Well another four games have come and gone, this time going mostly in our favor as we took three of four from the Dunedin Blue Jays. Leaving Clearwater we knew we were heading from one of the best ballparks and clubhouses to one that the returning guys had said was questionable at best. We arrived at Dunedin’s Florida Auto Exchange Park a ballpark I’d visited annual with my Zidie over 10 years ago. When we made our annual Spring Training trip the stadium was known as Knology Park, and has since had a bunch of different names, but not much has been done to change or improve the stadium. The one thing I noticed was a small bridge between the main seating area and the two sections farther down the RF line, otherwise the ballpark was exactly as I remembered it. They even played Okay Blue Jays, the 7th inning theme song of the Toronto Blue Jays. I didn’t really expect them to play it in Dunedin since it’s really a Toronto staple, and in spite of my best effort I smiled and sort of sang along. It’s one of the songs I grew up on, and was on their post World Series tape that I listened to all the time when I was younger. It was quite the surprise for me, and something that continued throughout the series.
I dropped my stuff in the locker room, taking a corner locker so I had extra space to put my bag and air out my catchers gear and headed out to look around a little. I wandered out past the visiting batting cage and out to the half field. Years ago at a Blue Jays event I’d been on that very practice field being served lunch by Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado. It was strange to see the area being used as anything other than the post game season ticket holder barbecue area. I wandered out to the left field line to look around and immediately recognized the ballpark and noted to someone that my Bar Mitzvah invitation picture was actually taken a few rows behind our dugout. It was hotter than I remember it being all year so I quickly snapped some pictures and headed for the shelter of the air conditioning.
I had the first game off and spent it in the bullpen. I didn’t have a very strenuous work load that night as Lopez was dominant, throwing 7 and 2/3 of one run baseball. Our offense did enough to scratch two runs across off Sean Nolin who actually made his Big League debut last summer. Reggie lead the offense knocking in both our runs, and Pat chipped in two hits. Molina got three outs and a hold before handing the ball over to Cooper who was great again getting the final out. Mo picked up his third hold and Coop his second save of the road trip.
Game two fell on July 25th, my 23rd birthday. I had so many people send me texts, Facebook messages and Tweets wishing me a multi-hit day, a home run of an evening, and many other baseball related good wishes. I was excited to play, especially given the two days off I’d just had, I missed being part of the action on the field. I did exactly what every kid dreams of doing on his birthday. I bounced into two rally killing double plays and left the game tying run in scoring position in the 9th in a game we lost by 1 run. I was incredibly frustrated with myself, but I was able to keep myself from having a meltdown thanks to my off season reading about “mental ninja voodo” (Thanks Molly, Grilli, and Gramma/Zidie). After the game I was treated to an absolutely FANTASTIC dinner at City Fish. We all had a great night, many laughs, many great dishes and some absolutely RIDICULOUS Oreo Cookies and Creme brownies. It’s no exaggeration to say that these were good enough for me to never eat any other food, I could eat them for breakfast lunch and dinner if I didn’t have to worry about the whole “athletic body” deal.
Our third game was my game to catch and I was supposed to catch Jordan Harrison, a lefty. While we were in the locker room Joel Peralta walked in, and we found out he’d actually “start” for us, and throw an inning or so on rehab assignment. Lopez and Molina told him to call me lambon, their nickname for me, so I headed over to the couches where he was sitting to talk about pitch calling and his “stuff.” We talked for a few minutes about how he likes to attack hitters, what signs we’d use and some other things that would eventually help us go through a fairly low stress inning together. He struck out one, gave up a hit and no runs in his inning and before long was gone. Harry came in and was really good, scattering four hits over six innings of work while striking out six. Cooper finished the game off with two innings of shutout ball. We finished the day with a 6-1 win, and I contributed a hit and two RBI’s offensively, finally solving Griffin Murphy, a guy who I couldn’t for the life of me figure out last year.
Yesterday was the finale and I was back in the DH spot. I went 2 for 5 with my fourth homer of the year, a solo shot to right center. Reggie again lead the way with 3 RBIs while Pat and Sale both drove in a pair of runs, all told we scored 9 runs on 17 hits, a huge offensive performance to end the series. Pruitt continued to pitch well for us going 6 innings while only allowing one run on a home run, he was otherwise his normal self with a 10-2 ground outs to air outs split. Garton and Jensen got the final 9 outs and we left Dunedin with three wins in four nights. After the game I spent a few minutes talking to my Mom and Gramma before heading inside to do my shoulder program, shower and leave.
