Wednesday, September 20, 2017

National Champions!!!! (AAA)

The Durham Bulls are your national champion for AAA ball. The Memphis Red Birds played them tough and it was a good game, but the grand slam by Kean Wong (2d baseman) put it out of reach.

It was a well played game rewarding two teams for slogging through entire seasons in the Pacific Coast and International Leagues, played in Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

Wait, you ask, why was a game featuring teams that are affiliated with Tampa Bay (the Bulls) and St. Louis (the Red Birds - duh) played on a field that is the home field for the Scranton Wiles-Barre RailRiders (a Yankees affiliate)? And you'd be right to ask. The crowd was light and it wasn't exactly into the game.

The AAA leagues are the only ones outside the MLB that play an interleague championship.. They only play one game and I think it is played at the park of the team which won the year before (but I wouldn't bet money on it). Anyway, unless the same team plays for the championship again - an unlikely event in the ever changing rosters of the minor leagues - the crowd that shows for the game is probably going to be there because they enjoy baseball generally (me), not people rooting for the teams playing.

It's actually kind of sad and anti-climactic for the two teams. It could also be solved fairly easily with some sort of alternating three game playoff with one game at each team's stadium and the third alternating between the International and Pacific Coast League stadium each year. The only reason that I suspect they don't do this is the expense. If the Pacific Coast team is in Sacramento and the International League is in Pawtucket that could be pretty darn expensive for the owner of each team as they fly across the country and have to live in hotels for at least a couple days. On the other hand, it also has the potential to draw more crowds and make more money for the owners at their own stadium. Of course, the owners and the management of the leagues know the numbers better than me. I'd just like to see a real playoff that rewarded local fans.

Monday, September 18, 2017

And now for something a little different: Your Centre College Praying Colonels

Went by my Alma Mater and watched my one 'Muricn Football game of the year:
Your Centre College Praying Colonels praying - Although it was a football prayer so it was kinda more about crushing your enemy than loving your fellow man.

1.  Centre started the game by running the kickoff back for a touchdown.
2.  Centre ran a blocked extra point all the way back for two.
3.  Centre fumbled the ball on the one yard line and then sacked the opposing quarterback in the end zone for a safety.
4.  Nobody bothered to tell Hendrix that when you are down 42-13 at the half the game is over and Hendrix came out playing hard in the second half making it a really good game.
5.  Centre's final field goal - the one which put the game out of reach - arched up and came down squarely on the bar, then bounced over for three points.
6.  Apparently John Perry has hung up his economic professordom in order to be a coach? I expect Centre to start playing like Notre Dame High School any moment now. Sabermetrics comes to college ball!
7. Great Game!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Rocking at the Florence Freedom

I'm the one on the right.

This guy looked like he was going to fall over every time he threw the ball, but he was effective for about four innings.

1. The stands were packed and they were rocking!
2. Funnest game of the year!
3. First time I've ever seen two infield fly rule outs in a row.
4. There was some dubious umping in this game. 
     a.  The crowd started getting upset when, in the 6th inning, the Freedom's short stop forewent what looked like a probable double play to end the inning and instead threw home to get the guy charging from third. After a collision at the plate, the ball came out of the catcher's mitt, but it did so very late and left the crowd convinced the ump got it wrong. 
     b.  The home plate ump's strike zone migrated upward during the game. At the beginning of the game if the thread on the upper part of the ball nicked the bottom part of the knee it was a strike and the top of the zone was the bottom of the letters. By the end of the game the bottom of the zone was somewhere around the top of the knee and the top was the top of the letters. Personally, I think the Schaumburg pitchers worked him to get that change and you have to admire that in them, but not the ump.
     c.  The second base ump at least once allowed the "I swept my foot somewhere near second" out which used to be the norm in the first part of double plays. The fans caught him at it and were not happy.
     d.  Look, I know a checked swing is basically whatever an ump decides it is, but WOW. Those didn't look anything like swings to me or anyone else in the stands. To be fair, the umps were calling this against both sides even though the crowd was really only giving them hell for doing it against the Freedom.
5.  There was some dubious coaching during the game.
     a.  Really? REALLY!! A bunt with a man on first and no outs? Have you never read a stat in your friggin' life? How'd that work out for you coaches? (both sides did this)
     b.  OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Telling your batter to bunt when he's got two strikes?!? How'd that work out for you coach? (only the Freedom's coach did this)
     c.  In the bottom of the 11th, the Schaumburg Boomer's coach left in a pitcher who walked four straight batters to tie the game. He was bouncing two-thirds of his pitches off the plate, for goodness sake. Now, the Boomers may have been out of pitchers (from about the 5th each side was bringing in one per inning), but it was obvious this guy wasn't going to get it by the second batter. Somebody else on that team has to have been a pitcher once upon a time.
6.  The game ended on a bases loaded single to the Schaumburg second baseman. He fielded the ball cleanly while charging the plate, double clutched the ball, and didn't even try to make the throw. The second baseman may have lost his grip on the ball for a moment, but the guy charging from third wasn't exactly greased lightning. It would have been close.
7.  In the end, the good guys won. The crowd went nuts. It was a great day at the park.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Should the USL Absorb the NASL?

