Monday, August 29, 2005

Added to my collection

I collect ballparks. This season I added only one, Fisher Cats Ballpark in Manchester, NH.

Minor league parks are usually situated beside a river or next to railroad tracks. This park is wedged in between the two, with Merrimack River running fragrantly behind the third base side seats, the train crossing beyond right field.

One of the prevailing comments, or complaints actually, about the major league parks that were built in the '70s was that they were too much alike, the "cookie cutter" parks, which has resulted in the newer parks being built with that trendy retro look. A great many minor league teams got new parks built because the requirements spelled out in the affiliation agreement between the majors and the minors, and unfortunately a lot of these parks have been built from the same blueprint. Manchester is one of them.

You climb stairs when you enter the park to reach the concourse, which is wide and open to the field so that you can, at least in theory, keep an eye on the game while getting your snack. The seats, except for the luxury boxes, run from the concourse down to the field. It's not a bad design on its own, but too many parks are now virtually identical and most have yet to develop a distinguishing character.

The quirk at this one is the outfield advertising. The walls have rotating signs built into them, that scroll up and down like window shades (the ground rules cover the possibility that a ball will get stuck in the rotating signs). The signs change with every batter. There is no constant scoreboard; the scoreboard is part of the ever-changing display on the videoboard in centerfield. A camera crew roams this park and let's everyone catch every second of every promo on the big screen.

The stadium in Syracuse has the same artificial turf and dimensions as Toronto to train the players and the nod to the big league club here is a hotel directly behind the left field wall.

The signature food is Boston: chowdah and pizza. The beer on tap gets high marks: Guiness and Bass Ale.

I asked for a seat in approximately the same location I sit in at my home park, but to my dismay this apparently is the birthday party and Little League team area. There were scores of young boys, noisy boys surrounding me, so by the end of the fourth inning, I had to move. Far, far away. To the opposite side of the park, the side from which I have trouble picking up the ball. But the smell of the river was less of a bother than the shrieks and foot stomping of all those young boys. The park has metal decking under the seats, so foot stomping is big here, just like in Lowell.

The Fisher Cats may be the Blue Jays AA team, but the audience in Manchester is a Red Sox crowd. More Red Sox branded clothing was worn than all other team branded clothing combined. The program had plenty of Red Sox related advertising. And in the souvenir store there was a couple items with the Fisher Cats' logo, lots of Red Sox items, a few different Portland Sea Dogs things, and one lonely rack of Blue Jays shirts.

The problem in Manchester is parking. The park is smack dab in the center of town and there is no dedicated parking. You have to park in local businesses' lots at $10.

Perhaps in time this park will develop a distinguishing personality, though it will probably be a split personality as long as the big club isn't the Red Sox.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Whatta Weekend!

Friday: Who Are These Guys?
This time of the season, I'm used to seeing a lot of new faces on the field as the team that has been here all summer is promoted, traded or released. No exception this year; I had to buy a program to find out who was who. Corey Ragsdale (6'4" but describes himself as a small guy) has been here since Chase was promoted for good to the Tides which makes him one of the old guys. New third baseman is Russ Triplett, (the team that used to play here was the Triplets) and he started his AA career nicely with two walks and a single in four plate appearances. Another newbie is Jonathan Slack OF. The B-Mets beat the Thunder 9-3.

Saturday: Laughing All the Way
Blues Brothers between innings, an outstanding performance by starter Evan MacLane, and an inside the park home run, first I've seen in person. Liviana, Grace and Mellow had a great time at the park, Grace kept telling me this was the most fun game she had ever been to. Corey Ragsdale SS hit a ball off the center field wall and the Trenton centerfielder was slow on getting to it so Rags just kept on running and running and running, came home standing up. It was incredible. The first inning looked like it was going to be a typical B-Mets fiasco, but MacLane was dominating for six straight innings, after giving up a run in the first. In the seventh it was clear he was tiring as all three outs were warning track flies when the ball hadn't been getting that far before. In the eighth he got two outs and gave up two runs and was unhappy he was lifted. No save situation for Lopez, though, B-Mets win 14-3.

