Day Tripping the Nats Affiliates: Harrisburg

Part Four of Four from Guest/Author, Walt Triebel

By Walter Triebel, Author of
Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League:
A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks, and Cities

Available on Amazon

Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, is another home of a Minor League affiliate of the Washington Nationals that has a long, rich history of professional baseball. Today, the city hosts the Harrisburg Senators in the Eastern League, who are the double-A class member of the Nationals’ Minor League organization.

Professional baseball has been played in the city of Harrisburg since the early 1880s. Because Pennsylvania’s state legislature resides in the city, a natural moniker for the team has been the “Senators.” In fact, in the 130-plus year period since, a team called the Harrisburg Senators has played in the city during 68 seasons and as a member of six different baseball leagues.

Two thousand seventeen is the 31st consecutive season that a Harrisburg Senators team has played in the Eastern League. During that stretch, the Senators have been associated with three different Major League clubs: the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Montreal Expos, and the Washington Nationals. The Harrisburg Senators were Montreal’s double-A team in the Eastern League in 2004 when they relocated to Washington as the Nationals for the 2005 season. That transition caused a shakeup at some levels of their Minor League system, but not at the AA level as the Harrisburg Senators continued to fulfill that same role in the Washington Nationals Minor League organization.

The building of a new baseball stadium in Harrisburg ushered in the Eastern League era of professional baseball in the city. That ballpark was built on City Island in the Susquehanna River and originally named Riverside Stadium. The first Harrisburg Senators game was played at the ballpark on April 11, 1987. Over the years, the stadium has been renamed a few times, most recently prior to the 2016 season the naming rights were sold to the F.N.B. Corporation, parent company of First National Bank of Pennsylvania, and the ballpark took on its current name – FNB Field.

FNB Field is one of the most interesting and attractive ballparks among the Nats’ affiliates. Even through the stadium was originally built more than 30 years ago, it has undergone a number of renovations to keep it up to the standards of today’s top Minor League ballparks. For instance, it has a full 360-degree concourse that lets you walk fully around the periphery of the ball field. Along the concourse, you will find poles that are decorated with banners that honor former Senators’ players, such as Vladimir Guerrero, Cliff Lee, and Ryan Zimmerman, that have gone on to have successful careers at the Major League level.

A wide variety of traditional ballpark food is offered at the main concession area as well as specialty items at stands along the outfield part of the concourse, such as the Bud Light Lime-a-Rita Bar and Arooga’s Wing Shack. Moreover, there is a large children’s play area called the Kids Zone that is entered toward the outfield end of the first base concourse. On top of all that, one can walk up to the second level of the grandstand to a rear terrace area that offers a fabulous view of the city across the river.

But a visit to FNB Field is also about seeing the players. Just like for the Hagerstown Suns and Potomac Nationals, a number of the Washington Nationals 2017 MLB Top 30 Prospects began the season with the Harrisburg Senators. The table above lists four position players and one pitcher who are ranked as Washington top prospects and play for the Senators.

Three of the four position players were in Sens’ opening day starting lineup on April 7, 2016, which was a home game versus the Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates): Osvaldo Abreu (#15) at short and hitting second, Drew Ward (#12) at third and hitting third; and Raudy Read (#19) catching and hitting fifth. Finally, Erick Fedde, who finished out the 2016 season in the Senators starting rotation, made his first start in Game 2 of the season at FNB Field. Note from the table that all five of those top prospects played part or all of the 2016 season with the Potomac Nationals and were also members of the Hagerstown Suns roster during the 2014 or 2015 season.

Fans of the Harrisburg Senators, Hagerstown Suns, Potomac Nationals and Washington Nationals have the opportunity to see those five up and coming prospects playing double-A ball in the Eastern League in a game at FNB Field during the 2017 season. Senators fans in or around Harrisburg can simply attend a game or games on any day of the season that fits their plans.
Again, I will recommend a day or early evening game for Suns, P-Nats, and Washington Nationals fans traveling a distance to FNB Field. This should potentially allow them some pre- or postgame daylight time to explore the stadium and the local area.

A look at the Harrisburg Senators 2017 schedule on their official website shows that they typically play Sunday home games at 1:30PM. However, the Senators still have a few weekday day games on their calendar. Check the travel matrix provided in Part 1 of this post for an estimate of the travel distance and time to a Senators game at FNB Field.

Today, City Island has grown into an attractive and interesting leisure and sports complex that includes the Senators baseball stadium, a soccer stadium for the Harrisburg City Islanders soccer team, large riverside children’s play area, scenic walking trails, and much more. There is a pedestrian bridge, Walnut Street Bridge, which allows one to walk from City Island over the river to downtown Harrisburg at the corner of Walnut St. where it meets Riverfront Park.

Another plus is that FNB Field is conveniently located just minutes from the attractive downtown entertainment district of Harrisburg. The trip from City Island over the Market Street Bridge to the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River and the hub of downtown Harrisburg, the Restaurant Row/Entertainment District, is just a one-mile drive. The south end of Restaurant Row starts at the corner of Market St. and N. 2nd St.

As you travel/walk up 2nd to the north, you are sure to find any kind of restaurant you might wish. I have included a few places that I found interesting, for example McGrath’s Irish Pub, in the list below titled Restaurants In or Near Harrisburg. From the addresses in that list note that Restaurant Row bridges from N 2nd St. to N. 3rd St. and onto many of the cross streets, such as Locust St.

