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Giants down Braves 3-2: Advance to NLCS

The Giants celebrate their first playoff series win since 2002 at Turner Field (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Once again there was a pitcher’s duel between the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants. Once again the Giants were the team to come from behind in the late innings to win the game in Atlanta. The Braves who have the most come from behind wins in the Majors this year could not come back from a late 3-2 deficit despite getting two walks with one out in the bottom of the 9th inning. Closer Brian Wilson got his command back and got Omar Infante to strike out for the second out and Melky Cabrera to ground out to 3rd base to end the game and the managerial career of the legendary Bobby Cox.  In a touching moment Cox came out for a curtain call tip of the hat to the fans receiving a standing ovation not just from the Braves faithful but from the victorious San Francisco Giants.

End of an era: Bobby Cox tips his hat after the game (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Giants started rookie Madison Bumgarner in game for against Derek Lowe pitching on short rest. Bumgarner struggled in the first three innings loading the bases in the 2nd and allowing a run on three singles and a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 3rd inning.  Lowe was very effective actually going into the 6th inning with a no hitter which was broken up by a solo shot by Giants outfielder Cody Ross to tie the game.

Cody Ross celebrates after his 6th inning home run (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

After the first three innings the young left-handed Bumgarner was very effective until the bottom of the 6th when he gave up a solo home run with 1 out to Braves catcher Brian McCann which gave the Braves a 2-1 lead and had the Braves faithful in full tomahawk chop frenzy mode.  With the crowd in his face Bumgarner bore down and despite giving up a single the Jayson Heyward struck out Alex Gonzales and Rick Ankiel to end the inning.

Fear the beard: Giants’ Closer Brian Wilson gets his second save in two games in Atlanta (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

In the top of the 7th the Giants came back. Freddy Sanchez grounded out to lead off the inning but the tiring Lowe walked Aubrey Huff and then gave up a single to Buster Posey which sent Huff to 2nd base. Bobby Cox came to the mound to pull Lowe from the game with Pete Moylan ready in the bullpen. A defiant Lowe told Cox that he could get the next batter Pat Burrell out and Cox gave way allowing the World Series veteran to stay in the game. Instead of getting Burrell out Lowe walked him to load the bases which brought out Cox for the second time to bring in Moylan.  The first batter that Moylan faced was Juan Uribe who hit a sharp ground ball to shortstop Alex Gonzales who threw just high enough to bring second baseman Omar Infante off the bag allowing Huff to score and the bases to remain loaded. Jonny Venters relieved Moylan and struck out pinch hitter Aaron Rowland for the second out. Venters then faced Cody Ross who singled to left to score Posey for the go-ahead run but left fielder Matt Diaz threw out Burrell at the plate aided by a great block of the plate by Brian McCann.

Brian McCann and Diory Hernandez look on as the Giants celebrate (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Giants sent Santiago Casilla to relieve Bumgarner in the bottom of the 7th and Casilla sent the Braves down in order.  He would get Derek Lee to strike out swinging before giving up a one out single to Brian McCann.  Casilla then got Alex Gonzales to hit a soft sinking line drive to shortstop Edgar Renteria who misplayed it but was able to recover and throw out Gonzalez who paused before running to first base thinking that Renteria had the catch. Pinch runner Nate McLouth went to second on the play and Giants manager Bruce Bochy to bring in Javier Lopez and Lopez struck out Jayson Heyward to end the inning.

The Giants managed nothing in the 9th despite an Aubrey Huff single.  In the bottom of the 9th the Giants brought in closer Brian Wilson.  Wilson got pinch hitter Brooks Conrad, the error prone goat of Sunday night to fly out but then walked Rick Ankiel and Erik Hinske.  Wilson then struck out Omar Infante who was one of the most effective Braves hitters in the series before retiring Melky Cabrera on a ground ball to third to end the game.

Saluting the longtime foe: The Giants pause their celebration to tip their hats and honor Bobby Cox (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

This was a true championship caliber series and certainly more competitive and well played than any of the other divisional series game.  Like all the games of this series the game could have gone either way. These teams were so evenly matched and played so well that it was a shame that one had to lose. Both secured playoff berths on the last day of the season and both are class organizations and have great fans. The difference was pitching the Giants starters had an ERA of 0.89 in the four games but not the starters alone as the Giants’ pitching staff allowed just 5 earned runs in 37 innings work for a 1.21 ERA.   Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner got the win while Derek Lowe picked up his second loss of the series.

