Wooden's World of Baseball

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Can't Believe I Had To Wait This Long!

Tonight is the opening night for my beloved North Shore Spirit. With more than 20 ticket stubs on my cabinet at work, I can't believe I used to wait this long to go to ballgames. Of course, in those 20-some-odd games, I've had to bring a jacket or wear multiple layers in all but three of them, leading me to wonder if the New England weather had followed me down to Virginia.

But it's not my imagination. Virginia's lone AAA team, the Richmond Braves is drawing less than 4,000 a game despite having the International League's best record. It's been amusing to me to see the Potomac Nationals claiming to have a crowd of 600 on a midweek might, when it's more like 60. We all know that attendance figures, like the listings on h.s. football players, are grossly exaggerated, but why bother mentioning it when there's the chance that someone like me will call them on it?

Back to the Spirit — it's 2-1 in the top of 7th as of this writing. With a AAA pitcher going for Nashua and a 5-year veteran of the Can-Am/Northeast League, this is not a surprise, even if both only went 5 innings. One common denominator for the North Shore Spirit throughout its existence has been the excellence of its pitching, which has consistently been 1st or 2nd every year. (Sadly, team stats are tough to come by online for indy-league teams) and it appears that this year will be no different.

I suspect that if this year is anything like last year, the pipeline from the High-A leagues to the indys will remain open. Can't help but notice that four of the Spirit players currently on the roster spent time in the Carolina League last season, including Brad Rea, who just hit a 2-run single to open up the game to a 5-1 Spirit lead in the top of the 8th. One of my thrills last year was correctly predicting a big game to my seatmates in Woodbridge from a late-season callup Alex Nunez, knowing what he was capable of from his 2005 campaign in Worcester.

Maybe this year, I'll get to see the opposite, as I also suspect (OK, hope) that the Draft next month will bump some of the P-Nats out of affiliated ball. Clint Everts comes to mind, as he's a pitcher that could use that kind of motivation — even if he may see it as worse than a demotion. And Brandon Powell is another, though I sure hope not because he's one of my favorite players for Potomac because most resembles your typical indy player: so-so glove, strong arm, lots of speed, very good power, and strikes out a lot.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

And THAT's why you never leave a ballgame early

OK, I'll admit that I've done it — probably more often with the 7:35pm starts when you can smell a game going past the 3-hour mark, which it shouldn't with neither TV nor radio commercials to "get in." But I usually do it only when there's a substantial lead on one side or the other.

Then again, I like to tell the story of the Eugene Ems game I saw in 1994 when the Ems scored eight times in the bottom of the 8th to turn an 8-3 deficit into an 11-8 triumph. The icing on the cake? No home runs -- just double after double as I recall it.

Which brings me to this afternoon's game in Boston. I sat down to see if this kid (Jeremy Guthrie) could get a shutout. He'd gone 8 1/3 innings and let up just three hits. Then an error on a infield popup. Big Papi's coming up, so to the bullpen goes Baltimore. Double off the monster = bye-bye shutout, but at 5-1 with 1 out, O's should still win, right?


Another single, two walks, a double — now it's 5-4, with the bases loaded. Chopper to 2nd, but the throw home gets him, so the lead is still intact. But a grounder to 1st and a bad throw to the pitcher covering and there's your ballgame, kids: a 6-5 Red Sox win. A debacle for the Orioles.

And the thought that goes through my head is: I wonder how many were left to actually see it?

Answer: Probably less than 20,000 (out of the 36,379 reported in the official boxscore). Just an educated guess, based on years of watching Fenway empty in stages after the 7th inning when the opposition is leading. But I sure hope those who left early heard about it on their ride home. And maybe, just maybe, they'll think twice about leaving early again.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Will The Real Potomac Nationals Please Stand Up?

As we edge towards the quarter-pole, we're starting to see whether the Potomac Nationals that began the season 7-3 will be back, or if the ones that got swept by last-place Wilmington this weekend are the "real" Potomac Nationals. One thing's for sure, this team has to start fielding consistently. The Carolina League doesn't keep team fielding statistics, but to my eye I'm seeing a team that's probably leading the league in both double plays and errors.

That doesn't make sense of course, but that's my perception based on the fourteen games I've seen them play. The good news is that until this past series, the team can absolutely flat-out hit, and they're still leading the CL in both OBP, SLG and AVG (2nd in runs scored). This is something you should expect with five regulars that are 24 or older.

On the flip side, the starting pitching is young: Martis (20), Everts and Lannan (22), Stammen and Martinez (23) while the relievers are all 24 or older except for 23-year-old Adam Carr. Except for Lannan and Morales, the pitching has been poor (though the aforementioned fielding has not helped). Everts can't be excluded from that group, either, despite his 3.43 ERA because a total of 13 runs and 31 baserunners in 21 IP can hardly be considered otherwise.

As posted elsewhere, the marked improvement with Ian Desmond is a joy to see. He's consistently taking the first pitch and he's raised his OPS from .696 to .800 while taking more walks and striking out less. Yes, he has 7 errors, but almost all of them have been mental miscues, the kind where he's thinking about the next play before completing the current one. He's almost made some outstanding throws and seems particularly adept at making the charge on a slow grounder. It's at times like this you need to remember he's 21 years old and won't turn 22 until mid-September.

I also strongly suspect that things will normalize just as soon as the weather does. Last night, the "real feel" temperature was probably below 50 degrees and I have yet to order a soda instead of a hot chocolate. The hitters will cool off a bit, but the pitchers and fielders will get more loose, too. Which is fine by me, because I'd much rather see a 5-3 game with 2-3 errors between the two teams than an 11-6 game with 5 errors like this past Thursday.