Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Omaha Storm Chasers 2 vs Durham Bulls 1 (AAA National Championship) - September 17, 2013

When I began this trip, I focused on optimizing a schedule that would allow me to see every NFL stadium. I didn't bother looking at schedules from other leagues but now that the trip is underway, I have a bit of time here and there to see games in other sports. Last week I managed to get to Pawtucket to see game 3 of the International League championship series, which was eventually won by Durham in four games. The victory was not the end of Durham's season though as they moved on to a single-game national championship against the winner of the Pacific Coast League.

National championships at this level are nothing new. Between 1905 and 1991, there were 62 series of various lengths and featuring different leagues. Even Havana had a team that won the 1959 title. For three years between 1998-2000, there was a best-of-five series played in Las Vegas. Poor attendance doomed that, but the concept was reborn in 2006, with a single AAA championship game held in Oklahoma City, where it remained for five years. In 2011, the game took place in Albuquerque as part of an annual rotation, and last year it was in Durham. This year it moved to Allentown, home of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. As Allentown is just 80 miles north of Philadelphia, where I would be on Thursday for the Eagles' game, I decided to make the trip as I enjoy playoff games of any kind.

It was a perfect fall night and the fans were out in droves, with 9,601 making the trek along with me. It was a great atmosphere befitting a national championship with crowded concourses, music, and lots of promtions, including Flugitive, a tent dedicated to ensuring you got your flu shot and were thus not a "Flugitive". Get it?

The Lehigh Valley franchise is the one that left my hometown of Ottawa after the 2007 season and so I have always had some animosity towards them, but after seeing such a turnout for a game that didn't feature their home team, I realized that these fans deserve a team much more than those in Canada's capital city.

Another highlight was the Budweiser Clydesdales (above), who were in town for the past week. Above they are being prepared for their entrance.

The PCL champ was the Omaha Storm Chasers, affiliate of Kansas City. Amazingly, Omaha won their division with a 70-74 record and then romped through the playoffs, while Durham was the best team in AAA, finishing 87-57. Jake Odorizzi, the number 45 prospect in the minors who spent 2012 with Omaha and was then traded to Tampa Bay as part of the James Shields deal, started for Durham while Chris Dwyer (above) took the bump for Omaha.

Omaha scored singles in the second and sixth, but it was Dwyer who was the story, retiring the first 18 batters he faced. In other words, he was perfect through six. In the seventh he got the first two hitters, bringing Tim Beckham to the plate. Sadly, Beckham singled on the swing above and the perfecto was no more. The fans stood and applauded, aware that they had witnessed a superb performance. Dwyer finished the 7th but was replaced in the 8th by Michael Mariot, who yielded a long solo homer to pinch-hitter Leslie Anderson but escaped with no further damage. Mariot continued in the ninth but a hit by Cole Figueroa and a walk to Beckham brought sidearming lefty Zach Jackson in to face Vince Belnome with two away. A single would tie the game, a double or better would win it. It may only be AAA, but it was important to both teams and their fans and Jackson won the battle, striking out Belnome to preserve the 2-1 win. The players ran to the mound and jumped around, although it was rather muted when compared to similar celebrations in the major leagues.

Given their records, I expected an easy win for Durham but Omaha was able to continue their amazing streak, helped by the fact that Dwyer was very well rested. The Storm Chasers went 7-1 in the playoffs to finish 77-75, good enough to be declared the best AAA team in the nation.

It was great to be able to attend this game, which is the symbolic end of the minor league season. Now I can resume my NFL trip, first by driving to Philadelphia for Thursday's game against former coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. Check back Friday for a photo post from that one.



1 comment:

  1. Sean, thanks for the warm comments about IronPigs fans and the good show the front office staff put on Tuesday night. We really are true baseball fans here, and we've hungered for a team of our own for years. Only in 1988 did that dream become a reality. I've been a season ticket-holder since the very first game, and wouldn't miss it for the world!