It’s the end of August and there are still four months remaining in 2013 but already I’m feeling nostalgic and thinking that it would be nice if tomorrow was New Year’s Day. This feeling of malaise or melancholy comes about because now is the end of the minor league baseball season and other than pining for the first week of April 2014 to get here so minor league baseball can begin again, I have very little to keep my interest until then.
My home team, the Bradenton Marauders, had a less than auspicious season but it was not for lack of trying on their part. There are some excellent players on the 2013 Marauders team and several of them will likely make it to the major leagues in the next couple of years (Greg Polanco, Gift Ngope, Willy Garcia immediately come to mind). However as a team my team had trouble firing on all nine cylinders. The 2013 Marauders reminded me very much of the 2009 Sarasota Reds – some excellent players but they could not bring it all together. The Marauders had a scrappy new manager this year who unlike his timid predecessor wasn’t afraid to take chances with players running the bases or trying squeeze bunts or almost anything else. In fact our manager this year was such a change from his predecessor that he got in a fist fight with the manager of the Fort Myers Miracle. That’s the kind of manager I like to see
There were some high points for the Marauders this year including their league leading position in the most triples by a team (Taylor Lewis led the league in triples) and the most stolen bases. Unfortunately they also led the Florida State League in the number of runners caught attempting to steal a base and in the number of strike outs. However as any Chicago Cubs fan will tell you, “There’s always next year.”
For me and the rest of the Marauders heckling section it was a memorable year on many accounts. Personal highlights include:
- The Tampa Yankees pitcher who yelled “fuck you” at me as he walked back to the dugout
- The St. Lucie Mets outfielder who gave me the finger as he walked back to the dugout after I assisted him with his third strike out of the evening,
- Having the entire Tampa Yankees team heckle me from the bench
- Having the entire St. Lucie Mets team heckle me from the bench,
- Having the Lakeland Flying Tigers manager (himself) heckling me from the bench,
- Telling an outfielder for the Palm Beach Cardinals that he had “the penis of a small boy” (in Spanish) and then assisting him with his second strike out of the evening.
- Watching that same Palm Beach player come to bat in the 9th inning in a close game with the Marauders and with runners in scoring position calling him (in Spanish) “my bitch” and then Dave Hilsheimer and I assisting him in a 3-pitch strike out. His strike out ended the game and the Marauders won.
- Annoying enough opposing batters that 16 of them slammed their bats against the dugout wall after assisting them in making an out.
- Getting four opposing players to slam their batting helmet against the dugout wall (probably because they had already broken their bat) after assisting each of them in making a crucial out.
- Heckling Casey Kotchman from the Miami Marlins who was on a rehab assignment with the Jupiter Hammerheads and doing so while his mother was sitting next to me. I didn’t know it was his mom until she snapped at me “Why don’t you get your ass out there if you think it’s so easy.”
- And in the best heckle of the year category – watching Palm Beach Cardinals manager Johnny Rodriquez giving hand signals to his team and me yelling “Johnny – is that the sign for them to masturbate?” Johnny quit using that sign after being called out.
The nice thing about all the heckling is that in every case mentioned above the Marauders won their games and several times by large margins. Time and experience have taught me that if you can get under the skin of a team they focus on those of us heckling and not what is happening on the field and we invariably win the games in those situations. We will just have to do more of that in 2014.
On a broader scale than the Marauders I visited minor league stadiums and watched games in Akron, Columbus and Dayton Ohio; Salem, Lynchburg and Norfolk Virginia; Fayetteville and Little Rock Arkansas; Springfield, Missouri; San Antonio Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Quad Cities and Burlington, Iowa; Augusta and Savannah, Georgia; and Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In these travels I got to see former Bradenton Marauder Catcher Eric Fryer playing for the Rochester Red Wings at a game in Norfolk Virginia, and former third baseman Jeremy Ferrell playing for the Winston-Salem Dash in both Salem and Lynchburg, Virginia.
A new passion this year was driving all over the state trying to see as many Rookie League teams (there are 16 of them) in the Gulf Coast League play games. I ended the year having seen all 16 teams play in 12 of their 14 venues (the GCL Marlins and GCL Cardinals each play at the same field in Jupiter, and both of the GCL Yankees teams play on the same field in Tampa). The only Rookie League fields I didn’t see games on this year were the GCL Mets in St. Lucie and the GCL Twins in Fort Myers. They will be the goal for next year.
Which brings up the topic of next year. For 2014 I will again have my season ticket for Box 3, Row 1, Seat 1 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton. They will need to use dynamite to extract me from that seat. However in my quest to see every minor league team playing in person I’m already planning some trips to see some teams next year. One place high on my list is to spend time back in California (where I lived 20 years ago) watching the 10 High A level teams of the California League plus the two AAA level teams (Fresno Grizzlies and Sacramento River Cats) playing. I’d also like to spend about 2 weeks traveling around Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia watching Rookie League up to AAA level teams playing.
One of the teams I saw in 2013 was the West Virginia Power when they played the Charleston River Dogs in Charleston. The Power are the Low A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the natural progression for the Power is to play in Bradenton the following year. The Power I saw this year was a scrappy bunch who I hope provide lots of great baseball watching when they get to town next year and I look forward to getting to know them.
However what am I going to do with the next seven months of no minor league baseball? One thing that will ease the pain is knowing that throughout the off season each Thursday night the tiki bar in center field at McKechnie Field will be open for fans to come have a few adult beverages and talk about baseball. I think every so often while I’m there on a Thursday night, and while nobody is looking, I’m going to sneak off on my own and walk back to Box 3, Row 1, Seat 1 where I spend my summers behind home plate, and sit there and fantasize that I’m heckling umpires and annoying the St. Lucie Mets and trying out new heckles that I dreamed up over the winter. Yup. That might ease the pain a little.