On the other hand, if you leave City Island and drive the other way across the Market Street Bridge, you arrive in Wormleysburg, PA on the western shore of the Susquehanna River. This is an interesting alternative for a pre or post-game lunch or dinner stop. The bridge takes you to S. Front St. in Wormleysburg which travels along the riverfront. Here you will find a number of very attractive waterfront restaurants with outdoor decks overlooking the river.

Attractions In Harrisburg
• City Island Family Attractions near the Ballpark, 245 Championship Way
     ‣ City Island railroad scenic train ride
     ‣ City Island carousel
     ‣ City Island stables
     ‣ City Island beach
     ‣ Amusement arcade
     ‣ Batting cages
• The Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat Sightseeing Cruise, 11 Championship Way
• Walnut Street Bridge (pedestrian walkway/bike path), 245 Championship Way
• Riverfront Park, 701 N. Front St.
• Restaurant Row/Entertainment District, N. 2nd St., between Market St. and State St.
• Broad Street Market, 1233 N. 3rd St.

Dining In or Near Harrisburg
• McGrath’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, 202 Locust St., Harrisburg
• Café Fresco, 215 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg
• Sawyers, 210 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg
• Arooga’s Draft House & Sports Bar, 201 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg
• Palumbo’s Italian Eatery, 104 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg
• Au Bon Lieu Bistro, 1 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg
• Duke’s Bar & Grille, 313 S. Front St., Wormleysburg
• Dockside Willies, 449 S. Front St., Wormleysburg

That completes my review of the ballparks, towns, and top prospects of the three Washington Nationals Minor League clubs that are located within an easy day-trip drive of each other and from downtown Washington, DC. Now it’s time for you to set out on the trail of the Washington Nationals Minor League Baseball Road Trip adventure.

Day Tripping the Nats Affiliates: Woodbridge

Part Three of Four from Guest/Author, Walt Triebel

By Walter Triebel, Author of
Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League:
A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks, and Cities

Available on Amazon

Unlike most of the current Washington Nationals Minor League affiliates, Woodbridge, Virginia, home of their Potomac National advanced A class team in the Carolina League, does not have a long history of professional baseball. In fact, the first season in which a Minor League club played in Woodbridge was 1984. Prior to that season, the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to relocate their current Carolina League team, the Alexandria Dukes, approximately twenty miles south to the city. A new stadium was built, which was originally called Davis Ford Park, and ready in time for the debut of the Pirates new club—the Prince William Pirates—in their home opening day game of the 1984 Carolina League season.

Since 1984, five different teams have played in the city—the Prince William Pirates, Prince William Yankees, Prince William Cannons, Potomac Cannons, and Potomac Nationals—and all have been members of the Carolina League. Moreover, they have been affiliated with six different Major League clubs: Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and the Washington Nationals.

When the Montreal Expos were relocated after the 2004 season, the team was renamed the Washington Nationals and set up shop at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, DC. As part of that transition, the Nationals changed leagues and/or renamed a number of their affiliates, including switching their High-A club from the Florida State League to the Carolina league to become the Potomac Nationals. Two thousand seventeen is the thirteenth consecutive season that the P-Nats, as they are known to local fans, have been affiliated with the Washington Nationals.

Over the years the name of the stadium also evolved. It was renamed Prince William County Stadium in 1986 and took on its current name G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium in 1995. The ballpark is referred to by locals as “The Pfitz.”

The main seating area of G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, which is a very simple styled ballpark, is located behind the infield diamond and ranges from dugout to dugout. A narrow walkway traverses this seating section and separates the field-level box seats from a reserved seats section that rises upward from the walkway. A photo of the ball field as seen from the upper section of seats behind home plate is shown above.

Food concessions are located on a small covered concourse that is located behind this main infield seating area. Moreover, there are additional food services, picnic tables, and the team store in an open-air courtyard just inside the entrance gate of the stadium.

Since 2005, a number of players have made a stop in Woodbridge to play for the P-Nats and then advanced to make their Major League debut with Washington or another Major League club. While at the ballpark, check out the Potomac Nationals Wall of Fame in the covered concession area with pictures that honor former Washington Nationals prospects, including Drew Storen, Derek Norris, Steven Strasburg, and Bryce Harper, who played at The Pfitz and later made the jump to the majors.

As mentioned in Parts 1 and 2 of this post, a key goal of the Washington Nationals Minor League Baseball Road Trip is to see some of their 2017 top 30 prospects in action on the ball field at The Pfitz. The table above lists the five Nats 2017 MLB Top 30 Prospects who began the season as members of the Potomac Nationals.

On the 2017 opening day, which was an away game versus the Wilmington Blue Rocks, all four field players were in their starting lineup: Victor Robles (#) in center field and batting leadoff, Kelvin Gutierrez (#16) at third base and hitting cleanup, Edwin Lora (#28) played shortstop and hit eighth, and Telmito Agustin (#26) in left and batting ninth. On the other hand, Joan Baez (#24) made his debut in the P-Nats uniform as their starting pitcher in Game 4 of the new season, an away game versus the Frederick Keys.

As usual for fans of the Suns, Senators, and Washington Nationals, who need to travel a good distance to the ballpark, I recommend attending a day or early evening game. This would potentially allow some pre- or postgame daylight time to explore the stadium and local area. A check of the Potomac Nationals 2017 schedule on their official website shows that they play all of their Sunday home games at 1:05PM and they have one weekday game at 12:05PM in both July and August. Check the travel matrix in Part 1 for an estimate of the travel distance and time for your day trip to the Pfitz.

