On we go. Remember each player will appear only once. Have at it:
Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in The Minor Leagues of Baseball
Well known Washington Post columnist and author John Feinstein wants us to believe that no one knows their names. He tells the story of life in AAA baseball, mostly in the International League, during the 2012 season. He follows several players, a manager, and an umpire and a broadcaster. He shares the struggles of these men as they attempt to get to–or back to–Major League Baseball. The Show. It’s a life so grand and intoxicating–but it’s also the career pinnacle for these individuals. These are their stories….
Mr. Feinstein spins the tale masterfully. He includes the back stories and first and second-degree stories of players and friends, and families of the players as their paths cross. The timelines move back to get the history, and forward to let you know the results. The stories are revisited and continued in later chapters. Sometimes, that makes the timing difficult to follow–and difficult to pick up which player and which season he’s talking about at any given moment. There are also some inaccuracies: He does tell us that Coca Cola Field is in Buffalo and Coca Cola Park is in Allentown, but he then gets it wrong several times in later chapters. Also, there’s a mention of a sign outside the IronPigs clubhouse containing a vulgarity that I can’t imagine Ryne Sandberg or Kurt Landes permitting–at least not for very long.
I decided to purchase spend the time reading the book because of the stories of Scott Elarton and Scott Podsednik and umpire Mark Lollo. All names we’ve known at Coca Cola PARK. Because they come in contact, stories are also presented about Tug Hulett and Rich Thompson, although they’re not featured.
Feinstein introduces us to the main “players” with short capsules, then proceeds to an Introduction prior to Chapter 1. The Introduction is set in Allentown, at Coca Cola Park (he gets it right this time) on June 2, 2012 during a double-header with Pawtucket. The scene is described in great detail. The IronPigs had won game one, and were leading in game two against spot starter Tony Pena Jr. Whack-an-Intern is being played along the third base line. And Mark Prior comes in to pitch for Pawtucket.
I was there. I remember that night. I suppose Mr. Feinstein is trying to describe how far from the Majors AAA baseball is by describing the scene at Coca Cola Park that evening. To his credit, he’s also describing how close it is, as he points out that spot starter Pena was only pressed into action because the original starter Ross Ohlendorf had opted out of his contract and was starting in Arizona for the Diamondbacks. But in his efforts, Feinstein trivializes the 13,300,743 people who attended AAA baseball games in 2012. They weren’t all there to see what-an-intern. If it were that easy, other minor league sports would be able to generate that level of attendance as well.
Mr. Feinstein thinks “nobody knows their names.” Well, I know their names. I would venture that at least a couple of those 13 million people do, too. I knew who Mark Price was that night, and why he was there. If you choose to buy this book and read it–and I think you probably should–it’s not because you don’t know their names. It’s because you do.
The people–and that’s the key word, people–in these stories and their struggles in the game of baseball are interesting and relevant. It’s important to remember that they are, all, just people. Mr. Feinstein does a fine job humanizing them and telling their stories, despite cheap tactics such as the Introduction.
This week brought changes to the playing surface as well as player status. Here are some links and updates:
The IronPigs had help this week in preparing the field for the 2014 season. The field has to be ready on Monday, March 31 when the players arrive for Media Day and their first workout at Coca Cola Park. They’ll most likely work out again Tuesday prior to the game in Reading that evening, 4/1/2014. They may even get another workout in Wednesday before busing to Pawtucky for the season opener Thursday April 3. The seating bowl doesn’t have to be ready until 3PM or so on Monday April 7, for the home opener.
I’m going to try to link to a couple interesting things I saw this week via The Morning Call and Channel 69 News. I apologize if the links don’t work. But first, let me propose a possible solution for the seating bowl. If the seats haven’t melted themselves clear by the weekend of April 5 and 6, I think the IronPigs should activate the fans to help. The ‘Pigs play at 1:05 each day that weekend (in the woods of Rhode Island.) Put the game up on the big screen. Give out free hot dogs and sodas. Open up a bar or two for $1 drafts. We’ll all bring shovels and ice picks and sham-wows and help out. It’s the old “invite your friends over to help you move” (and you’d better have a case or two of beer on hand). We’re the best fans in Minor League Baseball, there’s no reason we can’t lend a hand (you know, in exchange for some consideration–will also accept additional ballpark credit or Majestic Clubhouse Store gift cards).
Here’s a report from 69 News:
There’s a photo gallery of Coca Cola Park as it appeared on February 17 here from The Morning Call.
