Friday, August 28, 2015

Johnson City Cardinals 4 at Danville Braves 8 (Appalachian League) - August 25, 2015


There is nothing better than weekday afternoon baseball, particularly in small minor league towns. While the rest of the country toils, a few lucky kids get a field trip (literally), some retirees enjoy their leisure time in the great outdoors, and us sports travellers are able to schedule a day-night doubleheader in two cities. Such was the case on the last day of my Carolina Minors Trip when the Appalachian League's Danville Braves got the minor league slate underway with an 11 a.m. start, allowing me to spend the evening in Kannapolis.



The Braves play out of American Legion Post 325 Field, located in Dan Daniel Park just off US 29, across the North Carolina border. Take River Park Road past the No Outlet sign and soon the ballpark will appear on your right. As with all Appy League parks that I have visited, parking is free; in this case you might want to leave the car in the far corner to minimize the chance of an errant foul ball sending you to the repair shop.





There are two distinct seating areas here: three sections of reserved seats that are covered ($8) and several GA benches down the lines ($6). The reserved sections are A, B, and C and you should get B which is behind the plate. The reason for this is that sections A and C are set at odd angles to the field. Look at the picture below, that is section C, and you are not looking at the field at all.



Below is the view from Section C. Quite strange, perhaps the field was reset to increase the foul area behind the plate.



Of course, all three reserved sections are covered by protective netting, but the GA benches do allow a clear view.



As the stadium is located in the center of an urban park, your backdrop is a quiet forest. It really is a wonderful spot to spend a Tuesday afternoon, especially if you are in the shade.



The concession stands are in the building behind the seating area and offer a small variety, including a bologna burger for $4.25 and a BBQ sandwich for $4.50.



You will notice the Evan Gattis poster to the left of the concession stand above, a number of players are so honoured, though some, such as Yunel Escobar and Elvis Andrus, are only afforded the low-rent space on the restroom building.



A mural on the back of a building on the first base side adds a unique touch to Legion Field, which was named Minor League Baseball Season Field of the Year in 2011, an honour that I could not find any evidence of on the Internet, but which is mentioned on a poster next to this mural.



I found the sign below to be amusing as I've never seen a problem with fans bugging players during warmup, at least at this level. Perhaps the Danville faithful are a bit more aggressive in this regard, but today, they were all at work as only 667 were on hand.



The Braves have a mascot known as Blooper, definitely well-named for this Rookie League that has few error-free games. I guess he is a parrot of some kind?



Overall, this is a simple park that is perfect for the fans who want to watch a ballgame without all the bells and whistles. There were several groups of kids in attendance who were in the GA seats and added a bit of useful crowd noise, but otherwise it was just baseball. Not great baseball, but at this level, that is usually what you get.



The Game

Johnson City was in town and sent Brennan Leitao (26th round, 2015) to the hill against Matt Withrow (6th, 2015, below, a great pitcher's name).



Withrow was perfect through 4 frames while Leitao was not so lucky. You might have heard about Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP) in advanced sabermetrics. The concept is that the pitcher has little control over what happens to the ball after it is hit, except for home runs. This is certainly true to a point, we've all seen scorching line drives caught and mishits fall in for a single, though I think that when pitchers tire, they do give up more hits.

Anyway, the point is that Leitao was not pitching poorly, but everything the Braves put in play fell in for a hit. A leadoff double down the line that just fell fair,  a bunt single, and then three more ground balls that found hole  into the outfield gave Danville a 3-0 lead. In the second an error was followed by two more seeing-eye singles that made it 4-0, and three more runs were tacked on in the 4th, with Austin Riley (41st overall, 2015, Atlanta's #16 prospect below) contributing with an RBI double. Leitao gave up 12 hits while retiring just 11 batters but he really didn't pitch terribly.



Withrow, on the other hand, was superb and with the 7-0 lead, in line for the win. After retiring 13 straight (7 by strikeout), he gave up 2 singles and hit a batter to load the bases. His eighth strikeout had Withrow within an out of completing the necessary five frames, and when Joey Hawkins (40th and final round, 2015, from Oshawa) grounded to short it looked good. But Yeudi Grullon misplayed the ball and 2 unearned runs came into score. Withrow had reached his pitch limit and was pulled, thus rendering him ineligible for the win (the starter must throw 5 innings to be awarded the win).



The Cardinals added two more in the 6th off Steve Borkowski (UDFA) to make it interesting, but Riley doubled home another run in the 8th to end things. Reliever Matthew Custred (31st round, 2015, above) got the save with 2.2 innings of one-hit ball, while Borkowski picked up the win despite giving up 2 earned runs in just 1.2 frames. Withrow gets my Player To Watch award with his solid outing.



Five errors and 20 hits, but the game still only took 2:35. The PPM was 1.9, the fastest paced game I have seen in a while and gave me plenty of time to make the trip south to Kannapolis.

Notes

Hawkins was drafted 1211th overall out of 1215 players picked. Those that aren't drafted but are North Americans are referred to as UDFA (undrafted free agents) while those international players, none of whom are eligible to be drafted, are NDFA (non-draftable free agents) in my terminology.

Best,

Sean

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