Results tagged ‘ MiLB ’

Playoffs? You Kiddin’ Me? Yes and No

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It was crushing. Maybe soul-shattering. But not season-ending. Not yet.

The Blue Jays today pulled the rug right out from under the Yankees, rallying late with a power surge to hand the Bronx Bombers a 4-3 loss in Toronto. Melky Cabrera homered to start the comeback, once again proving how all ex-Yankees kill the Yankees. Jose Bautista followed with a home run of his own, and Edwin Encarnacion “walked the parrot” after his home run – which, if he had played that gimmick during the Roger Clemens days, he would’ve earned himself a bean ball.

Munenori Kawasaki delivered the death blow in the seventh with an RBI single.

And that was that.

The Yankees didn’t do themselves any favors this past week in terms of winning series, going 3-4 on their three-city road trip. Now they come home for a nine-game homestand, kicking it off with a series on Tuesday night against the pest-like Boston Red Sox – and you have to have every reason to believe Boston will try to play spoiler.

No doubt the Red Sox would love nothing more than to knock the Yankees down the proverbial Wild Card totem pole.

Even with the recent string of bad luck, the Yanks haven’t flat lined just yet, clinging on with a chance to make the playoffs as the 2014 season enters its final month. After today’s loss skipper Joe Girardi summed it up by saying the Yankees haven’t made it easy on themselves, and added,

“We have nine games at home coming up. And we have to win a lot of them.”

I’m not sure if it’s sad or funny, but any time the words “Yankees” and “postseason” come together in the same sentence, I have coach Jim Mora’s voice in my head yelling,

“PLAYOFFS? YOU KIDDIN’ ME?!”

To be real for a minute though, it will be difficult for the Yankees to make it to October, but the opportunity is there. It’ll come down to whether or not they hit the ball and beat the teams in front of them in September. The key for them is to buckle down and stop giving away games the way they did this afternoon at Rogers Centre.

While the Yanks are treading water, one team that isn’t struggling to maintain a pulse is the Hudson Valley Renegades – the MiLB team I’ve written about a few times this summer on the blog, as I have been their beat writer for The Examiner throughout the New York-Penn League season.

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This past Friday night was the latest game I covered – the ‘Gades hosting the Connecticut Tigers at “The Dutch.” When I got to the press box I was surprised to look at the lineup sheet and see Ben Verlander’s name in the Tigers’ lineup.

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Ben of course being the younger brother of Justin Verlander, the ace of the Detroit Tigers, and the former AL Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young winner.

Oh, and Kate Upton’s boyfriend. #Jealous

At any rate, here is my gamer from Friday night, with quotes from Ben Verlander included, as I interviewed him postgame:

Renegades clinch division, but come up short in extras to Tigers

By A.J. Martelli

After a 5-3 win over the Connecticut Tigers this past Thursday night, the Hudson Valley Renegades celebrated by spraying champagne and dumping the Gatorade cooler over manager Tim Parenton’s head, the Gades having clinched the New York-Penn League McNamara Division and a spot in the postseason.

The excitement and momentum of earning a ticket to the playoffs for the second time in three years didn’t carry over to Friday night at Dutchess Stadium, however, as Hudson Valley came up short in 11 innings to the Tigers, losing 5-4.

“Good ballgame,” Parenton said after the extra inning affair. “Both teams are good teams. It came down to extra innings; they got the hit, we didn’t, and that’s just the way it was played.”

Tied 4-4 in the top of the eleventh inning, Connecticut right fielder Ben Verlander – younger brother of Detroit Tigers’ ace and former American League Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander – led off with a well-struck double to centerfield. Renegades reliever Mike Franco then threw two consecutive pitches that got by catcher Zach Marberry, allowing Verlander to score the decider.

To him, the win was important, as the Tigers are trying to stay alive for a possible slot in postseason as a Wild Card team.

“It was just a crazy game,” Verlander said. “We needed that one as far as the standings go. We try not to look at scores, but we knew in the dugout (the team in front of us) Brooklyn had lost, and to be able to score that run in the eleventh was big.

“It was a big win for us, and just a great team win.”

The Renegades didn’t go down without a fight, putting runners on second and third with two outs in the last of the eleventh. Left fielder Grant Kay stepped up looking to deliver the goods, but struck out swinging to end the game. Parenton feels his team has the ability to put pressure on the other team, even in games they lose.

“We had our chances; had the winning run at second base in the last inning right there, but their pitcher did his job,” he said. “We come out and play the game right; our guys hustle and play hard. We do things that you’re supposed to do.”

The Renegades trailed 2-0 in the third, but were able to take the lead with three runs. Right fielder Hunter Lockwood grounded out to third, allowing second baseman Jace Conrad to score. Designated hitter Bralin Jackson followed by smacking a booming triple into the right field corner, which plated Kay. Jackson then came home on a balk by Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull.

In the sixth the Gades padded their lead, receiving an RBI double swatted down the line in left field off the bat of center fielder Clayton Henning. With Hudson Valley up 4-2 the Tigers answered in the seventh, scoring a run on a wild pitch by reliever Gerardo Reyes, and the tying run on an RBI groundout by Will Maddox.

Renegades starter Nolan Gannon, who came into the game with six wins under his belt and an ERA of 2.77, let up two runs on four hits, but settled down, retiring the last eight he faced over five innings. He walked two and struck out one.

On Saturday the Renegades once again fell to Connecticut, losing 2-1. Parenton doesn’t seem worried though, and is thrilled to be managing in the postseason in just his first year as a professional skipper.

“It’s very exciting, it’s one of the things you play for – you play to win your division and get a chance to go to the playoffs,” he said. “We’re there, now we just have to play and see what happens. We’re going to try and get everybody rested, get our pitching lined up so that when it starts we have a full boat, ready to go.”

The New York-Penn League playoffs begin Wednesday.

