April 2007

TRAVELBLOGUE: Greenville SC, Charlotte

Just got back from my first official road trip of the year (not counting spring training which is always awesome but not technically an "in-season road trip") and had forgotten how much I LOVE the Carolinas.

There are few places I can think of that offer it all in such a great setting … especially in spring. Even though the weather was pretty awful, at least the first day of the trip, it still somehow didn’t detract from the greenery and beauty of that area. And there are few other places I can think of which offer the following: wherever you are, you’re a reasonable drive from beaches, mountains and lakes, cities steeped in history and culture, fantastic food (I could live on Carolina barbecue every night though I’m especially partial to the eastern Carolina vinegar-based fare), amazingly nice people and … drum roll … 14 MINOR LEAGUE TEAMS! (10 in NC, covering five leagues and four clubs in South Carolina … though technically you could argue nine and five since the Charlotte Knights are actually located IN South Carolina).

Yeah, I would TOTALLY be happy to relocate (or retire) to the Carolinas.

This trip started in less than promising fashion when my flight landed in Charlotte to, as mentioned before, absolutely miserable weather. You could barely see beyond the fog and clouds and drizzle (though I call it "frizzle" because it was so cold). Got my rental car and hit I-85 South for the 90-minute trip to Greenville, S.C., where my travel companion/producer Joe awaited.

Westendfield
We headed over to West End Field (getting only slightly lost on the way), home of the Greenville Drive, the Boston Red Sox’ Class A affiliate. Looking at the skies, which were periodically emptying themselves, and the tarp on the field, there didn’t seem to be any prayer of getting in the team’s game against the visiting Columbus Catfish (Devil Rays), so we were just happy to get a chance to chat with Drive pitcher Jon Lester and Catfish ace Wade Townsend. (You can watch the interview with Lester on this Tuesday’s Bottom Line at BaseballChannel.TV at 3:45, and the Townsend clip should be up on MiLB.com this week as well.)

It was great to have the chance to talk to both of them … they have both overcome a lot this year though, needless to say, few if any players in the game have overcome what fate has thrown at Lester in the past few months. Diagnosed with lymphoma last summer, he’s gone through all the treatment and emerged, thank God, cancer free.

Townsend, meanwhile, has come back from Tommy John surgery and responded to this return to the game with renewed enthusiasm and looking great on Opening Night.

Assuming that the 7 p.m. game was going to be canceled (and we weren’t alone, I don’t think you could have found one person in that ballpark at 5 p.m. who thought there was a chance in **** that game would be played), Joe and I ventured out in search of an Italian restaurant …

MINOR LEAGUE TRAVELBLOGUE ALERT:  Joe, producer/editor/cameraman extraordinaire, is going to be on the road with ATM every week of this season. His trips will alternate with me every other week and Jonathan every other week. On Jonathan weeks, I’m sure they’ll be on the lookout for Mexican restaurants of note …

But on my weeks, we’re trying to find the best local Italian restaurants. We especially lean towards mom-and-pop type places that are cozy with great homecooked food (with all due respect to Olive Garden, Cararrabbas and the like, which we are fine with, we’d rather go to the local-owned and home-cooked spots).

We may not always be able to work our dining schedules around our game schedules, but we’re hoping to have a "go-to list" of places we can hit should weather or timing allow …

So if any of you readers from the locales where we’re headed can recommend great Italian restaurants near you, we will be eternally grateful. (Our next trip takes us to the cities of Scranton and Reading, PA, with upcoming travels in Palm Beach, FL, Charleston, SC, Myrtle Beach, SC, and the Alabama cities of Birmingham and Huntsville).

… anyway, had a nice dinner at Travinia in Greenville and headed back to surf the Minor League boxes online where I was STUNNED to discovered they had actually played the Greenville-Columbus game. The game in Charlotte, just an hour away, had indeed been postponed, which meant we needed to hustle the next morning to arrive that much earlier in anticipation of a doubleheader between the host Knights (White Sox) and visiting Syracuse Chiefs (Blue Jays).

