Saturday, August 29, 2015

Delmarva Shorebirds 5 at Kannapolis Intimidators 1 (South Atlantic League) - August 25, 2015


After watching an afternoon Appalachian League game in Danville, I drove southwest towards Kannapolis, about two hours away. This suburb of Charlotte hosts the Intimidators, a South Atlantic League team. They play out of Intimidators Stadium, which was recently renamed from CMC-Northeast Stadium. You can see the temporary sign in the shot below. The full name is "Intimidators Stadium supported by Carolinas HealthCare System" which is just silly. Supported by? CMC-Northeast is a facility in the Carolinas HealthCare System, so I don't know why the stadium was renamed, but I expect a more normal moniker to be applied next year.



After the 2000 season, the franchise was purchased by Dale Earnhardt, whose nickname was The Intimidator, and he shared it with the team. Earnhardt died at Daytona just months later, and his corporation sold their ownership share in 2004, but there are still many signs that he was a part of this franchise. The most obvious is the #3 car out front.



The team has also retired the number 3, along with Jackie Robinson's 42 and former Sally League president John Henry Moss' 50.



Another sign you are in NASCAR country: the Nextel Cup Standings are on display. If you want the starting lineups, they are available inside the team store.



Tickets here start at $5 for what is known as Ollie's Cheap Seats, the section down in the right field corner. For some reason, nobody buys these, except me, as I was given Row 1, Seat 1, and I expect that was the only cheap seat sold on the night. Well, nobody sits here at least.



Right next to Ollie's is the $8 GA benches, four sections along the first base line and two along third. All other seats are reserved with seat backs and cup holders and cost $10. As the sun sets behind third base, you should sit on that side so you are not shading your eyes for the first few innings.



You'll notice that the protective netting extends only to the near edge of the dugout, so most seats offer clear views here. One section of the GA seats on the third base side has no benches as it is reserved for those who bring their own folding chairs (below). Also notice the main building with the team store is along the first base side, another relatively rare feature.



The concession stands are located on a plaza behind home plate and include a shaded bar (below) with several choices at reasonable prices ($4.50 for a 16 oz. premium draft). There is excellent variety in the food options here, with Dale's Mater Sandwich the unique item. It is just a tomato on toasted white bread with salt, pepper, and mayo but at $2 it is worth trying, especially as it is made fresh when you order it. Let's be honest, they can't screw it up. The snack shop has healthy items too, such as fruit, hummus, carrots, mixed nuts, etc, all for a buck or two, though as it was near the end of the season, much of the selection was sold out. It was also two-fer-Tuesday and hot dogs were two for one ($3) so a full meal could be had for $10. As always, minor league baseball remains a bargain.



There was little else here, including fans. Despite perfect weather, only 1,473 showed up for this one and you could sit wherever you pleased. One of the best ballparks I visited on my trip, mainly because I had a clear view from the seats above the dugouts. This whole protective netting debate is pissing me off to no end and I know that as the years pass, more and more ballparks will have no clear views in the infield, so I appreciated this chance to watch baseball the way it was meant to be seen. Expect a post shortly on this topic.



The Game



The Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore) were the visitors and sent Dariel Delgado from Cuba (above) while Kannapolis (CHW) replied with Luis Martinez (Chicago's 29th prospect, which isn't saying much, below).



In the bottom of the first, Delgado hit Michael Suiter (24th round, 2014) with one out, beginning what would be a recurring theme on the evening. Two singles plated Suiter but Alexander Simon (below) struck out and a fly out ended the threat.



Martinez was OK through 3, but in the fourth, he hit Jomar Reyes to lead things off. A double from Logan Uxa (32nd, 2013, below) pushed Reyes to third and a single from Cameron Kneeland (UDFA) tied the game. Yermin Mercedes grounded into a double play but another run scored.



In the sixth, Reyes was again hit by a pitch leading off. This time, Uxa struck out but Kneeland and Mercedes walked as did the next batter, Elier Leyva, who garnered an RBI without hitting the ball. Martinez was replaced by Brad Salgado (38th, 20109 who promptly hit TJ Olesczuk to bring home yet another run. A sacrifice fly followed to complete the scoring. In the 7th, Uxa was hit by a pitch, the fifth of the game, but he did not score. That's the final below. Five hit batsmen and only 12 hits; a typical minor league affair.



