Talk to Contact Episode 41: The Golden Dragon Episode

Episode 41 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

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On Episode 41 Cody and Eric talk about some high profile prospects earning a Minor League promotion, review the draft and prospect rankings infused with new talent, and talk about Denard Span and Ben Revere taking the field against the Twins. They discuss the release of long time MiLB favorite Anthony Slama, and they try and figure out who is the Twins’ best starting pitcher (protip: they have no idea!).

Down on the Pond this week is James Beresford, and on Beers from Around the World it is the return of BREADY BEER!

The boys then go Around the League and answer a couple of email questions. All together 88 minutes of pleasure for your ears.

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.  And of course, you can find me on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read my writing here at Knuckleballs!

– ERolfPleiss

Hendriks vs Trout… I’ve Seen This Before

Barring something unforeseen happening, when Twins starting pitcher Liam Hendriks toes the rubber Wednesday night, he’ll be staring down Angels’ top prospect Mike Trout, who’s been hitting in the leadoff spot for the Halos since being promoted a few days ago.

Talk about déjà vu flashbacks.

Liam Hendriks

Just over two years ago, the Beloit Snappers opened their season against the Angels’ Midwest League affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and I sat through a 10-inning 1-0 Snappers win in 37 degree temperatures. You can read all about it and see how photo-happy I was in those days by clicking here to go back to a Knuckleballs post I put up after the game.

You’ll note from the story that Liam Hendriks started that game for the Snappers and pitched five strong innings. What you won’t read in that story, because I focused so much on the Snappers, is that Mike Trout was the starting centerfielder for the Kernels.

Mike Trout

By the way, I’ve already started gathering my Mike Trout collectables… I’ve got a pack of Kernels baseball cards from 2010 with Trout’s card right up there on top and the Kernels gave away Mike Trout bobbleheads at their home opener this season. Yes, I made sure I was there early enough to be one of the first 1,000 in the gate (which I needn’t have done… they were still handing them out to people who came through the turnstiles at game time).

So, yes, I’ve seen Liam Hendriks face Mike Trout already.

If you regularly attend minor league games, you become accustomed to seeing a fortunate few of these kids eventually wear Major League uniforms, but I have to admit that seeing two of them rise to become Big Leaguers in just two years after playing here in Cedar Rapids seems rare. As it turns out, though, maybe it’s not as rare as I think. Three of Trout’s team mates on that 2010 Kernels team have already made their MLB debuts. Trout’s the only position player, but pitchers David Carpenter, Garrett Richards and Patrick Corbin have all already made appearances for the Angels or, in Corbin’s case, the D’Backs.

That Snappers line up on Opening Day 2010 was nothing to sneeze at either. Hendriks is the only 2010 Snapper to make the Big Leagues (unless you count JJ Hardy, who rehabbed with Beloit for three games that season), but it won’t be that way for long. Check out the picture I posted of my scorecard from that game in April, 2010.

See any familiar names? How about… Brian Dozier at SS. He’s still in Rochester, but it shouldn’t be long before he joins his former Snapper team mate Hendriks in Minnesota.

Aaron Hicks and James Beresford were in the line up that day… both have reached AA New Britain now. So has pitcher Dakota Watts, who also was with Beloit at the start of 2010. BJ Hermsen pitched in Beloit that year, as well, but I don’t believe he even began the year there. Now, he’s also a Rock Cat after being promoted recently.

You’ll also see names like Angel Morales, Michael Gonzales, Danny Rams and Anderson Hidalgo on that scorecard. While their former team mate Hendriks is in The Show, they’ve progressed just one rung up the ladder to High-A Ft. Myers since that Opening Day two years ago. But they’re still chasing that dream.

Wednesday night (and likely Thursday and Friday, as well), I’ll be out at Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids again… watching this year’s Beloit Snappers face the current Cedar Rapids Kernels. I’ll have my eyes on the “big names” like Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario, arguably the Twins two top prospects, but who else will stand out? Which of these “kids” will have a chance to live the fairy tale some day and wear a Big League uniform for the Twins or Angels… or maybe another organization if that should be their fate?

For about $10, you can get the best seat in the house at a minor league ballpark like the one we have here in Cedar Rapids. For that price, you get to watch future Major League ballplayers play baseball. How can you beat that?

Man, I love this game.

– JC

Here Come the Landed Gentry

“Thank God that stretch of scheduling is over. Things are bound to turn around now that our guys get to play some ball against a team that can’t seem to get out of its own way.”

