So long, Sand Gnats

21852809652_cfb7d1b148_zWith 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.

21676884158_701763ee5c_zI’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)

21243673163_a7c1ce3cc7_zPhotos property of Minoring In Baseball

Aye, aye, Captains

Lake County Captains vs. South Bend Silver Hawks (Midwest League)

lcc1Classic Park-Eastlake, OH: All I can say about Classic Park, is that it is truly a classic! We still arrived at the ballpark plenty early, despite a busy day in Cleveland, so we decided to play a little catch in the parking lot until more cars started to arrive. I really like how the parking is set up, with the large parking area across the street, and the have a bridge so fans can walk across the busy highway. I took a photo from the top of the bridge above. There was a line up to get in because it was free hat night, so we waited patiently in line and finally made it into the park. The layout and concourse are very nice, but I was disappointed the gift shop didn’t sell any team pennants, as I collect those and decorate Brian’s room with them. Our seats were right behind the Captains dugout, so we had a great view of the action. The Captains mascot, Skipper, waddled by a few times. I’m really not sure what he is, but he seemed to be pretty entertaining.

lcc2lcc3The Captains were taking on the Silver Hawks, who the Whitecaps just edged out for Eastern Divisions’ top spot in the first half. The Hawks were still a pretty good team, so the home town boys had their work cut out for them. It was also raining lightly to begin the game, but both teams just played through it like it wasn’t there, and we were right there with them enjoying the action. This ballpark has such a great look and baseball atmosphere, that we really didn’t notice anything but the game going on anyway. Unfortunately for the Lake County fans, the Hawks were off to a 4-0 lead early, and the Captains couldn’t get anything going offensively.

lcc4lcc5lcc6lcc7lcc8lcc9lcc10lcc11lcc12lcc13lcc14The rain ended up letting up, and it became an extremely beautiful night. Since it was a free hat giveaway, I thoroughly supported the Captains, and took a quick selfie between innings, showing off the new lid.

lcc.hatWith the score still a little lopsided, I decided to explore this amazing ballpark a little bit more. The concourse doesn’t go all the way around the outfield, but it’s pretty close, which allowed me to get some decent photos from out there.

lcc.panlcc15lcc16In right field, there is a wall dedicated to all of the players who have suited up for the Captains that are now in the majors. I’m sure this includes the franchises time in the South Atlantic League!

lcc17Out in center field, the Captain himself was trying to rally his troops! Lake County did finally get one across the plate, when short stop Ivan Castillo scored on an Eric Haase RBI. Center fielder Clint Frazier went 2-4 on the night for the Captains, also. Too bad for Cap that South Bend answered their lone run with three of their own in the ninth.

lcc18In all, this was a great baseball experience. A great ballpark with some great fans. The Captains put on a spectacular show, and win or lose, it’s a very satisfying night. Along with all of our other adventures of the day, this was a perfect way to end it. This one’s highly recommended, also, baseball fans. Final: Captains 1, Silver Hawks 8.

lcc19Here’s another video from my YouTube channel. This one turned out a lot better than the last one.

All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball

 

What if… We had one Single-A Champion?

Whatif1The 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.

baseballsSo, 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

2013 Baseball Trip-Game 10: It’s always Sunny in Kannapolis

Kannapolis Intimidators vs. Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League)

