Minor League Odyssey – Day Eight – Game Five (Fort Myers)
by, 08-08-2012 at 02:53 PM (1222 Views)
As soon as I get to the stadium tonight, I can tell that I am moving up the chain and getting closer to how things are done in the big leagues – for the first time, I have to pay for parking ($3). The stadium itself is actually a stadium – it isn’t just a ball field surrounded by stands – which you would expect given that it is the spring training home of the parent club. Two main seating options: there are the $9.50 box seats which are individual plastic seats situated in the lower half of the stadium, and there are the $7.50 general admission tickets for the metal benches that populate the upper half. This time I’m sitting behind the Miracle dugout on the third base line, two rows up from the rail. Taking a quick look over at home plate tells me that I will have to be on my toes tonight, as I am in prime territory to take a sharp foul off a left-handed hitter (which doesn’t happen). Because it is the spring home of the Twins you get much more sense of the stadium and club being connected with the parent. On the facade under the press box are all the numbers retired by the Twins, and the division, league and world series pennants are noted, as is the replica of the 1987 championship ring – all just like Target Field. Lining the outfield fence are a variety of palm trees, giving the park its local flavor.
Just as the quality of the stadium has improved, so has the quality of the food. There is the traditional ballpark fare – it is in fact 2-4-1 night, where hots dogs and small sodas are two for the price of one. I opt instead for the hamburger bar. I toy with ordering a Richard Simmons burger – a hamburger topped with with a chicken breast, a brat, bacon & cheese – and decide instead to opt for the healthier mac-n-cheese burger (just what it sounds like), which is actually quite good. The stands are fairly empty – the stated attendance was just under 1,000 in a facility which holds 7,500 – and the person sitting next to me (a retiree from New Jersey who has moved to Fort Myers and is a big Phillies fan) also comments on how small the crowd is. He thinks it has to do with the fact that it’s getting late in the season and the team hasn’t been doing that well, so fans are just getting worn out. He also shares the cute slogan (which I heard from a couple others as well) that if the team plays well, it’s a “Miracle.” The skies are cloudy and there are some nasty-looking clouds in the area, but the weather holds off and is not a factor. It is one of the more unpleasant nights to watch baseball, with temperatures in the uppers 80s and heat indexes in the uppers 90s most of the game, with little or no wind for relief.
I remember reading an article in the Star Tribune about how the Florida State League is a pitcher’s league. That is a concept that does not hold true tonight. Just as my last attempted game saw a deluge of water, this time there is a deluge of hits and runs. Every Miracle starter has a hit, scores a run, and all but two have an RBI. Before that, however, it is the Carl Pavano show as he makes his first rehab start after being put on the DL in June. He pitches two innings, facing seven batters. His control is good, but he is a pitch-to-contact pitcher, giving up a solo homer in the first and a solid single in the second (erased by a subsequent double-play). His fastball is right in the 84-86 mph range both innings. The Miracle do get a couple in their half of the first, thanks to a two-RBI single from Lance Ray, starting off a big night for him. The Jupiter starter is wild, walking two and hitting another, and gives hope that sooner or later the Miracle will take him for a bunch.
In the third, that hope becomes a reality, as the Miracle send thirteen men to the plate, get six hits and four walks, and put them together for nine runs (all earned). It starts off with Liddle, Pinto & Rams loading the bases with a single and two walks. Then Lance Ray hits a deep fly that clears the fence in right-center, scoring four and putting the Miracle up 6-1 with nobody out in the third. It doesn’t stop. Singles from Knudson (no relation) and Morales, walks to Santana and Michael, and two more hits (single for Liddle, double for Pinto) bring in four more. A final sacrifice fly adds to the total and the third inning ends with an 11-1 lead for Fort Myers. Boer (who replaced Pavano in the third) is iffy, giving up one in the fourth and three more in the seventh before he is pulled (Fuentes does a nice job to finish the final 2+ innings), but it doesn’t matter as the Miracle keep their foot on the gas and get eleven more over the next four innings, making the final 22-5. Highlights included three more Miracle home runs (a two-run shot from Rams, a solo bomb from Ray for his second of the night, and a two-run ding from Morales, who seems to be picking up his game a little). As the game approaches the later innings you can tell that even the cynical Miracle fans are happy as the team continues to pick away. Their attention span begins to fade as the on-field action is now taken for granted and they begin to focus on other things, occasionally checking in to see how many more the Miracle have scored. It is not unlike what happens after Thanksgiving when the turkey is eaten and, even though attention has turned away from the meal and the conversation begins in earnest, people will periodically reach over and pull off one more bite, “filling in the corners,” until they are truly stuffed. By the time it ends, most of the crowd has already left. I drive out with a scorecard that looks like the physics calculations NASA used for their moon shots (picking up a coupon for a free Jr. Frosty at Wendy’s as I leave the gate) and get back to the motel to sleep and dream of long flies over the fence.
One side note from tonight's game. For the first time ever in my life, I get my hands on a ball used in play. After a foul grounder is corraled by the ballboy, he tosses it to a young child in the seats near mine. She doesn't catch it, it bounces down, and comes to a stop in my row a couple of seats over, from where I retrieve it. After forty-eight years! (And yes, I did give it back to the girl).