Here in Iowa, I seem to be hearing something akin to that comment in stereo… both from Twins fans to my north and Royals fans to the south.

Slugerrr

The Royals just recently managed to halt a 12-game losing streak and while the Twins didn’t let things get that consistently out of hand, it wasn’t for lack of trying on their part. They’ve played poorly enough that it COULD have happened. As a matter of fact, while the Twins were letting the Red Sox sweep them out of their own ballpark, the Royals have put together a small (extremely small) winning streak… having won their most recent pair of games over Cleveland.

But the Twins have home field advantage this weekend, right? Well… they’ll play the games at Target Field, but that may not be an advantage. The Royals have a 5-4 road record this season. That’s right, all five of their wins have come on the road. They’re 0-10 in front of their hometown fan(s).

Like the Twins, the Landed Gentry are having a few health issues with their rotation. Tonight’s starting pitcher, left-hander Everett Teaford, has been the team’s long reliever, but he’s standing in for fellow lefty Danny Duffy, who’s dealing with “minor elbow tightness.” Duffy should be damn glad he’s with the Royals and not the Twins. If the Twins’ crack medical staff came up with that as a preliminary diagnosis, it would probably turn out to be a malady that would eventually require amputation.

Pitching hasn’t really been the big problem for the Royals, however. In fact, most of their staff have stat lines that Gardy and pitching coach Rick Anderson can only drool over. No, so far, the Royals’ biggest problem has been that they’ve got a roster of position players who have a reputation for being, “promising, good young hitters,” but many of them have thus far only demonstrated that they are indeed young.

Alex Gordon, Mitch Maier and Eric Hosmer all wish they could start hitting the ball as well as Alexi Casilla does. Think about that.

Other Stuff

I’ve been traveling for work most of this week, so I’ve been a little out of touch, but there are a couple of other items I want to touch on this morning.

The Tigers have released Brandon Inge after handing his 3B position to Miguel Cabrera and the experiment of converting Inge to a second baseman made Cabrera look good as a third baseman, by comparison. Of course, Inge hasn’t helped his cause by hitting almost nothing.

The Twins are reportedly having discussions about whether they should look in to bringing him aboard. The Tigers are on the hook for everything above that portion of his salary equal to the pro-rated MLB minimum salary, so financially it wouldn’t be a hit. The theory seems to be that it would also send a message to Danny Valencia.

But what would that message be? “Wake up tomorrow in Rochester, Danny, because your position here isn’t guaranteed. We can find guys who can’t hit and can’t field pretty much anywhere and, unlike you, some of them have lots of tatoos.”? Look, I’ve never been the biggest Valencia fan, so I’m not averse to finding a replacement. I’d just kind of prefer that it be someone… hmmm, what’s the word I’m looking for here?… GOOD?

The Twins do need to do something and do it soon. I’m not generally one to call for action just for the sake of appearing to take action, but sometimes the local fan base does need to be assured that the front office has noticed that things suck on the field. And based on the number of empty seats in Target Field already this season, the Twins may fast be approaching that point. By the end of last season, fans demonstrated that they won’t pay a bunch of money to go to Target Field to watch bad baseball. They already seem to be making the same statement even before the end of the first month of the season this year.

Over at Twins Daily, in case you’ve missed it, they’ve begun an “Adopt a Prospect” program where members are encouraged to “adopt” one Twins minor league prospect and regularly post updates on that player’s activities and performance. It’s really a very cool way to recognize the hard work these young players put in, most of the time for very… very… little pay. They all have a Big League dream, but that road is long and hard and not terribly rewarding except for the lucky few who reach the top.

If you haven’t already adopted a prospect, there’s still time and a lot of hard working players still available. But even if that’s not something you feel inclined to do, you should still stop by the thread and read up on the 60+ players that have been adopted already.

Because I know you’re curious… I’ve adopted infielder James Beresford, currently with the AA New Britain Rock Cats. James is another player out of the Twins’ Australian pipeline.

Finally, if these troubling times make you yearn for memories from a better time in Twins history, it’s not yet too late to enter our “100,000th Visitor Contest,” with a chance to win a very nice framed Kirby Puckett memento. Just give us your guess as to when you think visitor number 100,000 to our site will be stopping by.

That’s enough for this morning… let’s hope the Twins get the ship righted a bit over the weekend and that May is much better for our guys than April has been.