I had an absolutely awesome weekend up in Dunedin with my family and couldn’t have been happier to hit that home run with them there. It’s always so special to me to have family at my games, and to cap off the weekend with a home run was something I was really happy about. Tonight we stick to our AL East theme as we open a four game home series against the Tampa Yankees. We’re home for 8 straight games, and for most of the month of August which will be absolutely awesome. I’m looking forward to finishing up the year strong, both personally and as a team. It would be really nice to have a very solid month of winning baseball to take into the off season.
Go Crabs and Go Rays!
What exactly is a Thresher? This was one of the major topics of discussion in the bullpen over the last four days in which we split a series with Clearwater. The Threshers are the affiliate of the Phillies and it was our second 4 game series with them on the season. I had never been inside Bright House Field, but I’d driven by it plenty of times on Spring Training trips with my Zidie, and watched college conference championship games there online.
Arriving at Bright House Field we were greeted by Don, our clubhouse manager, and welcomed into an enormous, bright, well air conditioned locker room with over sized steel lockers. I picked a fairly central one, close to the tables that had our pregame spread, and equidistant from the coffee machines and the bathroom/showers. I had two lockers, so I got to spread out which is always a bonus. We played an afternoon game the first day of the series and had Jeremy Hellickson start for us. Helly threw 5 innings as we all battled the oppressive Florida heat in a game we would go on to lose. I had an awful start to the series, striking out twice en route to an 0 for 3. I was frustrated by the performance and by the fact that my swing felt horribly “off.” I wasn’t sure what it was, but something was completely out of whack. Chad and Joe both noted that I was really slow with my hands, and that caused me to “spin” on balls, a symptom of nearly 100% of my slumps in my career.
I caught the bullpens in game two and was a little surprised when some of the #RaysTwitFam came over and said hi while I was sitting watching the early innings. It was awesome to get to stand and talk to some of them (or you depending on who is reading this right now lol) and to just chat about baseball, the blog, and even some minor technical things like big league baseballs vs minor league ones. The game was uninspiring and we finished up with our second straight loss.
I found out early on that I’d catch game three, working again with Pruitt. We’ve worked together a lot this year, and have had mixed results. We most recently had our best game together, in which he was absolutely dominant over 5 innings, surrendering only 2 hits. Early on he looked like he had that same sort of stuff, but as we got into the middle innings my rookie pitch calling got us into a bit of trouble and the game ended up tied at 4. I felt much better at the plate having worked with Joe in the cage under the stadium earlier and managed to come up with 4 quality at bats. I had a sac fly in the first, a double, and a single before my buddy Ethan Stewart finally got me out in a really long battle of an at bat. We went back and forth as he threw everything, fastballs, a new slider and his change up. He finally got the out as I grounded out to second on the 10th or 11th pitch of the at bat, but we later agreed that it was sort of a win win because we both managed to do some good. I told him how I wanted to get a hit off him to continue my streak off of former Team Canada teammates (1 for 1 with a double last year off Smitty) and we had a good little laugh.
After the game I got to meet more of the Twitter crew which was awesome, and I found out that they’d actually been up in a suite for the game. It was a lot of fun to have a lot of Rays/Crabs fans there among the big crowd that Clearwater had for the game, and it was even better to get that win to snap our little losing streak.
I spent yesterday in the bullpen again and the guys pulled out a great comeback win to finish the series. I spent the evening in bed watching Alex Cobb dice up the Cardinals while also putting on an offensive display with a double and an RBI. It was cool to watch him work having caught him in the pen, hit off him, and played with him already this year. Let me tell you, I feel a hell of a lot safer knowing he’s throwing that disappearing voodoo change up to someone else.
Tonight I head back in time for a series with the Dunedin Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park, fka Knology Park. Zidie and I used to make an annual trip to see the Jays during Spring Training so it will definitely be cool to be back there for the first time in 10 plus years. I’m also super excited for my Mom and Gramma to get in for the four days and to spend my birthday weekend with them!
Here’s to some big wins, big hits and more frequent blog posts. I swear I’m not as much of an airhead as I have been this last month lol
Go Crabs/Rays Up!
Hello again, welcome back! I’ve stayed away from writing lately because our team has really been struggling and I didn’t think it was right to be blogging about our failures as a team while talking about a string of success I had personally. Now that we’ve won a few and we’re starting to play a little better I’m going to try and get back to my regular schedule of posting once every 3 or 4 days.
