Saturday, April 6, 2013
April 5- Stockton Ports
So I’m currently in Maguire’s Pub in downtown Petaluma, California (the home of Jonny Gomes) crushing a few mimosas as I write this piece. I will apologize in advance for any errors that may occur.
After four brilliant games at the Coliseum between the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners it was time to get back to the Minors to catch a game in Stockton, California on Friday to watch the hometown Stockton Ports take on my former employer, the Bakersfield Blaze, with Vanessa Demske (@vdemske) and Will MacNeil (@RFWill149). Will had told both of us about the series and Vanessa and I both decided early yesterday morning that it would be a good idea to roll down for a game. It took us about an hour-and-a-half to drive, but we got there right as the top half of the first inning was wrapping up; so no major loss.
Will met us at the game with a pair of tickets, which was more than appreciated. Our seats were front row, just a few slots down from the Blaze dugout, but right at the section when the protective net ended. We joked about how easy it would be to take a ball to the face, something that almost happened to me when Will got up for a beer run as infielder Dominic D’Anna fouled one back into the seat next to mine. Spooky.
Another fellow A’s fan in attendance was Nick Badders (@nickbatters), a very talent 14-year-old writer who has a blog on MLBlogs.com under the pseudonym 7000 Coliseum Way. If you get a chance, read his posts here: http://nbbaseball.wordpress.com/author/nickbatters/ His blog hast been in the Top-100 since 2011. Absolutely amazing stuff.
When I had originally plotted this trip down to the Bay Area I made sure to pack enough hats to write about for my nightly posts. What’s incredibly ironic is that I had a Blaze and a Ports hat in each hand, debating on which Minor League cap I could write about if my trip ended up going an extra day. Being the resourceful planner that I am, I left both of them, thinking that I would be back in Portland in enough time. Boy was I wrong. Having worn my lucky A’s home cap for the last few days I decided to roll with a 2002 red batting practice-style Montreal Expos hat in order to not really have a horse in the race, so to speak since I had previously worked for the Blaze and since the Ports are the advanced-A affiliate of the A’s. It was really hard to pick sides.
The game itself moved by rather quickly as most of the batters flew out or grounded out, thus causing each pitcher to not develop a high pitch count. Since it was still early in the year each team kept their pitchers at a minimum count of around 80 in order to keep their arms preserved throughout the first month. No sense in burning out a solid prospect. The one thing I had totally forgotten about was that A’s top prospect Addison Russell was on the team. For some reason I had figured he’d been moved up to the AA Midland Rock Hounds or AAA Sacramento River Cats, but sure enough, there he was batting leadoff and playing shortstop. There was a brief moment during his third at-bat when he slightly rolled his ankle whilst legging out an infield hit. The entire stadium went silent as the trainer and manager Webster Garrison bolted to first base to look after their guy. After a few stretches and quick dashes, he was good to continue. Whew!
Friday’s game in Stockton was the first game I had attended in the port town since I had lived there back when I was three through five-years-old. I think we had broken down that 1987 was the last home game I had been to when the Ports were still playing at Billy Hebert Field when they were an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewer from 1985-1999. The most notable player from that squad: Gary Sheffield who batted .277 with 17 home runs and 103 RBI. Another fun fact about the ports is that they were the inspiration for the poem “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer written in 1888. For a brief period in the late 1990s/early 2000s the Ports changed their name to the Mudville Nine in honor of the team that Casey played for.
By the seventh inning the game was knotted at two apiece. All four of us were joking whether or not the game was going to turn into a 15 inning affair, as well as the appearance of the Ports’s mascot Splash, which I’m still trying to figure out what exactly he’s supposed to be. I can only assume the name comes from the fact that Banner Island Park was built alongside the San Joaquin River delta, and is similar to the San Francisco Giants who occasionally have home runs hit into the Bay at AT&T Park in which they call them Splash Hits. Will had gotten up briefly, for what Vanessa and I could only assume was a trip to the bathroom, but when he returned he came bearing gifts. Will, the sly dog, came back with a Ports shirt for Vanessa and the Friday alternate hat that the Ports introduced this season for me. Will had all ready hooked me up with two Ports hats at Fan Fest and now a third on top of a Kannapolis Intimidators cap he’s sending my way in the future; such a kindhearted gesture from such a wonderful person. The debt will be repaid, I assure you all. The logo is in homage to the longshoreman who work the docks of Stockton, one of the busiest ports on the West Coast. The asparagus is because Stockton is one of the largest producers of the vegetable in the country and they hold a festival every year to mark that.
Now, having the Ports hat they were wearing on this night, I had a good subject and story to write about, as well as the perfect numbers in which to mark up this cap.
#27- Addison Russell was taken with the 11th overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft by the A’s out of Pace, Florida. Lat season he played 55 games in all three Rookie level leagues (AZL Athletics, Vermont Lake Monsters and Burlington Bees) in which he hit .369 with seven home runs, 45 RBI and 16 stolen bases. Last night he went 1-4 with a walk. Clearly I’m bad luck. The A’s and the fans have a lot of promise for this up-and-coming prospect, but as it stands right now it’s all just a waiting process to see if he’ll take off in the California League this season and move up. He’s only 19-years-old right now; plenty of time to see what’s he’s made of.
#28- At first I didn’t have a second number to throw on this hat as I wasn’t too familiar with the current roster for the Ports. I’ve never been on to keep up fluently with Minor League rosters, perhaps I need to change my tune. In the bottom of the eighth inning with the score tied at two and one runner on, designated hitter Tony Thompson stepped up to the plate against Blaze pitcher Brooks Picknard. With a 2-1 count Picknard sent a fastball right down Main Street… which Thompson took over the left field wall. This proved to be the go-ahead/game-winning home run which inevitably gave Thompson the Player of the Game award.
Thompson was a sixth round draft pick by the A’s in 2010 out of the University of Kansas. This is his second year with the Ports and after two games it’s pretty fair to say that he’s off to a solid start.
While I’ve always been more of a fan of the Major League game, I always find the time to make it out to as many Minor League games as possible. The truth is that they’re way more relaxing, and a great environment to meet up with friends or family, drink a few beers and just talk about life as you watch all of these kids come up through the ranks to make it into the Show. Sometimes players fizzle out, while others make the jump. Either way, those moments are their time to shine, and your time to escape from reality for a bit to have a good time.