The city of Woodbridge is located in the northeast corner of Prince William County, at a point where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac River. The P-Nats ballpark is located just six miles and approximately a 15-minute drive from a very interesting historic riverfront villag – Occoquan, VA. I feel that this quaint waterfront village is a “don’t miss” destination on any visit to attend a Potomac Nationals game.

This former mill village is quite small and an ideal destination for a fun side trip. Just park and enjoy walking around the attractive village; exploring some of its interesting specialty, craft, and antique shops, and maybe having lunch or a snack at a riverfront restaurant or cafe.

Attractions Near Woodbridge
• Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, 14050 Dawson Beach Rd., Woodbridge, VA
• Historic Occoquan Village Visitors Center, 200 Mill St., Occoquan, VA

Dining In or Near Woodbridge
• Ornery Beer Company & Public House, 14389 Potomac Mills Rd., Woodbridge, VA
• Bungalow Alehouse, 2840 Prince William Pkwy., Woodbridge, VA
• The Electric Palm Restaurant, 12745 Sea Ray Ln., Woodbridge, VA
• Frostie Moose Soft Ice Cream Store, 12581 Milstead Way, Woodbridge, VA
• Madigan’s Waterfront Restaurant, 201 Mill St., Occoquan, VA
• Cock and Bowl Belgian Bistro, 302 Poplar Alley, Occoquan, VA
• The Virginia Grill, 301 Mill St., Occoquan, VA
• The Blue Arbor Café, 201 Union St., Occoquan, VA
• The Secret Garden Café, 404 Mill St., Occoquan VA

In the fourth and final part of this post, I will look at the Harrisburg Senators and their stadium FNB Field. Also, I will review the Washington Nationals 2017 Top 30 Prospects on the Senators’ current roster and suggest some travel plans for attending a Senators home game as well as attractions and eateries in or near Harrisburg, PA.

Day Tripping the Nats Affiliates: Hagerstown

Part Two of Four from Guest/Author, Walt Triebel

By Walter Triebel, Author of
Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League:
A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks, and Cities

Available on Amazon

Hagerstown, Maryland has a long history relative to professional baseball and is the home of one of the historic ballparks of the South Atlantic League—Municipal Stadium. Professional teams have called the city home as early as the mid-1890s and the first game played in Municipal Stadium was on May 8, 1930.

Two thousand and seventeen is the thirty-seventh consecutive year that a Suns team has played at the ballpark. Those teams played in the Carolina League, Eastern League, and today the South Atlantic League. During the South Atlantic League years, the Hagerstown Suns have been the Minor League affiliate of the Blue Jays, Giants, Mets, and for the last eleven baseball seasons, the Washington Nationals

Municipal Stadium ranks as the third-oldest ballpark in the United States to be actively used by a Minor League baseball club. The stadium has undergone many renovations over the years and is an old, but quite interesting venue to view a ballgame. The area behind home plate from which the photo above was shot is a classic covered grandstand seating area.

Food concessions and the team store are on a concourse located behind that grandstand. Toward the left field end of the concourse is an area without formal seating that permits you to watch the game from the outfield fence. That is the location of a Beer Garden, which is an interesting area set up with high tables and picnic tables. This is a nice vantage point from which to casually watch the play of the game on the field.

As mentioned in Part 1, a key goal of this Washington Nationals Minor League Baseball Road Trip is to see some of the Nationals top prospects tuning their fielding, batting, and pitching skills on the field at Municipal Stadium. During the Nationals years, a number of future Major Leaguers played for the Suns and advanced to become successful in the majors. For example, both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were on the roster of the Hagerstown Suns during the 2011 season.

The table above lists the nine Washington National 2017 MLB Preseason Top 30 Prospects that began the season on the Hagerstown Suns roster. The table includes their MLB WSH prospect ranking, position, whether they throw right- or left-handed, bat from the right or left side of the plate or switch hit, the team or teams for which they played during the 2016 season, and the class and league of that/those team(s). For example, right hand hitting right fielder Juan Soto, who is the Nationals’ #3 ranked prospect, played for both the GCL Nationals in the Gulf Coast League (rookie class) and Auburn Doubledays in the New York-Penn League (short-season class A) during the 2016 season. Note that two more of the Nats top 10 prospects, shortstop Carter Kieboom and third baseman Sheldon Neuse are also members of the Suns roster.

In Hagerstown’s 2017 season opener at Municipal Stadium on Friday April 7th, the Suns had seven field players from the MLB.com Nats Top 30 prospects list in the batting order and an eighth as their starting pitcher. The top of their batting order was Blake Perkins (#14) leading off and playing center field, Carter Kieboom (#4) at shortstop and hitting second, Juan Soto (#3) in the number three slot and playing right field, and Sheldon Neuse (#6) at third base and batting cleanup. Meanwhile, left hander Tyler Watson (#17) took the mound as their starter.

As the 2017 season unfolds, Hagerstown Suns and Washington Nationals fans will have the opportunity to see those nine top 30 prospects continue to work on refining their game on the field at Municipal Stadium with the goal of advancing up through the Nationals’ Minor League organization and eventually make their Major League debut.

