Not bloody likely. Because when you sit out a game of baseball at Nat Bailey Stadium, it usually ends up being the kind of ripsnorter affair that goes 13 innings and sees the scores go level four times, with 95MPH pitching and homeruns leaving the park before a winner is declared.
Like tonight, for example.
The game opened as the last one closed - with a Vancouver pitcher chewing through the Everett AquaSox opposition. In this case it was Trey Shields (right), 9th round draft pick and towering righty, enjoying his first outing as starting pitcher the season. His first at bat was a big K, consisting of four nasty 93mph fastballs, all at the corners. That piece of bullying was followed by a grounder and a pop-out to end the inning, and the world was a happy place for The Big Trey.
And it rapidly got happier when team leader and lead-off man, Chalon Tietje, with a full count before him, drilled a perfect low-level liner into center right field for a base hit. Chad ‘Tum-Tum’ Boyd was not about to let Tietje show him up, and he promptly followed suit by drilling another low-level rope into center left for a single. Everett pitcher Robert Fagan was beginning to look worried as everything he threw was being punched back over his head, and his tricky pick-off move was beginning to look, as they say in France, le crap. The umpire noticed this too, and as Fagan tried to spin around to find Tietje off the bag, the ump called a balk on the pitcher.
Rob Fagan = not happy.
So how do you think he was feeling when Jeff ‘Buttah’ Baisley then smacked a hard grounder across the third base bag and into the C’s bullpen, scoring two runs and standing up on second with no outs?
Probably better than he was feeling when the Denver Bronco, Haas Pratt (left), smacked a deep deep deeeeeeeep flyball which came down at the warning track about five feet shy of the 395 foot wall in center? Do you think he cursed as Buttah crossed the plate and Vancouver went up by 3 runs? You bet he did.
Fagan gave up a wild pitch and a walk before he finally convinced a Canadians player to hit into a double play, which I guess could be considered ‘getting yourself out of a jam’, if seeing your team go 3-0 down can be considered getting out of anything.
I watched this inning from the comfort of the roof of Nat Bailey’s stadium - comfort consisting of a plastic patio chair on a bouncy wooden podium on the bouncy roof, beside the window of the C’s radio booth. It’s not a bad spot, at least in terms of the view, but the amenities need a little work. Great spot for catching foul tips, or at least catching up to them as they come down from a great height and get tangled up in the protective netting. I generally go upstairs to the press booth for the first few innings of each game for two reasons. First, I get to avoid having to stand for the national anthems, which is doubly important because both the Canadian and American anthems play at The Nat before a game. and don’t even get started on me about being patriotic - you try listening to 68 national anthems at 34 home games in a three month period and tell me you wouldn’t take off for a while when they’re busting out the opening bars!
The second reason I go up to the roof is that you get to see all the little habits that the players have at the plate. For example, last year, Myron Leslie, who is ripping it up in Kane County this season, would make a small sign of the cross in the dirt next to the batters box before stepping into it. Nic Blasi, also now in Kane County, would kick his foot along the back lines of the batters box until they were just about gone. Landon Powell would sweep his foot along the dirt after every swing so that no sign of his or anyone else’s presence could be seen on the ground where he was standing. Don Sutton would plant his feet, swing a few times in preparation, take a mean stance, strike out, and then mouth the F word so hard you could read his lips all the way upstairs.
This year’s group of hitters? No such habits. Sure, Chalon Tietje still does the not-swing-and-stare-at-the-pitcher-as-the-ball-zips-by thing that he was doing last year, and Isaac Omura has a stance so contorted that I’m sure he has a wooden leg he’s not telling anyone about, but for the most part they just walk up, plant their feet and wait for the pitch. It’s all so boring.
One thing you can see very clearly upstairs is pitch movement, and big Trey Shields had his stuff moving about quite nicely in the first inning. In the second, however, movement was the least of his problems. Ronald Prettyman, who has to have woken up every single day of his life pondering whether he should change his name or not, opened the 2nd with a bunt towards the pitcher that caught the big guy napping. Or maybe he wasn’t napping and it’s just really hard to get a 6′3" 230lb body into high speed over a short area, then bend down to pick up a ball, then turn and throw. Either way, PrettyBoy was on base when the next AquaSox hitter, Brian Schweiger, drilled a double to left.
Actually, it wasn’t a double, it was a routine flyball, but when 7PM hits at Nat Bailey Stadium, the sun is usually setting over in right field foul territory, which makes the left fielder’s job considerably more difficult. As the ball dropped about five feet over Tum-Tum Boyd’s glove, the Canadians faithful let out a giant "ohhhh" as one.
