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Minor League Odyssey – Day Twelve – New Britain (Game Seven)

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I heard somewhere once that the biggest jump in the minor league system is the one between high-A and Double-A. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but as I get to New Britain Stadium and get settled I find that I can believe it. For the first time I am in a sizable stadium designed for a minor league team (Hammond Field was also sizable, but it was clearly designed with the Twins in mind – Fort Myers is just an occupant in the months between spring training seasons). I also immediately notice that there is a scoreboard with video technology and replay ability. Clearly we have graduated to another level. I am aware that, for the first time, I will be watching players who could be contributing to the parent clubs very soon. Some here today are on the 40-man rosters, and there will probably be a few that receive September call-ups. As I walk around the stadium (carrying the compact folding stool that I am given at the gate for being one of the first thousand adults, a surprisingly sturdy freebie that I might actually use someday), the food choices also begin to approach what one might find at a major league club. Instead of a single concession stand, there are several, including a sit-down restaurant on the top level of the stadium.

As part of the pregame festivities they have the now-obligatory ceremonial pitches. I remember in the old days when it was a big deal, a single pitch, usually thrown by somebody important. Tonight, there are eight of them. None of them are caught on the fly by the fielder standing at the plate (seven of them fall short and bounce their way in, and one hotshot who thinks he’s the reincarnation of Walter Johnson actually stops to reach down and pick up the rosin bag before throwing a hard fastball two yards wide of the plate to the backstop). The last one is at least novel – it is a local college football coach, who tosses a football toward the plate instead of a baseball. The umpires enter the field and again you see the upgrade at this level – three-person crews instead of two. The anthem is played by a brass band who leads off with a wonderful rendition of “America the Beautiful,” with a modulation to a higher key for a second stanza and finishing with a nice flourish (the anthem itself, which comes afterward, is actually a little disappointing in comparison).

I am, for the first time on this trip, watching a game that has real playoff implications. Beloit had already clinched a playoff berth, Elizabethton has a half-lap on the field, and the Miracle have been underwhelming all season. New Britain, on the other hand, is running neck-and-neck with tonight’s opponent, the Reading Phillies, for the second playoff berth in the division. Going into today the Rockcats have a half-game lead. I enjoy baseball regardless of the meaning of any individual game, but it is nice to watch one that actually matters. As I get my program and scorecard (the one negative aspect of the evening – it is a xeroxed piece of paper, with copier noise included, that is difficulty to see and use), I and the rest of the roughly 5,000 fans in attendance look forward to seeing if New Britain can stretch that out a little bit and guarantee a series win.

Blake Martin starts the game for New Britain and does OK for five innings, deserving the win he earns. He gets two K’s in the first inning (five total for the game), but they sandwich two virtually identical solo shots over the right field fence, and Reading breaks out with a two-run lead. After that he settles down and scatters a few baseruners but holds Reading in check. New Britain in their half of the first manages to load the bases with nobody out. It is clear, though, they the parent club has done a good job of teaching “Twins Baseball” as the next three batters fly out and they end up getting only one run. They make up for it in the next two innings, however, when the Rockcats take advantage of a shaky performance by the Reading starter (Brody Colvin, making his second start at this level, who lasts 2.2 innings, giving up four hits and seven walks and bouncing more than one ball to the backstop). In the second, Chris Hermann hits a nice three-run homer over the right field fence (it is the first and only hit of the inning for New Britain – those walks will kill ya.) Then, in the third, Romero takes first after being hit by the pitch, Hanson singles and Beresford doubles (bringing in Romero), and Hermann walks, loading the bases. That will be it for the Reading Starter as he is pulled for a reliever, who promptly gives up singles to Arcia and Colabello, scoring three more. At the end of three, it is 8-2 New Britain.

The game is basically over from that point forward, going on cruise control until late in the evening. Arcia caps a three-hit night with a two-run homer in the seventh (how is this guy not in the majors yet!), making it 10-2, and Bruce Pugh and Edgar Ibarra combine to give up four runs in the eighth and ninth and perhaps give Reading a false sense of hope, but Dakota Watts finally closes it out with a one-pitch grounder back to the mound and the fans go away happy. The series win is guaranteed, and more importantly New Britain now has a little cushion over their rival in the race for that second playoff spot.

It is football night at New Britain Stadium, and they modify their contests appropriately. In one, three Dunkin’ Donuts mascots are racing a young child (who everybody knows is supposed to win), and it looks like the iced coffee is about to pull off an upset, when out of the dugout comes a red-shirted football player to take him down with a nice body tackle, clearing the way for the youngster. The football theme also carries over into their tossing contest, as two teams, made up of two kids each, compete. Each team has a person bending over in football fashion trying to hike rolls of toilet paper through their legs back to their teammates who are holding hula hoops. I’m not sure what the final score was (I didn’t see any of the rolls actually go through the hoops), but the contest appears to be successful and the kids go away happy.

Updated 08-12-2012 at 07:32 PM by IdahoPilgrim

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