The hero for the Giants was Cody Ross who had the game winning hit in game one and 2 RBIs in the finale to give the Giants just enough juice to end the Braves season and Bobby Cox’s managerial career.  As Bobby Cox tipped his hat at the end of the game I thought back to all of the times that this legendary manager has taken the Braves to the playoffs, especially their amazing run in 2005 with the “Baby Braves” rookies.  Cox was an old time manager who knew how to get the most out of his people and even continued to wear steel cleats to his final game. The colorful Cox will be missed and whoever the Braves get to fill his shoes will have to work many years in the shadow of a legend.

The Giants now move on the face the Phillies in the NLCS which begins on Friday in Philadelphia. I will analyze that series and the ALCS matchup after the Rays and Rangers series ends tomorrow evening.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Errors Cause Giants to Lose to Braves 5-4 in 11 Innings

Rick Ankiel’s 11th Inning Blast put the Braves in the lead but Giants errors opened the door for the Braves (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

In my NLCS predictions I said that the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves series would be the hardest to pick as the teams were so evenly matched. I gave the edge to the Giants based on how their starting pitching has done in the final month of the season and I still predict the Giants to win in four or five games.  Last night it looked like the Giants were on their way to going to Atlanta with a 2-0 series lead and then the improbable happened.  Leading 4-0 the Giants committed two Costly errors gave the Braves to opportunity to tie the game and eventually win it on Rick Ankiel’s 11th inning home run that landed among the kayaks in McCovey Cove.

Giants’ starter Matt Cain gave up just one run, an unearned one in the top of the 6th created by a fielding error by outfielder Pat Burrell on a Derek Lee single. Lee took second on the error and scored when the next batter, Brian McCann singled to make the score 4-1.  The Giants failed to capitalize in the 7th inning and the game went into the 8th with Sergio Romo coming into the game in relief.  Derek Lee and McCann singled and Romo was pulled for closer Brian Wilson.  Wilson faced Melkie Cabrera who hit a ground ball to third baseman Pablo Sandoval who whose errant throw pulled first baseman Aubrey Huff off the bag allowing Lee to score.  After a sacrifice bunt by Brooks Conrad sent the runners to second and third Alex Gonzalez doubled to left to score McCann and Cabrera to tie the game.

The game went into extra innings and in the bottom of the 10th the Giants had the bases loaded with one out.  Reliever Kyle Farnsworth got Buster Posey to hit into an inning ending double play.  Ramon Ramirez working his second inning of relief made one bad pitch which Ankiel slammed with such authority that Giants right fielder Nate Schierholtz didn’t even turn around.  The Giants did not score in the bottom half of the inning giving the Braves who led the majors in come from behind wins yet another improbably victory.

On Sunday the Giants will send Jonathan Sanchez (13-9 3.09 ERA) who has won 7 of his last 10 games to the mound.  Sanchez lost his last appearance against the Braves last only 4 innings giving up 4 runs on 5 hits. He will face Braves ace Tim Hudson (17-9 2.83 ERA) who won his last start against the Giants but struggled down the stretch going 5-5 with a 4.50 ERA.  Hudson has a career 13-13 record and 3.56 life time ERA against the Giants.

The Braves have the best record at home in the Majors this year and took their season series against the Giants 4 games to 3, and took 3 of 4 at home against the Giants this year which gives them a slight advantage in the next two games. I expect that the teams will manage a split in Atlanta and take the series back to San Francisco. This should continue to be the best and most interesting series of the 2010 Divisional Series playoffs.

Peace,

Steve+

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Tim Lincecum Fans 14, Two Hits Braves Giants Win Opener 1-0

The Freak: Tim Lincecum fans 14 Braves in 2 hit shutout (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Tim Lincecum recovered from the worst month of his career in August but was lights out in September something that he continued on Thursday night in game one of the Giants-Braves NLDS series. The two-time Cy Young winner made his playoff debut at AT&T Park and shut down Bobby Cox’s Atlanta Braves in a big way.  Braves batters were doing the Tomahawk Chop all night into empty air against Lincecum who threw at pitch after pitch resulting in strikeout after strikeout, 14 K’s to be exact. This was the most thrown by a pitcher in his playoff debut and third in playoff history, only Bob Gibson with 17 and Roger Clemons with 15 have more.