– JC

A Spring Training Tale of Two Sites

I really like having the Red Sox being just down the road a bit from where the Twins train. Sunday, I was able to spend the morning watching the Twins’ minor leaguers play intrasquad games (low A vs. high A on one field, AAA vs. AA on another field and “rookie” teams on yet a third field) and then drive 15 minutes east to watch the Twins take on the Red Sox at the Saux brand new JetBlue Park in the afternoon.

BJ Hermsen

It was great getting to watch fellow Iowan B.J Hermsen take the mound to start for the high A club against the lineup likely to be fielded by the Beloit Snappers, including uber-prospects Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Hermsen struck out both Rosario and Sano in the first inning, but Sano did get a measure of revenge with a double off of Hermsen later on, leading to a run.

Beloit manager Nelson Prada chats with Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano and Daniel Ortiz

Max Kepler hitting, Drew Butera catching

 

I also spent some time watching the older minor leaguers, where prospect Max Kepler and his AA team mates were taking on a AAA team filled with a number of players, such as Drew Butera, Mike Holliman and Casey Fien who were still in the Major League clubhouse up until just a few days ago.

I really didn’t pay attention to the scores and I didn’t stick around to see the games to their completion, but it was a lot of fun not only watching both games, but watching far more important observers, like General Manager Terry Ryan, who was also turning his attention back and forth between the fields.

The game with the Red Sox wasn’t so interesting, but it was good to see Chris Parmelee celebrate the news that he’s made the Big League roster to start the season by giving the Twins a brief 1-0 lead over the Sox with a towering home run to right field. Carl Pavano cruised through five innings of work before he started getting knocked around a bit in the sixth. Alex Burnett didn’t fare nearly as well in relief.

I thought I’d share a few pictures of the game, as well as a few I took of the new ballpark itself. In case you weren’t aware, JetBlue Park was built with the same dimensions as Fenway Park, right down to a “green monster” in left field.

JetBlue Park from behind home plate

Infield prospects James Beresford and Estarlin De Los Santos got their opportunities to play in front of the big crowd and the Big League coaches

Newcomer Sean Burroughs manned 1B for the Twins

The "Green Monster" at JetBlue Park

The view from atop JetBlue's green monster

JetBlue Park from the outside

 

Paying to Bring Us the Playoffs

This is what it has come to. I don’t have anything all that interesting to post about so tonight, you get “Jim Crikket Reviews the NLCS… Commercials”.

That’s right, I don’t even have enough material about the Cardinals/Brewers game itself to fill a post… so I’ll sprinkle a comment about the game here and there, but for the most part, you get my impressions about the sponsors who are allowing us to see this game without having to pay for it.

And here we go…

I’ve been drinking Southern Comfort for over 35 years (no… not CONSTANTLY) and I like the relatively new SoCo Lime. But Southern Comfort Fiery Pepper (SoCo and Tobasco)? Um. I think not.

Seeing Brian Wilson eating at Taco Bell does not make me more inclined to eat there. I also have to concur with someone (Posnanski maybe?) who tweeted recently something to the effect that Brian Wilson might be the least likely ballplayer to fit the “Black Ops” mold.

I’ve been inside the Transamerica Pyramid building in San Francisco a few times. Trust me, it looks nothing like the new “Tomorrow Makers” commercials inside. I like the ads, though.

Holliday hit a home run… I thought he was hurt.

I don’t think the gal being driven by her boyfriend frantically around a city in his Chevy Cruze Eco is ever going to see the airplane with her boyfriend’s proposal… and if she does, she’s going to turn him down. Now… if he had just done something original, like proposing on a JumboTron at a baseball game…

James Beresford. Australian for "ballplayer"

I saw that Twins prospect James Beresford, who is from Australia, tweeted that he was glad to get home and not have to see the Foster’s “Australian for beer” commercials… but some of them still make me laugh out loud. I’ve been told I have an odd sense of humor. The “free agent” commercial where the Aussie footballer changes teams for the beer reminds me a bit of my 16″ slow pitch softball days.

Home run by Allen Craig (who the hell is Allen Craig?).

The Pepsi commercials in the middle of the cornfield aren’t great, but wouldn’t it have been a blast sitting around with all those former players in between takes on the set? I’d want a digital recorder just to capture the stories.

I’ve never watched “Big Bang Theory”, but after all the saturation advertising TBS has made us endure, if there ever was a chance I would watch it, that has disappeared. Enough, already! It’s almost enough to make me look forward to FOX broadcasts. (I said “almost”.)

