May 2005

Carolina on my mind

So, I’m sitting at home, stuffing my face with Memorial Day barbeque, when it hits me I never posted following my last stop on the tour of the Carolinas: Kinston.

Kinston struck me, for the brief time I was there, as a sleepy town, one that’d you’d expect in the middle of fairly rural North Carolina. The person behind the desk at the hotel there (the Hampton Inn is where the visiting teams stay) suggested a Chinese restaurant for lunch, but maybe it’s an incorrect bias on my part, but I just don’t trust Chinese food in rural North Carolina (or anywhere North Carolina, truth be told).

But I digress…the ballpark — Grainger Stadium — was exactly what you’d expect and want from a Carolina League park. Ads adorning the walls, fairly symmetrical. Built in 1949, you could just feel the history within its walls.

The best part of the evening was a mascot — not the usual Kinston mascot, which, oddly, is a dog. This was a creature called Bird-zerk, on loan from a local TV station. First, he did a dance routine with Winston-Salem third baseman Leo Daigle which ended with Bird-zerk taking Daigle’s glove and throwing it over the outfield fence.

But then the bird-like creature outdid himself, doing a clearly rehearsed number with the base umpire, Corey Blaser. At first, Blaser refused to dance, but then warmed to the idea and they ended in sync with some pretty nice moves. By far the best shtick I’ve seen in a while.

Delaware Detour

We interrupt Jonathan Mayo’s sweep through the Carolinas to bring you Kevin Czerwinski’s update from Delaware:

As I am driving around Wilmington, I can’t help but think of an episode of the television show Taxi, during which Alex and Jim get all worked up about the Delaware State Senate arguing about whether or not residents should be called Delawarians. I’m showing my age and my somewhat slavish devotion to pop culture as I write this but I do have a point. I liked Taxi, who couldn’t like Christopher Lloyd’s character, and I like Delaware.

The folksy feel around Frawley Stadium and the care the staff at the park put into making it a special place is obvious from the minute you walk in. Everyone is friendly and attentive and there seems to be a great deal of pride in how Blue Rocks baseball is presented. And that’s only natural since Wilmington has been a dominant force in the Carolina League for the better part of a decade. The Blue Rocks led the Carolina League in attendance for the seventh consecutive season last year, drawing 320,788 fans. They’re closing in on 100,000 fans already and being affiliated with the Boston Red Sox for the first time is only aiding the cause.

Frawley_1 The park itself is nestled between I-95 and the waterfront, an area, like the ever-popular "downtown", seems to be popping up in almost every small city. Like many other cities, the riverfront here is undergoing a revitalization project with restaurants, an outlet mall and a convention center joining Frawley Stadium as the local attractions.

The seats are close to the field, giving an intimate feel. And the local knowledge of baseball is obvious as well. Robin Roberts’ #36 hangs immortalized in right center field while former Blue Rock Mike Sweeney has his #33 jersey hanging in center. The press box also sports pictures of former Wilmington stars, Carlos Beltran, Jon Lieber, Glendon Rusch, Michael Tucker and Johnny Damon.

And, if you feel like driving, there’s a huge mall not too far from the park and a harness track with slots, if you’re so inclined.

Where is Zebulon?

That’s where I am right now…it’s not far from Raleigh, if that means anything to you. It’s also the home of the Carolina Mudcats. Had Scott Olsen on radio this afternoon. Very honest young fellow. Quite a promising left arm to boot. Keep an eye on him…

Five_county There’s really nothing to do whatsoever around the ballpark, though I hear there’s quite a deal at the local Subway after 4 p.m…the proximity to Raleigh-Durham is the saving grace for players and fans alike looking for something do after the game.

Speaking of Durham, a good time was had by all at last night’s game. Zach Duke was dominant…again, and it’s a nice place to watch a game. The bull (you know, from the movie "Bull Durham" is still there, even though this is a newer park. It’s atop a giant left field fence, a Blue Monster, if you will. I always knew it said "Hit Bull Win Steak," but learned that it also reads, "Hit Grass Win Salad." You learn something new every day.

