Apr 122014
 


Longtime readers know when they see the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, it means I’ll be hitting the road soon, usually for New England.

It’s also a warning that posts and tweets will slow down and/or shorten, as I’m at the mercy of family and in-laws cheap motel WiFi. I hit the road tomorrow, but between work, packing, renting, and boarding it may as well be today.

A note to the younger readers: Spring break ain’t quite the same in your 40s as it is your 20s. But it’ll give me some time to give my sons a TED talk.

As always, keep the conversation going in the comments (and wish me luck!)

Mar 252014
 

Editor’s note: Ever wonder what it’s like at the minors camp? Well, so have I, so when site regular SoulDrummer offered to write a first-person narrative, how could I say no?

My brother and I recently had the pleasure of attending Nationals Spring Training this past Saturday. I love baseball. It has gotten me through one of the most challenging parts of my life. This “vacation,” however, will likely be a launchpad to greatness because I was so inspired by this beautiful game and the wonderful personalities that make up the Washington Nationals.

I had hoped to watch baseball on Friday and spend all day at Nats camp. Sadly, it was an off day for the boys. No games. No baseball after morning practice. I did go to the compound, picked up a free issue of Baseball America, the schedule, and plotted my revenge on the baseball gods for not having my favorite players available at my beck and call. I was going to get up early so I’d be able to watch the players practice.

Michael Taylor and Nats stafferMy brother and I woke up promptly and got to camp around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. We had resolved to hit minors camp in the morning and catch most of the big club’s game in the afternoon. Simply put, the day is a blur of baseball joy. Right away we got to watch some of the AA/AAA players getting on the bus to head to the away game against Detroit. I got a great pic of Michael Taylor and let him know that I’ve got him pegged for MVP of the Eastern League and an September callup this year.

I then hit the field and watched the players do their drills. You meet great, similar hardcore fans doing this. Antonio is a fabulous guy local who supports the Venezuelan minor-leaguers. He befriended and supported Alcides Escobar when he barely knew English and received the joy of watching Escobar play as a major-leaguer and thank him as a countryman for helping with a hand up not a handout. Got a great pic of the man’s Omar Vizquel autograph. He had gotten the autograph at Tigers game recently because Omar is now coaching for the Tigers.

TwinkletoesBut of course the Nats players were the best. Yes, I did stalk Giolito for about 20 minutes because I knew that you guys would be interested. I clowned him and called him “twinkletoes” for his footwork during the pitchers’ agility drills. He took it in good fun, though. I said that I was giving him a hard time because I know that he gets revenge on everybody else with his blazing fastball. I also let him know that I hope to see him in Harrisburg for my late summer trip and that I know he’s going to have a great year.

me and drew ward!Drew Ward impressed me the most. This kid looks like a man, but he just turned 19. And he is so, so, fan friendly. The pic to the right is me talking to him through a fence. Drew was thankful that I followed him, and I expressed how grateful I was to Mike Rizzo for taking a chance on this high school kid. I asked him what he would study if he had gone to college, and he said “baseball, baseball, baseball.” Imagine being his age, blessed with otherworldly talent, and getting to spend all of his time immersed in the culture of the game that he loves. We are blessed to have Drew Ward as a young prospect, and I am optimistic that he will build on his progress and “master the level” to warrant a midseason promotion. What a preternatural kid.

After failing to catch a home run ball at the fence during batting practice (it was low minors so the players didn’t have as much pop), I went to the central area where you can see several fields and hung out and waited for the game to start. The Detroit Tigers got there first so I decided to whip out my cell phone and play DJ with them for a couple of minutes. I played “Oye Come Va,” a country song by request that I can’t remember, “In the Stone” by Earth Wind and Fire, before regaling them with an impromptu karaoke version of “One In a Million You.” Baseball builds connections. Turns out my karaoke standard was the wedding song of one of the coaches. He’s been happily married for 30 years. What a blessing to meet such great people for the opposition.

