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As red-hot Yankees return to Houston, bitter memories linger – Yankees Blog

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HOUSTON — Brett Gardner was just a couple weeks shy of heading to spring training before he finally got this sight out of his mind: Lance McCullers Jr. and Brian McCann of the Houston Astros gleefully jumping into each other’s arms near the pitcher’s mound at Minute Maid Park.

In winning Game 7 of last fall’s American League Championship Series against Gardner’s New York Yankees, the Astros had reason to revel. Eleven days later, as World Series champions, their celebration continued.

“To come that close and to not be able to make it happen, it’s pretty painful,” Gardner said of falling just shy of the World Series.

Monday night, for the first time since going 0-for-Houston in last year’s playoffs, the Yankees return to the city for a four-game set — riding a nine-game winning streak.

“Now we’re hungrier than ever,” Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks said. “The loss that we had in the playoffs against them last year made us a more hungry team. We had that feeling of losing, and not getting to our goal. So that makes us a better team.”

Clearly, there will be some carryover for the Yankees on this trip.

“In the course of a regular season, there’s those days that give you a little more of a jolt knowing you’re going up against a team that you’ve had some amazing battles with and that you know is a team you’re going to have to go through if we’re going to get to where you are,” Yankees first-year manager Aaron Boone said.

“But as much as we can, too, we realize that it’s April.”

The Yankees’ struggles against the Astros last season were not limited to the fall. They also had difficulty in the spring and summer, too, dropping five of the seven games the teams played during the regular season.

Away from Yankee Stadium — where the Yankees went 6-0 in last year’s playoffs — New York looked particularly ugly in its meetings with the Astros. Including the postseason, the Yankees went 1-6 in Houston last year.

“It’s a tough place to go in and play, but it’s a fun place to go in and play,” Gardner said. “The toughest part of being in their ballpark is just, they’ve got a great team. The ballpark — us as baseball players and entertainers, if you will — that’s all fun for us.

“We enjoy playing in an atmosphere like that and look forward to it.”

Raucous, energetic, rollicking; pick your adjective — the ballpark had it all during Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of the ALCS last fall. But the results were anything but fun for the Yankees, as Houston outscored the Bombers 15-3 in those games.

As the Astros charged through an emotional postseason, they were galvanized by a region recovering from Hurricane Harvey. This year’s club — off to a 19-10 start — is already building off last season’s success.

“In some ways, they feel like they’re a better team than they were last year,” Boone said. “They’re a load.”

For Hicks, it’s all about their pitching.

“They’ve just got a good mix of veteran pitchers and young pitchers,” Hicks said. “So they’ve got a good staff, and guys like [Justin] Verlander who know how to pitch and are definitely passing it along to their future guys coming up.”

The 35-year-old Verlander — 4-1 with a 1.36 ERA — is backed up by another former Cy Young winner, Dallas Keuchel (1-4, 4.00 ERA this season), plus Charlie Morton (3-0, 1.86), newly acquired Gerrit Cole (2-1, 1.73) and McCullers (4-1, 3.71).

During last year’s ALCS, Verlander had a dizzying 21 strikeouts over 16 innings. Keuchel was similarly strong, striking out 18 Yankees in 11 2/3 innings.

Houston’s offense is no less potent. Reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve is off to a strong start (batting .351 with an .857 OPS in 29 games), as is Carlos Correa (.320, four home runs). George Springer and Josh Reddick — each with a team-best six home runs — have been supplying the power.

“It’ll be a good test for us,” Boone said.

The Yankees are in the middle of a difficult 13-game stretch against teams with playoff aspirations. Before this series with the defending-champion Astros, they completed a three-game sweep of the Angels on Sunday night in Anaheim. After leaving Houston, the Yankees will return to New York for three against Cleveland and three more against Boston. The Angels are the only team in this group that didn’t make the playoffs last year.

“It is still early in the season, but all these games are very important,” Gardner said. “One or two of these guys right here in the end of April could be the deciding factor in, let’s say, home-field advantage and the playoffs. You never know.”

