Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Doubleheader and Driving - Two Games 400 Miles Apart - July 19, 2010

I skipped Clinton last week because I discovered that they had a game Monday morning at 10. I was planning to drive to Kansas City from Minneapolis that day, but Clinton is more or less on the way, so I decided to head back to eastern Iowa for this game. Clinton is 400 miles from Kauffman Stadium, where I would be on Monday evening for a 7:10 start to watch the Jays and Royals. That's about 6 hours on the road, so a quick game was the order of the day for me to make it.

It was "Pack the Park with Kids" as local campers got a chance to see their LumberKings (Seattle) take on the South Bend Silver Hawks (Arizona).

Alliant Energy Field

When I did my 2001 trip, Riverview Stadium in Clinton was one of my least favourite ballparks. I found it cramped, dark and bug-filled and didn't really enjoy the experience. I don't recall much else, but I had heard that renovations had improved it, so I wanted to revisit.

The park was built in 1937 and is a classic structure. A roof covers much of the seating area, but the last couple of sections are now in the open air, and also without protective netting, a huge plus for me. There are 3 rows of box seats that are $7 and about 12 rows in the grandstand for $6.

It was renamed Alliant Energy Field in 2002 when the naming rights were sold. The renovations took place in 2005-06 but didn't affect the actual seating area. Rather additional buildings were added for administrative offices, the field was redone, and the canopy was improved. These are all subtle changes but they made a big difference to me, opening up the space and making it seem brighter.

There are party areas down the left field line, where the Picnic Pavilion stands. In right field is the Lumber Lounge, the seats there are just above the fence and look pretty cool. The fence itself is really interesting too, as it starts out as clear wire from left field but turns into a wooden fence around left-center.

The starting lineups and standings are on a wall just inside the entrance. More interesting is a list of every Clinton player who has made the majors. Canadian Jason Bay played here in 2001 among other notables.

There was an organist playing during the game, something you never hear in the minors anymore. Otherwise, there's not much else to see here. This is really a classic old-time park that was properly renovated. The open areas above the dugout and the lack of netting really make this an enjoyable place to visit and I encourage everyone to stop by Clinton and check out a LumberKings game.

The Game

Erasmo Ramirez (above) started for Clinton and was extremely strong through 5 innings, yielding just 3 hits while striking out 6. But his offense wasn't much help, plating just a run on a Tim Morris (11th, 2009) double, a wild pitch, and a Mario Martinez groundout off South Bend starter Diogenes Rosario.

Daniel Carroll (3rd, 2007) flies out here

In the 6th, Keon Broxton (3rd, 2009) blasted a homer to tie the game at 1. Ramirez was still strong though, adding two more strikeouts to end the inning.

Silver Hawk DH Matt Davidson (1st, 2009) grounds out

But he started to tire in the 7th. A single, walk, and hit batsman loaded the bases for Broxton. On a 3-1 pitch, Broxton laced the ball down the right field line, scoring all 3 runners and ending up with a triple. It was his 15th triple which leads all minor leaguers. Ramirez was replaced, but it was too late for Clinton.

James Jones (4th, 2009) dives back to first

Adam Worthington (2oth, 2009) threw 3 scoreless innings for the Silver Hawks to get the win. He looked sharp in the field too, making a couple of good plays on choppers in front of the plate, including one off Netherlands native Kalian Sams (shown below).

We left at 12:15 in the bottom of the 8th and listened to the rest of the game on the radio. Clinton's offense only managed 5 hits on the afternoon in what was a quick game that ended in just 2:33. We probably could have stayed for the whole thing but as it turned out, we left at exactly the right time.

Player to Watch

Ramirez was in line to get this but Broxton (shown below) stole the award with his triple. Watch for him in an Arizona uniform in about 3 years.

The Drive

After the game, we headed west on US 30, turning south at US 61 and then I-80 west to Des Moines. There it joins I-35 south which we took all the way to Kansas City, with a slight detour to the east to reach the hotel next to the stadium.

It was 400 miles and took 6 hours, with just a couple of stops to switch drivers. There was a rainstorm early in the journey, but things cleared up as we neared Des Moines and by the time we hit KC it was hot and humid.

With Sharpy along for the drive, I was able to snap a picture as we entered Missouri.

Jays lose in extra innings

After checking in, we left the hotel to walk the 15 minutes to Kauffman stadium. But there was a shuttle taking passengers, so we waited for it to return to avoid the humidity. We arrived just two minutes before game time and I was shocked to see a large lineup for tickets. Fortunately, I noticed a couple with four tickets and a look of desperation. "You got extras?" I inquired and was told that they had two above the dugout for $30. With a face value of $43, I thought $30 was fair. They then said "$30 for both". Sharpy and I managed to cobble together the cash and zoomed through the gates, racing to our seats just a few rows above the field. We sat down about 5 seconds before first pitch and proceed to watch the Blue Jays play an absolutely atrocious game.

Baserunning blunders and an outright refusal to bunt cost the Jays what should have been an easy win. On five occasions they had the first two batters in the inning reach, but only two runs resulted from those 10 runners. In the fourth, Vernon Wells and Adam Lind opened with singles. Aaron Hill grounded out to advance the runners and then Lyle Overbay hit a fly to center, plenty deep to score Wells. But Lind ran as well and David DeJesus make a perfect throw to nail him at third before Wells had crossed the plate. Aargh!

With the game tied at 3 in the eighth, Hill reached after being hit and Overbay followed with a single. Rather than bunt them into scoring position, Cito Gaston elected to hit away. John Buck (below) popped out and Edwin Encarnacion grounded into a double play. Aaargh!

The game went to extra innings and the Jays managed a run in the 10th to take a 4-3 lead. But in came Kevin Gregg to blow the save. My heart sank as Gregg is simply no longer capable of closing and I confidently predicted a 5-4 Royal win. Sure enough, Scott Podsednik led off with a triple, scoring on a Jason Kendall sacrifice fly. After DeJesus grounded out, Billy Butler singled and Jose Guillen (below) walked. Yep, Gregg was up to his old tricks.

Albert Callaspo then knocked a 2-0 pitch back up the middle. Gregg got a piece of it, slowing it down enough that pinch-runner Chris Getz would score easily to give Kansas City the victory. AAARRRGGGHHH!

Mike Aviles scores the Royals second run

OK, it was a great day with two games 400 miles apart. That's not something easily replicated; you need to have a morning game that finishes 6 hours before the next game starts. A unique road trip experience to be sure. But Toronto's failure to win the nightcap was a bitter pill to swallow. They've got two more games to make it up, but unless they start playing fundamentally smart baseball, my hopes are not high for success.

Check back tomorrow for updates on the two games.



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