Snappers Playoff Win – Photos

If Wednesday night’s Beloit Snappers/Clinton LumberKings game does indeed mark the final time I see a baseball game in person this year, it was a heckuva game to end the season on!

I don’t want to bury the lead, so let’s start by saying the Snappers came out on top in game one of their 3-game playoff series with Clinton, by a score of 8-6. But the score doesn’t begin to tell the story.

Clinton scored twice in the bottom of the first inning, but Beloit got one back in the top of the 2nd. Clinton 2B Dillon Hazlett got that run back for Clinton in the bottom of the 2nd with a solo HR. It wouldn’t be his only dinger.

Beloit scored again in the top of the 3rd to make the score 3-2 Clinton, but the LumberKings tallied another run in the 4th to go back up by 2 runs again. The Snappers closed to within 1 with an Eddie Rosario RBI double. However, when Miguel Sano flied to CF, Rosario tried to advance to third base, but was called out for having left 2nd too soon. Again the LumberKings immediately got that run back in the bottom of the 5th to reclaim a 2-run margin, 5-3.

Rosario struck again with runners on 2nd and 3rd in the 7th with a single to LF. Clinton left fielder Guillermo Pimentel bobbled the ball, allowing the tying run to score, but Rosario was thrown out at 2B by the cut-off man. Still, the game stood tied at 5 runs each.

Kennys Vargas started out the 8th with a double to the LCF wall. JD Williams pinch ran for Vargas and eventually scored on Stephen Wickens RBI single up the middle through a drawn in infield. But in the bottom of the 8th, Hazlett struck again with his second solo HR of the night and the game was tied yet again, 6-6.

In the 9th, the Snappers parlayed an AJ Petterson lead-off single, a Nate Roberts sacrifice bunt, a Clinton error, a couple of wild pitches and an infield grounder in to two more runs. Mason Melotakis gave up a lead-off double in the bottom of the ninth and nearly threw a comeback grounder over the head of Miguel Sano, who had shifted over to play 1B after Vargas’ departure. But Melotakis settled down to get the final out on a fly ball to RF to secure the 8-6 win.

They head home now for game 2 Thursday night and, if necessary, game 3 on Friday.

I was a little disappointed in the size of the crowd at Clinton, but I can’t say enough about how friendly everyone I talked to was. I started the game sitting with a family from Beloit, including a young lady who, it turns out, is one of the Snappers’ batgirls at their home games. Later in the game, I moved out to a picnic area down the left field line and the Clinton fans down there pretty much adopted me for two innings, despite my Twins gear clearly making my allegiances clear.

Clinton’s ballpark is another one of the older stadiums in the Midwest League, but Clinton has at least made obvious attempts to upgrade their facilities. I REALLY enjoyed the old school organ music between and during innings. I didn’t realize how much I missed that kind of thing until I heard it in Clinton!

Let’s wrap with a few pictures and wish the Snappers the best of luck the rest of the playoffs!

- JC

Outside Ashford University Field in Clinton

Pitching coach Gary Lucas looks on as starting pitcher Jason Wheeler warms up with catcher Matt Koch

Teams are introduced before the playoff game starts

Manager Nelson Prada and runner Kennys Vargas at 3B

Runner Drew Leachman, who had 3 hits on the night, held on by Clinton SS Bryan Brito

Jason Wheeler pitching with Miguel Sano at 3B

Kennys Vargas at 1B and AJ Petterson at 2B

View from the left field picnic area of Ashford University Field in Clinton

 

Butterflies With Hiccups – Iowa Style

I’m taking advantage of a bit of extra free time I have this afternoon to do another post of random news items (if you use a very generous definition of the word “news”), most of it with an Iowa connection today.

I played hooky this afternoon and watched the Twins and White Sox. True, I had to deal with the Comcast broadcast out of Chicago due to the MLB blackout rules and that means listening to Hawk Harrelson, but that’s what the mute button is for, right? I hear he left the broadcast booth in the 7th inning of the Twins 18-9 blowout of the Sox on Tuesday night and I have to admit I wish I had witnessed that.

As this MLB season winds down, I’m rooting for two things: First, as many of you know, I’m a bit of an Orioles fan, so I still have a team in contention. I still think the Birds are doing it with smoke and mirrors, but I really don’t care how they get the job done, I just want them to beat the Yankees over in the AL East and get in to the playoffs. (Admit it, you wouldn’t mind seeing JJ Hardy and Lew Ford in the playoffs, either.) Second, I’m hoping that the White Sox end up on the outside of the playoffs looking in AND that they finish just close enough that their losses to the Twins this year account for their failure to qualify.

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Miguel Sano

Speaking of playoffs, I’m driving over to Clinton IA this evening to catch game one of the best-of-three playoff series between the Twins’ Midwest League (Class A) affiliate Beloit Snappers and the Clinton LumberKings (Seattle’s affiliate). Clinton finished the MWL regular season on a 10-game winning streak (the last three of which came against my Cedar Rapids Kernels). I saw all three of the Clinton-CR games this past weekend and I think Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and their Beloit teammates have their work cut out for them. Either way, at least I’ll get to check off another MWL ballpark with my visit to Beloit tonight.

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There’s nothing really new on the Twins’ affiliation front for 2013. Now that the minor league regular season is over, teams that are interested in exploring new affiliation options (both MLB teams and minor league teams) can notify the MLB Commissioner’s Office or the president of minor league baseball of such. The teams are not allowed to state publicly that they’ve submitted that notification, however.

The powers-that-be will provide a list of potential affiliates to those teams by September 15. Then, and only then, are the various MLB and MiLB clubs able to start negotiating possible new partnerships with one another.

There was a new article posted online at the website of one of the local CR TV stations (KCRG) this week, but it really didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know. KCRG is owned by the same company (SourceMedia) as the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the report was written by the Gazette writer, Jeff Johnson, that covers the Kernels beat. Johnson has written about the affiliation issue a couple of times already this season and I think he has a pretty solid sense of what’s about to happen.

I’m optimistic, at this point, that I’ll be watching future Twins play baseball at Perfect Game Field here in Cedar Rapids for the next few summers, but the Kernels Directors (essentially, the team’s “owners”) still have a few questions they should be asking the Twins (such as, “Are you planning on buying a MWL team and moving it to St. Paul in a couple of years?”) before anyone is going to sign a deal. As soon as I hear more, I’ll post something, but I don’t expect to hear a lot before the end of September.

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Since this is an Iowa-centered post on a baseball-centered blog, I thought I would mention this little piece of news, as well.

How many of you have seen the movie “Field of Dreams”? Everyone? I thought so.

How many of you have visited the site near Dyersville, in Eastern Iowa, where the movie was filmed? Did you even know the site has been a mini-tourist attraction, complete with cornfield-bordered baseball field, pretty much ever since the movie was released? No? Well now there’s going to be even more of a reason for you to visit, especially if you have kids who play baseball or softball.