This post is going to be my first foray into writing a ballpark review. On Monday we had a day off and the Big League club was playing host to the Kansas City Royals so my girlfriend and I decided to make the hour and a half trip up to Tropicana Field. I’d never been to The Trop as a fan, I’d only ever been inside the clubhouse during those two days at the end of Spring Training. I’d also driven by The Trop on a failed attempt to find Dunedin with my Zidie 10 plus years ago. I’d mentioned wanting to go see the ballpark and she was more than willing to go watch a game as she’s a big baseball fan too.
When we arrived at The Trop first thought was about the parking. We parked in a nearby strip mall and made our waydown the walkway as “Infitine Skillz” rapped its multi platinum track Rays Up. We had tickets at will call for pick up and ended up going on a major trek all the way around the outside of the ballpark in the blistering heat and humidity. We got our tickets and quickly went in through Gate 5 and I felt like I’d walked in Madison Square Garden. It was cold, very blue and there was nothing to indicate where on the field I was, or if I was in a hockey rink or baseball stadium. It was a weird feeling having no idea where I was, but we trudged on. We started sitting down the first base line for a few innings before making our way all the way around the ballpark to get a bunch of different views.
Once we’d gotten into our seats I felt like it was a cool place to watch a game. I was surprised by how much I actually liked the stadium given all of its poor reviews. My only major complaint as a fan was about the orientation of the seats. Given that The Trop was originally a multi purpose facility all of the seats are oriented to the middle of the “staging area” which is roughly 50 feet behind second base. For a baseball fan this is uncomfortable because I was constantly sitting sideways to be able to see the pitch and the hitter. My only complaint as a would be player was that I had a very hard time tracking pop ups. The first fly ball hit to Kevin Kiermaier in right field was pretty much invisible to me, but each subsequent one was a little easier. If I was in charge and had an unlimited amount of time and money (pretty perfect world no?) I think I’d try to take that roof off and put something on it more akin to Miller Park, Minute Maid Park or Safeco Field. I think the building itself isn’t a bad venue for baseball, it has a cool feel to it, especially that you can walk all the way around the field without going outside the seating area.
I was pleasantly surprised by the food options, and elected to go with some Outback Steakhouse “steak and shrooms” for dinner. The steak was really nicely done, juicy and flavorful and was served with fried mushrooms and onions and a side of fries. For the amount of food and the fact that I was eating a nice pile of steak I wasn’t put off at all by the price, I felt like it was a pretty fair value. We stopped out at the center field porch area to watch an inning or two from the outfield and have a drink and we were able to stand right over the ray tank out in right center. I enjoyed the view from the outfield much more than I expected to, I guess it was a nice change in perspective from the dugout view I get on a nightly basis. I had trouble finding the count, and other information about what was going on which was more annoying than anything, but again it is a relatively easy fix given a little time and money to update the place.
Overall I had a great time and really enjoyed the ballpark. The views from all around the field were pretty good and the staff were friendly. We left after 8 and a half innings as the Rays were down 6-0 and we still had an hour and a half drive to get back to Port Charlotte, but it was still a nice way to spend an off day. It’s amazing how different it is to sit and watch a game as a fan and as a player not in the lineup. I love being able to relax, kick back and just take in the game as opposed to being in “game” mode, trying to see if a pitcher is tipping, trying to read swings or whatever else.
I’d absolutely go back and see them again at The Trop, it’s not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. It’s a fun atmosphere and a good ballpark overall. Throw a winning team in there like 2013 or 2008’s edition and I’m sure that the atmosphere would be raucous.
As for my team, we’re on the bus heading north and east to Viera for a four game series against the Brevard County Manatees. We’re only traveling with two catchers as Justin O’Conner stayed back to leave for the All Star Futures Game in Minnesota. He’ll miss this series and likely just rejoin the team after our off day on Tuesday. I can’t imagine how exciting that must be, and I’ve already told him good luck, hopefully we’ll get to see some of the game either before or after our game that night.
Lots of Ls in the title no?
Recently we’ve gone completely cold as a team, unable to really turn in a complete performance. Our pitchers haven’t pitched, our hitters haven’t hit and our defense hasn’t defended. It seems like every night we find a new way to beat ourselves. It has been a very frustrating stretch for us as we struggle to find ways to get leads, and subsequently hold them. It’s hard being in this situation because it seems like no matter what we do we still won’t win.
