Monday, May 6, 2013

May 6- Bakersfield Blaze

It should be noted that this is one of the four hats I had my mother mail to me in Florida. The craziness of the timing of this cap and post comes together at the end. It still blows my mind.

The Minor Leagues are kind of a sad place. I should know. I was a bat boy for two amazing seasons with the Bakersfield Blaze in 1999 and 2000 and I saw my fair share of joy and disappointment. The main reason I say it’s a sad place is because it’s hard to build connections with guys, because unlike the Majors, the talent doesn’t stay in one place for too long.

Believe it or not I used to be an incredibly punctual person. This blog is a prime example of how time has sort of gotten away with me over the years; however, when I was still in high school I had to take the Golden Empire Transit (GET) bus to Sam Lynn Ball Park right after school in order to get ready for batting practice and warm-ups anytime there was a home game. Because the buses I needed to catch worked on weird intervals I always figured it was best to be 45 minutes early rather than five minutes late. Besides, it gave me more time to get a jump on my home work and take the field to play catch with a few of the players before practice really kicked into gear. Unfortunately, with punctuality occasionally came the few random times that I would walk into the clubhouse just as a player who was called into an early meeting with the skipper was rolling in as well. I think during my time I was present for six players who either got demoted from advanced-A (which is what the Blaze are) down to the intermediate-A Salem-Keiser Volcanoes or given their outright release. What’s become interesting over the years is that the Volcanoes are still an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants and are roughly 45 minutes away from where I live now. But even at that, no player wants to get sent down, and no player especially wants to get cut. Getting close to a few of these guys only to see them leave the stadium in tears is still one of the most gut-wrenching moments of my life.  

But as hard as it is to see someone leave for the worst reasons, it can be an even more confusing feeling when they get promoted. A few guys I knew from those times were the happiest people in the world when they got the call to go to Shreveport, Fresno and even to The Show. The one player’s reaction who I’ll never forget is former 2002 Giants World Series stud Chad Zerbe. Dude pal sobbed like a baby and even gave me a hug goodbye. He was a really sweet dude, and it was great to see that he got his promotion. Even cooler was when he hooked me up with tickets to Pac Bell Park for his home debut game, but that story might have to wait for another time. While I realize that I’m merely reflecting on my own personal dealings with these guys, it’s the loyal fans who truly feel it even harder in some cases. These are the folk who always make the new kids feel right at home. They cook them meals, they collect money for them in the home run buckets when they go yard and even in some cases they give them a place to stay as a family sponsor. The inner-workings of the fan/player relationship at the Minor League level is actually quite fascinating, but with each close of the season there is no assurance that any of the players will be back for another season. Every beginning of the season is an uncovered mystery, and with that emotional ties are tugged upon in the never ending cycle that is the farm system.

This last July was the first time I had been back to Bakersfield for a game since 2008 when they were an affiliate of the Texas Rangers. It’s kind of wild to look back on then and realize that Elvis Andrus and Chris Davis were both playing that day. Hell, Davis crushed one of his 24 bombs of the year that day. That was six years ago, and look at both of them now. I do my best to keep up-to-date with the team as much as possible. Even though I have several teams closer where I’ve lived over the past decade, I still have a connection to the Blaze that will never cease to be.

When I stopped in for the first of three games I watched this last season I made sure to pick up as many of the Blaze caps as I could, pretty much needing all of them. I picked up two that night; this one and another which I’ll write about it July. This cap has served as the team’s home hat since the 2012 season. I’ve never been a huge fan of orange, but for some reason this one works. I think the two white front panels take away most of the orange focus and point directly into the “B,” thus making it much more comfortable on the eyes. If you didn’t know it, orange, safety orange to be exact, is actually the most noticeable color for our eyes. So to be able to use it and not make it too distracting is actually quite an impressive design. Once again, if you haven’t noticed from earlier posts, I know way too much about random stuff. Anyway, my timing on finally getting out to a game was beyond poorly timed as most players of note on the season had been promoted merely 24 hours before I set foot inside the stadium. It was quite funny actually, but there wasn’t much I could do about it besides enjoy my time with the team that was playing in front of me. Luckily for my sake though, one guy I wanted to see was still in town.

One guy in particular I marked on this hat played in a few more games before getting called up and the other guy had been called up after a few starts in June. Even more astounding is that both of the guys I marked this cap with are playing in the Majors with the Cincinnati Reds right now, which is an incredibly crazy transition to go from A ball to the Majors in such a quick time frame. Oh, and the last bit… none of them are named Billy Hamilton.

#13- Tony Cingrani was a third round pick for the Reds in the 2011 amateur draft out of Rice University. He played 13 games with the Billings Mustangs that season before making the jump to advanced-A ball in Bakersfield in 2012. Like I said, he didn’t last long with the Blaze. He started in 10 games and went 5-1 with 71 strikeouts and a 1.11 ERA in that time frame. When he made the move to Pensacola to play with the Blue Wahoos he was just as deadly, going 5-3 with a 2.12 ERA and an additional 101 strikeouts. This season he only lasted three starts with the Louisville Bats before getting called up to the Majors on April 18 to make a start against the Miami Marlins.

Cigrani saw a little bit of time in the Show in 2012, but only a few appearances out of the bullpen. This season has been the real deal. In just four starts thus far he has pitched at least six innings per contest and amassed a 2-0 record with a 2.63 ERA, 33 strikeouts and a 0.833 WHIP. At the rate he’s currently going don’t be too shocked if you see him take home the Rookie of the Year award.

#39- Donald Lutz has been with the Reds organization ever since he signed as a free agent in 2007 out of Watertown, New York, but lived in Germany for most of his life. From 2008-2011 he bummed around the Rookie and low-A ranks until finally getting a shot with the Blaze in 2012. He lasted 63 games, including all three I was able to attend. During his time he hit .265 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI. Unfortunately I can’t track down a boxscore anywhere; otherwise I’d tell you how he did. As sharp as my memory is, I forget a few things from time-to-time. He finished out the season in Pensacola and played in 21 games there again at the start of this season.

Now, what’s really weird about Lutz is that he was batting .211, but he had two triples, five home runs and 14 RBI under his belt in that time. Apparently that was more than enough for the Reds to give him the nod as he made his Major League debut on April 29th in St. Louis against the Cardinals. He pinch hit for Mat Latos and popped out. Lutz would play in two more games until getting his first hit on May 5th, a single off of Shawn Camp in the seventh inning. Lutz would end up stealing second and scoring his first run of his career, which ended up being the run to give the Reds the lead over the Chicago Cubs for the 7-4 win. Lutz’s final at-bat ended up going down as a RBI sacrifice groundout, but his day was quite historic as he became the first German-developed player in Major League Baseball history. So all-in-all he had a pretty solid little Cinco de Mayo. And by that I mean he had a terrific day at the plate yesterday. Wow! I really could not have time this post any better.

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