Deion WilliamsThe game finally started and I got to watch Jake Johansen throw some smoke. But I didn’t really spend that much time watching the game. Other pitchers from the squad were hanging out, and I was eager to connect with Deion Williams. Deion is making the transition from shortstop to pitcher, and it was fascinating getting his impressions on Johansen’s work. I told him that I would try to make him a star on Nationalsprospects.com so here’s his pic!

After watching the game for an inning or two, I figured I should join my brother, the Mets fan, at Space Coast and we watched that game. Spinner hit a walk off homer and Bryce had two hits in a one-run victory!

What a day.

Jul 142013
 

The Hagerstown Suns rallied for five runs with two outs in the first inning, taking advantage of mistakes both mental and physical, en route to a 7-4 victory over the Rome Braves.

Like many big innings, the genesis is often subtle. Estarlin Martinez beat out an infield single on a high tapper to third. Brandon Miller broke his bat, but fisted it into shallow right field for another two-out hit.

A balk pushed both runners over one base, and “Help Me” Wander Ramos made Rome’s 20-year-old starter Wes Parsons pay for worrying more about the runners than about him with a double down the left field line for a 2-0 lead.

A walk to Bryan Lippincott once again set up a force at any infield base. Braves 3B Eric Garcia froze up on grounder off the bat of Khayyan Norfork and committed the dreaded double error, booting it for one, throwing it past 1st for another, which let in the third Suns run and put runners on 2nd and 3rd for Craig Manuel.

The eighth batter of the inning cashed in the mistake with a single to left to complete the five-run sequence as Stephen Perez struck out to end the frame.

Kylin Turnbull, who began the year in Potomac and was dropped down twice, couldn’t stand the prosperity of a 5-0 lead. After setting down the side in order in the 1st on three groundballs, he let in a run on three singles in the 2nd, gave up a leadoff HR in the 3rd, and allowed two more runs in the 4th before finally putting up a zero in the 5th.

He left after five innings thrown, giving up four runs on 12 hits, walking none and striking out four. He would end up the winning pitcher nevertheless. It’s fashionable nowadays to try to explain away that many hits and blame the defense, especially sight unseen, but that wasn’t the case (it rarely is). The almost-24-year-old remains timid in long counts and gets hit when he gives in as a result.

Bryan Harper only got the hold, but was the most effective pitcher on either team. The brother of you-know-who faced seven batters and got seven outs, giving up a “hit” when Martinez and Perez converged but couldn’t snare a shallow pop to left field as Martinez dropped it, but Perez quickly recovered to gun down the runner trying to turn a gift single into a double.

Travis Henke replaced Harper with one out in the 8th and gave way to Gilberto Mendez in the 9th. The diminutive Dominican with a big arm gave up a leadoff hit, then retired the next three on groundballs to secure his fifth save.

Nos. 4-5 batters Miller and Ramos combined for five hits, two runs, and two doubles as Hagerstown piled up 10 hits total and tacked on insurance runs in the 3rd and 8th innings.

The win keeps pace with first-place Hickory, keeping Hagerstown a half-game back in second place and a game ahead of third-place West Virginia. Pedro Encarnacion gets assignment this afternoon in Game 3 of the four-game set, which concludes with a Monday morning getaway game.

Sep 032012
 

The strike zone and the Hagerstown hurlers had a hard time getting along last night, as they walked nine in a 7-3 loss to the Asheville Tourists.

Wirkin “For The Weekend” Estevez struck out the first batter, then walked the bases loaded in the top of the first. He struck out the fifth batter in the lineup and appeared headed for a Nuke LaLoosh inning (3BB, 3K) when Cutter Dykstra was able to knock down a grounder but unable to get a throw off, as two Tourists made the return trip home for a 2-0 lead.

Estevez settled down in the 2nd, walking just one, but gave up two more free passes in the 3rd as Asheville connected for a one-run single and a two-run double to push their advantage to 5-0. The 20-year-old Dominican would finish the night with six walks allowed, and as the old saw goes, that’s what killed him as five of the six base on balls came around to score.