Lincecum was dominating; he allowed a gap double to Omar Infante to lead off the first inning and a gap double to Brian McCann in the 7th.  He gave up just one walk as he sent down batter after batter. The Giants scored one run and it proved to be enough.  The run came after Giants catcher Buster Posey singled and stole 2nd. That call however was blown, replay showed Posey to be out but the umpire did not have the best angle to make the call and Brooks Conrad’s tag was up around Posey’s chest making it probably more difficult for the umpire than the camera. The Braves did not argue the call so the questions about it did not come until the break between innings.  Manager Bobby Cox did not have a good view and after the game said that since he saw no reaction from his infielder assumed that Posey was safe.

Buster Posey scores the winning run in the Giants 1-0 victory over the Braves (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Even so the base would have been meaningless had Infante not missed a ground ball that most Third Baseman would have handled. That grounder became a RBI single for Cody Ross.  It was not called an error but was a play that could have been made, instead it was the game.

Atlanta Starter Derek Lowe performed well but came up short getting the loss pitching 5.1 innings allowing 4 hits, striking out 6 and walking 4 in the outing.

On the positive side for the Brave Bobby Cox did not add to his MLB record of games that he has been tossed from. Had gone and gotten himself thrown out we would have seen three managers tossed in the playoffs.

The game was quintessential Giants’ baseball as once again a starting pitcher shut down an opposing team while the offense provided just enough juice to get the win.  Tomorrow Matt Cain goes up against Tommy Hansen in game two.  Somehow I think that the Giants win Friday to take a 2-0 series lead into Atlanta.

The first two days of the NLCS and ALCS have seen more games in which a team was held to two hits or less, Lincecum allowed two, Halladay had his no-hitter and Cliff Lee had a one-hitter.  Bottom line: 27 innings, 3 pitchers, 3 hits and no runs. That sports fans is impressive. This really is the year of the pitcher.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s 2010 ALDS and NLDS Predictions

Note: Sorry for the delay in this post, most was already written but I spend the majority of the day on the road to West Virginia where we are taking some time to relax in between my assignments. I look forward to getting some rest and recreation, some good PT, a bunch of writing and take in a Marshall University football game while here.


It’s that time of the year again sports fans. After picking the Division and Wild Card winners it is time to get down and dirty as Padre Steve makes his picks to win the divisional races.  Last year I I did pretty well. During the playoffs and World Series I only missed one series picking the Angels to beat the Yankees in the ALDS based on their seasonal record in head to head games, especially those in Anaheim. That was the only wrong series pick that I made and when it came to the World Series I only made one mistake picking the Yankees to win game one versus game two.  When it came down the last game it was as if I had inside information, if you don’t believe me take a look at those posts, but I digress.

As I said last year I always try to be dispassionate about my picks even if I am for a particular team. This year I am praying that the Giants go all the way but this will not influence how I predict the series that they play in.  So here are my picks to get to the ALCS and NLCS from the division series.

In the American League:  Minnesota (94-68) versus New York (95-67). The Yankees will take the Twins in 4 games. The Twins have been the best team in the American league during the back half of the season and the Yankees have done well but have not been spectacular during the stretch. The Yankees are starting to show their age but the Twins have not been able to beat the Yankees with a stick. They are 2 and 14 against the bombers in the past two years and the Yankees have dominated the Twinkies in the playoffs in a very ugly manner.  I think that the Twins win one game but that the Yankees take them in four, though I cannot rule out a sweep.

Texas (90-72) versus Tampa (96-66):  The Rangers will take this in four. The Rays have the best record in the American League but were 28-28 from August 2nd until the end of the season. The Rangers were marginally better but play in a weak division whereas the Rays won the toughest division in baseball where ever the last place team had the best record in the division in the same time span. However, it comes down to Cliff Lee and hitting. The Rays starting pitching is marginally better in their ERA but their ERA was much lower post All-Star break than before and they are hitting only .236 since the All-Star break. Contrast this with the Rangers who are hitting .274 since the break and 3.89 ERA.  Cliff Lee ate up the Rays today and the free swinging Rangers are tailor made to win in the Trop.  If the Rangers take game two in Tampa the Rays are toast when they go to Arlington.

