Aberdeen IronBirds vs Brooklyn Cyclones – July 30, 2017

On Sunday, I went to see the Aberdeen IronBirds take on the Brooklyn Cyclones.  Aberdeen is the second closest minor league team to me, so I try to see them play every so often.  The game was a 5:35 start on a Sunday, which I thought was interesting, but it worked with my schedule.  The game was entertaining as the teams exchanged lead changes throughout as the game ended with an Aberdeen walk-off win, 7-6.

The Cyclones took a 3-0 lead against IronBirds starting pitcher Tobias Myers, who was traded to the Rays for Tim Beckham the next day.  Then in the 3rd and 4th innings, the IronBirds put up four runs against Cyclones starting pitcher, Jose Carlos Medina.  Interestingly, the Cyclones have two players named Jose Medina, so they need to go by their middle names.  Also, one of the runs off of Medina was a steal of home by IronBirds LF T.J. Nichting, during a pickoff attempt to first.

I also saw two pitchers with interesting deliveries.  Brooklyn pitcher Stephen Villines has an interesting sidearm delivery that has been fooling hitters since his professional debut this summer.  The picture above attempts to capture it.  This 2017 Mets 10th round draft pick has gone 10 1/3 innings, giving up one run, which also led to his only loss.  This was his NY-Penn League debut and he struck out 5 of the 6 hitters he faced.  Aberdeen pitcher Brandon Bonilla comes up and over with his pitches getting under the ball during his delivery more than you would usually see.  This seems to be working well for him as he has a 1.59 ERA through his first 11 1/3 innings with 18 strikeouts.

The game ended with Cannon Chadwick on the mound for the Cyclones, who hadn’t given up a run in the 14 innings he pitched prior to this game, as he issued two walks and allowed the game-winning single to IronBirds catcher Ben Breazeale.

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Richard Bleier Baltimore Orioles Signing – July 18, 2017

Today I went to the Orioles store at the York Galleria Mall in York, PA for a signing by Orioles pitcher Richard Bleier.  There were fewer people in attendance than the last few signings at the Orioles store, and despite it starting a little late, everyone in line was able to get an autograph.  There are a few of these throughout the year at the Orioles store, so I’ll be on the lookout for the next one.

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Larry Christenson Former Philadelphia Phillies Signing – June 26, 2017

On June 26, I was able to attend the Bull Session Radio Show at The Blue Bell Inn in Blue Bell, PA.  The show is hosted by Dan Baker and former Phillies player Greg Luzinski and they typically have a current or former player as a guest on the show.  For this day’s show, Luzinski was not present and they had a special guest host, former player and Phillies pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan.  They advertise that the guest will sign autographs and this show’s guest was former Phillies player Larry Christenson.  I arrived about 30 minutes before the show started and had no trouble getting autographs from both Kerrigan and Christenson. The show is broadcast live on Mondays and is a great opportunity to meet Greg Luzinski and another player.

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Autographs from Carolina – Winston-Salem Game – July 2, 2017

Five County Stadium has a good area on each side of the ballpark to stand beyond the netting to get autographs from both teams.  Unlike the other two stadiums on my trip, the teams each enter on their own sides, so you need to choose which side you want to be on as the players enter.  I chose the Mudcats side because I had more players’ cards than the Dash.  There were two teenagers there also trying to get autographs and I didn’t observe anyone on the opposite side.

I walked around the stadium getting pictures and I noticed that the only coach whose card I had, Winston-Salem pitching coach Brian Drahman had entered the field and I missed him.  I was trying to figure out if there was any way around the netting near the dugout to try to get his autograph, but I didn’t see anything great.  I decided to go over to the Mudcats side at this time and I see Trent Clark walking in, whose card I had, but again couldn’t get to him.  Not working out too well so far.

So I figured I’d stay put and see which players would sign as they walked onto the field.  I was able to get autographs from Troy Stokes Jr. and Cody Ponce prior to the game.  So I’m doing a little bit better.

I thought that pretty much all of the Mudcats players had entered, so I thought that I’d walk over to the Dash side to see who was over there.  As I get to the other side of the field, I see Trey Supak, another card I had, walking in and thinking about another missed opportunity.

Shortly after that though, I saw Winston-Salem pitcher Dane Dunning going towards the dugout.  I yell out to him and he comes over, but it was in the netted area.  I was able to slide him a card under the net and pass the Sharpie through it.  I appreciate his willingness to work with me to get me the autograph.  I am also thinking that this might become more of the norm as teams talk about stretching the netting from foul pole to foul pole in an effort to keep the fans safer.

