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The 2009 Season at Harbor Park…the View from 102 a Season in Pictures

Well, baseball season is now been over a couple of weeks,  but the AAA season ended here on September 4th.  What began in March with an exhibition games between the Orioles and Nationals and ended with a win over the Gwinnett Braves was a memorable season.  I have done other posts analyzing the the season which ended with the Tides having a 71-71 record.  This is a photo journal of the season from my seat at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish, the view from 102.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Opening Day, postponed one day the Tides home opener was played on a beautiful day


Tides 1st Baseman Michael Aubrey on Deck in the Dessert Camouflage Jersey

Tides vs. Rochester Red Wings

Harbor Park at Night

Michael Aubrey about to go Yard

Home Run Trot after the Hit

Manager Gary Allenson in the Dugout

Tides pitcher Jake Arrieta  delivering the pitch

Conference on the Mound

Barry the “Scorekeeper” my fellow Parishoner

Gwinnett Braves Player registering his displeasure on a called third strike

Swing and a Miss

Joey Gathright lays down a Bunt

Scouts for other teams doing their work

Harbor Park Entrance

Charlotte Knights Manager Chris Chambliss after a visit to the mound

Susan Komen Breast Cancer Night Catcher Robbie Hammock delivers a Grand Slam

Right Fielder Jeff Fiorentino the Tides Home Run and RBI Leader Blasts a s 3 Run Homer

Rain Delay

Lonely Vigil…if this was a football game he would fit right in

Tarp Covering the Field

Elliott the Usher

Victor Diaz at the Plate

Jeff Fiorentino Hits a Laser to Right

Marty the Card Dealer

Called Strike

Lead Off

Joey Gathright out at Home

Gary Allenson Arguing His Point

Bartolo Colon Delivers a Pitch for the Knights

Jeff Fiorentino Takes Bartolo Colon Yard

Andy Mitchell Sends on Across the Plate

Downtown Norfolk from Harbor Park

Tides President Ken Young and General Manager Dave Rosenfield

Ground Rules

Chip the Usher

Strike out

Moon Over Harbor Park

Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy

Run Scores

Jolbert Cabrera Down with a Season Ending Broken Ankle

Scout From Japanese Major League Yokohama Bay Stars

Ray and His Crew of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter who Man the Beer Stand Behind the Plate

Base Hit

Terri The Usher for Section 100

Rip Tide Helping the Grounds Crew between Games in a Double Header

Megan the Official Team Photgrapher

Braves Catcher Asking First Base Umpire to See if the Batter went Around

Mugging With Rip Tide

Post Game Fireworks

Japanese Film Crew Filming the “Samurai Umpires”

Gunning down a Runner


 

Last Home Game of 2009

 

Congratulations on a Final Home Win

Harbor Park Waiting for Next Season

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”A. Bartlett Giamatti

All Images Property of Padre Steve c.2009





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Surviving Birthdays, My Closet of Anxieties, Rumors of Revolution and Coups and a Losing Streak Ended

anniverary 2009I didn’t mess up the Abbess’s Birthday this Year…Cheers!

I am terrible at doing birthdays…mine included.  Unfortunately this can be detrimental in my primary and many other relationships.  In particular I have made my fair share of messes when it comes to birthdays, especially those of Judy.  This began shortly after marriage and there have been a number of times that I regret, especially in choice of gifts.  A large part of this was due to selective hearing on my part in what she wanted and to what she would refer to as the “damage to the brain caused by the male hormone.”  The biggest of the goofs was when in seminary I got her the Bible that I wanted…not smart. I will not add to the fire of my self-immolation here by describing the others.  I can say that like a pitcher has hung one too many curveballs in the center of the plate to good hitters and seeing it go over the fence, the memories flash through my mind beginning in the middle of September until the birthday is successfully negotiated.  It is like making sure that I get the last out before I can rest.

This year went well.  In fact it has been like an extended celebration for her milestone birthday. We brought her college roommate here for 6 days, we had lunch with her friend Diane and dinner at Gordon Biersch together and breakfast today with her friend Pat and her father today.  Saturday evening we will make the close to the week by having a number of people over for dinner and cake.  Even the gifts that I chose were things that she wanted or actually liked.  The key to me successfully negotiating a birthday is to actually listen to what she wants.

We have had a couple of good days of leave and enjoyed our time together.  The cool thing is though she has reached this milestone, she neither looks nor acts her age.  Since I neither look nor act my age most of the time, though I am feeling it more, I think that we are a good match.

closet of anxietiesOpen for Business

At the same time the week has seen my “Closet of Anxieties” open up again.   Part is obviously  PTSD induced and part life induced.  My mom as always has managed to add stress to my life.  My dad continues to slowly circle getting worse in the nursing home.  My German friend wants me to come to Germany in early December but I am nervous about making the flight.   I was able to handle flying much better before Iraq.

left wingers

Finally I am concerned about things going on in the country as some people on the political right are advocating a military coup or violent revolution to overthrow President Obama.  The scary thing as these are not people on the nutty fringe but people more in the mainstream of current conservative thought. What is even more alarming is that a lot of these folks are also prominent Evangelical Christians.  One should never forget that many German “conservative Christian values voters” supported Hitler because they so hated the left. Hitler, like many right wing politicians in this country played to their fear and hatred of the left for their political support.  I’m afraid of the same thing happening here.