Note: I asked Verlander what his impressions were playing at Dutchess Stadium. He said, “The ballpark is great, the atmosphere is great. But I’m not a big fan of turf. It is what it is, though.” The Renegades are one of only five minor league teams that play their home games on artificial turf.

Polar Opposites

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Behind the lights-out pitching of Brandon McCarthy, the Yankees were able to salvage the final game of their three-game series against Houston this afternoon, beating the Astros 3-0; the Bronx Bombers picking up their first win since Sunday. McCarthy danced to a complete game tune, putting on a four-hit shutout performance with eight strikeouts and no walks – an outing that looked more like a Roger Clemens start, circa 2001.

The Yankee offense, which has basically struggled since the end of 2012, scored all of its runs in the second inning this afternoon. Chase Headley swatted a double into the right field corner to bring in Mark Teixeira and Martin Prado, and later came in on a sac fly out to center off the bat of Ichiro.

Other than that, it was McCarthy’s day to shine.

The much-needed victory brought the Yankees to 64-61 this season; now trailing Baltimore for first place by nine games in the American League East. The Yanks are also four and a half games out for the second Wild Card spot – but that comes with the task of hurdling Cleveland, Seattle and Detroit for a postseason seed.

Numerically, the Yankees still have a chance at capturing the AL East, with eight games left to play against the Orioles in the month of September. Realistically however, given the immense lack of hitting and team inconsistency on both sides of the field, it’s fair to just hope for a fight into a sudden death Wild Card game down the stretch.

This weekend the Yanks welcome the Chicago White Sox into town, and before Saturday afternoon’s showdown with the pale hose, will honor Joe Torre with a ceremony. The newly crowned Hall of Famer will have his no. 6 rightfully retired by the organization.

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Whether or not the Yankees take the game from the White Sox that will follow the ceremony remains to be seen, as they’ve had bad luck winning games on days they pay homage to Monument Park newcomers.

Recent history hasn’t been on their side.

In summation, it’s been a very lackluster summer in the Bronx. The season just has not given off the World Series vibes of 2009 and the ‘90s Dynasty years, which is tragic not only because of the amount of money “the brass” spent in the offseason on players; buying some sought-after free agents in hopes of turning the team around – but you would hope in Derek Jeter’s final year, the captain could go out a winner.

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Right now, it doesn’t even seem as though Jeter will play autumn baseball in New York again, let alone collect his sixth World Series ring.

While the Yankees are upsetting fans and not living up to the hype generated in the preseason, a minor league team from just up the Hudson River has been doing what the Yankees haven’t been this year: playing well and consistent. The Hudson Valley Renegades, the New York-Penn League MiLB squad affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays, have been as clutch and as fun to watch as the ’09 Yankees this year.

The ‘Gades are one of the top teams in the NYPL, and are on track for the playoffs as the season enters its final week and a half. I’m now in my third season covering Hudson Valley and it wasn’t long ago – 2012, in fact – that the Renegades won only their second championship in team history, and first since 1999.

They certainly have a chance to go for their third, and second in three years.

This week was the NYPL All-Star Game in Brooklyn, held at MCU Park where the Cyclones play; the Cyclones, of course the New York Mets farm team. The Renegades sent a record seven players to the ASG. I wrote a little feature about it that ran in the newspaper I work for, The Examiner, this week.

Since the Renegades are playing great baseball – virtually the polar opposite of the Yankees – I figured I’d share my feature on the Hudson Valley all-stars.

Note: The NYPL ASG took place Tuesday night, and as I understand it, ended in a 1-1 tie. Our newsweekly prints on Tuesday mornings, so the story was run timely, but now is actually a couple days late. Nonetheless:

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Renegades to Send Record Seven Players to NYPL All-Star Game

By A.J. Martelli

The New York-Penn League All-Star Game may be taking place tonight at MCU Park in Brooklyn, but a strong Hudson Valley presence will be felt. The Renegades will be represented in the All-Star Game by seven players, a record number for the minor league franchise.

“It’s awesome; a great accomplishment to them,” said Renegades skipper Tim Parenton, who will be managing the game with his coaching staff. “They put up the numbers, they got the recognition by the league president and they’re going to do great.”

Two Renegade outfielders in Bralin Jackson and Hunter Lockwood were selected. Jackson, the Tampa Bay Rays’ fifth pick in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft, has tallied 56 hits in 54 games and has demonstrated a keen eye at the plate, drawing 24 walks. He also hit .324 in the month of July and leads the Renegades with 18 multi-hit games.

Lockwood has been as clutch as they come, leading the league with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs. Three of his 13 round-trippers have been of the walk-off variety, and he’s very excited to be playing in his first All-Star Game.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Lockwood said. “Going there with a bunch of guys that you know and get to play with every day is just going to make it all the more special. We’ve had a lot of guys playing well for us all year; been hitting the ball, throwing strikes and getting the job done when we need it.”

Along with a pair of outfielders, three Renegade infielders will be playing tonight. Utility man Coty Blanchard, second baseman Jace Conrad and first baseman Casey Gillaspie each received the nod.

Blanchard currently sports a .287 batting average, has driven in 24 runs and he leads the league with 20 stolen bases. Meanwhile Conrad has 17 steals, boasts a .277 average, and has knocked in 18 runs.

Gillaspie, the Rays’ first pick in this year’s draft, has been worth the price of admission with his seven home runs this summer, coupled with 38 RBIs and a .273 clip at the plate. The younger brother of Chicago White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie is looking forward to the experience.

“It should be a fun time,” Gillaspie said. “We have a good team, the guys work hard. I’m happy for all the guys who got invited.”

Rounding out the Renegades in the All-Star Game are pitchers Nolan Gannon and Hunter Wood. Gannon is currently 5-2 in nine starts with an ERA of 2.68. The tall right-hander has struck out 43 batters in 47 innings while only allowing five walks.