I feel like as a team we are living out a part of one of my favorite Coach Senk speeches. Before a conference weekend against Binghamton or Maine he would talk about the season as a “self fulfilling prophecy.” Whichever team it was would invariably be coming off a bad weekend, and so Coach would tell us in his pregame talk “it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. Losing is right below the surface, if we score first they’ll be right back on their heels saying ‘here we go again.’ Don’t let them get comfortable, because they’re one shot from being totally out of it.” We would then go out and score 3 or 4 runs in the first inning and there was a noticeable change in demeanor in the dugout across from us, we could see that “here we go again” mentality setting in.
Recently it seems like our team is facing a little bit of that fragility. We’ve scored runs early only to see a lead slip away and take away our energy. We’ve fallen behind early and felt that “not again” mind shift. We’ve even stayed in games in terms of the score but the games have felt out of reach because of that fragile just below the surface losing mindset. It has been frustrating to be a part of because I know that each guy on this team (yes, all 25 of us) is so much better than how we’re playing. I know our pitchers have dominant wipe out stuff. I know our hitters have good enough swings to rack up 10 hits a game. I know our defenders are good enough to fill out a full SportsCenter Top 10 highlight package with web gems. I think we all know these things which makes the whole 8 game losing streak even more mystifying. At one point late in the game yesterday I joked with my roommate Kevin Brandt that the winning run would be in scoring position, we’d get the hit that should win the game, and a black hole would swallow up our runner and we’d end up taking a loss somehow. It has been a streak almost that weird, we just haven’t put it all together as a group.
Recently I’ve found myself offensively, and discovered a bit of power I didn’t know I had. Having missed all three games of the St. Lucie I returned to the lineup at home against Palm Beach and told myself to really try and track the ball in my first game. The results weren’t what I wanted, I went 0 for 4, but the process was good and I felt like in four at bats I had gotten my hitting vision back. My second game back I went 2 for 3 and launched my second home run of the year over the right field wall, a lead off shot that tied the game at 1 after my All Star Game teammate Charlie Tilson hit one in the top of the inning to give them the lead. I felt locked on, seeing the ball well and ultimately controlling my mind and my swing to get the results I wanted. I followed that up with another 2 hit night, another home run and a 5 in the “HC” (hard contact) column on the hitters chart. Game two against Fort Myers I posted an 0 for 4 but still had a 3 in the HC column, a day in which Chad Mottola our hitting coordinator told me not to change a thing. I was in the dugout after my third line drive out and he told me “any time you can go 0 for your last 6 and walk away smiling you know you’re doing something right.” I knew I did everything I could control and so my confidence stayed with my into the final game of the series, a game in which I finished 4 for 5 with two doubles, two singles an RBI and a run scored. When I chugged around third and scored the tying run in the bottom of the 9th I really expected us to snap the streak, we’d made a few late inning comebacks and it seemed like a W was within reach. We were still unable to finish and closed out our six game hom stand an ugly 0-6.
We’re now on the bus headed east to West Palm Beach where we will play six games, split into two three game series. We’ll have a rematch with the Palm Beach Cardinals and a three gamer with the Jupiter Hammerheads (Marlins). Hopefully the change of scenery will help us get on track, or maybe the C.R. Chicks chicken we all devour when we’re in Palm Beach will. Whatever we attribute it to, we need something to get us on track fast because our start to the second half has been uninspiring at best.
There’s no time like the present, and no time to waste. We’re on our way, even if we aren’t quite sure where or how. I’m no fan of Ray Lewis, but he certainly hit the nail on the head during a speech he gave Stanford’s men basketball team. “If you ain’t pissed off for greatness then that means you’re OK with being mediocre.” Time to get angry.
I had just woken up on Tuesday morning, some time around 11 am. I rolled out of bed and went into the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. As I picked out the playlist I wanted to listen to on my Spotify app my phone began to ring, it was my manager Jared Sandberg. I stared at the screen a little perplexed as to why he was calling me at 11 on a Tuesday, I had to be at the complex by noon for a lift anyways. When I answered I was completely and totally not prepared for the news he was about to break to me. “Tiss, there has been a roster move, and one of the catchers on the All Star team is no longer playing here. You’ve been added to the team and you’re a Florida State League All Star, congratulations, you deserve it.” I didn’t know what to say, I just stared at the wall, and then into the mirror and then at the floor, searching for something, anything to say. I somehow managed to muster up a concise response “wow, oh, wow that’s. Woah? Oh wow, thanks.” Clearly I was using the best of my conversation skills.