A good article about this is found at blogger Polycarp’s site which is linked here: http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/2009/09/phyllis-schlafly-endorses-bloody-revolution-columnist-plans-for-armed-coup/

bundesarchiv_bild_146-1970-051-65_kapp-putsch_berlinThe Kapp Putsch

To me the political situation is looking more like the Weimar Republic every day and unlike the folks cited in the article I don’t see President Obama as a Nazi or Marxist.  I think that people are playing with fire in suggesting bloody revolutions or military coups.  If either happens there is no going back. They will have to coin a phrase “destroyed the Constitution in order to save it.”  What is scary for me to see a national columnist like John Perry writing in the mainstream conservative news online publication Newsmax.com , suggest a military coup when the military is engaged in two wars.  The military is perhaps the most trusted institution in the country and to look to it in time of war to overthrow the government in a partisan action is madness and even borders on treason.  Even if this Wolfgang Kapp wannabee was able to get some misdirected military leader to pull a Lüttwitz[i] and attempt to seize power.  Such an attempt would be futile and doomed to failure.  Such an attempt could never gain the support of the entire military and would be dependent on many younger soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who do not necessarily support the or are as radical as those pushing this on the political right.  The military is not a reactionary or monolithic institution despite the wishes of some on the right.  When one sees this kind of talk combined with street brawls at political town meetings and people carrying semi-automatic weapons at rallies where the President is speaking one sees a recipe for disaster that could destroy the country. If this continues  and at best poison the political and social atmosphere for decades to come.  I felt the same way when people on the left suggested a military coup against President Bush a couple of years ago.  We have a political process that has worked relatively well for 200 plus years.  Yes we are divided and having problems but nothing is insurmountable if we decide to work and play well with each other.  We have survived as a nation so long precisely because we have had the wisdom to step back from the brink, with the exception of the Civil War and we all know how well that turned out for everyone concerned.

044Jeff Fiorentino in Norfolk

However tonight a final source of anxiety was lifted when the Orioles broke their 13 game losing streak against the Tampa Bay Rays tonight.  O’s lefty Chris Waters, who I have met a number of times in Norfolk got the win and Jeff Fiorentino came up big with a 2 out RBI single that provided what would be the winning run.  It was good news for both players, Waters needed the win just to regain confidence and hopefully get another look by the O’s and other teams.  Fiorentino is now being talked about as having a place on the 2010 Orioles.  He certainly has earned it.  With the win the Orioles go home to the confines of Camden Yards to finish the season against the Blue Jays.

Peace, Padre Steve+

Note: The last time I posted something about faith and politics I had a couple of really nasty and personal comments by those on the right all but calling me a non-Christian and Marxist traitor.  This should be fun.


[i] Wolfgang Kapp was a German politician who worked with disaffected radical elements of the Army to attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic in 1922.  He gained the support of General von Lüttwitz who commanded the military district around Berlin and used a radicalized Freikorps, the Erhardt Brigade which was slated by the Army for demobilization to attempt to seize control of the government.  The attempt floundered but hindered future cooperation between the Army and the Majority Socialists where the Nazis began their rise to power.

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Oh, Oh, Oh, O’s….The Orioles Skid Continues But there are Some Bright Spots

“We’re so bad right now that for us back-to-back home runs means one today and another one tomorrow.” Earl Weaver

001Michael Aubrey has Been a Bright Spot for the Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles tied this season’s American League losing streak at 11 games, well make that broke it with at 12 games tonight.  However do not fear the Orioles cannot break their own team record losing streak unless they lose out and begin next year on a losing skid. Since the Orioles lost the first 21 games of the 1988 season and there are only 5 games left the worst that can happen are 17 straight losses.  Since I have made a significant investment in team gear such as jerseys, t-shirts, hats and cell phone holders I do hope that this does not continue.  The last time the Orioles won a game was back on September 16th.  In every case they have found interesting if not painful ways to lose.  There have been blow outs, and there have been meltdowns.  Recently the O’s have taken to getting lots of hits and base runners and on occasion score a decent amount of runs but leaving lots of men on base.  The result of course is when the pitching melted down the opposing team ended up outscoring the O’s.

