Sunday, April 26, 2015

Portland Pirates 2 at Manchester Monarchs 6 (AHL Eastern Conference QF, Game 2) - April 25, 2015


After a delightful day touring the Currier Museum of Art (highly recommended), it was time for the main event of my Manchester weekend, the alliterative AHL playoff game between the Portland Pirates and Manchester Monarchs. The Monarchs are moving to the West Coast after the season and being replaced by an ECHL team with the same name so this was my last chance to see the AHL at the Verizon Wireless Arena.



Located at the southern edge of downtown, the rink is one of the biggest in the league, at least among those that don't house a major league team. Note the huge sloped roof (not so obvious above) is so designed to allow the heavy New Hampshire snow to fall off. Manchester has free street parking on the weekend, so you can find a spot nearby and avoid paying for a lot.



Whereas most arenas block off portions of the upper deck for AHL games, all seats are sold here, with capacity listed at 9,852 for hockey. The cheapest seat for this second game of the conference quarterfinal was $12 and that left me in the top row behind one of the nets (view above). I am pretty sure this is farther away than the top row at Nassau Coliseum. Even further away are the top seats along the sides, which are above some luxury suites. The view from here is seen below. Note that the upper bowl seats along the side form a parabola, a rare setup in this sort of indoor venue.



The main entrance leads you to a platform behind one of the nets (below) but access to the rest of the seats is up a set of stairs on either side. The main concourse is relatively narrow and during intermissions, lineups from the concession stands and restrooms can make a walkaround a trying proposition. There are two additional mini concourses that lead to the upper decks on the sidelines.



If you have figured it out yet, the Monarchs are affiliated with the Los Angeles Kings, who won a couple of Stanley Cups in recent years. There is a banner honouring those players who played here and were on the first Cup-winning squad.



The lower bowl is at a shallow angle, so even in the 10th row, some of the ice is blocked by the glass. This is not a problem during the play, but limits your ability to take unobstructed pictures.  Like so many hockey teams now, the Monarchs darken the arena for introductions, so get to your seat early. The players emerge from a giant inflated lion's head. It actually looks pretty cool.



Overall, however, I found the venue to be somewhat limited in its amenities given its large size. The design is unique but not necessarily the smartest use of space. That's a minor complaint though, and I'll be back here to check out the ECHL next season.

The Game

The Monarchs finished first in the Eastern Conference while Portland (Arizona) barely made the playoffs. Mike McKenna (who has seen action in 22 NHL games for four franchises) got the start for Portland, despite giving up 4 goals on 14 shots in Game 1, a 5-2 Manchester victory.



Well, things were even worse for McKenna on this night, as just 20 seconds in, Manchester's Michael Mersch chipped the puck into the net after taking a pass from league MVP Brian O'Neill (above) stationed behind the net. Ten seconds after that, Jordan Weal skated down the right wing and took a harmless shot from the corner that McKenna somehow played into the net, and Manchester led 2-0 with only half a minute gone.



McKenna was mercifully pulled and replaced by Louis Domingue (above, who I had seen come into a game in Ottawa earlier this year). That seemed to sort Portland out and they prevented any more goals, scoring themselves with 14 seconds left in the period as a Brendan Shinnimin point shot deflected off a Monarch defender past Jean-Francois Berube (below).



The second period was scoreless despite Portland being afforded a five minute power play due to an Andrew Crescenzi boarding major and we entered the third with the outcome still in doubt. But not for long. First, Manchester's Sean Backman tipped home a point shot for a power-play goal at 1:53; just 17 seconds after that O'Neill drilled a shot from the slot that beat Domingue under the bar, and a further 22 seconds elapsed before Nic Dowd finished a rush by deking a shell-shocked Domingue and sliding the puck home. That's three goals in 39 seconds, a franchise record and more than enough for Manchester to cruise to a 6-2 win and take a 2-0 lead in the best of 5 series.