The FlipperKids scored on a ground out, then scored again on a Bryan Sabatella single that threaded the needle between third and short. Shields was being pounded, and luck wasn’t assisting him in any way, shape or form. A deep fly to right got him back into the inning, and when ‘Pipes’ Recker gunned down an attempted steal at second, the C’s held a slender 3-2 lead.
In the bottom of the 2nd, the only thing the Canadians managed to hit was a high foul ball that came down on the head of a young blonde woman from about 80 feet up, cracking her right on the back of the noggin. And that, good Canadians fans, is why the team asks you to keep your eyes on the game when balls are flying around.
In the top of the 3rd, Everett again picked on Big Trey, this time with a single and a walk putting a man in scoring position, and then two ground outs moving him to 3rd, then home to tie the scores. Shields continued his shaky outing in the 4th, while the once-drubbed Rob Fagan managed to stave off the relievers warming up in the bullpen by throwing good stuff from the 2nd inning on.
As Bradley Davis, formerly of the Alaska Goldpanners, came in for the wayward Shields in the 5th, Everett lead-off man Casey Craig (who, it must be said, is hitting way below his class in this level of ball) took him for a double to left, but if the assembled Flipper-Kid fans thought that was the start of another good Everett inning, they were mistaken. Davis has heat, and he tossed a considerable amount of it as he struck out Luis Valbuena swinging and then drew Jeff Flaig and Ron Prettyman into weak ground-outs to end the inning.
Against all the odds, Rob (I’m avoiding the obvious nicknames, thank you) Fagan was still on the mound, but as Frank Martinez drew a walk and Chalon Tietje again drove low through the infield for a single, the bullpen was back on their feet. When Tum-Tum Boyd grounded the runners along to 2nd and 3rd, Everett had just about had enough, calling on reliever Jeff Gilmore to get them out of a bad situation.
And that’s what he did, drawing Jeff Baisley into a deep flyball, walking the home run threat Pratt, and then grounding out Jose Garcia with the bases loaded.
On the mound for the C’s, Brad Davis could have cared less about his team’s near misses with the bat - strike out, strike out, fly-out - next!
And that was how it went until the bottom of the 7th, when, with the Rally Crows in full flight, Vancouver’s Frank Martinez again drew a lead-off walk, but this time he went a few steps further, stealing to 2nd, then riding a wild pitch to 3rd before Tum-Tum popped a soft fly off the end of his bat down the left field line, driving in a run and drawing the Vancouver faithful into near delirium. Buttah Baisley then grounded into a double play to end the inning, continuing his medicore game, but Vancouver now had a 4-3 lead going into the 8th and the mood was healthy in V-Town.
At least for a moment. When Jeff Flaig doubled and Vancouver reliever Ronald Madej hit Prettyman with a fastball (I don’t think Prettyman was enjoying it that the stadium DJ kept playing Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman when he was at the plate), Canadians pitching coach Craig Lefferts gave him the hook, bringing in the hard throwing Stephen ‘Bad News’ Bryant.
Bryant (left), a 20th round draftee from the University of Hawaii, came into the game with two men on and one out, then proceeded to throw two wild pitches, the latter scoring the tying run. Bryant, who was throwing a consistent 87 mph with his fastball (touching 89) and dropping as low as 71 mph with his change-up, just didn’t seem able to get any movement on his pitches tonight, and his location was way off. Could the unusually large 4300 crowd have been giving the C’s pitchers a case of the nerves?
Either way, in the bottom of the 8th, the C’s were more than happy to show Everett how it feels to get your pitcher beat up on. With Joe ‘Squirmin’ Woerman in for Jeff Gilmore, the C’s employed the old Oakland ‘on-base’ tactic of refusing to swing until the pitcher forces their hand, and Woerman was simply unable to make them do so, walking two straight batters with 85-89MPH fastballs that went everywhere but where they were supposed to go.
David Asher came in to take over, but he didn’t fare much better, as Pipes Recker sac bunted the runners along, and then a wild pitch scored a run to give the C’s the lead AGAIN - 5-4.
But just as had happened every time the C’s had found a lead in this game, the FlipperKids would not be denied, and so it went that after a Bryan Sabatella triple to deep right center, Michael Saunders sac’ed him home to AGAIN tie the game, 5-5.
In the bottom of the 9th, the C’s needed a tiebreaker, but Asher was not about to surrender one. Asher has a weird tendency to look like he’s throwing really hard, but his pitches come in at about 84-87, with a change-up about 10MPH less than that. Whatever junk he was tossing, it was good enough to get the C’s down, 1-2-3, and we’re into bonus baseball!