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World Series 2020 – What Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers need to do from here

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If the Los Angeles Dodgers go on to win this World Series, remember that 1 inch — the 1 inch that Manuel Margot needed to complete the first steal of home in the World Series since 2002. Instead, he was the third out of the bottom of the fourth inning as Clayton Kershaw escaped a first-and-third jam with an infield popup, a strikeout and Margot’s failed theft attempt. The Dodgers maintained their 3-2 lead, added a run on Max Muncy‘s home run and held on for the 4-2 victory.

Now the Dodgers are win one away. The previous 46 times the World Series was tied after four games, the Game 5 winner went on to win 30 times (65%). Eight of the past 14 times, however, the team behind in the Series won the final two games, including the Nationals last year.

As we take a day to reload after all the action from Saturday and Sunday, let’s go through five keys to victory for each team.

Los Angeles Dodgers

1. Two games to win one. Look, you don’t want it to go seven games, but Dave Roberts can manage Game 6 knowing he has another game in his back pocket — with Walker Buehler ready on regular rest and coming off two terrific starts (allowing just one run over 12 innings).

Tony Gonsolin will start Game 6. He hasn’t been great in the postseason with a 9.39 ERA in three games, with Roberts cutting his leash shorter and shorter with each outing: 88 pitches in Game 2 of the NLCS, 41 pitches in Game 7 and then just 29 pitches and four outs in Game 2 against the Rays. Still, he was very good in the regular season with a 2.31 ERA, two home runs in 46⅔ innings and a 46-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Dodgers’ offense has been scoring enough runs. I don’t think you necessarily have to pull Gonsolin as quickly as Roberts did in Game 2.

With 15 pitchers on the roster, however, Roberts can certainly construct a bullpen game and still keep everyone in good shape for Game 7. He also knows he likely has Julio Urias available in relief of Buehler for Game 7 if necessary. Dustin May did throw 30 pitches in Game 5 and looked much better than he had in his past couple of appearances. Do you save him for Game 7? Maybe you use him only like Roberts did in Game 5 — later in the game with a lead, leaving some of the other relievers as the first guys out of the pen if Gonsolin gets a quick hook.

2. Consider starting Austin Barnes at catcher. When Blake Snell started in Game 2, the Dodgers rolled out their usual lineup when facing a lefty, with Will Smith behind the plate, A.J. Pollock at DH, Enrique Hernandez at second base and Chris Taylor in left field. Now, for what it’s worth: The Dodgers are 6-1 when Barnes has started at catcher this postseason (including 3-0 in the World Series) and 7-5 when Smith starts. That’s small sample size stuff and some of that is the pitcher they have caught. Barnes, for example, has caught all of Kershaw’s innings.

Most importantly, Barnes is the better framer. According to ESPN TruMedia data during the postseason, Barnes has an expected called strike number of 119 and an actual called strike number of 129, so he’s plus-10. Smith has an expected called strike number of 235 and 225 actual called strikes, so he’s minus-10. Furthermore, with Smith catching, Gonsolin has allowed eight runs in 7⅔ innings. You also can question some of Smith’s pitch calls, especially the four-seam fastball that Pedro Baez threw to Brandon Lowe in Game 4 on a 2-2 count that Lowe hit for a three-run homer. Baez was in the game there specifically because his changeup is a good weapon against lefties, but with two strikes they went with the fastball instead.

L.A. can keep Smith’s bat in the lineup as the DH. So maybe you lose Pollock’s bat, but that’s not a big deal given that he’s hitting .231/.286/.282 in the postseason. The risk is that if you have to hit for Barnes or if he gets injured, the Dodgers aren’t carrying a third catcher (because they needed those 15 pitchers!), so they would lose the DH if Smith had to catch. But they’ve gone with that strategy several times this postseason.

Roberts alluded to the possibility of Barnes catching on Monday. “Yeah, it is a thought,” he said. “I love both of our catchers, what Austin does behind the plate. It is on the table and we will put a lineup out there that gives us the best chance to win.”