Meanwhile, the Suns offense plodded along for a pedestrian three runs on seven hits. The first run came in the fourth with a leadoff walk by Dykstra and an error that was ruled a hit by Adrian Nieto to set up a first-and-third with no outs. Caleb Ramsey grounded into a double play to break up the shutout bid.

An inning later, Bryce Ortega led off with a double to center and took third on an infield hit by Hendry Jimenez. It would be the lone hit in 11 tries with a runner in scoring position. Billy Burns plated Ortega with a groundout to short for the second Suns run.

Ramsey would atone for his GIDP with a HR off the RF billboards in the sixth to for the third straight one-run inning. The Suns put on two in the 7th, one in the 8th, but went down in order in the 9th.

Three Hagerstown relievers followed Estevez out of the ‘pen, combining for five innings of one-run pitching with six strikeouts but walking three.

Hagerstown finishes up the regular season with an afternoon tilt, with Taylor Jordan taking the hill (3-3, 3.75) against Tyler Gagnon (0-0, 2.84). They will host the Game One of the Sally League Divisional Series on Wednesday against Greensboro, with Game Two in North Carolina on Friday (and Game Three on Saturday, if necessary).

Jul 292012
 

Don’t look now, but the P-Nats just had a winning road trip.

With home runs from Kevin Keyes, Ricky Hague, and Jason Martinson, Potomac pounded Frederick for an 8-3 victory that completed a 2-1 series win and 4-3 road trip against the Keys and the Hillcats — the first winning road trip that lasted more than two games or two cities.

Robbie Ray pitched into the 7th for the first time since June 3rd, a string of eight starts in which the 20-year-old southpaw went 0-5 with a 5.43 ERA. Ray was working with his entire repetoire and showed early often, baffling the Keys by pitching “backwards” — hard stuff on the outside, breaking pitches on the inside. He walked one and struck out six.

He did, however, give up six hits and while two of the hits were of the infield variety (dribbler down the third base line, bunt to the left of the mound – both by Keys SS Garabez Rosa), he also gave up a long double to Tyler Townsend and a two-run homer that the vertically challenged J.P. Ramirez was unable to gather in at the left-field wall.

Potomac got on the board first with a four consecutive hits in the second as Steve Souza singled to right, took second on a wild pitch, took third on a Martinson (3-for-4, 3R, 3RBI) single and scored on a Stephen King double that bounded off third base and down the left field line. Ramirez followed with a grounder up the middle the Rosa was able to stop but not make the play to send in Martinson. King came in on a 1-6-3 DP that ended the rally but gave the P-Nats a 3-0 lead.

Ramirez would collect his second RBI single in the 4th to extend the lead to 4-1. Keyes homered to dead center in the 6th, his team-leading 15th HR and 55th RBI.

After the Keys cut the lead to 6-3 with the aforementioned rally in the bottom of the 6th, the P-Nats put the game away with three runs in the 8th, as Ricky Hague cleared the LF wall with his 6th HR and Martinson connected for his 10th for Potomac and 20th overall for the season, driving in pinch-runner Michael Taylor, who came in to run for Steve Souza who pulled up lame after an infield single.

Potomac resumes play on Tuesday with a brief three-game homestand against the Salem Red Sox. They are tied for first place in the Carolina League’s Northern Division with Lynchburg and lead Wilmington by a half game and Frederick by 2½ games. Potomac has no more games left against the Hillcats, but six left against the Blue Rocks, including the season’s final series in Delaware, and three left against Keys, which closes out the final regular-season homestand in Woodrbridge on August 24-26.

Jul 142012
 

Three Doubledays pitchers combined on a one-hit shutout as Auburn pummeled Aberdeen, 10-0 to complete a three-game sweep.

Nick Lee retired the first nine batters in order before giving up a leadoff single to start the 4th. He quickly erased that baserunner with a nifty 1-3-6-4 pickoff play then finished the inning.

The no-hit bid was an academic exercise by that point as the Doubleday batters were having their way with the Ironbird pitchers, scoring in each of the first four innings and highlighted by Wander Ramos’s two-run shot in the second inning.