Notes

When I visited Delmarva, I was a bit embarrassed that I did not know exactly what Delmarva meant, but two fans nearby me were also perplexed. I'm glad to know that the term Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia peninsula) is not in common use outside that area and many Americans are not aware of it either.

Next Up

I'm heading to New Britain to see the final game at New Britain Stadium tomorrow as the Rock Cats will become the Hartford Yard Goats next season. Check back Monday for a recap of that one. Unless I forget my camera.

Update: I forgot my camera. So no recap of that game, since the stadium is no longer in use as a minor league facility. It was a great game, New Britain winning 7-5 on a 15th inning homer from Rockies #23 prospect Jordan Patterson.

Best,

Sean

Friday, August 28, 2015

Johnson City Cardinals 4 at Danville Braves 8 (Appalachian League) - August 25, 2015


There is nothing better than weekday afternoon baseball, particularly in small minor league towns. While the rest of the country toils, a few lucky kids get a field trip (literally), some retirees enjoy their leisure time in the great outdoors, and us sports travellers are able to schedule a day-night doubleheader in two cities. Such was the case on the last day of my Carolina Minors Trip when the Appalachian League's Danville Braves got the minor league slate underway with an 11 a.m. start, allowing me to spend the evening in Kannapolis.



The Braves play out of American Legion Post 325 Field, located in Dan Daniel Park just off US 29, across the North Carolina border. Take River Park Road past the No Outlet sign and soon the ballpark will appear on your right. As with all Appy League parks that I have visited, parking is free; in this case you might want to leave the car in the far corner to minimize the chance of an errant foul ball sending you to the repair shop.





There are two distinct seating areas here: three sections of reserved seats that are covered ($8) and several GA benches down the lines ($6). The reserved sections are A, B, and C and you should get B which is behind the plate. The reason for this is that sections A and C are set at odd angles to the field. Look at the picture below, that is section C, and you are not looking at the field at all.



Below is the view from Section C. Quite strange, perhaps the field was reset to increase the foul area behind the plate.



Of course, all three reserved sections are covered by protective netting, but the GA benches do allow a clear view.



As the stadium is located in the center of an urban park, your backdrop is a quiet forest. It really is a wonderful spot to spend a Tuesday afternoon, especially if you are in the shade.



The concession stands are in the building behind the seating area and offer a small variety, including a bologna burger for $4.25 and a BBQ sandwich for $4.50.



You will notice the Evan Gattis poster to the left of the concession stand above, a number of players are so honoured, though some, such as Yunel Escobar and Elvis Andrus, are only afforded the low-rent space on the restroom building.



A mural on the back of a building on the first base side adds a unique touch to Legion Field, which was named Minor League Baseball Season Field of the Year in 2011, an honour that I could not find any evidence of on the Internet, but which is mentioned on a poster next to this mural.



I found the sign below to be amusing as I've never seen a problem with fans bugging players during warmup, at least at this level. Perhaps the Danville faithful are a bit more aggressive in this regard, but today, they were all at work as only 667 were on hand.



The Braves have a mascot known as Blooper, definitely well-named for this Rookie League that has few error-free games. I guess he is a parrot of some kind?



Overall, this is a simple park that is perfect for the fans who want to watch a ballgame without all the bells and whistles. There were several groups of kids in attendance who were in the GA seats and added a bit of useful crowd noise, but otherwise it was just baseball. Not great baseball, but at this level, that is usually what you get.



The Game

Johnson City was in town and sent Brennan Leitao (26th round, 2015) to the hill against Matt Withrow (6th, 2015, below, a great pitcher's name).



Withrow was perfect through 4 frames while Leitao was not so lucky. You might have heard about Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP) in advanced sabermetrics. The concept is that the pitcher has little control over what happens to the ball after it is hit, except for home runs. This is certainly true to a point, we've all seen scorching line drives caught and mishits fall in for a single, though I think that when pitchers tire, they do give up more hits.

