Mindfulness: A Journey to Recapture My Mental Health

Confession:  I took my mind and effort away from my own mental health.

I apologize to myself and, more importantly, to those around me.  I did a fantastic job of working through panic attacks and generalized anxiety, but I did not give my mental health a FULL examination.  While I am still proud of the fact that I went in to get help (after suffering a few panic attacks), admitted I needed medication, and then worked to get to the point where I could stop medication, I am also disappointed in myself.  I did just enough to identify the issue (anxiety) and did just enough to get back to the bare minimum of “normal”.  I did not focus on getting better or happier, just eliminating the scary parts, like panic attacks or staying on medication.

So what have I learned?  I’ve learned that mental health and the issues that come with it are incredibly complex and fuzzy.  My anxiety wasn’t just anxiety, but also had some roots within depression – there is a reason why they have an anxiety/depression scale.  I’ve also learned that just because you suffer from a named illness, there is no “correct” or universal way to treat it.  My underlying struggles are coping and obsessive thinking.  Sometimes I can use those things to my advantage – obsessively thinking about something until I perfect that skill or idea – while other times I let it bring me down until I have a panic attack or get depressed.  But it doesn’t stop there, it also affects those around me.  My treatment of myself bleeds into how I treat others and how much energy I drain from them.

Now I am not trying to make it sound like people don’t want to help someone with a mental illness, far from it.  But in many cases, those around you have no clue what you need or the correct way to handle someone who is suffering mentally.  Doctors have a hard enough time defining and treating it, so why do we think our loved ones can shoulder so much of the burden?  I was guilty of this, especially since I thought I had done enough to say that my journey was over for the time being.  The anxiety was better, but the anger and other issues still remained.  I worked on my anxiety, but I did not work on myself and did not do enough self-reflection to elevate myself into a better life.

A lot of people face an issue (mental of physical) and only look at overcoming that obstacle.  What we don’t see is how we elevate ourselves even higher so we don’t have to continually face those same/similar obstacles in the future.  While not true for all mental health issues, there is still a lot to be said on working on yourself and your happiness in order to lessen the likelihood of suffering mental health setbacks.  This doesn’t mean having rose-colored glasses or being happy every single second of the day like some cartoon character, but it does mean working on basic things in order to improve your daily life.  For me, that skill is mindfulness.  I know, I know, that is the “in” word right now; from yoga to meditation, we all think of mindfulness as some weird Buddhist/guru jargon for hipsters.  But it is more than that.  Slowing down your thoughts and allowing yourself to reflect on all your emotions, dreams, goals, and whatever details that pop into your brain really allow you to focus on those things and not let them build up.

We have enough stress in our lives.  Personally, I am dealing with my mental health issues (anxiety AND depression) along with two family situations that only add to the two mental health issues listed earlier.  And that isn’t counting the daily stresses of life – job, house, dog, chores, finances, etc.  Without reflecting and allowing myself to feel these emotions, I would build up quicker than a snowball falling down a mountain.  And if we just go through our daily lives with our heads down, without focus, and without reflecting, we lose sight of our dreams and goals.  We start to take things for granted and even get cynical and negative.  The stress eats away at our true self and you are left with someone who can only get through the day, not someone who looks forward to tomorrow.

Even if you do not battle diagnosable mental health issues, I would recommend looking into some sort of reflection/mindfulness.  We all have times when we get stressed to an unhealthy level, we all get anxious and/or depressed, but many of us still do not know how to work through those tough times.  Eventually we get through them (and if you don’t feel like you can, please reach out to a loved one, a doctor, a hotline, or even 911), but being proactive and being able to have a good foundation for when times do get tough is key.  Mindfulness doesn’t have to just be for stress or dealing with negative emotions/feelings, you can be mindful of the happy things, too.  One of my favorite things to do is a mindfulness exercise where I listen to an album and concentrate on *only* that music.  Listening to the intricate sounds of my favorite music while tuning out the rest of my mind/world is cathartic.  It is my happy place.

So this May – mental health awareness month – let’s make a commitment to ourselves, to those around us, and to each other that we re-evaluate our journey.  Let’s be more proactive and get to a place better than normal, somewhere we truly want to be living, not just surviving and getting by.

*Edit: No more than one day after I wrote this draft (4/27), I see a link to THIS ARTICLE on Google News.  The title is “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Can Reduce Chances Of Depression Relapse”.  Talk about serendipity.*

If you have questions about mental health, want to donate, or need additional resources, please click THIS LINK.

Also, if you are suffering from any type of crisis and live in a household where someone is employed and has an Employee Assistance Program, I urge you to call that number.  Those programs are designed to help you in a multitude of ways – mental health being just one small piece.  My program offered me 3 free sessions with a licensed therapist for the situation I was facing.


Life Is Like A Blog…

Life is like a blog; everyone has the ability to write their own.  However, we often forget this lesson and we do things that derail our own story and hurt others along the way.

We sometimes look at other people’s lives/blogs and wish that we could write for them.  We either wish that we had what they have or that they could be more like us.  But it is not our experience that someone else wants to live, they have their own blog/life to write.  This does not mean that you cannot make appearances in their life/blog, or even play a critical role, but just remember to not take away their unique voice.

