Thursday, July 21, 2016

Kingsport Mets 6 at Elizabethton Twins 5 (Appalachian League) - July 20, 2016


The last stop on my trip was Elizabethton, home of the Twins Appalachian League affiliate and also birthplace of Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys.



The Twins play out of Joe O'Brien Field, right next to the scenic Watauga River (just a couple of miles along the river is Sycamore Shoals, the first settlement outside the 13 colonies). As with all Appy League parks, parking is free, though the lot here is gravel. They've done a nice job landscaping the area in front of the ballpark too.



There is a single ticket window, with GA seats going for the ridiculously low price of $4, while reserved seats behind the plate are $6.



The benches along first base (below) are more popular because they are not blocked by the protective netting and are more spacious than the seats along third.



You will note that each section is denoted by a famous Twin or two. The middle section below is Morneau, while the one on the right is Mauer, both names recognizable to fans everywhere. The far left, however, is the Smith & Reed section. Smith refers to Ray Smith, who played here in 1977 and enjoyed a brief MLB career, hitting a single home run in 1981 off Jerry Don Gleaton. Reed is Jeff Reed, who began his pro career as a 17-year-old in 1980 and ended up in the majors for 17 seasons. It is amazing what you can find on the internet these days. The third base side is much smaller and only Kent Hrbek is celebrated there.



Other more recent Twins are honoured on the back of the seating structure.



There are picnic tables underneath here as well, so you can enjoy a meal before the game. The concession stand is called Miss Jane's Hardball Cafe and offers some unique fare for a ballpark, including a grilled chicken salad and fried crown bologna. I had eaten beforehand at Jiggy Ray's, a nearby pizza joint (highly recommended) so had to limit myself to a giant pickle at the ballpark, a bargain at $1. Interestingly, alcohol is not sold here, one of two Appy League stadiums so restricted.



Below is the view from first base. The protective netting only blocked the view of the batter, at least from where I was sitting.



The full view from the reserved seats below. This picture is taken through the netting, which is held up by poles that further block your view, another reason to buy the cheaper seats.



One touch I liked is having the updated league standings posted in the outfield.



Overall, Joe O'Brien Field is another delightful Appy League ballpark, simple and affordable. I really appreciate these smaller venues, where a thousand amenities and distractions are not required to have a nice night out. The focus is on baseball, which is the way it should be.

The Game



After seeing some pretty decent contests over the past few nights, I had a hunch that this one would be messy, and I was right. The Kingsport Mets were in town with Chris Viall (6th round pick in 2016 out of Stanford, above) taking the hill, while the Twins replied with Domenick Carlini (16th, 2016). Down 1-0 in the top of the second, the Mets had two runners on when Raphael Ramirez (18th, 2014) laced one that went all the way to the wall in center field. Ramirez raced around the bases and was waved home, beating the throw by a half second for the inside-the-park homer, an exciting play at any level.



The Mets added two more in the fourth when Cecilio Aybar reached on a throwing error by third baseman Trey Cabbage (4th, 2015, Twins #19 prospect, signing autographs above). Ramirez singled Aybar to third, and a wild pitch brought him home. Ramirez later advanced to third on another wild pitch (Carlini threw 4 on the evening) and scored on a groundout to make it 5-1. With a man on first and one out in the bottom of the 5th, Viall induced a perfect double play ball to short, but Aybar dropped it, thus costing Viall the win, as he had reached his pitch limit. He was replaced by Jose Carlos Medina (not to be confused with Mets outfielder Jose Miguel Medina) who snuffed out the rally with no further damage.

The game moved slowly through the middle innings with lots of baserunners, but none of them made it home. In the top of the 8th, Patrick McGuff came on in relief for Elizabethton with men on first and second and 2 out. Surprisingly, he tried to pick the guy off first, but threw wildly, allowing the Mets sixth run to score. There was a full moon above center field (below) which may explain all the weirdness.



With Kingsport up 6-1, it looked like the game was over, but Lewin Diaz (#29 prospect for Minnesota) hit a three-run bomb in the bottom of the 8th to make it 6-4, leading to an exciting finish in the bottom of the ninth. Adrian Almeida was pitching for Kingsport and hit a batter and unleashed two wild pitches that allowed him to third. He also walked another while getting two strikeouts. Travis Blankenhorn (3rd, 2015, #16 prospect) popped out to seemingly end the game, but the Mets let it fall in for a single that scored a run and made it 6-5. Alex Kiriloff (15th overall pick in 2016) came up with a chance to tie the game, but struck out as the Mets held on for an ugly 6-5 win.

In the end, there were 6 errors and 7 wild pitches as the game took 3:23 to complete. Not pretty, but still memorable and glad the Mets won to end the trip.

Notes

For some reason, I always thought this town was pronounced Elizabee-thon, similar to the adjective describing the era of Queen Elizabeth I. I didn't even notice the 't' after the 'h', and had spelled it incorrectly in all my previous posts. I was only advised of the proper pronunciation when I asked a waitress. It is simply Elizabeth-ton and I have corrected it elsewhere.

Next Up

I've got one more trip planned in August that will take me back to Tennessee and the Carolinas to complete a number of minor leagues, including the Appalachian. I'll post the schedule in a few days, so check back for that.

Best,

Sean


2 comments:

  1. Hey thanks, this is terrific! Sent the picture of my son pitching to the grandparents. Have fun.

    Best,
    Mike Viall

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, glad you found this and thanks for the comment. I'll be following Chris as he makes his way up the chain and hope to see him at Citi Field in a few years.

    ReplyDelete