3. Don’t change anything at the plate. The Dodgers have outhit the Rays .264 to .228. They have more home runs (11 to 8), more doubles (9 to 5), more walks (23 to 14) and fewer strikeouts (50 to 54). Heck, they even have more stolen bases. They’re going to stick to being selective and making the Rays’ starters (Snell in Game 6, Charlie Morton in Game 7) run up their pitch counts. Corey Seager has deservedly been in the spotlight for his monster playoff numbers, but cleanup hitter Muncy has quietly been a key, thanks to 20 walks and a .461 OBP in the postseason. He’s hitting .389/.522/.611 with a team-leading six RBIs in the World Series. If the Dodgers are to close it out, it is likely because Seager and Muncy keep getting on base or doing some important damage.

4. Repeat to yourself: We’re not worried about the ninth inning. I have a feeling that with Blake Treinen getting the save in Game 5, he is now Roberts’ choice for the next save situation. Look, Kenley Jansen did run into some bad luck in Game 4, with two soft hits and the misplay in the field. But he’s a tightrope walker these days, and his stuff just isn’t what it used to be. In the postseason, he has a swing-and-miss rate of 27.1%. Guess what, though? Treinen’s rate isn’t that much better at 30.3%, and while he got the save Sunday, he has allowed six runs in 11⅓ innings in the postseason. Brusdar Graterol is another high-leverage option, and his swing-and-miss rate in the postseason is also 27.1%. All are viable candidates. If you save Treinen for the ninth, that means you might need Jansen or Graterol or Victor Gonzalez or Baez at a key moment earlier in the game. All are reasonable options, even if Dodgers fans are convinced Roberts will make the wrong choice no matter what.

Roberts didn’t tip his hand after Game 5 when he explained his choice to go with Treinen over Jansen. “They’re both great choices,” he said. “I just felt that Margot, I liked Blake right there. Gave up a grounder [for a single]. And then the lefties, and then another righty. I just felt like we’ve leaned on Kenley. We haven’t done three [days] in a row in quite some time. We’ve done three in a row with Blake. I just liked it right there. But Kenley is high leverage. And they’re both unbelievable guys in high leverage.”

(I’m reminded of what made Bruce Bochy so smart when the Giants won in 2010, 2012 and 2014. His top relievers in those years — Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Brian Wilson, Javier Lopez, Yusmeiro Petit, plus some Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner — combined to allow 13 earned runs over 125 innings, a 0.94 ERA.)

5. Do not use Clayton Kershaw. He has done his job this postseason, going 4-1 in five starts with a 2.93 ERA and 37 strikeouts and five walks over 30⅔ innings. If the series does go to seven games, however, I fear Roberts will be tempted to use the future Hall of Famer, just like he was in Game 5 of the division series last year against the Nationals. Roberts may even think back to Game 7 in 2017, when Kershaw came on in relief against the Astros after starting Game 5 and tossed four scoreless innings. Do not do it. Do. Not. Do. It.

1. You’re down, but not out. Just play — and plan — with urgency. Look, the easiest scenario for Game 6 is your starting pitcher crushes it like Stephen Strasburg did last year for the Nationals when he pitched 8⅓ innings in a 7-2 victory. That’s not how it will work for the Rays, however. No starter has gone more than six innings this postseason. Snell’s longest outing this postseason is 5⅔ innings. Morton’s is also 5⅔.

So manager Kevin Cash will have to factor in that even if Snell and Morton are great, he probably needs eight innings over two days from his pen. Anything less than that is a bonus. So who can go multiple innings? Who will he use to get through that difficult Seager-Justin Turner-Muncy part of the order that has been particularly lethal? One thing we know: The Rays will have a plan.

No matter the plan, the Rays need to grab an early lead for a change. The Dodgers have scored first in four of the five games. “We are going to get aggressive tomorrow,” Cash said Monday. “If we can somehow get a lead and limit them, we’ve got some of the big guys in the back end of the bullpen that are ready to go. That is kind of our MO. That is what makes us special at times, especially from the pitching department. … It just hasn’t happened yet because they are up 1-, 2- or 3-0 by the second or third inning every night it feels like.”