Go the Distance Baseball LLC plans to build a $38 million youth baseball/softball complex at the Field of Dreams site. The complex will include 24 ballfields of varying sizes (over and above the original field, which apparently won’t be altered).  The company received approval of a $16.5 million sales tax rebate from the Iowa Legislature & Governor last spring and now have a $5.1 million property tax rebate from the Dyersville City Council, as well.

New Field of Dreams complex (from their Facebook page)

Here’s the artist’s rendering of the site:

Sounds like Ray Kinsella is hearing more voices, doesn’t it? He and his tractor are going to be kept awfully busy plowing under all those other fields. Almost makes me want to get back in to coaching youth baseball. Almost.

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This is rivalry week down here in Iowa. It’s the week of the annual Iowa – Iowa State football game, which I know is of very little interest to much of anyone outside our state’s borders. But it’s a big deal here. It’s in Iowa City this year, which means that’s where I’ll be spending most of my Saturday.

I’m a Hawkeye season ticket holder, but I’m not “anti-ISU” like a lot of people are. I went to high school over in central Iowa, about 40 miles from Iowa State’s campus in Ames. My parents were even ISU season ticket holders for a few years (back in the days when Johnny Majors coached the Cyclones), so I saw a game or two back then. I enjoy taking jabs at my ISU-fan friends and co-workers, but I really don’t mind them having some success on the football field from time to time.

But not this Saturday.

The trophy case in the Iowa football complex that is built to hold the various traveling trophies that the Hawkeyes play for is empty at the moment, with all three of them currently in the possession of various rivals. It’s time the Cy-Hawk Trophy resumes its rightful place in Iowa City.

It may feel a bit lonely for a while, but come September 29, after the Gophers have been sent packing, Floyd of Rosedale will be there to keep it company.

- JC

Twins 2013 Class A Affiliation Gets Muddied

These days, it’s not often that I go more than a couple of days without getting asked whether I think the Twins will be the Major League affiliate of my home town Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2013. When I’m not answering that question, I’m the one asking it of pretty much anyone I can think of who might have some insight.

At the beginning of August, I was telling people I thought it was about a 50-50 proposition. The Twins and Cedar Rapids make a lot of sense for a number of reasons on both sides. Then again, The Kernels have been affiliated with the Angels for 20 years and that’s a long relationship to walk away from. The Angels have been reported as having indicated a desire to keep the relationship going.

Between early August and a week ago, my hopes for a watching Twins prospects playing for my home town team kept going upward. In fact, just a week or so ago, I was 90% certain that the Twins would be sending their prospects through Cedar Rapids for the next several years.

I kept hearing that it was all but a lock. But I was remaining just cautiously optimistic because you just never know about these things. Weird stuff happens.

Sure enough, in the past week, weird stuff has happened. Stuff that is not good news for a potential Twins/Kernels relationship.

First, you need to understand a little bit about the baseball loyalties in the greater Cedar Rapids area. We sit less than a 5 hour drive from six MLB ballparks. The Twins, Brewers, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals and Royals are all about the same distance from CR, but the local loyalties are not at all equal.

First, among the group, are the Cubs and it’s really not all that close. Behind the Cubs, come the Cardinals, White Sox and Twins. Which order they fall in would be open to debate, but there’s a pretty strong base of fans for each organization in this area. Next, would easily be the Brewers and an argument could be made that they should be considered near-equals with the three teams above them. Finally, far at the bottom, would be the Royals. To find Royals caps and jerseys around town, you really have to be looking for them.

The Kernels clearly seem to have decided to look in to the possibility of aligning with one of the six MLB teams that are nearby geographically and, if so, have likely already informed the Angels of such. That would be the honorable thing to do, allowing a partner you’ve had a good relationship with to begin thinking about what their options might be on September 16, when teams can start negotiating with potential new affiliates.

A month ago, in looking at the six geographic fits for a new CR affiliate, you would immediately eliminate the White Sox, whose current affiliation with Kannapolis in the South Atlantic League is not up for renewal until 2014 and there’s no indication they won’t remain there in the future. Likewise, the Brewers are signed with with the Wisconsin (Appleton) Timber Rattlers through 2016. The Cardinals and Quad Cities were believed to be happy with one another and an extension was expected. Similarly, Kane County (Geneva IL) was believed to have a solid relationship with the Royals. There were some who weren’t sure the Cubs and Peoria were all that solid, but most people seemed to think they would end up renewing for two more years anyway.

That left the Twins, among the six closest MLB teams, for Cedar Rapids to partner with. It’s a natural fit, beyond just geography. The Kernels are very big on community involvement by their players, with programs in place with local schools, etc. The Twins are also well known for emphasizing community work among their players. It seemed like a match that could last a very long time, which is what the Kernels certainly should be looking for.

Then last week, it all blew up.

On Wednesday, August 22, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Gordon Wittenmyer reported that the Cubs were, “in the process of working out a player development agreement with the Kane County Cougars.”

That little ditty certainly must have set off alarm bells in a number of Midwest League offices and MLB team offices, not to mention the office of the Commissioner of Baseball.

First of all, under MLB Rule 56, teams aren’t allowed to even hint at a new affiliation with any team except the one they are currently working with until September 16. No negotiating, no public comments, nothing. If, indeed the Cubs and Cougars have been “negotiating,” that could cost the Cubs $500,000 and the Cougars $100,000 in fines. In any event, that article apparently caught the Cubs’ current affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs, by surprise, as well as Kane County’s current affiliate, the Royals. Both of whom supposedly were expecting to renew their agreements with their current partners.

(Here, I must add, however, that if you’ve had all year to renew an agreement that you want to renew, but your business partner hasn’t done so… I think you probably shouldn’t be too surprised to find out he’s exploring other options.)

Here in Cedar Rapids, where a significant number of the BOD are rumored to be Cubs fans, the news signaled that, whether or not they end up in Kane County, the Cubs may very well be in play. If so, you’d think a large faction of the Board may be likely to want to explore a Cubs/Kernels affiliation.

Personally, I don’t think the Cubs would consider moving their MWL affiliate further away from Chicago. But even if we assume the Cubs do eventually move to the Chicago suburbs of Kane County, that would leave the Royals as another potential geographic fit for the Kernels, in addition to the Twins.

Still, the Board would be foolish to sign on with the Royals over the Twins, given the significantly larger local Twins fan base, right? Yes, except…

Did you happen to catch the news that St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman dropped during a radio appearance a few days ago? He indicated that he expected news of approval of a new minor league stadium in St. Paul within the next two weeks. But he didn’t stop there. In addition to being the home of the independent (no MLB affiliations) Northwoods League’s CORRECTION: American Association’s St. Paul Saints, Coleman announced the stadium, which could be ready in 2 years, would meet MLB standards for Class A affiliates and he believed it could be used for both the Saints AND a potential Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.