For those of you who haven't heard, US Soccer has put the final dagger in the tier 2 existence of the North American Soccer League. It's not surprising as the NASL has been in trouble for a while. It doesn't have the mandated twelve teams and it is barely a national league. It has also caused problems by pushing for promotion/relegation and pointing out the very cozy relationship between the MLS and US Soccer in a world where everyone knows soccer is the most corrupt major sport in the world.

As well, the United Soccer League has been booming. I'm not sure what the entry requirements are for the USL, but it has about a million teams. Last year it announced an agreement with MLS to become its minor league and the second teams for the MLS are now playing in the USL. It was also elevated to the second tier this season and announced that next year it will have both a second tier and third tier league.

So let's look at the teams from the two leagues and see where they should end up next year.

First of all, should any team from the NASL or the USL go to the MLS? To put that question in perspective, let's talk about average attendance in the MLS. The MLS has about five tiers. Two teams have above 40,000 per game (Atlanta & Seattle). Two are in the 25,000+ range (Toronto & Orlando City). Nine fit in the 20,000+ range (Sporting KC by rounding up). Nine are in the 15,000+ range (Columbus by rounding up).

Only one team in either the USL or the NASL fits into the MLS mold by pure attendance numbers: FC Cincinnati out of the USL. If the MLS doesn't pull it in soon its management is failing it. It's already eclipsing its northern neighbor (The Crew). However, were the MLS management to show some real cunning it would also grab some of the teams in the same area such as Lou City (USL) and the Indianapolis Eleven (NASL)  to continue and develop rivalries that could actually get people interested in more than just their local team (a massive problem the MLS is having). However, that would take a level of smarts beyond what the MLS has shown itself capable of.  They may pick up FC Cincinnati reluctantly, but they'd rather dangle possibilities out to far separated teams who don't have any natural local rivals (except in NY where they've now got two in what looks like it might be an attempt to kill the Cosmos).

Who should the USL take into its tier 2 league? Let's assume that the USL only puts 15 teams in its tier 2 league and that any team the USL were to pick up for tier 2 has to have the numbers to be in that 15. The USL should really be panting at the prospect of picking up the top four NASL teams and adding them to its tier 2 league: The Indianapolis Eleven average 8,000+ per game which would put them above all but three USL clubs. Miami FC averages 5,800+, putting it above all but six of the USL teams. The Cosmos are averaging 4,800+, above all but nine of the USL clubs, and they carry the Cosmos name and logo which are prizes unto themselves. North Carolina averages 4,200+, above all but eleven in the USL, and it's the only team in its area so it has a lot of room to grow. They would and should be prizes that the USL picks up from the ashes of the NASL.

Who should the USL take into its tier 3 league from the NASL? Hopefully, everybody else. Definitely FC Edmonton and Puerto Rico FC. Jacksonville may need to be looked at first as I have a vague understanding that they've had some problems. San Fran would probably do well enough if there are enough tier 3 teams out West.

In the end, the USL would be strengthened if it could absorb the NASL whole, but there seems to be an undertone in discussions I see of this indicating it is not willing to do so. I don't know why except for some sort of lingering acrimony for a competing league. I hope this is wrong and the USL shows the kind of business acumen it has in the past and pulls as many of these teams in as it can in order to strengthen and grow this sport.

Appalachian League Championship

Tonight 7pm at Elizabethton and then Friday and Saturday in Pulaski.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Playoff Season

For those of you not paying attention, minor league baseball has started. Most start tonight today or tomorrow, but some are in full swing. In the Appalachian League (Rookie) the Pulaski Yankees have already eliminated the Bluefield Blue Jays and the Elizabethton Twins and Greeneville Astros are playing a rubber match tonight. After that, they'll immediately start the League Championship series.