Wood, another lanky righty, has been equally as dominant, with a 3-3 record in 11 starts for the Gades, and a 2.91 ERA.

You can check out my latest gamer on the Renegades’ 6-1 win over the Lowell Spinners last Saturday here. Lowell is the NYPL’s Boston Red Sox affiliate.

What we learned in the first half

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Over the first half of this season the Yankees can, at best, be described at “hot-cold.” It seems the Bronx Bombers get into a groove, but begin skidding not long after they appear to hit a good stretch. Nonetheless, they find themselves within an arm’s reach of first place in the AL East at the All-Star break – which, in a word, is miraculous, given their streakiness and injury problems.

There are plenty of storylines to be covered from the first 94 games of 2014. The First topic, of course, has to be

Masahiro Tanaka – Man, not Superman

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If you remember back to the pilot episode of the old TV show Smallville, Lana Lang asks Clark Kent if he’s “man or Superman.” When the news of Masahiro Tanaka’s partially torn UCL broke, it was the only quote this scribe thought of.

The man from Japan was virtually untouchable through his first few starts – dare I say Superman-esque, boasting the best record in baseball at 12-3 with an ERA of 2.27.

Then Tuesday happened. Superman lost his cape.

Tanaka was lit up by Cleveland for five earned on 10 hits. His fastball was flat, his sinker was hanging, and he took the loss in arguably the worst start of his young MLB career.

The bad line and the loss only made the news on Tanaka’s partially torn UCL worse, as he’s been one of the only bright spots in the Yankee rotation this season; with CC Sabathia possibly being done for good, Ivan Nova needing Tommy John surgery, and Michael Pineda being about as useful as a screen door in a submarine.

It’s obvious the loss of Tanaka comes as a huge blow to the Yankees. So far the front office hasn’t made a stunner deal to patch up the rotation holes, although they’ve added Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks to help, acquired Jeff Francis from the Oakland A’s, and called up the emerging Shane Greene to fill some of the void.

A blockbuster trade for a front-line starter may or may not be in the cards for the Yankees this year – there’s not much out there to take, although Cliff Lee will apparently be off the DL and available come the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline.

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Perhaps the Yankees can land the trade that never was in July, 2010. Lee would’ve been tremendously more valuable in ’10 than he is now, but with the rotation in a state of disarray, he may be the closest the Yankees get to a top-of-the-line starting pitcher.

That is, unless they can somehow snatch David Price from Tampa Bay – but the Yankees stand a better chance of a magical leprechaun falling from a rainbow in the sky and bringing them cake and ice cream. It’s extremely improbable.

On the other hand if there isn’t a starter to be had at the deadline, the Yankees simply have to find a way to win with who they have.

As for Tanaka: the Yanks will be without his services for at least six weeks, yet he’ll probably be gone beyond that timeframe; a UCL tear, no matter how large or small, usually spells a lot of time on the sidelines. It’s also worth noting Tanaka apologized for his injury, taking the same road Hideki Matsui traveled in 2006 when he broke his wrist trying to field a fly ball in left field.

We’ve learned a lot about Tanaka over the first half of the season, but the hardest lesson we all learned is that he’s a man. Not Superman.

 

Alfonso Soriano just not built to last

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When the Yankees picked up McCarthy, it was almost shocking to see Alfonso Soriano’s name on the “designated for assignment” list. The Yanks acquired their old pal “Fonsy” last year from the Cubs and he turned back the clock, becoming an exciting piece of a rather bland and dry 2013 offense.

Soriano said at the outset of the season he was considering retirement at the end of this season as it was; but I’m not sure he – or anyone else – expected the 38-year-old slugger to be cut in what may be his final season.

This year Soriano was batting a weak .221 with 71 strikeouts in 238 plate appearances. He only clubbed six homers and drove in just 23 runs in the 67 games he played – clearly not playing with the fire that burned last summer.

Perhaps it was a classic case of going back to the place, but not the time.

Derek Jeter, for one, was not happy with Fonsy’s release, telling the Star Ledger “Soriano is like family to me. I’m going to miss him. He’s like a brother to me. He should be proud of what he’s been able to do.”

If it really is the end of the line for Soriano, he put together a nice little career with 412 homers, two World Series appearances, and seven All-Star nods. Certainly not a Hall of Famer worthy span, but he was good enough to be a recognizable ballplayer and a bona fide difference-maker.

 

Mark Teixeira still has it

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Soriano wasn’t able to light up the offensive categories this year, but one man who has been ripping and tearing it up with his bat has been Mark Teixeira. The big first baseman is leading the team in homers with 17 and has knocked in 48 runs, which overshadows his somewhat low .239 batting average.

For Teixeira, a guy who missed basically all of last year and even spent time on the DL this year with a nagging hamstring injury, the above average power numbers and situational hitting are pleasantly surprising.

Generally after suffering season-ending injuries players don’t respond with such decent numbers right away. Teixeira looks as good as new and is offering some positive results. It might even be fair to say he’s putting the Yankees on his back and carrying the team this year.

 

David Robertson can indeed close

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Last season the biggest story was Mariano Rivera’s impending retirement and the big question that went with it: can David Robertson, who was set to supplant the great Rivera as Yankee closer, actually do it?

What’s sad is, he’s answered the question this season with a giant “YES” but it’s flown under the proverbial radar; nobody is really talking about it.

Robertson has saved 23 games for the Yankees while only hitting two speed bumps: blowing a save in Chicago to the White Sox on May 23 and failing to save the game vs. the Minnesota Twins at home on June 1.

Other than those two instances Robertson has been as solid as a bull, closing out games without the fans even having to often utilize his famous “Houdini” nickname. Robertson has been shutting down other teams in the ninth with relative ease, evading trouble and doing Rivera proud.

