Tagged: Minor Leagues

Opening Day Redux

Today is opening day for Minor League Baseball.  Well, at least in most Minor League cities.  The Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs and Buffalo Bison were snowed out.  But for the Charlotte Knights and Louisville Bats, the Oklahoma Redhawks and the Las Vegas 51s, the Trenton Thunder and the Montgomery Biscuits today the lights come on and the most beautiful two words in the English language, “Play Ball”, will be heard.

My Norfolk Tides open against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees at PNC Field.  Personally I liked SWB better when they were the Red Barons playing at Lackawanna Stadium, but when you become part of the Yankees organization I suppose you spiff up a bit–kind of like Johnny Damon cutting his hair.  In any case they will be on the tube tonight, so I guess I’ll have to catch the rerun of the Nats/Diamondbacks opener.  Don’t tell me how it turns out.

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My O My

Matt from Diamondhacks misses nothing.

Rumor has it I’ve been traded.

In his comments on the Mets clinching, Matt penned a mock letter from the owner of the Baltimore Orioles. His reference was to my hometown Norfolk Tides choosing not to renew the player development contract with the Mets. It appears a relationship that has existed since the Miracle Mets of 1969 is soon to be no more.

Ironically it is the club the Mets vanquished in that historic series that is destined to usurp their role in Norfolk. I’ve written on the switcheroo in my column for Spike’s Ballparks, so I won’t repeat all the gory details here. But here is the essence: The Tides president, Ken Young, is part of an ownership group that purchased three Orioles farm clubs over the summer. The Tides management have kept up appearances that they were entertaining consideration by the Nationals, Orioles, Mets and even Yankees, but my suspicion is this deal was done months ago.

The Nats got smart and, realizing Norfolk was going to the Birds, signed up with Columbus. The Mets got caught with their pants down and are now swamped in New Orleans. The spin is laughable: "We are excited to relocate our top Minor League operation to New Orleans to become a part of the rebirth and renaissance of one of America’s great cities," said Mets COO Jeff Wilpon. Right. Having an affiliate in the PCL (Pacific Coast League) is a disadvantage for eastern seaboard clubs. That is why the Nats wanted out of New Orleans.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. It may not be a bad thing. The Orioles are a rich team but they cannot compete via free agency. They must develop through the farm system. So I don’t know how to feel. I do know I wish they had the decency to wait until after the season. Suddenly I am not really a Met. Now I know how Xavier Nady felt. Of course the fans’ voice was not even a consideration. Baseball is a business.

Think I’ll go golfing.

The Brick

ESPN2 is carrying the Triple A championship game tonight (yes, I know its a replay) from my old haunts, Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. What a pleasant surprise! The Brick is a relatively new, modern ballpark in the heart of a revitalized downtown area. If you haven’t been to Oklahoma City in the last five years, you haven’t been. They spent a lot of money putting in canals and renovating the old warehouse area known a Bricktown, where the ballpark is located. The Brick is a marvelous place to catch a game–there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Wish I had gotten photos when they were constructing it. Sheesh.

Thanks to all the well wishers who left comments on the Mets clinching.

— Michael Norton

May Day

It is unseasonably cool here in Hampton Roads, and the Norfolk Tides bats are even colder.  Not that it would matter much if they were hot; the pitching is giving up a ton of runs.  They’re already behind 4-0 tonight to Rochester in the second.  It was 5-0.  Mayday!  Mayday!

Check out the pictures of the RedWing’s manager and pitching coach.  No, there is no mistake.  They are identical twins, which is even more humorous considering the RedWings are the AAA affiliate of the, you guessed it, Twins!

The RedWings also have a player with perhaps the best name in all of baseball:  Boof Bonser.  Yep, Boof.  It is his legal name—he had it officially changed.  From what I hate to imagine:  what could be worse than Boof?  I remember Boof from the Pacific Coast League when he was part of the Giants organization.  Don’t laugh too hard, he led the IL in strikeouts last year.

Another PCL player now with the RedWings is Jason Hart, a favorite of Redhawk fans when I was in Oklahoma.  Jason came back from surgery to remove a brain tumor.  Glad to see him back playing ball again.

I was hoping to go to the game tomorrow evening, but just heard they’re playing a businessman’s special tomorrow afternoon.  I gotta work.  Go figure.

MiLB.TV

Well the minor leagues have done it.  I’ve been telling my son if minor league baseball was smart, they would televise their games over the Internet like the bigs.  Now they’ve done it, and it is wonderful. 

