Saturday, July 28, 2007

Getting my baseball fix on the road

I have to do a couple of weeks of Army training at Fort Hunter Liggett, CA. Since I have to sign in in the morning, I decided to drive down today so I don't have to wake up at 3AM to get there.

Anyway, I decided to stop by a Visalia Oaks game which seemed like a good fit as it is the High-A affiliate of my favorite team, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The stadium is tightly inserted into a neighborhood so it wouldn't surprise me if a few foul balls land in people's yards. Parking is limited to a lot with about 100 spaces or so, a dirt lot, or the street (which I used).
Well, I must admit that if you are a Sox fan, you don't know how good we have it. First of all, the stadium is old and run down and the field is pretty torn up in spots (and they didn't even bother to draw coaches boxes).

The first thing I did was check the internet (wireless rules); it listed the following as the promotion:

July 28 vs. Lancaster - 7:00 PM
Team Photo Giveaway & Autograph Day

I thought, wow, that might be a nice thing to get since maybe one or two of these guys will be a future D-Back. Well, they moved the promotion but decided not to update the website. So I headed to the souveneir stand and thought I'd at least get a pack of team cards. They wanted $20 for them! $20! When I asked why, they said because it included a Justin Upton card. Needless to say, I walked away.

So I headed to the concession stand. After standing in line for a few minutes, I finally got to the front of the line and placed my order. Well, all they do is give you a slip of paper and you stand in another line where the grill is to actually get your hot dog.

Finally, I got to my seat and here was my view:

Nice. So I figured I would just enjoy the game. Unless you came to see Lancaster (which was the D-backs affiliate last year by the way), you'd go home empty handed as they crusied to a 10-2 victory on 15 hits. The Oaks starter, Anthony Cupps, dropped to 2-10 with an ERA of 6.43 and the bullpen didn't do much better. The guy was missing with a curveball all night but they left him in there.

As far as atmosphere, there was no mascot, no onfield promotions, and very little music or sound effects. Outside, there was a leader board that someone forgot to fill out and just moving around from my seat was difficult. The first 3-4 rows only have an exit on the first base side or the tihird base side so if you sit in the middle, it is at least 100-200 feet of "excuse mes" before you get to an aisle. Very poor construction.

I think I was spoiled...I grew up attending Rancho Cucamonga Quakes game which were in the best (at the time) Class A minor league park in the country. Since then, I've seen A level games in Adelanto, CA (High Desert Mavericks) and Columbia, SC (Capital City Bombers). I thought I had a good idea of what an affiliated stadium was supposed to be like (since they claim they have a standard that is much higher than independent baseball). This stadium, though it had nice stadium seats in the bowl around the plate, was run down and a real disappointment.

So I left after the 5th and went to my hotel room to catch the end of the Sox game. They were up 5-2 when I joined the game but then Eric Thomas came in and blew the save for Johnson after Balteff had done his part to preserve the lead. I think Ben Deach jinxed him because he called him the team's closer. Everyone that even came close to that designation started pitching poorly so I think it is safer to just say we have a closer by committee (Pluoffe, Testa, Nikolic, Martinez, and Thomas have all faltered when they had to close out more than a game here or there).

So the OC Flyers were able to steal a 6-5 win. Thus ends my journey to find my baseball fix on the road. I guess on the bright side, Les picked up two new pitchers who should get a shot soon to see if they can shore up the bullpen. Eric Brock and Adam Harendza both come to the Sox from the now defunct New York State League. With the end of the second half coming up quickly, we need to start winning the close games if we intend to get to and win the playoffs.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Game Report: Orange County @ Reno (7/27/2007)

Another beautiful day in Reno unfolded with the Orange County Flyers coming in for a three game set and their first meeting of the year with the Silver Sox.