Here’s a link to a Jeff Schuler Morning Call story about the snow removal process, from Monday: HERE
There’s another Photo Gallery, from Thursday: HERE
As you can see, they’ve brought in outside help. It sounds like replacing the infield was in the plans all along. Certainly, they’re under the gun to complete the project. I wonder if there’s a somewhat silver lining: With new sod due to arrive for the infield, at least it will be healthy and green (assuming proper installation and conditions). The craziness of the weather might not allow the “chemical process” we leaned about last Spring to have its full, desired effect. I guess we’ll know when we compare the infield and outfield. I did not hear them say that the outfield would be replaced as well.
Meanwhile, in Clearwater, some players have been shifted around a bit now that the Minor League camp is in full swing. Yesterday morning, outfielders Kelly Dugan and Aaron Altherr were reassigned to minor league camp. I expect both to be with Reading to start the season. While we’re talking Reading OF: Cameron Perkins is in the Reading “group 2″ in minor league camp. It’s certainly no guarantee that he’ll be in Reading, but he has the opportunity. Meanwhile, Anthony Hewitt came up lame running for first yesterday (one report said hamstring, another ankle) during an intra-squad scrimmage–that may impact Reading’s OF to start as well.
Leandro Castro was reassigned too. I expect him to be with the IronPigs. After spending all season with us last year, the Phillies re-signed him to a minor league contract with an MLB invite. I would think that means they like him enough to keep him around at AAA. The fact that he got sent down so early in the process probably means that they want him to get more playing time, and that they know what they have with him at this point.
Catcher Sebastian Valle was reassigned as well. As I’ve written, I expect him to open with Reading if he’s not part of a trade prior to the season. His reassignment tends to confirm that. I still expect Cameron Rupp and Lou Marson to be IronPigs, but keep an eye on Nieves–if he doesn’t play well he could find himself DFA’d if he gets out-played by Rupp and/or Marson. However, I would think that’s unlikely. You can always use extra catchers.
After yesterday’s game top pitching prospect Jesse Biddle was reassigned as well. In his case, I don’t think it necessarily portends Reading or Lehigh Valley. They likely have things for him to work on and want him getting regular time which he might not get in Major League camp. It does mean he won’t be the one filling in for the “not injured but really tired” Cole Hamels in the Phillies rotation right away. (I have no problem with Cole–it’s the Phillies not being forthright about injuries that I question)
Relief pitchers Luis Garcia and Michael Stutes were optioned to minor league camp yesterday. I know Luis hasn’t had the success in MLB Spring Training games, but I haven’t seen him pitch. As long as he’s throwing hard and not locating, the potential is there–expect him to be part of the Lehigh Valley bull pen while he works on it.
Michael Stutes first appeared with the IronPigs in 2011. He was a fast-rising relief prospect who went on to pitch well in Philly at the age of 24. 2012 was almost a “lost” season for Michael as he rehabbed and came back from injury. He struggled a bit last season, too, as he pitched for both the IronPigs and the Phillies. There are now worries about Stutes’ shoulder again, and his fastball velocity which used to be around 95 now struggles to even hit 90. I would hope that Stutes can get stronger and perhaps alter some pitching strategy to continue to compete. However, DL time, surgery, rest, release from the team…it’s all on the table right now. He almost certainly won’t be on the Phillies’ opening day roster, and I don’t think he’s a lock to be an IronPig on opening day either. It bears watching. He was a favorite of mine to watch in 2011, and I wish him well.
Coming this week:
Tuesday: Season Ticket packages will be ready to pick up at the Coca Cola Park ticket office starting at 10AM. Check back with the Horn and Bell on Tuesday for further details.
Also Tuesday: The Phillies’ minor leaguers begin their “games” with a matchup versus the Toronto franchise: AAA (group 1) and AA (group 2) in Clearwater, and A+ (group 3) and A (group 4) in Dunedin.
And: IronPigs radio personalities Matt Provence and Jon Schaeffer will have the radio call for the Phillies’ game in Orlando versus Atlanta. Listen via MLB.com.
Wednesday: Our own Cheryl Pursell will be in Clearwater. We wish her safe travel, and look forward to reports on Twitter (@CherylPursell) and via the IronPigs media feed. We’ll post anything she sends us, right here on the Horn and Bell Blog.
And: Provence and Schaeffer again on the call (radio) as the Phillies visit the Orioles in Sarasota. Also MLB.com I believe.
Stay tuned, it’s starting to get good!
The Phillies have been having trouble keeping their starting pitching candidates healthy thus far in Spring Training, and that means only one thing: They’re gonna need to take guys from the IronPigs.