After hanging up I immediately called my sister even though she was at the office, and her response was to check for flights to come down. I called my mom who was busy getting some new glasses and contact lenses, so busy that she almost couldn’t talk. I gave the news in the most passive aggressive manner “oh yea, you’re definitely too busy, I’ll tell you about being added to the All Star team later then,” which I knew would let me have the conversation. Next I called dad, then my all of grandparents, my best friend Bern and finally my agent Blake. I sent out a blast of texts to various coaches, the scout that drafted me, and some other friends I felt should hear the news first. After that the day was a whirlwind. I remember feeling different walking into the ballpark, and throughout the day, it was just such a cloud nine type of feeling. I couldn’t help but think that over 8 months I’d gone from being a Padres infielder to being a Rays catcher and then had been selected to the All Star team. My mind spun and did a lot of similar things to the day I was traded, I felt scattered, but in a really good way.
We finished the first half with a win, after losing the first two games of the series in Fort Myers. I caught in the middle game and hit my first home run of the season, a 2 run shot to right field. Leonel Santiago and the guys in the bullpen were good enough to get the ball back for me since it was my first, trading a bullpen ball for the gamer. The finale was an extra inning game in which Luke Bailey and Julian Ridings both hit huge momentum changing home runs. It was good to win the final game of the half even though it was meaningless in terms of playoff standings. We got back from Fort Myers really late, but I came home to a fantastic homemade meal which was a major pick me up before a few of us went out for a little while. We tried to find a place that would be open and failed before congregating in the parking lot for a few minutes before deciding to call it quits for the night.
This morning I packed up my bag at our ballpark and got on the road to Tampa to pick up my family. They arrived on time, but due to lightning in the area their bags were stuck sitting on the plane. I waited for half an hour singing along to any one of a number of goofy songs before finally arriving at the “blue” gates of the airport where I found them. We piled into the car and headed to International Plaza for lunch and ended up in a place called Brio. We all had really big, delicious, hearty salads and shared some great laughs and great company. It was a lot of fun, and as always Molly and I had our share of ridiculous laughs over nothing.
Tonight we had an opening gala, a get together mostly for the players and coaches, but there were a few girlfriends and parents mixed in. There were four separate buffet tables, featuring a carving station with turkey and roast beef, a seafood bar, a pasta bar and a dessert table. I had a little bit of everything, knowing I’d go out for dinner after with my parents. The food was good, there were free drinks and we got to sit and listen to a few speeches. The keynote speaker was Steve Shenbaum, the founder of Game On, a group that seeks to empower and motivate people through a number of communication and team building techniques. Steve talked about the game hide and seek, and used it to illustrate how authenticity, real fun, real communication and real interaction can motivate people and create better environments for us. He used the acronym M.I.L.E and talked about how in any task we would be faced with finding:
- M – Mystery –> What makes this important to me? Why am I doing the task?
- I – Incentive –> What do I get out of this task?
- L – Laugher –> Laugh with not at, and enjoy the things that come of your task
- E – Empowerment –> Realizing that the task have some real value to you as a person and its motivational power
I loved his talk, and found the exercises he had the group do were incredibly enlightening. They were simple little games, count 1-2-3 with a partner, alternating back and forth. Change the 1 for a clap. Change the 2 for a snap of the fingers. Change the 3 for a FUN step. In doing these little drills we began to become aware of our partners much more so than we normally are in locker room or hotel room interaction and it was easy to see the guys all having REAL fun, and making those connections through both verbal and non verbal communication. It was an awesome way to kick off this weekend, and I really enjoyed listening and thinking about the stuff he talked about. It was a fun presentation and I definitely think there is a lot to be learned from the short little games we played.
I’m now back in my hotel room watching the hockey game, and it has just gone to overtime. I’m really hoping the Rangers can pull off the win for all of my NYR fan friends from school, and so that we get another night of hockey before the season is officially over. Tomorrow will be a dream come true for me, and I know that I’ll be up every hour or so tonight to check my clock just so I make sure I’m not late. It’s a pretty obnoxious trend for me, but I do it before every single big or exciting game. I can’t wait to get out there and represent the Stone Crabs, and the Tampa Bay Rays tomorrow, it will truly be an honor.
I’ll have a lot of pictures tomorrow so I may just do a photo gallery post at some point just to share some of this experience. I’m sure by the end of the weekend or by next week we should reach 20,000 views here and I’ll do that autographed bat giveaway.
