Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No-hitter! No other games! - July 12, 2010


Today began sunny and clear. There were 3 games on the schedule: a doubleheader in Cedar Rapids and a night cap back in Davenport. With minor league DH's only 7 innings each, that meant 23 innings of baseball on the menu.

Before I left for Cedar Rapids though, I stopped in at a bank to cash some travelers cheques. After I signed and dated them and showed my Canadian drivers license, the teller asked me my account number. Now the bank is called US Bank. Naturally, they don't have any branches in Canada. So I don't have an account. I explained all this politely but was told that without an account, they couldn't cash the TCs. Would have been nice if she had told me this before I signed them. I said, as I always do in these situations, "They are called Travelers Cheques! They are for people traveling!" but it was to no avail. I wish I could boycott US Bank for their sheer stupidity, although the teller did come up with a solution - go to a nearby check cashing service and pay a tiny 6% commission. Yeah, right. I had enough cash for the day, and there's a casino here which will cash them, so it's not a problem. But I include this little anecdote as it served as an omen for the entire day.

I left the bank and headed northwest on State Highway 130. It didn't take long for my anger to subside as I drove through Iowa farm country. Which means corn and more corn. There were few cars and although it was a short drive, it was nice to be off the interstate. At Tipton, I turned onto SH 38 which joined US 30 at Stanwood, turning west to reach Cedar Rapids. It was about 80 miles total, but a relaxing distraction after the morning's incident.

Perfect Game Field


The Cedar Rapids Kernels play at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium. This is the new trend in baseball stadium names - maintaining the traditional stadium or field name while selling the naming rights to the other to a sponsor. It's unwieldy though, and obviously the sponsor name is what wins out in the marketing. Perfect Game, by the way, is a high school baseball scouting service based in Cedar Rapids.


The ballpark is just a mile west of the I-380 on Rockford Rd SW. Parking is free and there are two lots. One is at the back of the stadium while the other is up the hill and much closer to the front entrance. As I drove by I noticed that there was a military plane but this is not part of the stadium complex, rather it belongs to the All Veterans Memorial Park next door. There's also an ice hockey rink and high school football stadium nearby.


Tickets are $10 for the good seats and $7 for GA. There are no ushers checking though, so just get the cheapies and sit where you want. With only one seating level, there's not a bad seat in the place. There are bleachers down the right field line and some grass seating that exists for kids to chase foul balls just beyond 3rd base. Luxury boxes ring the upper level of the concourse while a party deck lies at the left field corner. Sections are denoted by signs featuring famous Cedar Rapids alumni - not only recent grads but historical figures such as John McGraw and Lou Boudreau. The concourse also has decals of each of these stars as shown by John Lackey below.



The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the keyhole, the strip of dirt between home plate and the pitcher's mound. The park is also not symmetrical, measuring 315 down left field, 400 to center, and 325 down the right field line. The scoreboard is a typical small video board along with the line score above right center.


The team store is located on the concourse and has a small Hall of Fame inside. There are a number of inductees and a few displays on the history of baseball here. Definitely worth stopping in before the game.


There's a good array of food choices, including a healthy concession stand that sold wraps and even apples. There is also a large Klements barbeque stand that was selling hamburgers and other grilled stuff that seemed to be the best bet. With my cash at a premium though, I chose the cheaper hot dog option. Nothing special there.

Before the game, two Kernels players are assigned to the autograph stand. I guess the fans are rather jaded because neither Jon Karcich (left, 7th round, 2009) or Jose Jimenez (47th, 2009) had a single fan asking for an autograph. I took a picture and talked to them briefly. Nice guys who didn't start the first game but were scheduled to play in the second.


At first glance this seems to be a generic minor league park but I found it to be very enjoyable. Perhaps the only annoying thing was the "Make Noise" signs that would occasionally appear on the scoreboard. Let's leave the fake cheering to the majors now, will we? Seriously though, a great place to watch a game and I'll have to revisit as the game I saw didn't quite make it to 9 innings.

The Game - Peoria Chiefs 0 at Cedar Rapids Kernels 10 (5 innings)

The Cubs' affiliate from Peoria was visiting the Kernels, who are under the Angels' wing (sorry, couldn't resist). Stephen Locke (22nd round, 2009) got the start for Cedar Rapids against Robert Whitenack (8th, 2009). The game started poorly for Peoria when shortstop Logan Watkins (21st, 2008 but now the Cubs' 7th-best prospect) couldn't make the throw on a grounder from leadoff man Jean Segura (pictured below). It was scored an infield hit and after a walk, Jeremy Cruz (13th, 2009) tripled home both runners. This was good news because Cruz was the game's Arby's RBI guy. With those RBIs, all fans got a free Arby's melt. Free food!