I was not impressed with Portland's overall play, as well as the general lack of intensity displayed by either team. The AHL playoffs are not much different than the regular season from what I can tell, which makes sense, no one grows up dreaming of scoring the Calder Cup winning goal.

Notes

Brendan Periini, Arizona's first-round pick in 2014 (12th overall) appeared in his first pro game just two days before his 20th birthday. He finished with a shot on goal and a -2 rating.

I had planned to drive up to Portland for Game 3, but the rather anemic displayed convinced me to remain in Manchester for another Fisher Cats ballgame, also reducing the Sunday night drive home. Portland won 3-2, scoring the winner with 3 seconds left. Domingue took the victory, while McKenna wasn't even dressed. It was the first playoff win for a Coyotes AHL affiliate since May 27, 2008, when San Antonio Rampage beat Toronto in the opening round.

Next Up

I'm off to the Barbados this weekend for the third and final test of England's tour of the West Indies. Check back next week for a recap.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Binghamton Mets 5 at New Hampshire Fisher Cats 10 (Eastern League) - April 24, 2015


The AHL playoff schedule was released just after my visit to Bridgeport last weekend, and I was happy to see that the Manchester Monarchs would be at home on Saturday night for the second game of their series against Portland. Manchester is one of the teams that is moving to California this offseason, so I wanted to visit Verizon Wireless Arena this season. Even better, Manchester's minor league ball team, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, was on a homestand.

I had visited Manchester twice before to see the Fisher Cats. Once in 2006 when I had misread the schedule and showed up a day late for a game (back then, the schedule showed the dates in local time - Japan, where I lived, is a day ahead) and then again in 2009 where I saw the last few innings of a make up game before the regularly scheduled game was postponed.



Six years later, and I was finally able to make a third trip to the Granite State and add this ballpark to my official venue count. In the meantime, it had changed names, with the sponsor going from MerchantsAuto.com to Northeast Delta Dental. I'm not sure which is worse. I described the park in my original post, and it hasn't changed much. It still costs $10 to park in a lot, while street parking is available just a few steps away. Meters are enforced until 8 pm, so you'll have to fork over $1.50 if you arrive around 6. Many Mancunians still prefer to spend that extra $8.50 to save the short walk, and there are small traffic jams after the game as a result.



The field is in poor shape as you can see above, a result no doubt of the harsh winter that New England experienced over the past umpteen months, while I found the concourse area to be a bit dreary, again with the weather the prime culprit. It was unseasonably cold, with the temperature dropping to just above freezing midway through. That didn't stop me from trying an IPA from Baxter's Brewery, based in Lewiston, ME. It is refreshing to have these microbrews available at smaller ballparks now, and for less than a pint in NYC!



If you want something outside the typical concessions, visit the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill, above the left field fence. There is a patio that will be great during the summer (below), while above that is a full-service restaurant with open windows to the field, as well as TVs tuned to ESPN and NESN. I sought refuge here after the 5th inning of the freezeathon, but it was no warmer than the seating bowl. No special brews here either, just a few varieties of Sam Adams, which is fair enough. They also have a good sized menu of pub food, with a burger costing $9 and other entrees similarly priced.



The defending Eastern League champion Binghamton Mets were in town for a four-game set, with New Hampshire having won the first 5-4 on Thursday night. On this freezing Friday, the only thing warm were the bats, as the teams combined to smack 27 hits. New Hampshire's were a bit more timely though, and included 3 homers as they won 10-5 in a game that took 2:54 and seemed to last twice as long. There was no way I was going to leave early though.



Dwight Smith (above), drafted 53rd overall (first round supplemental) by Toronto in 2011 and the Jays #11 prospect according to MLB.com, homered in the first off Gabriel Ynoa, the Mets #15 prospect (below). Smith later doubled and singled, and is doing quite well in his first appearance in AA. The hoodie has to go though.