The National League: Philadelphia (97-65) versus Cincinnati (91-71). The Phillies have the best starting pitching in baseball and have been phenomenal since the beginning of August, the best record in the Majors. The Reds are a hitting machine leading the league in average (.272), runs (790), hits (1515) and home runs (188) but have a history of being dominated by the trio of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.  Today Halliday pitched a no-hitter against the Reds and I expect that Oswalt and Hamels will also dominate. Bottom line the Phillies have the chance to get a sweep. I think that the Reds may win one at home but that the Phillies pitching will dominate and that their hitting will be more than adequate to deal with the rather pedestrian Reds pitching staff.  The most interesting thing will be seeing flamethrower Aroldis Chapman face Ryan Howard and the Phillies in the late innings.

Finally we come down to San Francisco (92-70) and Atlanta (91-71).  The Braves go into this banged up without Chipper Jones or and without much in the way of hitting but want to win for their legendary Manager Bobby Cox.  Their leading RBI producer is Brian McCann who has 77 for the entire year, 32nd in the NL.  The teams are evenly matched in hitting but the Giants have the best ERA in the NL and were even better in the second half of the season.  Pitching matchups favor the Giants and with the first two games at home they have the edge. Their pitching staff also has the best road ERA in the NL.  The Giants have continued to improve during the second half of the season adding key players and the Braves as I said are pretty dinged up.  Add to this the fact that in September and October the Giants were 19-10 while the Braves limped across the line with a 14-16 record for the same period. This is a harder series to call because of how evenly matched the teams are but I pick the Giants in four based on roster strength and how they are trending though the Braves might take it to five before falling to the Giants.

Of course I could miss the whole thing, but I try to take the emotion out and look at the stats and in most occasions the stats tell the truth.  I don’t think that I am missing anything and the ALCS should be the Yankees against the Rangers and the NLCS the Phillies against the Giants.  I will analyze those series when these are complete and factor in any roster moves and injuries incurred during the divisional series as well as how the teams are trending.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Baseball is Back….Thank God!

Norfolk’s Harbor Park

Night baseball isn’t an aberration. What’s an aberration is a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. They tend to think of themselves as a little Williamsburg, a cute little replica of a major league franchise. Give me the Oakland A’s, thank you very much. People who do it right.” George Will on the Chicago Cubs

Baseball is back and I am very happy as spring returns and winter fades away as I can again watch baseball again live or tape delay.  Sure it is pre-season and the teams are still sorting out rosters but Spring Training is something that I look forward to every year.  I was actually hoping to get to Florida this year to take in a bit of the Orioles camp in Sarasota but thanks to a nasty Kidney stone I was pretty much knocked out of it.  Work will be too busy and Holy Week is coming so I will have to wait until opening day at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Joey Gathright bunts for a hit against Atlanta’s Gwinnett Braves in 2009

There is something about Spring Training as you watch the teams, study the roster reports and look at potential line ups pitching rotations and relief pitching staffs.  It is also the time that we begin to see how the personnel changes, signings, departures and prospects look up close.  It is a time when teams and players get to know each other again. I follow the Giants, Orioles and A’s very closely as well as looking most of the other teams as I look trough team sites, ESPN, Yahoo Baseball and sports blogs.

The statement of George Will the political columnist and avid Cubs fan speaks a lot of truth. The Cubs for years have either been penny pinchers or spent money like a drunken sailor with little to show for it. Since Jesus will come when they win the World’s Series next I think it likely that they will continue to be just what Will said they are “a cute little replica of a major league franchise.  Some teams spend their money be it large amounts or small wisely and know how to win.  Others spend money with no return throwing good money after bad on horrible deals every season and reaming losers.

What really interests me in baseball is not just the Major League teams but their Minor League affiliates.  Of course I have a close up view of the Orioles AAA International League affiliate the Norfolk Tides from my pew in Section 102, Row B Seat 1 and 2 a Harbor Park.  One of the things that I follow closely are the prospects as well as former Major League players as they move between the Majors and Minors as well as how they figure in trades.

A lot of people simply follow the big name players on contending teams and I admit that there is nothing wrong with that.  However, my view is that you have to take a look at a team’s farm system in relationship to the Major League team that it supports and feeds.  The depth and talent found in a teams’ Minor League system is vitally important to a team’s success or failure. Let me follow this with a few examples.