Sure, they say Cole Hamels isn’t really injured, just fatigued. And everyone puts on a smiley face and points out that he doesn’t have any pain and no MRI has been scheduled. Meanwhile, he’s not going to be throwing any time soon, and we have no idea when–or if–he’ll return to the Phillies. We might as well be waiting for Godot over here. I wish him luck, but I’m not counting on him anytime soon.
Two younger options for the Phillies, Jon Pettibone and Ethan Martin, are also having shoulder difficulties. Pettibone was given a cortisone injections and a week of rest, and reported a good throwing session the other day. But he’s behind schedule. Ethan Martin was removed from the game with shoulder capsule inflammation and triceps tendonitis last week, with no schedule to return. Recall that Adam Morgan had shoulder difficulty last season after a really good start in Allentown, but ended up in the surgeon’s office this off-season after attempts at rest and therapy failed. Shoulders are tricky–and painful.
Assuming the Phillies aren’t going to go shopping for a free agent pitcher such as Ervin Santana, their choices are likely to be guys in the MLB camp right now:
Buchanan pitched well for the IronPigs down the stretch last season following a solid if unspectacular start to the season in Reading. It was enough to get him to MLB camp. He’s done well so far, and earned high praise. He pitches again today, with the pressure mounting, I’m sure: Facing Verlander with the knowledge that an MLB spot is on the line.
O’Sullivan and Manship are AAA veterans with MLB experience. I had both slotted for spots in the IronPigs rotation, but both have pitched well at the big camp and have a shot at a spot in the Phillies’ rotation.
Gonzalez, the so-called “International Man of Mystery” didn’t look ready for Prime Time in his first outing. He’s pitching again today I think, but some work needs to be done. It bears watching, but he’s just as likely to be with Reading at this juncture, than the Phillies. He could be an IronPig.
BJ Rosenberg has earned high praise for his pitching thus far and is being stretched out as a possible starter or “long man.” I think that trend is only likely to continue at this point. He’s had some experience with the big club.
Jesse Biddle is the youngster, top prospect guy. While his stats overall did not look that impressive in Reading last season, he was ill part of the time and did have some dominant outings. I saw him pitch to a 1-0 loss in person one evening. The Phillies may not want to start the “arbitration clock” on young Mr. Biddle just yet. And, some AAA seasoning should help him.
There are other options–for the IronPigs–in Minor League Camp:
Hollands earned a trip to MLB camp, but I don’t think he has a realistic chance to stick right away. He may be a relief pitcher eventually, but has been used as a starter as well. Chris Bootcheck started 23 games for the IronRail Champion RailRiders in 2013, but has worked as a reliever–even closer–in the past. Greg Smith was a stalwart starter for the IronPigs last summer; the lefty returns and should eat innings and keep the IronPigs in games. Veteran Barry Enright, fresh off an MVP performance in the Mexican Winter League, started 22 games in AAA and 2 in the Majors last year for the Angels.
Nesseth had some time with the IronPigs last season–even started a game if I recall. These guys plus Brody Colvin have a chance to move up if the IronPigs are thin.
So despite the need for more starters on the MLB level, I feel like we still have candidates to put together a competitive AAA rotation to start the season. If guys get healthy, the rotation could get even better. It’s not as bad as I first thought..
Five weeks from this moment (as I type…) I know exactly where I’ll be. I’ll be in section 209 at Coca Cola Park, enjoying some baseball as the IronPigs open their seventh season.
I might need my heated seat. And my usher Nick might have to use an ice pick to free my seat. My wife might be in the club level lounge. But that’s where I’ll be. I have my tickets. (Well, in theory. Season Ticket pick-up is scheduled to begin March 11. Single-game tickets are on sale now if you need them. Good seats are still available. I just checked!) And, I’ve made arrangements in my schedule to make sure I’m there on time for the opening festivities.
You see, that’s what’s different about the home opener this season. First pitch is scheduled for 5:05PM That means that the pageantry of opening day will begin much earlier–perhaps as early as 4:25 or so. There’s usually a special National Anthem singer, as well as a Color Guard. Sometimes there are special “first” pitches–I heard it might be Miss Piggy this season (unsubstantiated). Plus the introduction of the players. It’s part of what makes opening day a little extra special.
Many folks have asked about the 5:05 start time, and if there was a special reason for the unique scheduling. So, I reached out to IronPigs General Manager Kurt Landes for the official word. He said, “We’d like to try something different” and he mentioned the cold weather concerns. It should be a little warmer at the earlier hour, with some additional daylight yet to be enjoyed. He added, “ I feel that Opening Day should always be a holiday for baseball fans and the game time sets this day further apart with that spirit in mind.” He also mentioned that the earlier start time may allow folks to stay at the park for more of the game.