Going into the month the O’s were well over 20 games behind the Yankees, so the remainder of the season was pretty much in the tank.  A number of things contributed to the September collapse which was very much like the August collapse of the O’s AAA affiliate the Norfolk Tides. The Orioles are a team that has struggled in part due to injuries of key personnel as well as trades, just as the Tides were impacted by call-ups and injuries.  The injuries have included All Star outfielder Adam Jones as well as Rookie of the Year contender Nolan Reimold and starting pitcher Brad Bergeson.  Trades included closer George Sherrill and Designated Hitter Aubrey Huff and pinch hitter deluxe Oscar Salazar.

043Alberto Castillo is Showing Promise as a Reliever

As the season has drawn to a close the team has made some moves that although prudent for the health and future of some of their young prospects.  Several pitchers had reached the number of innings that the club wanted them to achieve during the season including Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz.  Nolan Reimold as mentioned is injured but was playing injured most of the year and finally elected to have surgery on his frayed hamstring.

Until the last 12 games the O’s had one of the better team batting averages in the league but during this losing streak the team average has dropped significantly, especially in situations with runners on base or in scoring position.   Pitching has been hard to come by and even fielding has not been always impressive.  Even when starters have a good game going the relief staff has not been able to do the job resulting in a number of losses during this streak.  It is like Earl Weaver said “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.”  The Orioles are not getting much of anything right now.

Fiorentino HR against ColonJeff Fiorentino seen here Hitting a Home Run off of Bartolo Colon should find a Home in the Majors

In spite of this there is reason to hope and there are some bright spots on the Orioles roster.  Nolan Reimold and Brad Bergeson show great potential as does catcher Matt Wieters who has steadily gained confidence behind the plate and at bat.  Others are showing signs that they could become productive members of the team for the next several years.  Michael Aubrey at 1st Base has been quite consistent and may be in the process of winning a spot on next year’s active roster.  Rookie pitchers Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz show great potential and reliever Alberto Castillo has done very well in his relief appearances since coming up this month.  Among the veterans Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Luke Scott should be back and Jeremy Guthrie after a horrible start has began to get himself into his old form. Melvin Mora and Felix Pie should be back as well. If the pitching staff gets healthy and Tillman and Matusz pitch to the level expected the Orioles have a chance of at least being competitive next year even though I think that challenging the Yankees and Red Sox is a couple years off.

The Orioles have some very good prospects as well as rookies that I have not mentioned including pitchers David Hernandez, Jeff George and relievers Kam Mikalio and Jim Miller.  There are also a number of position players such as infielder Brandon Snyder and utility man Brandon Pinckney who could find themselves on the team at some point.

One player that I have not mentioned who should stay in the majors is outfielder Jeff Fiorentino.  Jeff has done very well since his call up however his comparative lack of power at the plate, despite being a great hitter in being able to get on base combined with the O’s outfield depth may mean that he has no place on this team.  With his speed, fielding ability, steadiness at the plate and all round hustle he needs to stay in the majors even if not on the O’s.  A place that might work for Jeff might be in San Francisco where in a park not geared for power his ability as a situational hitter would help the team.  Likewise his speed and fielding abilities would also be a good fit in the large outfield expanse at AT&T Park.

The one spot that I think that the team needs a change is the Field Manager Dave Trembley.  Trembley seems to be a good teacher but is not terribly inspirational.  Admittedly he began the year with a weak squad but something is not working and I do like his calm, but I wonder if the teams needs fire rather than calm right now.  My choice would be for the O’s to make a serious offer for Bobby Valentine now that he has returned from Japan.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Suddenly there Came a Tapping… Tide Watching in Baltimore and People can Say I’m Not a Christian but…

From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.–Saint Arnold of Metz, The patron Saint of Brewers

050Oktoberfest at Gordon Biersch

Tonight was nice, after a tough couple of days dealing with the death of a baby that came into our PICU over the weekend, continued unsettledness about my parents and some other considerations that I am not at liberty to talk about I got a break.  I heard a tapping, rapping at my office door.  Actually I didn’t hear a rapping, but there was a tapping, a tapping at Gordon Biersch. Yes the new seasonal is out and tonight was the tapping party for the Festbier complete with German Oompah band and full liter steins, or as they are called in Germany “Bierkrüg,”

Now as any reader of this website knows I like good beer and the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach is like our version of Cheers. We love the young guys and gals who tend the bar and pour our beer as well as the other regulars of the “Stein Club” which I was inducted into back in the last tapping party where the Kölsch Sömmerbrau was tapped.  It is nice to be around folks and just talk about life.  Many are getting to know that I am a Priest and Chaplain but also that I am approachable as is the Abbess who accompanies me to our favorite restaurant.  It is cool because it means that our view of the world includes a lot of people who we probably would meet if we remained cloistered with church people not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So tonight I donned my old 1996 “Bayern München” jersey with the number and name of the great Jürgen Klinsmann and one of my hats from the German Navy Sail Training ship the Gorch Fock.  We got there ahead of the tapping and got our liter size steins of the Festbier and ordered some dinner chatting with the various people that we know and having a nice time.  When we were done we said our goodbyes and took our newly issued liter steins home with us, and yes we did pay for them.