Mariano Rivera- Raised in the Yankee System

Let’s begin with the New York Yankees.  They are often portrayed as a team filled with “hired gun” type free agents who the pay an ungodly amount of money to obtain. Yes the Yankees are committed to winning and they will pay top dollar to get the best in baseball. Teams that want to win make the commitment to doing it.  Those that are content to be in the middle of the pack or lower don’t.  It is that simple. Like him or not George Steinbrenner knew what he was doing. However this is only part of their formula for success.  They also have also chosen to invest a lot in an excellent farm system.  Many of their top players came out of that system including Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.  Their current middle relief staff, which had for many years been a weakness, is now stocked with solid pitchers who came out of the Yankee system.  The depth of their system also allows them to use it to sweeten up trade deals with other teams.  If you want to win consistently you have to have the depth in the Minor League system in case you need it.

David Wright: One of the Few Bright Spots for the Mets

So now we go to the other end of the spectrum.  The New York Mets also spent a huge amount of money on big name free agents.  However, because the Mets invest almost nothing in their Minor League system it has been consistently the worst in baseball for years.  Likewise the mid to end of season implosions show just how bad the Mets system is.  For example the Mets treated their farms teams so badly since the arrival of Omar Minaya that their flagship affiliate, the Norfolk Tides ended their relationship with the Mets at the end of the 2006 season to become part of the Baltimore Orioles system.  The Mets system has few prospects and at the upper levels is stocked with older Minor Leaguers and worn out Major leaguers looking for one last year in the sun.  The Mets initially had to move the team to New Orleans for two years and then were able to market themselves to Buffalo when Cleveland moved their AAA affiliate to Columbus Ohio.  The team was the worst in the International League last year and Buffalo fans that for years enjoyed high caliber ball players and young prospects became angry.  Little good is being said about the Mets in Buffalo even now and since the Mets have depleted what they can spend, and few Minor League prospects they have little bargaining power to reach out and deal for the top tier free agents.

Brian McCann, one of the  18 “Baby Braves” who took the Braves to the 2005 NLCS

We move to another team that does things right with regard to this is the Atlanta Braves.  The Braves have been consistently good for many years winning 14 Division titles and a World Series. In that amazing run where they won more than 90 and sometimes over 100 games a season almost every year they often dominated to National League.  The team is stocked with home grown talent.  I have seen the Braves minor league teams at the AAA and AA level and am well acquainted with their system.  They too are usually really good, very good. That minor league system has produced great players including Chipper Jones.  Do not forget 2005 when the Braves beset by injuries called up a large number of Minor league players from Richmond and Mississippi including All Star catcher Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, Ande Marte, Kelly Johnson and 14 other rookies and the “Baby Braves” as they were known helped take the Braves to the playoffs.  The system had to recover from that and it has now because the Braves invest in it and those players are beginning to make an impact in the Majors.

Billy Beane the GM of the Oakland Athletics

Another team that knows how to use a farm system is the Oakland Athletics. The A’s after being very competitive using very little money for years fell on hard times last year, but one of the keys to their success was their reliance on top prospects in their Minor League System.  Over the years that system has produced some great players and more than likely will do so again.  The A’s system is built on the principle of Saber metrics which looks at numbers crunched by statistics geeks and has for the most part served them well.  The A’s General Manager Billy Beane has revolutionized the game for small market teams that want quality on a limited budget. Many former A’s cut loose when they would become too expensive now star on other Major League teams. The system is discussed in the book Moneyball.

The new “Baby Birds” Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold along with Luke Scott great Oscar Salazar after a Home Run

A few years back the Orioles realizing that they could not compete dollar for dollar against ht Red Sox and Yankees began at the single A level to build a premier farm system.  Each year the best have moved up into the system to AA and AAA levels.  Last year the Norfolk Tides started out on fire and when the Orioles ran into major injury problems they called up a lot of minor league players including Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Brad Bergeson and Chris Tillman.   The Orioles have built their system in stages and that building process went through the 2009 season.  Many of those called up were not quite ready for the majors but many are looked upon as future All Stars, especially their deep well of pitching talent that most teams could only dream about having.

Phillies Slugger Ryan Howard who I have seen play as a Reading Philly and Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons before he went to the Majors

When I look at teams I always look at their minor league system and their prospects because that system and those prospects are the future of the team.  Teams that are consistently bad typically have bad minor league systems.  I have been watching minor league ball in person regularly for almost ten years.  As such I have seen many of today’s biggest stars including players like Ryan Howard, Felix Hernandez, Jason Verlander, Heath Bell, Grady Sizmore, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jhonny Peralta, Brian McCann, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Jonathan Papelbon, many of the current Baltimore Orioles as well as countless others.

