Wooden's World of Baseball

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Looking Ahead To 2008

It's funny how just seeing a simple schedule can help erase some psychic pain...

But that's what I felt when I saw the 2008 Potomac Nationals schedule. Opening Day is the first Friday in April. The home opener is April 9th. My first trip to Frederick, the PNats' nearest opponent, will be in late April.

The goal when I first moved to Virginia was to make a trip to each of the other seven cities in the Carolina League. Last year, it was Salem, Frederick and Wilmington. This year, it was Lynchburg and Winston-Salem (well, sort of - I got to the field but the game had been called on account of the cold).

Next year, I've got my sights set on Kinston, North Carolina.

Knowing from the previous road trips that the journey is as much fun and as important as the destination, I'm intrigued by taking the back roads to Kinston. I can still remember the little diner I stopped at on my way back from Winston-Salem, how it was probably the best plate of BBQ for the money that I had ever had.

I decided on Kinston because it's the first weekend road trip to destination I've never been to before. The hope is that summer doesn't come early — although I'm getting used to the heat around here, though maybe not the humidity — and that the game will be competitive. This past May, Kinston laid a hurt on Potomac that sent me packing by the 5th inning nearly every night for the three-game series, and last year it wasn't much better.

In another month or two, I'll plot every weekend that Potomac is on the road and see if it matches up against the home schedules of the Bowie Baysox, the Hagerstown Suns, the Harrisburg Senators, the Aberdeen Iron Birds, maybe even the York Revolution. And there's still the collegiate league I haven't seen yet, and they say the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs will be ready to join the Atlantic League...

And then I'll stare at that 2008 schedule over the next few months, waiting for the winter to pass.

Friday, September 14, 2007

With Not Quite A Whimper...

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. You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops...and summer is over
— A. Bartlett Giamatti, The Green Fields of The Mind

For the third time in five seasons, I was on hand to witness the thrill of victory, the joy of winning a league championship. Twice it was a sweep. Once it went the distance.

But never did I get to see the North Shore Spirit win it all.

I remember very clearly the August day in 2002 when it was announced that Nick Lopardo would bringing a team to Fraser Field the following year. My wife bought the very first mini-plan that was ever sold in December of that year. I had been going to Nashua Pride games once or twice a year for the previous two years, enough that they would send me pocket schedules in the spring, so the prospect of going to games every weekend would be thrilling.

After I saw the Spirit take on the Rox in May of 2003, I was hooked. It didn't matter that I won an on-field contest that first night. I found something that I truly loved: Independent baseball.

It was a hearkening back to the olden days – Leagues of Their Own, as one writer put it. Young men playing for the love of the game, or the desperate hope that they might be one of the handful that gets back on the path towards major-league baseball. But it was also the quintessential element that makes college sports so powerful: Every game meant something. Players weren't there to be developed; the team was built to win. Now.

I ate it all up. Read every book I could find. Took a certain pride in learning the roots of the independent game, and a churlishness in defending my love of it online and offline. Truth be told: I'd trade the Red Sox title in 2004 for the Spirit to have won in Game 4 of the 2004 Northeast League Championship, as they should have. That may sound harsh, because I am indeed a die-hard Red Sox fan, but it's probably also a reflection that I knew, deep down, that someday, today would come. Because in the indys, it almost always does.

I suppose I should be happy that my angst and anxiety are to be finally relieved. It had been 18 months since I'd moved away from Lynn, and should have been emotionally divested, but Internet radio and fan blogs made it possible to root and follow from afar and the addition of Atlantic City into the league made it feasible to take a long drive to see them.

Now I can truly follow my Potomac Nationals because my North Shore Spirit are no more. I can stop feeling like I'm cheating, that I'm merely loving the one I'm with, or nearby.

But it still hurts. Maybe not like the first girlfriend who dumped you. Or the first time you were fired from a job. You get older, you get a bit more thick-skinned, but as "The Bart" alluded to, you hope against experience and logic that maybe this time it will be different, because, well, every now and then it is (see ALCS, 2004).

Tonight, it wasn't. But maybe next year — or next month — it will be.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Well, now that THAT's settled...

The past few days have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

On Thursday, the North Shore Spirit clinched the best possible overall season record in the Can-Am league, for the 2nd straight year. So I got tickets to Boston and made motel and rental car reservations.

On Friday, the clinched the 2nd half title. On Saturday, I was told that they wouldn't be hosting the deciding games, which prompted me to cancel my motel and car rental reservations. I kept the flight plans intact because there was a chance that Nashua would be in the Finals.

Yesterday, they announced over the radio that, in fact, the Spirit would host the deciding games if they make the Finals. Today, I got the verification and the explanation that the arrangements had been made in the time between I made the call and when I heard it on the broadcast.

The silver lining in all of this: I might be able to see games in both rounds of the playoffs, and if all goes well, I'll see both round's clinchers.

It's still mystifying to me that they'd prefer to go on the road in the first round, that this Friday's high school football game couldn't be moved, but I'll hope that I'm wrong that the parking problem is a cover for going for the most possible guaranteed home playoff games.

Without further ado, here's my take on the first round...

Pitching Will Be The Name of the Game

For all the talk about independent ball being a hitter's showcase, when the playoffs come, the game is the same as it is elsewhere: It's all about the pitching. Three of the top four teams in terms of ERA are in the playoffs, and the other boasts the league's first 15-game winner.

North Shore vs. Atlantic City
It's Ryan Bicondoa vs. the aforementioned 15-game winner, Brian Rodaway in Game 1, presumably Luis Arroyo in Game 2 if the Spirit win Game 1, Matt Bishop if they lose. Gary Galvez has also been listed as a possbility for Game 3. The Surf will counter with 10-game winner Ben Thurmond and then veteran JC Huguet. Bicondoa hasn't been as dominant as in 2005 or 2006, but I look for him to turn it up a notch and negate Rodaway, who's in the top 10 with a 3.23 ERA, but has obviously benefited by pitching for the #3 overall offense.
Pick: North Shore in four games

New Jersey vs. Nashua
I can't write it better than Joe Amoruso said it: If you can't get excited about having John Kelly and Joel Bennett as your top two pitchers going into the playoffs, check your pulse; you just might be dead. Nashua does counter with its two Japanese aces, but I cannot see them beating the two pitchers who'd be inducted in the first class of an independent-league Hall of Fame.
Pick: New Jersey in four games