Helluva head first slide by Hairston to score the Brewers’ first run.

All of the people in the “what am I going to do about retirement?” commercials seem to be younger than I am. It’s making me wonder if perhaps I should have started planning for that by now. Good thing I have this blogging thing to fall back on.

Conan O’Brien commercials: See “Big Bang Theory” paragraph above. Yes, the only thing worse than BBT and Conan commercials is BBT and Conan commercials running back-to-back.

The State Farm commercial where the wife “catches” her husband talking to “Jake from State Farm” in the middle of the night is hilarious. “She sounds hideous!” “Well, she’s a guy, so…”

Kyle Lohse leaves in the 5th inning with a 2-2 tie game and a man on 3rd.  LaRussa would never cut it as Gardy’s pitching coach. Doesn’t he know you don’t pull your starter until he’s coughed up the lead and fallen behind by 4 runs?

Over the years, Budweiser has come up with some memorable and imaginative ad campaigns. The one they’re using during the LCS is not one of them. I’m betting most of you reading this right now can’t even picture the commercial I’m talking about.

Another excuse to post this picture (Photo: Craig Lassig/AP)

The new Captain Morgan ads are fun, but the womenfolk in the ads have a ways to go to measure up to the ladies that accompanied the Captain to Target Field last year. But I love the new commercials. In fact, if I ever get drunk enough to get a tattoo, “To Life, Love and Loot” might find itself forever captured on some part of my body.

Speaking of rowing, the GEICO commercial with the gerbils rowing doesn’t do as much for me.

Did I mention the Conan commercials are just plain stupid? My first thought was, “he has to be flat out embarrassed to have to do those commercials.” Then I remembered. It’s Conan.

Ouch. That shot on the bicep taken by plate umpire Mike Everett had to hurt.

The “pay it forward” themed commercials by Liberty Mutual are kinda cool.

Arthur Rhodes is still pitching in the Major Leagues… and in the playoffs. Mothers and fathers, for God’s sake, if you have left handed children, teach them to PITCH!

The Allstate commercials with the guy from HBO’s “Oz” prison show (and narrated by Pedro Cerrano of “Major League” fame) are great. I’m starting to notice a trend. I really like a lot of insurance company ad campaigns. Wonder why that is.

I like Tommy Lee Jones, but I don’t recall seeing his eyes move to read cue cards in MIB the way they do in his Ameriprise commercials.

Yes, lady, your mother was probably right. You should have married John Clark instead of the hubby who paid AT&T for unlimited messaging just so your family could get unlimited calling.

Hey, did you hear “Big Bang Theory” is coming to TBS?

Little Nicky Punto did not look much like a Tiny Superhero with that pinch hit K in the 7th.

Will you just throw Conan out the window of the damn blimp, already?

The ETrade commercials with the babies talking investments (and wildebeasts propagating the heard) are still funny, but those kids must be about ready to graduate from college by now, aren’t they?

The girl in the pink dress doing the T-Mobile commercials looks strikingly like an old girlfriend of mine. Of course it’s not her. Daughter maybe? Hell, probably a granddaughter. Crap, I’m getting old.

Carlos Gomez looks weird, but better, with short hair.

Those guys are right. That thing really does not like Dwayne. But if the only reason I need State Farm insurance is in the unlikely event a giant robot terrorizes my neighborhood, I think I’ll take my chances going uninsured. Turns out I don’t like all the insurance commercials, after all.

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I like any of the GEICO commercials at all. Rowing gerbils, dunking 5 year old… nope. Bring back the little green thing that talks funny.

Note to Nissan: If you have to create fake stunts for your four-wheel drive pickups in your commercials, what does that say about your four-wheel drive pickups?

If the Cardinals don’t go to the World Series, it won’t be because David Freese (did I spell that right?) didn’t do his part.

OK, the last two innings brought no notable commercials that I hadn’t already commented on, so I guess that’s a wrap. If you feel inclined to share your thoughts on these or any of the other commercials we are getting to know very, very well during the postseason, please leave a comment.

Oh yeah… the Brewers beat the Cardinals 4-2. I’m sure my mother is not happy.

– JC

Revisiting Not-so-old Friends

I’m about to hit the road for Sarasota for tonight’s Twins game against the Orioles, but I wanted to try to drop a quick post this afternoon because it will likely be late tonight or early tomorrow morning (at the earliest) before I get around to posting anything about that game.

