Flour Field-Greenville, SC: After flying into Charlotte, we headed south for the first game of our trip. We were about five miles from the Greenville exit, though, when traffic came to a stop. Complete stop. It took us about forty minutes to go that five miles, but we finally made it to Flour Field downtown well before game time. As with most downtown stadiums parking is scarce, so if you visit here be sure to leave yourself some time. The gift shop is outside the stadium, so it’s was easy to get our shopping done and leave it in the car. The Greenville Drive is affiliated with the Red Sox, and they really embrace the Nation. The outfield at Flour Field is replicated after Fenway Park, they have their own ‘green monster’, and they even sing ‘Sweet Caroline‘ in the eighth inning. It was a good crowd with a fine baseball atmosphere, also. Lots of kids and families watching the game which is good to see. My only complaint about the stadium is that the netting extends beyond the dugouts, so it was difficult to see the game at times.
The game itself was one of the best we’ve seen. Both the Drive and GreenJackets made some great defensive plays. In a high scoring game, Greenville hit three home runs while Augusta added one. I really recommend a Drive game for anyone in the area. We had a lot of fun, with great weather, and it was a perfect way to kick off our trip. The Drive have the best on field DJ I’ve seen, too. He really kept the crowd into the game without it being too much. Final Score: Greenville 10, Augusta 6.
Home Field: NewBridge Bank Park
League: South Atlantic League
Affiliation: Miami Marlins
Summary: The third day of this year’s baseball trip will be a busy one (they all will be…). Our first stop will be in Winston-Salem to watch Wake Forest play the Miami Hurricanes in some college action. Then, we’ll be hitting the pavement forty minutes east to Greensboro, to see the Grasshoppers face the Lakewood Blue Claws. I’m really psyched about my first ‘Hoppers game, and the pictures of the ballpark look amazing. I really love the logo and the uniforms are pretty sweet. What makes a game special for us, though, is the great fans we get to meet. Thanks to the guys over at Hoppers Fan, I’m getting a pretty solid preview of the loyal fans that turn out game after game to support this team! I’m really anticipating having a lot of fun at this game. Now for the history lesson… Baseball has been around Greensboro in the early 1900’s with the Patriots. The team name was referenced to the Battle of the Guilford Courthouse. Even their current mascot is named Guilford! The Patriots competed in the North Carolina League, Virginia-North Carolina League, and the Piedmont League. The also played in the Cone Athletic Park and War Memorial Stadium in Greensboro. After the franchise left for Asheville, another team was brought to town in the Piedmont League, the Greensboro Red Sox. After the Red Sox era, Greensboro competed in the Carolina league as the Patriots, Pirates, and Yankees. After joining the Western Carolinas League, which became the South Atlantic League, they renamed the team the Hornets. The team abandoned the Hornets moniker due to the NBA franchise, and became the Bats. The franchise finally settled on a new name, and become the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Again, I really like this logo, and I’m such big fan of the SALly league as a whole. There is a pretty solid list of alumni, too, that laced up the spikes in Greensboro, such as Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, Robinson Cano, Reggie Sanders, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Pasada, and Curt Schilling. I’m excited to see what future big leaguers will be playing there this spring!
Location: Fort Mill, South Carolina
Home Field: Knights Stadium
League: International League
Affiliation: Chicago White Sox
Summary: This is actually a very cool logo, in my opinion. And during this coming seasons’ baseball trip, our second game on the schedule will be at Knights Stadium when the Knight take on the Pawtucket Red Sox. This will be my first time seeing both teams. We were in Pawtucket a couple of years ago, but the game was rained out. The team represents Charlotte, North Carolina, but the ballpark is located in one of its suburbs, Fort Mill, SC. From what I’ve read, the ballpark isn’t anything special, but a new one is being built as we speak in downtown Charlotte. There has been some opposition to this, and I’m not sure why, but the new stadium looks like it will be amazing. Too bad we’ll miss that one, but I’m sure we’ll have a great time seeing them this year, too. Baseball in Charlotte dates back to 1901, and the Charlotte Hornets (sound familiar?). The modern version of the team dates back to 1976, when famous wrestling promoter Jim Crocket, Jr. bought the team that was in Asheville, and brought them to town to become the Charlotte Orioles. They were then bought by the owner of the NBA Charlotte Hornets, and named the Knights. They have been in the original South Atlantic League, which became the Southern League, and then landed a Triple-A franchise in the International League. During their affiliation with Baltimore, the likes of Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Curt Schilling played in Charlotte. During their stint with Cleveland, fans were able to watch young versions of Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. The mascot is a Dragon named Homer, and I’ll do my best to get a photo with that guy. Charlotte looks like a great city, and I am really looking forward to our visit. There is so much else to see and do, also, including the Charlotte Motor Speedway and President Polk Memorial. P.S.: I know this is the second LoM this month, but if I’m going to get through all the teams before my trip, I’ll have to double some of them up!
