Thursday, April 7, 2011

Separation Anxiety

I realized something rather strange last night. I went up to Bradenton to meet the new crop of Bradenton Marauders at a special event at Desoto Square Mall. All in all we have a group of nice kids to be proud of this year. Most were promoted from Low A West Virginia Power and some from the short season State College Spikes. Seven (including five pitchers) are returning from last year's Marauders.

As I talked with some of these guys I felt strange because they weren't "the" Marauders - kids like Qunicy Latimore or Brock Holt or Jeremy Ferrell or Eric Fryer, all of whom were promoted to AA level Altoona Curve this year. I guess its because of the familiarity that developed cheering those guys on through 68 home games and 6 away games and the Division championship series. I miss that team. All last summer fellow Marauder fans and I would debate and discuss who on the 2010 team should be promoted to AA or AAA level or why they hadn't been promoted already. Now that exactly what we discussed has come true for them, I find myself selfishly wishing it hadn't happened.

I talked with Joel,the "voice" of the Marauders who announces all their games and who maintains the blog "Its Deep and Might Not Be Playable" about the Marauders. He told me that this year's Marauders hit more home runs at West Virginia last year than "we" did. "We" being the 2010 Marauders. Maybe Joel was feeling the same way.

It will probably get better in a few weeks when seeing Benji Gonzalez at shortstop this year is as natural as seeing Brock Holt there last year, or watching outfielder Evan Chambers knock balls out of the park becomes as common place as watching Quincy Latimore do it 19 times last summer.

Right now, however, its weird not having "our" Marauders around any longer.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Moving On Up

Anyone who was alive and functional in the mid-1970s has to remember the hilarious television sit com "Movin on Up" about George Jefferson and his wife who moved from a lesser part of New York City to Manhattan after husband George made it big in the laundry business. This video and its tune should bring back memories to many who may have forgotten this great show that helped break down some of the stereotypes about people who are not as well off who could "make it" and enjoy the American dream.

As strange as it may seem I was humming this song this afternoon at Pirate City when I watched inter-squad games between the 2011 version of the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians and the Class AA version of the Altoona Curve. While the Indians -v- Curve game was being played out on one field the 2011 version of the Class High A Bradenton Marauders were playing the 2011 version of the Class Low A West Virginia Power. It was a minor league baseball lovers dream come true.

On my arrival I saw my friend Dave Howard who was the 2010 Bradenton Marauders hitting coach. Unfortunately for the Marauders Dave will be with the West Virginia Power in 2011. Maybe that's good in the long run because Dave will be able to help some of the Power make it to the Marauders this year. I congratulated Dave on his move to West Virginia and told him to keep track of opponents needing heckling this summer because I was coming up to watch his guys play and needed to know who to focus on. Dave laughed and said "I feel sorry for them." He should.

I found the field where the AA - v - AAA game was being played and took up a position behind home plate (is there any other place to watch a ball game?).

Almost immediately 2010 Marauder starting pitcher Brian Leach walked up behind me. I had not seen Brian since the last game of the 2010 championship series. I came to really enjoy talking with him last year. On top of being an exceptionally nice and kind person he's also a great starting pitcher. I asked Brian if he was going to start in Altoona where he belongs this year. He said that the Pirates had started to convert him to a bullpen pitcher and he thought he might begin the year in Bradenton and then move on up to Altoona later. He's good enough to start the season in Altoona and maybe even Indianapolis. We'll get him there by the end of the season.

The AAA - v - AA game began not long after 10:00 a.m. and the starting line up for the Curve (or who I assume will be the Curve) included 2010 Bradenton Marauder stars and favorites Brock Holt at second base. Brock is without doubt the best infield prospect the Pirates have in their minor league system. He suffered a meniscus tear in early June 2010 that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. One of my unknown claims to fame is that both Brock and I had surgery to repair a meniscal tear on the same day - June 24, 2010. Unfortunately Brock's injury took longer to heal than mine did otherwise he would have been in Altoona by the end of the year. Brock started off the game with a single, then stole second and eventually scored. His next time up he scored again. Ronny Cedeno, the current starting Pirates shortstop, better keep an eye over his shoulder because a much better short stop named Brock is going to be on his tail very soon.