Sunday: Rags Runs Some More
While the B-Mets played like we've been used to this season on Sunday, losing 15-6, there were bright spots as we assessed the team that will probably be here next year, at least until next August. With Chase ensconced at short in Norfolk, Rags will be our starting shortstop. He's made a few errors, but he's also made some outstanding plays at short and while his BA is low (he finally rose above the Mendoza Line this weekend) he's hit 6 homers in 49 games and Sunday got two stand up triples. This kid is only going to get better. Trippy will be our third baseman and his debut has certainly been promising, walks and doubles routine and probably a good glove at the hot corner. Second we don't know about. Brett Harper will probably be back at first doing his doorstop impression. Outfielder, Jonathan Slack, just up, possibly Bobby Malek who is in his second stint in Binghamton with a fair bat but a great arm, can nail runners at the plate from deep right field. Center is wide open as Lastings Milledge won't be back. Zach Clements finally got some rest with Rafael Arroyo making his first appearance behind the plate. Raffi is a small guy, as tall as Pudge Rodriguez but half his bulk, little for a catcher so I'm predicting him as my favorite B-Met of 2006.

Go Jake
In the middle of a pitching change the announcement came over the PA that former B-Met catcher Mike Jacobs in his first major league at bat hit a pinch hit three-run home run. Yayyyyyy!

Friday, August 19, 2005

I See Ballplayers

Time Warner Cable has one thing I definitely approve of: local minor league baseball.

On Thursday evenings when the Sky(gak)Chiefs are at home, the game is broadcast. Last night they were hosting Rochester (whom I didn't get to see play Sunday), so I got to see my first favorite B-Met Jason Tyner playing center. And surprise, surprise, Rochester's new shortstop is Gil Velasquez, shortstop and backup shortstop in Binghamton for the past three seasons.


With Mike Piazza day-to-day with his hand fracture, Mike Jacobs got The Call. He'll be backup at catcher, but if he can show them he can hit while he's there, he might stick. Last week, when the game was tight in the late innings, Mike was on the dugout steps, cheering and clapping, leading his teammates and the fans in rooting for the B-Mets, a heartening sight.

David Bacani, utility man extraordinare, has been called up to Norfolk. David, who is listed generously as 5'7", plays second, third, short, and the outfield, though shortstop is his natural position, and when games have gotten totally blown out, he's pitched a few late innings with a terrific ERA.

Joe Hietpas was called up a couple weeks ago, and with Jacobs in NYC, the B-Mets have only one catcher. Wonder if relief pitcher Jeremy Hill is on standby as backup at catcher, his former position.

The Norfolk Tides have clinched their division, and looking over the roster, I'm not surprised. They're basically the team that played most of the season in Binghamton last year and were lights out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Matty strikes again

I didn't get a game Sunday in Rochester, though I did geta logo-embossed baseball as the promotional giveaway as fans entered the gates, marked Red Wings on one sides, Twins on the opposite side, two sponsors' logos between them.

Matty has made off with it. I can't find it, but I can hear it clonking against the walls, the doors, the piano when he plays with it. As soon as he hears someone coming, he tucks it away somewhere in the dining room where we can't locate it.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Weather Wimps

After saying all those nice things about the Rochester Red Wings, I have to take a swipe at them today.

I drove all the way up there to catch a Sunday afternoon game, scheduled to start at 1:30. At 1:15 they covered the infield and announced that a cell was coming through, light rain, and they hoped to get the game started by 2:15 if not earlier.

It was drizzling, and it did rain lightly, returning to a faint drizzle, but at 2:15 they announced that because it was going to drizzle and rain lightly throughout the afternoon, the game was postponed to a doubleheader Monday night.

Maybe they won't start a game when the air is wet, or at least moist, maybe the Twins won't let the locals risk their players of the future, but it was barely drizzling. More like a misting. In Binghamton the week before, they played through rain, with thunder and lightning skirting just to the south. They've played during tornado warnings. Maybe the gate was too light.

I ended up poking around a bookstore just south of the city for a while, left town not much before the time the game would have ended had it started as scheduled, and it was still only lightly drizzling. Weather wimps.