When I had first gotten into the stadium, I had noticed Carolina pitcher Kodi Medeiros throwing before the game.  He was too far away to call out to, but I was thinking that since he wasn’t pitching that day there was a good chance he would be tracking pitches from the stands.  I had a seat right behind home plate so I figured I could see if he was sitting in that area.  Sure enough, I saw him, so I decided to approach him for an autograph.  He was a little surprised to have some random guy start talking to him, but he was kind enough to oblige.  And as he was signing, someone else walked up with a card of his.  So now I’ve become that guy who looks for players in the stands.

With the big Mudcats victory, I wanted to see if I could get any autographs from the team after the game as they left the field.  Trey Supak walked by and I was able to get an autograph from him, which made me feel better for missing out earlier.  2B Isan Diaz had a big game and was signing autographs for a number of kids who had come by to see him.  He was so happy with his performance that he gave one of the kids his batting gloves.  Things like that are great to see.  After pretty everyone on the team had left the field, I noticed that Jake Gatewood still hadn’t come by.  So even though I had a long drive ahead of me, I wanted to wait a little longer for the chance at one more autograph.  Finally, he walked my way and he wandered towards me since I’m sure he knew I was going to ask for an autograph.  I was the only one left at that point and he was nice enough to sign for me.

So overall, I got 7 autographs, which was great for a single game.  I do really appreciate the willingness of these players to interact with the fans and sign a handful of autographs at the game.  These are mementos that I will always appreciate.

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Carolina Mudcats vs Winston-Salem Dash – July 2, 2017

It was a hot July afternoon in North Carolina, and I had a six hour drive ahead of me back to the Philadelphia area after the game, so I was looking forward to a quick low-scoring Carolina League game.  And of course what happens?  Teams combine for 5 home runs and 24 total runs in a Carolina 14-10 victory.  At least my seat was in the shade.

I assume that it had to be the heat that got to the pitchers in this one.  Winston-Salem starter Brannon Easterling didn’t make it out of the 3rd inning and gave up 9 earned runs.  Carolina starter Conor Harber pitched four scoreless innings but then 5 runs in the 5th (3 earned).  Victor Diaz made his High A debut, but gave up 4 earned runs in 2/3 of an inning.  The radar gun said he hit 106, so while I think he hit triple digits, I think it’s a little off.  Louie Lechich did pitch well for the Dash going 2 2/3 inning giving up 1 hit and no walks, so maybe he can become a hot day specialist.

I know that nobody else notices or cares about these things, but when I keep score, I notice patterns and other oddities.  The Mudcats went up 9-0 in the 3rd and each batter in their lineup scored exactly one run.  Interesting note (well, just to me), I was at a New York Yankees game in 2009 where the Yankees had a 9-0 lead and each batter scored once.  But then Alex Rodriguez decided to hit a home run as they won 10-0.  I wasn’t too disappointed because it was his only home run that I saw in person.  Anyway, I was really hoping that would hold up, but after Winston-Salem scored the next eight to make it a one run game, I thought maybe I would see the rare case of a 9 run lead being lost also.

And with any high scoring game, there is always the one player who has a bad day.  And on this day it was Winston-Salem 2B Toby Thomas who went 0-5 and grounded into three double plays.

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Autographs from Down East – Myrtle Beach Game – July 1, 2017

A few years ago, I started picking up some current baseball cards when I could find them cheap online.  I generally stopped my collection about twenty years ago, but recently started adding to it again.  I will also pick up specific cards if I see that a player is doing an autograph signing, but for minor league games, I will bring cards of whoever I happen to have.  The problem with this approach is that if a team’s top prospect, like the Cubs’ Eloy Jimenez is signing before a game, I’m not able to get his card autographed because I don’t have one.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to get one ahead of time because I have no idea if I will see him at a game.  And if I don’t have something worth signing on me, like a baseball, it ends up being a missed opportunity.

However, just because I missed out on one player, doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good day getting autographs.  I was able to get autographs from three Down East coaches who played in the majors, Jeremy Moore, Bobby Rose and Howard Johnson.  I also got an autograph from Down East 3B Josh Morgan (the day before he was activated off of the disabled list) and the game’s starting pitcher for Myrtle Beach, Justin Steele.

There were a good number of people looking for autographs at this game, and a big reason was that they were playing the Cubs affiliate.  I have noticed that there has been a rise in popularity of the Cubs as the team improved over the last few years.

Grainger Stadium is also a good place for autographs of both teams because the locker rooms are both on the third base side and both teams need to enter the field in the same place.  As a result, you are able to see every player as they come onto the field.  All of the players were accommodating to every autograph request made, which is great to see.

