbable fashion. So Nats shortstop Ian Desmond decided to tweet at his teammate:

I always appreciate some trolling. But it is sad that, after tonight or tomorrow night, the only thing baseball players will have to do until February is watch football and talk smack to one another.