It was sure to be a good game and it did not disappoint...OC (or "The OC" as the scoreboard read) was bringing their A game tonight...their ace Ben Fox (3-0, 0.67 ERA) took the mound with Peanut Williams (.340, 5 HR, 33 RBI), Scott Goodman (.259, 7 HR, 33 RBI), and Rich Pohle (.349, 5 HR, 38 RBIs) providing the heart of a solid line-up.

Of course, the Silver Sox countered with a stacked line-up of their own hurling their #2 starter Matt Parris (4-6, 4.12 ERA) who had Kane Simmons (.354 and league leading 11 HRs), Juan Senreiso (.345, 6 HR, 12 SB), and Carlos Madrid (.321, 4 HR, 25 RBIs) to back him up.

First blood was drawn by Senreiso who launched one over the fence in the bottom of the 1st. Senreiso looks like a ball player in a prototypcial fashion. Now I am not suggesting you judge a book by its cover but when he comes to the plate you can just see by his cuts that something is going to happen.

And speaking of unique styles, the OC's Mark Okano brings one. I thought he was Japanese for sure since he has the high leg kick you see in Japanese leagues but he is actually Hawaiian (of Japanese descent). OC's radio announcer, Jordan Moore, mentioned there was an article on the Orange County register about him and his hitting style but I couldn't find it. In any event, it was good enough for a homerun tonight.

OC's pitcher, Ezequiel Ruvalcaba tempted fate with the Sox and with their stacked line-up, he got burned. He loaded the bases (including one infield hit by Ryan Kowalski that was the best bunt I have seen all year--literally as close to perfect as you can get); and then Victor Hall made him pay with a baseclearing triple.

Parris pitched well though he put a lot of runners on. Balteff came in missing the strike zone but settled down for 1-1/3 solid innings of work before Martinez shut the door. What was a close game (5-4) going into the bottom of the 8th ended up being a blowout 10-4.

As for the park, attendance was 1358 and the energy level was up; 500 happy fans even went home with the night's giveaway of a free t-shirt. Even the mascots have stepped it up a bit. Early in the season, Nugget was pretty tame sticking to the on field promotions and walking around the stadium. Now he is on top of the dugout breakdancing (guess he learned some moves from the chicken!). That is what a mascot is supposed to do and it is great to see. Same goes for Slugger.

The Sox are firing on all cylinders. There may be some rough edges (pitching) but defense is much improved and the offense continues to churn out runs in bunches. Of course, the real test of whether or not the Sox have turned it around will come during their 6 game road trip next week. This blog chronicled their road woes of the first half and I would love to not have to do that again :)

Those six games, in case you were wondering, come during a 15-day consecutive game streak so the guys will have to reach down deep to keep up the pressure as they finish the season with two hungry contenders (LB and OC) as well as the 1st half champion Chico Outlaws.

If you haven't been out to the stadium, now is the time. The championship is around the corner and it is fast becoming "win or go home" time. We are in for a great second half.

See you at the yard.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Game Report: Yuma @ Reno (7/26/2007)

Well, I made it to my first game after our long vacation and it was Reno taking on the red-hot Yuma Scorpions who had won 7 straight since the start of the second half. This is a really good team and one that has a pechant for fast starts. Remember that they also tore it up during the first half before coming back to earth as Chico would go onto win the first half.

Dusty Bergman did well in his first few innings before running into some problems. It was similar to the last game a saw with Bergman a few weeks ago when he pitched great and then was probably left in just a little bit too long. He allowed Yuma to sneak back in and left with a tie game (6-6). However, he was able to back into a win as the Sox retook the lead before the next pitcher came in. Following a stint by Adam Nikolic, Eric Thomas came in and closed out the game. He is huge. He is listed at 6-9, 240 and I would say that is completely legit. He is a very imposing figure on the mound and he throws hard.

Kane Simmons remains hot and knocked in another homerun tonight bringing his total to 11 in 26 games. How this guy went undrafted is beyond me but I am glad we have him for as long as it lasts. I think I'll make the prediction that he will be out first pick up by an MLB team in 2007. Let's see if I am right. I also heard his family was in town so I am glad he did well with them here.