Didn’t get lost this time (don’t ask me about the last time I drove Joe and Ed Randall to the Charlotte Knights’ stadium from another Carolina city and accidentally took 85 instead of 77 to the South Carolina border) … and this time the weather was gorgeous, sunny and mild.

Knightsstadium
Chatted with White Sox phenoms Ryan Sweeney and Josh Fields (you can watch the feature this Thursday on The Bottom Line!) as well as Chiefs outfielder Adam Lind.

Last year when we went to Charlotte we interviewed pitcher Charlie Haeger, who got called up to the Majors that night. This time, Lind chatted with us and was summoned to Toronto within 24 hours as well where he is now starting in their outfield (making my pre-season pick of him as AL Rookie of the Year less unlikely). So hopefully if you’re a player reading this and see us coming to talk to you, you might want to welcome us with open arms! We could be your lucky charm!

Game one of the DH seemed to be cruising along as Haeger’s knuckler was knuckling and he had a seemingly effortless shutout heading into the seventh (Minor League doubleheaders are seven innings each). Then suddenly, all **** broke loose. Kevin Barker hit a two-run homer. John Hattig homered. Sal Fasano homered. Had I not been watching the game live, I would have thought (and admittedly strangely did for a split second) that I was watching instant replay.

The pressbox crew quickly looked through the Knights media guide and could not find an instance of back-to-back-to-back homers allowed by a Charlotte pitcher in the team’s existence dating back to 1990 when they went Triple-A.

So with the game suddenly and shockingly tied at 4-4, it went to extra innings before the hosts finally emerged victorious in nine on, of all things, a wild pitch.

And I got my barbecue that night as well thanks to a drive-thru Sonny’s (though they forgot to give me a fork).

I am already looking forward to my next South Carolina trip in three weeks when I will get to visit Charleston and Myrtle Beach, both for the first times in my life … if anyone can suggest must-see sites (and great Italian or BBQ restaurants), that would rock.

But meanwhile I look towards the more immediate road trip to Scranton/Reading, both parks I have been to in the past and really enjoy. Hoping to carve out a little extra time to check out the town hall in Wilkes-Barre where I hear they have geneological records you can check … my ancestors lived there for several generations and I’m hoping to find out a little bit more about my roots …

Time to P.O.O.P.

You didn’t read that wrong. We’re introducing a new feature here on ATM: He Said, She Said, constantly trying to mix things up, get people interested. Today, it’s time to P.O.O.P.

Before you think I’ve completely lost my marbles, let me explain what P.O.O.P. stands for:

Pimp
Our
O
wn
P
roduct

In this case, I’m referring to our multimedia features: MiLB.TV and MiLB.com Gameday Audio. The TV package costs only $29.95 for the season and the audio only costs you a MiLB.com registration, which all of you should have already anyway. At any rate, in order to P.O.O.P. the right way, I’m picking the ATM Top 5 Picks to Click, featuring five great matchups to catch today on audio or video:

Jupiter vs. Brevard County (audio): The nightcap of this twinbill features Marlins’ 2006 first-round pick Brett Sinkbeil and Brewers pitching prospect Will Inman, both of whom threw well in their first starts of the year. First game starts at 5 p.m. ET.

Daytona vs. Vero Beach (audio): This 7 p.m. ET tilt has Notre Dame phenom Jeff Samardzija dueling with Devil Rays hurler Wade Davis

Wichita vs. Corpus Christi (audio): This Texas League matchup, starting at 8:05 p.m. ET, is a rematch of top pitching prospects. Troy Patton won the first meeting against Luke Hochevar. Tune in to see who takes Round 2.

Tacoma vs. Fresno (audio): If you’re up a little later, or live out West, then this could be the game for you, starting at 10:05 p.m. ET. Giants wunderkind Tim Lincecum makes his second start of the year for the Grizzlies.  And maybe ATM favorite Kevin Frandsen will make it down (too bad he was demoted) in time to join the Fresno lineup.

