The Long, Hot Summer and My Favorites From It

I’ll admit it, I’ve slacked off a bit this summer. It’s hard not to. This has been one of the hottest summers in recent history and definitely the hottest since Baseball Ross and I moved to Florida full-time.  Almost every day for over a week has had “feels like” temperatures over 100, with one day being 110!

With the heat like that, going to Gulf Coast League games at noon is brutal. At the Carpenter Complex, there is a trade off: if you want shade-you get no breeze, if you want a breeze-you get no shade. Regardless of where you sit, every available space for spectators is covered in heat-absorbing concrete.

Couple all the heat with a severe case of elbow tendinitis in my right elbow that kept me from being able to take pictures with anything heavier than an iPhone and you have a recipe for a long summer.

That being said, I have gotten to see a fair bit of baseball and a few things that helped me to love baseball again.

So I will list them here (in no particular order):

1. Winning a jersey in an auction that was worn by my favorite Williamsport Crosscutter. Ross and I have been good friends with Feliberto Sanchez since last year when he spent the year here in GCL and the Fall Instructional League. He’s a great kid and I just had to have the jersey. OK, the auction was for their “Ugly Christmas Sweater” promotion, but still, it was Sanchez’s jersey. There was only one problem. The Cutters never responded to my inquiry about proxy phone bidding. Luckily, Tim Luzier (@20schmidtfan) saw my plea and helped me out. I’m so grateful for his help.

Sanchez Jersey

2. Our crazy marathon trip to see every team in the Phillies minor league system–IN ONE WEEK. (You can read it and see the pictures in this post.) 3,200 miles (1,200 by car) and it was a blast. That being said, I’m not sure I’d do it again! It was very draining.

3. Seeing pitchers overcome difficulties and succeed. Colin Kleven had a back injury that prematurely ended his season in Clearwater last year. Seeing him come back and steadily progress has been great. As difficult of a season that Clearwater had, I always looked forward and went out of my way to see him pitch and was often rewarded by a strong performance.

Colin Kleven
Colin Kleven at the preseason “Meet the Players” picnic

I was also glad to see Jesse Biddle roar back in a rehab appearance here in Clearwater. Jesse’s difficulties this year, starting with a concussion caused by a hail stone, have been well documented. To see him tear it up in his first rehab appearance was just great. (You can read my blog about Jesse here.)

Jesse Biddle
Jesse Biddle

3. Seeing Aaron Nola’s first and second professional starts. That could be one of those things that in 10 years I’ll be bragging about it. You can read about his first start HERE and the second start HERE.

Aaron Nola
Aaron Nola

4. Getting to know Frank Viola III and learning about the knuckle ball. I had written a story about Frank’s return to baseball and one night, while Ross and I were at dinner the waiter came up to me and asked, “Would you happen to be Baseball Betsy?” I replied that I was and he smiled and said, “The gentleman at that table over there would like to buy you dessert.” (Now there’s a guy who knows the way to my heart!) I looked over and it was Frank and his mother. He had read the story and liked it. Ross and I ended up joining them and had a great time. I learned so much about the “mindset of the knuckleball”.  If you’ve read my blog this summer, about a third of the posts were about knuckleballs.

Frank Viola III

After that, I followed his progress through the Blue Jays minor league system including a stop in Dunedin, where I got to see him pitch.

Sadly, my heart was broken at the end of July when he was released. On the plus side, I made a new friend and that is amazing by itself.

5. Helping the Threshers mascot, Phinley win the Mascot Mania Challenge to be the best mascot in ALL of minor league baseball. It was a hard push, but after hundreds of tweets, retweets, online votes and my followers retweeting my tweets helped to make Phinley a winner. It was a matter of time since he was second last year.

photo photo

 

I know looking at the picture above you can hear “You’re the Best Around” playing in your head.

6. Bark in the Park/Yappy Hour. To me, this is the best trend in all of baseball. Pay a few dollars to an animal charity for a “ticket” for your dog and they can join you at the game. We have two small shih tzus and over the years we have taken them to several BitPs. Sadly, Maggie our 14 year old, cannot endure the Florida heat so she was not able to attend this year, but Veronica our youngest, LOVES to go. I wrote a story about her game.

Veronica LOVES baseball
Veronica LOVES baseball

Just look at that face, you can tell she’s having a blast.

So there are the things I loved most about the summer of 2014, I couldn’t really even rank them because they were all pretty stellar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yappy Hour Makes Veronica Happy

Tonight was “Yappy Hour” or as it’s better known as Bark in the Park.

