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 Pohlman Field is beyond outdated.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”

 

Snappers Photos, Part Deux

I took the afternoon off from the office to sneak out to the ballpark and take in the final game of the Snappers/Kernels series today and it was well worth the penalty I’ll pay of having more work to do tomorrow.

The Kernels won the game 5-4 in 11 innings. Given the heat and the fact that I went straight from the office and thus was still in “business casual” attire, I really didn’t need a four hour extra innings game, but it certainly was entertaining.

Lefty Ryan O’Rourke threw six solid innings for the Snappers but was left with a no decision as his team mates committed four errors behind him (OK, technically only three were committed behind him since O’Rourke committed one of those errors himself when he lobbed a pick off throw to 1B well down the RF line).

The latter stages had everything a fan could want to see in a game. Strategic bunting, clutch hitting, diving catches, good baserunning, controversial umpiring, and a 9th inning manager ejection (the Kernels manager, Brent Del Chiaro… though Snapper manager Nelson Prada and 1B coach Tommy Watkins came close to getting early showers one play later, following what could best be referred to as a pretty obvious “make up” call).

In the end, the Kernels won the game on a walk-off HR down the LF line. If it was fair, it wasn’t by much, but it was called fair and that’s all that matters I guess.

Here are a few pictures of some of today’s action… I didn’t take as many as Sunday, but we have a few shots of guys who didn’t play in Sunday’s game.

Infielder Adam Bryant gets low at 2B

OF Wang-Wei Lin gets some swings in during a catcher's visit to the mound

Coach Tommy Watkins with instructions to Lin at 1B

Starting pitcher Ryan O'Rourke delivers

Catcher Tobias Streich glances toward the Kernels dugout

Relief pitcher Michael Tonkin delivers and SS Daniel Santana breaks to cover 3B as the hitter squares to bunt

Lefty reliever Jose Gonzalez strides toward home

Reliever Nelvin Fuentes gave up the game winning HR, though he and the Snappers weren't convinced it was a fair ball

Pinch runner Derek McCallum scored the tying run in the top of the 9th on a wild pitch as Tobias Streich gives him the "get down" sign

 

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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