001Orioles Outfielder Jeff Fiorentino taking Bartolo Colon Yard while with the Norfolk Tides

When we got home I turned on the Orioles game against the Tampa Bay Rays on MASN2.  MASN is the Mid Atlantic Sports Network and televises both the Orioles and the Nationals in our area.  Watching the Orioles late in the year is like watching old friends as many of the players have come up from Norfolk this season.  From my View from 102 I got to see a lot of these players in Norfolk.  The players who have been especially fun to watch are Left Fielder Nolan Reimold, a potential American League Rookie of the Year; catcher Matt Wieters who had a single double and three run home run tonight, both of whom have been in Baltimore since May, Michael Aubrey and recent September calls up Jeff Fiorentino and Justin Turner.  Reimold and Wieters will be linchpins of the Orioles offense and key players for years to come.  The other three are all playing like they belong in the majors. Readers of this website as well as my Padre Steve’s View from 102 in the Virginia Pilot know that I like the way Fiorentino played in the field and at the plate with the Tides, something that he is continuing in Baltimore.  I’ve said before that I don’t know if the Birds will have room for him with an outfield composed of Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis but he needs to be in the majors.  A solid contact hitter who can take a pitch where it needs to go he hits for a high average, he is very fast and a spectacular defensive outfielder, the best that I have seen in Norfolk since I have lived here.  I have seen him continue this with Baltimore and his consistent hitting and great play in the outfield have been fun to watch.  There are a fair amount of Tides alumni on the O’s many who were called up at various points during the season as well as the September call ups.  It think that it will interesting to see just how many remain of the 26 and 40 man rosters come October.   Unless I am wrong I think that Jeff Fiorentino earns a place on the O’s or gets picked up by another team.

Finally… a brief note on something that I will write more in soon, but wanted to bring up now.  As someone who sees a lot of blogs I see a good number written by folks who are Christians or at least say that they are.  However it seems that many profess things that lend more to any number of real heresies yet profess to be the purveyors of the truth.  Some of the heresies are matters of doctrine, others in the matter that they seem to have forgotten a couple of big things in regard to faith and life.  I want to say up front that I have labeled by some who have visited this site as a liberal heretic which interpreted that I am somehow to the left of them and don’t believe the way that they do.  So I approach this matter with some trepidation.  The first big stumbling block that I have with some of them is the whole “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you thing.”  It seems that there are a lot of folks who claim the name Christian who are so angry, bitter and even dare say paranoid that they can’t say a good word about anyone that they have a disagreement with, to the point of condemning them to hell as unbelievers.  I think that is kind of a Talibanish view of life and others but it is what it is and it’s a free country.   My observation is that when you get out in the blogosphere and there is some weird angry stuff out there.  There are also some things which though not new, seem to be getting even stranger as the days go by.  One of these which I first noticed back when I was taking Church history in seminary was that a decent number of folks are for all practical purposes “Christian Gnostics.”  They speak and act as if they have the direct word from God, the correct knowledge that allows them to be somehow more in tune with God than the rest of us schmucks.  Like I said I see a bunch of this in the blogosphere not to mention on many of the more popular Christian TV shows and ministries as well top selling authors.  To a one it seems that all have acquired special knowledge that no one else seems to get.  This way of doing life has much more in common with the Gnostics than Christianity.  A great blog for which incredibly well done from a conservative Evangelical Christian perspective is The Church of Jesus Christ http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/ the blogger who runs it is quite good, very balanced and even handed but manages to show some of the craziness affecting many Christians in the United States.

pub1 dup

I’m going to hold off on the rest for now, but to finish it seems that many have become arrogant, increasingly dualistic, narcissistic and yea verily even paranoid and increasingly intolerant .  However I shall save the bulk of this for later when some who do these things label me a heretic and unbeliever.  It kind of reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Kathy Lee Griffin plays a comedian who after being criticized by Jerry who is attempting to help her develops a show called Jerry Seinfeld is the Devil. Until then they can just assume that I am after I do drink beer, hang out in bars and with people that they wouldn’t want in church.  But since Jesus did the same thing I guess I am in rather good company.

Peace, Steve+

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What Happened? An analysis of the Norfolk Tides in 2009

Pirates Orioles BaseballOscar Salazar

I have posted a couple of other articles analyzing the performance of the Norfolk Tides in 2009.  Now that the season is over with the Tides winning their final game by a score of 4-3 at Durham in 10 innings to finish at .500 for the season I am really going to get into the weeds.  First I am going to look at the team’s record each month of the season and note losses of key players during those months.

The Tides began well in April they were 11 and 8 with a  .578  winning percentage.  On April 21st Pitcher Brad Bergeson (1-1 2.45 ERA) was promoted to the Orioles.