Conway, S.C. is next for the Big South Conference Tourny. No rest for the weary…Talk to y’all (local lingo) tomorrow.

The Greatest Show on Dirt

Greetings from Durham. Just flew in this morning for a four-day stint through what many consider to be the best place in the country for Minor League ball. The state is littered with clubs, which is why, of course, I’m here. I’ll post again tonight to let you know about the ballpark and all of its accoutrements once the game is underway. Right now, we’re (myself and multimedia whiz Joe Cronin) waiting to interview B.J. Upton about playing in Triple-A, his Futures Game experiences from a year ago, and the draft (particularly about his brother, Justin, who could go No. 1 overall this year).

As an added bonus, Zach Duke is taking the hill for your Indianapolis Indians against the Durham Bulls. Duke’s got seven wins already and I’ve had the lefty on "Around the Minors" on MLB Radio several times. Last time I saw him, he was winning for Altoona in the Eastern League playoff series against Erie last year.

We’ll be watching and talking to a ton of the top prospects the game has to offer, so check back early and often for posts here as well as features — both written and video — in the future. Here’s our itenerary:

  • Today: Durham, NC — Durham Bulls vs. Indianapolis Indians
  • Tuesday: Zebulon, NC — Carolina Mudcats vs. Huntsville Stars
  • Wednesday: Conway, SC — Big South College Baseball Conference Tournament (gotta get some draft stuff done)
  • Thursday: Kinston, NC — Kinston Indians vs. Winston-Salem Warthogs

Greetings from Tennessee

Hey everyone, it’s Kevin Czerwinski here. I wanted to share some thoughts about my recently completed trip to Tennessee with you.

Nashville remains oneWelcomeshot of my favorite cities to visit and a trip down south to see the Sounds allowed me the chance to hear some good country music, eat some great food and see some of the top-flight talent Milwaukee has on its Triple-A affiliate. Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks Weeks_1 proved to be fun to watch, especially seeing Weeks (pictured) hit a laser out of Greer Stadium against Tucson. The Sidewinders were no slouches either with Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson wielding hot bats as well.

Greer is not exactly a sparkling venue. It’s a bit old and isn’t in the nicest part of town but it does have atmosphere and a big blue guitar scoreboard.

And, when the Sounds aren’t playing, there is plenty to do in Nashville. The Opryland Hotel is an adventure unto itself. There is also the Grand Ole Opry, Opry_2 The Ryman Auditorium and a host of small bars and clubs where you can get your fill of country music. And make sure you hit Jack’s for some good ribs.

Drive two hours down I-24 and check out Chattanooga if you get the chance as well. It’s an easy, scenic drive and you can stop at Rock City or Ruby Falls on the way. Both are well worth the time. Chattanooga itself is a fun little city. The part of town down by the Tennessee River is undergoing a rebirth and its full of life with shops and restaurants.

Then head over to BellSouth Park and check out the Lookouts, who feature Richie Gardner, one of Cincinnati’s top pitching prospects.

Geeking on the Draft

I hope everyone got a chance to listen to the radio show on Tuesday. We had not one, not two, but three draft prospects on. It coincided with the launch of Draft Central. On the show, we had Wichita State’s Mike Pelfrey, Texas high school pitcher Kyle Hancock and California prep shortstop Justin Sellers, who came on his dad, former big league pitcher Jeff Sellers, who pitched for four years with the Boston Red Sox. Feel free to listen to the entire show. The more clicks, the better I look!

Stay tuned for more draft stuff coming your way — there could be a Draft blog in the future…

Can we have some consensus here?

OK, I’ve received seven votes for ATMBPOTM…for seven different players. So I guess it’s a seven-way tie…We’ll try again with a new batch at the end of May.

All you draft fans, keep an eye out…we should be launching the draft section soon, complete with a first-round projection. I’ll throw up some links when it’s ready. Stay tuned!

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