And there were a couple of roster moves--C Joe Melton and 1B Ryan Brown were placed on the inactive list with various injuries. Melton was batting .278 with no homers or RBIs in limited action; Brown was .327, 4HRs, and 15 RBIs. Not sure how long they may be out but luckily the team has some depth at those positions so the team should be able to survive.

Pitching continues to be an issue and guys who were doing well are struggling a bit. Les should be introducing a new pitcher soon so that will be nice. It has been a revolving door at that position. Starters 1-4 (Bergman, Parris, Moran, Johnson) have been solid and doing well; the 5th starter is still up in the air--even though plenty of people have had a shot at the position. There is also no clear closer. But Les is an expert in dealing with pitchers and getting the most from them so between him and Bergman, we'll have to see if they can get the wins they need from this staff to capture the second half title.

Defense has been looking up for the team. We no longer lead the league in errors (St. George has that honor)--we have 87 but the good news is 31 of those came from guys no longer on the active roster. They still have 1 or so a game but it is far better than it was earlier this year.

I'll be at the game tomorrow for the first visit of the year by the Orange County Flyers and then I will be out of the area for a couple of weeks. I'd really love to make up for that missed time by having the season extended for a week or two with the playoffs. Come on Sox!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Road Trip: Reno @ Chico (July 23, 2007)

We were on vacation for the past several days and saw a window to go to see the Sox play an away game so we took it. There is something special about seeing other ballparks but moreso, there is something special about supporting your team on the road.

We drove for 8 hours from our previous location (Woodburn,OR) and arrived about 90 minutes before gametime. Since we were staying at the Super 8 on Manzanita and 99 and only about 10 minutes from the Net, we let the kids swim for a while and got to the park about 6:45PM.

The first thing I noticed is that they charged for parking ($3), something I am not used to with the Sox. However, the next thing I noticed is the appearance of the ballpark. The facade looked nice, like a real stadium. Peccole is such that you see the backs of the bleachers where the Net had a concrete, decorated wall (flags, awnings, etc). It was a very good way to set the tone. Around the park, there was a souvenier trailer which had a much wider assortment of items then I am used to in Reno. They also had multiple concession points (3 that I counted with 1 that could be opened if the crowd required it). They also had a booth as we do in Reno where you pick up the night's rosters. In addition, they also gave out game notes and current statistics. This was a nice touch and I hope it is one all the teams institute.

There was a play area for kids as well as picnic tables down either line...again, another nice way to make sure families have a good time when the young ones get tired of sitting in 100 degree weather. They also had concession points in those areas with $1 candy bars. Speaking of concessions, they were all run by folks in Outlaw gear. At Reno, we get the Sedexho workers who have a contract to do all sporting events on campus. After seeing this, I wonder if Reno gets a cut of concessions or if theirs is smaller than Chico.

The stadium crowd was small (959) but that is defintely more than Reno draws on an average Monday night. The Outlaws staff also includes members who hold up signs to pump up the crowd (Charge, Wave, etc) and that helped get them going. Those staff members also dance on the dugouts and pulled up some fans to dance with them. And they collected trash throughout the innings.

The sightlines are great at this park. Reno, due to its continual building has structures (the batting cage/player building in right and the bullpen in left) that block views down the lines for all but those directly behind homeplate. There is a large amount of foul territory and on field pitchers mounds. In fact, the pitchers back up to the fence where the family areas are I mentioned earlier allowing for some interation with the players. There is also a much bigger pressbox/luxury seat area and more seats behind homeplate than in Reno.

And, their sound system is awesome...clear, perfect volume, etc. The scoreboard also has an Outlaws logo on it (wish we could get equal billing at Peccole where everything is about the Wolfpack at our park). Their programs were well done and published more frequently than the once a month we have in Reno. About the only negative thing I can say is that the lighting isn't as good as Peccole.

