Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January 16- Bakersfield Blaze

When I woke up this morning I blindly shuffled through the large sack of hats I had laying at the foot of my bed, half expecting to pull a team’s hat that I’ve already written about. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised to grab a hold of this Bakersfield Blaze hat. For starters, I had never worn this hat. All of the stickers were still stuck to the bill. Nothing personal, I just have a lot of hats that I roll through more often than my Minor League caps. It’s also a very fitting at to choose considering that the Blaze had switched to this logo after the 2000 season; the last year I was bat boy for the team. In fact, the Blaze had used this hat and color scheme from 2001-2011, and had housed three different franchises during that stretch: the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Texas Rangers and the Cincinnati Reds, whom still serves as their affiliate. When doing research for this decade, I came across a bevy of names and numbers that I could have used.

Josh Hamilton was the first. He played in Bakersfield during the 2002 season while they were still linked to the Rays. What’s most interesting about Hamilton and the Blaze is that at he had played for all three franchises at the Major League level. But, I’m not the biggest Hamilton supporter so I nixed that idea. Rocco Baldelli was a possibility, as were CJ Wilson and Edinson Volquez. None of them really made my fancy either. Actually, the one player I really wanted to add was Jonny Gomes, who had played with Hamilton on the 2002 squad. That year he went .278/30/124; amazing stats for high-A ball. However, during my research I couldn’t find his jersey number anywhere. Even on old Blaze baseball cards I happened across didn’t show his number. So, I had to scratch him. Fortunately for me, his older brother Joey played on the team at the same time.

#21- Joey Gomes played for the Blaze from 2002-04 until he was called up to AA Montgomery to play for the Biscuits. Joey never moved higher than AA. Joey’s best year for the Blaze came in the 72 games he played where he went .300/7/45. It really wasn’t much of a surprise when he got called up after finding his swing. Now, not being able to find Jonny’s number isn’t the only reason why I rolled the dice with Joey. Back in 2001 Jonny was drafted by the Rays in the 18th round of the amateur draft; his brother Joey on the other hand was taken in the 8th round of the 2002 draft. What I don’t know is how much of an impact Jonny had on Joey getting drafted so much higher the following year. Or perhaps it was because the scouts felt Joey had more potential than Jonny. Either way, I’d love to find out.

#33 is another former Rays star. And by former, I mean as of a little over a month ago. James Shields had one of the longest tenures with the Blaze of any of the players currently playing in the Majors. From 2003-04 Shields served as the ace for then managers Oscar Munoz (2003) and Mako Oliveras (2004). Shields had a decent first year going 10-10 and posting a 4.45 ERA and a team-leading 119 strikeouts. The following year he went 8-5 with a 4.23 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 20 starts. And thank God for me, he’s always kept the same jersey number… so it was a pretty easy find.

It’s kind of a bummer that I left after the 2000 season to move to Vancouver, Washington. It would have been great to see these up-and-comers, but it made our meetings in 2012 all that more interesting. Shields I met on May 8th in the MLB Fan Cave and the only bit of conversation we had was how we both hated the sun shield in centerfield. Actually, Jonny and I touched on that a bit too, but we went more in depth on a few stories about the history and culture of Bakersfield. For a guy who was only there a year, he really took the time to get to know the town and its inhabitants. Jonny cared, and for that I look forward to seeing him succeed in Boston.

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