Anyway, the point is that Leitao was not pitching poorly, but everything the Braves put in play fell in for a hit. A leadoff double down the line that just fell fair,  a bunt single, and then three more ground balls that found hole  into the outfield gave Danville a 3-0 lead. In the second an error was followed by two more seeing-eye singles that made it 4-0, and three more runs were tacked on in the 4th, with Austin Riley (41st overall, 2015, Atlanta's #16 prospect below) contributing with an RBI double. Leitao gave up 12 hits while retiring just 11 batters but he really didn't pitch terribly.



Withrow, on the other hand, was superb and with the 7-0 lead, in line for the win. After retiring 13 straight (7 by strikeout), he gave up 2 singles and hit a batter to load the bases. His eighth strikeout had Withrow within an out of completing the necessary five frames, and when Joey Hawkins (40th and final round, 2015, from Oshawa) grounded to short it looked good. But Yeudi Grullon misplayed the ball and 2 unearned runs came into score. Withrow had reached his pitch limit and was pulled, thus rendering him ineligible for the win (the starter must throw 5 innings to be awarded the win).



The Cardinals added two more in the 6th off Steve Borkowski (UDFA) to make it interesting, but Riley doubled home another run in the 8th to end things. Reliever Matthew Custred (31st round, 2015, above) got the save with 2.2 innings of one-hit ball, while Borkowski picked up the win despite giving up 2 earned runs in just 1.2 frames. Withrow gets my Player To Watch award with his solid outing.



Five errors and 20 hits, but the game still only took 2:35. The PPM was 1.9, the fastest paced game I have seen in a while and gave me plenty of time to make the trip south to Kannapolis.

Notes

Hawkins was drafted 1211th overall out of 1215 players picked. Those that aren't drafted but are North Americans are referred to as UDFA (undrafted free agents) while those international players, none of whom are eligible to be drafted, are NDFA (non-draftable free agents) in my terminology.

Best,

Sean

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wilmington Blue Rocks 0 at Carolina Mudcats 7 (Carolina League) - August 24, 2015


After a busy weekend watching three ballgames and a bit of golf, Monday was more relaxing as I only had a single night game to attend. It was a Carolina League matchup in Carolina, the only instance I know of where a team's location matches the league in which they play (the Washington Nationals are one where the nickname matches).



The Carolina Mudcats are based in Zebulon, a suburb just west of Raleigh, where the Hurricanes do battle. As I drove into the area in the late afternoon, I heard reports of a massive rainstorm in the area, though I saw no evidence of it in Durham, about an hour west. However, the storm did hit Zebulon hard around 4 p.m. and that, combined with school starting the next day, kept the fans away. So much so that when I approached the ballpark at 6 p.m., the lack of traffic had me fearing the game had been cancelled. Fortunately that wasn't the case, but only 722 showed up, leaving Five County Stadium (capacity 6,500, average attendance 2,970) very empty as you can see above.



The stadium opened in 1991 when the Columbus Mudcats moved here. Because there are so many minor league teams in the area, the park had to be located in a spot that did not infringe on another team's territorial rights, and Zebulon was just far enough from Durham to qualify. It is so named because it sits close to five counties, and I am a bit surprised that it has not received naming rights.



The ballpark is located just south of US 264 and quick to get to with North Carolina's liberal speed limits. There are two large parking lots on either side of the stadium; the $5 charge is one of two negative aspects here as it is too much for Advanced A ball. That's the south lot above, a few more cars arrived after I did but there was no problem getting out after the game. Please note the optimistic guy in orange hoping for cars to come to his area.



The ticket window is shown in the photo above. There were no freebies to be found on this night, though there was a $2 discount off the reserved $10 seat for some unknown reason.



Five County Stadium is quite large for this level as it used to house a AA team (also known as the Mudcats), but when they moved to Pensacola in 2011, the Carolina League's Kinston Indians came here, taking the Mudcats name. The Atlanta Braves took over the affiliation from this season; the Mudcats are the only team in the Braves system that doesn't use Braves as their nickname so there might be a change coming. Clearance merchandise at the team store only helped this theory.



More evidence of the scarcity of fans in the empty concourses below. The staff was very friendly, joking about how busy they were when I stopped to pick up a drink. One person took my order while the other took my money just so they had something to do. There were some interesting food offerings including a catfish sandwich (Mudcat is a type of catfish) but I was growing weary of stadium food and did not try anything. There is also a restaurant atop the seating bowl on the first base side known as Cattails (you can see the blue sign above) which looked like a great place to watch the game when the weather was not cooperating.