In May the Tides were almost untouchable winning 23 and losing only 7 driving their record to 34-15 with a .693 winning percentage.  On May 13th Nolan Reimold (.394  9 HRs 27 RBI) was recalled to the Orioles.  May 14th Scott Moore (.252, 7 HRs, 21 RBIs) was injured, on May 29th Catcher Matt Wieters (.305 5 HRs 30 RBI’s) was called to the Orioles.  Pitcher Lance Berken (2-0  1.05 ERA) was promoted on May 26th.

three run homer by fiorentinoJeff Fiorentino 3 Run Home Run

The Tides crashed back to earth in June winning just 9 while losing 19.  They still were in first place and had a overall record of  43 wins and 34 losses with a .558 winning percentage.   Oscar Salazar (.372, 10 HRs and 43 RBIs) was called up by the Orioles on June 7th.  On June 28th pitcher David Hernandez (3-2 3.30 ERA) was promoted to Baltimore.  It is important to note that after June 7th the Tides were 8 and 15 with a .347 winning percentage. This is the date that Oscar Salazar was called up and it marks a watershed.

085Gary Allenson

July started off better than August but between 14th and 31st they went 5 and 13 with a .384 winning percentage.  For the month they were 14 and 15 with an overall record of 57-49 and a .537 winning percentage and had fallen into 2nd place.  On July 17th Justin Christian (.270 3 HRs and 25 RBIs) was injured followed by Jolbert Cabrera on July 17th (.298, 7 HRs, 50 RBIs) was injured breaking his foot going into home when sent by Gary Allenson on a play that he had little chance of scoring on. On the 29th Chris Tillman (8-6  2.70 ERA)  and reliever Kam Mickolio (3-3 3.50 ERA) were called up by the Orioles.

In August the woes continued as the Tides won 10 and lost 18 giving them a 67-67 and .500 on the year.  Once again the Tides had a meltdown, between the 20th and the 31st they only won 2 and lost 9 a pathetic .181 winning percentage during that stretch.  Even more disheartening three of these games were blown with the Tides leading in the 9th inning. On August 29th Joey Gathright (.329 24 Stolen bases) was traded while Michael Aubrey who had come to the Tides from the Cleveland system was promoted to the Orioles on the 18th.

130Injuries: Jolbert Cabrera

The Tides finished the year going 2 and 2 in September and maintain their .500 record to finish the year at 71 and 71.  September call ups included Jeff Fiorentino who hit .312 with 12 HRs and  67 RBIs.

The Tides finished 2009 with the 7th best record in the International League.  They had the 2nd highest team batting average of .272 behind Columbus.  Yet they were last in home runs with 79.  If one remember that 31 of these were produced by Salazar, Reimold,  Moore and Wieters before June 7thth in runs scored with 603 of which 239 (39.6%) were produced by the sextet of Salazar, Reimold, Wieters, Moore, Cabrera and Fiorentino.  The Tides were 5th in total hits with 1283,  6th in On Base Percentage at.330 and 10th in Slugging percentage at .389.

007Jeff George was a late season addition to the pitching staff

The Tides had the 7th best team pitching in the league with a team  3.87 ERA.  The ranked  7th in runs surrendered to opponents with 607 of which  527 were earned runs (80 unearned runs. Tides pitchers  gave up the 2nd most home runs (113) led the league in hit batsmen (77). They were  9th in walks with 409, 4th in strikeouts with 998.  Only one complete game was recorded by a Tides pitcher that by David Pauley in a game that he lost as the hitting never came through.  They had 9 shutouts on the year.

gathriright buntingJoey Gathright bunting for a hit

Hitting seems to be the key, after the Tides lost Reimold, Wieters, Salazar and Moore they were 36-56 for a .391 winning percentage.  Between those 4 players they hit 31 home runs before they left the team.  Salazar 10 in 50 games with 43 RBIs.  Reimold with 9 in 31 games with 27 RBIs, Moore, 7 in 32 games with 21 RBIs and Wieters with 5 in 39 games with 30 RBIs.  Prior to this they were 35-19 with a .648 winning percentage.  However the big drop occurred after Salazar was called up.  After Salazar left on June 7th the Tides had a   36 and 56 record for a .391 winning percentage during that time.