My timing worked out well, as I pulled into Auburn just as the first pitch was being thrown by the Doubledays. Got to see a could great plays by the centerfielders and rightfielders of both teams. The pitching wasn't too shabby, but neither team was stellar in the infield. The best play of the game was by the Auburn manager. His team had been trailing 2-1 for some time and when a shot up the right field line made it 4-1 he came roaring out of the dugout to let the ump know the ball was on the foul side of the bag this far, holding his hands about 18" apart. He kept at it for a while, getting the crowd, and his team, going, getting tossed but not leaving the field. The other ump came in to cool things down and the manager had to show him how far outside the base he thought the ball went by retrieving the base from its spot on the field and carrying it to home plate, holding the base up and demonstrating it was this far outside. From my vantage point, aligned with first, the ball was clearly fair. It was good to get to a game, but watching short-season A ball reminds me exactly why I love AA.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Matty, the Baseball Cat

My cat Matty takes his being named for Christy Mathewson seriously. His favorite toy is a ballpark give-away, a small white rubber ball with red markings.

Baseballs are perched in odd spots throughout my house, on top of the upright piano, on top of china cupboard, on window sills and in bookcases, and any ball Matty can see is fair game as far as he's concerned.

There was a small Christmas ornament tucked behind stuff on the buffet, a snowman whose body was a clear plastic baseball. Matty found it, knocked off the snowman's head with its scarf and hat, and started batting the ball portion around.

The only television that has captured his attention is baseball. Movies or games, he'll watch the players moving around for long spells.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

'Bout Time

Liviana can't miss the B-Mets schedule plastered to my office door when she stops by for coffee or lunch most days. Both Grace and I have periodically nudged her about bringing the girls to the ballpark, since spring training. Every time I mentioned it, Liviana said there was plenty of time, plenty of summer left. Not so any more. Must be the double whammy of both of us nudging her this week finally made an impact.

Once we were at the park and Liviana had had her first spiedi and Nine Man ale of the season, Grace lamenting that they had come to the park nearly every weekend the year before (she overestimates the number of times they came, but it's good to know she felt like it was a place to be regularly), she was asking when they could next return, pulling out the B-Mets schedule and picking our next outing.

Grace has been attentive from the first while Mellow has been more interested what to eat next while scoping out cute boys, which translates into virtually every male under 30. This time Mellow was paying attention to the game, asking occasional questions about what was happening on the field and why. When the B-Mets intentionally walked a batter, she noted the catcher standing behind the plate, and wondered by they were intentionally loading the bases. Setting up the doubleplay, I explained. But, she noted as the next batter hit came to the plate, they could give up a grand slam. Which they did. And she got to puzzle out the infield fly rule when that was called. Great game. And three of the four minor leaguers Tampa Bay would have gotten in the aborted Manny Ramirez trade were on the field today: Lastings Milledge, Yusmiro Petit and Anibel Sanchez.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Oooo, Major Leaguers!

Steve Trachsel is still in town on rehab and Kaz Matsui is here for three games as well. Kaz has a vocal following, especially among the younger set. Trachsel, who got knocked around in his previous rehab start, was dominating tonight, pitched all 7 innings. (Another doubleheader--Portland was rained out during the couple weeks of the season and is forced to make up some of those games on the road. When the B-Mets play in Portland later this month, it will be another set of back-to-back doubleheaders.)

In the first name, with runners on second and third, the Sea dogs' starting pitcher Lester let loose two consecutive wild pitches letting both runners score. Final score: 3-1.

The second game was the wild one. Portland scored three in the top of the second, the B-Mets answered with 4 in the bottom of the inning. Portland scored again in the top of the third, and though the B-Mets scored again, Portland led until the bottom of the seventh when the B-Mets tied it up.

In the eighth (extra innings as doubleheaders are 7-inning affairs in this league) with one out, our weak-hitting, slow-footed catcher Zach Clements singled, then when the pitcher overthrew the first baseman on a pick off attempt, advanced to third. At that point, Portland pulled the left fielder and put in a fifth infielder on the left side. Setting up the doubleplay, they intentionally walked right fielder Derran Watts on four pitches. After falling behind in the count on Wayne Lydon, they intentionally walked him to load the bases, setting up a force play at every base. Lastings Milledge, who had come into the game as a pinch runner the inning before worked the count the full. Pitch -low and away. Ball four. B-Mets win.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Two at a Time

The last place B-mets took on the first place Sea Dogs in a doubleheader, came out with a respectable spilt. B-Mets took the first game 2-1, but were shut out in the second, 7-0. They were completely baffled by Charlie Zink's knuckleball: 4 hits, 3 walks, and 5 strikeouts. That game was one of those can't lose games for me. I'm happy any time Binghamton wins, but I love knickleballers and have been waiting all season to see Zink pitch.