7 Teams, 8 Games, 3,200 Miles-A Trip of a Lifetime

It was during the long, cold winter that Baseball Ross and I were sitting and dreaming of warmer days. Somehow we got on the topic of “epic trips” and started brainstorming…what if…

At some point one of us said, “what if we saw every single team in the Phillies farm system in a week?” Sure, it sounded so easy when we were sitting there in the living room all wrapped in blankets (It was during the polar vortex and even here in Florida, we had wind chills in the teens) but putting it into action was a whole other story.

We scoured the schedules of all the teams looking for a time when all of them would either be at home or at an away game that would not only be an easy drive from Harrisburg (we have family there to see) but also coordinated with the pitching schedules of our favorite pitchers. What made it even more difficult is that the rotation for the Williamsport Crosscutters would be the last released, the day before their season began.

We found one week, actually 9 days, where we could see the last game of Extended Spring Training, get on a plane and fly to Harrisburg, the next night we drove to Williamsport saw the Crosscutters, then back to Harrisburg, then drove to Lakewood to see the BlueClaws, then back to Harrisburg, then to State College to see the Cutters again so we could see Feliberto Sanchez pitch, then back to Harrisburg, then we drove to Lehigh Valley to see the IronPigs, then back to Harrisburg, then we drove to Reading to see the Fightin’ Phils, then back to Harrisburg, then we hopped on a plane flew back to Clearwater and the next day see the first game of the Gulf Coast League Phillies and a Threshers game. We flew a total of 2,000 miles and drove an amazing 1,200 more. It really was a trip of a lifetime, because I really don’t want to do that all again in a week!

Williamsport

It was opening night. It had rained and was threatening to rain again (this would become an ongoing theme of the trip).  I did a blog on that night and you can read it HERE. The downside of all the driving (4 hours in the car for Williamsport) was that it did take a lot out of me so I only did this one blog while on the trip.

Lakewood

20140705-195728-71848887.jpg

We were here to see our friend, Ranfy Casimiro pitch. He’s a great kid and people never stop staring when they see us together. I’m barely 5 feet tall, he’s 6′ 8″! We are totally “the long and the short of it”.

20140705-201039-72639681.jpg

 

We were lucky enough to also catch Cody Asche make a rehab appearance here in Lakewood. (This would also be a reoccurring theme as we saw him in Clearwater before we left, then Lakewood…)

20140705-202203-73323199.jpg

 

The best was seeing Casimiro pitch one of the best games of his career.

20140705-202451-73491982.jpg

20140705-202451-73491933.jpg
 

I also was lucky enough to meet Jay Floyd of Phoul Ballz. He had interviewed me last year on his podcast along with Mr. Tug. (You can listen to the podcast HERE)

While it didn’t rain, it was cold, 64 degrees!

State College to see Williamsport again

Our friend Feliberto Sanchez pitched in State College against the Spikes.

20140705-222518-80718121.jpg
For me this was sort of a homecoming. I went to Penn State, albeit the Harrisburg campus, but I have many fond memories of going to State College.

What trip to Happy Valley would be complete without a trip to the CREAMERY? If you ever go to Penn State a trip to the Creamery is a must.

20140705-202711-73631708.jpg

20140705-202711-73631360.jpg

20140705-202710-73630984.jpg
 

State College’s stadium is right next to Beaver Stadium. It also lies in the shadow of Mount Nittany. As this was the first game, it seemed that the grounds crew groomed the mound to be a miniature Mount Nittany. It was high and seemed to have steep drop offs instead of gradual sloping sides like a “normal” mound.

20140705-211144-76304447.jpg

20140705-211144-76304792.jpg
 
We also got to see Ricky Bielski pitch

20140705-231356-83636835.jpg

The thing that sticks out in my mind is the lightning. It only rained for about five minutes that night but the lightning was all around the stadium. Long, bright bolts of lightning were striking all around the stadium. I was amazed that there wasn’t a delay. Ironically, the next night the new Lion LED sign that was added to Beaver Stadium just across the street was struck by lightning!