I know that giving up that control is hard.  The closer you get to someone, the more you want to protect them and the more you want to share with them.  Trusting that they want to share with you takes time and may even hurt a little along the way (no one is perfect, them or you).  I know just how hard this is, because I am working on trying to write for myself, while giving up control and trying to only support instead of write for others.

It is crucial to understand this: Only write for someone else with their full permission.  And even then, try to offer more of a supportive role and let them use their voice.

The other piece that can also derail us in our life/blog is forgetting to write.  We either get overwhelmed with daily tasks, stresses, or lose our drive in some other manner.  Maybe we let someone write/live for us because it is easier or we are scared.  No matter the reason for your absence, make it a focus to write/live (even if it only for yourself).  Without goals, without focus, and without you speaking up for yourself, your story will not be one that you control.  Do you really want to live/blog someone else’s story?

Another crucial point: I am not recommending focusing solely on yourself.  Inviting others to share in your story, to offer their commentary, and learn from their experience can add more growth than staying solo.  Maybe even decide to start a blog/life where you co-write a story while still maintaining your own blog/life.

I know that this seems obvious and even a little preachy.  But the fact is that I am writing this as a lesson I have had to learn, and one that I am reminding myself to follow.  Sometimes we lose focus on what is important and how we affect those around us.  We also forget that we have the chance to write for ourselves, and even share our triumphs and struggles, so that others may learn (or empathize) along the way.

Temporarily Closed For Repairs…

(see title)

A New Season Takes Flight – Balls 512-522 (February 20, 2016)

Kansas City Royals / Texas Rangers – Chicago White Sox / Los Angeles Dodgers

Surprise Stadium & Camelback Ranch – Surprise & Glendale, AZ

February 20, 2016

Well this is a first… I DIDN’T drive all the way to a stadium!  I actually flew, on a real life aeroplane; one of them metal sky-beasties.  I also lived to tell about it, so here it goes…

Why Arizona? Don’t you normally go to Florida?

Second question first, “yes”.  I have made it a habit to attend spring training in Florida for the past few seasons – this will be the season which that streak stops.  I chose Arizona (really, it chose me) because I was on a business trip in Las Vegas from Tuesday night until mid-day Friday.  I then decided I was “Leaving Las Vegas” and hitting up some spring training workouts and a hockey game.

Would you like to see some pictures from the trip before the baseball portion started?  Too bad, because I’m showing them anyway…



Vegan food and vinyl shopping.


The faux-Frenchy.


Siegfried and Roy and Tony the Tiger.

Hoover Dam…



Grand Canyon…


A view from the drive out to the hole in the ground.


Said “hole in the ground.”


Another photo of a hole (this time a river makes a guest appearance).


Ansel Adams rip-off.



Ball #1:


First stop: Surprise Stadium

Gates were posted as opening at 10, I got there before 9, and they were opened up around 9:30 or so.  At about 9 the Rangers took BP and some balls flew over the fence.

Be warned: Those old guys on bikes are vicious.  Pretty much a “no rules” type of atmosphere.  I was expecting chilled/laid back, but a couple balls later I was nearly assaulted for a BP spring training HR (that I had my hand on first, and only 3 other people were there for balls).  Some choice words were thrown at me and between the fact that none of the balls were AZ commemorative balls and I don;t want to fight, I walked inside after the gates opened.  My ball total could have been much higher, but I am not a fan of bleeding for it.

Ball #2:


Another BP homer.  As the fence only had a couple of holes to see through and the list of players was rather long, I have no clue who hit these.

Ball #3:


And yes, that is a 23″ glove I’m wearing.  It got some attention and I used it for a photo prop (not regular use).

Ball #4:


Enough of that business.  I’m going inside the training area.

A coach told me that none of the Rangers BP balls had the new AZ spring training logo, only the pitchers were using those balls (and in his words, they were “gamers”)…

Ball #5:


So I went to the pitchers mounds and waited patiently, then told a coach I was looking for one.  He was super nice and tossed me this beauty.  No lies, the first Rangers coach was telling the truth; mud-rubbed and looking like something that was ready for a spring training game.

Bonus Ball:


There were college games going on around all the fields in Arizona, and this particular day was a match-up featuring the University of Minnesota!  I traveled all that way to see a local team after all.  This ball was just laying against the fence in the pitchers’ area.

Ball #6:


Another coach with a toss.  This time a catching coach.  “It’s a beaut, Clark!  It’s a beaut!

Those commemoratives are awesome.  I’m just bummed I don’t have the FL version… but not too bummed.


Ball #7:


By about 10:30 things were nearly done.  People were leaving the Rangers’ side and only a few catchers remained before the boot was given to fans.  Good news, though…

Ball #8:


The Royals’ side was open!  And they were still taking BP (or rather, they took BP late).  This was a toss-up over the wall by Lorenzo Cain (who appreciated the big glove).

Ball #9:


Luck.  Luck.  Pure luck.  My first ever Postseason ball.  This ball was nicely mud-rubbed and in pretty perfect “gamer” condition.  All the dead leaves and brown rock made this ball blend in perfectly behind a fence.  Luckily for me the ball was only a couple feet on the other side of the fence.  So I dug a small hole and put my arm under to grab this shocker-of-a-ball.