By the way, the official Yankee Yapping term for a Robertson save is “Alabama Slam” because Robertson is an Alabama native and he slams the door in the ninth.

Get it?

It hasn’t quite caught on just yet, although some YY Twitter followers approve.

 

Dellin is dealin’

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Rightfully so, Dellin Betances has been named an AL All-Star this year. As a reliever he’s struck out 84 batters in 55.1 innings pitched, making the best hitters in the league like Mike Trout and Jose Bautista look like hitters trying to strike a pea with a twig.

Betances has emerged as firearm and a practically an automatic 1-2-3 inning out of the ‘pen, but I think the difference between Betances and someone such as Joba Chamberlain (or Phil Hughes for that matter) is that he found what didn’t work and has now found what does work – and that’s where he’s staying.

The Yankees discovered that the role of starting pitcher was just not clicking for Betances. When he didn’t make it as a starter, he found his way as a reliever, and that’s who is – and who he’ll be from here on out.

Unlike, however, Chamberlain and Hughes, who constantly flip-flopped roles and eventually didn’t make it either way.

Bottom line: the Yankees have done the right thing with Betances, and the decision to make (and keep) him a reliever is paying off royally.

 

The Swan Song of Derek Jeter

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Through the first half of 2014, the Yankee Captain is hitting .271 with two homers and 25 RBIs. He’s slugging .321 and has swiped six bases while only getting caught once. He has 91 hits thus far, and has moved up on MLB’s all-time hits list; in fact, at press time, he’s 13 away from tying the legendary Carl Yastrzemski for eighth place on the all-time list.

But it’s not exactly about his numbers this season, or the records he’s shattering. It’s about the atmosphere every time he comes to bat at Yankee Stadium – or anywhere else. Opposing fans cheer him when he steps into the box, showering him with appreciation and respect, while the opposing teams themselves shower him with adulation and parting gifts.

It’ll only get more exciting, or maybe more fittingly bittersweet, when he takes the field in his final All-Star Game Tuesday night at Target Field in Minnesota.

Fans everywhere can appreciate what Jeter’s done over the years, and how much he’s meant not only to the Yankees but baseball in general. It’s nice to see this fine ballplayer get the respect of his peers and those with whom he works.

The atmosphere is going to be surreal on the final day of the Yankees’ season, whenever it may come; whether it be in the playoffs sometime, at the end of the regular season, or at the end of the World Series.

It’s tough to consider right now, but whenever it ends – and however it ends – the Captain will go out a respected winner in the eyes of the baseball fans. And if you can go out with the adoration of everyone around you, isn’t that the greatest thing in sports?

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It’s been a great first half of the 2014 season. Here’s to a fun second half!

But before I go, here’s some Yankee Yapping “Extra Innings”…. !!!

For the third straight summer I’ve been “down on the farm” so-to-speak, covering Minor League Baseball – more specifically the Hudson Valley Renegades, the Tampa Bay Rays’ short season Single-A affiliate.

The last two games I’ve covered ended quite dramatically, as Hunter Lockwood, the Gades’ left fielder, ended the game in extra innings with one swing; first a solo homer to beat the Staten Island Yankees on July 5, and just last night a two-run homer to beat the Batavia MuckDogs (a Miami Marlins affiliate) 12-10.

Just for the heck of it, I’ll post my game story from Lockwood’s walk-off home run that beat the Baby Bombers last weekend. This story ran in my newspaper (The Examiner) this week, so those who don’t get a chance to read my regular recaps in the paper, here’s a taste of what you’re missing:

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Renegades Stun Yankees with Lockwood’s Walk-Off Homer

By A.J. Martelli

Hudson Valley Renegades relief pitcher Isaac Gil had a whipped cream pie ready for designated hitter Hunter Lockwood at the end of their game against the Staten Island Yankees Saturday night. It was the only way to celebrate what had just happened.

In the bottom of the tenth tied 3-3 with two outs, Lockwood delivered a solo, walk-off home run – a spectacular shot over the left field wall at Dutchess Stadium to give the Renegades a 4-3 win, extend Hudson Valley’s win streak to seven in a row, and send the sold out crowd home happy.

“It’s a huge rush for me and I know it’s just a huge rush for the rest of my team,” Lockwood said moments after clubbing the death blow. “Everybody has all the dog piles and stuff you see on TV, and it’s just a lot of fun to be able to go out and produce for our team and for our fans out here.

“We’ve been playing good as a team, we trust everybody to get the job done, coming through in clutch situations, and that helps us stick together as a team and keep playing hard. We’ve had a bunch of late walk-off wins; a bunch of games where we’ve held tight and came through late – it allows us to keep playing hard, and since we’ve done it in the past we know we can do it in the future.”

The dramatic homer was Lockwood’s team-leading fourth of the season. Perhaps more importantly, the win was Hudson Valley’s fifth walk-off style victory of 2014, and its fourth win of the season in extra innings. Skipper Tim Parenton doesn’t mind playing in close games, given the results he’s seeing right now.

“The guys just never quit and they’ve done it all year,” he said. “Hunter Lockwood hit the ball hard a couple times tonight, but got one up in the air a little bit and it got out of here. It’s just a great win for the guys. They just believe in each other, and we just have a resilient group.”

The Gades’ resiliency was never more evident than in the top of the tenth inning. The Yankees loaded the bases with nobody out, looking primed to break the 3-3 stalemate. But reliever Gerardo Reyes, who notched his first win of the year, pitched out of it, getting a line out to left, a pop out to short, and a groundout to end any danger.

“We just hung in there,” Parenton said. “You sit there as a coach and say ‘put it in the zone and see if they can make the hit or we can make the play.’ We were able to get a couple pop ups and the ground ball out.”

