Sunday, July 28, 2013

June 29- Arizona Diamondbacks



The 2012 Major League Baseball season is hands down the craziest, most enjoyable season I have had the privilege of following. While it truly would have been spectacular to be in the stadium of all the no-hitters, perfect games and cycles hit last season, thank God I have the power of MLB.tv to help me get as close to the action as possible without leaving the comfort of my home. I realize that sentence sounded like some cheesy promotion, just bear with me. As awesome as it was to be in the MLB Fan Cave for the first two-and-a-half months of the season to watch a lot of these games, that experience laid the foundation for what ultimately became one of the greatest baseball experiences on my life.

Of all the crazy historical things to occur last season there is one experience that now sits in my top-three “All-Time Greatest MLB Moments” list which started with a handshake back on May 5, 2012. If you read my post from June 26th you’d know about the visit in the Fan Cave from Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers JJ Putz and Patrick Corbin.

After an hour or so of shooting the breeze both Putz and Corbin said that they would probably be back the next night to hang out and watch the Jon Bones Jones UFC fight against Rashad Evans. Now, one thing I’m a bit confused about is that according to his fight stats Jones fought Evans on April 21st, soooooo… I don’t know what the hell we watched. All I know is that Jones and his crew had stopped by the Fan Cave about a week prior to promote the fight, which makes me all that more confused.

Anyway, Putz and Corbin lived up to their word and stopped by in the evening after their 3-4 loss to the New York Mets. Not ones to let a rough day get in the way of their fun, Corbin brought friends and relatives from upstate New York with him and Putz did the same with his parents and a life-long friend named “Rooftop.” As the evening progressed with beers in hand, intense pool and skee-ball games and excellent conversation, other members of the Diamondbacks arrived as well including Willie “The Igniter” Bloomquist and Aaron Hill. Most of the night I just chilled out, nursing the same bottle of Bud Light for an hour, chatting it up with Corbin’s brother and Putz. Lindsay Guentzel (the Minnesota Twins fan) had taken the duty of showing everyone around the Fan Cave and taking photos for the executives so the rest of us had to wait until she was finished to go over and talk to Bloomquist and Hill. Around the time the main event was getting underway Hill and a friend of his were on their way out as they had just stopped to poke around. It was at this time I finally had a chance to talk to him as he had apparently been interested in talking to me since he stepped in. I was a bit confused by that at first, but it all made sense when he talked about how he had seen me on the jumbotron at Citi Field before the game as one the episodes of “Player Poll” I had done was being shown. Putz confirmed this as well as he happened to walk by Hill at the right moment. Hill then asked me a few questions about myself which I kicked off with going to the University of Oregon, hailing from the Bay Area and especially Bakersfield, California. Hill lit up immediately, “Dude! I’m from Visalia! That’s crazy!” Bakersfield and Visalia are roughly 80 miles apart from one another off of Highway 99, but are practically the same city if you’ve ever spent time in either. Hill then asked which baseball leagues I played in growing up, trying to figure out if we had played one another. As it turned out, we missed each other by a year; which also would have made for an interesting conversation seeing as I played second base growing up and he’s an All-Star second baseman. Suddenly, the urge to head out went away as we continued to gab about growing up in the armpit of California… that is until Lindsay decided to butt in. It literally went from us totally bro-ing out to Lindsay wanted everyone to take a photo for all of the executives. I’m not sure why she cut in at that moment, but it completely changed the mood rapidly. Either way, it was good to get the chance to share a few words with someone who had a similar upbringing. What I didn’t expect, besides getting kicked out of the Fan Cave, was that Hill was about to embark upon a historical journey. But first, the cap!

The Dbacks unveiled this cap back in 2007 along with the cap I wrote about on April 29th. While the red brick cap serves as their game cap, this black model with the “A” logo serves as the home alternate cap. By this I mean that the Dbacks generally wear it on Sundays OR whenever the starting pitcher decides to roll with it for their start which also contingent upon the jersey/pant combo they elect to roll with. What’s a little disappointing about this cap is that I decided to mark it up with dates and stories despite the fact that the cap wasn’t even worn when the events took place. No matter, it’s still worthy of praise.

6/18-29/12: If there was ever a fitting bit of irony in all of 2012, June 18, 2012 was certainly a fitting day. It was the fourth game of the Northwest League season and I happened to be down in Eugene to watch the Emeralds face off against the Yakima Bears in the fourth of their five-game series. I had all ready been to Opening Day, in which I wrote my experience on June 18th (what a coincidence!) and I rolled back down from Portland to catch this particular game with my friend Chris Crude. The main reason why I say today was filled with irony is because the then-Bears, who are now the Hillsboro Hops, are the short season-A affiliate of the Dbacks. Now, even though I was all ready at a baseball game I always take the time to check up on how things are going around the league using my MLB.tv application on my phone. One of the games on interest I had was the Dbacks versus Seattle Mariners game taking place in Phoenix. Normally I would be blacked out due to the fact that Eugene sits within Mariners territory; however, I lucked out. Here’s why.