St. Paul would fall a ways outside the existing MWL footprint and since existing MWL teams are guaranteed affiliations for as long as they maintain appropriate facilities and can stay financially viable, there are any number of reasons why a St. Paul MWL team might never happen. But it’s not impossible, so you’d better believe Mayor Coleman’s comments must have gotten the attention of people involved with the Kernels.

As demonstrated by their 20 year history with the Angels, Cedar Rapids is not likely to be interested in being any kind of two, or even four, year “stopgap” for the Twins before seeing them bolt for St. Paul. They should want another long-term relationship with an affiliate and, if so, you can be certain the Twins will be asked about their views on a potential move to St. Paul during their presentation in Cedar Rapids.

So how is this shaping up?

I still see the Cubs as a longshot in Cedar Rapids. They seem intent on moving closer to Chicago, not further away. Might they make a presentation to CR to deflect attention from their premature negotiations with Kane County? Sure. But if you’re a CR Board member I think you have to ask yourself if it’s a good fit. First, can you trust the Cubs not to go behind your back in a couple of years like they did with Peoria? Second, there are rumors that the Cubs require the local affiliate to pay their prospects for “community appearances.” That won’t fly in Cedar Rapids. Still… there may be people who would (foolishly, in my opinion) take the Cubs on any terms, even for just a couple of years.

I see the Twins as back to being a 50-50 proposition and maybe not that high. They are by far the best fit for Cedar Rapids, but if the Twins really are thinking that they would eventually like to place their MWL affiliate in St. Paul (and that may not be a bad decision on their part), I believe they are the kind of organization that would at least be honest with the Kernels in their presentation and admit that’s a reasonable possibility. If that is the case, I think that could chill interest on the part of the Kernels.

If the Cubs do move to Kane County, as it seems they’re intent on doing, and the Twins are not looking for a long-term partner, the Royals become the best bet for Cedar Rapids.

But if the Twins don’t land in Cedar Rapids, then where WOULD they set up shop in 2013?

If they think they’ve figured out a way to clear all the hurdles to get their team to St. Paul in two years, their best decision might be to stay in Beloit for a two-year extension. Otherwise, it sounds like Peoria might be the Twins only option, assuming they want to stay in the MWL’s Western Division. (I should note the Quad Cities and the Cardinals have not yet renewed, so QC could be in the mix, but the Twins relationship there did not end well eight years ago and new QC ownership may not be enough to interest the Twins in going back down that path.)

For months, any time officials of any minor league or Major League team have been asked about possible new affiliates, they’ve refused to go on the record with any predictions (except the Cubs and/or Cougars, apparently). After all the speculation, it looks like we’re all just going to have to wait another month to see where all the chips fall.

However, I’m REALLY bad at waiting, so you shouldn’t be surprised if this is not the last time I post on this topic.

- JC

A Long Weekend With the Snappers & Kernels

It seemed to me like the first game of this Snappers/Kernels series on Saturday night was a long one… and it was. The game took three hours and twenty minutes to play and since the Snappers pretty much dominated the entire game, on their way to a 13-2 rout of their hosts, there really wasn’t enough excitement to make the game feel like it was moving along.

Fortunately, I was in the “all you can eat and drink” picnic area, so I managed to stay well fed and well lubricated.

UPDATE: I also had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Horrorpants and his brother-in-law, who were down from the Twin Cities to check out the Snappers. You should go check out his Twins Daily blog post and his pictures from the night by clicking here.

Nate Roberts went 3-6 on Saturday night and three different Snappers (JD Williams, Tyler Grimes and Drew Leachman) hit home runs. Amazingly, Beloit scored 13 runs while their number 3 and 4 hitters, Eddie Rosario and Kennys Vargas, combined to go 0 for 10 on the night. Cole Johnson gave up 2 runs in his 5 innings of work. Corey Williams threw 3 shutout innings and DJ Baxendale finished off the night with a scoreless inning, as well.

Twins uber-prospect Miguel Sano was not in the lineup Saturday night, but he seemed healthy during pregame workouts, so there seemed little cause for concern. Sure enough, Sano returned to his spot at third base for the game Sunday afternoon.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Sano and Eddie Rosario in the field during the series to gauge how much they’ve progressed defensively. Through the first two games, however, Rosario hasn’t taken the field. He DH’d  on Saturday night and was not in the lineup Sunday.

I’ll say this about Sano, however. He made several plays in the field on Sunday that I don’t believe he would have been capable of making when I saw him here in Cedar Rapids back in April. He may never be another Brooks Robinson at third base, but he has improved this season. If he works hard and continues to improve every season, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him sticking at the hot corner by the time he’s playing ball at Target Field.

Sano was certainly an offensive star of the game on Sunday. He had four hits in six at-bats, including two doubles and his 27th home run. Vargas and Stephen Wickens both homered in the game, as well.

The game itself was one of the better games I’ve seen in person this season… and I arrived too late to see the first highlight of the afternoon. I was late getting to the ballpark and arrived during the top of the second inning. Moments before I arrived, Vargas got the Snappers on the board with a solo home run that cleared the top of the Kernels’ video board in right center field. I haven’t seen that done in the 11 years the Kernels have been playing in this version of Veterans Memorial Stadium.

The Snappers put up three runs off of Kernels starter Cam Bedrosian and continued to nick a string of relief pitchers. Snappers pitcher Jason Wheeler gave up four runs in his six innings of work before Mason Melotakis came on to throw 1.2 hitless innings. Melotakis was consistently hitting 94 mph according to the scoreboard speed sign. That sign has a reputation for being a bit over 1 mph slower than scouts’ speedguns. Zach Jones came on to relieve Melotakis and three a couple mph harder. Unfortunately for the Snappers, he lacked Melotakis’ control and ended up giving up three runs and sending the game in to extra innings.

Taylor Rogers went 2.1 innings without giving up a run to the Kernels as neither team could push a run across the plate in the 10th, 11th or 12th inning. In the 13th, Wickens lifted a fly ball to the outfield with Nate Roberts on third base. That’s when things got interesting. The throw was on target and beat Roberts to the plate, where Kernels catcher Zach Wright was blocking Roberts’ path… but the ball came out of Wright’s glove… but Roberts went over the top of Wright and never touched the plate… but it took a moment for Wright to get the ball back. Wright and Roberts did a little dance together as Wright attempted to tag Roberts and Roberts attempted to get a toe on the plate. In the end, umpire Dustin Klinghagen declared Roberts safe and the Snappers had the lead.

The weirdness that inning did not stop there. With JD Williams at 3B, the Kernels pitched around Sano, walking him to bring up Kennys Vargas. On a full count, Sano broke for 2B, Vargas struck out and Wright threw to second, attempting to throw Sano out. Williams broke for home, the throw to 2B was cut off and thrown home, nailing Williams at the plate, for one of the more peculiar “strike em out, throw em out” double play I’ve ever seen.