 

Lehigh Valley

There were many things on this leg of the trip that were memorable.

Three words: Aw Shucks Corn

20140705-211353-76433658.jpg

 

Seriously, it’s my favorite ballpark food of all time. I am ashamed to admit I ate two ears of it.

Four words: Bacon-scented Tee-shirts

20140705-211540-76540379.jpg

 

Seriously! I love bacon, but this is taking it just a little far don’t you think?

 

I finally got to meet @cherylpursell and @Kram209! Cheryl takes amazing pictures and Kram well he’s the biggest Pigs fan there is. He was also gracious enough to present me with a CODY ASCHE BOBBLEHEAD! (*FAINTS*)

20140705-211741-76661914.jpg

He was also kind enough to show me around Coca Cola Park.

 

The funny thing was, Cody Asche was making a rehab appearance there in Lehigh Valley so we got not only to see him play again, but got to see him next to his bobble head.

 

20140705-212054-76854818.jpg
 

I also was witness to long time Pharm-hand Tyson Gillies second to last appearance as a Pig before his release.

Reading

I got to see Jesse Biddle pitch.

20140705-215353-78833267.jpg

I also saw my friend Carlos Alonso

20140705-215444-78884315.jpg

I also met @Mr.Tug who was with PhoulBallz and is now the photographer of the Reading Fightin Phils! Meeting people is fun so before the night was done, @mikeyesh dropped by to say, “Hi” to Ross and I.

The next day, we flew back to Clearwater. By Friday we were up at ant Englebert field to see the GCL Phillies.

20140705-220105-79265773.jpg

Trey Williams

20140705-220105-79265943.jpg
All the draft picks were there including Aaron Nola, who could be called the 3.3 Million Dollar Arm.

All the Phillies Brass were there

20140705-220623-79583247.jpg

20140705-220623-79583176.jpg

20140705-220623-79583392.jpg

Nola didn’t pitch that day…

And finally to complete the trip, the Threshers game at night to catch a rehabbing Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.

20140705-221110-79870022.jpg

The highlight was seeing JP Crawford in his first at bat with the Threshers.

20140705-221224-79944146.jpg

In all that traveling we managed to see my brother, his girlfriend and my niece as well as the two girls who grew up next door next to me as a girl who are like sisters to me. We even stopped at Hershey’s Chocolate World on the way to the airport.

20140705-222241-80561610.jpg It was a really good trip. We never really got rained on, saw next to no traffic and had no car mishaps. We didn’t even have any flight delays, in fact our planes arrived early!

I don’t think our crazy trip could have worked out any better! That being said, I sure am glad to be home.

The Knuckleballer comes to Dunedin

If you have been reading my blog, you will remember my story from May where I talked about meeting Frank Viola III, who is making a comeback to baseball through a conversion to a knuckleball pitcher. You can read it HERE

After Extended Spring Training, Viola was sent to the Lansing Lugnuts in the Blue Jays’ farm system. After barely a month there, he was promoted to High-A Dunedin on Wednesday. Last night, he made his first start as a Dunedin Blue Jay.

Viola first game Dunedin Line up

I really enjoyed watching him pitch, he did well, especially for the first time with a new team, in a new town and in the blistering heat and humidity of Florida after a month in the cool of Lansing.

IMG_9445

IMG_9457

Frank Viola Distance

Looking at the line for a knuckleball pitcher is much different than the line of a “normal” pitcher. As Viola told me, “I pitch to soft-contact.” This means that a knuckleballer doesn’t throw for strike outs, but more for pop-ups and easily fielded balls.

Viola had  6IP, 5H, 1R, 1ER, 4BB, 0SO, 0HR, 1.5ERA

As Baseball Ross would put it, “It was a Quality Start.”