As for being in enemy territory, it was a fun experience. We sat in 101 (home team side) and when we first cheered everyone turned around to see why we would do such a thing in Chico. We later moved to the 301 side and it started fun as well. I got accosted by the mascot on the way over who put his arm around me and led me toward the exit; and my daughter got razzed by some kids in the playpark for wearing a Silver Sox hat. Of course, they were all friends after that. As for the Sox section, it included me, my wife, and a little ways down, Carlos Madrid's significant other. I have not been to a game that she has not been at--I guess she goes to away games too.

About the only negative moment came when some rowdy college kids sat behind us and began yelling obscenities at the Sox and made some derogatory comments about Reno and how the only thing from them that would ever stay there is the urine they left on the street. Eventually a staff member told them to tone it down and they did so in a sarcastic manner (shouting things like "If we can't cuss, can I say F You instead?)

As for the game, it was Reno domination from the first inning. James Johnson pitched well en route to his first win and the offense was also strong. Mike Done has really rebounded from a sub-par first half to be a prime contributor. And the pitching is much more solid as is the defense. I guess I'll throw out there again how I hope spring training is longer than 7-9 days next year. When you assemble a team basically from scratch, it is hard for them to gel and get in playing shape immediately. Even Juan Senreiso, our league player of the week, took a few weeks to find his groove--and he was playing solid baseball right up until he joined the Sox.
All in all, it was a great event and it is nice to say we followed our team on the road. The other two times I've done it didn't require traveling more than an hour or so. So this was our first official road trip! And on top of that my oldest daughter caught her first foul ball!

And, after seeing how Chico operates and how great their stadium is comparatively, I really hope the Sox do well enough to either command more decision ability at Peccole or interest some investors to build them a small park of their own. Our team plays great baseball (leads the league in HRs and SBs) and I would love it if people in Reno would just give them a chance and go see a game. The Sox have made great strides this year and it will be interesting to see how things turn out in the years to come.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What comes around goes around

The Sox swept St. George to remain undefeated against the expansion roadrunners. That was the first three games of the series. Unfortunately, the second two saw Long Beach do the same to them. So a3-2 homestand led to an overall 14-18 record, 8 games behind league leading Chico.

Of course, the real story of the night was the appearance of the Famous Chicken. He did his normal routine of the eye chart, putting the hex on the opposing team, etc. And he danced on the dugout and acted as first base coach as well. He was great and I really enjoyed the night...probably because my family loved it so much too. It was great.

James Johnson, our starter, was a little shaky and Chris Wakeland took advantage of him early for a 2-run shot. The Armada took off to a 4-0 lead and the Sox wold claw their way back in to tie it at 5-5 in the bottom of the eight. Unfortunately, Chris Wakeland came up again and this time, with 2 outs and a 3-2 count in the top of the ninth, he sent another bomb over the fence to give the Armada a 8-5 lead which would hold for a 8-6 victory. Wakeland, no stranger to professional baseball, was a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2001. He now leads the league with 7 homeruns.

Overall it was a great night of baseball. Attendance was 2266.

I am going on vacation and then to an Army school for the next 4-weeks so posts will slow down significantly. Hopefully by the time I get back, Reno is on their way to a second half title and an eventual second GBL crown.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Chico-Reno Rivalry Hears Up

The Sox-Outlaws rivalry continues to be a good one. Chico has established themselves as the best team in the league and took the most recent series at the Net 2-1 over Reno. After taking out Chikazawa in Reno, the Outlaws felt a couple hit batsmen by Dusty Bergman was retaliation and let him know by charging the mound and starting a bench clearing brawl. I think this is a natural rivalry and one that will only continue to build. If Reno can do well in the 2nd half, look out come championship time.

The Sox came home this weekend and swept St. George keeping the Roadrunners winless against Les Lancaster's boys. Of course, beating the Roadrunners doesn't mean the ship has been completely righted. There is still a lot of work to be done. It also looks like most fans skipped the series due to the heat (triple digits) and all the smoke in the valley from the various fires going on. I, too, skipped them do do other stuff but I probably needed that weekend to clean up around the house and get ready for vacation next week. So hopefully the Armada series will see more than the 1000 fans they averaged over the last three nights.