I spent a little time today back at the minor league complex and had the opportunity to watch a few players that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing during recent seasons with the Beloit Snappers, when they’ve visited Cedar Rapids to face the Kernels. I didn’t have time to watch the whole game, but I was there long enough to see former Snappers James Beresford and Angel Morales get hits in the bottom of the first inning and eventually come around to score. In addition to Beresford and Morales, I recognized at least one other former Snapper on the field, Deibinson Romero. Romero was playing first base, though I seem to recall him being a third baseman when he was with Beloit a couple of years ago.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Knuckleballs Spring Training report without a few pictures.

James Beresford gets a lead off of second base

Angel Morales coils at the plate

Deibinson Romero ready at first base

Morales at first base following a base hit

Coach Jake Mauer and Beresford share a smile at 3B in the first inning

With that, I’m headed up to Sarasota for the evening!

– JC

 

Snappers Wrap

Tuesday night saw the finale of the Beloit/Cedar Rapids series and once again, things didn’t go real well for the Snappers as they fell to the Kernels 5-1. I stuck around through the 7th inning stretch but I couldn’t resist the urge to get home and watch the last half of the Twins/White Sox game.

Rather than give a whole lot of facts and figures from the game, I thought I would just post a few of the short video clips I recorded, with little or no commentary. Hope you enjoy getting a little taste of the Twins’ Class A Midwest League affiliate and I apologize in advance for the poor video quality. I’ve had this camera for about three years now, I think, and it’s the first time I’ve ever tried the ‘video’ feature.

The Snappers lone run in this game was accounted for by a Danny Rams home run in the 2nd inning (don’t you love it when the idiots sitting in front of you decide to stand up to let their ill-behaved kids change seats just as someone launches the ball over the LCF wall?).

 

James Beresford singled…

 

… and Beresford broke up a double play.

Rams catches a pop foul.

Aaron Hicks, out with an injured pinky finger, coaches first base.

Steven Liddle steals second base.

Despite a throwing error, the Snappers nail a runner at home.

Lance Ray singles.

Reggie Williams singles.

Daniel Santana called out on a bunt attempt… looks like he was still in the box to me.

Unless the Snappers find their way in to the MWL Playoffs (not totally out of the question yet, but they need to start kicking it in gear), this will be their last visit to Cedar Rapids for the season. I really enjoyed watching the effort they put out in the three series here this year and I look forward to seeing how they’ve matured by the time I see them in Spring Training in 2011.

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After the Twins finished putting on their woopin’ of the BitchSox Tuesday night, Seth Stohs of sethspeak.net invited me to join him for a few minutes in the second half of his Minor League Weekly podcast. We talked about my impressions and observations concerning many of the Snapper players I saw play here in Cedar Rapids this season (along with a couple of shameless plugs for Knuckleballs, of course). Ft. Myers Miracle pitcher Bruce Pugh was his guest for the first half hour or so of the program and I freely admit he was a heck of a lot more interesting than I was! Give it a listen, if you have some time today. Of course, I’d like to thank Seth for having me on the program. – JC

A Snapper Weekend

As I mentioned in my little essay about minor league baseball on Saturday, the Twins’ Midwest League (low-A) affiliate, the Beloit Snappers, are in Cedar Rapids taking on the Kernels in a four game series that runs through Tuesday. I’ve been to the first two games of the series, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and I’m hoping to get out to the Tuesday game, as well. Monday’s game is a noon start so that would could be a bit iffy. (The blogging gig hasn’t blossomed to the point where I can quit my day job… yet.)

Saturday night, I was at the game with family and friends and friends of family, so the social aspect was fine. It was a pleasant enough evening, just a bit on the humid side, but nothing compared to what it was a week or so ago (or what it would be on Sunday). But the game itself was among the more difficult professional games to watch I’ve been to in a while.

Snapper/Kernel games are always a bit of a challenge for me, anyway. I’m a Kernels fan, of course, since they’re my hometown team. But when the Snappers come to town, I also look forward to seeing the Twins’ young prospects do well. So I root for the Kernels to win and the Beloit players to do well individually.