VIDEO GAME OF THE DAY: Richmond-Scranton: Phil Hughes makes his second start for Scranton, weather permitting. With the injuries hitting the big-league staff hard, how long will Hughes remain a Minor Leaguer? Watch him now while you still can.

If that game gets snowed out, then shoot over to the Pawtucket-Durham contest (both games are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. ET) and watch Jeff Niemann toe the rubber for the second time in 2007. His Bulls face Pawsox starter David Pauley, who was outstanding in his 2007 debut. 

Lunch-time Walkoff Special

Lucas is at it again, filing this report on the Carolina Mudcats-Mississippi Braves tilt:

Listen to the call, courtesy of the Carolina Mudcats’ Patrick Kinas. Download BrandonJones_WalkOffHR.mp3

It was a "going-long" day today at Trustman Park in Pearl, Mississippi.  Three
home runs including the game winner.  In the bottom of the ninth Mississippi
Braves left-fielder Brandon Jones crushed a full-count Chris Young pitch for a
1-on, nobody-out walk-off home run and a 3-2
win
over the Carolina Mudcats.  The Mudcats had led the game since taking a
2-1 advantage in the 5th. Young only gave up two round-trips in all of last
season.

The only other Mississippi run in the game was a solo shot by the
Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, his third homer of
the year.  Both Carolina runs were driven in by
a Jai Miller dinger in the 5th, his first of the year.

Wanted: ATM blog correspondents

As Lisa would be sure to confirm after she tried covering 55 or so Opening Day games last week, it’s virtually impossible for us to cover ALL of the Minor Leagues at one time here. We do what we can and will continue to post during our travels, but we need your help. That’s why I want you to consider this post an open call for ATM correspondents.

I must give credit to Lucas, who emailed me with a good tidbit (see below in our first official correspondent post) and got me thinking that we should ask more people to do this. So if you go to a game and see something interesting, be it on the field or off, send it in. If you’re perusing MiLB.com, listening to Gameday Audio or watching on MiLB.TV, and you see/hear/read about something intriguing, send it along. The best way to do that is to email me (there’s an email link along the left side of this page as well). Be sure to put MiLB Correspondent in the subject line so I know what it is. I’ll pick out the best items to post on the blog.

So kudos to Lucas, who sent in the following information:

There was an inside the park home run tonight (Tuesday) in Salt Lake. Here are the details:

Box score

Game recap

Nathan Haynes hit a three-run inside-the-park home run in the second inning off of Tucson starter Yusmeiro Petit. In addition, Brandon Wood hit his second homer of the year for the Bees.

Lucas went above and beyond and sent in an mp3 of Salt Lake announcer Steve Klauke’s call. Take a listen. Download Haynes_InsideParkHR.mp3

OK, so you get the idea now. Send in your updates early and often! — Jonathan

Players of the Week

Hey, folks, just a quick note…Lisa and I are going to start  ATM: He Said, She Said Player/Pitcher of the Week Awards. They’ll be announced right here every Thursday or Friday. So if you have nominations for either every week, be sure to post comments and we will consider accordingly. Thanks! — Jonathan

Frozen Ohio

A while back, Lisa and I promised to use He said, She said as a travelogue during the 2007 season. We’re going to be visiting Minor League ballparks all around the country and wanted to give everyone an idea of what to look for around the Minor League landscape. So be sure to check back here for updates on a regular basis.

First stop: Dayton and Akron

Dayton_2
I wish I had more to report on these two downtown stadiums in Ohio, but the weather put a damper — or should I say — freezer on any real exploring. And I only saw baseball in one of the two stops, with the game in Akron being colded out. But Fifth Third Field in Dayton still is one of the best ballparks in all of the Minors. It easily could be a Double-A stadium, at least and the Dragons have sold out every game since they began — I saw No. 497 in a row. Even with the cold weather, it was a nice crowd. One of the cooler things in this ballpark is the right-field fence, which is also a video board. With it being Passover, I can’t really comment on the ballpark fare, but it looked fairly standard. There is a local bar/restaurant — the Ice Box — right around the corner that offers decent bar food options.

