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.


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.



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