In the 13th inning Tim Atherton  walked Wright to start the inning and then threw two wild pitches, moving Wright to 3B. One out later, Drew Martinez singled in the tying run and stole second base. From there, he scored on an Alex Yarbrough walk-off single, giving the Kernels the 9-8 win.

The game, which started a half hour late due to rain, took 4:19 to play.

Quite a game… quite a weekend. And there are two more games left in this series.

With that, I leave you with a few pictures from my weekend at the ballpark.

Some of the Snappers indulge a game of “pepper” prior to Saturday night’s game.

Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium from the left field picnic area

Pitcher Jason Wheeler and third baseman Miguel Sano

Kernels pitcher Cam Bedrosian, son of former MLB pitcher Steve Bedrosian

Jason Wheeler

Snappers first baseman Drew Leachman

On Sunday, Eddie Rosario got a day off, but did coach first base.

Snappers relief pitcher Mason Melotakis

JD Williams in left field

Shortstop Stephen Wickens flashes a sign to his middle infield partner

Zach Jones was hitting 96 mph

Leadoff hitter Nate Roberts

Catcher Jairo Rodriguez

Relief pitcher Taylor Rogers

Miguel Sano looks more comfortable at 3B to me.

Kennys Vargas went very, very deep in the 2nd inning.

The scoreboard tells the story at the end. Oh… and Vargas’ home run cleared the “Perfect Game Field” sign at the top of the scoreboard, which is set several feet behind the 390 ft wall.

I also had a few conversations this weekend with various, “sources close to the Kernels,” as they say in the trade, about the upcoming discussions between the Kernels and various potential MLB affiliates. But we’ll talk about all of that in another post, another time. :)

- JC

Minor Leagues: Affiliation Questions and Answers

Over the past month or more, I’ve alluded a few times to the fact that the Twins’ Player Development Contracts (PDC) with a number of their minor league affiliates were set to expire after the current season. In fact, all four of their PDCs with their “full-season” affiliates (A, Advanced A, AA and AAA) were expiring.

Nobody really expects their Advanced A team, the Ft. Myers Miracle, to shop around for a new affiliation, given that the team calls the Twins’ Spring Training facility its home. While there was plenty of doubt in the air about the Twins’ relationship with their AA affiliate in New Britain CT, the two parties announced a two-year extension to their working agreement recently. That leaves their AAA team in Rochester NY and their Class A team in Beloit WI still up in the air.

I’ve wondered enough about this issue that it caused me to ask a few questions of people who are more familiar than I was with how the affiliation process works. (It didn’t take much searching to find people who knew more than I did.) Between asking some questions and a little bit of online investigation, I found a few answers that I thought I would share here.

Q:           Why don’t the Twins have a AAA affiliate closer to Minnesota?

A:            The two AAA leagues are primarily eastern (International League) and western (Pacific Coast League) groupings with relatively few locations in the Midwest. Those that are nearby either already have strong, long time relationships with other Midwest MLB teams (Des Moines with the Cubs and Omaha with the Royals) or their PDC is not expiring (Indianapolis with the Pirates) until 2014.

Q:           So why would the Twins want out of Rochester?

A:            They probably don’t. Most of what’s being written about this relationship indicates that it’s Rochester that may want to explore other options. The Twins have fielded pretty bad teams there the past couple of years and attendance has dropped off significantly. However, the Red Wings are on a roll at the moment and are on the fringes of a Wild Card spot, so the question is whether it’s too little, too late, to salvage the relationship.

Q:           Beloit is pretty close to the Twin Cities and they’ve had some decent teams there, so why change that affiliation?

A:            The primary reasons for even considering a switch involve the facilities in Beloit. Pohlman Field may be considered quaint or even a nostalgic throwback to the days of town team or low minor league baseball by some. But to those who deal with the business side of baseball, the facilities in Beloit, from the clubhouses to the training facilities to the seating areas to the field itself, are simply not up to modern standards for full-season minor league baseball. Ten other MWL communities still have not come to extension agreements with their existing MLB partners, so it should come as no surprise that the Twins are in no hurry to ink an extension with Beloit.

Q:           Why won’t teams like the Twins or their current affiliates just come out and say, “we’re interested in looking in to another affiliation”?

A:            Existing PDCs do not expire until September 30 and any public comments before then could be (and most likely would be) considered “tampering” with existing contractual relationships, subjecting teams to six figure fines. Teams in existing relationships can renew those deals for an additional two or four year period at any time, but no discussions with or about potential new partners can take place before certain dates specified in MLB Rule 56.

Q:           When will the Twins decide who their affiliates will be next season?

A:            Any time between the end of the season (both Rochester and Beloit regular seasons end September 3) and September 11, teams can notify either the MLB Commissioner or the MiLB President (and ONLY those people… they can’t publicly state that they’ve provided such notice) that they do not wish to renew their existing agreement. If the Commissioner approves the termination notices*, he notifies the parties involved by September 15. Only once a team gets a termination approval notice from the Commissioner can it begin negotiations with other potential affiliation partners. That means everyone needs to find a new partner between September 16th and the 30th. Those teams who don’t come to an agreement on their own in that period of time will have their affiliations assigned by the Commissioner by October 7.

*Yes, Bud Selig can employ his “best interests of baseball” powers to disallow termination requests. If Bud decides, for example, that the Twins remaining affiliated with Beloit is what is in the best interests of baseball, he can turn down the Twins’ request to terminate that PDC and require that it be extended two more years. Would he do so? It would be wrong, but he’s from Wisconsin, after all, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first thing he’s done wrong as Commissioner.

Q:           Why don’t the Twins just offer to help Beloit remodel their stadium or even help with the costs of building a new one?

A:            I think the only way the Twins could do that would be to actually purchase the Beloit Baseball Club from the current owner (which, I believe, is the community itself). A few MLB teams do own minor league affiliates (in fact, I think the Twins own their Elizabethton rookie league team), but this is still relatively rare.

In this situation, the MLB Rule applicable to PDCs prohibits MLB teams from promising benefits beyond that of a standard PDC contract. That being the case, it would seem that MLB teams would not be permitted to offer inducements, nor could MiLB clubs ask MLB teams to contribute funding beyond what’s allowed in a standard PDC (travel costs, salaries and benefits for players, coaches, instructional staff and trainers, for example).

Q:           Why don’t the Twins affiliate with the St. Paul Saints for their Class A team?

A:            During the off-season, I heard some chatter suggesting the Twins should partner with the St. Paul Saints in their effort to get a new stadium built in St. Paul and then make the Saints their Class A affiliate. Not that the Twins ever expressed interest in such an arrangement publicly, but the same rule mentioned above would apparently preclude the Twins from funding the Saints’ new stadium and making St. Paul an affiliate unless the Twins actually purchased ownership of the team.