Ryan Schimpf (5th, 2009) and Jake Fox (trying to make it back to The Show) also hit dingers for the Fisher Cats to back John Anderson (28th, 2008), who lasted 5 frames and yielded 2 runs while striking out 5. Ynoa is known for his control (63 walks in 505 career minor league innings), but walked 3 in his 4.2 innings, although the umpire seemed to have a rather small strike zone. At this level, many of the players are prospects, but most of the umpires are not and I wonder if that is noted in the scouting reports sent up the chain. Another big name playing for Binghamton is Brandon Nimmo, the 13th overall pick in 2011, who went 2/5 in this game and is expected to join the Mets in 2016.



The scoreboard ran out of 2s I guess, as the Fisher Cats added a deuce in the eighth to salt things away. Glad the home team won, and it was good to get a close look at a few up and coming Blue Jays, but I was still very happy when this one ended and I was finally able to say that I had seen a Fisher Cats home game.

Notes

Although this is a Toronto farm club, it is smack in the middle of Red Sox country, as you can tell by the scoreboard in the left field fence. I wore a Blue Jays hat and jersey and was the only one so attired receiving the occasional puzzled look from a fan wearing Red Sox gear. There are banners around the concourse celebrating former Fisher Cats who made it to Toronto, although sadly none of them are still with the big club, such as JP Arencibia.



New Hampshire won Saturday's game by the same 10-5 score. I then dragged my wife to Sunday's game, where we could enjoy a slightly warmer afternoon at the Bar and Grill. The Fisher Cats fell 3-0 in a game that saw only 10 hits and lasted a mere 2:15. My wife believes her prayers to the gods of quick baseball games helped, while I think it was because it was getaway day.

I have only one Eastern League ballpark left to see, that being the Diamond in Richmond. I visited there way back in 2003 when the franchise was the AAA affiliate of the Braves, but the stadium has undergone some renovations in the intervening decade and to fulfil my venue count rules, I'll be paying another visit there sometime this season. As an aside, the day after I saw that game in Richmond, I went to Lynchburg, Virginia to see the Hillcats. I recall big Walter Young (who became the heaviest MLB player in history in 2005) playing for Lynchburg, but sadly not the batter behind him in the lineup: some guy named Jose Bautista. It is great that USA Today maintains those old boxscores. If you are a fan of minor league ball, you should keep track of the games you see; some of these players are not prospects but go on to be all-stars anyway. It is always fun to look back and see who you might have witnessed before they were famous.

Best,

Sean


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Stadium in Decline


Independent baseball leagues are different than the affiliated minors, though fans often confuse the two. All players in the minor leagues are signed to a contract by the parent MLB club and the entire system is designed to develop top prospects into major league players. The independent leagues, as you can probably guess, are not affiliated with the majors, instead providing an opportunity for washed up and undrafted players to continuing pursuing their dream. There are several independent circuits around the country, including the Can-Am League, which welcomes back an Ottawa franchise this season.

The only stable thing about these leagues is instability, with franchises coming and going every year. To be sure, there are great success stories like the Winnipeg Goldeyes and St. Paul Saints of the American Association, but when you realize that they used to be part of the Northern League; you will understand the nature of the business. Every year, a few clubs move or disappear completely. One notable example was the Newark Bears, who began operating in 1998 as a charter member of the Atlantic League and lasted 16 years before entering enforced hibernation.

Founded by original Blue Jay Rick Cerone, a Newark native, the Bears did all right at first, playing out of a new ballpark just a few minutes from Newark Penn Station and attracting famous major leaguers such as Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco to drive ticket sales along with baseballs. As time passed and the novelty wore off, Cerone sold the team and things went from bad to worse. A league championship in 2007 mattered little as the team ultimately fell victim to its location. Newark is simply not a pleasant place to visit and with several other New Jersey based teams competing for limited entertainment dollars, fans chose more convenient (and reputedly safer) destinations to spend their money. The Bears moved to the Can Am League in 2011 with Tim Raines as manager, but only lasted there for three seasons before finally folding.