The game was blown wide open in the 8th and Ramos was once again in the spotlight, reaching base on a disputed HBP call. Mike McQuillan tripled him in with a liner over the centerfielder’s head for a triple, with Josh Johnson singling him in, then Shawn Pleffner doubling Johnson in, and following a pitching change, Estarlin Martinez finishing the scoring binge with an RBI single ripped up the middle, too hot for the Ironbird SS to hold on to.

The Doubledays pounded out 15 hits, with every batter reaching base and eight of nine batters hitting safely, with Jordan Poole as the “beer man,” though he did draw two walks. Martinez led the hit column with a 3-for-5 night.

Lee lasted six innings, giving up just the one hit and two walks while striking out three. Jack McGeary was the first man out of the bullpen, and worked around a two-out HBP, a stolen base, and a wild pitch by striking out the last of the four batters he faced to preserve the shutout bid.

Cody Davis sealed it by retiring the last six Aberdeen batters in order, striking out the side in the 9th and four overall.

With the win, the Doubledays hit the road and head up I-95 to I-395 to Norwich, CT for three games against the Connecticut Tigers before returning home to Auburn on Tuesday.

Jun 172012
 

After stranding nine baserunners in nine innings, the Suns couldn’t turn the trick one more time — or a double play — and lost to the Power in the bottom of the 10th on an error, 2-1.

There were just four clean innings out of the 20 between the two teams, as both squads had something brewing in nearly every inning.

Hagerstown got on the board first with Matt Skole’s league-leading 62nd walk. Steve Souza followed with a line-drive to left. But as you might have guessed with all those LOBs, the run came around on the more mundane as West Virginia’s Zach Von Rosenberg plunked Brett Newsome and walked Cole Leonida with two outs.

Christian Meza returned the favor by hitting Power DH Dan Gamache to lead off the second before giving up back-to-back singles to give up the equalizer. Skole turned a tag-the-bag, toss-across-the-diamond DP, and after walking the #9 batter and giving up an IF single the leadoff slot, Meza struck out the #2 man to end the inning.

The Suns got leadoff hits in the 3rd, 6th, and 8th innings but couldn’t push across the second. They even loaded the bases in the 9th with one out, but Billy Burns struck out, giving Toastman Rod Blackstone a chance to make yet another, um, crumby joke.

The Power also had chances, getting the lead man on five times before they finally broke through in the 10th, as a single, walk, sacrifice, and an intentional walk set up Jose Osuna. In the 8th, Osuna hit into a 4-6-3 twin-killing, and for just a moment, it looked Greg Holt would escape the jam with a tapper to short that Jason Martinson retrieved and fired over to Cutter Dykstra, who sailed it into the stands on what would have been a close play for the loss.

Christian Meza started but got the no-decision, giving up a run on five hits with three walks, a hit batsmen, and two strikeouts. Lost in the boxscore is Colin Bates’ three scoreless frames with just one hit and one walk allowed to go with four strikeouts. Greg Holt took the loss with a run on two hits and two walks (one intentional) over one and 2/3rds.

With a Greensboro win roughly a half hour earlier, Harrisburg was eliminated from the playoff hunt in the Sally League’s North Division. The two teams meet again this afternoon to finish the four-game series and the first half, with Alex Meyer (6-3, 3.31) taking the hill vs. Nick Kingham (1-4, 5.57).

Jun 112012
 

The annual baseball roadtrip is coming a little early this year (July in 2011, August in 2010), as I head west this year (north in 2011, south in 2010) to Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia for the next seven days.

The goal, as always, is to keep the site running as best as I can from the free WiFi of budget motels in the evenings after games and/or the mornings over the “continental breakfasts,” but the News & Notes are likely to be a little thinner and the responses to site comments a bit more sporadic.

For those wondering, the itinerary is the Columbus Clippers, Cincinnati Reds, Louisville Bats, Lexington Legends, and the West Virginia Power (vs. the Suns) with visits to the requisite Americana along the way.

