16 Days of Baseball – Part 3: The Minor Leagues & The Journey South
By Sean McCafferty aka 30ranfordfan
After spending a couple of days in Cape Cod, it was time to head back to the main land, and take in a ‘AA’ game, before returning to the Cape for a fourth CCBL game that night.
When I had originally started to map out the route I’d be traveling for these two weeks, I had planned on finding a way to take in a game in Manchester, New Hampshire. I’m a Blue Jays fan, and the New Hampshire Fischer Cats are the Jay’s ‘AA’ affiliate in the Eastern League. They’re loaded with enough burgeoning talent to help propel the Jays farm system to a #3 rank overall.
Unfortunately, a game in Manchester just wasn’t in the cards. They were on the road Monday when I was leaving Cooperstown to head to Cape Cod, and while they were back home Thursday night (after I’d left Massachusetts) that was simply too far North, too late into the week, for the weekend I had planned. Luckily, a Fischer Cats road game was the next best thing.
The New Britain Rock Cats, the Twins ‘AA’ team, were hosting the Fischer Cats at Noon. New Britain Stadium was less than a three hour drive, so even if I did have to cross over a couple of state lines to get to Connecticut, it didn’t seem like it’d be all that big of a deal, and it certainly wasn’t.
When I arrived at the game, I was a little surprised to see how big the crowd in the parking lot was. My past experience was MiLB games has been that weekends there are usually big draws, and week days ones not so much. Day games? Usually you can count the fans in the hundreds. I quickly realized that it was because what must have been every day-camp in the city had shown up. Really filled up the place, as they were mostly sitting in the second deck (which otherwise would be have been near empty).
No matter, walking up to the box office proved as successful as it had always been in the past. Ask for a seat near the visitor’s dugout “How ’bout front row?” was the response! It’s one of the things I love about MiLB games. For about $10 you can get a great seat, and really great seats are almost always availble.
The home team jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, off a two run homer by Joe Benson. A few hits in the second inning pushed that lead to 3-0, and it was 4-1 Rock Cats after the third. Not exactly the performance I was looking for from the first place Fischer Cats.
New Hampshire stormed back in the top of the fifth, putting up three runs off hits from Adeiny Hechavarria, Callix Crabbe, and Anthony Gose, plus a Fielder’s Choice for an RBI from Mike McDade. All tied at four.
The bottom of the fifth brought about a long over-due thrill for me. I figure I’ve been to at least one hundred baseball games in my life, and never once have a caught a foul ball. Sitting right behind the dugout, wearing a Blue Jays jersey (probably the only one in the Stadium that holds nearly 7,500 fans), at the end of the inning, on the way back to the dugout after a double play, Fischer Cats first baseman Mike McDade tossed the ball right at me. My excitement only lasted a few moments, because I realized the handicapped kid right behind me was pretty disappointed the ball didn’t go a little farther. With only a few seconds to react, I quickly turned around and gave him the ball (for which both he and his father were very appreciative).
I’m going to be honest. If I had spent any length of time thinking about it, I probably would have kept the ball. I know it sounds selfish, but I think really would have. I’m happy that getting the ball made this kids day, but really – I’d been waiting for one of those balls a lot longer than he had. Being 31 years old doesn’t make that ball park souvenir any less special than if you’re 13.
You know what though? Maybe it was just dumb luck, or maybe it was Karma saying “Good Job!”, but in the bottom of the eighth, Rock Cat Deibinson Romero fouled off a Clint Everts pitch, into the crowd, off a railing, bounced off the Fischer Cats dugout, and was an easy grab for me. I was really pelased with myself this time (actually catching a foul was much more satisfying than getting one lobbed into the stands) and the ball wasn’t going anywhere. Now I could be happy for being nice to the kid a couple of innings before, and not beat myself up for giving away the ball.
The only problem was that by this point, New Brittan had tied up the game, scoring two in the bottom of the seventh. The game stayed tied until the bottom of the eleventh, New Britain completed the upset when (who else?) Deibinson Romero scored the go-ahead run on a base hit by Chris Parmelee. Rock Cats win 7-6.
Leaving the park, I was still pretty excited over finally catching a foul ball. I also left thinking that could have modified my plans to be a little bit better. Turned out that while the Noon game was always scheduled to be played that day, a second game had been added that night due to a rain out earlier in the week. The double header explained by star prospect Travis d’Arnaud wasn’t in the line up for the Fischer Cats. In addition to d’Arnaud playing in the evening, it also marked the first ‘AA’ start from recently promoted 2010 First Round Pick Deck McGuire. A game that the Fischer Cats would go onto win 17-3.
