April 2008

NOTHING COULD BE FINER …

Than to be in Carolina watching baseball.

Coming to you live and in person (okay, in cyberspace) from Durham Bulls Athletic Park (fondly known as the “DBAP” to distinguish it from its predecessor, the “DAP,” Durham Athletic Park) as the host Bulls take on the Charlotte Knights in an all-North Carolina International League showdown. Blue skies, sunshine, about 70-something degrees.

A little slice of heaven.

But before I continue, please let me point your attention to the links on the right. They are there courtesy of my new best friend, Firefox. Someday I might learn to actually listen to people who are more knowledgeable than I am when they make technical suggestions. My co-workers and my husband have been trying to convince me to download Firefox for awhile, basically every time I whine about my slow computer and lousy connectivity. Of course, I’m still the dinosaur on dial-up (until Friday when Comcast comes to install high speed internet!).

However, I’d been baffling even our techiest techies with my inability to install/fix links. Until now. Firefox has freed me. I’m gonna be a link-adding fool, I tell you. PLUS it will apparently make it easier for me to watch our own MLB.com/MiLB.com games online. I may NEVER get out of my desk chair now …

So go check out some of my links! Nothing quite expresses your true identity like the links you post, right? Which makes me … um … a hot dog-eating, soy sauce-loving, snarky obscure music fanatic with a slightly necrophiliac tendency. All righty then.

But back to baseball. Drove about 300 miles down I-95/I-85 with the torrential rain following me pretty much every tread-track of the way. Spent the last two afternoons/evenings over at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, home of the Double-A Carolina Mudcats, to work on a feature package on their outstanding center field prospect, Cameron Maybin, which you’ll be able to read at The Farms Almanac starting on Friday, April 25.

Five County is definitely one of my favorite stadiums. Sure, it doesn’t have quite the same architectural charm of, say, a DBAP. Sure, location-wise it doesn’t have quite the downtown appeal of, well, a DBAP. But it has a soft spot in my heart for several reasons.

For one thing, Five County may have the best ballpark food in the Minors. As far as its concession stands go, it has everything from fantastic Carolina barbecue (my weakness) to catfish sandwiches (their logo is a catfish) as well as all of the more traditional favorites. But it also features a gourmet-quality full-service restaurant called Cattails which is open year-round.

For another, you gotta love their mascot Muddy Mudcat. You might think there really isn’t anything cute and cuddly about a catfish but they managed to make Muddy adorable. On Tuesday night, as the torrential rains dwindled into scattered showers, he roamed the stands wearing a jaunty yellow poncho and rain cap.

I also got to witness something I have heard about for years but thought was one of those urban legends until Tuesday night: a batboy being sent out in search of the key to the batters’ box.

It’s one of those rites of passage that I thought might, by this point, be apocryphal. Could anyone still fall for such a ruse in this day and age? Apparently so. For several innings, I watched this kid running back and forth between the dugouts, between the clubhouses (located at the far end of each outfield foul line), up to the radio broadcaster’s booth, even to the chef at Cattails, in search of that elusive key. I won’t mention his name here and I won’t out the player who sent him on his fruitless search (though I will say it WASN’T Maybin, who himself was a batboy for the Asheville Tourists for three years as a teenager).

But at one point, I saw him carrying a small box down the right field line and could not figure out what that was about. Turns out, when he asked the Mudcats clubhouse attendant for the key, the clubbie told him he didn’t have it but asked him if he could please find him some left-handed curveballs and handed him the box to collect them in. Double whammy.

I wasn’t around when he was finally let in on the joke. But I am told he took it like a good sport. I am hoping the players tipped him well last night, Especially … well, player that sent him on the search, you know who you are! And so do I.

To save your eyes and sanity, I am going to sign off for now, but will return to blog tomorrow all about Durham, since the parks, old and new, deserve an entry of their own.

But in the meantime, HAPPY BIRTHDAY FERNANDO PEREZ!!!

HI HO, THE GLAMOROUS LIFE!

Just want to get caught up on my first road trip of the season before I’ve forgotten too many of the details to share (don’t laugh, this will happen to you someday as well).

I won the “Opening Day First Game” lottery this year and got to see the first pitch of the 2008 season thrown in Syracuse … and no, even though it may sound that way, I’m actually not being sarcastic about that.

For one thing, it was a great game, a true pitching duel between a pair of 2004 first-rounders whose names were called just nine picks apart: Louisville Bats ace Homer Bailey, taken with the seventh pick by the Reds, and Syracuse Chiefs southpaw David Purcey, taken with the 16th pick.

Both pitched brilliantly with Purcey getting the win as Syracuse prevailed, 2-0. Coming back from elbow trouble which cut short his 2007 season, Purcey started his comeback in Arizona Fall League last year and was one of the top pitchers in that league, so he was really picking up where he left off in November with his six innings of shutout ball. And though Bailey took the loss, he looked great. He has the most effortless motion and seemed like he could have easily pitched another 10 innings beyond the seven he threw (I kid, they’d call the ASPCP if he did that).