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Down East Wood Ducks vs Myrtle Beach Pelicans – July 1, 2017

I’ve been to Grainger Stadium in Kinston, NC for two Indians games over ten years ago, but I wanted to come back to see the new team added to the Carolina League this year.  I wasn’t expecting a large turnout, but they had a pretty good crowd for this game.  They were doing a jersey giveaway to the first 1000 fans, and I think there were likely more people than that outside the gates when they opened.  They were expecting a big turnout, so they opened the gates a half hour earlier than normal (4:30 for a 6:00 game), but they actually started letting people in at 4:15.  My plan to get a ticket at the game took much longer than expected because there were so many people.  I was able to get a jersey, but unfortunately they only had adult large by the time I got there, which is not going to fit me.

The game was another close one as the Myrtle Beach Pelicans defeated the Down East Wood Ducks, 4-1.  The game was 2-1 going into the 8th inning before the Pelicans added two insurance runs.  The starters were two of the leagues ERA leaders, Justin Steele for Myrtle Beach and Richelson Pena for Down East and they both pitched well.  I got to see the Cubs top prospect LF Eloy Jimenez drive in the 8th inning runs with a two run double.  It was also the last game in the Rangers organization for Down East RF Eduard Pinto as he was traded to the Blue Jays the next day, although on this day he went 0 for 4 and dropped his batting average to .311.

I didn’t ask any of the fans there what there opinion was, but I still think that it would have been better to call the team the Kinston Wood Ducks instead of the Down East Wood Ducks.  Although they did have the clever idea to name the mascot Dewd, after the acronym that the team’s name makes.

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Autographs from Buies Creek – Potomac Game – June 30, 2017

One of the nice features of going to a game where there are few attendees is that it is a little easier to get the attention of players for autographs.  From my experience, when there is one or two people trying to get an autograph, the players are more likely to stop and sign, since they know it will be very quick to please everyone.  At the Buies Creek Astros game, it was me and two others trying to get some autographs.  With the expanded netting in most ballparks, it is tougher to find an area where you can access the players.  And I am concerned that with the safety push to expand the netting from foul pole to foul pole that it will eliminate the tradition of pregame autographs (although I did find one way around it which I’ll talk about in another post).  At Buies Creek, there is a small area by the right field foul pole where fans can stand for autographs.  And the best feature is that players from both teams need to walk in by the right field foul pole, so they all have to walk right past that area making it a good opportunity to meet the players.

I didn’t have many cards of the players for this game, but I was able to meet Potomac Nationals OF Victor Robles and C Taylor Gushue.  They were both more than willing to sign autographs.  Since Robles is a top prospect, I’m sure that he gets many autograph requests, so it’s definitely great that he signed a card for me.

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Buies Creek Astros vs Potomac Nationals – June 30, 2017

The first game of my trip was to see the Buies Creek Astros play at Jim Perry Stadium located at Campbell University.  I made seeing this team a priority because I wanted to see a game in their temporary home before they moved to Fayetteville in 2019.  This was also stadium #119 for me and the only stadium on the trip that I hadn’t seen a game in previously.

Even though the game was at a college field with less seating, and the paid admission was only 413, I thought it was a great experience.  It was an opportunity to focus on baseball instead of the between-inning entertainment.  I also know that the lack of alcohol sales impacts the turnout.  I do realize that teams generally focus on drawing in the occasional fans because the diehard fans will come out no matter what, but it’s nice to see a well maintained stadium holding a professional baseball game that it wasn’t designed for.

The game itself was a close low scoring one.  The Buies Creek Astros scored two in the bottom of the first and that was enough to hold on to a 2-1 victory over the Potomac Nationals.  Franklin Perez, the Astros #6 prospect, pitched five scoreless innings for the victory.  On the Nationals side, I was excited to see center fielder and leadoff hitter Victor Robles, who is their top prospect.  He drove in the Nationals only run with an RBI double in the 6th.

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Trip to Buies Creek Astros, Down East Wood Ducks and Carolina Mudcats Games

This past weekend, I went on a road trip to eastern North Carolina to see three Carolina League games.  On Friday, I saw the Buies Creek Astros beat the Potomac Nationals, Saturday was the Down East Wood Ducks losing to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, and Sunday was a high scoring game with the Carolina Mudcats defeating the Winston-Salem Dash.  Soon I’ll put up more posts talking about the games and my autograph seeking at each.  It was definitely an enjoyable trip as I was able to see some of the closer stadiums to me and again be able to say that I’ve seen all of the Carolina League teams.

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