Flashback

During my time in the Fan Cave I had won the phone during a scavenger hunt challenge set up in the first two weeks we were there. It proved to be especially useful for me as I was the only one there who didn’t have a smart phone. So, anytime I went to the bathroom or upstairs to grab a drink I always made sure to have at least one game going. The only problem was that I ran into the same issues with blackouts from time-to-time. The worst instance came when I had to give fellow University of Oregon alum and SB Nation host Dan Rubenstein a tour of the Fan Cave. During the tour, I had to keep my eyes on the Mets versus Washington Nationals game that was taking place; however, the game was blacked out due to the fact that I was standing in Mets territory. When I pointed this out to the head of business public relations for MLB Jeff Heckelman, he took it upstairs for a moment and came back with the game on the screen. Apparently Heckelman had the tech guys play with it in which one of them installed a master key, so now I never have to worry about blackouts, missing spring training games, playoff games, the World Series and the All-Star game. Tight! All I need to do is take care of it and not lose it.

Back to reality

About two weeks prior to this game Hill had almost hit for the cycle June 5th against the Colorado Rockies, but more important, since our chance meeting Hill had been hitting well so I decided to monitor his progress, plus deep down I’ve always had a soft spot for the Dbacks and enjoy watching them. At first the only true redeeming quality of the game was that Wade Miley was taking the hill for the Dbacks, just one of the many games in which he would be lights out and build a solid case for the National League Rookie of the Year award. Despite giving up a single to Kyle Seager in the first inning, Miley dealt the rest of the way. In the bottom of the first inning Mariners pitches Hector Noesi gave up three consecutive singles to Bloomquist, Hill and Justin Upton. At the time, no one really thought much of it and the Dbacks put a few runs up on the board by the end of the inning to take a 3-0 lead.

In the bottom of the third inning Hill led off with a triple, but was then brought in to score after an Upton sacrifice fly to deep right field to take a 4-0 lead. Once again, as the inning then came to a quick close, nobody really knew what was going on.

In the bottom of the fifth inning Miley led off with a strikeout while Bloomquist fired one to second baseman Dustin Ackley. With two outs, nobody on, Hill slapped a line drive into left field which allowed him to get to second on the stand. With the single, triple and double in the books in only the fifth inning, the mood of Chase Field tensed up a little bit, despite the fact that the Dbacks were still holding onto a 4-0 lead.

As the bottom of the seventh inning loomed the Mariners decided to make a pitching change and brought in Shawn Kelley to take things over with Bloomquist leading off as the Dbacks now led 6-1. If the first batter faced was any proof of how probable it was going to be for Hill to hit for his first career cycle, then anyone who had the chance to make a bet on Hill hitting a home run to finish it out should have been made. Prior to Bloomquist’s at-bat Kelley had only given up two home runs on the year; the first was Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes’s first career home run on Opening Day in Tokyo, Japan and the second was on May 8th against Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder. In both cases it’s not like Kelley was getting teed off of by some slouch. Against Bloomquist, Kelley served up a tater right down the middle, but Bloomquist could only get it to deep center. With a little more pop in his bat, if Hill was given the same pitch, it definitely would have gone over the way. Luckily for Hill, that happened. After taking the first pitch for a strike, Hill played the next pitch as aggressive as possible, launching it over the left field wall, becoming the fifth player in Dbacks history to hit for the cycle and the second player in MLB on the season to pull it off; the first being Mets outfielder Scott Hairston.

After Hill hit the double I began tweeting up a storm, mostly focusing on how had he hit the double he needed against the Rockies on June 5th he would have been the third player in MLB history to hit for the cycle twice in a season. Once again, the irony of this day, and especially this tweet, were about to come back in a big way.

On June 28, 2012 I was laying in bed watching baseball on my computer as I had just gotten back from a three-day road trip in Seattle to watch the Athletics play the Mariners along with my friend, and 2013 Fan Cave hopeful Tommy Bentley (@RealTomBentley). Due to my fatigue level I was kind of in-and-out of the Dbacks game as they were playing the Milwaukee Brewers on the road. I don’t remember too much about the other three games I had going at the same time, but as the Dbacks game progressed I ended up closing the other screens out.

Just like the game on June 18th (2012), Hill batted in the two-hole behind Bloomquist who ended up grounding out in his first at-bat against Brewers pitcher Randy Wolf. With a called strike against him, Hill mashed a hard liner into left field which bounced over the wall for a ground rule double. Aside from putting himself in scoring position, the hit also turned out to be the 1,000th of his career. Upton and Jason Kubel followed Hill by both striking out looking, marooning Hill on second base to close out the first. Once again, no one really paid much attention.