For Suns fans that live in or near Hagerstown, it is quite simple to attend a home game of the Suns at Municipal Stadium on any day during the season that fits their plans. However, for those that are traveling from a location near the Potomac Nationals, Harrisburg Senators, Washington Nationals ballparks, or possibly another area, my recommendation is to try to see the Hagerstown Suns playing a day game. This would give you some daylight time to explore the area and ballpark. Check the travel matrix in Part 1 of this post for an estimate of the travel distance and time for your day trip to attend a Suns game at Municipal Stadium.

A quick look at the Suns schedule on their official website shows that they play all of their Sunday home games at 2:05PM. Moreover, they have one weekday game during each month of the season either in the morning (10:35AM.) or afternoon (2:05PM or 4PM). Check the 2017 schedule on the Hagerstown Suns official website for specific dates and visiting teams.

For Washington Nationals, Potomac Nationals, and Harrisburg Senators fans making a day trip to Hagerstown to attend a Suns home game, here is a short list of attractions to see in the city and a few interesting places to stop for lunch or dinner. Similar information will be provided for the Potomac Nationals and Harrisburg Senators in Parts 3 and 4, respectively.

Attractions In Hagerstown
• Public Square/Historic Downtown Hagerstown, 12 Public Square
• Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum, 296 S. Burhans Blvd.
• Discovery Station, 101 W. Washington St.

Dining In Hagerstown
• Rhubarb House, 12 Public Square
• Schmankerl Stube Bavarian Restaurant, 58 S. Potomac St.
• Stadium Grill and Tavern, 401 S. Cannon Ave.
• Public Square Café, 2 W. Washington St.
• Benny’s Pub-Antietam Brewery, 49 Eastern Blvd.

In the next post, I will look at the Potomac Nationals, their home ballpark G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, the Washington National 2017 Top 30 Prospects who started the season on the P-Nats roster, and some travel plans to attend a home game at their ballpark.

Day Tripping the DC-area Nats Affiliates

Part One of Four from Guest/Author, Walt Triebel

Municipal StadiumFNB Field

By Walter Triebel, Author of
Road-Tripping the South Atlantic League:
A Guide to the Teams, Ballparks, and Cities

Available on Amazon

The theme of this four-part series of posts is a limited Washington Nationals Minor League Baseball Road Trip. The table below lists the six American-based farm clubs in the Washington Nationals Minor League organization. Three of them, the Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League, class A), Potomac Nationals (Carolina League, advanced class A), and Harrisburg Senators (Eastern League, class AA), are located in adjoining states—Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

The proximity of the ballparks of those three clubs to each other and to the Washington, DC area offers an interesting opportunity for fans of the Nationals and those of these three Minor League affiliates. That is, they are all located within what I consider day-tripping distance and drive time of each other. My metric is that if a ballpark is within a one-way travel distance of approximately 200 miles and a 3 hour or less travel time that a baseball road-trip can be done to that destination without an overnight stay. Therefore, the primary goal is to outline travel plans to attend a game at the home ballparks of the Suns, P-Nats, and Senators as a day trip.

Note from the travel matrix that, relative to Nationals Park, they are all well within the time/distance parameters I set forth earlier. In fact, they are all within day-trip distance of each other – the longest travel distance is that between the stadium of the Potomac Nationals and the Harrisburg Senators; approximately 142 miles, which should take about 2 hours and 44 minutes.

There is a second goal for these road trips. I view Minor League baseball games as an opportunity to see the up-and-coming prospects of your favorite team and possibly some of the top prospects in all of Minor League baseball play. For example, when I made stops in Hagerstown during the 2013 season while making the baseball road trip that is outlined in my book on the South Atlantic League, I saw catcher Pedro Severino play in a number of games. He was then ranked as the Nationals’ #15 MLB top prospect. In 2015, I again saw Severino, but this time at the AA level playing for the Harrisburg Senators.

Severino was a September 2015 call up and made his Major League debut in the Washington Nationals uniform at Nationals Park on September 20, 2015. On that day, he entered the game for the Nationals as a late-inning pinch hitter; doubled in his first Major League at-bat; and later that inning, scored his first run in the majors. Now, Pedro Severino is the starting catcher of the 2017 Syracuse Chiefs and is began the season ranked #8 among Washington’s 2017 MLB Top 30 Prospects.

So another benefit of this Washington Nationals Minor League Baseball Road Trip is the opportunity to see a number of the Nationals 2017 MLB Top 30 Prospects who are playing for the Suns, P-Nats, and Senators. Seventeen of Washington’s 2017 preseason top 30 prospects opened the season on the roster of one of those three clubs. Their #1 prospect, Victor Robles, is the starting center fielder of the Potomac Nationals while the #2 prospect, RHP Erick Fedde, began the season in the Harrisburg Senators starting rotation, and the #3 prospect, right fielder Juan Soto, was in the Opening Day lineup of the Hagerstown Suns. Overall, six of the Nationals top 10 prospects began the 2017 season playing for one of those three ball clubs. By mid-May the number of Nats’ Top 30 prospects on the rosters of those three teams was up to nineteen.

In Parts 2, 3, and 4, I will provide background information about each of the three teams, their ballpark, and the travel destination that will be helpful in developing plans to attend a game one of these three baseball clubs. I will start with Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown, MD—the home of the Hagerstown Suns in Part 2 and then work my way up through the levels of Washington’s Minor League syste: Potomac Nationals (Carolina League, A+) and Harrisburg Senators (Eastern League, AA).