The Renegades took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning; scoring in the sixth on an RBI double off the bat of second baseman Jace Conrad, and an RBI single from left fielder Clayton Henning in the seventh. Conrad plated the Gades’ third run in the eighth, scoring from third on a wild pitch.

The Yankees were able to tie it in the top half of the ninth on two RBI singles off Reyes to send it to extras.

Renegades’ starter D.J. Slaton did a fine job keeping his team in the game, tossing six innings of three-hit ball. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out seven – and also had to wiggle out of trouble in the fifth inning, escaping a second and third, no out jam.

“The biggest thing for me was getting ahead, finishing off batters when I had the chance and trying to keep a low pitch count,” he said. “For me it’s fastball changeup and when those two are rolling for me, usually it’s a good night.

“The fifth was a tough, sucky inning, but the biggest thing was, you just have to get a quick out in the infield somewhere, and a strikeout, and go from there. Once you get those two outs you don’t relax a little bit, but you look for that third out any way you can get it.”

Southpaw Ryan Pennell, a Rye Neck alum and Mamaroneck native, was solid in the role of the middle man. He threw two innings in relief of Slaton and allowed one run on just two hits. He walked two and struck out two.

The Renegades (15-5) are sitting pretty with the New York-Penn League’s best record and are in first place in the McNamara division. With doubleheaders coming up on the schedule – and no days off until next Tuesday – Parenton plans on fielding his entire team to keep the winning recipe cooking.

“It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to rotate our lineup, put fresh guys in there,” he said, “and just keep playing and hopefully keep winning.”

Side note: The photo of Lockwood was taken by me, whilst conducting my postgame interview. I’m not much of a photographer, but my editor has some fantastic shots of Lockwood. He’s a pro, I’m an amateur.

A Bundy-ful birthday gift

It wasn’t exactly a Father’s Day to remember for the Yankees, as they lost 10-5 this afternoon to the A’s. The Bronx Broskis have to do some regrouping this week and thankfully for them, “the savior” (as I’ve dubbed him) Masahiro Tanaka starts their next game on Tuesday night at the big ballpark in the Bronx. It’ll be an important series, with Toronto sitting ahead of them by four and a half games in the AL East.

While was Father’s Day today, it was also my 27th birthday. I spent it at the ballpark – but the minor league ballpark. Specifically, Dutchess Stadium, home of the Hudson Valley Renegades. I’ve covered the Renegades the past two summers, and today I covered my first game of my third summer with them.

And I got quite a little birthday surprise.

The ‘Gades hosted the Aberdeen IronBirds, a MiLB squad affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles. Throwing for Aberdeen was Dylan Bundy – the O’s first round pick of the 2011 draft, and a future ace I’ve heard talked about on MLB Network and by Buster Olney of ESPN.

I got to interview him afterward and got a little story out of it, so I figured since this guy will most likely be facing the Yankees in the not-too-distant future, I’d throw my little story on him up here on the blog.

Note: I also interviewed TB Rays’ 2014 first round pick, first baseman Casey Gillaspie, who smacked a two-run home run for his first hit as a pro ballplayer.

Even though I was indeed thrilled and excited to cover Bundy, I was a little bummed out the P.A. didn’t play Frank Sinatra’s “Love and Marriage” as he took his warm-ups. An Al Bundy reference would’ve made my birthday complete.

So, with that being said, here’s my story on Bundy:

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Orioles’ Bundy Makes Solid Rehab Start vs. Hudson Valley

By A.J. Martelli

Although a year off and reconstructive surgery may normally sound like a formula for rust, it wasn’t for starting right-hander Dylan Bundy on Sunday.

The Baltimore Orioles’ 2011 first round draft pick out of Owasso High School (Okla.) made a rehab start against the Hudson Valley Renegades at Dutchess Stadium, pitching for the O’s short season Single-A affiliate, the Aberdeen IronBirds. It marked the 21-year-old’s first time pitching in a competitive game since 2012, being that Tommy John surgery sidelined him for all of last year.

Yet the stud, who has been compared by some to Stephen Strasburg, showed no damaging signs.

He tossed five innings and only let up one earned run after scattering five hits. Bundy walked none and struck out six by taking baby steps – he only threw 65 pitches.

“First outing in almost a year and I was pretty pleased with it,” he said. “I don’t think about (the surgery) at all anymore, and that’s what I’m happy about.”

Bundy gave the Renegades credit for touching him up, though he didn’t feel he made too many mistakes dealing to the Hudson Valley hitters.

“I gave up five hits, but they just made good contact with the ball on what I think were pretty good pitches. They got the bat on the ball and they did a pretty good job. They were hitting the off-speed stuff pretty well, putting it in play.”

Making adjustments, Bundy mentioned, also helped him along.

“I focused more when guys were on base,” he said. “Now I’ve got to focus more when guys aren’t on base and do a better job locating my pitches. I’ve been trying to do a better job of that.”

Bundy also talked about how much less pressure it was pitching at “The Dutch” as opposed to a major league stadium like Camden Yards – even though he thought facing the Renegades was just as dangerous as facing a big league team.

“A feel a little bit less pressure pitching here, but there’s still a live batter up there that can hit the ball just as well as someone in the big league. My aim is to just go out there, make pitches, and compete.”

Bundy will make a few more starts before being evaluated, and a plan for his future is drawn up going forward.

“I have a couple more starts; we’ll see how my arm responds tomorrow,” he said. “It should be good. Couple more starts, and we’ll see what we’re going to do after that.”

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Another silly baseball story

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Spring Training is hardly about final scores, which is why the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays ended their game in a 3-3 stalemate today in 10 innings. As we all know, there doesn’t need to be a winner in most exhibitions, as long as everyone gets their necessary work in.

The Rays showed off a great deal of their minor league arms in this afternoon’s spring tune-up, and in watching along as I put the finishing touches on my girls’ hoops articles for the week, I took notice of some recognizable names.