So what happened to that shiny new ballpark? It still stands and retains its original name: Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium in honour of long-departed minor and Negro league clubs. It's only 15 years old but barely used as only the NJIT Highlanders call it home these days. NJIT is a Division 1 independent that hosts between around 20 games a year at Riverfront, and with the season nearly over, I decided to pay a visit yesterday to see how the ballpark was faring without a major tenant. The answer was not pretty.



The first sign of a lack of maintenance was outside, where the sign was missing an 'S' on Bears, as you can see above. The Bears auctioned off every bit of equipment last year and so there are no ticket sales, concessions, or anything else for that matter, not that the 42 fans in attendance needed anything. A few remnants of the old tenants can be found, including a lineup board and standings from the last game the Bears played in 2013.



The Ring of Honor is also still in place, with some famous names who once piled their trade in Newark, but it too is starting to look worse for wear. All in all, the visit was rather depressing.



One of the attractions of the ballpark was the view of downtown Manhattan, but it is barely visible just to the left of the batters eye. Oh, and that brick on the wall is just covering of some sort, likely to block out all the advertising that was never taken down.



The field is in good shape, so you can't say that the stadium has fallen into disrepair. Still, in the only restroom available, a couple of the urinals have been ripped from their spot on the wall, only to rest on their side a few feet away. It might be the work of vandals, but at any rate, nobody is bothering to fix it. It is an odd feeling to be watching a game in what is essentially a ghost ballpark and I suspect the Highlanders will eventually have to move elsewhere.



Speaking of the Highlanders, there was a game played with Hofstra visiting, but it was hard to watch. College teams use their best pitchers during the weekend, so midweek games usually see the worst starters and that seemed to be the case in this one. The first inning saw 2 walks, 3 HBP, 1 WP, and 5 runs. By the 5th, it was 11-4 for Hofstra so I headed home, glad that I had a chance to get inside the stadium but swearing off midweek college baseball. The Pride held on for a 13-7 win if you care.



Notes

Newark was a great minor league stop during the first half of the 20th century. The Negro League's Newark Eagles included Hall of Earners Larry Doby and Monte Irvin and the club won the 1946 Negro League World Series. As well, the original Newark Bears were minor league affiliates of the Yankees at one point.

The Bears are for sale should you have a desire to lose a lot of money in a short time.

Next Up

The AHL playoffs begin on Wednesday and the schedule maker was kind enough to have Manchester and Portland play on back-to-back nights in each city over the weekend, allowing me to add two more AHL rinks to my total. Even better, both towns have AA ball teams on a homestand (including Toronto's affiliate, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats). I'm hoping to catch 4 games in 3 days, so check back next week so see if I managed to do so.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hartford Wolf Pack 2 at Bridgeport Sound Tigers 1 (AHL) - April 19, 2015


Another weekend means another trip to an AHL rink in the Northeast. I'd seen all the arenas in the area but Bridgeport, Utica, Manchester, Portland and Hershey. Of these, only Bridgeport failed to qualify for the postseason, so I decided to pay them a visit on the last weekend of the regular season and save the others for some playoff action.



The arena is located just 5 minutes from the Amtrak and MetroNorth station, an off-peak ticket is $13.75 and gets you there in less than 90 minutes from Grand Central. A friend had given me a voucher for a free ticket which always helps. I wasn't the only fan with one of these freebies; as this was the last day on which they could be used, many had decided to see some free hockey, leading to a short wait at the box office, with the attendance of 6,345 being about a third more than the season average.



I had visited here for Fairfield basketball back in the middle of our miserable winter, and have to say that Webster Bank Arena is much better as a hockey venue. The concourses were busy and the crowd lively in what was a meaningless game.



If you wanted to watch the NHL playoffs, you could head to Masons behind section 103, a bar with a few TVs tuned to the action. As well, you could check out the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League, who were playing at Harbor Yard right next door.



As is usually the case in these single level rinks, the best seats are those near the top of the sides, which are usually left open by fans. I spent the first two periods down low but moved up to the top for the third period.