Pitcher Pedro Guerra and Danny Rams (1B)

Saturday night, the Kernels won the game 10-4, and it wasn’t among the better efforts I’ve seen out of the Snappers.  Top prospect Aaron Hicks, had a nice double down the LF line in the first inning and I got to see Pedro Guerra get his first start since being called up to Beloit. The Snappers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead through two innings. Guerra had a respectable debut, though he didn’t throw the ball particularly hard. He gave up a couple of runs in the third inning and left after giving up a walk and a double to the first two hitters he faced in the 5th.

That’s when the wheels fell off.

The Kernels sent 8 players to the plate in the 5th inning while taking a 7-5 lead in what had to be one of the longest half innings I’ve witnessed all year, purely in terms of time elapsed. Deliberate pitching, hitters stepping out of the box over and over, an error or two and a pitching change made that half inning drag on forever.

There aren’t many bright spots among your pitching staff in a 10-4 loss, but Nelvin Fuentes entered the game in the bottom of the 7th and went on to strike out 3 in two scoreless, hitless, innings to finish the night. It was also a tough night for the Snappers in the field as they ended up being charged with 5 errors on the game. Second baseman Reggie Williams had a nice night at the plate, going 2 of 4 with a double (that I thought should have been ruled a triple).

After doubling, Aaron Hicks takes his lead in front of Kernel SS Jon Karcich

But the great thing about baseball is that there’s always another game tomorrow. In this case, the Snappers bounced back from Saturday’s 10-4 loss to win Sunday afternoon 10-9. Yes, they did still have some pitching issues and yes, they did rack up 4 more errors, so it may not SEEM like it was much of an improvement, but I’ll guarantee it was a happier clubhouse after the game than the night before.

Pitcher Martire Garcia and 3B Reggie Williams

Danny Rams leads off behind Jeremy Cruz and in front of Jean Segura after a walk. He added a 2B and a HR in the game.

For the second straight game, Beloit manager Nelson Prada sent a pitcher to the mound for his first start as a Snapper. Sunday, it was Martire Garcia making his MWL debut. Garcia got off to a bit of a rocky start the first two innings but settled down and hung a couple of zeros on the board for the Kernels in the 3rd and 4th innings before calling it a day.

Nelson Prada's not telling the umpire a fish story

Of course, Prada didn’t see much of Garcia’s performance as he was tossed early in the bottom of the first inning for arguing with the home plate umpire over whether a Kernel double down the RF line was fair or foul. That left the team in the capable hands of Twins fans’ old friend Tommy Watkins, who’s the Snapper hitting coach.

And his hitters were doing their jobs at the plate (if not so much in the field). 1B Danny Rams and CF Aaron Hicks brought the big lumber. Rams went 2-3 with a walk, double and a home run. He also scored 3 runs. Hicks was 3-4 with two doubles.

Tommy Watkins signals pitches to his catcher

Once again, the pitchers struggled a bit, but lefty reliever Matt Tone managed to shut the Kernels out in his two innings (the 7th and 8th) of relief. That allowed Beloit the cushion to withstand a 9th inning rally and hang on to their 10-9 win.

It was one long, hot day at the ballpark for these guys following a very long game the night before.  We’re approaching mid-August. It’s hot. They’ve been playing baseball virtually every day since they reported for Spring Training over five months ago. But that didn’t stop Aaron Hicks and Steven Liddle from diving for balls in the outfield (Liddle also showed off his arm on an impressive throw to the plate) or Reggie Williams from diving for hard ground balls down the line at 3B or James Beresford and Derek McCallum from hanging tough on double plays at 2B. And Josmil Pinto caught a day game in oppressive heat and humidity after catching the game the night before. The execution isn’t perfect, but there’s no doubting their effort and that bodes well for the future of our favorite Major League team.

Finally, just because we’re all Tommy Watkins fans, one last picture of Tommy positioning his outfielders from the bench Saturday night. – JC

Of Snappers and Kernels and Other Minor (League) Stuff

I’m probably not going to be seeing much of the Twins games this weekend. It’s not because I’m frustrated by their lack of hitting (though I am), but rather because the Beloit Snappers (the Twins Low A affiliate) are in town starting tonight for a four-game series… their final visit to Cedar Rapids of the year.

This is the third trip this season that the Snappers have made to Cedar Rapids this season and I’ve managed to get out to watch over half of the games they’ve played here. The last couple of years, Beloit’s only made the trip down here one or two times, so I’m enjoying getting to see so many games featuring these future Twins.

I don’t know how many of you ever attend minor league games or even live in a community that has a local team. I can only speak for myself, but there really aren’t many more enjoyable ways to spend a summer evening (or afternoon, for that matter) and do so on a budget.