There are also minimum boundary requirements in the rules that preclude a MiLB team from playing too close to a MLB team’s home territory (which would certainly apply to St. Paul). There appears to be some wiggle room there if the MLB team agrees, which they certainly could do if they’re the affiliate of that team. But there are other obstacles. For example, MiLB teams must provide an off day for players any time they travel more than 500 miles for a road series, unless they fly the team to that location (which you just don’t do at Class A). St. Paul is so far outside the current MWL footprint that this would make scheduling extremely difficult. MLB teams get off days regularly… MiLB players get very, very few.

Finally, even if those issues could be addressed, the Twins don’t get to decide which communities get affiliated MiLB teams (the Saints are currently an Independent team, meaning they are not part of the “affiliated” MiLB system). Unless a current MiLB franchise can no longer operate financially in a manner that it can meet the terms of their PDC and other rules, existing teams appear to be guaranteed a PDC. So, for example, unless Beloit can’t meet its obligations, in terms of providing the minimum facilities required, pay for travel or other expenses that they’re responsible for, or they decide to sell their franchise, they will likely have a PDC with someone next season. Even if they’re sold, it appears the new owners would have to give 18 months notice prior to relocating.

In other words, the Saints will probably be remaining independent for the foreseeable future and Beloit will continue to have a MWL team for at least one more season and likely longer.

Q:           When will we know who the Twins’ affiliates will be in 2013?

A:            If the Twins are going to switch affiliations, we may not hear anything official until October. However, if we haven’t heard about a renewal of an existing PDC by September 1, it’s probably safe to assume there’s going to be a change in affiliations at that Class. If either the Twins or their existing affiliates elect to “go in to the pool” and explore new options, they will get a list of potential locations available for new affiliations on September 15. That would not preclude teams from also negotiating with their existing affiliates during the late September negotiating period, but renewals at that point are rather rare.

Q:           If the Twins don’t renew their PDCs with Rochester and/or Beloit, who are they likely to affiliate with?

A:            I’m admittedly biased, but the truth is Cedar Rapids would be a very good fit as the Twins’ Class A affiliate and, trust me, I’m not the only person who feels that way. CR is the closest MWL city to the Twin Cities geographically and an affiliation would benefit both organizations. CR would get an affiliation with a nearby MLB team that has a significant existing local fan base and the Twins would get an opportunity to get a stronger foothold in Eastern Iowa, where neither their TV nor radio rights holders are currently carried. If that dynamic can be changed, it could have a positive effect on future Twins media rights fees.

Cedar Rapids’ stadium is 11 years old and provides relatively modern facilities for players and field management. In addition, I was told once that Kernels players may also have access to the Perfect Game facilities across the street from the ballpark. However, CR has been affiliated with the Angels for 20 years and the Angels would like to renew, so there’s still a chance they announce a renewal before September 1. If that happens, Clinton IA (currently a Mariners affiliate) might be another option for the Twins.

AAA is a cloudier situation. Earlier in the year, the prevailing theory seemed to be that the Blue Jays (who desperately want out of Las Vegas) would affiliate with Buffalo. The Mets, who currently are in Buffalo, would partner up with Rochester and leave the Twins to find a new AAA home. That still could happen or, if Buffalo and the Mets renew, the Jays could simply move to Rochester.

Because so few International League PDCs are up for renewal (none of the IL South or West division teams’ PDCs are expiring), a renewal with Rochester is likely the only chance the Twins have of staying in that league.

The three locations I hear most often discussed for a possible Twins move are Oklahoma City, Nashville and Las Vegas. OKC is currently an Astros affiliate and Nashville is tied to the Brewers. If those teams don’t announce a renewal before September, they might be landing spots for the Twins. Otherwise, the Twins could be “assigned” to Las Vegas.

The sad fact is, with the poor AAA teams the Twins have fielded lately, they won’t have affiliates in line begging to partner up.

I think I’ve finally run out of things to say on this subject, at least until there’s something more “official” coming out of one of the affected communities. If you have any related questions, just leave them in the comment section and I’ll try to find answers.

- JC

A Road Trip to Beloit

I drove up to Beloit over the weekend to catch a couple of baseball games between the Twins’ Class A affiliate, the Snappers, and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. The Rattlers and Snappers finished first and second, respectively, in the first-half standings of the Midwest League’s Western Division, so I anticipated that they would play some decent baseball. They did.

If you want to read a lot about the games themselves, I’m going to refer you to the daily reports being posted by Seth Stohs over at Twins Daily. Seth and Travis Aune were in Beloit the past few days, as well, and I got to spend some time with them. I also met Jeremy Nygaard and his brother Jed on Saturday. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk a little baseball with the group and appreciated their willingness to let an old man like me tag along with them for a day and a half.

For my part, I’m going to simply post a whole bunch of pictures I took and let it go at that. Except for this one thing… I’ve mentioned from time to time rumors that the Twins and my own local MWL team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, might consider entering in to a Player Development Contract starting next year. That’s all they are, at this point, just rumors. Neither party is allowed to discuss the possibility or make any comment on the topic until September. As I think I’ve also posted before, I think the odds are about 50-50. I’m aware that some others think the odds are a bit greater.

Of course, in Beloit there is some concern. They don’t want to lose the Twins. I don’t blame them. They were abandoned by the Brewers a few years ago and nobody likes being told, “we don’t want to be your MLB affiliate anymore.”

The Beloit staff don’t deserve to go through that. They are hard working people who put on a good show at Pohlman Field. The word you hear is that they don’t draw well in Beloit. I suppose that may be true, but I saw a good crowd on Saturday night and an even much better crowd on Sunday. Fireworks Saturday night and a Prince Fielder “BobbleArm” promotion Sunday probably helped, but all minor league teams rely on promotions to draw crowds. It was fun to see the hard work of the Snapper staff rewarded by appreciative crowds.

The problem is the stadium, not the Snappers operation or the fans themselves. Pohlman Field is beyond outdated. I’ve heard it said that it’s the “worst” facility among the 16 teams in the MWL. I’ve only been to three of them, so I can’t speak to how accurate that is. I know it’s tough to come up with funds to build new ballparks or even remodel old ones to bring them up to acceptable standards. I don’t know if Beloit will ever solve that problem. I hope they do.

But professional baseball is a business. A dozen years ago, Cedar Rapids faced losing its team if it didn’t replace their old stadium. The same choice has faced a number of other MWL communities over the past 20 years. Some, like CR, built new ballparks. Some, like Davenport, remodeled old ones. Others determined that they simply could not raise the funds to do so and gave up their franchises to other communities that were able to provide appropriate facilities. I felt bad for some of those cities and I don’t wish to see that kind of thing happen to Beloit. Whether the Twins stay there or elect to move their affiliation elsewhere, I hope Beloit can find a way to survive and eventually thrive as a member of the league.

So here are the pictures. Several of them, actually. I was going to just post a few but then I decided there’s no reason to hold back. We don’t pay for blog space by the inch around here.

