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A Cold Rain Fell: The last Night of Kinston Indians Baseball as K-Tribe Falls to Frederick 11-3

The Kinston Indians ended their 25 years in Kinston losing to the Frederick Keys on night that seemed more like early November than mid-September in Eastern North Carolina.  In a game that was delayed by rain an hour and 11 minutes at the outset which experienced a second delay in the 4th inning

It seemed that the K-Tribe never recovered their edge after their heartbreaking loss in Frederick Tuesday night in game two of the Carolina League “Mills Cup” Championship Series.  For the second strait night in the series ineffective pitching and critical fielding errors doomed the K-Tribe. The damage all was done in the 3rd inning when the Keys, down 2-0 found the range early and often.  Once again they used excellent hitting and aggressive base running taking advantage of every opportunity that they were given by the Indians.  The Keys had doubles by Dale Mollenhauer and Miguel Abreu and Manny Muchado had a 3 run home run which served as a coup de gras capping an 11 run 3rd inning in which 7 of the runs were scored with 2 outs.  In the inning the Indians committed 3 errors and had a wild pitch.

It was a sad end to what had been a magical final season for the K-Tribe.  The Indians become the Carolina Mudcats in 2012.  Many fans plan to continue to follow the team and make trips over to Zebulon to see “their” Mudcats next year.  Many are pessimistic about the possibility of a new team coming to Kinston next year though management is hopeful of something coming through. Kinston is the smallest city to have a Minor League Baseball team in the country with a baseball tradition that dates back over 100 years.  During the 25 years of their affiliation with the Cleveland Indians the K-Tribe won 5 Carolina League Championships and 11 Division titles.  The playing field has been named the best in the Carolina League 4 of the past 10 years. Numerous Major Leaguers including Jim Thome, C.C. Sabbathia, Manny Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Alex White, Grady Sizemore, Albert Belle, Matt Williams, Bartolo Colon, Marco Scutaro, Jhonny Peralta, Cliff Lee, Luke Scott, Fausto Carmona and Lonnie Chisenhall along with many more Indians have reached the Majors.  I expect that a number of the current K-Tribe players will follow in their illustrious footsteps.

One has to compliment the Orioles organization and the Frederick Keys.  They put together a talented team that played aggressive yet solid fundamental baseball.  A number of these young players will likely become outstanding Major League players.

I watched the game with the friends that I met this year and as we filtered out of the stadium we agreed to meet for dinner once a month.  Since we are all connected on Facebook this will be much easier than in the past.  Hopefully Kinston will land a Minor League Franchise next year.  I appreciate the people of the city and hope for both baseball and better economic times for it and them in the future.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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K-Tribe on Verge of Elimination: Lose 3-2 on Wednesday and 7-3 Thursday to Keys

Jesus Aguilar hit his 4th Home Run in 4 consecutive post-season games

In the space of 21 hours the Kinston Indians went from being 4 outs away from a two games to none series lead to being on the verge of elimination.  On Wednesday night in Frederick Maryland the Indians lost a close game which did not begin until 10 PM due to a 3 hour rain delay.  The Tribe took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning and lost when reliever Kyle Landis gave up 2 runs with 2 outs on singles by Manny Muchado, Miguel Abreu and Brian Ward. Frederick won the game which ended at about12:45 PM.  The teams arrived in Kinston after an overnight bus ride at about 7:30 AM Thursday.

K-Tribe starting pitcher Mike Rayl and Indians relievers struggled Thursday night

On Thursday at Historic Grainger Stadium the K-Tribe got off to a quick start on First Baseman Jesus Aguilar’s two run home run in the bottom of the second inning.  The shot was Aguilar’s fourth home run in the last 4 post season plays.  However the Indians were shut down by Frederick pitchers Scott Copeland, Ryan Berry and Sean Gleason scoring just one more run that in the bottom of the 9th inning.

The Keys played very aggressive baseball against a Kinston team that seemed at times listless taking advantage of K-Tribe mistakes all night long. Kinston’s problems began with and ended with pitching.  Starting pitcher Mike Rayl struggled from the beginning and relievers Trey Haley and Giovanni Soto had a hard time finding the plate. They were taken deep in the count by numerous Frederick batters and control was a major issue.  K-Tribe pitchers gave up 7 runs on 10 hits, but the walked 5, hit 3 and a wild pitch.  The K-Tribe added two errors in the field both on errant throws.

Keys reliever Ryan Berry looking like something out of the 1970s shut down K-Tribe hitters

To give credit to the Keys they played well, their pitching was strong and their hitting sharp. They used aggressive base running, stole 3 bases and laid down several outstanding bunts.  In the field turned three very important double plays that erased chances that the Tribe had to get back in the game.

The losses were difficult especially because of how well the Indians have played during the second half of the season.  It think that the loss Wednesday took a lot of life out of the Indians Thursday.

Friday night the teams will meet again in a must win game for the K-Tribe.  If the Indians win they will force game five on Saturday and if they lose it will be the end of an era for baseball in Kinston as the Indians franchise moves to Zebulon to become the Carolina Mudcats in 2012.  I will be there and cheering for the K-Tribe to win and force that final game in their quest for the Carolina League championship and the Mills Cup.

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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