Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kannapolis team might not intimidate but park shines

Tuesday's score was Hickory 10, Kannapolis 3, but a game with 13 runs and five errors by the hosts won't get my attention.

What did get my attention was a broken bat from the Intimidators' Jacob Morris that flew into our section during the first inning. The man sitting behind me snagged the barrel and gave it to me, and batting coach Rob Sasser offered the handle from the dugout. So now I have a bat used by a professional baseball player. What's the big deal, right? 

It represents talent, and it makes me want to follow Harris'  career. There is something about Class A ball that makes us root for these underdogs, many of whom will never see the majors but most of whom do love the game enough to travel half the year. They live four and five to an apartment just to be able to pay the rent, and live in places where landlords won't rent month-to-month … and all of that. It's a life we might envy on one level, but we mostly don't envy the low pay and the tedium and the hard work parts of it. 

Highlights from Kannapolis

A Chevy chassis with No. 3 artwork sits at the park's entrance, in memory of Dale Earnhardt, whose purchase of a share of the team in 2000 sparked a name change from the Piedmont Boll Weevils to the Intimidators (chosen by a fan vote).
Three jersey numbers are retired at this park: 50, 3, and 42. Earnhardt was No. 3 and Jackie Robinson No. 42, but I was stumped on No. 50. Turns out it was for John Henry Moss, who was president for 50 years of what is now the South Atlantic League. Every team in the league has retired it.

Mark your calendar: Bark in the Park is June 1. This is a gorgeous park and the dogs will love it.

Bingo drew more boos than cheers. At least no one forgot about the free space.
I met a player's parent. Starting pitcher Tyler Barnette's mom was in my section. We sympathized when he struggled to adjust to the plate umpire's strike zone, as did every pitcher.

Loved hearing Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" after a steal.
The Hickory lineup included Joe Jackson, who was batting .412 coming into the game. He's from Greenville, S.C., and The Citadel, and is the great-great-great-nephew of Shoeless Joe Jackson, who died in Greenville in 1951.

Kannapolis Carolinas Connections

Pitcher Tyler Barnett - Hickory High, UNC Charlotte
Pitcher David Putman - Duke
Catcher Jeremy Dowdy - Raleigh Wakefield, Appalachian State

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rolled Hickory: First stop in a tour of the Sally League

The host Crawdads made it interesting late but fell 4-2 Wednesday night to the Hagerstown Suns.


Crawdads starter Akeem Bostick caught my eye a day before the game. I was looking for players from the Carolinas on the roster, and he's one of four (all pitchers, see below). Bostick signed out of high school with the Texas Rangers for a nice bonus, and went 4-1 in rookie league ball.
He went 5 1/3 innings Wednesday, giving up six hits but mostly staying out of trouble for only one run. He is very quick to be ready to throw the next pitch, which I loved, and his velocity was nice.
I was lucky to meet his mom on the way out, and told her I'll be watching his progress over the next few years. I think he will become an even better pitcher as he fills out and puts in the repetitions (as is true for most of us!).
It's fun to be at a game where there are so few fans in attendance (513 official but we saw about half that many) that we could hear everything the players said to each other.

Crawdads right fielder Nomar Gazara didn't earn points in our group - he bobbled a ball in the field and failed to back up a throw to first on a bunt that could have been costly. The bunt was ruled foul after the runner reached second, but Gazara was on our bad list.

We chuckled at the announcement during the second inning that "the carousel is now open." Part of the charm of a Class A ball park is that you get to ride a merry-go-round.

Crawdads Carolinas connections

Akeem Bostick - West Florence (S.C.) High
Josh McElwee - Newberry College and Andrews (S.C.) High
Ryne Slack - Spartanburg Methodist and Ninety Six (S.C.) High
Tyler Smith - USC Sumter and Sumter (S.C.) High

Monday, May 5, 2014

Seeing all of the Sally League

In the summer of 2013, I visited my final four home parks of all 30 Major League Baseball teams. This summer, I'll be attending a game at every South Atlantic League home field.

I live in Charlotte, so almost half the parks are drivable within a few hours. Several others will be road trips that combine 2-3 teams. Fourteen teams in one summer should be doable, though the Sally League is more spread out than I first realized: it stretches from three Georgia teams to three teams in the NJ-Maryland area. 

The combinations: 

The Peach State: Augusta GreenJackets and Rome Braves
The coast: Charleston RiverDogs and Savannah Sand Gnats
Charlotte-drivable: Hickory Crawdads, Kannapolis Intimidators, Greenville (S.C.) Drive, Asheville Tourists, Greensboro Grasshoppers
The northern trio: Hagerstown (Maryland) Suns, Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws, Delmarva Shorebirds (Salisbury, Maryland)
The western swing: West Virgina Power and Lexington (Kentucky) Legends

First up: Hickory on Wed., May 7