- JC

This building serves as both the entrance to the ballpark as well as home to the team’s administrative offices

Don’t tell the people lined up long before gates opened Sunday that the Snappers can’t draw a crowd

Here’s what the crowd was hoping for. The first 500 fans got Prince Fielder “Bobblearm” figures

The Sunday crowd at Pohlman Field

The concourse area inside the gate, but outside the stadium itself. Yes, it did rain hard on Saturday, but the staff got the field ready well before scheduled game time.

The players walk through the concourse behind the stands to get from their locker rooms to the dugouts, giving fans lots of opportunities for autographs

Young fans exchange high fives with Snappers players as they walk from their outfield pregame stretching to their dugout

Saturday’s starting pitcher Jason Wheeler gave up 2 runs in the first inning, then went on to strike out 10 hitters in eight innings of work.

Manager Nelson Prada and Hitting Coach Tommy Watkins

David Hurlbut went six innings Sunday, giving up just one run on two hits, while striking out five Rattlers

Drew Leachman had supporters from Alabama on hand Saturday night. Made my little drive seem pretty insignificant

Catcher Jairo Rodriguez had warm duty on Sunday afternoon

1B Kennys Vargas’ solo HR accounted for the only Snapper run on Saturday night.

Eddie Rosario seems to be more comfortable at 2B than when I saw him in CR early in the season.

Sunday, it was Miguel Sano’s turn to “go yard”

 

Minor Leagues: Let the Affiliation Dance Begin

I’ve been much better this season about limiting my posts to 1200-1300 words. This one, however, is a return to the days of much longer tomes. I apologize in advance to those of you with shorter attention spans. – JC

Some who follow the Twins minor league affiliates were at least somewhat surprised this past week when the Twins announced they had renewed their Player Development Contract (PDC) with AA affiliate New Britain CT. The Rock Cats will remain the home of the Twins’ AA players for at least the next two years. PDCs are entered in to for an even number of years, so two years is the shortest contract the two organizations could have agreed upon. I guess you could say the extension isn’t exactly indicative of the two sides making a mutual long term commitment.

The Rock Cats have had a pretty good year, at least compared to their parent organization. Through Saturday, they had a 56-44 record that the Twins themselves should be jealous of and were just 2.5 games behind the Eastern Division leading Trenton Thunder. They also had a 4.5 game lead over the third place Reading Phillies. That’s important to the Rock Cats because the top two teams in each division qualify for the Eastern League playoffs.

Of course, from the perspective of the parent organization (and most of their fans), winning games and making minor league playoffs is of secondary concern. The primary purpose of the minor leagues is to develop talent that can eventually be of use at the Major League level. But if you don’t think winning games plays a role when it comes to renewing PDCs, you clearly do not live in a community with a minor league ballclub. To the owners and management of those minor league teams, who rely almost exclusively on putting butts in the seats in order to make financial ends meet, winning does matter.

To that end, fielding a competitive team in a PDC renewal year is certainly not a bad idea if you want to maintain your relationship with a community. I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that New Britain has gone from perhaps the most likely Twins affiliate to explore other options to being the first affiliate to sign on for another two-year term within the time it took to put a team on the field capable of being 12 games over .500 as they near the final month of their season.

But the Cats are not the only Twins affiliate with an expiring PDC after this season. The Twins’ agreements are also up with their AAA affiliate in Rochester NY, their Class A-Advanced affiliate in Ft. Myers FL and their Class A affiliate in Beloit WI. It’s pretty safe to say that the Ft. Myers Miracle will be remaining affiliated with the Twins, since they’re a “complex affiliate” that calls the Twins’ Spring Training complex their home, but the other two situations are not nearly as locked down.

The Rochester situation is interesting. The Red Wings and their fans take a lot of pride in their team and they don’t suffer poor results well. And suffer they have, lately. Both in 2010 and 2011, the Wings were downright awful. They were so bad in 2010 that a vocal part of their fan base were upset that the decision makers signed on for another two years with the Twins. Red Wings management were rewarded for their loyalty with a second consecutive 90+ loss season in 2011. Given the lower number of games played in the minor leagues, that’s pretty comparable to two consecutive 99+ loss seasons at the Big League level. (Sound familiar to anyone?)

The Red Wings got off to another poor start in 2012, so you can imagine how local sentiment for dumping the Twins has grown. A recent hot streak had the Red Wings up to a .500 record at 50-50 through Saturday, but they were still in fifth place, 5.5 games behind the North Division leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (who, coincidentally, have been playing many of their “home” games at Rochester’s Frontier Field while their own home stadium undergoes major renovations this summer). They were also five games out of the International League’s Wild Card spot. That may not seem like a lot, but that still left five teams they would have to pass to make the IL playoffs as the Wild Card.

Nonetheless, the Twins have made an effort to field a more competitive team in Rochester this year and they brought in a new manager, Gene Glynn, who’s more popular with the locals. Is it enough to keep the Twins and Red Wings tied together for at least two more years? Maybe. There simply is not usually a lot of movement of affiliations at the AAA level and both parties have to be a little careful about rushing to end the arrangement. Either (or both) could end up finding themselves in even worse situations.

Beloit is a bit of a different situation. Beloit would do cartwheels to retain their PDC affiliation with the Twins. The Snappers are not off to a very good start in the second half of their Midwest League season, but they finished second in the Western Division in the first half, which assures them a spot in the MWL playoffs. (MWL seasons are divided in to two halves, with the division winners and runners-up in each half qualifying for the playoffs.) But on-field success isn’t the main reason Beloit’s anxious to re-up with the Twins.

Beloit, while being the home of MWL executive offices, has what are widely considered the worst facilities in the league. Their stadium has been in need of replacement for years and the organization has simply not been able to get public support to do what’s necessary. Two years ago, plans were pitched for a new facility but, like prior attempts, they were never approved. Some reports now indicate the club may have better luck with a proposal to renovate. Their stadium issues would likely make attracting a new MLB affiliate challenging, so say the least.

But would poor facilities be enough motivation for the Twins to walk away from their eight-year relationship with Beloit? In a word, yes. In fact, the lack of progress on an appropriate stadium were reported to be the reason the Milwaukee Brewers opted to move their MWL affiliation out of Beloit after the 2004 season. Major League teams do, in fact, care about the facilities that their young prospects call home. They want to make sure the fields are maintained in a first rate manner and that clubhouses and training facilities are at least adequate, if not well above that standard.

Unlike the situation with AAA organizations, it’s far more common for Class A organizations to switch affiliations. In fact, reports I’ve seen indicate 12 of the 16 Midwest League teams have expiring PDCs after the 2012 season and Twins senior director of minor league operations Jim Rantz told the Pioneer Press that he expects 8-9 of those teams to actually make changes. I’ll be surprised if the Twins aren’t one of those teams looking for another MWL home.