May 272012
 

With home runs from Jose Lozada and Tim Pahuta, Harrisburg opened up a 4-1 lead and survived a late Reading charge to win, 5-4.

Starter Paul Demny got the win despite just one clean inning and retiring the leadoff batter twice, as the redheaded Texan struggled with his control and allowed seven hits and four walks over five and 2/3rds innings.

His teammates, however, picked him up early as Lozada cranked a one-out solo shot, his second home run of the year to give the Senators an early 1-0 lead. He would single twice in subsequent at-bats to push his batting average to .312, riding an 11-for-24 stretch since being inserted in the #2 spot in the lineup a week ago.

Reading would tie it in the 3rd with a walk, groundout, a wild pitch and and one-out single from former Nat farmhand Tug Hulett.

Tim Pahuta would get the lead back for good in the 4th with a moonshot about 20′ to the right of the Metro Bank Park scoreboard and about 5′ short of clearing the outfield boardwalk — his third HR in seven days.

Two more runs came in the 5th with Eury leading off with the second of his three line-drive singles to center, Lozada pushing him to third with a single and Pahuta smacking an opposite-field flyball deep enough for the 21-year-old centerfielder to score and Lozada deftly moving up to 2nd on lousy throw from the outfield. Chris Rahl skipped a grounder through the 5/6 hole to send in Lozada and open up the lead to 4-1.

Demny was chased in the 6th after giving up a single, homer, and a two-out walk to the #8 batter (the second time for that sin). Both managers made their move, with John Wathan calling for a pinch-hitter and Matt LeCroy summoning Kevin Pucetas.

The big, fashionable man won the matchup and set down eight of nine, four by way of the K, and gave way to Erik Davis in the 9th after Jeff Mandel pinch-hit for him in the 8th.

Devin Ivany tripled to lead off the 6th and came in to score on Perez’s third hit and that insurance run loomed large after Davis gave up a leadoff single and a one-out double to put the tying runs in scoring position. An infield single plated the fourth Reading run then a wild pitch put the go-ahead run at second.

LeCroy ordered an intentional pass to Tug Hulett and Davis escaped the jam with SS Chris McConnell taking the grounder, stepping on second, and tossing across to Pahuta for the game-ending DP.

The loss breaks a two-game skid for Harrisburg and pushed them to within three games of first-place Akron. The two second-place teams meet again this afternoon for Game 3 of the four-game series, with Mandel (4-3, 3.40) taking the hill for the Senators against Reading’s Trevor May (5-2, 4.10).

May 132012
 

They say that history doesn’t repeat itself… but it sure as hell rhymes.

For the second straight game, the Potomac pitchers coughed up nine runs, losing this one 9-1. Walks were the culprit in this debacle — seven given up, six of them coming around to score — as the Mudcats only had two extra-base hits, quite the contrast from Friday night.

The damage came in three big innings… a three-run 3rd, a three-run 7th, and a two-run 8th. All three pitchers were torched touched, with Matt Grace giving up four runs on seven hits, Joe Testa two runs on four walks, and Wilson Eusebio giving up three runs, and both extra-base hits.

It should come as no surprise to learn that Potomac has given up the most runs (earned or otherwise) in High-A baseball.

Offensively, as the “1″ suggests, things weren’t clicking. Justin Bloxom’s solo HR in the 3rd — a monster shot that cleared the high fence in right field was one of just four balls hit out of the infield. Randolph Oduber’s double to left was the second, Zach Walters nearly hit one over the Carolina centerfielder in the 7th (he snagged it on the run, taking two steps onto the warning track), and Bloxom struck again with a single two batters later.

Three hits, seven baserunners, and six left on base, and 0-for-6 with RISP. That was the extent of the offense.

With the loss, Potomac falls to 13-19 and back into 3rd place in the Carolina League North. Paul Applebee (1-0, 4.40) gets the Sunday start this afternoon and the task of helping to avoid a three-game sweep and a 1-6 road trip.