Because I like to build up the excitement, I’m going to share a small interlude with you at this point in the game report. This is something I plan to do every time the C’s go into extra innings this season, because there’s a gentleman at Nat Bailey Stadium who I think deserves a little recognition now and then for his services to this team. That man’s name is Budd Kerr, and he calls himself the Nat Bailey Stadium historian. Bud always sits in the same place and has done since this stadium was opened back in the early 50’s, and he has kept a series of scrapbooks about whatever team has played here since well before that time. If Vancouver baseball has been mentioned in the press, Bud has a clipping of that mention in his collection, from the big city dailies to the tiny little suburban rags in places like Yakima and Rainier and Bellingham where the V-Town boys might have at one time passed through and played a game or two.
Bud likes to tell stories, and I like to record them, because no other bastard cares enough to bother. So I make sure to sit by Bud for an inning or two and I’ll turn to him between innings and say, "Bud, tell me a story."
Today’s story was about the day Satchel Paige came to The Nat for a game. Take it away, Bud.
"The first time he came here - he came to Vancouver twice you know, most people don’t know that - the first time he came here was for a Portland team in the 50’s. Don’t remember the exact date, but I can get it for you if you need it, and Paige was playing for Portland, more or less as a publicity thing. He was there to get people in the gate, he was about 50 years old, but you could never really tell exactly how old because he changed his age every time he answered the question."
"Fastballs, curves, sliders?", I answer.
"Absolute junk," says Bud. "He threw everything and anything. Ball went fast, slow, left and right, up, down, none of it unhittable but it was just all over the place. But what made him hard to hit was that he had this stutter-step motion that meant he was basically pitching from a step closer to the plate. Sometimes he stuttered, sometimes he didn’t, and because he was Satchel Paige, nobody complained. But he was balking on every pitch! Absolute junkballer."
So did he manage to get through the side, I ask.
"Oh, he got through them. Couple of strikeouts."
That’s it? No flaming fastballs of death?
"Nope. Just junk and a funky action. And when he came in here in 1963 he was even worse."
1963? Satchel Paige pitched off this mound in 1963? He must have been near sixty!
"Somewhere around there," says Bud. "It was an exhibition game of some sort. We lost our team between 1963 and 1964, so they had exhibition games up here, and he played on one of those. Still throwing junk."
Well heck, at age 60, I’m surprised he didn’t fall off the mound. I thanked Bud for today’s extra innings piece of Nat Bailey Stadium history as the teams came out for the 10th inning with the scores tied at 5-5. Stephen Bryant was still out there for Vancouver, but he was pitching differently now. Instead of the 89MPH stuff he was sending down in the 8th and 9th, now he was down around 84MPH, and the ball was on a string as he sat them down 1-2-3.
Vancouver, on the other hand, had a head of steam. Mike Massaro, having been brought in as a pinch-runner in the 8th, would now be called on to do some hitting, and that would be exactly what he’d do with a single that tangled the pitcher up in knots.
Massaro, a 13th rounder out of Colorado State Pueblo (the same school as the recently promoted Shawn Martinez) , was sitting on a .118 average just four games ago, but in the time since he’s managed to go on a mini-rampage, ending tonight’s game on a very respectable .292 and demonstrating that he’s a bona fide speed demon on the basepaths. When Chris Tritle singled to center and Anthony Recker grounded the runners along, it was up to Shawn Callahan to crack the game-winning base hit and bring this crowd to rapturous applause.
Well, Shawn Callahan hit 1-6 today. And that raised his average, if you know what I mean. Suffice to say, the scores stayed level.
In the top of the 11th, Vancouver brought out a surprise package - Jose Corchado, the recently demoted former Kane County Cougar, who had been boasted an 11.81 ERA at Stockton earlier this season, then a 7.32 ERA for the Cougars before the organization ran out of patience with him and sent him to short season ball.
And his opening salvo at this level was nothing if not what one would expect with a season like the above. First batter he faced: walk. Second batter he faced: bunts for a hit. Jose was PISSED.
Some pitchers run on adrenaline, while others get lost when the blood starts to pump. Jose, from first glance, is a very serious, very deliberate, very emotional player. He does a lot of thanking God when things go right, and he does a lot of sneering to himself when they don’t. And, it must also be said, he has UNGODLY stuff when he’s hitting his spots.