Over to Camelback Ranch we go…

Ball #10:


Not a single player spotted, other than the college teams playing in the big stadium.  I still wandered around a little and tried to spot a ball or two.  The one pictured above was found in a golf cart parked by the stadium, which was left recklessly abandoned.

Ball #11:


The last of the day/trip and the ugliest I’ve received that I could still positively identify as an OMLB.  The blue printing can still slightly be made out with “OFFICIAL” and other key letters that make this the worst looking ball in the collection.

I would normally go to “The Haul” now, but the night in sports is not over…


I went to the Arizona Coyotes game and brought the glove.  Who knows if it will catch anything, but maybe it’ll stick out enough in my seats ont he glass to make it worth it…


Called it!  A practice puck tossed over the glass by the man in charge of the pucks.  Thank you, random Coyotes worker!


A closer look.


The seats.  No zoom.  I was separated from being a Coyote by a quarter-inch of plexiglass.  I’ve never been so close to the action.  Some of the sight-lines were poor (both corners on the side of the ice closest to me), but the experience made up for it.

The Haul:



This is the first “not on location” video, because of a few things:

  1. I forgot
  2. Multiple locations meant I didn’t know my final total
  3. No games were played (minus a hockey game)

Thank You

  • Rangers hitters – for the first 4 balls
  • Rangers coach – who told me where the commemoratives were
  • Rangers pitching coach – for the first commem
  • Rangers catching coach – for the second commem
  • Lorenzo Cain – for the third commem
  • Royals workers – for not picking up the Postseason ball
  • Royals – for using a Postseason ball
  • Camelback Ranch golf cart – for tossing me ball number 10
  • White Sox grounds crew member – for tossing me the final ball
  • Coyotes worker – for the puck
  • Coyotes – for the experience

BallhawkFest Coming to Target Field in 2016 (Official or Unofficial, It Doesn’t Matter)

As the majority of my readers are already part of the “ballhawking community” and frequent MyGameBalls, this will not be considered new news.  However, those who are not familiar, let me give you a quick run-down and then details regarding the news in the title.


Every year since 2011, a group of ballhawks (no matter the skill) come together at a single game to form “BallhawkFest”.  Since there is a high concentration of people AND stadiums, the east coast has held the official “Ballhawking All-Star Game” every year.

Some folks, like myself, who are based somewhere not found in the original 13 colonies, get pretty bummed about missing it every year.  The demand for it to be located *insert new stadium here* has been overwhelming and the effort that goes towards planning must be a burden.  So this year (MGB’s webmaster) Alan has come up with an Olympic-like system to take submissions from numerous locations and then decide where it will be held in 2016.

While I am confident in Minnesota’s bid, I also do not want to have it all be for naught.  That is why I am proposing this bid for both the official BhF and as an unofficial BhF.  If Target Field wins, great.  If we lose out, dang, at least we’ll still be having everything that makes a BallhawkFest.

(Alan: Please know that this is NOT in anyway my attempt at forcing Target Field to be 2016’s official Fest home.  I have found the whole proposal stage rather fun and I just don’t want it to be for nothing.  Either way, I just want to have a fun experience for the MN/Midwest folks that share my love of baseball.)


Stadium:  Target Field

Date:  Saturday, July 30, 2016

Activities:  Home Run Derby, Lunch, Twins Game


Home Run Derby:  Parade Stadium (400 Kenwood Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55403) (conditional based on permit)

Late Lunch/Early Dinner:  Pizza Luce (119 N 4th St, Minneapolis, MN 55401)

Baseball Game:  Target Field (1 Twins Way, Minneapolis, MN 55403)

Opponents:  Twins vs. White Sox


Home Run Derby:  10/11 am (depends on the permit)

Lunch:  1 pm

Game:  6:10 pm (gates open at 4 pm, podcast recording starts about an hour before that)

T-Shirt Design:

Imagine a design like the Minnie and Paul logos below, but instead of Minnesota Twins, it would say “BallhawkFest”, and instead of “M” & “STP” there would be “20” & “16”.

Minnie Paul 2

Minnie Paul 1

Keeping up with tradition, the name and ball total will be on the back.  I’d like to get baseball-style tees via a place like customink.com.  The estimate for a shirt like this would be $25.


I have some feelers out there, but if you are living in the Minneapolis area or are a local company that would like to help us, please feel free to contact me (leave a comment or contact me via Twitter).

Marketing Strategies:

In addition to this blog, the podcast (At the Gates), and numerous other MN ballhawks’ Twitter and blogs, I have set up an account for BallhawkFest in general (from here going forward).

Follow BallhawkFest on Twitter and Instagram.  This is not just for the MN campaign, but a way for whoever is in charge of the current year’s fest to give out info and celebrate their gathering.  Once it is revealed who won the 2016 bid, the event coordinator will take over those accounts and be able to promote as necessary.

Why Target Field?