088Brandon Snyder Goes Down Swinging

In the field the Tides had 130 errors.  If one looks at fielding percentage by position played one can see my instincts about various players were correct.  Justin Turner had a .963 fielding percentage at 2nd base in 80 games committing 13 errors.  In only 14 games at short he had 4 errors and a .930 fielding percentage, while at 3rd he had 4 errors in 15 games and a .893 fielding percentage.  The farther Turner got from 2nd the less effective he was.  Other fielders had similar dynamics causing me to wonder about constantly moving infielders around in order to produce utility players when in fact it may be better to focus players on the positions that they play the best and only occasionally move them to other positions for additional experience.  I do understand the need for utility players, however you do not produce utility players at AAA.  If the player and the team has not yet figured out where the player plays the best and fits the best in the organization then it has probably missed the boat.  At AAA it is my opinion that unless a player has been recently converted to a new position, that strengths should be built upon with the goal of having potential starters, All-Stars and Golden Glove players at as many positions as possible.  This goes against the utility player mindset that the Tides-Orioles seem to have adopted where the only logical thing they appear to be doing is producing a glut of utility infielders most of who will have little chance of making the majors and little utility outside the minor league system.  Winning teams are built on excellence and not utility.  Utility players are important to plug holes and give starters a break.  You do not win pennants with teams loaded with utility players.  The Orioles know what they need at various positions.  Melvin Mora is getting old and Brian Roberts has been repeatedly mentioned in trade possibilities.  Ty Wigginton is not the best Third Baseman and there is the potential that Luke Scott may not return at first base.  Potentially they will have to replace one or more players in their infield next year.  Justin Christian could go to second and Brandon Snyder to 1st.  Brandon Pinckney is the only infielder who could be considered a true and reliable utility infielder being pretty solid in every position that he has played including a one inning relief pitcher outing and being a dependable hitter with a .291 batting average.

045July 3rd a Win Before the Bottom dropped out

Looking at trends for the Tides:

2009: 71-71  .500  3rd place

2008: 64-78  .451 2nd place

2007: 69-74 .483 3rd place

Last 3 Year  204-223    .478

The Tides last winning season with the O’s is 2005 when they were the Ottawa Lynx skippered by Dave Trembley.   Allenson managed the Ottawa in 2003 to a 79-65 record and .549 winning percentage.

Looking at the numbers the Tides early success was based on the incredible hitting and run production on about 6 players, only one that played most of the season with the team, Jeff Fiorentino.  The key date to mark is June 7th when Oscar Salazar was called up by the Orioles.  This was not simply do to the numbers, but to “X” factor that he was on the team.  Observing the team close up from section 102, row B, seat 2 I saw the impact that he had on the bench and on deck.  He provided a a sense of relaxed determination and confidence that had an impact on the players around him.  He Salazar not been called up, which I am glad that he was because he deserved to be, I doubt the Tides would have suffered the meltdown that they experienced.  When adversity struck it seemed that Gary Allenson checked out emotionally, he exuded little energy and that obviously carried over to the team.  Watching the Tides through most of August was painful as the team seemed lifeless as if they had already given up.  Scuttlebutt heard around the park indicated that quite a few players were unhappy with the organization.  A hint of this was provided by Jim Miller who when finally brought back as a closer indicated how being moved around hurt his game.

090Last Home Win Against Gwinnett September 3rd

With Allenson seemingly ineffective during this second half meltdown the organization needs to look at the previous years as well.  They need to look at who manages the Tides in relationship to the Orioles and in relation to whoever is manages at Baltimore as there is widespread speculation that Dave Trembley will not be back.  The Baltimore organization has no lack of talent at all levels as far as players are concerned, the key now is the field management team at Baltimore and Norfolk.  I would think that Baltimore would be wise to get in the hunt for Bobby Valentine who has proven that he can work with and motivate young players and who has signaled that he is ready to return from the land of the Rising Sun.  Since the Mets have elected to continue down the path of self-immolation by keeping their losing management team of Minaya and Manuel.  The Mets would have been the natural place for Valentine to go so with them out of the picture it would be wise for the Orioles to try to get him.

That is all for tonight.

Peace, Steve+

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Analyzing the End of Season Collapse of a Baseball Team

Note: I cover baseball and the Norfolk Tides with a Blog on the Virginia Pilot Online entitled Padre Steve’s View from 102. The link to that site and those blogs is here:  http://hamptonroads.com/blogs/padre-steve039s-view-102 Those articles are not re-posted here.

out at homeGathright Out at Home

Baseball is replete with end of season collapses of teams that had started hot and were in first place. The collapses often take place due to injuries to key players, trades gone bad or slumps that never end.  These collapses are even more troubling when there are not injuries or other circumstances that readily explain them.  The 1964 Phillies and the 2007 Mets had meltdowns of epic proportions in the last month of a major league season.  At the Minor League level there are other factors to consider especially with the added dimension of call ups by the Major League team and trades made by the Major League affiliate which impact the Minor League club’s roster.

strike outThe Melt Down Continues Strike Out

This year the Baltimore Orioles AAA International League Norfolk Tides who were playing nearly .700 ball through June experienced a collapse like I have not seen up close and personal.  Early in the season they were nearly unbeatable. Consistent and clutch hitting combines with excellent pitching allowed them to dominate the league taking series after series and recording a number of series sweeps against good teams. The for a variety of reasons the wheels came off.  At first is was merely inconsistent play and basically playing .500 ball. Then came the collapse and the Tides are only mathematically in the post season chase.

