Balderrama’s Back East – Phase 1: New York

After months of waiting, my girls and I are on our long-awaited trip to meet up with family back East. This post covers our first leg of the trip: Binghamton, NY.

We booked the flight with Frontier Airlines, which is always more than you’ve bargained for. In this case, our departing flight got rebooked twice and had us leaving Denver before 7am. This resulted in our original airport shuttle being canceled, and the other airport shuttle moved us up another hour. The girls and I had to be out of the house by 2:30am. We luckily got on the shuttle and got to the airport in time. We were grateful for the extra hour, as the DIA security line wrapped all the way to baggage claim. We made it to our flight, although bleary-eyed.

We got into Binghamton and got picked up by Tony, my brother-in-law, and spent the rest of Wednesday getting settled and acclimated to our new home for the next few days.

For me, this was also a working trip, so I spent the day working remotely during Phase 1, while my daughters went out and enjoyed parts of Binghamton. Everyone spent Thursday at Animal Adventure Park and seeing different animals. Clara and her cousin, Sonia, got to hold some parrots. The girls also witnessed a first-hand lesson on turtle procreation.

On Friday we took in a little Americana by watching a Double-A baseball between the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and the Somerset Patriots. During the 7th inning, a massive rainstorm moved in and despite only lasting about twenty minutes, flooded out the field. The teams concluded the conditions were too dangerous to keep playing and called the game. However, they proceeded with an amazing fireworks show that actually made up for a canceled July 4th display from the prior week.

Our last full day in Binghamton was spent at Beer Tree Brew, where they had a cute craft fair and some great food. There’s a slow stream near the brewery where the girls waded and swam – the perfect way to cool off during a hot and humid day!

The rest of our time in Binghamton was filled with quality cousin time, play, and enjoying our family’s home and hospitality. Sunday was spent packing and heading out for Phase 2: the Poconos Mountains.

The Astros, Sign Stealing, and Baseball Innovation

In watching the Houston Astros Sign-Stealing scandal unfold, its punishments getting doled out, and the open resentment from other players in the league, the same question kept popping into my mind:

Wouldn’t it be possible to equip pitchers with a microphone that enables one-way communication to an earpiece in the catcher’s helmet? If the pitcher quietly speaks into the mic with the glove over his mouth, wouldn’t that stop sign-stealing?

I posed the question on Twitter and Facebook (and thank you to those who responded) and received many illuminating responses.

A quick primer to those not familiar with sign-stealing: when a batter’s at the plate, the catcher will relay a series of signals from his hands (typically between his legs) over to the pitcher, seemingly proposing pitches. The pitcher provides non-verbal responses in the forms of head shakes or nods, then throws the agreed-upon pitch. Sign stealing is when the opposite team tries to intercept and decode the signals, then relay them non-verbally back to the batter. Typically this has been done when there’s a runner on 2nd, but players and teams continue to be innovative in employing sign-stealing, with the Astros having team personnel monitor the signs real-time, relay it to the dugout, with players banging a trash can to get the message back to the batter. The scandal now has a Wikipedia entry if you want to learn more.

Technically, sign-stealing is considered cheating, but the culture of baseball tolerates it as long as you don’t cross an invisible line. Under the mantra, “If you don’t cheat, you don’t try.”, players continually innovate to find new and more effective ways to steal signs, which is what landed the Astros in hot water.

This brought me to the above question, wondering why can’t baseball incentivize teams to apply the same level of innovation to thwart cheating. With apologies to the people for not better representing their thoughtful comments, the gist of reasons were:

  1. Catchers are the ones that have all the knowledge and are instructing the pitcher on what to throw.
  2. It would be too much to ask of pitchers, especially relievers, to call pitches.
  3. Teams would try to intercept the transmissions.
  4. It’s not too much to ask teams not to cheat

For the sake of argument, let’s discard #4 and accept that teams will continue to push boundaries. As for point #3, football has been using play-calling radios for decades – and Patriots jokes aside – has not generally had a problem.

That leaves us point #1 and #2, which to a baseball skeptic like me translates, “It’s always been this way and it’s asking too much for pitchers to change”.