The relationship of the Major League team to its farm system is of paramount importance. If a team does not invest in their minor league affiliates and make good draft choices and trades they will seldom do well even if they have a decent team at the beginning of the season. Without quality prospects in the minor league system they will not have personnel readily available for call up on short notice in case of injury, not will they have depth to trade for quality players if the need them.

This is one of the things that make the game of baseball so different than other sports with the possible exception of NHL Hockey and its farm system.  The relationship and the development of players at the minor league level have a direct impact on the Major League club.  This is part of why I am so passionate about this game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Minor League Road Trips

grainger stadiumGrainger Stadium Kinston NC

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams (1989)

There is something about baseball that is healing.  It is part of the fabric of our American culture something that somehow overcomes the political and religious divisions that so divide our country right now.  We were at Gordon Biersch watching the last couple of innings of a qualification game for the Little League World series between a team from Peabody Massachusetts and one from Rhode Island.  It was one of those magical games that ended with a walk-off Grand-Slam home run in the bottom of the 6th.  It triggered a flood of memories for me and ait got Judy, the Abby Normal Abbess and I talking about some of our own expereinces travelling the country and watching baseball.

I love the game of baseball especially going to a ballpark and seeing a game.  The experience of this for me has been life-long though difficult to continue from about 1983-1999 due to a tour in Germany with the Army a very difficult four years of seminary followed by residency, my first hospital job where I worked the second shift, a mobilized tour in Germany prior to coming in the Navy in early 1999.  During those years getting to games was a rare event, either due to time or money.  Despite this we as a couple got to a few games and I got in a couple on my own when traveling.  Thankfully, Judy, the Abby Normal Abbess tolerates and even joins me in my own baseball journey.

When I went into the Navy and moved to North Carolina that began to change.  North Carolina of course is the setting of the classic baseball movie Bull Durham and once can visit some of the same ballparks as are shown in the movie. The adventure of going to the ballpark again became a regular part of our lives.  It began in a little town in Eastern North Carolina called Kinston, the home of the Kinston Indians.  Kinston is a town that has seen better times, but the Indians, or the K-Tribe as they are known is part of the lifeblood of the community.  They play in Grainger Stadium, which though an older ballpark is still a great place to watch a game.  The Indians Carolina League which is advanced “A” ball and for a number of years dominated that League. When were stationed in Camp LeJeune we would make the trip to Kinston on a regular basis when I was in town. At the time the Indians farm system was producing a lot of great prospects, many who now are major leaguers, including Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta Shane Victorino and Victor Martinez.  When we left LeJeune we were stationed a brief time in Jacksonville Florida, where we lived very close to the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, home of the Jacksonville Suns then the Los Angeles Dodgers AA affiliate in the Southern League.  The ballpark is a great venue to see a game and the Suns management led by Peter Bragan and Peter Bragan Jr. who are part of a great baseball family run a great show, and the Dodgers staff was a class organization.  I got to meet Tommy Lasorda in Jacksonville as well as Steve Yeager.  I have 2 game worn special issue jerseys from the Suns.  When we moved to Norfolk in 2003 the season was already over but beginning on opening day of 2004 I began to worship at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  This if you follow this site is the home of the Norfolk Tides.  Ever since then I have had the opportunity to see the game close up on a very regular basis.

In addition to attending the games near us we would travel and see other games. We would make trips down to Kinston from Virginia.  Once we went to a reunion of a singing group, the Continental Singers and Orchestra that I ran spotlight for back in 1979 which was being held in Kansas City.  On the way we saw a game in Louisville with the Louisville Bats, followed by a game in Cedar Rapids Iowa where we saw the Cedar Rapids Kernels play the Battle Creek Yankees and followed it with a trip to the “Field of Dreams” outside Dyersville, where that film was made.  Judy indulged me by playing catch with me on the field and taking my picture coming out of the cornfield.  It was almost; well it was a spiritual experience.  Occasionally when we visit Huntington West Virginia we try to see the West Virginia Power in Charleston.

Until I went to Iraq Judy and I used to take trips to Minor League ballparks around our Wedding anniversary.  We would take about four or five days and travel city to city to see some of the most fascinating baseball venues around.  We haven’t made a trip like that, even outside the wedding anniversary in a while mainly due to time as my much leave time has been spent going home to assist with my parents, especially the past 18 months where my dad’s Alzheimer’s Disease has progressed to the point of him being in a nursing home on palliative care.  Despite that I would always try to find time to see a game when in Stockton.  Before Iraq we would see the Stockton Ports in Billy Herbert Field.  The Ports now play in Banner Island Ballpark which is a great place to see a game.  If the Ports have not been in town we have occasionally been able to see the Giants, the A’s or the Sacramento River Cats, the AAA affiliate of the A’s.