Last, but not least, in order to cover Alan’s criteria and give potential attendees a reason to show up, I’ll list a few reasons why you should come to Target Field on July 30th…

  • The weather – July in MN is beautiful
  • The locations – all three (Derby, Lunch, Game) are centrally located and easy to get to
  • The Twins/Target Field
    • Improved quality on the field
    • Max attendance of 40,000 (though in it’s 7th season, attendance has plateaued around 30-35K on summer weekends)
    • Legitimate ballhawk community (we have a core and are happy to help)
    • Still a shiny, new stadium – maybe you haven’t been here yet, now you can cross it off the list!
    • It’s not Citi Field or Yankee Stadium – I can think of a few places less ballhawk friendly, and one of them has already hosted a Fest
    • Twins players – some of the most friendly in baseball
    • White Sox are in town – not a bad group for BP
    • Repeat: White Sox are in town – come on up, Chicagoans!

Thanks for listening to the pitch.  I have a good core of people who are interested and who have said would attend.  To those folks I say: Either way, it’s a go!  Be ready to have some fun!

If you have any questions or want even more info or want to propose any additional things, comment below or contact me via any other desired avenue.

TwinsFest 2016 – Plouffe’s Personal Elevator

Minnesota Twins – TwinsFest 2016

Target Field – Minneapolis, MN

January 29, 2016

The title will be explained in due time.  But for now, let’s kick things off with the podcast plug and then from the beginning.

As this was not a normal episode (in MANY ways), I decided to not give it the proper numbering.  This will be a “bonus show” – one to kick off the season, introduce a newer sound, and to cover what was missed since the end of the Twins 2015 season.



I admit it.  I got there a bit early, but not as early as others.  I was pleased with my spot in line, considering I had a half-day of work to put in and some errands to run before I could get to the field.  If we revisit the “At The Gates” debate, another reason why giving it a proper episode number would be due to the fact that it wasn’t recorded at the gates (but inside the stadium) and I was never at a real gate to begin with.  The skyway between “Ramp A” and Target Field was my home.

Here’s a view of the line at about 3:30 (gates opened at 4):


Once inside the stadium I went to the…

Yard Sale:

Normally the Twins have put a TON of game used stuff from Spring Training (from the previous year) and other left-overs up for sale.  This year?  Not so much.  The majority was give-away/bobblehead-related and very limited jersey (a few used, but by guys that no longer take a spot in the Twins organization).  I was still able to come across a few things I “just had to have”.

The give-away things from games I didn’t attend:


The All-Star Game tickets already framed:


A couple rather large posters (3′ x 2′ or so)… autographed:



Those posters were only $20.  Torii’s signature at TwinsFest was going for more than that.  So it wasn’t a bad pick-up (nor a bad way to avoid the long autograph line).

As for Trevor Plouffe…

The Plouffe Gang:

I met some people while I waited outside Trevor Plouffe’s autograph line.  I was hoping to say a quick hello after he signed, but to my pleasant surprise, I met a couple cool people.  Now, as you may know, I am a large supporter Trevor – this goes without saying really, just look at the name of the blog.  I’ve even run across his mother on Twitter.  We’ve said hello a few times via that medium, but never met…

Until now.  After just getting there before Trevor finished signing, Trevor’s mom and sister walked up and also waited for him.  I kind of recognized his mother from her Twitter picture, but I wasn’t 100% sure (nor did I want to be creepy).  She was the braver one and asked if I was Tony.

Yep.  Guilty.  I am Tony.  I am the random dude who writes a blog 60% dedicated to catching baseballs… I’m embarrassed.  But then a funny thing happened, both of the Plouffes were incredibly nice and we had shared a nice conversation until Trevor came out to greet everyone.  It’s easy to see why Trevor is so fan-friendly, he’s got a great family who supports him and who made him into who we see off the field.

So if you are reading this D and/or P.  Thank you.  Thanks for reading and even more so, thanks for talking.  If we cross paths again, be sure to say hello.

Exploring/Regathering the Gang:

Paul (my cohort at Target Field, who is featured in the podcast) and I met up and talked as he waited in line for J.O. Berrios’ autograph.  I explored and wandered as the line was slowly snaking, bobbing my head in and out to say hello to Paul.

I even took a photo of Larry Hisle’s oversized baseball card:


Larry and his son run a business called “The Hit Syndicate”.  They are still operating out of the Midwest and focus on making grips and bats.  I really hope to meet them when they come to Target Field.  I’ve even put a little bug in their ear to guest on the podcast.  Fingers crossed.

Also in all of the hoopla and runaround, I snapped a photo of the field itself:


(It was probably taken before the Hisle photo, but oh well.  I’m not going to go back and rewrite things.  Sue me, it’s late.)

The Elevator Story:

Now the “main event”…

Shortly after adding Mateo into the fold, we were stuck trying to get down to floor -2 (yep, NEGATIVE TWO).  Moral of the story: don’t listen to Paul.  But why is this important?  Because it led us back on the 3rd floor (the top of the activities).  We were waiting for an elevator, for a longer time than we wanted (which makes sense why we tried to walk down first).  Then from behind come the 2016 All-Star Third baseman, Trevor Plouffe.  He makes his way to the elevator, bypassing the lines under security’s order (not uncommon, no unwarranted… they have places to be, schedules to hold).  No big thing.  Then he gets in the elevator, which showed up at the perfect time for him, and the elevator attendant waved him in and told people only he was going down.

This is when you could tell he felt bad and was a little weird.  He seemed to not mind if others got on with him, but the lady in the elevator wasn’t even going to leave that open for discussion.  There were some lighthearted murmurs and puzzled looks, and I may have even given him a “See you later, Mr. Big Time”, but that’s how Trevor Plouffe got his own personal elevator.