In each section, I will briefly look at the team and its players, their stadium, some travel options, and a few attractions and places to eat at that destination. As part of that, I will identify and highlight the Washington Nationals 2017 MLB Preseason Top 30 Prospects that are currently on the team’s roster.

Since each of these destinations either has or is near to some interesting attractions, I will advocate attending day games at each stadium. That would offer one some pregame and/or postgame free time to explore the cities, some of their local attractions, and possible have lunch or dinner at one of the eating establishments I will suggest.

Last Night In Hagerstown

Ed. Note: Julie Goldberg, a veteran minor-league team employee for several teams over the past nine seasons — including the Hagerstown Suns in 2005 and the Potomac Nationals currently — gives us this dispatch from the Legends-Suns game last night in Hagerstown.

Photo Credit: Joshua Mitchell via Twitter
Hagerstown, MD – The Hagerstown Suns put on a balanced offensive show in a 10-8 win over the Lexington Legends Sunday evening at Municipal Stadium. The win improves the Suns’ record to 21-7 in 2014 and keeps them 5½ games ahead of the Greensboro Grasshoppers in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division standings.

Seven of Hagerstown’s batters got at least one hit during the game, led by Wilson Ramos, who was making his first rehab start since going on the disabled list for the parent club on April 1st. Ramos went 2-for-3, with a home run and three runs batted in.

The Suns got their offense going early against Legends LHP Cody Reed. After shortstop Wilmer Difo reached on an error, he scored on Ramos’s base hit to score the game’s first run in the bottom of the 1st.

The Legends tied the game in the 2nd and the Suns retook the lead in the 3rd. Following walks to Rafael Bautista and Difo, Ramos put the Suns up by a score of 4-1 with a three-run home run over the right field wall.

It was a back-and-forth battle in the middle innings as the Legends answered with two runs of their own in the 4th inning off of Suns’ RHP Lucas Giolito. In the bottom half of the inning, Hagerstown first baseman John Wooten led off with a solo home run. The Suns tallied two more runs in the 4th after Willie Medina reached on an error and then later scored. Bautista was then hit by a pitch and scored the Suns’ third run of the inning on Difo’s sacrifice fly to extend the Hagerstown lead to 7-3.

The Suns added to their lead in the 5th inning after right fielder Estarlin Martinez walked to lead off the inning.He later scored on Medina’s sacrifice fly. With the bases loaded in the 6th inning, Isaac Ballou scored on Drew Ward’s force out at second base. Martinez then drove in Difo on a sacrifice fly to make the score 10-5.

Lexington would then tack on two unearned runs in the seventh and another unearned run in the 8th before RHP Ryan Ullman closed out the game in the 9th inning. Ullman pitched the final 3 2/3 innings to record his third save of the season.

Giolito pitched five innings, allowing three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five and improved his record to 2-0 on the season.

Hagerstown closes out their homestand tonight against Lexington with first pitch at 6:35 p.m.

Yesterday Afternoon In Harrisburg

Ed. Note: Frequent commenter SoulDrummer (@souldrummer25 on the Twitters) got quite the treat when he drove up to Harrisburg…
It’s Michael Taylor’s world today and we’re only living it.

Michael Taylor with a long HR on the 1st pitch B1. It landed beyond the people on the boardwalk in CF [pic to the right]
Terry Byrom @hbgsensradio

Michael Taylor just hit his 3rd home run of the game. He’s the first #HbgSens player to hit 3 in a game since Danny Espinosa in 2010.
Geoff Morrow ‏@RageAgainstGMo

Sadly, I missed first pitch due to a long ticket line and my own meandering ways in heading up Rt. 15 to head to Harrisburg. I didn’t mind that. What I did mind is that the Senators didn’t have Terry Byrom’s radio call audibly available while we were in line. They had a weak speaker too far away from the line that wasn’t loud enough to be properly heard.

In a shocking development, the Senators managed to play several innings of good baseball. They built up a 10-1 lead. They were so far ahead that I stopped paying attention to the game after maybe the third inning or so. I struck up a conversation with this fine fellow in a Lawrence Taylor throwback jersey who just so happens to be a Hagerstown Suns ticket holder. He claimed that Drew Ward is a comparable ballplayer to Bryce Harper and far nicer as a human being. Perhaps we should all attend Giolito’s next start in Hagerstown on Friday.

Given that these are the Harrisburg Senators, they decided to revert to their tragic ways. A 10-1 lead became a 10-6 score in the top of the 7th when the persistent Bowie Baysox score five, that is five, runs off of Gabriel Alfaro. The 31-year-old Mr. Alfaro has given up 15 runs in the 11.1 innings that he has pitched.

The Senators then sent Paulo Espino into pitch the 8th inning. Mr. Espino was the International League Pitcher of the week in August of 2011. He will not be the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week for the week concluding on April 27th. Espino first drew two ground outs to the infield. But then his inner 2014 Harrisburg Senator came out. He gave up a pair of singles and a double before getting the hook with two outs and two on from Harrisburg manager Brian Daubach.

He called upon Richie Mirowski to restore order and protect a now 10-7 lead. The 25-year-old rolled a grounder to end the inning.
Thankfully, Mirowski is good at throwing baseballs, and came back out for the top of the 9th. Strikeout. Strikeout. Walk. (Because it wouldn’t be entertaining to retire the side in order, would it?)