kan1CMC-Northeast Stadium-Kannapolis, NC: Wow…what to do on a day when we only have one game scheduled to attend? Well, if you’re into the nascar thing, then you would have enjoyed our experiences. Our first stop was in Concord, NC, home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Despite the advertising of daily tours around the track, we found they were cancelled because some trucks were practicing all weekend. Great luck, so we poked around a bit and headed out. Just down the street there was a nice little car museum, so we decided to check that out. The highlight for me was seeing a couple of cars used in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (if you’re not first, you’re last…). We still had plenty of time before our game in Kannapolis, so, sticking with the nascar theme, we decided to head back into downtown Charlotte to the nascar Hall of Fame. Our experience there was ok, but decided just to head back north to Kannapolis. We arrived a little early, but noticed that the gates were open. The ballpark wasn’t really open to the public then, but I started chatting with head of ticket sales,  and he was nice enough to open the gift shop for me so we could get our souvenirs and put them back in the car before the game. The whole Intimidators staff was very friendly, and treated us well. We actually had time to take and little snooze in the car before the gates officially opened. Before heading inside, though, I took a few pics of the race car parked in front of the stadium…sticking with the nascar theme, of course. Kannapolis is the birthplace of deceased nascar driver Dale Earnhardt, and the Intimidators are named after him. Inside, we had plenty of time to explore the small ballpark before the game began. This included hanging out with mascot Tim E. Gator. The concourse was nice, and wide open. There were some good eats, too, but we just stuck with beer and hot dogs. I bought seats in the V.I.P. section, right next to the Intimidators dugout. On a two dimensional seating chart, the seats looked great, but in reality, I had a huge pole directly in front of me, and couldn’t see anything. With a small crowd, we quickly found new seats. CMC-Northeast Stadium is a nice, unique, ballpark, and was a good low-key end to our adventures in North Carolina, as I really love the South Atlantic League.

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It doesn't get more intimidating than this...
It doesn’t get more intimidating than this…

kan5kan6The in-game action started out well for the home town nine. They scored three runs in the first inning, and one run in the fourth to take a 4-1 run lead. Things would fall apart in the late innings, though, as they gave up four and five runs in consecutive innings to go down 10-4. They battled back in the eighth, scoring three runs to cut the Suns’ lead to three, but couldn’t come up with the equalizer. The Intimidators got great production our of right fielder Jason Coats, who went 3-5 with four RBI’s and two runs scored. Brandon Brennan took the loss on the hill for Kannapolis, going 6.1 innings and giving up four earned runs. Relief pitcher Todd Kibby really got roughed up, though, not even lasting one innings and giving up four runs on three walks and one hit. Final score: Intimidators 7, Suns 10.

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2013 Baseball Trip-Game 8: A Driving Tour of Asheville

Asheville Tourists vs. Greenville Drive (South Atlantic League)

ash1McCormick FieldAsheville, NCI just want to start off by stating that I loved this game. I love McCormick Field, and this should be on every baseball fans bucket list. Another downtown stadium, so parking is a little rough. That, however is the about the only thing you’d have to worry about. The stadium is located on a large hill, or mountain, I guess, which make for some nice scenery. The whole setup of the stadium is nice, with the concourse and gift shop in a nice setting. Part of the concourse is limited by part of the mountain, also. Our seats were great, as we got the dugout suites right next to the home team dugout. This luxury comes with snacks, drinks, and a chicken dinner from Bojangles’. We really felt we were treated like royalty! It was a day game which saw some buses of school kids enjoying the game also. This helped make for a great atmosphere, as well as the loyal regulars of McCormick Field. Another unique aspect, is that one lucky fan gets to deliver the game ball via a zip line. It was fun to watch, and must have been a great experience for that fan! The fact that it was a day game make it a little warm for us, but I can only imagine how awesome a night game would be here. The home team put on a great show, and I also got my first South Atlantic League game ball. This honestly rivals Durham for the best game on the trip. You can also see McCormick Field at the end of the movie Bull Durhamwhere Crash hits his record breaking home run.

Me with Mr. Moon. The moon out in the daytime, hhmmm...
Me with Mr. Moon. The moon out in the daytime, hhmmm…

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A fan delivers the game ball on a zip line. One of the coolest things we've seen.
A fan delivers the game ball on a zip line. One of the coolest things we’ve seen.

ash6ash7The game itself was a good one for the Tourists. When we saw the Drive a few days before they looked like a pretty solid hitting team, but Asheville hurler T.J. Oaks seemed to keep them of the kilter all day, as he went seven innings and only gave up the one run. The Tourists took the game over with a huge seven run fourth inning. It seemed like they were pounding doubles off the wall left and right. Second baseman Juan Ciriaco seemed to be the player of the game. Not only did he toss me the game ball, but he went 3-5 with an RBI. Rosell Herrera also pitched in, going 2-5 with a pair of RBI’s. Final score: Tourists 8, Drive 1.