Tonight I'll have to make a choice between listening to the Elizabethton-Greeneville game or watching one of the Frontier League (Independent) playoffs. My favorite independent baseball team, the mighty Evansville Otters are taking on the Schaumburg Boomers while the Florence Freedom take on the Washington Wild Things. Others that I'll be paying attention to are the Eugene Emeralds who start playing in the Northwest League (Rookie) playoffs tonight and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers who I think will start playing their NY-Penn League (Short-A) playoff Friday.

The rest of the playoffs I'm interested in start Wednesday. I'll be keeping an eye on the Gary Southshore Railcats in the American Association (Independent), the Kannapolis Intimidators in the South Atlantic League (A), the Dayton Dragons and the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League (A), the El Paso Chihuahuas of the Pacific League (AAA), and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos of the Southern League (AA).

Good luck everyone and my favorite teams win!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Winston-Salem Dash

The hill looking down on the stadium.

A great play by the Dash which was unfortunately followed by a home run.

What outfielders do during a pitching change.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


The NASL Soccer Ball

The guy on the right just spent 5 minutes telling the linesman about himself because said linesman didn't call a mugging that resulted in NY Cosmos scoring their second goal.

The NASL's recap of the game.

1. Nice stadium that looks like it might seat 10k+ and probably had somewhere near 4k in attendance.
2. If you go, spend the extra money for the on the field seating. It is a great way to watch a match (and they bring your concessions to you - always a plus).
3. Yet another soccer game I went to or watched ended in a tie (I'm American; we say tie not draw). No matter how good the game is this is one of the flaws that only a soccer fanatic can claim to love.
4. I will say, however, that scoring the tying goal at 90 minutes made this most exciting tie I've seen.
5.  What does it say about soccer in the USA when the kids outside tailgating with their parents were throwing footballs around and nary a soccer ball was in sight? This is North Carlina. They aren't even good enough to get into the SEC, so you wouldn't expect as many football zombies. And, for those of you who would point to the Panthers, I stand by my statement.
6. The worst part was getting out. For some reason the local police directing traffic would not let me turn right coming out of the stadium. It got me lost because I didn't know where that led to, my phone app kept calming repeating that I needed to do a U-turn, and the idiot kids behind me screamed and honked because I was driving slow while I tried to figure out things like the speed limit and where the heck I was. I eventually got far enough away that my phone app gave up trying to turn me around and sent me through back roads to get to my hotel. There was no obvious reason for forcing cars leaving to take a left turn other than arbitrary choice and convenience for the guy directing traffic. I watched traffic get waved past going from my left to my right in a lane that was clearly open for traffic before being forced to drive across that lane to go left. It left a slightly bitter taste at the end of an otherwise excellent experience. 
7. Okay, now that I've got that off my chest, I have to admit that if NCFC was closer than 6 hours away they'd probably be getting a fair amount of my money. I recommend the experience to anyone who even slightly enjoys the sport. Friendly staff, a good stadium, and a fun game is a hard combination to beat.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Burlington Royals

Baseball fans know what fish feel like.
You want me to throw what?

The bang you hear is the Princeton left fielder running out of field and into the fence (at full speed) as the ball hit it over his head.

Rounding third and heading for home.

Good game. Good stadium. Friendly people everywhere. May be my favorite of all the Appalachian League experiences. Which, of course, is why it's five hours from my doorstep to the stadium.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Monday, August 7, 2017

Princeton Rays

Maybe, but the pews look a little empty.
I think the runner aspires to be an ump.
Pitcher: Uniform Clean.
Shortstop: Uniform Not So Clean.
What do the umps do between every inning?

1. The day after the Yankees played a wonderful game, the Rays stomped them 10-2.
2. Nice older stadium, but I think the bleachers might actually be better than the elevated reserved seats behind the plate.
3. How do I get seated in the area underneath the reserved seats with picnic tables? It's probably the best place to watch the game in the stadium.
4. Before you buy the typical stadium fare, ask about the special because they have actual real food meals for decent prices (too late for me, I'd already bought a hot dog and fries before I learned better).
5. They have kids walking the entire stadium taking your specific order (even in the bleachers).
6. Strikes were sponsored by the local bowling alley.
7. It was enjoyable, but I doubt there were 300 people in the stadium and that's a shame.