I’ve made no secret of my wish that the Twins hook up with my local team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, but there’s no assurance the Kernels will enter the pool of teams open to exploring a new PDC parner. The Kernels have been an Angels affiliate for 20 years and although it’s not unusual for AA and AAA relationships to run that long and even much longer, the Kernels and Angels have the longest running relationship in the Midwest League. While the Kernels haven’t had a bunch of Championship titles to show for the relationship, the Angels have been pretty good about sending most of their top prospects through Cedar Rapids for at least half a season.

Kernels GM Doug Nelson (right) chats with Angels GM Jerry Dipoto at a recent Kernels game

Still, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, there’s a growing sentiment among the fan base in Cedar Rapids (and, rumor has it, among some of the club’s governing Board of Directors, which serves as essentially the “owners” of the Kernels) that it’s time for a change. There’s a sense that it would be nice to have an affiliation with one of the midwestern MLB ballclubs, so local fans could better follow the prospects that come through town all the way to the Big Club. Of course, the fact that the Kernels finished 7th out of the eight-team Western Division of the MWL in the first half of the season and have dropped in to the cellar in the second half might have something to do with the fan sentiment, too.

It would make sense from the Twins’ perspective, as well, in the following ways:

  • Cedar Rapids is the closest MWL community to the Twins Cities. No, players do not routinely get called up from Class A to the Twins, so that’s not an issue. But it’s not at all unusual for MWL teams to be used for rehab assignments by their nearby Big League affiliates and front office types do routinely make trips. (In fact, there have been almost annual Terry Ryan sightings in Cedar Rapids, both during his time as a “senior adviser” and as Twins GM.) Though CR isn’t THAT much closer to Target Field than Beloit, if you’ve ever had cause to try to fly between those locations, there’s a significant difference.
  • Veterans Memorial Stadium is just over a decade old. It could no doubt use some remodeling, but it’s a far cry better than what Twins prospects currently call home in Beloit. Not only that, but Perfect Game (the national amateur scouting service) training facilities are about a block away from the stadium and my understanding is that Kernels players have access to PG’s facilities, perhaps as part of the naming rights deal the organizations have (the formal name of the ballpark is “Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium”).
  • All of Iowa is considered part of the Twins home market, yet FSN isn’t carried by the primary cable providers in Eastern Iowa. Nor is there even a radio station in the area that carries Twins broadcasts. The reason is that, while there’s a solid, loyal base of Twins fans in the area, that base is not as large as it could be… or as it should be. A Twins affiliation with the Kernels would almost certainly change this situation as Kernels fans become Twins fans. The Twins would, over time, see far more group sales from this area as fans travel up to see former Kernels at Target Field.

It makes sense for both organizations. So why don’t the Twins and Kernels just sit down and come to an agreement? Well, as is often the case when you’re talking about professional baseball rules, it’s really just not quite that easy.

Under the rules of MLB and Minor League Baseball (MiLB), existing affiliated teams can negotiate extensions any time they’re mutually inclined to do so, just as the Twins and Rock Cats did recently. But if either party to an existing PDC wants to explore other options, they must wait until a specified window of time to declare their desire to explore other options. New PDC agreements can then be negotiated and entered in to beginning September 16 (any private or public statements about possible interest in another affiliate prior to that date earns hefty fines for the clubs deemed guilty of such “tampering”). Clubs have just two weeks to find a new dance partner, however, because agreements need to be executed by September 30. After that date, any MLB or MiLB clubs without an agreement will be matched up and assigned an affiliation by agreement between the MLB Commisioner and the MiLB President. (Honestly, how many of you would want Bud Selig to be deciding who your affiliate would be?)

Nobody wants that to happen, but it’s not all that rare, either. While the Twins would likely have no problem finding a soft landing spot for their Class A affiliation, the AAA situation could be more dicey. Then again, the relatively small number of MLB teams likely to look for a new AAA partner could make the Red Wings’ management group think twice about whether they can really improve their situation or whether they might end up with an even worse result than sticking with the Twins for another couple of years. After all, in theory, some of those Rock Cats that are having a successful season in New Britain this year should find their way to Rochester next season, right?

So the question is whether the good folks who run the Red Wings are willing to take that chance.

Twins GM Terry Ryan during a recent visit to Cedar Rapids

In the end, I’ll guess that Rochester and the Twins extend their agreement for another two years. I’ll also go with my heart, rather than my head, and predict a Twins move to Cedar Rapids for their Class A affiliation. I readily admit that there’s at best a 50-50 chance that the Kernels will end their relationship with the Angles (Angels GM Jerry Dipoto was in CR last week to make a pitch to continue their affiliation) and it’s no sure-thing that the Twins would step in even if the Kernels and Angels divorce. That makes it far less than 50-50 that my wishes come true, but right now I’ll take those odds.

- JC

Another Snappers Shutout

I have no idea exactly why Twins GM Terry Ryan is in Cedar Rapids watching his organization’s Class A affiliate this weekend, but if he’s here to evaluate the Beloit Snappers’ pitching, he has to like what he’s seen in the first two games!

Pitcher Tim Shibuya and 3B Miguel Sano

The Snappers’ hitters provided plenty of support in Friday night’s 7-0 shutout, but Tim Shibuya wasn’t as fortunate on Saturday night. Like David Hurlbut the night before, Shibuya gave up just one hit before giving way to his bullpen. But Shibuya left after his six innings of work with the Snappers clinging to just a 1-0 lead as Kernels starting pitcher Austin Wood was having a pretty fair night on the mound, as well.

In the end, that one run was enough for the Snappers to come away with a 1-0 win.

The only run of the game was put on the board when Tyler Grimes worked a one-out walk in the third inning and came around to score on JD Williams’ RBI double down the left field line. Steve Liddle had a solid night at the plate with three singles, but nobody else had more than one hit.

Shibuya managed only one strikeout in his six innings of work, but also only walked one hitter. Oddly, he hit as many batters (2) as he allowed hits and walks, combined. Clint Dempster relieved Shibuya to start the 7th inning and put together a couple of strong innings, striking out three Kernels in those innings. He came out for the 9th inning, as well, but couldn’t nail down the save.

After a Miguel Sano error was erased by a double play, Dempster gave up back-to-back base hits, putting runners at the corners. Corey Williams came on at that point and claimed the save by inducing a game ending groundout to second baseman Nate Roberts.

Over 5,000 fans at Perfect Game Field in Cedar Rapids

It was Autism Awareness Night at the ballpark in Cedar Rapids and the Kernels wore special jerseys for the occasion, which were auctioned off during the game. Yes, I claimed one for myself, taking it off the back of Kernels relief pitcher Stephen Tromblee, who was good enough to autograph the jersey after the game.

The game was a virtual sellout, with an announced attendance of 5,277 fans. Thanks to a fireworks show after the game (not to mention one heck of a pitchers’ duel), a significant percentage of the crowd stuck around for the whole game.

The Snappers and Kernels wrap up their series with an afternoon game on Sunday, starting at 2:05.

Let’s wrap up with a few more pictures from tonight’s game.

