Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Lowell Spinners 3 at Brooklyn Cyclones 4 (NY-Penn League Championship) - September 10, 2019


Despite having seen a game in all 160 active minor league ballparks (and 26 that are inactive), I have never seen a league title clinched. That is not entirely surprising as minor league playoffs are unpredictable and you can't really schedule extended road trips around them (this season, the Florida State League cancelled their playoffs due to Hurricane Dorian). In 2017, I did attend the AAA Championship, but that was for supremacy at an entire level, and featured two teams that had already won their circuits. So when the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League made it to their championship series, I decided to head down to Coney Island for Game 2 against Lowell. With all tickets just $5, this was a bargain that could not be ignored. The Cyclones had won the first game up in Massachusetts, and I was hoping for a sweep and a celebration, but it was not to be, as Lowell evened the series with a 3-1 win.



That meant a deciding Game 3, which would be held in Brooklyn the following night. I initially thought I would skip it, but as game time approached, I realized that this was a chance to see a trophy raised, and once again I made the 80-minute journey from home to the ballpark. And I'm glad I did, as I enjoyed one of the most entertaining games I have seen in some time.



Lowell (Boston) started Jay Groome (12th overall in 2016, Red Sox #6 prospect) who is on his way back from Tommy John surgery, while Brooklyn (Mets) countered with Nate Jones (5th, 2019). Groome lasted 2.2 innings, giving up a couple of runs on a walk to Brett Baty (Mets #2 prospect, 12th overall this year), a double from Ranfy Adon, a Jake Mangum (4th round, 2019, Mets #24 prospect) single, and an RBI groundout from Antoine Duplantis (12th, 2019). Lowell got those back on singles from Cameron Cannon (2nd, 2019, Boston's #14 prospect) and Joe Davis (19th, 2019) and an error from Adon as Jones departed after three innings. The bullpens were fantastic, with Matthew Allan (3rd, 2019, Mets #4 prospect) tossing 3 perfect innings, while Yusniel Padron-Artilles (22nd, 2018), a Cuban who had struck out 14 in the semifinals against Batavia, was nearly as good, with a Davis error responsible for his only baserunner through the 6th.



In the 7th, Mitch Ragan (15th, 2019) came in for Brooklyn and promptly gave up a homer to Marino Campana that gave Lowell the 3-2 lead. Oh-oh. With Padron-Artilles remaining on the hill for the Spinners, things looked bleak. But he was victimized by a Mangum single and then the hit of the game, a line-drive triple from Duplantis that was just fair down the right field line. That tied it, and then Yoel Romero singled home Duplantis to give the Cyclones the lead. Andrew Edwards (31st, 2019, above) came in and got out of the 8th unscathed after hitting Nick Decker (2nd, 2018, Red Sox #11 prospect). In the 9th, a single and a walk had fans biting their nails, but Edwards struck out Stephen Scott (10th, 2019 out of national champion Vanderbilt) and pinch hitter Alex Erro (17th, 2019) to clinch the title.



The Cyclones ran onto the field to mob Edwards while the Spinners retreated to their dugout, their franchise still without a championship.



This was Brooklyn's second title, but their first to be won outright as their other pennant was in 2001, when the playoffs were cancelled after 9/11 and they were declared co-winners with Williamsport. The P.A. announcer even stated that it was Brooklyn's first outright title since 1955, when the Dodgers won the World Series, a fact that I recalled from my recent stadium tour in Los Angeles.



I hung around to hear the speech from manager Edgardo Alfonzo and then the trophy was presented without ceremony and raised to the cheers of the 2,050 in attendance. Yes, only 2,050 were announced for this title tilt, possibly due to poor advertising, or maybe because New York has a few other activities. Whatever the case, those that didn't go missed out on a great ending to the NYPL season. Baseball is slowly dying thanks to the overthinking created from the rise of analytics, but it is still a wonderful game when pitchers pitch and hitters hit.

Notes

I realized that this article is a bit unreadable with all of the draft positions and prospect rankings, but those are included to make a point. Five of Lowell's starting nine are in MLB.com's list of Boston's top prospects, which leads me to wonder just how strong their farm system is. Similarly, Baty is immediately the Mets #2 prospect after being drafted out of high school? There is not a strong correlation between farm system success and major league pennants, due to free agency and trades, but I still think there could be some lean times ahead at Citi Field.

There are 14 minor leagues, and I'd love to try to see a championship game in all of them, but that is tough to plan. With all the series taking place around the same time, and the cities where the final game will be held not determined until a few days before, you'd have to do a lot of driving to get to more than a couple. For example, this year in AAA you have Durham and Round Rock, in AA there's Bowie, Jackson (TN), and Tulsa, while A-Advanced sees Fayetteville and Visalia. Durham and Fayetteville are close enough, but they play on the same days, so you'd have to hope that one series ends in 3 games and the other goes to 4 or 5. Still, it is something I'll start to consider next year as the minors remain my favourite sports road trip destination.

Best,

Sean