With the conclusion of the 2015 Minor League Baseball season, so comes the end of the franchise of the Savannah Sand Gnats of the South Atlantic League. The Sand Gnats played in one of my favorite ballparks, Historic Grayson Stadium. Having been built in 1927, you can really feel the history and ghosts of baseball past as you enter the gate. Unfortunately, the owners believed that the age of the ballpark and it’s 4,000 capacity was no longer conductive to a Single-A baseball team. When the city of Savannah made the decision not to build a new stadium, the owners made the decision to move the team to Columbia, South Carolina to become the Fireflies. Here are some nice ballpark photos HERE at one of my favorite websites.
I’m disappointed that the Sand Gnats are leaving, because they are one of the reasons that I love Minor League Baseball. It was ten years ago, the summer of 2005 that revived my love of baseball. I was down training in southern Georgia, and we were able to make it to a few Gnats games, as well as the Jacksonville Suns in northern Florida. I really did fall in love with the stadium for the reasons I stated above. Not only did great players take the field at Grayson in their Minor League days, but the fans there love to tell stories of the Major League teams stopping in for some games on their way north after spring training. I was lucky enough to take in another couple of games back in June of 2009 (about a month before I started this blog) when I was down that way for some more work-related training in Charleston, SC and Savannah. The photos posted are from those games against the River Dogs with a disposable camera, which can explain the very low quality of them. I was also down south there this April, but unfortunately the Gnats were out of town the entire time I was there. I really hope they can get another pro team in Savannah, because it’s definitely one of the more beautiful places I’ve ever visited, and I plan on going there again when I get a chance. Well, so long Sand Gnats, I will miss you when I go back there, for your historic ballpark, awesome logo, and cool mascot (Gnate the Gnat)
The off-season is a time to reflect in the season past, and at the same time look to the future. With sports in general, fans have always conversed on the ‘what if?’ factor, and I’ve been contemplating an idea for months now, ever since last season’s baseball trip. First, let me state that my two favorite Minor League’s are the Midwest League and the South Atlantic League. The MWL has three teams here in Michigan, and is where my hometown team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, reside. We also attend some Great Lakes Loons games over in Midland, and that is a great venue, also. In fact, I’ve been to every stadium in the MWL except two, the Lake County Captains and the Bowling Green Hot Rods. We’ll get back to those teams momentarily, as they’re important. As for the SALly league, through work training down in Charleston and southern Georgia, I’ve was able to attend a few games of the Savannah Sand Gnats and the Charleston Riverdogs. During my baseball trip to North and South Carolina last year, I was able to visit another five SAL towns. Through my experience, these leagues have a lot in common. Between the two, we can see some of the best logos, nicknames, and mascots in all of sports. Both have teams in some great towns, with stadiums ranging from state-of-the-art, to simple and classic. Some of the best baseball fans we’ve had the luxury of interacting with attend games of these great leagues. Oh, the MWL and the SALly league have one more thing in common: they are the only two Single-A league. Now, I know there is short season and advanced ‘A’ league, but these two are just plain ol’ Single-A. The only two. These two league also have a link, so let us back up to two teams mentioned earlier, the Lake County Captains and the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The Captains organization played in the South Atlantic League from 1991-2009, hosting their All-Star Game in 2006. The franchise started out in Columbus, Georgia, as the Columbus Indians (1991) and RedStixx. The franchise moved up to Eastlake, Ohio in 2003 and became the Captains. Lake County joined the Midwest League in 2010 with the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The Hot Rods were previously the Columbus Catfish up until 2009, and the two northern most teams jumped to the MWL to alleviate travel expenses.
So, now that the link between the two has been established the fun can begin. We can ask ourselves ‘what if the teams from these leagues played each other?’, and if so, ‘in what capacity?’. Due to the aforementioned travel expenses, any interleague play between the two is illogical, so we’ll just scrap that right away. It could be possible to have a Single-A All-Star Game, pitting the MWL against the SAL, but I don’t care for that, either. It may work at the Triple-A level, but I don’t like it for this one. What I would purpose is to have a simple championship series between the two leagues. For the Triple-A National Championship, they have a pre-determined neutral site to hold the event, and the winners of the International and Pacific Coast League play a one game winner-take-all. This could work at the Single-A level, also, and would ensure the fans of every team to have the opportunity to witness the championship game, and be exposed to the other Single-A league. Another route would be to have a three game series, with game one and games two and/or three at each of the participating teams’ stadiums. Last season, the Quad Cities River Bandits won the Midwest, while the Sand Gnats reigned supreme in the SAL. What an amazing series this would make, and not for just the prospects involved. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting both Modern Woodman Park with its breath taking sight lines in right field, and Historic Grayson Stadium, where you can feel the ghosts of baseball past when you enter the gates. What if the Loons would wind up playing the Greensboro Grasshoppers at some point? It would be awesome to cover the games from both ends with my buddies from Hoppers Fan, with both teams having phenomenal venues and fantastic community support. On a personal note, what if my transfer down south is granted next year, and the ‘Caps end up opposing the Greenville Drive. Where would my loyalties lie between my birth city and my adopted home? Although the possibilities my be endless, the one fact that stands out is this would be a win-win situations for all baseball fans involved, as well as the teams from both historic leagues. It would also be fun to see a game like this featured on MiLB.tv or the MLB Network. This is still nothing but a pipe dream, but it’s fun to imagine who the first team might be to win the ‘Minoring In Baseball Cup’…
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
League: South Atlantic League
Home Field: Flour Field
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
Summary: The first team we are scheduled to visit on this years’ baseball trip is the Drive, as they host the Augusta Green Jackets. This will be my first time seeing this team, though I am familiar with the South Atlantic League. I’ve seen the Savannah Sand Gnats in Georgia, and the Charleston River Dogs in South Carolina back in 2009. I’m very excited to visit Flour Field, as it looks like a beautiful ballpark. It’s located right downtown, and the ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson museum is right next door, which we plan on visiting also. The Drive franchise started out in Shelby, NC, as the Shelby Reds. The team has also been the Columbia Reds, Columbia Mets, and the Columbia/Greenville Bombers. The Drive name comes from the fact that the U.S. BMW Manufacturing plant and Michelin plant are in the area. Apparently the locals really wanted the team name to have something to do with Joe Jackson, but they went with the Drive instead. The mascot is a big frog named Reedy Rip’it, who looks a little like Wally the Green Monster in Boston. I can see myself getting a majority of Brian’s souvenirs here, though. The Drive’s secondary logo even looks a tad Boston Red Soxish. Flour Field also has a version of the Green Monster wall, also. Again, I’m really excited to catch a game here, as I am our other destinations. More to come!