I finished my last post by wishing good luck to all my buddies that were draft eligible, so I think it’s appropriate to begin this post with a congratulations to those guys. Kevin Krause and Brandon McNitt out of Stony Brook both got picked and seem like locks to sign and start their careers. I’m really excited to see those guys get a chance to continue their careers, and start their journey in pro ball, joining the 7 of us from 2012 and the 19 former Seawolves to be drafted. Congrats on keeping up the legacy of excellence at Stony Brook, and good luck with signing and your first pro seasons!
Well our latest series was again typical of our how season has gone, as we split four games with the Tampa Yankees. We had opportunities in the games we lost and just were unable to break through, we even had a lead through 8 in the opener only to see it slip away in grand almost walk off home run fashion. It was a cool experience to be back up at the Yankees complex, and I felt more like a tourist at times as I walked the grounds taking pictures.
I caught the first game of the series, with Santiago on the mound. He and I have become good buddies through our time in the bullpen and in the clubhouse. He played with Diego Goris, who I was teammates and friends with last year, when they were both in the Royals organization. Leo has had a few rough starts in which he’s had some trouble putting hitters away, and recently Doc has spent the majority of his bullpen time talking about “putaway” pitches. As we headed out to start off the series he seemed to have good feel for everything in the ‘pen and even in his warmup pitches. We quickly found out that wasn’t enough as their first few hitters got some good swings off and we were suddenly down 2-0. After that he was dominant. He got bad swings on good pitches, he had guys fishing for his curveball as it darted down and out of the zone. Everything seemed to be working for him, and any time he had a base runner he found a way to get a quick out or a double play ground ball to end the inning. He ended up going 7 and 2/3 innings giving up just the two runs (1 earned) on 3 hits with 6 strikeouts. He left in the 8th inning after a strikeout on a vicious change up that got an absolutely UGLY swing for the final strike, and as soon as I threw the ball down to Goeddel at third I saw Jared walk to the mound. It was by far his best start of the year, and obviously something the Rays saw in him when they signed him as a MiLB free agent. We had great chemistry the whole night, talking our way through the lineup and having some good laughs in the dugout at some of the bad swings we got. With only four outs to go we felt pretty safe leading 5-2 but the baseball gods had other plans, and despite our offense adding a run in the 9th to make it 6-4 we still ended up with a loss as Cito Culver drilled a ball off the wall in left center for a walk off double. It was a really helpless, awful feeling standing over home plate watching the ball sail into the gap knowing the game was over. It was a major kick in the gut, and unfortunately Leo ended up with a no decision, despite his dominance all night.
The rest of the series was back and forth. We won the next night, only to lose game three and finish with a win in the finale. We got to face Francisco Cervelli who was rehabbing for the Yankees, and then we got to host Jeremy Hellickson and Ryan Hannigan as they both rehabbed for us in the fourth game. Helly went 3 innings, and Hannigan caught 6 before giving way to Lopez and DePew respectively.
I swung the bat pretty well during the series despite only picking up a couple of hits, I felt like I was in good counts, and getting good swings on the pitches I hunted. I’m starting to feel a lot more locked in than I did a couple of weeks ago, but the frustrating thing about baseball is that you can do everything right and still make an out. My numbers aren’t where I want them to be, but my process has been better of late and I’m confident in the work I’m doing that they’ll even themselves out.
Last night we played in Bradenton in the first of a two game series and lost by a run. I was 1 for 4 again, with a single and an RBI and two strikeouts. I had a horrible day, somehow managing to swing and miss at 6 or 7 fastballs that were strikes over my four at bats, something I don’t think I’ve ever done. Today we’re at home against the Marauders, and we’ll follow it up with a 3 game commuter series in Fort Myers starting tomorrow night. I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do over the All Star break because I have two full days off. Today will be a crazy one for me as I’ve got early defense work as both a catcher and an infielder. I recently was asked to start taking ground balls again, so I’m now doing double duty to try and get everything done. I’ve joked with some of the guys that the best way to become a great infielder is to go through a month of catchers work, and realize how hard that is, which in turn will instantly make infield work seem easy. Obviously there’s no such thing as easy in this game, especially not in the Minor Leagues, but again, I get to go out and play baseball all day and I’m not stuck in an office, behind a desk or in a classroom. Like Nick Swisher told me when I played against him in a Spring Training game last year “THIS IS LIVING DUDE!! WE’RE OUT HERE IN THE SUN PLAYIN BALL MY MAN, LIKE DUDE WE LIVING!” Yes, the caps lock was supposed to be on to try and convey a bit of Swish’s enthusiasm. Hard to argue with the guy, time to go get after it!