- JC

CF Jhon Gonclaves and Kernels catcher Abel Baker

C Matt Koch and Kernels 1B Frazier Hall

1B Drew Leachman

Pitcher Tim Shibuya

RF JD Williams following his RBI double, held on by Kernels SS Eric Stamets

My Autism Awareness Night jersey

 

A Snappers Pitching Gem

While the Twins were winning the opening game of their series with the Reds Friday night, I was spending just about a perfect night watching minor league baseball. The Beloit Snappers (the Twins’ Midwest League affiliate) opened the second half of their season here in Cedar Rapids against the Kernels.

Close to 20 scouts were easy to spot behind home plate

The temperature was right about 80 degrees with a slight breeze and there was a sizable crowd of a bit over 3,000 people in Memorial Stadium for the game. Among that crowd, I counted at least 18 scouts perched in seats directly behind home plate. It’s not at all unusual to see scouts at a MWL game, but I typically see 6-8 with their notebooks and radar guns, so seeing so many scouts in attendance is a bit unusual.

Terry Ryan (in the cap and white shirt)

Among that group was one familiar face, as well. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was pretty easy to spot as he shook hands with a scout wearing a shirt with a Yankees logo and sat in a nearby seat.

The game itself was never at all competitive, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting to watch. The Snappers scored a run in the first inning off of Kernels starting pitcher Cam Bedrosian (son of former MLB/Twins pitcher Steve Bedrosian). In fact, they scored a run off of Bedrosian in each of the first three innings and three more runs in the fourth inning.

Pitcher David Hurlbut and first baseman Steven Liddle

Snappers starting pitcher David Hurlbut gave up a single to the second Kernels batter he faced in the first inning… and that would turn out to be the final hit that a Snapper pitcher would give up all night. Hurlbut threw seven shutout innings, walked three hitters and struck out four. Tim Atherton and Corey Williams each added an inning of relief without giving up a hit, as well.

Snappers hitters, on the other hand, racked up 11 hits on their way to a 7-0 win to start off the second half of their MWL season. The only extra base hits for the Snappers on the night were RBI doubles by Nate Hanson, Steve Liddle and Tyler Grimes. Twins top prospect Miguel Sano had a single in four ABs, with one walk and one strikeout on the night.

In fact, the Snapper lineup avoided getting even their first strikeout through six innings. We’ll try to disregard the fact that once the first K got recorded, Kernel relief pitcher Carmine Giardina sat down five Snappers in just the 7th and 8th innings, alone.

A sizable number of the fans in attendance were wearing Twins gear, as is usually the case when the Snappers come to town. I’m still holding out some hope that the Twins will strike an affiliate deal with the local ballclub starting next year. I continue to hear from pretty reliable local sources that there is some level of mutual interest, so we’ll see how that works out after the season.

Yes, I really did ask Terry Ryan for his autograph

After the game, I did approach Terry Ryan just to have him sign the scorecard I’d been keeping of the game. I expected him to either decline or reluctantly sign and walk away, but instead he not only signed my scorecard but initiated a short conversation. He asked if I lived in Cedar Rapids and how I came to be a Twins fan. I told him about having grown up the son of a HS baseball coach in Albert Lea and that my picture is hanging in the Albert Lea Applebees restaurant to prove it. He laughed and said he’d have to stop there some time and check it out. It was just a brief chat, but he couldn’t have been more gracious.

The Snappers will be back at it here on Saturday night and I’ll likely be there taking in the game, as well. The two teams were even accommodating enough to schedule an afternoon game on Sunday so I have a chance to watch that game, too, before I have to catch a flight to Florida Sunday evening.

I’ll add a few more pictures I took at the game below, for your viewing pleasure. (Fellow bloggers, feel free to pilfer them to post in your blogs, as you may find cause to do.)

- JC

Second baseman Adam Bryant

Shortstop Tyler Grimes

Catcher Matt Koch

First baseman Steven Liddle

Rightfielder Wang-Wei Lin

Leftfielder Nate Roberts

Third baseman Miguel Sano

That’s enough for tonight. I’ll probably snap a few more either Saturday or Sunday.

Guest Post – Beloit Snappers Game Review

The following entry comes from one of our faithful Knuckleballs readers and regular GameChat participant Lecroy24fan.  Lecroy24fan chronicles his recent visit to the Twins Low Single-A Affiliate, the Beloit Snappers. Enjoy.

 

I was heading to  Elkhorn, WI this past weekend to visit my girlfriend, and we decided to head a half-hour down the road to Beloit on Saturday night to catch the Snappers game. Pohlman Field was really easy to find. When we arrived, it was posted that the game was moved up to 6:45 PM because of weather moving in. We walked up to the ticket booth and got Section C, Row 3, seats 1-2 for nine dollars apiece. Turns out the first Row was removed at some point, so we were to the right of home plate, second row. The section was covered by a net, so no foul balls could be had. I got to meet Chrissy Scaffidi, Director of Media and Community Relations, as well as PA Announcer extraordinaire

The game itself was a bad night for the Snappers, who were playing the Oakland A’s affiliate, the Burlington Bees. An 11-3 loss started ugly in the first and really got worse by the inning. SP Jason Wheeler just didn’t have it. He struggled through 5 innings, giving up seven runs, four of them earned. Tim Shibuya and Bart Carter also looked like they had nothing. Clint Dempster pitched the ninth and I felt like he was very dominant. Other than 2B Adam Bryant, who was 3 for 4 with a double and a triple, the bats were pretty quiet most of the night.  

Defensively, there were five errors. C Jario Rodriguez made a low throw trying to catch a runner stealing in the first, with the runner moving to third after the ball rolled into CF. JD Williams dropped a routine fly in RF and SS AJ Pettersen had a bad throw to first.

The player I was there to see was 3B Miguel Sano. He made two errors, giving him 24 on the season. The first one was on a routine grounder he never got his glove down and it went right under and into LF. His second error was on a throw that was about two feet over 1B Steven Liddle‘s head. I saw quite a few things about Sano that concern me. Every throw he makes is very high. Every grounder he stutter steps, which makes turning double plays impossible. He’s looks like he’s using an outfielders glove, which is causing him to have major issues getting the ball out of his glove. That could be leading to the stutter steps he takes. I don’t understand why these issues haven’t been fixed by now.

After the game, there was a fireworks show, which happened as planned. The rain started towards the end of the fireworks, so we headed for the exit. I would recommend Pohlman Field to anybody looking to catch a minor league game.

Thanks for sending in the post, Lecroy24fan!  During his post Lecroy24fan mentioned that he had the opportunity to meet Chrissy Scaffidi who, among the other things she does for the Snappers, recently started a blog detailing her adventures in the Minor Leagues.  Definitely an interesting read for anyone interested in some behind-the-scenes action in the Midwest League. If you have a guest post idea of your own feel free to email one of us Knuckleballers or reach out to us in one of our GameChats and we will be more than happy to give you an audience.

-ERolfPleiss