Baseball Ross and I like to sit in the front row and in Dunedin, a row that is exceptionally close to the action. With taking pictures if I can get close to the net, then I can use the camera to focus “past” it so that it doesn’t show up in the pictures. (As you can see above.) I am learning to take video with my Nikon. It’s a little different to focus so I was leaning a little closer to the net than I usually do. I was so engrossed in videoing, that I didn’t react in time…then THIS happened. Lesson learned.

Dunedin is a small town and as such, the Fourth of July is a “big deal”. They had their “Hometown Fourth” party, tickets to the game were free, leading to an attendance of 4,173.  After the game there was a concert until dark when there was a twenty minute fireworks display.

Life doesn’t get much better than this, good pitching, good baseball and a small hometown celebration. America the Beautiful.

 

GCL Photos- Nieves, Ruf and Dykstra

It’s a scorcher here in Clearwater. Those of us brave enough to sit out in the heat and humidity were treated to a pair of major leaguers on rehab, Wil Nieves and Darren Ruf. We were also able to see Luke Dykstra, son of Lenny Dykstra play for the Braves.

Nieves:
20140703-123623-45383181.jpg

20140703-123649-45409967.jpg

20140703-123703-45423768.jpg

Ruf:

20140703-123738-45458198.jpg

Dykstra:

20140703-123807-45487994.jpg

Aaron Nola’s First Game

Baseball Ross and I made the hour long trip to Lakeland on Monday to see The Phillies’ draft pick Aaron Nola, pitch in his very first professional game.

All the Phillies brass were there. Ruben Amaro Jr. , Charlie Manual, Dallas Green and more. The fans turned out to see the $3.3 million arm. The night previous, in Lakeland, attendance was 321. Last night, attendance was over 1000. Was this because of Aaron Nola? Or the fact that it was dollar night? Either way attendance was triple the night before.

20140624-104135-38495420.jpg

20140624-113513-41713235.jpg

20140624-113513-41713051.jpg

Nola got off to a good start. He looked sharp, like the prospect he will develop into. But then again, the things I will remember most about last night, wasn’t how good he was, but the weather.

Baseball Ross and I have made three trips to Lakeland in the last two years. We’ve only seen one-third of a game. The first two times we went to Lakeland we ended up sitting in the Steak and Shake for over two hours until the game was called off due to poor weather. We kept joking that we shouldn’t even bother to go over to see Nola pitch, because it would be rained out. We were almost right. The game started off undercover of clouds and they were threatening, threatening to let loose at any minute and in the second inning they did.

We headed up the stairs to the top of the grandstand where we were undercover. We stayed there for half an inning before heading back to our seats in the front row.

About two minutes after we got back to our seats in the front row, it started to rain again. I stayed in my seat taking pictures and trying to complete my “work “. Eventually, it started to rain hard. At that point, Angelo Mora hit a shot over the fence for a home run just as lightning cracked not far from the field.

That was it! At that point we ran for cover. I almost ran right into Charlie Manual! We both had a laugh over Mora’s home run and the crack of lightning. We ended up staying undercover for the rest of that inning. It was raining too hard and the lighting was too close to really feel good sitting out in the stands. But the game went on.

Once it stopped raining, we took our seats again and Aaron Nola took the mound. Just then the sun came out! It was like the rays were illuminating the Phillies’ “Golden Boy”.

20140624-105025-39025211.jpg

20140624-105025-39025969.jpg

During this third inning, Nola seemed to hit a wall. I’m not sure if it was that he ran out of adrenaline, or he was made uneasy by the amount of lightning just outside the stadium. The lightning continued for quite a while, not close enough to stop the game but enough to make one uneasy.

Once Nola was out of the game, Baseball Ross and I started for home. We were both wet, getting cold, and the lightning was still continuing. After looking at the radar and knowing another line of storms was coming, the smart thing to do was to head home.

I was glad we had made the trip. While he may not have had the most stellar, knock them down start, it is easy to see that Nola has potential. Is it enough to justify his $3.3 million contract? We won’t know for a while, but there’s hope.