Go Crabs, Go Rays!
Another series has come and gone, and I’m now sitting on our new bus waiting to make the drive up to Tampa for our series against the Tampa Yankees. We managed to change bus drivers and consequently buses after some “issues” with the old bus/driver combo. Hopefully our new bus will be the bearer of many wins and we’ll finish out the first half on a big roll like we closed out our home stand.
We played our final four games against the Brevard County Manatees, the Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, and one of only two teams that isn’t directly affiliated to a Floridian Spring Training complex (Daytona Cubs are the other). It was the first time we’d seen the Manatees, but I remembered a few names and faces from last years Wisconsin Timber Rattlers including Victor Roache (Cotuit in the Cape) and Martin Viramontes (Orleans in the Cape). I also recognized the name of one of their catchers, Cameron Garfield who I first played against with Team Canada back in 2008 during the pre World Championship trip. He was one of the catchers on Team USA, a collection of studs that, with the exception of two, are all playing pro ball now. Looking back it’s no wonder that team seemed so impressive, checking through all the MiLB player pages for those guys there are a lot of AA and AAA players from that team.
Our series started out with back to back walk off hits by “Johnny Loco” Quinonez. In each game we surged onto the field as the ball found its way into the outfield charging to meet him as he rounded the bases. I’ve never been part of back to back walk off wins that were picked up by the same hitter, it’s safe to say Q was pretty locked in and “wanting the 5th.” The series ended up being also carrying a double header as the second game was washed out due to another torrential downpour. We split the double header (game 1 was Q’s second walk off) and lost the back end, a game that I spent in the bullpen. Yesterday was the final game of the series, and one we really needed to win to take the series, get to .500 and stay afloat. I chipped in 2 hits, an RBI and a run scored, while Tommy Coyle and Marty Gantt went big fly to carry us to a win. Tommy’s was a lead off homer in the first and Marty hit his off Jose De La Torre who pitched in 7 games for the World Champion Boston Red Sox last year. It was a good team win, as we got a lot of contributions from guys up and down the lineup, and our pitchers did a good job holding it down in the later innings, as Markel and Garton combined to throw the back half of the game without allowing a run after the 4th inning.
Today we’re headed north of I75 to Tampa for a four game series against the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. The last time I was at Steinbrenner Field I was 12 or 13 and Zidie and I were on our annual Spring Training trip. We managed to get to the sprawling campus of fountains and practice fields at around 10 am and found Derek Jeter alone on a practice field taking ground balls with an instructor. The fence was lined with a few fans, but I got to stand right against the chain links and watch him work, a lesson that has stuck with me ever since. I remember thinking how impressive it was that a 5 time All Star and Gold Glove winner was out there so early working on his craft, away from the spotlight, away from anything remotely glamorous. He just took care of his business, and made sure he got all the work he needed to stay on top of his game. I remember heading inside the monstrous stadium (by Spring Training standards) and marveling at the fact that it was packed with rabid fans for a meaningless Spring game against the Blue Jays. It will definitely be a great experience to get back up there later today and look around, and I’ll no doubt find my spot under the shade of a big tree by that practice field where I watched Jeter so many years ago.
Finally, I want to wish all of the guys I know that are either high school seniors, or draft eligible college guys good luck with the draft beginning tomorrow night. Enjoy your moment, don’t stress over it, it’s just the beginning whether you choose to sign or head off to college, juco or somewhere new as a transfer. The process will work itself out in due time, so enjoy the moment, and I’ll no doubt be looking for some names to be called when things get rolling in the next few days!
Let’s go Crabs!
To say that this has been the most frustrating home stand in baseball history is maybe the understatement of the century. We started with a 4 game series against the Dunedin Blue Jays in which we got swept. Losing sucks as I’ve talked about in the past, but losing to Dunedin was a different kind of maddening. The entire series seemed like a giant mockery of our team. Our pitchers executed great pitches, and they blooped hits over the infield. Our pitchers made better pitches and they hit broken bat singles. When our pitchers missed, which was incredibly rare, they hit them hard. The seemed to dink and dunk hits all over the yard, with maybe no better example than the game I caught.