In the top of the third inning “The Igniter” led off with a double which was then followed up with a bloop single just over the head of Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks and into centerfield by Hill. Hill then stole second base before Upton roped a single himself, scoring Bloomquist from and pushing Hill to third. After that, the floodgates opened as the Dbacks ended the inning with a 6-1 lead. With a double and a single in the bag, plus a five-run lead, very few gave much though to Hill, once again, despite the fact that he still had a solid amount of at-bats left in the game.

In the top of the fourth Dbacks starting pitcher Ian Kennedy struck out looking to lead off while Bloomquist reached on an error by Weeks. Not being the one to waste pitches, Hill took the first for a strike and then exploded upon the second. Hill sent a screamer to deep left field to not only put his team up by seven runs, but also got the social media world jibber-jabbing about how he still had five more innings to lock up a triple. Not since Babe Herman of the Brooklyn Robins in 1931 had a player hit for the cycle twice in one season, and not since John Reilly in 1883 had someone done it in games so close together.

In the top of the sixth inning catcher Henry Blanco and Kennedy both recorded outs. Bloomquist then legged out a slow rolling single to short, which paved the way for all of the eyes of the baseball world to be focused on Hill. Livan Hernandez had replaced Tim Dillard at the top of the inning who in turn had replaced Wolf at the top of the fifth. Hernandez started off by throwing two consecutive balls, none of which Hill wanted a piece of. As Hernandez let the third pitch go (a changeup) Hill dipped his head down after making contact as if he thought it was a pop out. Nope! The ball actually had a decent amount of speed behind it and as soon as Hill saw it drop into play he kicked his run into third gear. Morgan got to the ball slowly, which rolled to the wall as he figured Hill was going to holdup for a double. Nope! Weeks caught the cutoff throw and fired it slightly offline to the waiting Aramis Ramirez at third base… too late. Hill dug it out like a champion and slid his way into the record books when he touched (and stayed) on third base. A fair amount of Brewers fans applauded Hill for his effort, which was a bit classy on their part. Not too bad of an achievement for a kid from Visalia, California who went home with two balls in his pocket. You know, one for hit #1000 and the other for the double cycle. What were you thinking? Video

#46- Patrick Corbin was especially a treat to meet, but even weirder is that he looks almost identical to my U of O roommate Lyle Birkey, just a bit taller See..

Somewhat unknown last season, Corbin was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft only to be traded to the Dbacks on July 25, 2010 along with Rafael Rodriguez, Joe Saunders, a player to be named later (Tyler Skaggs) in exchange for Dan Haren… who I look nothing like.


From then until the end of the 2011 season Corbin muscled his way through the minor league system, posting solid numbers while playing with the Rookie League Orem Owlz, intermediate-A Cedar Rapids Kernels, advanced-A Visalia Rawhide and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and the AA Mobile Bears plus a brief stint with the AAA Reno Aces before making his Major League debut on April 30, 2012 against the Miami Marlins. Corbin got tagged for three earned runs in that first game, also allowing eight hits and three walks, but he struck out six and received the win for his efforts.

For the rest of the season Corbin had his highs and his lows, but in every case he stuck through it and didn’t make excuses. After the game on May 5th against the Mets Corbin, his brother and I got into a bit of a discussion in regard to his performance that day. He was pulled after 83 pitches after going 3 1/3 innings and only allowing two runs. Despite the high pitch count it was a situation that his brother and I felt he should have been allowed to attempt to get himself out of. For being a first-year pitcher, sometimes you have to take the lumps in order to know how to correct your mistakes down the road; a lesson in baseball that isn’t much different from real life. Corbin finished the 2012 campaign with a record of 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA in 17 games started. Like I said, it had its ups and downs, but in the end it all proved to be an eye-opener for Corbin’s 2013 effort… which has gone by rather smoothly.

So far this season (as of July 28, 2013), Corbin is on pace to potentially win the National League Cy Young award with a 12-2 record, 2.24 ERA, 123 strikeouts and a .991 WHIP. That’s one hell of a turnaround! Not to mention the fact that the Dbacks are hanging tough in the NL West and looking to secure their sixth trip to the postseason since the team’s inaugural year in 1998. Lord knows I bet on them to do it. Here’s to hoping I’m not as crazy as I look.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Ben - great post, as per usual. JJ Putz is actually from my hometown of Trenton, Michigan. He led us to our only state title in baseball ('94) before heading to the University of Michigan. I'm glad he's stuck around in the majors for so long; he seems like a good guy!

    Fantastic job as always, my friend.

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    1. Thanks brotha! I have a story or two involving Putz for down the road. He was definitely one of the coolest guys I had the opportunity of meeting, not to mention he's one of the biggest practical jokers around. He's definitely the kind of guy who takes his job serious, but knows how to have fun as well.

      Thanks for the heads up about Trenton. I knew he was from Michigan and went to UM, but never knew much about his high school days or earlier. Looks like I have more research ahead of me.

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