Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Palm Beach Cardinals 6 at Charlotte Stone Crabs 8 - June 19, 2012

After spending the morning at DeSoto National Memorial in Bradenton, I drove an hour south to Port Charlotte, home of the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the FSL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Charlotte Sports Park

Opened in 1987, the Charlotte Sports Park originally hosted the Texas Rangers' spring training facilities before they moved to Arizona for the 2003 season. After sitting empty for six springs, the stadium was renovated and the Tampa Bay Rays took over the complex in 2009. The renovations are impressive; I thought the stadium was recently constructed rather than being 25 years old.

The ballpark is located off El Jobean Road with nothing in the immediate vicinity. Parking is $4, the most expensive in the league so far. Tickets are also relatively costly, ranging from $11 down to $7 for the berm seats. Buy those cheapies and sit where you want though as there are 7,000 seats and about 1,000 fans. As a sign of how empty the ballpark is on most days, there are cobwebs between seats in the upper rows.

This is not a complaint, just the way it is in the Florida State League. Ballparks here are too big for the small crowds that turn up for these minor-league affairs. Concourses are huge but empty and there are only a few concession stands open. As you walk around the concourse, you can hear the radio broadcast from speakers scattered around and there are certain seats in the stands that are close enough to these speakers if you prefer that option.

Hot dogs here are just $2 and there were some non-standard items too such as a turkey sandwich combo for $7.50. However, I wasn't able to buy the sandwich as a single item, and as the combo only included a bag of chips, I went for the cheap hot dog instead. There was also a picnic area serving a set menu, but you needed a special ticket to enjoy what looked to be a very tasty meal.

You can make your way around the entire ballpark along the Baseball Boardwalk, which begins in the right field corner. Note the historical markers that are essentially meaningless since they refer to spring training events. I certainly don't remember Pat Burrell's Grand Slam against the Blue Jays.

There's also a tiki bar behind the left field fence, with a small pond lying just beyond. These bars seem to be the norm in the FSL, and are probably quite popular during the spring, but I didn't see many fans partaking during the game I attended.

There is little else to note here. The Rays have added the same pennants (including the 2011 Wild Card "title" that annoys me to no end) and "famous moment in Rays history" posters that decorate Tropicana Field.

The main scoreboard is basic and there is a small graphics board in the fence that shows a picture of the batter, but no stats.

The sunset was quite nice from the top rows along the first base side. That is the press box on the left of the photo: it appears as if the Rays logo was hit by a foul ball and has yet to be replaced. As the park is out in the open, a nice breeze was blowing throughout the game and it kept things very comfortable all night long.

Overall, Charlotte Sports Park is the most typical ballpark of the five I have seen so far. Yes, there are few fans, but those that go really love the game and are having fun, which makes it a great place to relax. If you are driving between Tampa and Miami, check the Stone Crabs' schedule to see if you can check out a game.

The Game

Albert Suarez (throwing below), a member of the Rays' 40-man roster, started for Charlotte and was strong through 3, giving up a solitary single. Anthony Ferrara (7th round, 2008) took the hill for Palm Beach and kept the game scoreless despite allowing 5 runners in the first three frames.

With one out in the top of the 4th, Chris Edmondson (43rd, 2010) reached on an error, and that seemed to rattle Suarez, who gave up a monster homer to Jonathan Rodriguez (17th round in 2009, below fouling one back). Two walks and three singles led to three more runs and the end of the evening for Suarez as Palm Beach sent 10 runners to the plate.

Ferrara didn't seem to enjoy the extended break though, hitting prospect Derek Dietrich (2nd round in 2010, below) to lead off the bottom half of the frame and then walking Riccio Torrez (4th, 2011). Lucas Bailey (4th round in 2009, failing to hold the foul tip above) drove both in with a 3-run homer to make it close and then things got ugly fast. Another hit batsman, two singles and a double, and two errors led to five more runs, with Dietrich scoring twice in the inning as Charlotte took an 8-5 lead. After three scoreless stanzas, the teams combined for 13 runs in the 4th, an inning that took nearly an hour to complete.

Both starters were done early, victims of some poor defense and pitch counts, and the bullpens did their job, keeping more runs off the board until the 8th, when Palm Beach loaded the bases on a triple, walk, and another hit batsman. Closer Chris Rearick (41st, 2010) came on and gave up a single to Edmonson that scored a run but Mike O'Neill (31st, 2010) was thrown out at the plate to end the threat.

Rearick tossed a perfect ninth to complete his 14th save on the season. Amazingly, 13 of 14 runs were scored in the 4th inning, certainly a statistical oddity.


Charlotte's right fielders is Mikie Mahtook (31st overall in 2011), who played with the USA college team in the 2010 World University Baseball Championship that took place in Japan. I attended a few of those games and it is always fun to see these players a couple of years later in the minors. He is off to a solid start and made the all-star game and it will interesting to see him move up the ladder. Unfortunately, he was the only Stone Crab batter to not get a hit, although he did score after reaching on an error.

Next Up

I'm in Jupiter on the east coast and getting ready to visit the Jupiter Hammerheads, who are hosting Fort Myers tonight. Thursday sees me move to Miami for the Heat's chance at a championship. It's an exciting time so check back to see what happens.



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