I took my youngest dog, Veronica. Baseball Ross and I have come to realize she is not a “normal” dog. She’s extremely intelligent and actually seems to enjoy a baseball game.

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It was really hot (the main reason we could not bring our other dog, Maggie. She is 14 years old, and the heat really bothers her.) At one point, the sun was on our seats and the heat became very uncomfortable. So we made a little bed under the seat for Veronica.

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She really seemed to have a good time and even gave me a big smile when I asked her she was having fun.

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And at the end of the night she even was a little silly, trying on my hat.

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Don’t think we forgot our other dog, Maggie. We took homehalf a hot dog for her so she wasn’t left out. And if you knew a new Maggie, all she would’ve wanted tonight anyway was the hot dog.

Veronica so loves going to baseball games. She’s quiet, attentive and honestly she’s more well-behaved than most children. I wish she could go to every game, and I think she does too.

Biddle is Back in the Saddle

I’ve been a fan of Jesse Biddle since 2010. If you’ve been reading my blog, you may have read my story from Jesse’s first appearance in Clearwater… SEE HERE where I recounted first seeing him make his first professional start in Williamsport.

I consider myself lucky that I’ve gotten to know him. After seeing someone pitch over the years you start to recognize their rhythm, their little habits, all the things they do before-and-after each pitch.

When I saw Jesse back in June, it was his second to last start before being deactivated. He seemed tense, all the “little things” seemed off, nothing you’d notice if you’d hadn’t been watching him for years.

Tonight, Jesse was different, he was like that Jesse I’ve known all these years. His confidence was back and all the little habits are just as they were when he was here in Clearwater back in 2012. Jesse was great! At he end of the fifth inning when they pulled him, he had a no-no going: 5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K.

He pitched well and made a play at first, SEE HERE

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And this may be the best baseball picture I’ve ever taken:

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It was good to see my friend doing what he is capable of doing. I really enjoy watching him succeed.

Welcome back, Jesse!

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.

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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.

 

Aaron Nola to Debut for the Threshers Tonight

The Phillies 3.3 million dollar man is scheduled to make his first professional start tonight for the Threshers against the Lakeland Flying Tigers.

Baseball Ross and I plan to be there…however, every single time we have gone to Lakeland, the game has been rained out. Currently there is a forecast for storms inland (Lakeland is about an hour inland from Clearwater) so we shall see if it holds off long enough/ends soon enough for the game to be played.

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What a Whirlwind!

Baseball Ross and I are winding up our crazy trip north today. It’s been full of good things, friends family and baseball.

We flew 1,000 miles from Florida to Harrisburg, Pa, where we stayed as a central point to our travels. Our schedule was something like this:

Friday-Williamsport
Saturday-Lakewood
Sunday-Family
Monday-State College (for Crosscutters)
Tuesday-Lehigh Valley
Wednesday-Reading

But wait! There’s more!

That’s right! Friday we will wind up with a Gulf Coast League Phillies game at noon and a Threshers game at 7…we will have seen every Phillies Pharm team in 8 days and travelled over 3,200 miles–1,200 by car!

I have tons of pictures to download and plan to recap the games and facilities once I arrive home.

It’s worth mentioning that flying from St. Pete/Clearwater to Harrisburg was awesome! No lines and no hassle!

Right now, Ross and I are checking out of the hotel and making a stop at Chocolate World on the way to the airport…because no trip north is complete without fresh chocolate!

Opening Day of the New York-Penn League

Baseball Ross and I recently travelled over 1,100 miles from Clearwater to Williamsport to see the “kids” we’ve been watching since last March move into their first summer of “real” baseball.

The look on their faces when they saw that we made the trip made it all worth while!

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Your 2014 Williamsport Crosscutters

Alejandro Arteaga was the starting pitcher

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Cord Sandberg led off and fouls a ball off of his calf, ouch!

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Deivy Grullon looked good at the plate

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Ricky Bielski looked good, with no hits in his first two innings

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Rhashawn, the Director of Smiles and Williamsport Icon sang “Take me out to the ballgame

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It was a great time, even if our Cutters took the loss.

It is the Spring of my Discontent

To paraphrase Steinbeck (and badly at that), it is the spring of my discontent. I love baseball, I do, but I’m so frustrated with it, so discontent.

There’s so many reasons…almost too many to count, but I’ll try.