There are your usual banners, though three of them were for their very successful inaugural season over a decade ago, when they lost to Chicago in the Calder Cup Final. Note the logo change as well, as they adopted Islander colours at some point in the 2000s. The scoreboard has to be the best in the league, it spans nearly the length of the ice as you can see in the final shot down below.



Overall, Webster Bank Arena is a good place to watch hockey. It is the most convenient AHL venue from New York, though there are rumours the franchise will move to Long Island when the Nassau Coliseum is renovated. In the meantime, if you are in New York and want to see some decent minor league hockey, head to Bridgeport next season.



The Game

The Sound Tigers are owned by the New York Islanders, while the visiting Hartford Wolf Pack are the Rangers top farm team. A minor league battle of New York (well, Connecticut at least) should be pretty intense, right? Nope. With Hartford having secured the 4th seed and Bridgeport done for the year, only pride was on the line. A scoreless first period was dull, but the teams picked up the pace in the second, only to have goalies Kevin Poulin and Jeff Malcolm (below, he led Yale to their 2013 NCAA title) stymie all shooters.



With 3:26 left in the frame, Bridgeport's Colton Gillies lackadaisically crossed in front of his net, not noticing as Chris Mueller snuck around the back of cage and chipped at the puck. It bounced over an equally relaxed Poulin and into the net. Just off the face-off seconds later, Hartford shot the puck in and Poulin went to play it around the back of the next. The puck hit an outcropping and bounced to the front of the net where Ryan Potulny (below) had no trouble beating a scrambling Poulin. Two bad goals in 11 seconds pretty much doomed the Sound Tigers.



Although Alan Quine (below) scored a beauty midway through the third with a flying wrist shut to end Malcolm's shutout bid, Bridgeport could not find the tying marker and fell 2-1 to end their season in last place in the East.



Both teams were on their 3rd game in 3 days and in the future, I am going to skip such affairs. The quality is just so low that it becomes unwatchable at times. The AHL really needs to rethink their scheduling system; if this is a development league, they should develop players not exhaust them.



Notes

I don't know why these minor league clubs don't cooperate with each other in terms of scheduling games. The Bluefish started their game at 4, one hour after puck drop. If the Bluefish had moved their contest to 5:30 and marketed it as a Harbor Doubleheader, some intrepid fans (well, me at least) could have seen both games. The Binghamton Senators and Mets did this very thing over the weekend, charging $18 for a ticket to two games. This goes for the pro leagues as well: the Houston Dynamo and Astros play at the same time on May 16th; why not move the soccer match (with its fixed time) to 3 hours before the baseball game and encourage fans to see both with a discount ticket? Sports road trippers will thank you if you do!

Best,

Sean

Friday, April 17, 2015

Philadelphia Union 1 at NYCFC 1 - April 16, 2015


Did you know that Major League Soccer has a new team In New York? Yep, the brilliantly named NYCFC is one of two expansion teams (Orlando City FC is the other) to begin play in 2015, bringing the total number of teams in the circuit to 20 (Chivas USA folded after last season). NYCFC is jointly owned by Manchester City and the New York Yankees, so frontrunning fans should turn out in droves. The team will spend the first few seasons playing in Yankee Stadium while a new soccer only stadium is built somewhere within the 5 boroughs.



As MLS is one of the leagues on my venue count, I wanted to visit as soon as possible, and a weeknight game against the Philadelphia Union presented the best opportunity early in the season. Tickets were cheap on the secondary market, so I picked one up on StubHub and headed to the Bronx after work.



The crowd was small to start (the empty concourse above is a rarity at Yankee Stadium), but this was to be expected as they don't sell seats in the upper deck. As I wandered around, I saw that the Yankee Museum was open. I had been in here a couple of times before during Yankee games when it was crowded, but NYCFC fans couldn't care less about the history of their owners and the place was completely empty save for a security guard. I do not like the Yankees but you have to respect the history on display, with Babe Ruth bats and home run balls, a jersey from Gehrig, and on and on. It was nice to be able to take my time here for a change. An interesting bit of trivia for us Canadian baseball fans: the Yankees own the first World Series trophy with the Toronto Blue Jays written on it (1977, below), as well as the last (the trophy was redesigned for the 2000 series and now features blank flags).