Perfect Game Field at Memorial Stadium, Cedar Rapids

I’ve attended minor league games in Florida (High A) and Arkansas (AA), in addition to Iowa and I don’t believe I’ve ever spent more than $10 for a ticket… and usually a bit less. The highest priced ticket at Memorial Stadium here in Cedar Rapids is $10. It will get you a front row seat by the dugout or pretty much anywhere in the first few rows behind home plate from dugout to dugout. $7 gets you and your blanket in to stretch out on the grassy Lawn Seating area next to the visitors bullpen area. My favorite food is a ribeye sandwich that is grilled in a tent right behind the Lawn Seating area. I think they hit me up for about $6 for that and it’s probably about the most expensive food item in the ballpark.

Of course if you really want to live well, you can rent one of the available sky suites for you and a few of your closest friends. That will run you $500 plus food. I know that sounds like a lot, but I’m checking out StubHub for tickets for the Twins/Angels series in a couple of weeks at Target Field and I’ll easily spend $500 for some pretty mediocre seats for my family. So I guess it’s all relative.

Angels #3 Prospect Mike Trout

As for the baseball itself, the Kernels are usually pretty competitive and that’s the case this season as well. Their CF the first half of the season was Mike Trout, the Angels #3 prospect (according to Baseball America’s preseason rankings) who performed well in the Futures All Star Game last month and is already doing very well with his High-A team since being promoted. He’ll be arriving in Anaheim Stadium perhaps as early as September 2011.

The Kernels best pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, is a talented lefty who was also one of the Angels top 10 prospects. I say “was” because he signed his first contract with the Angels one year ago today… and by tomorrow he’ll be announced as the “player to be named later” heading to the D’Backs organization to finalize the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels. Trust me, that deal wasn’t nearly as one-sided in favor of the Angels as the ‘talking heads’ have made it out to be.

Alexi Casilla rehabbed as a Beloit Snapper

But this is a Twins blog, so let me just mention a few of the Twins prospects I’ve been able to catch on their trips to Cedar Rapids in just the past couple of years. In fact, let me start with the guy in the picture at the right, Alexi Casilla. Lexi played two rehab assignment games for the Snappers here in Cedar Rapids in 2008 before rejoining the Twins. But that wasn’t the first time we saw Casilla here. He was a member of the Kernels for a few games at the end of the 2004 season and for the first half of the 2005 season, before being promoted to AA. (He was traded from the Angels to the Twins after the 2005 season for J.C. Romero.) You might say he was a local favorite.

Twins #6 and #41 Prospects, Angel Morales and Anderson Hidalgo

Over the past two seasons, when the Snappers have visited Cedar Rapids, I’ve had the pleasure watching pitchers Steven Blevins, Liam Hendriks (14), B.J. Hermsen (15), Brad Stillings, Tom Stuifbergen (22), Daniel Osterbrock and Billy Bullock (28) pitch against the Kernels. I’ve seen position prospects Danny Rams (33), James Beresford (40), Anderson Hidalgo (41), Steve Liddle (47), Micahel Gonzales, Angel Morales (6) and Aaron Hicks (2) get their swings in. (Those numbers in parens indicate the player’s ranking in Seth Stohs’ “Top 50 Twins Prospects” list this past June.)

Cards #1 Prospect Shelby Miller

Of course, I don’t just go to games when the Snappers come to town. For example, a week or so ago, I went out to catch a game with the Cardinals’ affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits. While Trout is no longer with the Kernels, I did get to watch the Cardinals’ #1 prospect (according to Baseball America) Shelby Miller pitch against the Kernels. His catcher that day was the Cards’ #10 prospect, Robert Stock.

The Kernels play in a nice stadium and the Angels consistently send enough of their top prospects to CR to assure that the team is at least competitive. In fact, they won the first half division title this year so they’re already assured of a spot in the Midwest League playoffs next month.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll probably spend close to $1,000 for tickets, parking, food, hotel rooms and gas to take my family up to Minneapolis for the Twins’ weekend series with the Angels at Target Field (not to mention some time at the Renaissance Festival). I’ll have a great time, I’m sure.  But tonight and tomorrow, I’ll watch future Twins face off with future Angels about 2 miles from where I live and even after ticket, parking (which is free), food and a couple of beers, I probably won’t spend over $20 either day.

How can you beat that? – JC