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!
Last Monday the West Michigan Whitecaps’ season came to an end. Also coming to an end, was Ernie Young’s tenure as the ‘Caps manager, as he was notified after the game by the Detroit Tigers organization that his contract won’t be renewed. This news he handled with class, and kept to himself, until he was back home in Arizona the next day.
“They’re not going to renew my contract for next year,” Young stated to MLive.com over the phone. “I knew yesterday, I just didn’t tell anyone. They gave a reason (but Young did not state the reason). There are going to be some changes, but that’s the only one that I can tell you about. I can’t speak to or for anyone else.”
The ‘Caps went 72-68 this season, and 70-69 in 2011. Unfortunelty, they missed the playoffs both years even with winning records. At this point it’s unknown whether pitching coach Mark Johnson or hitting coach Scott Dwyer will be brought back, but both did their job well. Coaching in the minors is a tough gig, but I thought Young has done a pretty good job. Last season with top prospect Nick Castellanos struggling out of the gate, the coaching staff helped him turn his season around and lead the league in hits. West Michigan struggled at times this season more due to injuries than anything else. They lost power hitters Steven Moya and Dean Green to injuries, then a promotion to Green. They also lost catcher Curt Casali when he was promoted. Young is a former manager of the Class-A Kannapolis Intimidators in 2009-10. The 2009 team lead the South Atlantic League with a 82-57 record. He has also served as hitting coach for Great Falls in the Pioneer League in 2008 following his Major League career that included eight seasons with Oakland. His 142 wins is fifth all-time for the Whitecaps. He seems positive he’ll land with a new team, though.
“I’ll redo my resume’ tonight and tomorrow and get it out to the other teams and go from there”, Young said. “I’ll bounce back and I’ll be on my feet. I’ll tell you what, I enjoyed my time in West Michigan. The fans were great to me. I don’t have anything to be upset about because I know how hard I worked and what I gave to the organization.”
I wish Young all the best, as I think that he did well the last two seasons in West Michigan. Now, I guess, is the time to try to guess who the new manager will be, although we may not get an answer for several months. Back in February, I wrote that I thought that former Tigers infielder Brandon Inge would be a perfect fit in West Michigan. Some of my reasons included his 12 year stint with Detroit, and owner Mike Illitch’s reputation for taking care of his loyal players, and the fact that Inge still lives in Michigan and has his family here. His experience at various positions and the fact that his playing career may be coming to and are other factors. In fact, this season for Inge has already come to an end due to injury. Now, also playing for the Oakland A’s, Inge suffered a season ending shoulder injury on the first of the month. He originally dislocated it on August 11, and had just come off the DL when he injured it again.
“My damn shoulder came out again,” Inge told the Sporting News. “I gave it my best shot. I knew it was going to be rough coming into it. In a year like this, you don’t leave anything on the table. I literally gave everything I had to offer to this team. And I’m at peace with it.”
