Minor League Odyssey – Day Thirteen – New Britain (Game Eight)
by, 08-13-2012 at 06:28 PM (1977 Views)
After a much needed late wakeup and a quiet morning worshiping at a local church and stopping by a Dunkin’ Donuts (you can’t swing a dead cat around here in Connecticut without hitting one) for a late breakfast, I headed out to New Britain for my only day game of the trip. Temperature was in the eighties and the sky was partly cloudy; all in all a good day for baseball. Getting to the stadium I decide to splurge today and go for the preferred parking ($6) as opposed to general ($4). The extra minute and a half it saves me walking to the ticket window probably doesn’t matter much, but the trip is heading into it’s last week and I don’t have to be quite as frugal as when I started. I also go for the club seats ($15) and am two rows back of the Rockcats dugout. I spend the pregame time munching on my cheese fries and watching the New Britain players sign balls and toss them to kids standing at the edge of the dugout with wide eyes and eager dispositions. When it comes time for the ceremonial pitches I hope that last night’s eight-pitch marathon was an anomaly, and that turns out to be the case – today there are ten. At least this time some of them have decent throws that make it to the fielder on the fly.
By game time I notice that, when the sun is not behind the clouds, it is a bit warm. Over to my right an EMT is treating a woman who is feeling the effects of the sun and heat. There are a couple of EMTs walking around the stadium throughout the afternoon, making sure nobody gets into too serious trouble from the weather. I decide, of course, to stick it out where I am (I paid extra for this seat!) – and I manage to last almost three full innings before I retreat to a section of the stadium which is in the shade. Fortunately, there is enough room so that isn’t a problem (attendance was right about 5,000 again today). I look around from my new seat and, based on the relative population densities of the sections, I surmise that I am not alone in my decision.
The Rockcats today are facing Trevor May, probably the top prospect in the Phillies system. Today he looks it. Pitching six innings, he basically shuts New Britain down for the first five. He strikes out six in the first three innings (making batters like Arcia look foolish) and only allows one runner into scoring position before the sixth inning. Reading, in the meantime, nickels and dimes their way to a 4-0 lead by the end of the fourth. In the top of the second, with none out and a runner on second, the Reading batter hits a fly to medium right, caught by Arcia. The runner tags to head to third, and Arcia moves to make a play, only to come down on his foot wrong and go down in a tumble. The third base coach alertly sends the runner home, and Reading scores the first run on a two-base tag-up. I get the sense that somehow this is just not going to be our day. A two-run homer in the third and a throwing error by Shawn Roof at second in the fourth allows the Phillies to add to their lead. Steve Hirschfeld doesn’t pitch that badly, going the first five innings, but neither does he help himself out at all, not striking out a single batter and giving up nine hits.
Starting in the sixth it looks like May is tiring a bit. He pitches himself into a jam and loads the bases with one out. The crowd is all too aware that the game is not yet out of reach. Then former prospect Joe Benson caps off a lousy weekend by weakly hitting into a double play, ending the inning. In the seventh they finally get to May, opening the inning with three consecutive hits (singles by Romero & De Los Santos and a double by Rohlfing), scoring one. Aaron Hicks brings in one more after May is relieved, and the game is 4-2. In the bottom of the eighth Arcia doubles and Romero brings him in with a single to cut the gap to one run. I start to wonder if a come from behind victory is in the works. Then, in the ninth, Dakota Watts comes in to pitch the last inning and uncharacteristically falls short of the mark, giving up four runs on two hits, a walk and two New Britain errors. The air deflates out of those still in attendance, the game is over after the obligatory non-eventful bottom half of the inning, and I head back to the motel for the night, with a trip record of 5-2-1. At least New Britain has held onto the last playoff spot, with a half game lead over Reading.
One contest of note: the tossing contest (which last night was toilet paper rolls and hula hoops) is, appropriately for the weather, water balloons. Partner A stands with his/her back turned to partner B and lobs water balloons backward over their head. Partner B is wearing a batting helmet with a plastic bucket attached to the top and must try to catch the balloon in the bucket. Again, I see no actual scores made (and several balloons which shatter on impact, dousing the players) but the kids seem to have fun anyway, which is the point.
The next day is a travel day, but the distance is short enough that I add a couple of fun events as well. First, as I am only an hour away, I drive down to Groton, Connecticut, the spiritual home of the U.S. Navy submarine force, to visit the submarine museum and tour the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine in the world. You only get to see small bits and pieces of the boat (the engineering sections are entirely off-limits), but for a former navy man it is meaningful nonetheless.
Then, driving through New York, I take a detour and head down to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I had been here once before, as a youth with my dad, and I had forgotten that parking is spotty at best. I end up having to walk about a half-mile to the hall entrance before I can pay my $20 entrance fee. It is worth it. There is history, there is memorabilia and jerseys from the game’s greats, there is the hall of plaques...I spend a good couple of hours wandering around, soaking it all in. Every game I’ve seen on this trip, every player I’ve watched, all are hoping someday to end up here. It feels appropriate that, on a trip where I watch careers begin, I also visit the dream they have in common. I wonder who will be here next from the Twins, who will be the next Harmon Killebrew, the next Rod Carew, the next Kirby Puckett, ... the next Bert Blyleven?