In the eighth inning Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon brought in a lefty by the name of C.J. Riefenhauser – a familiar name if you’re a Westchester County, N.Y. sports buff such as myself. Riefenhauser attended Mahopac High School, and if I’m not mistaken, my editor has written a number of features on him.

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It’s quite possible Riefenhauser makes the big club this year, and I couldn’t be happier to see a product of a school in my newspaper’s coverage area make it to the show, though I never had the chance to interview him personally. Today Riefenhauser threw (I believe) just two pitches in the 1/3 of an inning he tossed and got Ramon Flores to pop out to short, earning a hold in the process.

Making a note of Rifenhauser’s appearance on Twitter seemed to go over well with those who know him. Ten re-tweets, four favorites and counting.

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Before Riefenhauser did his work, as short as it was, another southpaw by the name of Adam Liberatore was on the mound – yet another familiar name. Liberatore pitched for the Hudson Valley Renegades in 2010, a (short season Single A) farm team of the Rays, and a team which longtime readers of Yankee Yapping might remember I interned for.

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Again, it was nice to see a name I recognized get some playing time in Spring Training. Then the Rays called on their final pitcher in the 10th frame. And all the memories – the good memories – raced back to me.

Maddon brought in Merrill Kelly, a 25-year-old right hander, for the last inning. Kelly, like Liberatore, was a member of the 2010 Renegades. Kelly was called up to extended-A Bowling Green in the middle of the Renegades’ 2010 season, but a few weeks before he was promoted, this writer had a rather humorous exchange with him.

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It was a Sunday in July at Dutchess Stadium – which meant it was kids’ day; children were picked out of the crowd for the wacky activities on the field, in between innings. Then at the end of the game, the kids in attendance were permitted to step onto the diamond and run the bases.

My cousin Thomas (16 at the time, yet short in terms of height for his age), who I went with to the Yankees’ home opener earlier that year, was at the game. I had greeted him when he got to the ballpark but soon after, he ventured off with his friends, while I (doing my duty as an intern) helped set things up for the daffy entertainment in between innings.

A little while later before the game started, I was on the field near the first base dugout and saw Thomas – from the front row of the stands – talking to Kelly. I walked over to see him, only to hear an apparent argument going on between my cousin and the reliever.

“Yes I am!” Thomas kept saying.

“Dude, no you’re not,” Kelly retorted.

“Yes, I AM!” Thomas persisted.

“NO, you’re NOT,” Kelly answered.

Confused, I asked what was going on.

“A.J., tell this guy I’m 16! He doesn’t believe me!” Thomas defiantly said.

Being Thomas’s cousin, knowing he was telling the truth, I was able to vouch for him.

“He is 16, Merrill – I’m his cousin,” I calmly told Kelly.

The cleat/shoe was certainly on the other foot, as Kelly examined me, looked back at Thomas and said to him, “Dude. You’re going to get carded for the rest of your life!” before walking into the dugout.

It was one of the funnier moments of the day, probably second to Thomas participating in the fun in between innings, playing the “dizzy bats” game as part of kids’ day.

I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again now – I’d really be interested in writing a book about that summer, interning for the Renegades; include all the fun shenanigans and hoopla that ensued that summer. At the moment I’m not exactly sure how to go about pursuing such a project. Hopefully I can find out and go after it, because I think a lot of folks who enjoy the child-like aspect of baseball would appreciate it.

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A collapse after a collapse

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Excruciating. A word this writer has become familiar with over the last 24 hours or so.

The Yankees needed a win today in order to keep themselves in good position in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, and for the first six innings things were looking good; the Yanks up 3-0, a weekend sweep of Baltimore seemingly imminent.

Then cue the Yankee bullpen.

Shawn Kelley entered the game, relieving Andy Pettitte, who pitched superbly. Kelley however was anything but superb, letting up a home run to JJ Hardy, giving the Orioles a 4-3 lead after Baltimore scored one to cut the lead to 3-1.

Kelley turned it over to Boone Logan, who then passed the baton to (gulp) Joba Chamberlain.

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Things only got worse when Chamberlain came on in relief. Adam Jones rocketed a home run over the centerfield fence, the Orioles taking a 7-3 lead the Yanks could not catch up to.

Final: Orioles 7, Yankees 3

While today was surely a collapse by the Yankees – and quite possibly the unofficial end of the so-called “Joba Chamberlain Era” in New York, it might pale in comparison to the unmitigated disaster that took place last night in the minor leagues.

Allow me to explain.

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I spent most of my summer “down on the farm” covering the Hudson Valley Renegades, much like I did last summer. The Renegades were dominant in 2012, and even went on to win the New York-Penn League championship for only the second time in team history.

Although Hudson Valley boasted an incredibly talented group of future Tampa Bay Rays in 2013, this season they haven’t been as fortunate as they were last season. And after I tell you the story of last night’s game, you’ll understand why.

The Renegades hosted the Staten Island Yankees last night, the Yankees’ Single-A affiliate. Tied 2-2 in the top of the 12th, Staten Island loaded the bases with no one out. Up to the plate stepped the left fielder, Daniel Lopez.

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This 21-year-old baby bomber cracked a liner up the middle that should have scored two runs and gone down as a single. It turned into a nightmare for the Renegades, as their center fielder James Harris made an offline throw to the plate.

The error allowed three runs to score and Lopez to go the third. And it wasn’t over.

Renegades’ catcher Ryan McChesney tried to catch Lopez at third base, throwing wildly down to the hot corner. The throw was errant and allowed Lopez to come home and make it a four-run play. The miserable 12th inning took all the air out of the Renegades.

Final/12: Yankees 6, Renegades 2

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Believe it or not, I couldn’t help but think of Seinfeld after witnessing the mess.