91MPH sliders, 94MPH fastballs, 76MPH change-ups - every pitch is doing something, and the only way he seems able to concede runs is when his movement takes him out of the strikezone. In fact, when Corchado really arched his back and let fly with a 95MPH fastball, it whizzed by the batter, the catcher, and hit the stadium netting so hard that the Everett off-day pitchers handling the radar gun duties behind the plate jumped for their lives. I think I’ll hear the fizz of that ball coming toward me for a long time in my nightmares. so too will Everett’s hitters, because when Corchado found the strikezone, he was unhittable.
Michael Saunders: Struck out swinging.
David Hall: Caught stealing third.
Reed Eastley: Struck out swinging.
The 12th saw Corchado get a little wild again, with Jeff Flaig singling, then stealing, then riding a wild one to 3rd before a Ron Pretty Woman single drove him home to give Everett their first lead of the game.
Gibson (seen left, and nicknamed ‘Chops’ for his penchant for facial hair) was a teammate of Brad Davis with the Alaska Goldpanners last year, so who knows if the Vancouver hurler helped his teammates with a little extra scouting on their opponent. If he did, it came in handy.
Chad ‘Tum-Tum’ Boyd was first up and singled up the middle to lead-off, and quite predictably, manager Juan Navarrete signaled for him to steal second. It was probably the right call to make at that stage of the game, but Everett were ready and threw Tum-Tum down easily for the first out.
The crowd was deflated. Even more than a win, at this stage they just wanted to be able to go home without thinking they’d missed something. Most of the crowd, it must be said, were nowhere near as cautious.
In fact, if 200 people were on hand to see the kid from Land’O'Lakes, Florida, Jeff ‘Buttah’ Baisley, atone for his earlier poor form by then firing off a moonshot on an 84MPH ‘Chops’ Gibson fastball, I’d be very surprised. But more fool them - we stayed, we waited, we rooted for our team, and our man delivered a game-saving homerun blast that went a good 360ft over the Global TV sign in left center. Baisley joins the exclusive club of players who have hit a home run in one of the hardest parks to hit out of in all minor league baseball, and saves the game in the process.
Vancouver 6 - Everett 6.
Jose Corchado is nasty. He demonstrated the latino definition of nasty by striking out the side in the 13th, and this is how he did it.
Pitch #1: 95MPH fastball down the guts.
Pitch #2: 91 MPH slider tempting the hitter to swing for garbage.
Pitch #3: 80MPH change-up down the guts.
He followed this formula three times to the letter, and three times he got the K with his slowest pitch. Outstanding pitching, especially on a day when he’d just arrived in town.
The bottom of the 13th saw Everett’s closer lose his cool under pressure as Shawn Callahan singled on an unexpected bunt, before being pinch-run for by the nimble Justin ‘Spanky’ Sellers. Wilber Perez sacked the kid along before Frank Martinez hit long and deep and down an outfielder’s throat for the first out.
Then came the sign that Everett were frightened… they intentionally walked Chalon Tietje to load up a double play opportunity and get to Tum-Tum.
But Chad Boyd, though he was playing high school ball just a few months ago, is no dumb kid. He can smell the fear and he knows how to play this game called baseball, so as Gibson tried to paint the corners, Boyd just watched. And watched. And watched. And walked.
Bases loaded, and up comes none other than the homerun king of the previous inning, Jeff Baisley (right). He’d saved the game in the 11th, could he now win it in the 13th? Gibson needed a double play, and Baisley needed a bag.
Pitch 1, ball.
Pitch 2, ball, and Gibson is starting to curse.
Pitch 3, ball, and Gibson is REALLY starting to curse.
Pitch 4, strike. Crowd takes a breath.
Pitch 5, strike. Full count.
You just can’t get any more important than a pitch with a full count, bases loaded, and scores level in the bottom of the 13th. If you were a betting person, you’d want to have a tenner on the C’s right about now. but then come the ‘what if’s - what if Baisely swings at a crap ball that otherwise would have won him the ballgame? What if he swings and hits into a DP? What if he swings and misses!
All the pressure in the world sat on two men’s shoulders tonight - one of them had already sensed this pressure and had come out on top. The other was pitching when that first guy came out on top. And that might tell you how this one went.
84MPH fastball, low and inside. Ball four, Baisley walks, Sellers scores - GAME VANCOUVER!
|July 13, 2005|
* Oh my freaking god, what a ballgame. If nothing else, this game proved that the NWL will this year be decided not by the playoffs between the winners of the western and eastern divisions, but by the season-long battle between Everett and Vancouver. Quite frankly, nobody else in this league is a shot at winning the thing.