Even though the Minor League Baseball season is over, you can still get a taste of it (hee hee) thanks to the Travel Channel series ‘Man vs. Food’. Their baseball special premieres on Wed. September 10 at 10 p.m. Host Adam Richman visits three baseball stadiums known to have some of the most unusual ballpark snacks in the country. He goes to GCS Stadium(Gateway Grizzlies), Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park(Charleston River Dogs), and Fifth-Third Ballpark(West Michigan Whitecaps). Should be an entertaining show, and I’m anxious to see it.
I visited the ‘Joe’ in Charleston, South Carolina earlier this year, but I unfortunately (or fortunately maybe) never tried the ‘Homewrecker Hotdog’. It looks good, but I’ll just stick to the normal ones for now. Fifth-Third Ballpark is my home field here in Michigan, but I still can’t see myself ordering a Fifth-Third Burger unless I had my family helping me eat it. It has five beef patties, chili, nachos, lettuce, and a whole bunch of other stuff. If you eat a whole one yourself, you win a free t-shirt, along with a free heart attack down the road I presume.
Here is Adam Richman eyeing up the Fifth Third Burger in Comstock Park, MI
Photo courtesy of the Travel Channel
This is a pretty good reason to watch independant pro baseball, and ‘feel good’ story if I every heard one. On Monday, Jeff Williams, a closer for the Frontier League’s Traverse City Beach Bums, had his contract bought out by the New York Yankees. He has been assigned to the Charleston RiverDogs of the Class A South Atlantic League. Williams was signed by the Red Sox out of college (Colorado State-Pueblo) but never saw action in there system.
So Williams spent two and a half seasons playing independant pro ball with the Beach Bums. In that time he became the Bums single season career record holder for saves. He converted 26 straight saves dating back to June 6, 2008. That including 13 this season which is tops in the league. Williams was also and All-Star this season and even earned the save in that game by hurling a 1-2-3 ninth inning that included two strikeouts.
He also leads Traverse City this season with 23 appearanced and a tiny ERA of 0.78. Williams has not allowed a run in his last 16.2 innings of work, including 23 strikeouts. In 2008, he set a single season team record by converting on 15 saves out of 16 opportunities. He appeared in 39 games going 3-4 with a 3. 40 ERA. In 2007 he pitched 38 games and posted an ERA of 4.61 with 52 strikeout.
So, good luck Jeff, in taking your mid-nighties fast ball to the show. It’s a big step up from being a Bum in Traverse City (right in my back yard) to Charleston, SC (where I was training last month). It’s a small world, but then baseball has the habit of uniting the world.
Photo courtesy of the Traverse City Beach Bums
While being sent away for training down south, all you can really do is make the best of it. I did this by taking in some great Minor League Baseball action in some historic cities with great baseball atmospheres.
Charleston RiverDogs: I was able to make it to two games of the RiverDogs here in Charleston, South Carolina. They are Single A in the South Atlantic League. It’s always nice to be at a ballpark for the first time and ‘The Joe’ as they call it is a nice place to watch a game. It’s pretty big ballpark, but you still got a great view from anywhere. I was shut out at getting a game ball and the Dogs beat and lost to the Lexington Legends.
Savannah Sand Gnats: Luckily the Sand Gnats were also in town while I was down here, this time playing the Charleston RiverDogs (maybe they’re thinking I followed them). I love Grayson Stadium, though, as I was here back in 2005 when I was training in Brunswick then. Always a good time in Savannah, and the Gnats played well losing a close game Tuesday night and winning in extra innings the next. I’d love to bring the family down here at some point.
Sorry the picture quality is so bad, but had to pick up a desposable camera while down there. They’re better than nothing, I guess.
Photos property of MIB