There have been concerns about rush hour traffic, but really it shouldn’t be too much different from 7:05PM. I travel Route 22 every day, and the rush starts shortly after 3PM and continues through 6:30PM or so. That’s the time you’d be traveling to the park anyway. There may be some additional in-town traffic around 5PM, but that’s the time I’d be coming through for a 7 o’clock game many times.
Another question I heard had to do with the Phillies: The Phillies’ home opener is the same day, with a 3:05PM first pitch. Some wondered if the IronPigs start was designed to compete with, or mirror that start in some way. While it might be nice to watch most of the Phillies game before coming out to the IronPigs, I’m not sure there’s any other connection–other than the desire to have a little bit more warmth and a little bit more “special-ness” about the day. Perhaps the IronPigs can put the Phillies game up on the big screen before the pageantry begins.
I thought of some additional advantages to the 5:05 start: First, it’s a school night. I know the other opening days were usually Tuesdays or Thursdays, but this will allow more kids to experience the opening day and, as Mr. Landes points out, stay for more of the game. Second, it should relieve some of the crush at the concession stands. In years past, the ballpark-food-starved masses have spent most of opening day in line as the concession workers try to find their groove. Hopefully this start time will spread that out a bit as some will eat early before the game, and others might wait for later in the evening before grabbing a bite.
So let this post serve as a reminder: Put in for half a vacation day. Take the whole afternoon off. After this winter, you deserve it. Go out to lunch, then head home and pick up the kiddos, and get to the park as early as you can. You’ll get a free T-Shirt (sponsored by Service Electric, so you know it’ll be nice. Right RK?) and you can watch the Phillies on the TV’s along the concourse, at the Biergarten, in the Club, or at the Tiki. Be in your seat for the introductions and the first pitches. Let’s get this season off to a rousing start! You’ve got five weeks to get ready for the 5-0-5!
you know where
It was cold. The sun shown warmly, and the parking lot was a bit clearer than previous visits to Coca Cola Park. But it was cold. It was my first Pig Day, though. I hadn’t been before due to scheduling problems and just the general lack of need–I probably have more tickets than I can use, already. However, I thought I’d give it a ‘go’ this year, just for fun. But it was cold.
As we arrived around 10AM, there was a significant line for tickets. Because of the computers and ticket printers and credit card machines, attempts to move the ticket operations inside failed. It was cold. The first-base concourse was open at both entrances, and lined with propane heaters because….well, you know.
I don’t have any concrete proof, but I still maintain that to get the absolute best selection of seats, you should always deal with the ticket office directly–either in person or over the phone. It is my belief that the web site doesn’t always show every available seat–for a variety of reasons. This was supported by some of the news from folks in line, who reported better selection by standing in the cold compared with ordering online. Of course, this is also comparing years and the online access for single game isn’t until later in the day–so those are also factors. A nice side effect is that ticket purchases from the office do not carry any additional fees for delivery or “convenience.”
There were free hot dogs and pork sandwiches available at the portables, and coffee and hot chocolate. There were sodas and chips as well. The Fan Services counter was open for club memberships. DiPro and I signed up for the IronHeads again, if only for the T-Shirt. We’ll try to get to the beer tasting this season–we bailed last year due to work/scheduling conflicts. The tailgate stool is….portable. It folds, which is nice, but the steadiness and ability to hold a full-grown man is in doubt. And depending on how hard you’ve been tailgating, it may have the duel function of a sobriety test. But what the heck? A ticket, a T-Shirt, a stool, a coupon for a hot dog…still a pretty good deal for $30.
But I digress.
The Majestic Clubhouse Store was doing a brisk business. I supported the cause by picking up one of the old batting practice caps. I like the New Era 39THIRTY design for comfort reasons, and you know, once they’re gone….
The IronPigs Charities table had some of the old bobbles for sale, and some raffle tickets for three game-used Saturday jerseys. Rupp, Galvis, and Morgan if I recall. I guess I didn’t win, because I didn’t hear anything, but I did enter. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard of any “26 Days” winners recently, either.
We spent about an hour, and said hello to Kurt Landes, Matt Provence, and NoiseNation fellows Dean and RD, as well as new and old IronPigs staffers.
Oh, and DiPro got his jacket back. So thank goodness, we can all rest easy.
Now for some updates on potential IronPigs players, and others:
If you stuck with me this long, here’s a stab at the opening day lineup, and starting rotation:
Rotation: Manship, O’Sullivan, Buchanan, Smith, Pettibone
Enjoy the game today,