I then joked to Mateo and Paul that I was going to rename the blog to something like “Plouffe’s Private Elevator” or something of the nature.  We even conspired to keep this whole story a secret and just make it an inside joke when I decided to rename the blog.  But since it was leaked a little on the podcast, I had to spill the beans.  Plus, the story was just too good.

The Podcast:

After finally getting down to -2 and getting Paul his Kurt Suzuki autograph, we did some light wandering again and finally settled in a less noisey area passed Champions Club and even further down from the Twins locker room.  The place was a concrete podcast heaven.  Only a light stream of walkers and cooped up vending booths kept us from being alone.  As for the show?  Scroll up to the top and listen.


Search for “At the Gates Podcast” and look for a goofy picture of me in the red MLB t-shirt.  Then subscribe and maybe give it a 6-star rating (if not six, I’ll settle for 5).

The End.

Grand Opening – The Herbivorous Butcher – Minneapolis, MN

Congratulations to the Walch siblings – Aubry and Kale – for opening their brand new brick and mortar store in Northeast Minneapolis.  The store is the very first of its kind… a vegan butcher shop.

When some people hear “vegan butcher” they have certain preconceived notions.  I cannot help this, nor will those people probably listen to any argument/clarification anyone else could give.  But let me say this, after seeing this shop firsthand, I can confirm: The Herbivorous Butcher feels like and operates like an authentic butcher.

I haven’t always been vegan – this is my 3rd year in which I comply by these moral and dietary guidelines – and in a previous chapter of my life, I even worked in a couple meat departments at grocery stores.  I witnessed firsthand the “butcher atmosphere” and all the little touches that went into this industry.  The Walch duo and their great staff upheld many of these traditions, minus one – no being died to create any of the goods sold.

A long wait

The idea of a vegan meat shop is one that I cannot take credit for, nor can I detail in this blog.  The siblings who thought of the idea have been interviewed and the answers are scattered across the interwebs.  With that said, I can share one thing, upon hearing about their idea via Kickstarter, my wife and I decided to donate/invest.  I bought my wife a shirt in November 2014, knowing that it would at least be many months until they opened their shop.

Due to the intricacies that go into building an establishment that serves food, the project took a little longer than hoped, but on Saturday, January 23, 2016, the wait ended.  Or rather, it just began.

I have frequented many of the pop-up shops that helped fund and give new ideas to the butcher team – often picking up a jerky snack to go along with whatever “main course meat substitute” we wanted.  But the tricky part with all of those farmers markets and rotunda shops was the limited space and small quantities available.  Hey, they were doing their best, but the demand coupled with a small work space to create the treats meant the inevitable “SOLD OUT” sign.

We knew (with help from Facebook, Twitter, and other media outlets) that the grand opening would be no different.  But this time the wait was something else, something that felt bigger and better than just picking up food for the next week or so.  This was celebration of two people causing their dream to become a reality and celebrating like-minded people who honestly believe that they are making the world at least a tiny fraction of a percent better.

The wait was close to 2 hours.

Good news: We acquired all our stomachs had hoped for, plus we got to be part of something bigger.

The view

Truth be told, this place is trendy and vintage.  Like I said before, it has the feel of a real butcher.

Here are some of the touches in visual form:


And here is my wife (Jael) and the dynamic duo that gave life to this vegan dream (Aubry and Kale Walch):


Lastly, here is my little, fluffy “daughter” (Evelyn) getting in on the action once we came back home:



Yep, there are even vegan goodies for puppies at the store.  Not all products sold are made by the Walch gang (they have some other local and national products – caramels, dog treats, salsas, vegan eggs, etc.), but all the meat and cheese sold is made by them.


So there it is.  A happy family, enjoying some food made out of love for every being on the planet.  The secret ingredient to their meat (and their business) is truly love… and compassion.  Lots of compassion.

Thank you, Aubry and Kale.  Sincerely, thank you.

A Full 2016… (Baseball Plans and Trips)

It is only January, but my appetite for baseball is still ginormous.  I guess three months away from the game combined with a few weeks until pitchers and catchers reporting will do that to a fanatic.

Since my longing for baseball can be compared to the appetite of a professional competitive eater, I have come up with a few trips that are more than likely going to happen.  I’ll still be attending a dozen or so Twins games at Target Field, but my desire to cross off every team’s stadium from my list is at an all-time high.

Trip #1: Cactus League

You read that correctly.  I have attended Spring Training for the past four years, but only in Florida.  I still would love to extend that Florida streak, but due to the price of the following trips and work commitments, that want is probably going to stay a bud never to bloom.

So why the Cactus League?  Simple.  I have a work trip that will be taking me to Vegas for a few days.  I realized that teams will already have players reporting by then, so I might as well view some workouts and *hopefully* score one of those sweet new Spring Training baseballs.

AZ Ball

FL Ball

I am hoping that a Twin can help me out with the FL version, but above all, I am really hoping that the workouts include these new balls.  Since I will be arriving before games start, this form of ballhawking is completely new to me.  Wish me luck.

(I plan on seeing Surprise Stadium – Rangers/Royals – and Camelback Ranch – Dodgers/White Sox.)