2. Snell and the fifth inning. The 2018 Cy Young winner is making his sixth postseason start of 2020, and the overall numbers look pretty solid: 2-2, 3.33 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 24⅓ innings. But it’s really a tale of two Snells. Through the first four innings he’s allowed three runs in 20 total innings (1.35 ERA) and two home runs. From the fifth inning on, he’s allowed six runs and three home runs in 4⅓ innings. In Game 2 against the Dodgers, he tossed 4⅔ no-hit innings but then gave up a walk, a two-run home run, a walk and a base hit and couldn’t finish the fifth.

So Snell’s limit appears to be four innings or 75 pitches before he hits the wall. The Rays obviously know this and have had a pretty quick hook with him, but what if he’s sailing along like he was in Game 2? Does Cash you take him out if he’s pitching well and the Rays have a small lead? Does he try to get a few extra outs from Snell to save the bullpen — even a little — for Game 7? If it’s the third time through the order, does Cash go to the bullpen no matter what? The numbers this postseason seem to justify that, even if the eye test says Snell is pitching well.

3. Be realistic about your expectations for Nick Anderson. Anderson was dominant in 2019 and allowed just one run in 16⅓ innings in the regular season this year, so it’s understandable that Cash keeps trying to milk longer outings from him — but it simply hasn’t worked. Anderson has allowed a run (or two) in six straight appearances and in seven of nine in the playoffs (including three home runs). Yet seven of those appearances have been for more than three outs. He isn’t necessarily throwing a lot of pitches, making two appearances in the World Series in Games 2 and 4 while throwing 19 and 23 pitches. He has had at least two days of rest in each outing except one since the wild-card round, so I’m not necessarily sure if it’s fatigue or something else. Whatever the reason, Anderson just hasn’t dominated.

What it all means is Cash can’t just count on using Anderson, Diego Castillo and Peter Fairbanks, like he did in Game 5 against the Yankees. He’s already adjusted to that by using Aaron Loup in high-leverage moments; as the primary lefty in the pen, he’ll certainly be one guy to navigate through Seager and Muncy. But barring Snell and Morton going deeper than expected, Cash will likely need one of the deeper relievers — Ryan Thompson, John Curtiss, maybe Ryan Yarbrough — to get some big outs.

4. Get some hits with runners in scoring position. The Rays are hitting .192 in the postseason with runners in scoring position (although they’ve been a little better at .233 in the World Series). Yes, they’ve hit 33 home runs in 19 postseason games, but the Dodgers hit home runs too. The Rays are going to have to produce some runs the old-fashioned way.

One key here: Getting somebody on base in front of Randy Arozarena. Rays leadoff hitters — Cash has started six different guys there — are hitting just .173/.271/.320 in the playoffs and have scored just four runs. Yandy Diaz has a .409 OBP from the leadoff spot, but he only starts against lefties. Austin Meadows started there in Games 2 and 3, but he’s hitting .154 in 39 playoff at-bats with 16 K’s and one walk. Heck, if Arozarena is going to be batting with the bases empty, maybe you just hit him leadoff.

5. Run the bases … smarter. While I love the idea of the Rays using their speed to put pressure on the Dodgers — like Margot’s bunt single in Game 5 — their exploits on the bases have been a net negative. Margot’s attempted steal of home was daring and exciting, but in the end it didn’t work. Arozarena got thrown out trying to advance on a ball in the dirt earlier in the game. Overall in the postseason, the Rays have just four steals and have been caught stealing five times. So keep up the aggressiveness … just make sure you don’t get thrown out.

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Los Angeles Dodgers fans get ‘next best thing’ with World Series drive-in

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Angelenos love their cars, they love their sports teams and they certainly love to get loud. To cheer for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, they are able to combine all three.

It might not be 56,000 screaming fans inside Dodger Stadium, but in an ode to the drive-in theaters of the past — hey, the Dodgers last won the World Series in 1988 — anywhere between 850 and 950 cars with more than a combined 2,000 people, is the next best thing. The folks are honking, cheering and yelling to support the Dodgers.

Angie Gee was born and raised in Los Angeles and is a die-hard fan. She told ESPN that although the experience is nothing like an in-person game, “it still gives me that feeling knowing that the stadium is still kind of open to the public just a bit. So we can still have that feeling, that vibe, that the Dodgers are home.”