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Finally! My first South Atlantic League game ball!
Finally! My first South Atlantic League game ball!

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The mural you might have seen in 'Bull Durham'
The mural you might have seen in ‘Bull Durham’

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I think the Tourists newest uniforms are pretty cool
I think the Tourists newest uniforms are pretty cool

ash15ash16Photos property of Minoring In Baseball

2013 Baseball Trip-Game 7: Creeping into Hickory

Hickory Crawdads vs. West Virginia Power (South Atlantic League)dads1L.P. Frans StadiumHickory, NCThe fifth day of our trip was pretty busy also. We spent the morning and afternoon visiting some Civil War battle fields, and I was in heaven at the Under Armour outlet store. We then started the long road back west toward Hickory. We pulled into L.P. Frans Stadium ready for some baseball, though. There seemed to be another small crowd, but there were a few buses that arrived to fill the seats. Our seats were front row, right behind home plate. It’s a given you’ll have to deal with some netting with these seats, but the netting just seemed to keep going and going. I don’t think there were many seats at all with a clear view. Not sure if this is just the team teams in the Carolinas that love the net, or the SALly league. Hickory seemed to be a team that is community based, and the fans all seemed to know each other for the most part. Again, I’m sure with a bigger crowd the atmosphere would greatly improve. They did have a nice play area for the kids and a carousel, also. The Crawdads do host a nice game, and this was a good addition to our trip.

dads2dads3dads4dads5The game gave us a victory for the home team, but not much offense for either team. Center fielder Lewis Brinston led the ‘Dads going 2-3 with a double. On the mound, C.J. Edwards earned the win going over five innings. Final score: Crawdads 2, Power 1.

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Chillin' in the bullpen...
Chillin’ in the bullpen…

dads13dads14Photos property of Minoring In Baseball

2013 Baseball Trip-Game 4: Hoppin’ good fun in Greensboro

Greensboro Grasshoppers vs. Lakewood BlueClaws (South Atlantic League)

hoppers2NewBridge Bank Park–Greensboro, NC: We had to leave the college game a little early to make sure we made it to Greensboro on time. It was well worth it, too, as NewBridge Bank Park has a beautiful facade, and it gave me a chance to get some nice pics outside the ballpark. We also wanted to be there when the gates opened so we had time to play catch on the field. It’s always a thrill to actually get out there where all of the action takes place! It was fun and relaxing to get out there and have a good game of catch. Also, with all of the travelling, it was good to be active and stretch our legs. After my impressive athletic display, we found our seats and got ready for the game to start. There wasn’t a huge crowd for a Sunday game, but the fact that it was Mother’s Day may have had a hand in that. Still a good crowd, though, and they really like their Grasshoppers! The mascot Guilford was active with the fans, and liked to hang out on the visitors dugout. He seemed to be really good with the kids in the crowd. The really fun and unique aspect of the Greensboro experience, is that they have two dogs, Miss Babe Ruth and Lulu Gehrig who fetch the bats, and take baseballs to the umpires. Just one of the many things we’ll always remember about this trip! A Grasshoppers game is a must for any baseball fan who is in this area. With a beautiful ballpark, great fan base, and unique aspects of the club, no one can leave a game not satisfied!

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Playing catch on the field!
Playing catch on the field!

hoppers4hoppers13For the actual game itself, the Grasshoppers (Miami) hosted the Lakewood BlueClaws, a Phillies affiliate. Greensboro jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but unfortunately, that was the only scoring for the home team. The BlueClaws would score three runs in the fourth, and two in the seventh for the win. We did see some solid pitching for both teams, though. Anthony Gomez, Matt Juengel, and Cody Keefer each had two hits for the home town ‘Hoppers. Austin Brice looked solid on the hill, but still took the loss. Final score: Grasshoppers 1, BlueClaws 5.

hoppers5hoppers6hoppers10hoppers7hoppers8hoppers9hoppers12hoppers11Photos property of Minoring In Baseball