Certainly nothing to complain about though. With the foul ball now stored in my trunk, it was time to head back to Cape Cod where I’d spend my third night before heading south.
Thursday morning came, and a long drive was ahead of me. The plan for Thursday was to get to Bowie, Maryland, for a 7:00 ballgame, before heading down the road another couple of hours to Fredricksburg, Virginia, for the night.
Sometimes though, despite your best made plans, things don’t always work out.
The drive to Bowie was about eight and half hours. Tossing in time for a couple of stops, ten should have been plenty. I was on the road at 8:30 AM, giving myself ten and a half to get there.
The problem with driving in an area of North America I’m not too familiar with, is I don’t know the best routes to take. Printing off or writing down direction, plus having a map on-hand, has worked great in the past, but a GPS makes everything so much easier. Problem with a GPS though, it looks at distance and speed limit and determines the quickest route.
What I should have done was followed the I-95 along the coast, taken the 287 and followed it until it met back up with the I-95 in south New Jersey. Instead what I did was just follow I-95 straight into the Bronx, through New York City, over the George Washington Bridge, to the New Jersey Turnpike. Google will tell you the 287 route takes about twenty minutes longer. Instead I was driving by Bowie at about 8:30 that night, long after the game has started. Had great intentions, but a ball game just wasn’t happening for me that night.
Friday morning brought nearly another seven hours in the car, before I reached my destination; meeting up with a friend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Myrtle Beach, for those that have never been there, is pretty much the ultimate tourist town. Great place to visit for people of any age. Nothing but long, sandy beaches, the Atlantic Ocean at 80+ degrees, hotels, restaurants, bars, golf courses, gift shops, and outlet malls. All that, and BB&T Coastal Field, home the Texas Rangers ‘A’ affiliate: The Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
We had two nights booked here, and while we made sure to allow for plenty of time soaking in everything else Myrtle Beach has to offer, we were hitting up the Pelicans games both Friday and Saturday night.
BB&T Coastal Field is a cool little park. It holds 6,600 people, but it’s got something very unique in the building materials. It opened back in 1999 when the Braves were affiliated with the team. In an attempt to drum up extra interest in the club, bleachers from old Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta were used for much of the seating.
The Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox ‘A’ affiliate) were in town for a weekend set. Neither game we went to was particularly well attended. I’d estimate that fewer than one third of the seats was filled either night, and I’d be surprised to learn that the Sunday game faired any better. We were treated so some pretty good baseball though.
Friday night the Dash got to Pelicans starter Robert Ross early, scoring two runs off him in the third. Ross was lights out after that, only allowing only one more hit through to the bottom of the seventh. In the meantime the Pelicans were able to tag Dash starter Thomas Furnish for a run in the fourth, and they scored another off Dash reliever Andre Rienzo in the sixth.
Myrtle Beach made a pitching change at the top of the eight, and reliever William Kelly walked the leadoff batter, Tyler Saladino. As few pitches later, Saladino was able to take second on a passed ball, and then easily score on a Jared Mitchell double. Mitchell was later caught stealing, and a strikeout plus a ground out ended the eighth quickly, but the damage was done. The Pelicans would be unable to score in the eighth or the ninth, and Winston-Salem left with a 3-2 win.
Saturday night was even worse for the home squad. With four walks in the top of the second, along with a couple of hits and stolen bases, the Dash jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. Pelicans started Miquel De Los Santos didn’t even make it out of the second inning, and it was really obvious that the Pelicans were in trouble.
The Dash continued to score. They added another three runs over the fifth and sixth innings, taking a commanding six run lead. Myrtle Beach broke the shut out in the seventh, but a 6-1 final was as good as they could do. Not the kind of performance you hope to see, but with little routing interest in the game, not like we really left disappointed.
The beach and the weather are the big attractions in Myrtle Beach, but BB&T Coastal field is a really nice spot to take in a ball game. For a few bucks it’s a great way to spend an evening, and I’d suggest it to anyone who’s going to be in town.
Two days isn’t exactly a lot of time to spend in a place like Myrtle Beach, but it was all the time we had. Sunday morning was time to hit the road again and drive to the Sunshine state: Florida.
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