Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I Love Free Stuff

I'm share Royals season tickets with a group of folks. A friend of ours buys the entire season, and then we get together and have a ticket draft to divvy them up.

This draft has always been a rather manual, tedious task. This year, I decided to try to automate it. To build a program to manage the draft, I downloaded Microsoft's Visual Basic Express.

Visual Basic Express is one of several free (yes, FREE!) Visual Studio products that Microsoft offers.

I used VB Express to build a simple draft management program. It was easy, and dare I say, fun. I was a .NET developer for a lot of years, and I must say that this VB Express works almost identical to the full blown Visual Studio product. It's a great way to allow hobbyists (or poor guys like me) to do development in a world class development tool for free.

Also available is C#, C++, and a web development tool. SQL Server 2005 Express is also available if you want a back end database for your application.

These Express tools are great! Get 'em here: Express Site

Monday, March 10, 2008

Surprise is my favorite place on planet earth

Late last night (this morning actually), my son Joey and I returned home from our annual trek to Arizona to enjoy some warm weather and Cactus League baseball. My brother Harry also came and as usual, we met Dan Fox in the desert. My buddy Bill and his son Matt also joined us this year.

We arrived bright and early Friday morning and drove straight to the Surprise Recreation Campus where the Royals and Rangers train. We wandered around the practice fields, and watched as the Royals and Rangers played a “B” game on Field 1. The “B” game in spring training is interesting. The innings aren’t always 3 outs, as evidenced by Luke Hochevar’s inning where he allowed 2 walks and a hit, but got out of the inning when he hit his pitch count. We also saw a couple of 4 out innings. The “B” game featured some up and coming players like Billy Butler and Justin Huber (who isn’t really up or coming).

On Field 2, the other major leaguers did some bunting and fielding drills, and then took batting practice.

After a bit, we moved on up to the minor league fields where all four fields were filled with young players all trying to make an impression. We watched them work on several drills for a while and tried to grab some home run baseballs during batting practice.

We eventually made our way into Surprise Stadium where the Royals were about to take on the Colorado Rockies. I’ve always enjoyed watching games at Surprise. The stadium is small and comfortable, and they always have some great food. On this day, I decided to try the barbeque brisket sandwich. I’m not sure how much shredded beef the vendor put on my bun, but as I stood there holding the sandwich during the national anthem, it felt like a good 2 pounds.

The game finally got started and I eventually finished my sandwich. Brian Bannister started for the Royals. In what soon became the theme for our visit there, the Royals pitching was awful. The Rockies won the game 7-10.

After the Royals game, we found our hotel and then ventured downtown to take in a Suns-Jazz game. It’s been years since I’ve been to an NBA game, and while it was enjoyable, I must admit that I got tired of seeing the same play over and over. (Player A takes the ball, dribbles down the court, cuts through the lane and lays it up for 2. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Where’s the defense?). Even from the rafters where we were, it was easy to see that Shaq is a very large man. We all noticed how he seemed to take about every other play off. I guess it’s just too much work to run up and down that court so much. The Suns fell apart in the fourth quarter and ended up losing the game.

By the time the basketball game was over, we were beat. We had gotten up around 4:00am KC time to make our flight, and it was now close to midnight KC time (about 11:00pm in Phoenix). The hotel bed was nice!

On Saturday, the Royals played the Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park. We drove over to Maryvale at around 10:00am and enjoyed watching the various Brewers players warm up and take BP. The Maryvale complex is much more accessible than Surprise. We could stand within feet of Ben Sheets as he threw off a mound, with no fence between us. That’s a little harder to do in Surprise.

Lucky us: it was Reggie Weeks bobble head day in Maryvale. We made off with a 2007 bobble head doll, which we assume were leftovers from a giveaway last summer in Milwaukee. This time, I enjoyed traditional fare – hot dog and nachos – and again the Royals got beat. This time, it was John Bale who took much of the abuse.

After our busy day Friday, it was nice to just relax at the hotel Saturday night. The boys did some swimming and Bill and I chilled by the pool.

On Sunday morning, we headed back to Surprise. We watched the major leaguers for a while, and then went up to the other fields to watch the minor leaguers. They were struggling with the pop-up drill. The coach would launch a baseball straight up from a pitching machine. With a moderate breeze, the players had all kinds of trouble judging the ball, and struggled with having the correct player move to position, call for the ball, and make the catch. It was really quite comical.

My son Joey, who had been trying to get a player’s bat all weekend, stood by and watched as the minor leaguers took batting practice. When he saw first round draft pick Mike Moustakas break his bat, he moved in. He asked for the bat, and was rewarded. He was thrilled.

After watching practice, we moved over to the stadium where the Cubs and all of their fans were visiting. The stadium was as full as I’ve ever seen it in my 5 years of visiting Surprise. Those Cubs faithful were happy: the Royals stunk it up again and lost 13-1. Trey Hillman started what projects to be his regular lineup, including free agent acquisition Jose Guillen, but the results were poor. Bad pitching (the Cubs racked up 21 hits), bad defense (2 Royals errors plus a few others that should have been errors) and bad offense (2 hits). By the end of this one, we were ready to head home.

We stopped by Target to get some bubble wrap so we could check Joey’s bat, then headed to the airport.

In all, it was a great trip. The Royals were awful, but we enjoyed the sunshine and warm weather. It was also great to see my old friend Dan Fox again, and engage in some sabermetric conversations, most of which eventually ended up going over my head.

We can’t wait to get back to the valley of the sun next spring.