The coronavirus pandemic has moved all World Series games to Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, where a limited number of fans can attend. But the Dodgers would have been able to host thousands more at home, so the Dodger Stadium drive-in was created to fill the void.

It’s the latest in a renaissance for drive-in entertainment during the coronavirus lockdown. Country music star Garth Brooks put on a concert, shown in drive-ins around the country in the summer. Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hard Rock Stadium in Miami and the Rose Bowl all turned their venues into drive-in movie theaters.

In Los Angeles, fans have paid $75 per car to watch World Series games on two 60-foot HD screens set up back-to-back in two lots. The audio of the game is broadcast over FM radio. On Sunday, fans saw the Dodgers take Game 5, winning 4-2 to take a 3-2 lead against the Tampa Bay Rays. No team has won two consecutive games in this World Series.

Fans can arrive up to 90 minutes before the first pitch and no car can carry more than six passengers. Food and drinks are not served, and alcohol and partying outside of your car is prohibited.

“Some fans are being turned away as early as noon, hoping for a front-row spot,” said Jon Clapper, assistant director of public relations for the Dodgers.

Gee was there for Game 3 on Wednesday and Game 5 on Sunday.

And even without the atmosphere of beer, hot dogs, spilled snacks and high-fiving your random neighbor, the experience for Dodgers fans has certainly been present in the parking lot in the Elysian Park neighborhood. Fans in those neighborhoods can see the game from the hills surrounding Chavez Ravine.

Gee said it was “the next best thing,” and she will go again for a potential series-clinching Game 6 on Tuesday. It should be the wildest parking lot in America.

“I hope they don’t break my heart again. Every October for the past three years,” Gee said with a laugh.

In addition to the honking during the plays, Quincii Paxton — also an L.A. native — told ESPN the police officers onsite turned on their sirens during scoring plays. “It was loud from all the honking on all the good plays and scoring plays for the Dodgers. It made up for the change of atmosphere from a regular game. It was definitely fun that’s for sure,” Paxton said. Paxton went with his mother to Games 3 and 5 and said it’s “an exciting time, at least if you’re an L.A. fan.”

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World Series 2020 – Our impressions from inside Globe Life Field

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After playing host to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres in the Division Series and the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series, Globe Life Field — the new home of the Texas Rangers — is serving as the site of the 2020 World Series between the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays.

Until just a couple of weeks ago, fans weren’t allowed inside the stadium because of the coronavirus pandemic. Even now, attendance is limited to about one-quarter of capacity.

Three of our reporters — Alden Gonzalez, Jeff Passan and Jesse Rogers — have been covering the Fall Classic from MLB’s newest ballpark. We were curious about a stadium few have seen in person, so we asked them a few questions.


What’s your overall impression of Globe Life Field?

Alden Gonzalez: It’s a modern, bigger, more comfortable, yet less charming — and, in my opinion, unnecessary — version of the old place.

Jeff Passan: It’s fine. Retractable roofs are never not cool, and the knowledge that in the hot summer months fans won’t bake in the sun makes it a clear upgrade. Aesthetically, there’s nothing particularly inspiring about it. Because they’re operating at a quarter of capacity, the full range of amenities remains unclear.

Jesse Rogers: It’s both intimate and big at the same time. There’s good and bad in that assessment. It feels cozy, especially if you’re in the lower bowl, but the tradeoff was going straight up. If you have a fear of heights, this is not the park for you. Five levels up makes for a great view of a hockey game — but not for baseball. The video scoreboard screams Texas big and is easier to watch from up high than the live action.

What’s your favorite thing about the ballpark? Your least favorite thing?

Gonzalez: My favorite part is the fence height: 8 feet is perfect. My least favorite part is that it doesn’t feel intimate. A local reporter made this point to me, and it’s so true: Where are the areas where kids can get close enough to the field to ask for autographs during batting practice? They don’t seem to exist.