Chien Hsien-Chang then became my favorite member of the Bowie Baysox. Why, you ask? He was the 27th out, grounding out to first to end the game and give Richie Mirowski his first save, Felipe Rivero his first win, and end a six-game losing streak.

Last Night In Bowie

Editor’s note: Frequent commenter SoulDrummer gives us his take on the 4-3 loss last night

This Last Night in Bowie is going to focus more on my experience with the ballpark than with the game. Luke’s got the boxscore up. You can deduce all of the carnage from an excruciating loss.

Sen’s fall behind early on a poor peformance from starter Rob Gilliam. Lefty sidewinder Zack Jackson same in and restored order, retiring six in a row to start his night.

Slowly, the Senators eked their way back into the game and tied it up in the top of the 9th with a rally started by their current MVP, Michael Taylor, who got on, stole a base but caught in a rundown on a comebacker. He shrewdly occupied the Baysox long enough for the batter (Cutter Dykstra) to get all the way to second. Dykstra would eventually score on a Jason Martinson RBI single.

A couple of innings later, the Senators lost on a walkoff “single” that appeared to be a routine grounder to second that was poorly played from my poor view of the play. Wonder what Terry Byrom’s call on the radio sounded like.

Maybe they just wanted to go home. It was chilly for some by that time and the management was just praying that somebody would stick around long enough for what turned out to be an excellent fireworks show, better than many of the ones that I’ve seen at Nats Park.

photo(8)The most important part of this game is that I’ve been given a powerful tool for bringing positive change to the Natmosphere: Michael Taylor’s game-used, slightly cracked bat. He observed me the whole game, acting like a fool praising him to high heaven. If the Bowie Baysox team and fans know one player who is likely to defeat them, that player is most likely Michael Taylor.

Start to finish, here’s Last Night In Bowie. Bowie is not in downtown DC so it takes a bit of doing to get out there. I took a bus out to New Carollton and then a cab to get to the stadium. Landon, who sold me my ticket online, and a friendly saleswoman gave me my ticket at will call and directed me to the Angus Burger stand for pregame refreshment — beans, slaw, and a burger, which ran me about $12, plus a souvenir cup with a Baysox schedule for another $5. The burger was merely okay. Slaw and beans were fine.

One cool thing: The Baysox will give you an Orioles passport at their Customer Relations stand, which you can get stamped as you hit all of their affiliates.

photo(7)They had the absolutely most adorable choir of elementary school students sing the National Anthem. They were so amped before heading out to do their patriotic duty. There was even a kid dancing in the aisle to the National Anthem.

Bowie needs to get a better scoreboard. It was useless in informing me of players and stats during the game. Thankfully, there was a Philly fan sitting next to me scoring along with the game in my seats above the Senators dugout. He helped me fill out my scorebook with the lineups so that I only need to do minor edits from the online boxscore if I choose to make it fully accurate.

There were a couple of kids right behind me who had a ball harassing me, a vile opposing fan, by yelling “CHARGE!” as loud as they could every time that the Baysox were up at bat. All in good fun! I took it in stride. I clowned and encouraged players throghout the game. Sadly, I was unable to share my karaoke skills. I did, however, did some line dancing and was a hit on “I Like To Move It, Move It” during the extra innings.

The Senators were poorly represented in the fairly sparse crowd, but there was one City Island regular behind me who I schooled on this website and the Washington Nationals farm system. I also shook Terry Byrom’s hand when I went up to the concourse to charge my phone. Terry is the voice of the Senators, and he’s a totally class act.

I was extremely pleased by the customer service that I received throughout the stadium. While I would prefer to be loyal to Nats affiliates like the P-Nats and Suns, the Baysox are clearly the best value and most professional operation of all the minor-league teams near DC.

As the weather got colder and the game drifted into extra innings, families slowly filtered out of the stadium before the game was over. The hardy few enjoyed a thriller, though, and everybody went home happy.

First Impressions: Hagerstown Edition

[Ed. Note:] These are the thoughts of my friend Shawn, a.k.a. one of my “spies in Hagerstown,” on the Suns position players. And again, don’t forget to visit his blog Musings about Sports and other important items

This team winning stuns me. The old phrase “More than the sum of its parts” is pretty dead on.

CATCHERS
Behind the plate, Pedro Severino has been impressive with his arm… as in a big-time, MLB-level arm. Offensively, he’s made contact, but lacks pop. Considering he doesn’t turn 20 until July, I’m intrigued. I’ve only seen Craig Manuel play once,so I’ll reserve judgement

INFIELDERS
Shawn Pleffner got off to a hot start, but slumped thereafter. The 6’5″ Pleffner makes me think of former organizational soldier Tim Pahuta, especially when you consider Pleffner turns 24 before the season ends.

Mike McQuillan plays both first and third and runs well, but doesn’t make a ton of contact and the Rory McElroy lookalike has not fielded smoothly in his starts at third, where he has played more often.

Tony Renda came to town with the most publicity. Renda makes me think of a ceiling/floor scenario. His ceiling? Think Steve Lombardozzi as they have similar skills. The floor? Sean Nicol. A great guy to have around, but struggling with the bat. Renda runs well, but has made eight errors and will kick the routine play.