Side note: While I am down there I will also be attending an Arizona Coyotes hockey game (against the St. Louis Blues).  I’m pretty pumped to be able to enjoy my two favorite sports… and escape the well below freezing temps.

Trip #2: California

I have a week set aside in late May/early June and as long as our work schedules allow us, my wife and I will be California-bound (for the first time in either of our lives).  While out on the “Best Coast”, I plan on visiting O.co Coliseum, Angel Stadium, Petco Park, and Dodger Stadium (in that order).  You have no clue how excited I am to be doing this trip.

The only down side?  Not being able to cross off AT&T from the list.  Stupid San Francisco Giants don’t play the week I’m out there (let alone within a few days of us arriving/leaving – probably their longest road trip of the season).

The Athletics will be facing the Twins for the game I will more than likely attend, so this also has me jacked.  If schedules align, maybe I will even see “the Pride of O.co/Oakland Coliseum,” Nick Badders.  Think I should have him on as a guest for At the Gates?

The other three match-ups are Angels/Tigers, Padres/Mariners, and Dodgers/Braves.  Not exactly marquee match-ups, but this is a good thing, since it’ll help my wallet (and chances of getting some baseballs).

Trip #3: Atlanta

Not sure when this will take place, but it WILL take place.  My co-conspirator, Paul Kom, and I will have to compare schedules and line it up with the Braves’.  Who knows, maybe a bonus stadium of Cincinnati or St. Louis, too?  Again, all these factors rely on numerous schedules, but should happen at some point in 2016 (preferably earlier).

PS: Any idea if there is a commemorative baseball (and what it will look like)?

Trip #4: Chicago

Still in the infancy of planning, but the 100th season of the Cubs at Wrigley means that a commemorative is likely.  This also means that I will try for one of these – it would look nice sitting next to my Wrigley 100th from 2014.  I’m guessing Larry Larson will make the push to get me out there.  Again, if schedules align, maybe I can cross U.S. Cellular off my ballhawking list (I attended a game there in 2011, but wasn’t ballhawking full-time yet).


So there it is.  My busy baseball season.  If all goes well with my flight to Las Vegas I will probably be flying out to California.  This means my “road trip and baseball” marriage is not exclusive.  I would love that because it would open up doors to travel more (and obviously quicker) to baseball and non-baseball destinations.  But we’ll see how the anxiety treats me.  Wish me luck and many positive vibes.

Total stadiums planned: SIX MLB and TWO Cactus League (potentially increasing to EIGHT MLB stadiums, depending on additional stops to/from Atlanta/Chicago)

New Stadiums Gained: FIVE-SEVEN MLB and TWO Cactus League

2016 Hall of Fame – My Ballot and a Mock Discussion

Let’s rip the band-aid off.  My ballot would be as follows:

  • Bagwell, Jeff
  • Bonds, Barry
  • Clemens, Roger
  • Griffey, Ken (Jr.)
  • Martinez, Edgar
  • McGriff, Fred
  • Mussina, Mike
  • Piazza, Mike
  • Trammell, Alan
  • Walker, Larry

Besides the steroids, which I will address in the form of a long “mock discussion” later, you will notice Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker (and even Fred McGriff) all made the list.  These guys have HoF numbers, but for some reasons pointed out by other voters, they’re often left off ballots.  Why?  Here are their mock discussions…


Fred McGriff

“He played int he steroid era and we just don’t know.”

Right… And?

“His numbers are good, and though he has never been linked to steroids, he hit home runs and that’s a sign of juicing.”

But can’t you say the same about Biggio, Puckett, and other guys from the 90s?

“Yes, but then again, his overall numbers do not compare to the best of the best during that era.”

You mean the guys taking the steroids?

“Oh, ummm, yeah.”

So maybe he was Griffey-esque, built his résumé on a good swing and not on steroids.  His numbers were more like the pinnacle of clean achievement?


Larry Walker

“He played the majority of his career at the hitter friendly Coors Field.”

And did Major League Baseball allow Denver to have a team, build that stadium, and field a team?


And if Colorado needed to field a team, why should they be exempt from having a Hall of Famer?

“Because he played in the pre-humidor era.  Balls travel further and the scores show that offense is increased there.”

Correct, but are we talking about a guy who only played at home or a guy who still had to play on the road, had to lead his team in offensive categories, and still had to figure out Coors.

“Well, he did do all of that, but there is no way we can isolate his numbers to strip out the Coors-bump.”

And did you do this for all of the left-handed Yankees sluggers with a short porch in right?  Do we punish a guy for his surroundings now, or do we reward him for flourishing in his elements?  We aren’t talking about a Brian Raabe coming in and having one great season while barely cracking a roster elsewhere.

[Author’s note: Sorry, Coach Raabe – my former high school coach – but you were the first name I could think of and I still think it’s amazing you even got to step on a Major League field.  You can attest to not becoming the next Larry Walker for just playing at Coors, though, right?]


Edgar Martinez

“He was a designated hitter.  He didn’t play a complete game.”

But, again, Major League Baseball decided those rules, correct?


So why hold that against him?  Was he not the best at that official position?

“He was, but those numbers could have changed if he was playing defense and wearing his body down like other guys.”