The clubhouse (green roof below) is separate from the stadium itself, so autograph hounds, a fixture at every minor league ballpark, are able to pester the players as they walk to the field. As you can probably tell, I enjoy taking pictures from on high.





It is hard to tell from the photos, but the entire reserved seating area is protected by netting, as were most of the parks on this trip. That is intolerable for such a large park and the other problem with Five County Stadium. The GA seats (above) are mostly open but so far away that it isn't worth sitting there. The whole issue of protective netting is now receiving much attention in the media and I'm afraid that the morons are going to win; soon every single park in America will force you to watch baseball through a net. I'll be posting on this shortly.



Despite the netting, the park is still a good place for a game, though I think my experience was improved by the fact that I had an entire section to myself. I would have gotten several foul balls if not for that damned net though!



There are a couple of unique touches here. First, a large water tower sporting the Mudcats name sits just north of the field, something I haven't seen elsewhere. The "Road to the Show" feature was also unusual. Some minor league ballparks try to include every former player who made the majors, but here only stars are afforded such honour. In another unique touch, they are on the fence and include Miguel Cabrera, who played 69 games here in 2003 before being promoted to Florida and beginning his stellar career.



Overall, Five County Stadium is a fun place to watch a game, oversized for its current tenant but filled with friendly staff who enjoyed the crowd, or lack thereof. If only there were more seats with a clear, unobstructed view.

The Game



It was Game Show Night!! That meant several promotions that were like game shows, but I really didn't follow along. Anyway, the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals affiliate) were in town to take on the Mudcats. Matthew Strahm (21st round, 2012, KC's #25 prospect) started for Wilmington while Yean Carlos Gil (below) was the Mudcats hurler.



Both pitchers were solid, with Gil particularly impressive, going 7 innings and facing just one over the minimum. Strahm gave up a 3rd inning homer to Jose Briceno but was otherwise on top of his game, striking out nine in five innings



In the 7th, Carolina sent 11 men to the plate against Blue Rocks reliever Yender Caramo, who gave up 5 hits and a hit batsman while his defense committed a couple of errors for good measure. The final blow was a 2-run single from Dustin Peterson (Padres 2nd-round pick in 2013, traded to Atlanta as part of the Justin Upton deal and now the Braves #15 prospect, above) that completed the 6-run frame as Carolina won 7-0.



Although the final was not close, this was actually a pretty good game. It is rare in the minors when both starters pitch this well and the game moved quickly, taking just 2:26. Too bad most fans stayed home.

Notes

This was my last Advanced A ballpark. I completed the California League back in 2011 and did an entire Florida State League trip in 2012, but this one took 12 years to finish. The first park I saw in this league was Lynchburg in 2003, a game in which Jose Bautista played. I plan to complete AAA and AA next year, and High A, Short Season, and the Rookie Leagues in 2017. So this blog will be going for a while yet.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bluefield Blue Jays 1 at Pulaski Yankees 0 (Appalachian League) - August 23, 2015


When I found out that the Bluefield Blue Jays were playing in Pulaski on Sunday evening, I ditched the Greensboro Grasshoppers game and headed about an hour north to southern Virginia. It's always better to get a new stadium in the books. Even better when it's a Blue Jays affiliate playing. Even better when they are on the road, so I can wear my Blue Jays jersey and be glared at by the home fans. Even better when they are Yankee fans. You see, Pulaski is the Yankees Appy affiliate from this season, so it was a battle of the top squads in the AL East, only six levels down the ladder. And the standings are quite different here, as the Yankees lead the East, with the Blue Jays about 16 games back.




Pulaski plays in Calfee Park, which is about 6 miles north of I-81 along US29, a winding road that is fun to drive. As you enter the town, you'll see the ballpark in front of you, veer to the right and pass behind it to the free parking lot. From here, you will enter via the left field gate, which has a nice rock wall as the entrance. Obviously Calfee is a naming rights holder and the stadium was originally named Pulaski Athletic Field when it opened in 1935, as you can see above.



GA tickets are $5 and sold by the same person who scans you in. That was a first for me. The GA seats are under the roof along the third base side. Note that many fans bring their own chairs, thus much of this area lacks benches, so if you want to sit here, get there early and mark your space.