Akron
I love Canal Park in Akron. Not only does it have the right look and feel for the post-industrial city, it’s helped revitalize a long-dormant downtown area. The Aeros, on paper, may have the best team in the Minors, so it’s worth heading there just to watch the Indians’ system’s talent flow through. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see them play because of the weather. In fact, Akron’s entire opening series against Binghamton was cancelled.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING …

… and now, so can I …

At High Desert (Mariners), the host Mavericks rallied but fell short in the end, falling to the Inland Empire 66ers (Dodgers), 9-7. Outfielder Jamie Hoffmann was 4-for-5 with three runs scored, a homer and three RBIs as well as a steal for Inland Empire. Hoffmann hit .252 with just five homers and 29 RBIs in 121 games at the Dodgers’ Advanced A Florida State League club last year. The 66ers received RBIs from six different players in the win.

The Modesto Nuts (Rockies) beat the Visalia Oaks (Diamondbacks) thanks to key hits from the top of the lineup. Leadoff man Eric Young Jr. (whose dad, one of my all-time favorite players, is now doing commentary on ESPN and to think I covered him when HE was in college at Rutgers!) drove in a pair of runs, while multi-talented Dexter Fowler drove in three from the No. 2 slot.

Speaking of sons of former Major Leaguers, it was definitely a family affair at Bakersfield as the Blaze (Rangers) edged the Lancaster Jethawks (Red Sox) 9-7, enjoying a four-run ninth inning. John Mayberry Jr. was 2-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs on the night including an early three-run homer. Freddie Thon was 3-for-5 with two doubles while Jake Blalock (no, he’s not Hank’s son, he’s his brother) was also 3-for-5 with two doubles. (I have to add that I am really REALLY looking forward to getting to see Mayberry play live and in person this season … and I’ll explain why when that day comes. Stay tuned).

Hey, the Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres) hitters just didn’t have a chance for the first four innings of their game against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Angels).  Not with rehabbing Bartolo Colon on the mound, throwing four innings of one-hit scoreless ball. However even when Colon departed, he was followed by the slightly less known but apparently equally effective Brok Butcher who got the win with four innings of two-hit ball in the 1-0 Quakes victory. Right fielder Jordan Lenz drove in the game’s lone run with a sac fly in the fourth.

And finally … here it is … my last blog of the night … or the morning here on the east coast … are you ready? Are you sure you’re ready?

The San Jose Giants shut out the Stockton Ports (Oakland), 7-0. David Maroul (who my husband picked up for his rotisserie team SOLELY BASED ON reading Jonathan Mayo’s item about Maroul in his Giants spring training camp notebook) made them both look good, going 3-for-4 witih two doubles. Joey Martinez got the win with five innings of two-hit ball, striking out six.

And. That. Is. All. She. Wrote.

I have only two words left … Hot. Bath.

PAC 8

With 16 teams scattered over three time zones, it’s never a dull moment in the Pacific Coast League …

The Fresno Grizzlies (Giants) played some long ball including a four-run seventh to top the Portland Beavers (Padres), 9-4. Nathan Schierholtz delivered the biggest blows, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a homer. The Grizzlies also got home runs from Chad Santos and Justin Leone.

Mets prospect Phil Humber got the win in his Triple-A debut as the New Orleans Zephyrs topped the Nashville Sounds, 4-1. They added an insurance run in the eighth on a solo homer from second baseman Ruben Gotay. And for Brewers fans who may be wondering, it was Zach Jackson with the Opening Night start, not Yovani Gallardo.

Former first-rounder Eric Munson was 3-for-4 with a double and a homer to lead the Round Rock Express to a 6-2 victory over the Iowa Cubs. In relief, Stephen Randolph picked up the win with two innings of one-hit ball, striking out five.

The Salt Lake Bees rallied for the 4-3 win over Las Vegas scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth when a Nick Gorneault RBI single brought home Kendry Morales.

It was a good night for Dee Browns of the baseball world. One wielded the big bat in the Potomac Nationals’ victory over Lynchburg, while this one had a pinch-hit RBI single in the top of the eighth that was the difference in the Tucson Sidewinders’ 5-4 win over Colorado Springs.