Possibly, but we cannot speak to conjecture, can we?  Do you punish pitchers for not being good hitters in the National League or never even batting int he American League?  They are not fully-rounded athletes like you wanted in your argument.


But you think the designated hitter rule is silly.  I get it.  the rules are not even across the league, and if you have a problem with that you have a problem with the MLB, not with those who play the position.While the Hall is always used to compare players against each other, it is more so used to showcase the best of the entire sport.  That sport has a designated hitter and the best of that position should be highlighted.  If we only allowed players who are better than those who are already in the Hall, we could argue that no one would be admitted after someone like Babe Ruth/Hank Aaron/Ken Griffey, Jr.


STEROIDS – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and many future names to come

Young Kid at the Hall of Fame: “Where is the Home Run King?  What about the members of the 3000 hit club?  How about those pitchers with over 300 wins and that guy who has the third most strikeouts?”

Old Guy at the Hall of Fame: “Kid, we left those guys out because they cheated in the game of baseball.  They committed the worst things thinkable in the game and tarnished its name.”

Kid: “So why didn’t they get kicked out and punished when it happened?”

Old Guy: “Umm, ahhh… We didn’t know at the time.” (Which is a lie, look at the photos and hear the rumblings of steroids in wrestling, body-building, and Hollywood.)

Kid: “But what they did was against the rules?”

Old Guy: “Nope, it was against the law.”

Kid: “Wait, it *wasn’t* against the rules?”

Old Guy: “No, there were no rules against it, but we made some after the fact.  The point is that they still cheated and broke the law.”

Kid: “So did they get in trouble with the law?  Didn’t they go to jail?”

Old Guy: “No.”

Kid: “So I’m confused, they didn’t break the rules of the game at the time, didn’t get in trouble with the police, and never really had proof they did do the things described, but they still aren’t allowed in the Hall of Fame?”

Old Guy: “Well, no.  They shouldn’t be allowed because we are pretty sure they broke the unwritten rules of baseball and found ways of beating other guys out of jobs and breaking sacred records.”

Kid: “So everyone else in the Hall is clean and followed the rules?”

Old Guy: “Errrr, ummm, well… Many of these guys are great men who played the game right.  They did things other players just couldn’t.  Rules change and I’m sure there are some who weren;t classy, acted like jerks, weren’t nice, or did other things poorly, but they got their numbers the right way.”

Kid: “Okaaaaay…”

Kid: “Oooohh!!  Who is that?!  He looks old… Cap… Anson?”  (Known racist and reason why owners agreed to enforce a color barrier in the game of baseball.)

Old Guy: *turns red* “Why don’t we look over here…”

Kid: “TY COBB!!  He must have been a cool guy.  Think he was a good man?”

Old Guy: *shakes head* “Let’s look at my childhood.  How about Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson…”

Old Guy: *mumbling under his breathe while turned away* “Don’t mention greenies, alcohol problems, or being a huge jerk, kid.”

December 31: Top Ten Albums of 2015

Top Ten Albums of 2015:

December 31 1

  1. “The Powers That B” by Death Grips

A double album that had its first half leak in 2014 (by the band) and a meme-ish cry for its second half with “Jenny Death when?”.  I didn’t fully appreciate the first batch of songs until the entire thing was released together… then I LOVED it all.  The styles from disc one to disc two are nowhere near the same, which only makes the two sides stronger.  PLus, I finally got to see my favorite drummer (Zach Hill) perform with the band/group when they came through this summer.  AMAZING.

Stand-out track: Inanimate Sensation 

  1. “Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit” by Courtney Barnett

Though her style of music is not new, Courtney’s take on the everyday life while exploring various genres of “guitar-music” was a needed breath of fresh air.

Stand-out track: Dead Fox

  1. “Positive Songs For Negative People” by Frank Turner

Frank has yet to disappoint me with an album.  There are a few songs that don’t hit me with full force here and there, but with this LP Frank added a couple tracks to his list of “truly great songs”.

Stand-out track(s): Silent Key and Song For Josh (warning: Song For Josh is heavy and may make you emotional)

  1. “White Men Are Black Men Too” by Young Fathers

New to the Young Fathers’ game, I was hooked with “Shame” and then bought a great album from front to back.  I love when artists can mold their own sound and play with numerous genres (see Death Grips and even Courtney Barnett).

Stand-out track: Shame

  1. “Faith In the Future” by Craig Finn

At this point, I wouldn’t mind if Craig solo output became his focus  With the decline in my love for The Hold Steady, Craig’s two solo efforts have been the fix I need for his storytelling and unique voice.  This LP plays it straight, but the soundscape fits both the narrative and Craig’s maturity perfectly.

Stand-out track: Saint Peter Upside Down

  1. “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” by Titus Andronicus

I knew that I liked a few songs from the beginning, but a double album can sometimes be challenging, especially when incorporating it with a five act play.  After giving it a few tries, focusing more and more on a new track or two each time, it finally clicked (after about 6-8 spins).  While I still cannot say it is a perfect play, the album as a whole is definitely layered and flows nicely.  (PS: The overall feeling and underlying story about mental illness is portrayed quite well.)

Stand-out track: I’m Going Insane (Finish Him)

  1. “The Magic Whip” by Blur

It’s nice to see Blur back and not just releasing a cash grab (best-of with “two new tracks!” or a new album of songs that didn’t make the cut on previous albums).  While this is still the same Blur you knew and loved from the 90s (and early 2000s), they have matured and taken this album into a newer world – every album in their catalog has had this changing of gears.