This is the crux of why I struggle with baseball. The double-edged sword of being steeped with tradition also has the ill effect of being resistant to new ideas and methods.

I’m not saying that the sport needs to force every team into doing this, but if they changed the rules to allow for this, you might see some teams taking advantage of the technology, even if it’s just for playing certain teams suspected of cheating. We’ve seen this play out in other sports. When a team finds success, the copycat league will try to adopt and further the methods. Instead, many baseball purists seem to accept that the players will work this all out, with their own form of vigilante justice – taking a few pitches to the ribs. At least through enabling and promotion innovation, you at least give teams an alternative than resorting to physical retaliation.

This also boils down to the fact that Commissioner Rob Manfred opted not to punish the players, in part to achieve their cooperation in the investigation, but also to avoid drawn-out appeals from the Players Union. There wasn’t a great solution to this, but as players have been reporting into training camps it’s been obvious that many harbor vast resentment towards current and former Astros. Perhaps Manfred should consider placing a permanent asterisk on the Astros 2017 championship. Outright stripping the title opens a can of worms (Who would get the title instead, no one? Do the players have to give back their championship rings?), but placing an asterisk allows people to view the 2017 World Series in their own light and allow history to ultimately pass judgement.

The way baseball views sign-stealing is not unlike hockey views fighting: they pay lip service to being against it, but through their inaction they don’t do anything to actually thwart it, relying on some invisible line. People then clutch their pearls after it gets crossed.

Ultimately this is indicative of the decisions that are relegating the National Pastime into a distant third in popularity. The NFL and NBA have their own sets of problems, but they don’t seem to be afraid to promote new ideas and innovation to help the game evolve. I get that baseball is a timeless, individual-statistics-driven game that favors the record books, but this seeming apprehension to evolution is going to be the sports undoing.

Sleeping in Seattle: Take Me Out to the Ballgame


After our nice time in Whidbey Island, we set back onto the mainland to begin our week of my work-cation: where I would still be working during the day, but would have evenings free to explore the city.  We went through AirBnB to find a nice basement studio apartment that features a full kitchen for our breakfasts and lunches.  The apartment is located about 6 miles north-west of downtown Seattle, in a nice area that features restaurants, a grocery store, coffee shops and even an ice cream parlor.  We rented a car for our island adventure, but still had enough time on Sunday to make a grocery run to Trader Joe’s to get items for the week.  We then dropped the car off at the airport and have been bussing it the rest of the week.  Sunday was also Bethany’s birthday and we celebrated it with a nice dinner by Pike Place Market.

Monday turned out to be a long day at work, so we stuck around the are by our apartment and had dinner and ice cream close by.  Bethany ventured into downtown on Tuesday and got some goodies at the market and we cooked a great lunch of fresh salmon back at our place. After work on Tuesday, we headed down to the International District before we took in a Mariners game.  Unfortunately we didn’t have as much time to explore as we had hoped, but did get in a walk through the grocery market to pick up some snacks for the game, including my favorite gummy candy.  Luckily I was able to have a fun time with the strawberry gummy handy.


We then made our way over to SafeCo field, which is a parking garage away from CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks play.


SafeCo is a great open ball-park that features a retractable roof.  Apparently we are in Seattle on one of the nicest weeks of the year, so the roof was very open to let all the sunshine in.


The game was between two last-place teams: The Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays.  The Mariners haven’t been very good lately, so support was pretty sparse, however it was astonishing to see all of the Blue Jay fans over-take the ballpark. I snapped this picture behind home plate, and you can see the sea of Toronto Blue.  They really made it feel like a home game.


SafeCo is also known for it’s wide variety of food, of which many people were eating these garlic fries.  We found them too tempting to resist and ended up having a great ballpark snack!  Safeco also right in the path of planes taking off to the northwest, creating these awesome shots of commercial fly-overs on the stadium.  This was the best picture I could take, always missing that crucial shot over home plate.


We ended up leaving after the Mariners scored 2 runs in the 5h, increasing their lead to 7-2 – at which point the beleaguered Mariners fans tried to get their own revenge by chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” angering the Canadians. We felt that was our cue to leave.