Saturday, August 31, 2013

July 9- Bakersfield Blaze

A full year has come and gone since I last set foot inside of Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield, California, where I attended my first Bakersfield Blaze game as a spectator since 2008 along with my friend, and fellow Oakland Athletics fan Toni Taylor (@Condorsfan06). Prior to the Blaze’s final game of the series against the Lake Elsinore Storm it dawned on me that it was slowly approaching 12 years since I had left my post as bat boy some time near the end of July in 2000. 12 years. Wow! Where does the time go? I know I’ve gone on about my bat boy days in a few posts all ready, but I don’t plan on doing much of that with this post. My fourth, and final Blaze post I have set for August will fill in a lot of the gaps I’ve left, as well as rekindle a few of the connections I had with players who have since faded into the record books and moved on to bigger and sometimes better things. But for this post, it’s all about the game which took place on July 9, 2012.

Toni and I had been talking since my campaign for the MLB Fan Cave kicked off in February of 2012. What started it was when the Bakersfield newspaper, The Bakersfield Californian, ran a reworded story about me and my time in Bakersfield based around the reel I had down for KEZI in Eugene, Oregon. Since the two of us were both A’s fans it became sort of a natural grown for conversation through Twitter and Facebook. When I made it to New York City Toni hooked me up with a Rollie Fingers bobblehead which she had gotten from her trip to the Coliseum early into the 2012 campaign. 

What’s funny about this is that until I received that Rollie bobblehead I never owned, nor had any desire to own a bobblehead. To me they always seemed like a very fragile space waster, but I have since changed my tune about that after other A’s loyalists joined in on the fun and hooked me up with their spare bobbleheads as well. I just can’t complain against that. Toni and I had chatted about catching a Blaze or an A’s game some times during the 2013 season as neither of us expected that I would ever be sent home from the Fan Cave to be able to make either teams’ games during the 2012 season. Well, as lady luck would have it, I was suddenly given a plethora of time around Memorial Day and I made sure to stick to my word once I figured out when I would be headed down to Southern California.

Toward the end of June I had started my Major League Baseball road trip, but also made to sure to include as many minor league games as I possibly could, which, at the time, meant a lot of Eugene Emeralds games. My original ballpark tour plans were only supposed to be relegated to the West Coast. It wasn’t until partway into July that I decided to expanded into Canada and the East Coast. Nevertheless, all of the stops on my West Coast tour were plotted out perfectly. After I made my run in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Anaheim and then San Diego I would have a week off in Bakersfield to relax before I made my way back to Oregon through a couple day stop in San Francisco and Oakland.

Originally I was supposed to make it from San Diego to Bakersfield on Sunday, July 8th in time for the Blaze game that evening; however, I ended up going back to Anaheim for the final game of the Los Angeles Angels/Baltimore Orioles series with my friend Matthew James (@MattyJay27) which I’ll go into more detail in a not-too-distant post. But alas, I finally made it back home to Buck Owens country and made it to the game with Toni.

Now, I had at least two opportunities to catch the Blaze at home had I left Eugene like two or three days in advance. One of the biggest draws for me to get back to Bakersfield in good time was to be able to see their star player Billy Hamilton tear up the base paths as he was well on his way for setting the Minor League single-season stolen base record held by New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals great Vince Coleman. Before I had left Oregon Hamilton was still on the brink of triple digits and the Major League All-Star break was rapidly approaching. But since the MLB All-Star break didn’t affect the MiLB schedule I figured I was in the clear. Nope! What I forgot to take into consideration was that Hamilton might get called up for the MLB Futures Game, which takes place the day before the All-Star game and right before the Home Run Derby. Guess where Hamilton was when I pulled my car into the parking lot of Sam Lynn. Yah, Kansas City. Needless to say, I was in a pretty sour mood with myself once I became privy to that information. I mean, it was all ready bad enough that I wasn’t at the All-Star Game with the Fan Cave, a decision I’m still beyond confused about.

When I met up with Toni I did my best to keep all of my frustration from the day’s events inside; however, I was still pretty heated about being kicked out of the Fan Cave in the first place so I was a bit crabby for bits and pieces of the game. Some of it was brought up in casual conversation about my experience in New York; other bits came as a result of seeing fellow Cave Dweller Ricardo Marquez’s face on the top of the home run slide during Angels’ 3B/OF Mark Trumbo’s turn at the plate for the Home Run Derby.

