Blowin’ In the Wind

OK, I’ve been a lazy slug. This I freely admit: I’ve been more than lax in not updating my blog in well over a month. But as I sit here in the press box at the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, a couple of hours before the 2008 Bricktown Showdown will bring down the curtain on another season of minor league ball, I figured I might as well finally post an update.

It’s been a good year and I’ve enjoyed covering it. From that frigid opener in Syracuse to this last hurrah on a beautiful day in OKC, it’s been a fantastic ride, this 2008 Minor League Season.

Since my last post, I’ve:

  1.  visited Fenway Park for the Futures at Fenway doubleheader (always a good time in Beantown)
  2. headed to Troy (the New York version, not the home of Paris & Hector) for the NY-Penn League All-Star Game
  3. was in Pittsburgh to help with a live test of the MLB Instant Replay system (PNC Park is one of my favorite big league parks)
  4. went to Charleston, West Virginia for the opening game of the South Atlantic League playoffs
  5. headed to Florida for the entirety of the Florida State League Championship Series, which entailed visiting West Palm Beach (for the finale of the East Division series), then going to Fort Myers before finishing up in Daytona Beach.
  6. jetted off to Dallas for the end of the Texas League playoffs
  7. and ended up here in Oklahoma City for the Triple-A title game

Taking them in order, the Fenway trip is always a good one. The players are always excited at the opportunity to take the field in a major league ballpark and their enthusiasm is met in full measure by the legions of Sox fans who show up to root for the Boston farmhands. One thing I noticed this year – there were a lot of kids in the stands (it’s a doubleheader on a Saturday in August, with beautiful weather). One large contingent in the left field corner reminded me of the seagulls in “Finding Nemo” – whenever a foul ball would go down the third base line, they’d all chant “Right here! Right here!” waving their arms for the ball much as the seagulls chanted “Mine! Mine!” for any fish coming venturing into their area.

The New York-Penn League All-Star game was next. This is an interesting concept – an All-Star game in a league where the season doesn’t even begin until the end of June. Still, many good players have participated in that game since it started including current big leaguers such as Boston’s Jed Lowrie and Philly’s Kyle Kendrick. In fact, we counted six alums of the first game (played in Brooklyn back in 2005) who are in the big leagues now. We did a feature on Staten Island Yankee pitcher Pat Venditte, who not only pitches with either hand, he is very effective with either hand. We also featured Jeremy Farrell, the son of Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, who was drafted by the Pirates in this June’s draft and is playing for State College.

The Pittsburgh trip was a one afternoon thing, a demonstration of the brand-new instant replay system for the media. It’s very slick and even though the umpires get it right nearly every time, having instant replay as a backup is a great idea.

Once the playoffs began, Jonathan & I were off to Charleston for the start of the Sally League playoffs between Lake County and West Virginia. Visiting Appalachian Power Park means getting a eye – and ear – full of the “Toastman.” If you haven’t ever seen Rod Blackstone (aka Toastman) in action and have a chance to stop by and see the Power play, don’t pass it up. Blackstone brings heckling to a whole new level, researching each opposing player and coming up with creative, but not cruel, taunts for them. His trademark, a stack of toast he toasts right in his seat and then throws into the crowd following a strikeout when he leads his fellow fans in chanting “Toast! Toast! Toast! You… are… toast!” is pretty funny. Unfortunately for Toastman, his Power lost that opener to Lake County. The Power did go on to win the series before ultimately falling to Augusta in a sweep in the league finals. Jonathan & I did a feature on outfielder Caleb Gindl, which you can view here.

Just one day after getting home from West Virginia, I headed to Florida to meet up with Lisa for the FSL playoffs. After landing in Orlando, we began a long tour of the state of Florida in a rented Kia Sorrento. We started with the finale of the Palm Beach-Daytona series (won by Daytona) before heading to Fort Myers for the start of the best-of-five Championship Series. After two games there (both won by Daytona) we headed to Daytona Beach. The series went four games, with Daytona finally winning before an ecstatic home crowd in game four. Lisa got a little too close to the celebration and ended up getting a light shower of champagne, but we did several post game interviews. We also produced a pair of features, one on Daytona second baseman (and Finals MVP) Tony Thomas and one on Fort Myers outfielder Rene Tosoni.

As if that weren’t enough, Lisa & I flew from Orlando to Dallas on September 11 for the back-end of the Texas League finals. The matchup between Frisco and Arkansas was tied at 1-1 when we arrived. On paper, the series should have been won by Frisco, which won both halves of the season in their division while first-half champ Arkansas finished at 16 games under .500 for the season. But that, as they say, is why they play the games. Arkansas ended up winning in five games. The Frisco ballpark is one of my personal faves – it’s fairly unique architecturally, but the press box is a little on the umm.. small side. Still, everyone there was incredibly helpful and we’re producing features on Elvis Andrus of Frisco and Hank Conger of Arkansas. Those should be hitting the site in a day or two, so keep an eye out for them.

Now to explain the title. Obviously the weather has been in the news a lot lately. When I headed to Florida, the talk was about Hannah, which ended up missing the Sunshine State, though it did rain out a game before it headed north to drop a ton of rain on the East Coast. After Hannah came Ike. Though I was in Dallas when the storm came through, it was little more than an annoyance – especially when contrasted with what it did in Galveston and Houston. To cap off a windy week or so, a wind storm back home in Ohio knocked out the power (and some trees) at my home. At the moment, it’s still off and my wife & kids are living with the in-laws. Still, looking at Galveston & Houston, we can’t really complain.

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