1. The injury bug bit early, often and viciously. Roman Quinn, Jiwan James, Cole Hamels, Ethan Martin, Cameron Rupp, Kelly Dugan, Tommy Joseph, Mitch Walding, Adam Morgan, Hugo Arrocha, Josh Warner, Steven Inch, Nic Hanson, Chase Numata, Cory Bass, Darin Ruf, Rivar Angulo, Delvy Francisco, Mike Adams, Chris Bootcheck, Yoel Mecias, Anthony Phillips, Colin Klevin, Hoby Milner, Ryan Demmin, Aaron Altherr, Larry Greene, Zach Green, Brandon Short, Drew Anderson, Freddy Galvis, Andres Blanco and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. These are the guys I can think of right off the top of my head! While some of them have returned or are scheduled to return, there are still others that have no timeframe for return.

2. It’s barely a month into the season and Tyson Gillies was suspended for three games for destroying a bat rack in the clubhouse. To me this is a symptom of a larger problem, both with Gillies and the entire system. Gillies is developing a reputation as a guy with anger management issues. Another example happened just two weeks ago here in Florida. Kevin Walter was unhappy with the way things were going during a game in Tampa. He left the field, stormed into the locker room behind the dugout and from where I was sitting I could hear him swearing and a loud thump as if something was either thrown or a table tipped over. Just after that another Thresher player came out of the locker room with a worried look on his face. He stopped another player from going into the locker room saying “You DON’T want to go in there!”

It also is a symptom of how players (and fans) are frustrated with the lack of production and success in the organization. (Read on to number 3 for an example.)

3. The lack of wins. The records speak for themselves:

Phillies 13-12
Iron Pigs 11-13
Fightins 11-10
Threshers 5-19
Lakewood 7-16

Of the five teams currently playing in the organization, only TWO are above .500 and both of those teams are only ONE GAME over.

4. Misusing players. I have a prime example of this and it’s the one that had me totally stymied. Last season, there was only ONE Gold Glove winner in the entire Phillies system, Carlos Alonso. Carlos played 2nd for the Threshers and only made TWO errors all YEAR. ALL YEAR. He was promoted to Reading (and rightly so) and where did they have this Gold Glove winning second baseman play? Third and THE OUTFIELD! Really?!? REALLY?!? I’d have loved to sit in on the coaches meeting where they thought up that gem.

5. Bad umpiring. Last night was the end-all, be-all of bad calls. If you read my Twitter feed last night, you could tell how I was seething. The Threshers had been losing (again) and had battled back and had the winning run was at the plate. Pete Lavin had homered earlier in the game to spark the comeback and had come close to a second homer after that. Lavin came to the plate and Bright House Field was buzzing with anticipation. One foul, two fouls, three fouls, four fouls, it was easy to see that Lavin was pushing hard to be the hero. On the final call he checked his swing and from where Ross and I were sitting (and I later confirmed with another season ticket holder with another point of view) we did NOT see him break his wrists and the bat head did not cross the plate. The home plate ump called him out and didn’t even call the base ump to confirm! The game was over! Lavin was livid. If you know Pete, you know he rarely says anything to an ump, he’s fairly laid back. Last night, Lavin walked after the ump to discuss the call. The ump just walked away.

At that point, Nelson Prada got involved. When he started he seemed more in disbelief that the home plate ump didn’t even check with the base ump. I was just turning to leave when I heard Prada go ballistic! (While I am “censoring” this he used the full words) “That’s F*ing BS! That’s a F*ing BS call!”

I have to say, I was right there with Prada. While I’ve been known to occasionally heckle an ump and sitting behind home is great for that, I do not swear. There’s kids and it’s just not “proper”. Last night was the closest I’ve ever come to losing my cool and joining Prada with F-bombing the ump. My blood boiled! To end a game on a bogus call and not even check with the base ump when the winning run was at the plate was just bogus. I was so frustrated and angry. It took me a good hour after the game to cool off. I don’t think I’ve ever been that angry at a game.

I must admit I’m still sort of angry, angry and discontent enough that if Ethan Stewart and Colin Kelvin (returning from the DL) were not pitching today and tomorrow, I wouldn’t go.

If you want to see me try to decide if I’ll go tonight, watch this video, it’s pretty accurate as to how I’m feeling…

Starting Thursday, the Threshers are on the road, so I’ll get a break then, but man, I’ll be dragging myself in tonight. It’ll almost be like trying to drag myself into work on a “Monday morning”.

Let’s hope that Stewart and Kleven use this misfortune as a jumping off point so that we do not end the first month of the season with only 5 wins. If they do, we would be on pace to go 25-115 (assuming they’d continue with winning 5 games a month).

Video of Deivy Grullon Batting and catching

Tonight was the first time Deivy Grullon was in the line up for the Clearwater Threshers.

I have below a quick snippet of him catching:
Deivy Grullon catching

And video of his first hit…and yes I am the screaming fool, lol

Deivy’s first hit