The Blaze had gotten off to a hot start by building a 3-1 lead over the Storm which started with a RBI-double from current Cincinnati Red Donald Lutz who I wrote about back on May 6th. But alas, the Blaze squandered the lead in the fourth, but got it right back in the fifth. It was around this time that Toni and I made our way to the team store to pick up some caps. I only had two of their caps at the time, one from my bat boy days and the other that I wrote about on January 16th. Most New Era Caps start at about $34.99 no matter if they’re MLB or MiLB; however, in some rare cases quite a few MiLB teams will sell their caps for less than that. In the case of the Blaze caps they had their 2011-present home and 2011-present alternate cap (this one) for $25 each. Sold!!! They also had their Stars & Stripes cap available for the same price, but I said no to that one for some dumb reason. AAAAARRRR!!! 

After snapping a quick shark photo we watched the rest of the game from the comforts of right behind home plate. I’ve always been more of a right field bleacher kind of guy in Oakland, but at other parks I’ve always fancied sitting on either sides of the dugouts; rarely do I ever sit behind home plate. The Storm tied the game up in the top of the sixth inning, but the Blaze countered again by notching one of their own off of a Theo Bowe single. From the seventh inning on the game turned into a pitchers duel as the Blaze were able to maintain their 6-5 lead until the Storm succumbed to their final out.

After the game Toni and I shot the breeze for a bit while I walked over to the clubhouse entrance to snap a photo of Blaze manager Ken Griffey signing autographs for kids. Yes, that Ken Griffey.  
 What I wouldn’t find out until the middle of November of 2012 is that the red-headed kid on the left is the nephew of a regular customer of mine from when I worked at Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) over the holidays. It was one of those “small world” moments for sure. Toni and I made our way back to my car where I had quite a few A’s hats for her to choose from as payback for the Rollie bobblehead she had hooked me up with. I definitely felt like the right thing to since she had been so generous to me.  And especially for spending time with me as I made the trip back to one of my favorite and most cherished places in the entire world, Sam Lynn Ballpark. 

#12/4-104: Back on March 24th I wrote the what is technically part two of this story, but every now-and-then I like to get all Quentin Tarantino on y’all and write my stories out of sequence. Some of you might cite the film “Memento” as well, but this isn’t exactly backwards storytelling as it is foreshadowing. You know what, I’ve gotten way too technical with this, so let me steer this back on course…

Hamilton was drafted by the Reds in the second round of the 2009 amateur Baseball Draft out of Taylorsville High School in Taylorsville, Mississippi. With such a high draft position under his belt he went straight to the Rookie Leagues for two seasons: 2009 with the Gulf Coast League Reds and then in 2010 with the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League in Montana. In 2011 Hamilton found himself with the Class-A Dayton Dragons betting leadoff to the tune of a .278 average and .340 on-base percentage. Oh, and 103 stolen bases to boot while only getting caught 20 times. Hamilton also managed to muscle three home runs over the wall and leg out 18 doubles and nine triples that season. With such impressive numbers he was a guaranteed promotion to advanced-A Bakersfield in 2012.

Hamilton started out the year wearing #12, but switched it to #4 throughout the season, hence the 12/4. The Reds wanted Hamilton to lower his strikeout numbers from 133 the previous year with the Dragons, as well as raise his batting average a bit. Hamilton did both with ease. In 82 games with the Blaze Hamilton hit .323 and raised his on-base percentage to .413. Hamilton also managed to match his total number of doubles and triples as he did in 2011, but the one thing to look at is the fact that Hamilton played in 135 games (53 less) than what he was at in Bakersfield. Oh, and just because he could, Hamilton swiped 104 bags, one more than he did in Dayton. You want to talk about the next great base stealer? Talk about the next great leadoff man. And to reiterate what I had said earlier, I missed seeing this kid play live by about two days. If this post has a lesson to be taught, it’s definitely that you should support your local Minor League Baseball team. You never know when you might be able to say, “Wow! I remember when I saw him before the Majors.”

The rest of Hamilton’s 2012 season is featured in the Pensacola Blue Wahoos post linked here or above.

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