Stand-out track: New World Towers

  1. “Endless Voids” by Dead Neanderthals

My love of Dead Neanderthals has been professed profusely on Twitter and Instagram over the past year.  I was a little too late in the game to make Prime a top ten album last year (though it has since been included retroactively), but this year I faced a different problem.  Dead Neanderthals released TWO albums (and collaborated, but you’ll read #9 soon enough) and left me wondering which is better and will they both make the top ten?  I honestly do not know if I have made the right decision here and because the 8-15 spots this year were so damn close, I don’t know that I’ve celebrated their output enough.  AHHHH!!!

Stand-out track: Endless Voids

  1. “Sluimer” by Fantoom

As mentioned in the review above (#8), here we have Dead Neanderthals collaborating with Dirk Serries and Martina Verhoeven.  I will not pump up the Dead Neanderthals in this review (though they were great), it was Martina’s bass that really stole the show in my opinion.  The entire track is just spooky, eerie, and oddly relaxing – think a well-underplayed horror film soundtrack.

Stand-out track: Sluimer

  1. “The Epic” by Kamasi Washington

Already having 3 double albums on the list, you’d call me crazy if I were to suggest an even longer story, right?  Well, Kamasi had to do the crazy thing here and release a TRIPLE album!  Not only is the album named “The Epic”, but it actually lives up to the self-proclamation.  Kamasi produces both a fitting tribute to the greats before him while declaring himself a great in his own right – the perfect way to give tribute without being a “tribute album”.  Be warned, this journey is three hours long, should you choose to take the voyage.

Stand-out track: Askim

But wait, there’s more…

December 31 2

11.  “Worship The Sun” by Dead Neanderthals

Dead Neanderthals impress me with a classic sounding free jazz album.

12.  “i’ve always been good at true love” by the i.l.y’s

Zach Hill’s pet project that was released freely. (you’re welcome)

13.  “Mercury” by ZibraZibra

Originally released by The Supercollider back in 2010 on iTunes, Mercury was re-released by ZibraZibra this year.  The Supercollider was a project between ZibraZibra’s guitarist and singer, while the other guys in ZibraZibra were busy.  This disinction between new music/re-release was made fuzzy and made me question how I handled it at year-end review.  As you can see, I included it.

14.  “Kannon” by Sunn O)))

The only thing really dogging it in my mind is the length (just over 30 minutes).  I like my drone, and by that fact, Sunn O))), to be LONG – think hour or more.  This felt more like a warm-up or reintroduction, since it has been 6 years since Monoliths & Dimensions.

15.  “Ones and Sixes” by Low

I feel so stupid not listening to Low until this year.  I have an urge to go back into their catalog and devour it, but I instead have just been savoring this release.  (This has only been growing on me more and more, which means it could still keep moving up the charts after December 31, 2015.)

16.  “New Bermuda” by Deafheaven

This may take a while to fully appreciate or disseminate between hype and reality.  I love Sunbather, which this is not.  Having expectations and hype only hindered this release for me.  We’ll see if I ever get a clean slate and be able to take this album in without any other thoughts.

17.  “Vega Intl Night School” by Neon Indian

Some catchy, glossy, 80s synth-pop songs, but not a lot of depth/weight.  Get album to just chill to.

18.  “Zipper Down” by Eagles of Death Metal

Well know the popular/recent story surrounding these guys, but let’s shelve that.  This release is probably their best since their debut.  A little more maturity, but still a ton of fun.

19.  “Abyss” by Chelsea Wolfe

Dark.  Being a male/female shouldn’t matter, but being in the darker side of music (and related to the metal spectrum), it is nice to hear a female voice in the crowd.

20.  “Homeymoon” by Lana Del Rey

I was let down by her previous release, but I am happy to say I see this release as a step int he right direction.  This is stuck somewhere half-way between “Born to Die” and “Ultraviolence” with signs of Lana being able to jump into newer waters.

No, seriously, EVEN MORE!

December 31 3

21.  “Panic Stations” by Motion City Soundtrack

22.  “The Anthropocene Extinction” by Cattle Decapitation

23.  “Thank Your Lucky Stars” by Beach House

24.  “Dodge and Burn” by the Dead Weather

25.  “Momentary Masters” by Albert Hammond, Jr.

26.  “Divers” by Joanna Newsom

27.  “To Us, The Beautiful!” by Franz Nicolay

28.  “Drones” by Muse

29.  “All Hands” by Doomtree

30.  “The Color Before the Sun” by Coheed and Cambria

31.  “Kintsugi” by Death Cab for Cutie

32.  “Last of Our Kind” by the Darkness

33.  “Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz” by Miley Cyrus

This release is technically “ungraded” and remains sort of liquid.  i do not know if this release counts as an actual album or is more of a “mix tape” of sorts.  The instrumentation is done by the Flaming Lips (who I love and I love the music here), but that music is really just long sample or steams of tracks they have already released for the most part.  I absolutely love the fact that Miley doesn’t care about answering to anyone but herself, but outside of being a good warm-up for a real collab between her and the Lips, I don’t know what this is/does.


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