NL Gold Glove Snub

I was stunned to learn that Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds did not win the Gold Glove for National League secondbasemen. Instead, the award was given to Darwin Barney of the last place Chicago Cubs. (I know, I know, the team’s standings shouldn’t factor in, but just look at the MVP award and you’ll see that MVPs often play for winners.) Mind you, I’ve been slow to come around on Phillips. I’m not some Reds nut who’s rah-rah for his guys. Phillips’ on-field flakiness has often caused me to cringe and I’ve questioned his on-field demeanor and awareness many times—especially on the bases. However, watching him on TV and in person for the past three years has proven to me that he is, without a doubt, the best secondbaseman in baseball. He simply makes plays nobody else can make and his range is mind-boggling. Apparently, though, only stats matter to the managers and coaches who voted for the Gold Glove this year.

The Stats

Looking purely at the stats (below), Barney does seem like the better choice. With nearly 100 more chances, he made 3 fewer errors. Barney’s fielding percentage was .997 while Phillips’ was .992. However, statistics don’t always tell the whole story.

Defensive statistics for Brandon Phillips and Darwin Barney
Statistical comparison between Brandon Phillips and Darwin Barney

Going Beyond Statistics

Brandon Phillips has a knack for making unbelievable plays in great spots. He has saved the Reds from big innings countless times, often stretching the limits of physics to make the out that ends the inning. While you can never say for certain that runs would’ve been scored, it’s no stretch to surmise that Phillips easily saved the Reds 15 to 20 runs in 2012, which probably led to at least seven extra victories. Seven games can be the difference between a division title and especially a wild card slot.

Even when he wasn’t coming up with plays in big spots, he was still making ridiculous plays. Bare-handing double play feeds, ranging to his right beyond second, diving back-turned-to-the-infield to make over-the-shoulder catches and even throwing between his legs to make outs, Phillips has done everything a secondbaseman can do. To get a better idea of what I’m lamely trying to describe, just watch the video below.

Your Eyes Do Not Deceive

After watching this video, it should be obvious why Phillips is the best secondbaseman in baseball. And while Darwin Barney is still relatively young (and will certainly continue to evolve defensively), he is not even in the same class as Phillips. Of course, there’s nothing to be done now that the award has officially been mis-given, but at least you now know who the best secondbaseman is in baseball. Please feel free to pass this along so the rest of America can be duly educated.

—Ryan Varney


Why You Should Pay Me to Visit Your MLB Stadium

In a word: playoffs. Unlike Jim Mora, you should talk to me about playoffs. I visited only four major league baseball stadiums this season and guess how many of those teams made the playoffs…wait for it…that’s right, ALL four. What’s more is that only one of the teams was in first place when I attended a game. My hometown team, the Cincinnati Reds, was the only divisional leader at the time when I attended a game. San Francisco, Oakland and Detroit all moved into first place AFTER I watched them play. Sure, you could chalk it up to coincidence, but why take the chance? As a major league franchise, it’s no skin off your back to comp me a couple tickets, and the payoff could be huge. I was four for four this year in getting teams into the playoffs. I’d say that’s right up there with Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown. So next year, guarantee your playoff spot and send me a couple tickets to a game. I’m not asking for travel fare or a food stipend—just two tickets to your paradise. Let’s make some October magic together in 2013.

Cincinnati Reds and Great American Ball Park

Great American Ball ParkRosie Red at GABP

Pictured Left: Behind homeplate at GABP; Pictured Right: Rosie Red puts on a show

Living in Cincinnati, OH, I often attend games at Great American Ball Park (GABP). If you’ve never been to GABP before, I highly recommend getting to a game. There’s no more enjoyable an evening than sitting in the upper deck behind home plate on a warm summer night watching the sun set over the Ohio River. And if you happen to go on a Fireworks Friday, stick around for the show. Some cities have 4th of July fireworks that can’t match this display. Even if it’s not Fireworks Friday, the Reds generally put on a fireworks display of hitting in this homer-friendly ballpark. Plus you might even get your picture with baseball’s best pin-up girl mascot, Rosie Red (see author profile pic top right).