Fiorentino HR against ColonBright Spot: Jeff Fiorentino Should be Tides 2009 MVP

As the season draws to a close with the Tides obviously out of the playoff race even with the mathematical possibility of coming back it will be time for some ruthless evaluation of how the club has been managed since the All-Star break.  It is hard to believe that with as much talent as the Tides still have that they are losing this consistently and this badly.  The Orioles can be blamed for pulling players up and depriving the Tides of talent, however they needed to draw upon the Tides because of the weaknesses at Baltimore.  Certainly the call up of players like Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Oscar Salazar has had an effect on the Tides. Likewise  the number of significant injuries to productive position players such as Justin Christian, Jolbert Cabrera, Scott Moore and Donnie Murphy had a large impact.  The loss of these 7 players deprieved the Tides of most of thier offensive power as did the recent call up of Michael Aubrey.

gathriright buntingAnother Bright Spot: Joey Gathright Bunting for a Hit

But even with all of these losses the Tides are tied for the best team batting average in the International League at .274.  So we cannot simply blame the crash on the loss of these position players and loss of power hitters.  We then come to pitching, Despite the collapse the pitching staff ERA is still only 3.94 and not at the bottom of the league, however the relief pithcers including guys who had been almost automatic in being able to close out innings and games has become very incosistent and in the past 10 games have blown 3 9th inning leads.  Convert those to wins and the Tides are still in the hunt.  Rececnt pitching additions from other clubs with the exception of Jeff George have not panned out. So we can say that pitching is a factor.   Fielding and defense is another matter.  Unfortunately Tides infielders have committed 71 errors.  Three players, Melvin Dorta, Justin Turner and Blake Davis have committed 51 of these and former Tides infielder Carlos Rojas another 9. Though the statistic is not found on the MiLB or Tides Websites, Tides pitchers have committed their share of errors at critical points in games.   On the other hand Tides outfielders Joey Gathright and Jeff Fiorentino have only two errors eachand lead the Tides in batting average, on base percentage and are near the top in slugging percentage among the current roster.

046Is it the Manager?

The Orioles organization will certainly address these on the field concerns.  This is something that thye have been working on and I expect that next years team will be more solid in these areas and  hopefully the Orioles with the addition of so many Tides who now have Major League expereince will not need to dip down so often and give the Tides, Baysox and Keys time to develop tallent.  However the Orioles management may need to take a look at the dynamics of what is happening in the dugout with the field staff including Manager Gary Allenson.  We really have to see if the problem is bigger than just a Lemony Snickets Series of Unfortunate Events or an organizational problem.  There are many regulars who question Allenson’s choices as a 3rd base coach as well as his inability to pull a pitcher before they get the team in deep trouble.  Yes giving pitchers the experience of trying to pitch out of jams is important, but it should not be done all the time.  Frequently it seems that Allenson has left pitchers in for one out or one inning too long, often with no-one warming up in the bullpen.  The final thing to ask is how Allenson rotates his infielders to different positions on an almost daily basis. I have to wonder if the constant changes in where the infielders are being played is effecting the number of errors being committed by the club especially in light of the fact that the three biggest error producers are the middle infielders. While the Organization may be at fault for some player personnel issues ultimately it is the Manager who makes the day to day calls on the field that determine whether a team wins or loses.

135Injuries: Jolbert Cabrera Being Carried Off teh Field after Breaking Bones in his Foot

The Tides are 10 and 25 since July 20th oin what has been a collapse nearing epic proportions and since the 18th of August have been outscored 65-40.  When one looks at talent, save the inability of the infield to play error free ball;  one has to begin asking questions and getting answers.

The Tides face the Charlotte Knights tonight, with Jake Arrieta facing Jake Peavy.  I will be there in Section 102, Row B Seat 2.

Though the players are here to develop and learn, there is little substitute for winning when building a young team. As Charlie Brown said “Winning isn’t everything, but losing isn’t anything.”

Peace, Steve+

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A Tale of Two Organizations: How Major League Performance Impacts Minor League Systems

“We’re so bad right now that for us back-to-back home runs means one today and another one tomorrow.”  Earl Weaver

165Russ Ortiz Bearing Down on a Tides Batter

This is a hard blog to write and while things are not as nearly as bad for the Norfolk Tides as they were for Earl Weaver’s Orioles things are not going well at the present time.  The Tides are not nearly the quality of team that they were in the first half of the season.   On the positive side they are still doing better than any time in the past 4 years and still have a shot at making the International League playoffs as either the Southern Division champion or wild card. At the same time they have fallen off their torrid pace of winning in April May and early June where they were almost playing .700 ball and up anywhere from 6-10 games over their competitors.