My seat was down low near one corner flag in section 106, which is an outfield seat for baseball (view below). I would strongly suggest staying away from here as the scoreboard is partially blocked and you don't get a good view of the action at the other end from this angle. In fact, there are few good seats throughout the venue, Since the field not quite parallel to the seats, in some places you are quite far from the action even at field level. Seats behind either goal are probably the closest, with the general admission supporters' seats worth a look if you can stand up for a couple of hours. If you are not happy with your location, you can move around during halftime to find a better spot.



That's about all there is to say here. Concession prices are the same as for Yankee games (i.e. insanely overpriced) so don't bother unless you enjoy being gouged and contributing to the Evil Empire. If you only have time for one soccer stadium in the New York area, go to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, which is a proper venue for the beautiful game.

The Game



The match started quickly for Philadelphia who had a couple of chances parried away by NYCFC keeper Josh Saunders (above) before NYCFC took over. They had a few chances, with Mehdi Ballouchy missing a golden opportunity after finding himself alone in front, only to chip over the bar as the first half ended without a goal.



Twelve minutes into the second half, Ballouchy, who is on his sixth MLS team after being drafted 2nd overall by Real Salt Lake in 2006, atoned for his miss. After receiving a perfect pass from Khiry Shelton (2nd overall pick in this year's draft), Ballouchy avoided his defender and flicked a deft curling shot into the top right corner behind helpless rookie John McCarthy (#55 above). Ballouchy removed his shirt in celebrating his first goal in 3 years, earning him a yellow card.

It looked like NYCFC would escape with 3 points, but with four minutes to go. Union's Cristian Maidana lobbed a long ball into the box that drew 2 NYCFC defenders against Maurice Edu. Edu beat both and his header bounced to a wide open C.J. Sapong, who had no trouble booting it past Saunders to equalize. A late chance from Ballouchy was saved by McCarthy and the tie finished tied, 1-1. An entertaining game if you had low expectations but I don't think either team will contend for a playoff spot this year.



Notes

I overheard fans using the proverbial "we" to discuss the team ("we should have won, we always give up late goals"). Given this is the club's 6th game ever, I found it amusing that they had already identified so closely with the club and identified its weaknesses so clearly.

I can't think of a less original or interesting name than New York City Football Club. When MLS started, teams were given nicknames as in other leagues (Seattle Sounders, Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution etc.) but some pretentious ass decided that new teams should feature European monikers like Toronto FC, Sporting Kansas City, and D.C. United. Seven of the 20 clubs have these dull nicknames and expect more to come as clubs in Minnesota, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Miami should all be joining the league in the next few seasons. I know MLS wants to be taken seriously on the international stage, but give the league some personality first!

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Syracuse Chiefs 1 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders 3 (International League) - April 12, 2015


Back in 2003, I attended 40 games in 30 venues in 35 days in April and May, my only venture into hardcore sports road tripping (i.e. at least one game every day and no more than three straight days in any one city). The journey started with a snowstorm that caused me some difficulties in Buffalo (where opening day was played in 29 degree weather) and Rochester, but spring arrived when I turned south for Scranton. On the first Sunday of the minor league season, a perfect afternoon that represented the end of a long, cold winter, I saw the Ottawa Lynx shutout by Chase Utley and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons at Lackawanna County Stadium.

Twelve years later and although things have changed in AAA ball (the Ottawa Lynx are no more, the Scranton ball team is now the RailRiders and affiliated with the Yankees instead of the Phillies, and the stadium has been fully renovated and renamed PNC Field), I decided to repeat the past, returning to the Scranton area to welcome spring by watching a minor league game. The season started on Thursday, but the first few days were still chilly up in the northeast. Sunday turned out to be a perfect day though, a cloudless sky and temperatures in the high 60s, so I drove to Moosic, PA to renew acquaintances with my favourite sport for road tripping.