Stephen Perez has made the plays at shortstop, but I think the bat has to pick up. I am not sure that will happen. Perez looks to be an org. soldier to me.

Khayyan Norfork puts the ball in play and can play around the infield, but he is 24 already and still here in Low-A. He’s the type of player that plays hard and is nice to have around, but is not a real prospect. I would not be surprised if Norfolk winds up to be much like Nicol and stick around on character and versatility for a nice minor-league career.

Wes Schill knows how to take a walk (20) and has command of the strike zone, but lacks power and doesn’t make a ton of contact.

Hunter Bailey never seems to play when I get to the games, but one extra-base hit in 42 at-bats with an average under .200 makes one wonder. Both Bailey and Schill are old for the level and I would scratch them from the list.

OUTFIELDERS
Brandon Miller leads the team in homers, but has struck out almost fifty times by mid-May = red flag alert right there. Miller has been an all-or-nothing player thus far and already (recurring theme) is 23.

Wander Ramos shows impressive tools and hit one of the longer homers that I’ve seen in a while, but swings and misses a lot and is… wait for it… 23. Something about those tools gives me a reason to give Ramos more time.

Estarlin Martinez hit just .191 before being injured, but was just starting to rev up with the bat before the injury. I’m interested in watching him when he returns.

J.R.Higley is still around and doesn’t do anything better than he did before. For a player that turns 25 in a month, I am befuddled on why he is still around these parts.

Haven’t seen Will Pinwica-Worms or Carlos Lopez play enough to form an opinion.

PITCHERS

Brett Mooneyham was impressive until being injured after his third start. Mooneyham has the “college guy/should dominate” tag on him, but I liked what I saw.

Pedro Encarnacion has been the breakout prospect over the first few weeks. Keeps the ball down, lets his fielders do the work.

Dixon Anderson has great numbers and is striking out almost a batter an inning and looks like a different pitcher than the fellow that arrived at the end of last season. Downside… he turns 24 before the season ends. Like Blake Schwartz, if the Nationals want to look at him seriously, he will need to see Potomac soon.

Ivan Pineyro has improved of late, but overall has been erratic in my view. Still needs more looks.

Ronald Pena has above-average stuff and below-average command.

David Fischer was promoted to Potomac and only two bad games make Fischer’s numbers look worse than he has pitched. The UConn Huskie had an almost 4 to 1 K to BB ratio.

Kylin Turnbull had an awful stat line in his last home start, due to a gusting wind blowing out to right, but his other starts have not been much more impressive. Almost 24, almost ready to give up on as a prospect if things do not turn around.

Will Hudgins has looked strong when I have seen him and his 12 K’s in 12 innings makes me consider him a player to watch.

I didn’t think Brian Dupra looked much different than last season, but someone must have as he was promoted to High A. The organization must think more of him than I do.

Brian Rauh has been hammered, but he still strikes people out (21 in 23 IP). Rauh has been really bad when he has been bad, so keep that in mind.

Bryan Harper, Travis Henke and Robert Benincasa are pitchers that I have seen very little of — Harper and Benincasa, just once and Henke not at all.

Henke turns 25 in July, so I’d rule him out. Benincasa is being used as the closer and the Nats’ track record is that they move guys quicker who close. Harper has the advantage of being a lefty and another obvious advantage as well.

I know this sounds pessimistic for a first-place team leading their division by four games as of this writing, but this is not a team loaded with prospects. In the Sally League, a team filled with older players wins games over teams with more true prospects due to age and experience. It also appears the North Division is the weaker of the two as only Hagerstown and Hickory are over .500 with all but one team in the South is at .500 or better.

The Washington Nationals appear to be slow-tracking their high schoolers and sending their college players to Hagerstown. Is that because of the state of Municipal Stadium? Perhaps, but one thing is certain: If the Nationals continue to send these types of players to Hagerstown, the Suns will contend for Sally League titles, but they will not produce very many future Nationals.

Dispatches From Viera Instrux, Redux

Ed. note: Another on-the-ground report from frequent commenter TBRFan.
Yesterday’s game was not very good for the Nats’ farmhands, losing 7-0 to the Astros’ minor-leaguers.

The Nats were never seemingly in this game, and you could tell that they were ready to go home, as this was the last game of the instructional league program. Even the umpires were “late” to the show, pulling in on a utility vehicle through the centerfield wall at exactly 10 a.m., the players waiting on the field for them to show up. Since the bats did little or nothing, I’ll focus on the pitchers.

Taylor Jordan pitched the first two innings. He allowed two singles and a sacrifice fly that scored a run in the first. In the second, he gave up a double, with that runner scored on a crazy broken-bat single with flying shards of wood that almost cleaned out the entire Nats’ coaching staff, who were sitting in folding chairs outside of the dugout. The Nats were able to nail him trying to stretch it into a double. Jordan struck out the next two to finish his outing strong.

Robbie Ray pitched the 3rd and 4th innings, giving up a HUGE home run. The Houston batter put it about 30 feet past the 404 mark on the left-center field wall, nearly hitting the team bus while traveling through a bunch of palm trees. Ray also notched two K’s, with one coming when he was down in the count 3-0, and walked one.

Pedro Encarnacion pitched the 5th and 6th innings, giving up no runs and only allowing one single. He got a big caught-looking whiff in the 6th. The batter was not pleased and stood in the box for a good 10 seconds before slowly moving out.