Also starting today was my second most favorite 2010 Marauder catcher Eric Fryer. Eric is an incredibly nice kid. He's very effective and most importantly very humble. The Marauders had some tragedy in 2010 and one of the tragedies was the back to back loss of Tony Sanchez to a pitched baseball in the face followed a couple nights later by Eric taking one in almost the same part of his face as Tony. Everyone and their brother raves about how great Tony Sanchez is in part because of his top ranking in the 2009 draft and the amount of money he received as a signing bonus. After watching these two guys play last year I'm convinced that Eric is a much better catcher defensively than Sanchez. He will prove me right when he gets further up the line.

Along with Eric was the incomparable Quincy Latimore ("Q" or "the Double Deuce") freshly back from a winter of playing with the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League, mate. Q was famous in 2010 for a number of reasons including hitting a home run his first at bat as a Marauder and later in the season setting a Florida State League record with 100 runs batted in. True to form today Q hit a home run over the left field fence. I have the ball he hit today and got him to sign it for me. I talked with Q for a bit while he was on the bench and wished him well. Anyone who cares about the Pirates will be paying attention to this kid in a couple years when he's roaming right field at PNC Park.

The Double Deuce Doing What He Does Best

Another of my favorites, Starling Marte, started for the AA team in Center Field. Starling is a product of la Republica Dominicana and an all around great kid. He hurt a hamate bone in his right hand in the middle of the 2010 season otherwise Starling would be much higher up than the AA Altoona Curve in 2011. In fact several prospect books I have read project him to be in the outfield for the Pirates in 2014 with no mention of Pedro Alvarez. Right on cue today Starling walloped a ball into deep right center field and turned it into a triple. It won't be long before Starling is in the Show.

My friends Starling Marte and fellow Marauder fan Patrick Sullivan at McKechnie Field not long after Starling hurt his hand in 2010

Another 2010 Marauder starting today was third baseman Jeremy Ferrell. Jeremy is a third-generation professoinal baseball player; His dad is currently the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Like many other excellent 2010 Marauders Jeremy had injury problems. His involved an infection that turned septic and kept him out for much of the rest of the season. When I describe Jeremy to people I tell them that he is "Evan Longoria quality" as a third baseman. He needs to work a bit on his hitting, especially breaking balls, but once he does he'll be headed to the Show in a matter of months. His next stop will be Indianapolis by the end of 2011. I expect to see him in the hot seat for the Pirates in 2014.

Although five of the 2010 Marauders started for the Altoona Curve, catcher Tony Sanchez started for the AAA Indianapolis Indians.
Tony is a very nice person, quite humble in fact, and quite intelligent. He went through Boston College with a 4.0 for christ's sake! He played for the Marauders in 2010 until in early June when he was hit in the left eye by a pitched ball. He was out for the rest of the season. Tony was a top draft pick for the Pirates in 2009 and is on a meteoric rise to the Show. Given what I saw in spring trainign this year I would not be surprised to see Tony in Pittsburgh by the end of the 2011 season. If the Pirates are smart they will take Eric Fryer along with them.

So, among 18 players on the field this morning for the AA and AAA level teams 6 of them or 1/3 were 2010 Bradenton Marauders. Just like George Jefferson in that sit come from long ago, a bunch of our kids are "movin on up."

While the Curve were playing (and beating I might add) the Indianapolis Indians, the 2011 Bradenton Marauders were playing the 2011 West Virginia Power on an adjacent field. I spent some time watching the new Marauders but only recognized Calvin "The Bus" Anderson, the 2010 Marauder first baseman. Calvin earned his nickname last summer the night that he hit a ball over the scoreboard in center field, over the building beyond it with the ball eventually crashing into a bus in the parking lot behind the building. It was a moniker well earned. Despite his 6'7" frame Calvin is a bit of an enigma. He would be dangerous if he could learn to hit a curve ball. Watching him is almost like watching the character "Cerano" in the movie "Major League". Cerano once in an interview said "I hit the fast ball very much. I hit the curve ball not so much." Calvin has the same affliction. Hopefully another year in Bradenton will help him learn how to hit the curve ball very much.

Calvin "The Bus" Anderson at First Base
When I wasn't watching the 2010 Marauders game I was trying to pay attention to the 2011 crop. Other than Calvin they were all names with which I was not familiar. However on the first day of the 2010 season I had never heard of Quincy Latimore or Brock Holt either.

I'm sure that a month from now when we have all cheered for, and heckled for, and bought a few beers for these new Marauders, we will be just as proud of them as we are of last year's crop that seems to be rapidly moving on up to the Show. I just hope they remember us in a couple years when 40,000 fans are screaming their lungs out for these kids we all put so much energy into accepting and appreciating like they are our own.

And I guess if you look at it prgamatically they are our own.