Anyway, the game continued as Cedar Rapids added 2 more on another walk and 3 singles to make it 4-0 after an inning.

Korean Jae-Hoon Ha looks foolish on this strikeout

Meanwhile Locke was unhittable. In fact, he was perfect through 3.2 innings before walking D.J. Fitzgerald (22nd, 2009). Fitzgerald stole second but was thrown out at third to end the inning. Locke continued to shut down the Chiefs in the 5th, with the only baserunner reaching on an error.

Matt Cerda (4th, 2008) fouls this off

At this point the P.A. announcer came on to say that rain was expected in the next 10 to 15 minutes and fans should move to a safe area. Well, with the score 4-0 in the middle of the 5th, the game was official. So I expected that the Kernels would try to bat quickly to see if Locke could get the full 7 inning no-no. But they didn't. They pelted out 7 hits to score 6 runs, aided by an error by Watkins.

As Locke took the field for the 6th, the umpires signaled the tarp to be brought out. What? It wasn't raining yet. No matter, the grounds crew set the tarp and we waited. It took 35 minutes for the rains to come and the game could have been finished in that time. I guess they didn't want the grounds crew out there during a thunderstorm, but they certainly erred on the side of caution. After another 45 minutes of rain, the game was called and the second game was postponed.

So Locke gets his no-hitter, albeit a rain-shortened 5-inning one. It was the lead story on milb.com though, mainly because most leagues are in their all-star breaks.

I think the umpires should have continued the game for a bit longer, but as it was official they must have felt it better to be safe than sorry.

Player to Watch


Duh. Stephen Locke (above) threw a no-hitter. Yeah, it was just 5 innings, but that's not enough time to judge the batters so Locke gets the award.

The Drive Back

First stop was the local Arby's to get my free sandwich. This is where the iPhone is so handy. I just did a quick search and found one just over a mile from the ballpark. The value of the burger was $1.54 and I probably spent $1.50 in gas to get there but it was worth it - yummy stuff.

I then headed back to Davenport, staying on the interstates this time. It was a torrential
downpour for most of the way and I didn't expect the Quad Cities game to be played, but it took them a while to call it. So I didn't get to return to Modern Woodmen Park on this trip and missed a free cap as it was giveaway night. Oh well, got to watch the Home Run Derby instead.

Thoughts

Out of 23 scheduled innings today, I saw 5. But I also saw a no-hitter and got a free Arby's burger. So not a total loss.

The difference between low-Class A ball and AAA is huge. Most of the guys I saw today are not going to make it to the show. They are good players but you can immediately see the difference. Some of it is experience, but most of it is missing talent. The biggest difference is the lack of command of the pitchers. At the lower levels, walks are far too common and the pitchers can't make the adjustments when their mechanics fail them.

Baseball uses the term prospect to denote a young player who may have an impact in the major leagues. But each team has perhaps 20 prospects out of a minor league roster of around 150 players. The other "non-prospects" are referred to as organizational filler - players who serve to fill out teams and provide competition. Generally prospects are drafted early, and the later rounds are where filler players are taken. I think that teams don't put a lot of thought into these later rounds. Sure, sometimes a diamond in the rough is found as with Albert Pujols (13th round, 1999). But generally GMs are graded on their top picks so the incentive to provide quality teams in the lower minors is not that high.

The reason I mention this is because Cedar Rapids was better in all aspects of the game, even without their best player, Mike Trout, who was at the Futures Game. It seems like the Angels do spend more time on the later rounds and it shows at this level. Cubs fans, I'm afraid your future is not as bright.

Next Up

Tomorrow is a rest day as there's no baseball within a 3-hour radius and the All-Star Game is on, but on Wednesday I'm off to Burlington to catch the Bees in more Midwest League action. Talk to you then!

Best,

Sean

2 comments:

  1. Sean,

    We are really enjoying reading about your Iowa baseball sojourn. We travel up to Iowa each year from Kansas City to check out Midwest League action. We really like the old WPA park in Clinton -- old but charming.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi,

    Thanks for your comment. Had a great time in Iowa, although too short in Clinton. Hope to get back, it's really a great place to relax.

    Sean

    ReplyDelete