PNC Field is located in a valley just off 1-81, down Montage Mountain Road. Parking is $2 but you get a completely useless coupon book to help mitigate the cost. The ticket office is to the right of the main entrance, and you can pick up a free copy of the game day program before entering as well. Outside, the silver facade gleams in the sunlight, but it is inside where this stadium really shines. It is located at the bottom of a valley, giving it some great views of the hillside from the seating bowl. Early in the spring, the trees are still barren but a search of images shows that this place is quite attractive come summer and fall, when the leaves change.



Back in 2003, the field was an ugly artificial turf, but when the franchise signed with the Yankees in 2007, a grass field was mandated and it is top notch now. As well, there used to be an upper deck but that was removed as part of the renovations in 2012 and the seating bowl is now sleek, with about 18 rows in most sections. During the early part of the season, much of the seating bowl is in the shade throughout the afternoon; if you want to remain in the sun best to buy a lawn seat and bring a blanket. The spacious concourse encircles the entire field and is worth the obligatory tour, you can watch the starters warm up in the bullpen.



Concessions are reasonably priced, with jumbo hot dogs running $3.50 this season and offering the best condiment selection I have seen anywhere (below). There is a craft brew pub right behind home plate that had some decent offerings for $7 or so.



The only negative here (and I'm really reaching) is the scoreboard - it is huge but could contain more information on the batters and pitchers, such as the full lineups and more statistics. A minor quibble in what has become a wonderful ballpark destination. Scranton is only a couple of hours from my office (without traffic, about 3 1/2 hours during rush hour on a Friday) so I expect to return here much more often than every 12 years.



The Game

The Syracuse Chiefs (Washington's affiliate) were in town to open the season and had taken two of the first three contests. Chase Whitley (15th round, 2010, warming up in the photo above), who appeared in 24 games for New York last year, started for the RailRiders and was solid, scattering 4 hits over 5 scoreless innings. Meanwhile, Syracuse sent Scott McGregor (15th, 2008, St. Louis) to the mound. McGregor, a 28-year-old career minor leaguer who is no relation to the former Orioles star of the same name, gave up a solo shot to Tyler Austin (13th, 2010, below) in the second and allowed Austin to slam an RBI double in the 4th that ended his afternoon prematurely.



In the 6th, SWB's Rob Refsnyder (5th, 2012) reached on an error by Cutter Dykstra (son of Lenny and partner of Jamie-Lynn Sigler for you Sopranos fans) and Austin singled him to third. Austin Romine (2nd, 2007) followed with a double that scored Refsnyder to make it 3-0.


Tony Gwynn Jr.

Syracuse spoiled the shutout when Caleb Ramsey hit a solo homer in the top of the 9th, but that was all they could muster in a 3-1 loss that took 2:40. All in all, a great day and the first of what I hope to be many minor league games this season.



Player to Watch

Austin, who had a chance for the cycle in the 8'" but grounded out. He is the Yankees #18 prospect. Click that link if you want to see the future of baseball; each team has 30 prospects listed - that's 900 players to study!

Refsnyder, a second baseman, is the Yankees #5 prospect and an interesting story. He led Arizona to the NCAA championship in 2012 and was named the CWS Most Outstanding Player. Born in South Korea, he was adopted as a baby by parents based in Southern California. If he makes the Yankees, I wonder if there will be any reaction from the Korean community here or overseas.

Notes

The Scranton franchise played in Jersey City (where I now work) between 1937-50 and my hometown of Ottawa between 1951-54. Perhaps that is why I feel a historical connection to this ballpark.



The Scranton area is known for anthracite (a form of coal) and somewhat tangentially, the train system that delivered it around the country. That's where the new nickname RailRiders comes from. If you are a fan of old railroads, visit the Steamtown National Historic Site which has some great displays about the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railway that used to pass through here.

Best,

Sean