There are several sections of reserved seats, but these are completely uncovered and thus were not a great choice on this rainy night. You will notice that the venue is also named Motor Mile Field; Motor Mile is a speedway in nearby Dublin.



All seats are protected by netting so it doesn't matter where you sit, clear photos of the action are not possible unless you stand down the line. You are far away from the plate though, near the warning track, so you'll need a better camera than I possess. The shot above is the only clear one that I took of the players; it is the baby Jays warming up.



The concession stand is behind the grandstand and has several tables where you can relax and enjoy your food. The rain had mostly stopped by the time I had arrived so I sat by myself and enjoyed a chicken finger basket with fries for just $5. Coupled with the $5 it cost to get in, this is a baseball bargain.



The rain started up soon after I finished my meal, so the tarp remained on the field, preventing me from getting any good pics in daylight. Note the garden chairs above, those are the suites which look like a great place to watch the game when the weather is nicer.



The scoreboard is excellent for this level, though my picture only captured the matchup rather than the stats and linescore shown during play, mostly because the netting prevents good shots with my crap camera. The shot below is the only one I have of the field after the tarp was removed.



The Appalachian League has just 68 games, so there are only 34 opportunities to visit Calfee Park every season, but I would recommend doing so if you haven't already. Just pretend you are a Yankee fan if you want people to talk to you.

The Game

The game got underway after a nearly two-hour delay, but the pitchers were not affected at all. Nestor Cortes (36th round, 2013, below) started for Pulaski and was perfect through 5 frames. Geno Encina got the call for Bluefield and yielded 4 hits and 3 walks through his 5 innings but managed to strand every one of those runners.



In the sixth, Nick Sinay (22nd, 2015, out of SUNY Buffalo) led off and reached on an error to end the perfect game bid. A sacrifice and another error ended Cortes' evening. David Sosebee (28th, 2015) replaced him and gave up an RBI single to Rodrigo Orozco that scored Sinay. So Cortes was in line for the loss despite pitching 5.1 hitless innings.

Matthew Smoral (50th overall pick in 2012 and the Jays #17 prospect) replaced Encina in the 6th and gave up a single and walk but escaped the jam. In the 7th, Yankees catcher Matt Walsh led off and lined one back that hit Smoral in the head. Smoral dropped to the ground immediately, but the ball bounced to third baseman Mattingly Romanin (ironically named for Yankee legend Don) who threw to first for the out. Meanwhile, Smoral shrieked in pain as the fans looked on in silent concern. It seemed very serious and the first time the training staff tried to get Smoral to walk, he collapsed. Fans suggested that they wait for the ambulance, but that seemed to take ages. Smoral was finally taken off the field in a pickup truck and eventually the ambulance arrived. It turns out that Smoral suffered a cut that required stitches but other than that he seemed to be OK. A frightening moment for all in the park but one that thankfully ended without serious injury.



Of course, the show must go on and the last two innings were played quickly and quietly. The Blue Jays final two relievers kept the Yankees off the board, with Tyler Burden (20th, 2015, who must really hate Fight Club) pitching the 9th for his first pro save. Walsh led off that inning and hit Burden with a grounder, but it was an easy out. Burden did walk Gosuke Katoh (2nd, 2013, above) but that was it as the Jays won 1-0 in a game that ended just 20 minutes before midnight.

I'd love to have a linescore shot here, but the scoreboard removed it before I could take the picture. The Jays won despite garnering only 3 hits and striking out 14 times, while the Yankees stranded 12 in the shutout. A very memorable game with the rain delay, the Smoral injury, and the result.

Notes

As I waited out the rain delay, Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg, who recently won his 1,400th minor league game, noticed me with my Jays jersey as he peered into the crowd and gave me the thumbs up. I replied with the same sign. It is gratifying to be recognized as a fan when on the road, especially at this level. Holmberg has managed many future Jays (mostly at Auburn) but chances are that most fans have never heard of him.

The microphone for the national anthem was not working, so the anthem singer sung without it, truly acapella. In such a small park, it was very striking. She had a beautiful voice and it carried throughout the stadium, one of the best anthems I have heard and the crowd responded with a rousing round of applause. In small ballparks, the microphone might not be necessary when you have a singer of such quality.

Best,

Sean