People are wondering what has happened and the answer is all too obvious.  While the Orioles have remarkably improved every level of their farm system they have no real depth at the Major League level.  They have some potentially great players, but a lot are still relatively young and inexperienced.  The Orioles began the year as a marginal Major League franchise with a great farm system. Unfortunately the big team was so bad early that the Orioles elected to raid their minor league system of their best players, both pitchers and hitters.  The Tides lost pitchers Jim Johnson, David Hernandez, Chris Tillman, Matt Albers, Brad Bergeson and Jason Berken.  Unfortunately I think some were called up before their time, however this is certainly not the case with starters David Hernandez, Brad Bergeson who need just a bit more seasoning and relievers Jim Johnson and Matt Albers. As for hitting the Tides lost the center of their order to the big club, Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Oscar Salazar.  Salazar was traded to the Padres while hitting well over .400 of the bench and providing solid hitting and fielding percentages.  The Orioles also brought pitcher Brain Matusz up from AA Bowie without bringing him up to the AAA team.

170Another Strike for Ortiz

Do not get me wrong, all of these players are good, but they are all still very young.  While they will get better and are getting valuable Major League experience it is not contributing to the current success of the Orioles nor helping the minor league system. An example of what happens when a Major League team raids its farm system is the 2005 Atlanta Braves, the year of the “Baby Braves” where Atlanta almost made it to the World Series based on incredible performances by their rookies.  Unfortunately the call up of all of these players decimated the minor league system and it has only been in the last couple of years that the Braves minor league system, which is consistently one of the best in baseball to restock and rebuild.  Now the Orioles are fortunate to have a deep farm system, however the risk in doing what they have done is to potentially sacrifice the future for the present.

As I said the Tides are not the same team they were a month or two ago.  They seem to  have lost the edge, the swagger and self confidence is gone, frustration shows on many players faces. They do not look relaxed or like they are having fun anymore.  Tonight they dropped their second game in a row to the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees, who won the International League last year and who they New York Yankees have built into a formidable AAA franchise.  The Yankees, despite all the criticism they have received for “being the best team money can buy” with huge contracts for free agents and a massive payroll nonetheless invest a considerable amount in their farm system.  They are deep both in prospects as well as talented former Major Leaguers such as Shelly Duncan and recently acquired Russ Ortiz.  The Yankees have also used their minor league system to raise their own middle relievers Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, David Robertson and a reliever converted to a starter Joba Chamberlain.  Say what you will that is home grown quality.

Last night the Tides lost 6-1 and were thoroughly out classed by the Yankees.  Tonight was even worse as Russ Ortiz pitched 7 innings of 1 hit ball in 90 degree weather making the Tides, even their .300 plus hitters Justin Turner, Joey Gathright and Jeff Fiorentino look bad.  The Tides lost the game 9-0 getting their second hit with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th.  If I wasn’t a big fan of Russ Ortiz tonight would have absolutely no redeeming value except to have worshiped in the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  In two starts for the Yankees Ortiz is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA.  Ortiz has a career Major League Record of 113 wins and 88 losses.

188Joey Gathright is Victimized by Ortiz in the 6th in which he struck out the side

I was talking with Elliott the Usher as well as Barry the Scorekeeper about what was happening and we all agreed.  The difference between the teams is that the Major League Yankees have held together with only minor bumps in the road due to injury.  Their pitching staff aided by the home grown middle relievers has done a masterful job in shutting down opponents as their hitters have been on fire.  By doing this they have allowed their minor league clubs to become very good, in particular the Scranton Wilkes-Barre team.  They have talent and depth and players at the minor league level who are proven major leaguers.  The Tides on the other hand have been hampered by the Orioles descent and the resultant decimation of the minor league rosters to fill the gaping holes on the Major League team.  What would have been a very even match up a month and a half ago now was not even close.  The Tides were out-classed and out played by the Yankees. Ortiz in particular made the Tides hitters look bad putting on a major league performance that hopefully will help get him up to the Yankees as they make their pennant run.  I still think that Dusty Baker blew the 2002 World Series by taking Russ out with 1 out in the 7th and a 5-0 lead against the Angels.  If Ortiz gets back up and the Yankees win the World Series I will be happy for him.

On a positive note the Orioles led by former Tides pitcher David Hernandez beat the Oakland A’s 3-2, their first win against the A’s since 2008.  Hernandez improved his record to 4-4 with a 3.96 ERA.

So tomorrow is another day.  The Tides are only 3 ½ behind the Gwinnett Braves and 2 ½ behind the Durham Bulls in the International League South.  They still have a lot of talent and have a shot at getting in the playoffs, but need to come up big tomorrow to reverse this slide and keep in the playoff race.  I will be back in section 102 row B seat 2 tomorrow come what may.  Hopefully the Deity Herself will help us get through this stretch.

Peace, Steve+

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