Detroit Tigers and Comerica Park

Comerica Park
Comerica Park Tiger StatuesComerica Park Ernie Harwell Statue

Pictured Top: Comerica Park; Pictured Bottom Left: Tiger Statues at Comerica Park; Pictured Bottom Right: Me basking in the glow of the Ernie Harwell Statue (seriously—his head his glowing)

Growing up near Detroit, I’ve been highly skeptical to return home for a Tiger game. I dearly loved old Tiger Stadium, and when Comerica Park replaced this legendary venue, I had a hard time moving on. Well, this year I finally made the trek up to see Comerica Park, and I’m glad I did. Comerica Park has its own charms: the myriad of tiger statues outside the stadium, the baseball Ferris wheel, the tiger-themed merry-go-round, and a whole host of great food options. My favorite thing about Comerica Park was the Ernie Harwell statue, a nice tribute to a great broadcaster and overall wonderful person. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Harwell on several occasions when he would visit with all of us at Paul Harvey’s office in Chicago. As a baseball-loving kid, I used to fall asleep to Harwell doing Tiger games every summer, and meeting him was quite a thrill. The Tigers were lucky to have such a gem of a human being bringing their team to life on the radio every night. RIP Mr. Harwell.

Oakland A’s and Coliseum ColiseumRyan at Coliseum

Pictured Left: Coliseum; Pictured Left: My wife and I at Coliseum

My initial thought upon entering Coliseum was, “Wow, this is the most boring stadium I’ve ever seen.” (Which is pretty much how I viewed the A’s – don’t hate me A’s fans.) However, one lap around the stadium gave me a whole new perspective. If you fancy yourself a beer connoisseur, and you like baseball, be sure to get yourself to a game at the Coliseum. Boasting over 15 different microbrews (plus the old stand-bys), if you can’t find a beer you like at Coliseum, you’d better check your palette. My only complaint? The souvenir shops don’t sell an A’s hat with the old elephant-balancing-on-a-baseball logo. For shame.

San Francisco Giants and AT&T Park

AT&T ParkLeftfield at AT&T Park

Pictured Left: AT&T Park; Pictured Right: Left field at AT&T park

AT&T Park is Great American Ball Park on steroids. Both stadiums have a great water view, only instead of the muddy Ohio River, Giant’s fans get to look out over the bay. Instead of barges passing, AT&T Park features giant ocean liners and freighters. From an outfield seat, both stadiums showcase their city’s skyline, (and no offense Cincinnati) but San Francisco’s skyline might be just a tad more inspiring. At&T Park also offers great food options like “giant” brats and Italian sausage and their world-famous garlic fries. Watching the sun set over the bay made AT&T Park the idyllic place to see a ballgame.

—Ryan Varney

Bacon on the Hoof

Wild Pigs Feeding on Marshmallows

While I was in New Orleans recently I took a swamp tour courtesy of Cajun Encounters. Most people take the swamp tour hoping to get a glimpse of man-eating alligators—though the only alligators I saw would’ve had trouble eating a gnome. However, I was fortunate enough to stumble across two wild pigs who dove right into the swamp water after the tour guide pelted them with a few large marshmallows. They just couldn’t wait to gobble the gooey goodness. Who knew pigs loved marshmallows? No wonder bacon is so darn fatty (and so tasty)!

Wild pigs eating marshmallowsWild pigs in a swamp near NOLA

NOLA Gumbo Challenge 2012

The Challenge

For my latest trip to New Orleans I was challenged to eat gumbo at every restaurant I visited. I took the bait. Given how much I love gumbo, it was truly an offer I could not refuse. So for those of you who also love this tasty little dish, here’s the lowdown. (Please excuse some of the blurry photography—in my excitement to get to eating, I may have lost a little control over my motor skills.)

Legend’s at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

Gumbo at Legends in Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport
Legend’s at MSY

I arrived in NOLA at 10:30 am and immediately started in on my mission. Legend’s was the only sit down restaurant serving food at that hour, so I began my challenge with a bowl of their sausage and chicken gumbo. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised by the tender and plentiful chunks of chicken and sausage, as well as the spicy kick. The sauce consistency was thicker than most gumbo I’ve eaten which made it more stew than soup. If you’re ever at MSY, and craving some gumbo, I’d recommend a bowl at Legend’s.