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If you recall, there was an episode that involved the character Kramer asking Paul O’Neill to hit two home runs for a sick boy in the hospital. Kramer and Bobby, the bedridden-yet-hasty little boy, watch on the hospital TV as “The Warrior” crushes a home run.

In his last at-bat of the game, O’Neill lines a ball into the outfield and digs for third base – all of this according to what we, the viewers, hear from the play-by-play man calling the game. A throwing error allows O’Neill to come in and score.

“Oh Yeah! Inside-the-park home run!” Kramer exclaims.

“They are ruling the hit a triple and an error on the throw,” says the play-by-play man.

Because it was ruled a triple, the hit wasn’t good enough for the young man. He wanted two home runs, not a home run and a triple. But Kramer makes the point:

“Bobby! Bobby! It’s just as good!”

And although Lopez’s hit was not ruled an inside-the-park grand slam by the minor league official scorer, it was indeed just as good.

Ironically Enough

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O’Neill’s nephew, Mike O’Neill, is on the Staten Island Yankees. He was not involved in the scoring in the four-run 12th inning, but he did play in the game; Mike batted second and played centerfield.

The Seinfeld scenario and the Lopez hit in the 12th – talk about eerily similar. And the O’Neill name was the link to it all.

(On a side note, Mike O’Neill has not enjoyed a lot of success this season; going into last night’s game he was batting .230 and leading the New York-Penn League in strikeouts with 84 – and picked up his 85th, 86th, and 87th strikeouts in last night’s game to extend his lead)

As for the big Yankees, they’ll need to play awfully well in the month of September in order to gain a Wild Card spot. Fortunately they’ll be welcoming the all but extinct Chicago White Sox tomorrow for a three-game set, looking to avenge the sweep the White Sox handed them in the windy city at the beginning of August.

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Small Update

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Most readers may have taken notice that the Yankee Yapping blogging this summer has been a little slow. I have been working a lot and have been very busy; obviously covering the Renegades (basically working as their beat writer for my newspaper) has taken a lot of time, as well as the other work I do for my newspaper/company.

There are only so many hours in a day, though.

Looking back, I think I only published two blogs this summer: one in July, one in August.

I promise to get back to it this month a little bit more. Whether or not the Yankees make the playoffs, I’ll be customarily handing out the annual Yankee Yapping Awards, as well as counting down the best moments this season in the “Top 13 of 2013.” (I wrote the “Top 12 of 2012” last year and enjoyed it, therefore I will certainly pen one for this year).

In addition to that, I’d like to do a career retrospective on Mariano Rivera at some point. I’ve done similar blogs about Jorge Posada and others. With time, I will write one for Mo and it will be up before the end of the year. Obviously spanning Rivera’s entire career and picking out his best moments will take time!

Thank you all for reading and look out for more posts and more Yankee Yapping!

Back to yapping

Editor’s note: I know, it’s been awhile. Sincerest apologies for the lack of blogging. Life has once again gotten in the way of Yankee Yapping, but I assure you I am alive and well; I’m here, and we’re back in action!

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This 2013 MLB season, which is almost ¾ of the way over, has quickly turned from interesting to nearly unwatchable – at least if you are a Yankee fan. At the end of April the Yankees were a group of unlikely heroes; a vanguard of veterans taken off the scrap heap that carried the team to the top of the AL East.

But since then, the vanguard has vanished.

The battered and aging Yanks fell off, due in large part to their inability to score runs. Of course the surging Red Sox, Rays, and Orioles didn’t help matters, either. It’s always difficult to reach the top when the teams in front of you won’t get out of the way.

While first place in the division seems so far off with the Yankees (54-48) sitting 6.5 games out in fourth place at the moment, a chance to make the play-in game for the AL Wild Card spot isn’t impossible: the Bombers just three games out.

During this up-and-down stretch, a number of storylines have surrounded the Yankees. A lot needs to be discussed, and we’ll start with the giant elephant in the room…

Stray-Rod

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The biggest news of the week involved the suspension of Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers for his connection to the infamous Biogenesis clinic – a clinic in Miami, Fla. which was responsible for selling PEDs (namely HGH) to players. Braun, who was banned for the remainder of this season and postseason, was one of 20 players on the Biogenesis list. A list, by the way, which an injured-yet-nearly-ready-to-return Alex Rodriguez’s name is also on.

Rodriguez underwent surgery on his hip in the offseason, and was originally scheduled to return to the Yankees on Monday after rehabbing in the minor leagues. A grade one left quad strain, however, put his comeback on hold.

And now, a suspension could put potentially set his comeback even further back.

Many believe in light of Braun’s suspension A-Rod is next, but in fact, some feel it could be worse than just a season-ending ban. Rumors are floating around that the three-time AL MVP could face a lifetime exile from baseball by MLB for his involvement in Biogenesis – probably because A-Rod already admitted, prior to the 2009 season, he used steroids in his career.

Or, perhaps it’s just because baseball dislikes him.

The Yankees seem to be distancing themselves from A-Rod; almost excommunicating him by keeping him in the minors and dragging out the process of his return as much as possible. As we all remember, General Manager Brian Cashman had some choice words for him when he tweeted that he was cleared to play baseball, making it clear the Yankees aren’t happy with him. According to reports today, Rodriguez will rehab his quad, start playing in simulated games, and will be reevaluated after the first of August.

Is a lifetime ban fair to A-Rod?

Probably not. No one else on the list, including Braun, is facing a possible lifetime banishment from baseball; no one else linked to Biogenesis is in danger of never playing another game. A-Rod is under intense scrutiny because he’s the highest-paid player in the league, and for that reason, every critic wants nothing more than to see the mighty fall – and no, it’s not fair.

Yet, would a lifetime ban for Rodriguez benefit the Yankees?