He also stated he was in pain before the re-injury, but wanted to help the A’s in their playoff push. In 74 games with Oakland, he hit .266 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI’s. Inge was brought in last April when fellow Whitecaps alumni Scott Sizemore went down with a season ending injury of his own. If Sizemore is good to go by next season, it will be unlikely that Inge’s contract will be picked back up, and courting a new time at this point in his career could prove difficult. Now, I like Brandon Inge, I really do. I love the fact that he wants to compete and contribute to his team, and I respect the hell out of that. At this point in his life, though, it may be time for a change. A job with the Whitecaps would put him very close to his family, and give him a stable environment. Inge is still very popular in West Michigan and has said nothing but good things about playing there. I’m sure if the Whitecaps themselves had a say in it, he might be a top candidate. It’s the Tigers organization, however, that will make that call. Honesty, I don’t see any other reason that Young would get the axe unless they really had someone else lined up to replace him. Hitting coach Scott Dwyer has head coaching experience, so he would be a solid candidate to get promoted also, with maybe Inge taking his job. If any of these bold predictions do come to pass, however, remember you read it here first: http://burrilltalksbaseball.mlblogs.com/2012/02/12/the-future-of-brandon-inge/
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
The Minor League Baseball season has come to an end (sigh). Here are the list of champions from their respective leagues. Any I missed I’ll try to get updated when I can. Looked like some exciting playoffs all around. I hope some other fans got to witness any of these games.
Durham Bulls(TB) defeated Scranton/WB Yankees(NYY)
Pacific Coast League
Memphis Red Birds(STL) defeated Sacramento River Cats(OAK)
Triple A National Championship
Durham Bulls defeated Memphis Red Birds in 11 innings
Jacksonville Suns(FLA) defeated Tennessee Smokies(CHC)
Akron Aeros defeated Connecticut Defenders(SF)
Midland RockHounds(OAK) defeated NW Arkansas Naturals(KC)
Fort Wayne TinCaps(SD) defeated Burlington Bees(KC)
South Atlantic League
Lakewood Blue Claws(PHI) defeated Greenville Drive(BOS)
Florida State League
Tampa Yankees(NYY) defeated Charlotte Stone Crabs(TB)
New York/Penn League
Sctanton Island Yankees(NYY) defeated Mahoning Valley Scrappers(CLE)
Salem Keizer Volcanoes defeated Tri-City Dust Devils(COL)
Orem Owlz(LAA) defeated Missoula Osprey(PHO)
The Minor League playoffs have started, and it’s an exciting time. Bare with me as I’ll try to keep updated on all of the leagues and how the series are coming along. I’ll be adding new leagues and updating things as fast as I can.
If I missed your favorite league or team, let me know and I’ll get it posted.
Gwinnett Braves(ATL) vs. Scranton/WB Yankees(NYY) Yanks advance
Durham Bulls(TB) vs. Louisville Bats(CIN) Bulls advance
Pacific Coast League
Albuquerque Isotopes(LAD) vs. Memphis Red Birds(STL) Red Birds advance Sacramento River Cats(OAK) vs. Tacoma Rainiers(SEA) Cats advance
Birmingham Barons(CHW) vs. Jacksonville Suns(FLA) Suns advance
Huntsville Stars(MIL) vs. Tennessee Smokies(CHC) Smokies advance
Akron Aeros vs. Reading Phillies(PHI) Aeros advance
New Britain Rock Cats(MIN) vs. Connecticut Defenders(SF) Defenders advance
NW Arkansas Naturals(KC) vs. Springfield Cardinals(STL) Nats advance
Midland Rockhounds(OAK) vs. San Antonio Mission(SD) Rockhounds advance
West Michigan Whitecaps(DET) vs. Great Lakes Loons(LAD) Loons advance
Fort Wayne TinCaps(SD) vs. South Bend Silver Hawks(ARZ) TinCaps advance
Cedar Rapids Kernels(LAA) vs. Peoria Chiefs(CHC) Kernels advance
Kane County Cougars(OAK) vs. Burlington Bees(KC) Bees advance
South Atlantic League
Greenville Drive(BOS) vs. Asheville Tourists(COL) Drive advance
Lakewood Blue Claws(PHI) vs. Kannapolis Intimidators(CHW) Claws advance
Florida State League
Charlotte Stone Crabs(TB) vs. Fort Meyer Miracle(MIN) Crabs advance
Tampa Yankees(NYY) vs. Brevard Co. Manatees(MIL) Yanks advance
New York-Penn League
Lowell Spinners(BOS) vs. Stanten Island Yankees(NYY) Yankees advance Brooklyn Cyclones(NYM) vs. Mahoning Valley Scrappers(CLE) Scraps advance
Salem Keizer Volcanoes vs. Tri-City Dust Devils(COL) Volcanoes win Championship 3-1
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