Pat O’Brien’s

Gumbo at Pat O'Briens in New Orleans
Pat O’Brien’s
624 Bourbon St.
New Orleans, LA 70130

Pat O’Brien’s is famous for their hurricanes, a very tasty adult beverage, which makes them a very touristy place to go in NOLA. However, despite being a tourist mecca, the gumbo at Pat O’Brien’s was probably the best I had on my trip. Rich and smoky, the sauce oozed the essence of Cajun cooking. Add in spicy andouille sausage and shredded chicken and this was a gumbo to offset any effects from too many hurricanes.

Pier 424 Seafood Market

Gumbo at Pier 424 Seafood Market in New Orleans
Pier 424 Seafood Market
424 Bourbon St.
New Orleans, LA 70112

Pier 424 Seafood Market sits amid the chaos that is Bourbon Street. Sitting outside on the second level deck, it was a great place to watch the drunken revelers stagger down Bourbon Street—while enjoying a nice cup o’ gumbo. Pier 424’s gumbo was eerily similar to Pat O’Brien’s gumbo in sauce flavor and texture, but theirs had the added bonus of baby shrimp thrown into the mix. (Well, duh, it’s called Pier 424 Seafood Market.) Still, given the choice, if you find yourself on Bourbon Street, I’d stagger a little further on down to Pat O’Brien’s.

The Original French Market Restaurant & Bar

Gumbo at he Original French Market Restaurant in New Orleans
The Original French Market Restaurant & Bar
1001 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA 70116

The Original French Market Restaurant & Bar prides itself on its long history in New Orleans. My experience there has certainly proven its stability. I was last in NOLA two years ago, and stumbled across this historical bar. I thought it would be fun to revisit old memories, so I made it a point to stop in this trip. It was like I never left. Upon entering, I found myself being served by the same waitress I had two years ago, while my drinks were poured by the same bartender. Deja vu. The food was the same, too—a good thing. Last trip, I did not have the gumbo, but obviously I had to try it this time. It did not disappoint. A little soupier than my previous bowls, the Original French Market Restaurant & Bar gumbo was still loaded with sausage, shrimp and crawfish. To enhance the flavor, every bowl is served with a full bay leaf, lending it an authentic Cajun flair.

Huck Finn’s

Gumbo at Huck Finn's in New Orleans
Huck Finn’s
135 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA 70130

Huck Finn’s is a fun little sports joint on the edge of the French Quarter. Tons of big screen TVs and sports memorabilia, yet somehow not your run-of-the-mill sports bar. The gumbo was good, but not great (though most of the food at Huck Finn’s is pretty darn good, generally speaking). Perhaps it was too much green onion or maybe a lack of rice, but the overall feel on the palette just seemed a little off. Still, the flavor was zesty from the nice chunks of hot peppers and the sausage was sliced extra thick. One other note: if you’re in the mood for a Bloody Mary while in New Orleans, definitely go to Huck Finn’s.

Fiorella’s Cafe

Gumbo at Fiorella's Cafe in New Orleans
Fiorella’s Cafe
45 French Market Pl.
New Orleans, LA 70116

Fiorella’s Cafe is known as a great place to get fried chicken in NOLA (and indeed it was outstanding), but the gumbo was a nice bonus. Served in a huge bowl and with a side of thick-sliced French bread, Fiorella’s gumbo was laden with chicken and sausage. The French bread was perfect for sopping up the excess sauce and tempering the spice. For me it was certainly a great way to cap off the gumbo challenge.

Conquering the Challenge

Sadly, my gumbo-fest had to come to an end. However, I am quite pleased to have eaten six bowls on my trip. I would’ve eaten more, but several restaurants I ate at did not serve gumbo. (To those restaurants I say, “C’mon man. You’re in NOLA for Saints sake.”) Perhaps my only regret was not tampering with the gumbo by adding some of the many hot sauces provided. As a guy who enjoys spicy food, I do wonder if adding some extra kick would’ve enhanced some of the gumbos. As a side note, I did try some of the more uniquely-named hot sauces offered, and they were quite hot. And if you’re ever in the mood for spicy goodness, you can always try some of these hot sauces.

If you ever find yourself in New Orleans, maybe my gumbo challenge will give you some options if you’re in the mood for gumbo. I know I can’t wait to get back to NOLA and hunt down more of this Cajun fave I so often crave.

—Ryan Varney