* When Corchado had mishandled the first two batters he faced, he seemed nervous and upset, until a quick visit from Lefty Lefferts clamed his nerves and he started spewing flames from his fists. To be honest, I was already writing what I would say about Corchado when he walked his first batter - "Corchado came down today, and he can just about keep on going if this is the sort of crap he wants to bring to the table." It would have been a great line, but the line said to me by a visiting Tampa Bay scout in the 11th is probably even greater… "Where’s my fucking radar gun?" Where, indeed. 6K’s over 3 innings will just about forgive the conceded run.
* Brad Davis was Vancouver’s pitcher of the game, with a line of 2 innings pitched, 1 hit, 0 runs, 3K’s 0 walks. Davis continues, after 6 games played to boast a 0.00 ERA. He has struck out 17 batters and walked just 2. Yowza!
* Tum-Tum Boyd was the hitter of the night, going 3-6 with 1 walk, 1 run, and 1 RBI. He’s gaining in confidence every outing, and starting to feel a little more comfortable with people calling his name. El Camino Real High School should be proud.
* Chalon Tietje (2-6 with 1 walk and 1 run) and Mike Massaro (2-2 with 1 run scored) should be damn proud of their outings tonight. Both needed a few hits to get back into the swing, and they not only got those, they got them at important times in the game. Tietje seems to be hitting for space rather than distance, and that’s helping him a lot, while Massaro has the talent, but he just needed a few balls to fall for him for once. But let’s not forget, he can also pitch if needed, having gone 2-0 with a 2.39 ERA for Joe Newby’s and Shawn Martinez’ old school, CSU Pueblo.
* Jeff Baisley was the game MVP, even though his outing was a failure between innings 1 and 10. 2-6, 2 runs, a double, a homerun, 4 RBIs and a walk make for a pretty darn good night on paper, but it too him some time to warm to the occasion.
* Wes Long is not as healthy as immediate reports in Everett would have had us believe. Long has been flown to Arizona so he can be kept under observation at the A’s medical facility, and though there won’t be any long term damage, the team are taking a cautious approach to his recovery. Best of health, ‘Long Gone’!
* Anthony Recker didn’t have an outstanding night with the bat tonight, but he had a great game with his arm, throwing down four base-stealers, including one at third. Resembling a Hulk-era Lou Ferrigno at times, Recker’s the kind of catcher who seems to instill confidence in his teammates and a little fear in his opponents.
* In Oakland tonight, the A’s just dealt RP Chad Bradford to Boston for OF Jay Payton, and then AAA 2B Omar Quintanilla and OF Eric Byrnes for RP’s Tim Witasick and Joe Kennedy from the Rockies. In essence, the A’s upgraded slightly at CF and significantly in the bullpen. What this may mean, however, is a bit of reorganizing throughout the organization to make room for the new players, and fill gaps left by others. At the bottom end, Jose Orchardo debuted tonight as Joe Scott and Mike Mitchell went to Kane County, while a handful of C’s went down to Rookie Ball. Long story short, we’re going to gain some players and lose some players, so don’t get too attached to that awesome team ERA.
* Everett’s hitting staff are decent, and several of their players are so decent that I doubt they’ll finish the season with them. PrettyBaby is hitting .417 after his 3-5 outing tonight, while Casey Craig is hovering at .357 and Jeff Flaig and Bryan Sabatella are at the .300 level. With those four, you’ve got a great core of a line-up, but nobody hitting .417 is going to stay in short season for long. Expect Everett’s hitting to weaken down the stretch, just as Vancouver’s pitching will probably do the same.
* Huge crowd tonight for a Wednesday night game - 4300 people turned up to give Vancouver’s average attendance a nice boot up the arse. The lesson in this crowd? If you give something away to one person, nobody cares but that person. But give a free baseball cap to 500 kids and you’ll get 1000 parents tagging along… see what I’m saying, Mr Kilgras?
* Vancouver now sits 6 games ahead of second place in the western division with just 22 games played so far this season. Which is entirely nutso.
Pitching probables for the coming two days:
Thursday: VAN Jeff Gray (3-1, 1.00) vs EVE Eric Carter (2-1, 7.24)
Friday: VAN Michael Madsen (2-0, 0.53) vs EVE Nick Allen (3-0, 3.24)
Game 2 in the mini-home series against the Everett FlipperKids commences tomorrow night (Thursday) at 7PM. Turn up and you’re in the running to win a holiday to Las Vegas.
Where it’s sunny.