Former Mets outfielder Victor Diaz may find new life in Texas if he keeps up the good work at Oklahoma, where he not only homered early in the game but also delivered the game-winning RBI double in the ninth for a 5-4 victory over Memphis. The Redhawks scored two in the top of the ninth and hung on for the win.

The Albuquerque Isotopes exploded for a seven-run fifth inning en route to a 9-3 win against Omaha. Some familiar names to long-time fans did the damage including Chad Hermansen, who was 3-for-3 with two RBIs. Todd Sears, Paul Hoover and Reggie Abercrombie also chipped in by driving in two runs apiece.

And finally, the Sacramento RiverCats (Athletics) couldn’t have made it much more exciting in their 8-7 victory over the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners). Leading 7-4 heading into the ninth, they gave up the lead when Rainiers outfielder Adam Jones hit a game-tying three run homer. But Sacramento won when Kevin Melillo drew a bases-loaded walk to score Kurt Suzuki.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

I am sure you’re all relieved that there are only two more roundups for me to come up with hokey little titles.

The Norfolk Tides held on to maintain their 7-5 victory over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, conquering the elements as they did so. The parent club Orioles made some pretty savvy six-year free agent signings this past off-season, among them the inexplicably consistently overlooked power-hitting Jon Knott from the Padres. Knott showed that his 32 homers and 100-plus RBIs last season were no Pacific Coast League fluke as he homered and drove in two runs in the victory. Joining Knott among the new Orioles family members are J.R. House, Terry Tiffee and the afore-mentioned Luis Montanez, all of whom could easily see time in Baltimore before long.

Louisville needed extra innings to dispatch of the Toledo Mud Hens, picking up a 10-inning 5-4 win as Tyrell Godwin scored on a fielder’s choice for the win. The game log included, in the 10th inning, this unexplained gem: onfield delay. We have no clue what that was about. Dead bird? Brawl? Potty break? And how would they it on Gameday?

The PawSox upended the Charlotte Knights, so Bomby has to wait another day for career win No. 1,557, but this blogger was sad not to see the name BOBBY SCALES in the Pawtucket boxscore. ATM fans may remember my vigil (which sadly went for naught) last year to get the then-Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons infielder onto the Triple-A All-Star team. This year Scales is with the PawSox and he enjoyed an outstanding big league spring training, opening a lot of eyes with the Major League club and, in fact, lasting with them not only all spring but for the exhibition games right before the regular season started. So I am starting my campaign RIGHT NOW to get BOBBY SCALES onto that Triple-A All-Star Team (unless, of course, he’s in Boston by then). But it won’t work if he’s not playing. Won’t you help?

SOUTHERN LIVING

The Carolina Mudcats started off their 2007 season with a 5-3 win over the Birmingham Barons. Johnny Raburn (yes, the brother of Ryan Raburn) was 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

The Montgomery Biscuits shut out the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, 4-0, behind the one-hit shutout ball for seven innings of Chris Seddon. Infield duo Reid Brignac and Evan Longoria posted identical 2-for-4 nights with an RBI apiece.

The Mobile BayBears made it exciting as they topped the Chattanooga Lookouts, 5-4, in 10 innings. The Lookouts scored a run in the top of the 10th but Mobile answered with two in the bottom of the frame. The two teams combined for 29 hits on the night. Outfielder Chris Dickerson was 5-for-5 for Chattanooga whle five players (Mark Reynolds, Emilio Bonifacio, Chris Rahl, Wilkin Castillo and Javier Brito) all had multi-hit games for the BayBears.

Huntsville also needed extra innings to top Mississippi, 4-3. In the 10th, Steve Sollmann drew a leadoff walk and scored on a single by Adam Heether.

The Tennessee Smokies held on when the Jacksonville Suns scored their lone run in the bottom of the ninth, and hung on to win, 3-1. Sean Gallagher got the win with 5 2/3 scoreless innings.

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