In the 5th inning we trailed 1-0. Our newest starter, Blake Snell, was throwing really well. He was making pitches, hitting spots and striking out guys early in the game. Marcus Knecht lead off the 5th and Snell quickly got ahead 0-2 including a bad swing on a change up. We had Marcus set up, and we went with a fastball in, Snell hit the spot, leaving the pitch a few inches off the inside corner. He even got the swing we wanted, an awkward, defensive swing out of a guy who I’ve rarely seen take on like that. I’ve watched Marcus hit since we were 7 and 8 years old respectively and teammates on the North York Blues. He’s always been a very aggressive, powerful hitter. So here we were, executing a well located 0-2 pitch and getting a bad swing, but somehow the ball spun down the first base line and eluded Quinonez for a base hit. Q had been playing off the line because we knew Marcus had a tendency to pull the ball. That was just a microcosm of the series it seemed, as our pitchers broke bats and got ground balls only to see Dunedin’s hit total continue to climb.
Marcus had an absolutely enormous series against us, he finished 9 for 13 with 2 doubles, a triple and 7 RBIs in three games. Dalton Pompey also had a good series against us, finding his way to first base 7 of the 14 times he came to the plate including 4 walks. Somehow I manged to be the only Canadian to play and be held out of the hit column in the series, managing only a walk against Daniel Norris in game one. The final Canadian in the series was Mike Reaves, a former Ontario Blue Jays catcher who I’d played against my whole high school career. We even played against one another at Ontario Youth Team tryouts as 16 and 17 year olds. We joked about that while I warmed Snell up before the game as Mike walked to the visitors dugout. We got a chance to talk after the game and he offered me some valuable insight which was awesome. It was great to get to pick his brain for a few minutes about some stuff, just to hear a different voice, different terminology and another perspective on how to get the job done. As always it was awesome to get to catch up with all those guys, the Baseball Canada community really is a tight knit group. We may have been the fiercest of competitors and rivals growing up but once we’re out in the professional world we always seem to make time to catch up and share stories from our current seasons and from our battles years ago. I actually got to discuss that a little bit last weekend when I was invited on Sportsnet Today with my COUSIN Ben Ennis.
We finished the Dunedin series 0-3 with the final game being washed out by thunderstorms which have become a bit of a theme lately. Each of the last three days we’ve managed to get through BP (barely in some cases) before the sky has absolutely opened up and poured rain down on the field. Each day the Stone Crabs staff has had to rush out in the rain to tarp the field, an exercise we normally watch while standing under the boardwalk, sheltered from the rain. We’ve had hours of rain delays, games being bumped from 6 to 6:30 to 7:45 and finally 8 o’clock. We’ve spent most of the time in the clubhouse watching the NCAA Baseball Regionals on ESPNU. I’ve watched probably 6 or 7 games in the two days, and I still get chills watching these 4 Seeds playing against the “big boys” of college baseball. One of the commercials ESPN is running between innings actually shows our dog pile after the LSU Super Regional in 2012 with Steve Berthiaume’s epic call as the voice over, “Stony Brook, you have shocked the world!” It’s so cool to be a part of the history of “The Greatest Show on Dirt.” Other than watching college ball I’ve spent most of the rain delay time drinking coffee, trying to keep myself awake. The most difficult part of the delays is just sitting in the room and not knowing when the game will start, the break from the routine. Some guys play cards, using left over boxes from shipments of cleats, protein etc as car tables while other guys simply take naps on the couch.
Last night we started a four game series against the Brevard County Manatees, a Brewers affiliate and finished the game with a bang. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead through four innings, thanks in part to another BOMB by Pat Leonard we lost the lead and ended up going to the 9th tied at 2. In the bottom of the 9th Johnny “Loco” Quinonez got the game winning hit and we rushed the field to celebrate his walk off hit. Hopefully tonight we don’t spend two hours waiting to start and the rain holds off. We need to start getting on a roll here as we close out the first half, needing 5 games to get to the top of the division. Hopefully we can go on a little streak like last years Tincaps did en route to our Wild Card berth.
Just a reminder, I’ll be running a contest through Twitter when the blog reaches 20,000 views. I’ve got three game used bats that I’m going to sign and send out, so look for that Tweet in the next few weeks. It will be a retweet to enter type of deal, so make sure you’re ready for that, I think it’ll be a fun way to get some people some game used gear. If it goes well I’ll have to figure out what my next one will be!
Until then, Go Crabs, Go Rays and rain, rain, GO AWAY!