Passan: Favorite: Walking in from the outfield entrance, which is adjacent to the Texas Live! entertainment district, is pretty cool. You land on the outfield concourse and get an unfettered view of this massive structure. I’ve heard several people coming through the door for the first time say some derivation of, “It’s so huge!” Least favorite: I mean, from above, the place looks like what would happen if a Costco and a barn had a baby.

Rogers: Favorite: It plays big. Or at least more normal than the Rangers’ old park. Least favorite is the dome itself. OK, it’s cool when it opens and closes, but this is Texas. Besides the occasional storm, what’s the need for a dome? I like the conditions playing a part in the action.

Most of us have seen Globe Life Field only on TV. What’s something we might not realize from watching the game broadcasts?

Gonzalez: A couple of things stood out to me. One is that the concourses are really wide, and the brick arches within them are a very nice touch. The other is that the roof is unquestionably impressive, both in how seamlessly it opens and closes and in the transparent material used so that it doesn’t necessarily feel like a dome. I wish I could fully evaluate the food, but the offerings seem limited because of the pandemic.

Passan: The video board in right field is incredibly impressive in both size and information. The vertical and horizontal spin of every pitch thrown and the exit velocity of every batted ball are displayed immediately. I also dig the outfield fence with different nooks and crannies. One of my favorite parts — though Rangers hitters might disagree — is the size of the field and how, unlike its predecessor, it facilitates balls in play and action.

Rogers: Having watched on TV and then come here for the World Series, it actually looks bigger on TV, in my opinion. I know that sounds strange, but it felt more expansive before I got here.

Does it really look like a big-box store from the outside?

Gonzalez: I have made the point that it looks like a blown-up version of the garden section at Lowe’s, and I’m sticking to that.

Passan: Not entirely. Blimp shots do it no service. But from the ground … it looks similar to other parks. There are large, brick columns and glass-walled foyers. Whereas most have a round footprint, Globe Life’s is rectangular.

Rogers: Only when pointed out. That wasn’t the first thing that came to mind.

What makes it better — and what it makes worse — than the, ahem, “old” ballpark (Globe Life Park, the Rangers’ home from 1994 to 2019) across the street?

Gonzalez: Well, what’s better is that it has a roof. Isn’t that the whole point of this? Believe me — as a former beat writer covering an American League West team, I have spent many warm summer afternoons in Arlington pondering my existence in this universe. I welcome the possibility of air-conditioning. But I truly liked that old place — the arched windows, the roofed home-run porch in right, the lawn in center where fans used to wrestle for home run balls. The old place had a retro look that was unique. This new place is just, well, corporate.

Passan: Climate control. I’m sure it’ll have better food offerings once the world gets back to normal. Because it’s a new stadium, the luxury areas are bound to be superior, too. But in terms of just going to the park, getting a hot dog and a beer, and watching the ballgame? Eh.

Rogers: I mean, for starters, not every ball hit to right-center leaves the park. It plays more true, and as has been well-documented, it plays a lot bigger with the roof closed. That’s what’s better. Worse is how high it is compared to the old park.

Where would you place it in your personal ballpark rankings?

Gonzalez: Globe Life Field is the 32nd ballpark I have visited (the only active one I’m missing is the Braves’ new place). It is architecturally impressive, but I don’t think it has either the charm or the distinctiveness to rank anywhere near the top. My top five in descending order, which nobody asked for, are: T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Oracle Park in San Francisco, Fenway Park in Boston, Target Field in Minneapolis and Petco Park in San Diego. Globe Life Field probably resides somewhere in the middle. The Dodgers, Royals, Pirates, Cubs, Orioles, Mets and Marlins all have better ballparks than this. Sorry.

Passan: Alden is spot-on. It’s a middle-tier park — probably in the 15-20 range. And there’s no shame in that. Since Alden went top-five, I might as well: Oracle Park, PNC Park, Camden Yards, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. (I still haven’t been to T-Mobile — please play better and give me a reason, Mariners — and Truist Park in Atlanta.)

Rogers: Outside the top 10 but not in the bottom 10. The video scoreboard alone means you won’t miss the action. Besides Wrigley Field, Kauffman Stadium is my favorite, followed by Oracle.

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