First, the bad news. The errors continue to mount and Reno now has a league leading 71 through 30 games. The first half ends in a little over a week so hopefully there is some re-tooling to be done. Here are two guys I see as close to getting cut:

-- Mike Peck. 0-0 with a 12.71 ERA over 8 games. He has 3 strike outs to 10 walks and a WHIP of 3.16. Recall that Peck was already released once this year by a GBL team. If you take his total stats, he is 0-2 with a 15.38 ERA in 9.2 innings with 18 walks and 10 strikeouts.

-- Joe Melton. Do we really need 3 catchers? He has only had 7 at bats since being acquired on June 29. And he has only hit .143 in those at bats.

There is another player who won't get cut because he is also a coach but he needs to step up his game:

-- Mike Done needs to step it up defensively. He now leads the team in errors and is just average on the offensive side with a .223 average with 1 HR and 9 RBIs in 103 at bats. He is also second on the team in strike outs with 29, well on pace to break the century mark. Not good.

As for good news, it comes with two groups...the veterans and the newcomers of the 2007 season. First the veterans:

-- Victor Hall is by far my vote for first half MVP. He is hitting .278 with 4 HRs, 18 RBIs, and a league leading 18 stolen bases. He is also the only player to start and play in every game this season.

-- Jose Rodriguez has a .315 batting average along with 6 dingers and 21 RBIs. And he wasn't even a starter at the beginning of the year. Awesome.

-- Carlos Madrid is a guy who has made it in this league on heart and determination. This undrafted player checks in with a .351 average,3 HRs, and 18 RBIs. Glad to see him do well for the second year in a row!

-- Dusty Bergman. How does a guy with a 3.25 ERA and a 3:2 strikeout to walk ratio end up with only 1 win? 13 of the 29 runs he gave up were unearned. Talk about no defensive support. But, he is our workhorse racking up a team-leading 44 innings (10 more than another positive suprise in Matt Parris) and 30 strikeouts.

And the newcommers:

-- Kane Simmons. Last year he was a college student. Now he is player of the week and the hottest Silver Sox player with a team high .357 AVG, with 5 HRs and 13 RBIs. And, did I mention that he has done that in just 42 at bats?

-- Juan Senreiso. His offensive numbers remind me of Alfonso Soriano. Hits for Average (.313) with a mix of power (4 HR, .625 SLG) and speed (5 steals). Solid outfielder as well.

-- Shawn Balteff. He just joined the team but across 5-1/3 innings he has allowed just one hit and one run in three appearances. His 1.69 ERA is only bested by the .059 average he allows opposing hitting. Hopefully he can keep it up because we need it! I don't think any Sox reliever has had three consecutive solid performances (Josh Evans and Adam Nikolic are close) so it is nice to see

That's all for now. Long Beach comes to town for a 2-game stint with the famous chicken coming in tomorrow. I have a dinner engagement tonight so I won't be at Peccole but you know you'll find me there tomorrow.

See you at the yard.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Game Report: Chico at Reno (7/3/2007)

Before I get to the game report, I wanted to note that Masa Chikazawa took a brutal hit at the plate last night and was down for about 15 minutes. Paramedics were on scene and he was taken off the field on a stretcher. Ben Deach's game report said preliminary reports were that he would make a full recovery. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.
UPDATE (7/4/2007): Ben Deach said on tonight's radio broadcast that Chikazawa was showing no ill effects from yesterday and is even on the trip with the team to Chico. He wasn't playing tonight but may play in the series.

As far as the game, the Sox lost 13-9 but before I get into the details, I wanted to talk about the atmosphere.