Oh, you’re not going to be able to watch it, anymore than you can watch a major league game over the Internet.  I’ve been trying for three years, and even with business level bandwidth, it just doesn’t work.  The picture quality is barely acceptable (although the new viewer is an improvement), and the frame freezes all too frequently.  It is pretty obvious to me they simply don’t have the servers to handle the load.  You can watch archived games in the morning on MLB.TV.  Just don’t bother at night when most fans are trying to tune in.

It doesn’t cause me too many problems, however.  Most of the time I’m working while I listen to the game.  I’ve learned to listen to the game on either the radio or MLB audio and watch the images, when available.

But what pictures!  I can see the players, the uniforms and, often enough, the play.  For the first time, I get images of the ballparks.  Tonight it’s AutoZone Park in Memphis, where the Oklahoma Redhawks are taking on the Redbirds, AAA affiliate of the Cardinals.  AutoZone has the largest video scoreboard in the minors.

Memphis is 1-11 on the young season and was swept by the Redhawks in OKC.  Tonight they face Edinso Volquez, a 22 year old with a 90+ mph fastball.  Brian Daubach, a favorite with the Tides last year, is playing first base with the Redbirds.  2B Junior Spivey was projected to be the starter for the big Birds, but a spring slump surrendered the job to Aaron Miles, who is hitting .300 right now to Spivey’s .250.  Larry Bigbie, the first round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles who who was traded to the Rockies for Eric Byrnes of Down the Left Field Line fame,  is expected to return to the Cardinals after rehab for a foot injury.

Not that the Cards need the help.  They’re 8-5 and play 9 out of their next 12 against the Pirates and Nats who combined have 8 wins.

Remembering Jackie

The Tides got shelled last night, at the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, affiliate of the Phillies.  Well, sort of.  The relationship has soured, and next year the 18 year affiliation will end.  Guess Pennsylvania is not the state of brotherly love.  I haven’t really been able to get engaged in this series, in part because when you can find information on a player, it is usually something like “is nothing more than organization depth for the Phillies”.  I’m wondering if the Phillies have basically abandoned the Red Barons, shipping all their prospects to AA Reading.  The Red Barons do play in one of my favoritely named ballparks:  Lackawanna County Stadium.  Unfortunately there’s no lack of want in Scranton Wilkes-Barre.  Guess I should speak softly, though: the Red Barons have won three of four in this series.

Next up for the Tides is the Rochester Red Wings, affiliate of the Twins and one of the original teams in the International League via the Eastern League.  The International League itself is very old.  In 1897 the Rochester ballpark burned and the team, then called the Jingos, finished the season in Montreal, with the understanding the team would return to Rochester the following season.  Montreal decided possession was nine-tenths of the law, and Rochester had to buy the Scranton membership to stay in the league.  The International League gets its name from its historical connections to Canadian teams.

The Jackie Robinson story really begins with the Montreal Royals of the International League in 1946, where Robinson was positioned to prepare him for what was to come.  On this date, April 18, Robinson went 4-for-5 with four runs, a dinger, 4 RBIs, 2 stolen bases and forced 2 balks.  MiLB.com is chronicling Jackie’s exploits in the International League this season in its series, Remembering Jackie.

Opening Night, Too

Last night my son and I attended the Norfolk Tides opener versus the Durham Bulls.  Although Oceana AFB is so close residents complain constantly about the jet noise, there were no fly overs.  Welcome to the Minor Leagues.  Nevertheless, all eight thousand of us seemed to have a marvelous time, despite getting pounded 8-0 by the Bulls, AAA affiliate of the Devil Rays.

Winning and losing is somehow less important at this level; it really is more about how you play the game.  Players are working on their skills, honing their talent for their shot in the show.  Or playing out their time as a professional ballplayer.  Anyone who has watched Bull Durham has to have some appreciation for the Minor Leagues.

It is always fun to see the Bulls immortalized in that classic movie.  Of course Triple-A ball is not played in dusty, decrepit stadiums depicted in the film.  Many of the stadiums are actually better than major league parks.  I would rather see a game in Harbor Park than Pro Player Stadium, where the Marlins play, any day of the week and twice on Sundays.  Like The Brick in Oklahoma City and many other modern facilities, it is well designed and comfortable, home away from home to any baseball fan.

My son ran into a buddy from his command on his first visit to Harbor Park.  Welcome to Our House.  Baseball is a communal experience.  No other sport has a seventh inning stretch, during which the starting pitcher for the Norfolk Tides, Jose Lima, a former NL All Star, sang “God Bless America”.

Ah, what a wonderful time.  – amn