The anniversary trips took us to some of the most interesting places to see games.  I have already mentioned Kinston where on one of our anniversaries we got to throw out the first pitch.  We have also travelled to Winston-Salem, when they were the Warthogs and Charlotte home of the Knights, the AAA affiliate of the White Sox.  Actually, Charlotte’s stadium is just down the road a way in Round Rock South Carolina.  We got rained out in Winston-Salem as a major storm hit at game time.  To our north we have been up to Frederick Maryland, home of the Frederick Keys, the Carolina League affiliate of the Orioles and Harrisburg Pennsylvania to see the Harrisburg Senators, the Montreal Expos-Washington Senators AA Eastern League affiliate at Metro-Bank Park on City Island.  This park was used in the movie Major League II as the Spring Training facility. There were two really cool things that happened at Harrisburg which was on our anniversary.  First we saw Phillies Slugger Ryan Howard about tear the cover off a ball hitting a double down the right field line and the General Manager had a ball autographed for us by the team.  That was really cool.  Likewise when Atlanta still had its Richmond affiliate, the Richmond Braves, we made a number of trips to “The Diamond” in Richmond.  This was the worst stadium I had ever watched a game in, though the team was always good.  We saw a playoff game there in 2004 between the Braves and the Columbus Clippers, who were then the Yankees AAA affiliate.  Sitting behind home plate I saw Jason Giambi play for the Clippers on a rehab assignment.

I have done some parks on my own when travelling.  Any time I have been on the road in baseball season and have the chance I try to see the local team if circumstances permit.  I have seen a number of games in the Pacific Northwest seeing two Seattle Mariners short season single A Northwest League affiliate the Everett Aquasox and AAA Pacific Coast League affiliate the Tacoma Rainiers.  Everett is an especially interesting place to see a game.  The games are well attended and the team management has some great promotions including “Frogfest” where the team wears tie-dyed jerseys and there is a kind of 1960s hippy theme.  The Rainiers play in Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.  In Tacoma I saw Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez pitch his first AAA game. Both Everett and Tacoma are nice places to see a game.  While on the USS Hue City at the Maine Lobster Festival I worked a deal with festival organizers to get tickets for our sailors for two games watching the Portland Seadogs the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.  When the Seadogs hit a home run a lighthouse rises up from behind the fence and a foghorn sounds.

However the two most interesting place that we have seen games together are Ashville North Carolina, the home of the Ashville Tourists and Zebulon North Carolina home of the Carolina Mudcats.  Ashville has quite a history with McCormack Field dating back until 1919.  The grandstand was rebuilt a number of years back, but the playing field is the same.  The outfield wall backs up into a tree covered hillside into which home runs hit at night almost seem to dissolve.   Zebulon is another matter.  The stadium is about a mile out of town surrounded by farm fields.  When you drive to it down US 64 from Raleigh the stadium almost seems to emerge from nowhere as if it were beamed down from a orbiting starship.  It is a fairly new stadium and very modern a great place to see a game.  We went there to see the Mudcats, who were then the Marlins AA Southern League affiliate play the Mississippi Braves.  We got to the stadium and found that somehow I had left our tickets at home.  Since the game was in an hour and home was bout a 6-8 hour round trip I knew that going home to get them was not an option.  So I went to the ticket manager and explained the situation.  He had remembered taking my ticket order by phone as we had talked about shared military experiences.  He was able to print us duplicates for the seats that we had previously purchased and we saw the game, as always from down behind home plate.  In this game we saw Braves All Star catcher Brian McCann play the week before he was called up to Atlanta.

I hope that we have some time next year to make at least one trip out to see some other Minor League venues.  They are a lot of fun and part of the fabric of our country and somehow I believe if we reconnect in these locations, watching this timeless game that maybe just maybe we can overcome the emnity of all that divides our country and learn to be Americans again.  We will never all agree on politics, religion, domestic, foreign or economic policy.  No Americans ever have, but we can discover what it means again, through this wonderful game called baseball.  I do think that the Deity Herself approves of all of these local parishes of the Church of Baseball scattered about our land.  At the same time I always have my place in Section 102, Row B Seat 2 at Harbor Park.

Peace, Steve+

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