Kylin Turnbull pitched in the 7th, and the wheels started to fall off the bus for the Nats — single, error, infield single, sacrifice hit… it just kept on coming as the ‘Stros tacked on their fifth run.

It got no better in the 8th with Michael Boyden pitching. He got two flyouts to start, then a double, a walk, and a two-run triple. It wasn’t pretty.

By the 9th inning, the sidearm pitcher Hollins came in and closed out the game, giving up a double to the first batter, but getting a fly ball that send the runner to third and then stranded him there with tapper back to the mound and a grounder to third.

As for hitting, as previously mentioned, the bats were mostly silent: two-out singles for starters Michael Taylor and Adrian Sanchez; a walk and a leadoff double for Randolph Oduber; a one-out single for Tony Renda in the 7th and a leadoff walk for Shawn Pleffner in the 9th.

For anyone that is a minor-league baseball fan, I still believe the instructional league is where you want to be. I was one of TWO fans, the other a retiree from Orlando – nice guy! Cheering is, well, not really needed –- if you let out a hoot or holler, EVERYONE hears you. Plus, there are no foul balls to be had. Players collect them up and throw them back on the field. Players not in the game? They shag foul balls, sing songs, mock the other players, run the radar guns, chat with other players, or play batboy (really)! Heck, they were mowing the grass today during the game. Imagine pitching to the sound of the leaf blower coming out of the tunnel.

For the purists/junkies, it’s almost like a “field of dreams” type of game. You see all the players you love, minus all the screaming kids, drunk fans, and people that are just disinterested in what’s going on. Today’s game had NO scoreboard, NO music, no concessions. If you don’t keep score, you’d have no idea the inning, score, anything. It’s just a game… and that’s the way (at least in my little world) it should be.

At the end of the game, the coaches gave a pep talk, told the players to clean out lockers and turn in their gear. And that was it… the players went out the same gate I did, and they walked the 200 yards to the training complex and went home. I was delighted to get a thank-you and a wave from a bunch of players that recognized me from the games I attend at Memorial Stadium. That’s why I keep coming, and cross my fingers for each of them to get a taste of the big leagues some day.

Dispatches From Viera Instrux

Editor’s note: Frequent commenter TBRFan is Florida and here are some observations from yesterday’s Nationals-Braves game, which the Nats won, 6-2

I showed up at noon for what I had been told was a 1 p.m. and it was already in the 4th inning. There were about five fans and eight-to-ten scouts; the rest were players and grounds crew. The most entertaining part of the day was the scoreboard crew (yes, this time there was a scoreboard!) playing Earth, Wind and Fire between innings, which drew rave reviews from the Nats coaches, who were saluting their caps to the booth and dancing on the field (Tony Tarasco, in particular, had the hips a-swingin’). A close second was the home plate umpire calling a balk on a Braves pitcher, and the Atlanta coaches from yelling from the dugout “it’s instructional league, let it go man!” which drew some chuckles.

So let’s get down to what I saw…
The Braves had NO names on their jerseys, and there were no rosters to be had. The inning I got there, a #50 for ATL was pitching, and he was throwing pitches so hard you’d think he was going to break the catchers hand. Control was good and within reason for this level.

Nick Lee was the pitcher in the top of the 5th, he got a groundout, a flyout, and a strikeout with a wicked hard* slider that froze the batter and got “ooohhh’s” from the minimal crowd. I was impressed with what I saw, considering Luke’s report of not Lee being a hard thrower. The catcher’s glove was popping from his pitches.*Original wording, and an excellent New England-style double adjective. Very smahht.

Batting in the bottom of the 5th, Tony Renda laid down a nice bunt to get to first. Mike McQuillan walked. Destin Hood doubled to score Renda while McQuillan took third. Kevin Keyes struck out swinging for the first out. Michael Taylor had a sac fly to center, then Caleb Ramsey walked. Raudy Read then grounded out to third to end the inning, the Nats now up 3-1.

In the 6th, Stephen Perez walked, then Wilmer Difo had a sacrifice bunt. Renda got a RBI ground-rule double over the right fielder’s head that was hit a TON, but Perez was stopped at third. Mcquillan got a sac fly to plate Perez, then Estarlin Martinez blooped double to left that drove in Renda. Keyes got a walk, which I like to see for the big guy, then Randolph Oduber came up and struck out to end the inning. The Nats scored twice in the inning to take a 5-1 lead.

It was Miller time in the 7th, as Brandon went into LF and Justin went behind the plate. Offensively, they walked and doubled to push the sixth and final Nats run across. After a strikeout, a walk put runners on 1st and 2nd, but a the Nats flew out and grounded out to strand two and go up 6-1. The eighth was also a 1-2-3 affair for the Nats.

After Lee, Casey Selsor pitched the 6th and part of the 7th. He gave a walk and a HR to account for the second Atlanta run and was pulled with one. Robert Benicasa followed, getting two quick outs to finish the inning. He struck out the first batter in the 8th, but then loaded the bases with a walk and two singles. Derek Self ended the threat with a double play to end the 8th but then proceeded to create a one-out jam of his own in the 9th with a hit batsman and a single before rolling two groundouts to end the game.

Justin Miller caught the last three innings of the game and had some the growing pains you’d expect from a convert to the position, but was otherwise serviceable. Keyes caught everything that was thrown his way. Surprisingly, there were no errors during the six innings that I saw.

Next up: the Nats vs. the Astros.