The crowd was the largest of the year at 2685. I read in an article that Fireworks are the number one draw of fans followed by bobbleheads. Unfortuately, with the latter, fans tend to leave the game early, but with fireworks the majority stay through the entire game. That was definitely the case and it was the best atmosphere at Peccole that I have ever experienced. Fans were into the game from start to finish, cheering loudly at times, and even starting the wave on multiple occasions. The lines for concessions took about 20 minutes to navigate due to the large crowd compared to the normal 2-3 minute wait in line so Sodexho (concessions company) clearly wasn't ready for crowd. This is obviously good and bad. My recommendation to soothe the crowd: Add more concessionaires if possible or put the radio broadcast on speakers for the crowd to listen to the game while they wait. If you actually could get CCTV that would be awesome but radio will also suffice.

Off the field, General Manager Dwight Dortch resigned and his assistant, Curt Jacey, was promoted to General Manager. And there were already changes during these last two games. There is now a second mascot named Slugger who you can check out below.
UPDATE (7/4/2007): San Diego fans confirmed that this new mascot was their old mascot before the team folded. Their loss is our gain I guess.

Then there are signs on the concourse listing the starting line-ups, current standings, and upcoming promotions. This is a great touch. The promotions are being changed slowly and thy now include a race of 3 Silver Sox behind the right field wall with the winner determining which section gets free otter pops. Add to this that that the Sox sent an e-mail to their fans saying the promotions schedule was going to be completely reworked, there would be a kid's club and a booster club established, and that there would be a greater focus on in stadium promotions, and it is easy to see the Sox are moving in the right direction. Curt said in an RGJ quote that he wants to get as many fans in the stands as possible. I think these moves will definitely help with that. Great job, Curt!

As for the game, the Sox strategy seems to be trying to outslug their errors and pitching problems. Some times it works, but eventually, you reap the whirlwind as we saw last night.

Monday vs. Chico, the Sox committed 7 errors and gave up nine runs. However, led by homeruns from Jose Rodriguez, Ryan Brown, and a pair from Kane Simmons, the Sox were able to score 10 and win the game.

Tuesday, they couldn;t repeat this feat. They cut their errors to the more standard 2 and added in a couple of longballs from Juan Sanreiso but then they gave up 19 hits and allowed Chico to score 13 runs. Add to this 5 walks and a Wild Pitch that scored a Chico run and it is easy to see that you can only tempt fate so long. Chico, on the other hand is is the best pitching team in the league with a team ERA of 4.54. Add to this that they also have the most dominant closer in Todd Galetka and you will see that if you give them the opportunity to score runs they will beat you. Kelly Johnston, a new pitcher just acquired yesterday, took the loss giving up six runs (all earned) in the last three innings of the game.

And, if you don't recognize many of those names, it is because there has been a lot of player movement. The Sox haven't put out a press release or e-mail on those moves and that is something I would like to see improved. I sent an e-mail to the team and posted my concerns on the Our Sports Central website that many league officials and staff read so hopefully it changes.

Anyway, here is a quick rundown since the start of the season of player movement:

PLAYERS LOST: P Brian Keating (retired), OF J.J. Sherrill(out for the year with a knee injury), OF J.J. Johnson (Out with a facial injury; return unknown), 3B Dustin Hahn (Retired), P Keaton Everitt (Out for season with shoulder injury), P Matt Scott (On inactive list, injury unknown), SS Jordan Devoir (On inactive list with shin injury, return unknown), OF Travis Tully (traded to Costal Bend Aviators of American Association), and P Marshall Plouffe (released)

PLAYERS SIGNED: P Mike Peck, P Chris Testa, OF Kane Simmons, C Joe Melton, OF Juan Senreiso, 1B Ryan Brown, P Kelly Johnston and OF Gary Snyder (he was later released)
UPDATE (7/4/2007): The Sox sent out two player movement e-mails so things are already changing under the Jacey leadership. Thanks!!! Ben Deach talked about some of the moves. 1B Cody Nowlin was also released as the SOX brought in UT Maurice Cole and OF Ryan Kowalski. They also brought in a pitcher--I don't have the exact spelling but it sounded like Shawn Bartleff.