I didn’t get to see as much of Syracuse and that “CNY” area as I would have liked, however. We were slated to drive down to Binghamton the next night and catch a game between the B-Mets and Trenton Thunder (the Yankees farm team) but the cold rain washed out both that game and what would have been the second game of the Syracuse-Louisville series as well, leaving us to look out our hotel windows at what I presume was downtown Syracuse.

I was actually rather sentimental about being in Syracuse because my very first Minor League game was a Chiefs game, way back in … oh, okay, I’ll admit it. 1987. I was up there with a few co-workers to cover the annual Empire State Games (think New York State’s version of a mini-Olympics) and we decided to sneak out and skip the big opening ceremonies to see the Chiefs play the Maine Guides. (I guess I can admit that now as well, more than 20 years later, right?) The fact that we could walk into a ballpark 15 minutes before a game and get front row seats right behind first base just gobsmacked me.

So I didn’t see much of Syracuse (or make my first trip to Binghamton for that matter) this trip but as far as giving my faithful readers a brief travelogue, I DID see a lot of my hotel and can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone who might be making a trip up to the city … the Renaissance Syracuse is awesome. For one thing, it’s round and I’m still easily impressed by that sort of thing. The rooms all have huge plasma screens (the better to watch America’s! Next! Top! Model! while working) and great showers (though, sadly, no bathtubs). And the hotel bar (The Library) is cozy and friendly and has a wonderful bartender and free wireless internet (hey, I had a late flight out and had several hours to kill and a rotisserie draft the next day to prep for).

I actually have two more swings through upstate New York on the docket in the next month (Rochester and Buffalo at the end of April and then the Cooperstown Classic between Syracuse and Rochester in mid-May) but first I’ll be heading down to North Carolina for a few days next week, to see the Carolina Mudcats host the Tennessee Smokies before heading over to Durham for a few days. So if you see the GOTMILB-mobile, be sure to come say hi!

I’ll be the one stuffing my face with Carolina barbecue! 

CATCHING MY BREATH …

Just barely, though. Normally that span of a week or two between road trips is a chance to chill a little bit. Sure, I get caught up on a lot of writing, including the written features that will run on the site (this week I had the Louisville dynamic duo of  Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey, for example), and try to bring myself up to date on all things baseball but in a less frantic way than when i’m on the road.

This year, the very nice powers that be were kind enough to let me add a new weekly feature into the mix, one I’m REALLY excited about. We’re calling it “Movin’ On Up” and given all the extra work my friends and colleagues on the copy desk have to do to give it its bells and whistles, I hope you all will take a look at it here!.  It will go up on the site every Friday and will feature the Major League debuts that were made in the receding week … what transaction led to the promotion, what the player did in his very first taste of the bigs and some news and notes about him. PLUS it will link to hs MiLB Player Page which means readers will have pretty much his life story and full stats at the click of a mouse!

Back in the days when I was at USA Today Baseball Weekly I handled the debuts as well and although it was labor intensive, it was in a good way. It made me very aware at all times who was on the 25 and 40-man rosters (there used to be a game they played on this overnight radio sports show locally where they’d try to stump the caller as to whether a player was up or down and I ALWAYS knew the answer!!!) and also more aware of how the newbies would factor into their teams.

AND it was a hugely popular feature. On the weeks when they’d decide there wasn’t room for it (because, you know, we’d have to run ads for Russian mail-order brides or something), I’d get a LOT of unhappy phone calls wondering where their debuts were (although I guess it could have been worse — they could have been calling to find where their Russian mail-order brides were). So when my bosses here agreed to let me give it a shot I was delighted and apparently I am not the only one …

Many thanks to those of you such as my friend/reader Jimmy in Richmond who wrote in to let me know how happy they were to have the Debuts back!

In the meantime, all hell seems to be breaking loose at home. None of it catastrophic (knock wood) but just enough that I’m like “OK, NOWWWWWWWWWW what?” every time the phone rings. All I want is, like, 24 hours of nothing. Just nothing. Maybe a hot bubble bath and a good book. Tom Perrotta’s “Bad Haircut” has been sitting there calling my name since I got home (It’s the last of his books that I haven’t read. He is just brilliant). Or even some reality TV. I’m sure I could find reruns of “America’s! Next! Top! Model!” or even “Rock of Love 2.” As long as it keeps me from angsting.

 

LEADING OFF …

… with the first “official” entry in my new MLBlog “got milb?” so just wanted to check in briefly (well, briefly for me is probably a novelette for most people) to introduce myself to those of you who may not “know” me yet and establish my little corner of cyberspace!

I am ecstatic to be able to have this opportunity to blog and share my travels, opinions, observations and bits and pieces of my life, at the park and away from it, with everyone (or no one, depending on if anyone reads this!).

For now, though, if you want to know a little more about me, feel free to click on the “read about me” link to the right there. I think I may have set a new MLB.com record for length of profile. This will not come a a shock to anyone who knows me …

 

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