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Probably. The organization, at this point, seems to be doing everything and anything possible to void the fat contract they handed A-Rod following his monster 2007 season – an MVP campaign in which he averaged .314, smacked 54 home runs, and batted in 156 runs. The third baseman is still owed $86 million over the next four years, and if the Yanks are able to somehow get around paying him that sum, they could potentially use the money to rebuild their thin lineup.

The so-called “A-Rod drama show” is bound to continue for the rest of the season, and undoubtedly will keep on playing throughout the offseason. But if the baseball brass has its way, it could be curtains for the Yankee third baseman; the “A-Rod drama show” closing on Broadway.

 

Could they hit land if skydiving?

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The Yankees have used 46 different players this season, constantly trying to figure out how to right the offensive ship which has been off course for the entire year.

Consider these rankings:

The Yanks are currently 22nd in the majors in runs scored (393), 25th in the majors in hits (817), 25th in the bigs in batting average (.242), 24th in the bigs in homers (88), 29th overall in slugging percentage (.371), 24th in on-base percentage (.306), and 28th in on-base plus slugging (OPS, .677).

For such abysmal numbers and terrifying offensive ranks, it’s actually quite miraculous the Yankees are only three games out of one of the Wild Card spots. The 2013 Yankees are the masters of soft grounders, lazy pop flies, and lead the league in at ‘em balls. Sometimes watching this team, it begs the question:

Could the Yankees hit land if they were skydiving?

Well, according to the truthful numbers, the answer is no.

Three guilty parties that stick out like sore thumbs are Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, and Lyle Overbay. Each are being run out basically every game by Joe Girardi, only to come up short in key spots.

Wells started off hot but cooled off in a jiffy, now only batting .240 after he was averaging close to .300 in April and the beginning of May. His production has been spotty at best, and despite some great moments in the 93 games he’s played, he’s enjoyed several moments of infamy as well.

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Hafner has been next to useless, batting .209 with 76 strikeouts – out of the designated hitter hole, no less. His only job is to hit the ball, and it’s evident he hasn’t been showing up to work the past few months.

Overbay has been the best of the three, averaging .247 right now, yet a sore 0-for-6 with two Ks in the rubber game of the Yanks’ series in Boston on Sunday – a crucial series the Yankees needed to win – puts him in the same breath as Wells and Hafner.

If the Yankees are even going to think about making the postseason, the silent bats need to get loud – and an adjustment, any kind of adjustment, must be made.

Perhaps…

Sori, not Sori

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During the All-Star break, it was reported that Cashman was working the phones like a madman asking other GMs around the league for help on offense. One name that came up was former Yankee and current Chicago Cub Alfonso Soriano.

Though Soriano isn’t what the Yanks need in terms of field positioning (an outfielder when the Yanks are desperate for a hand on the left side of the infield) he could certainly provide them with a jolt with his bat. With 17 home runs on the year, a .254 BA, and 51 RBIs, his offensive numbers are a step up from basically every player the Yankees are currently sending to the plate other than Robinson Cano.

On Tuesday morning George King reported the Yankees and Cubs were “close” to a deal for Soriano, but nothing has come to fruition just yet, other than Soriano announcing he would waive his no-trade clause for the Yankees and knowledge that the Cubs would pay off the majority of the $23.9 million he’s owed on his contract.

Thus meaning a return to the Bronx for Soriano is indeed possible.

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Concerns about Soriano’s age, 37, are being raised; the common Yankee fan arguing, “why take on another aging player?”

A fair point. 

But then again, take a long, hard look at who is stepping up the plate in pinstripes these days. All things considered, Soriano would be an improvement.

 

A “Mo”ment for the ages

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Although the Yanks are in a state of flux, the biggest sports thrill of the summer (for me, at least) had to be the All-Star game at Citi Field on July 16 when Mariano Rivera made his entrance in the eighth inning.

As “Enter Sandman” blared through the speakers of the Mets’ ballpark (sounds weird saying that), and Rivera ran onto the field from the bullpen – all by himself – the fans and players stood and clapped, giving him the respect he so rightfully earned and deserves.

One way to describe it: beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Watching it gave me goosebumps and only made me wish I was there, in-person, to witness such a wonderful moment.

It may have been a little strange to see Rivera in the eighth inning, and he probably should’ve been in there for the ninth, but as long as he didn’t mind pitching the eighth (which he didn’t) it was fine with me.

Rivera was named All-Star Game MVP, becoming the first Yankee to earn the honor since Derek Jeter in 2000.

 

A look at the Baby Bombers

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As noted, life has gotten in the way of my blogging – and a huge part of my life is being a reporter. For the summer I’m covering the Hudson Valley Renegades again (as I did last summer) and the first game of theirs I covered this year was a matchup vs. the Staten Island Yankees, the big club’s Single-A farm team.

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I got a good look at some of the Baby Bombers, including Michael O’Neill, nephew of beloved former Yankee Paul O’Neill, of course. Michael collected a hit and scored a run on the Renegades, but perhaps the best performance I saw was out of young third baseman Eric Jagielo.

Jagielo drove in three runs, leading the Yankees to a 6-0 shutout of the Renegades, and after that game was batting a robust .444 for the season. Given A-Rod’s current foibles, it’s nice to see a third baseman in the system show some promise.

Also taking into account the age of most of the Yankees, the organization should consider giving one of the Baby Bombers an opportunity. It seemed to work out for players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Yasiel Puig, among others.

They have to listen to that popular Imagine Dragons song and take to heart the lyrics:

“Welcome to the new age, to the new age!”

 

Final quick hits

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  • Derek Jeter came back for one game, went 1-for-4, and got hurt again (quad strain, what else is new?) The Captain is eligible to come off the DL on Saturday, and from the footage shown today, he looks to be moving even better than he did in his first game back. I guess we’ll see what happens on Saturday.
  • CC Sabathia hasn’t been himself this season. Tough to pinpoint what’s wrong with the big ace, but his slider doesn’t have much bite to it and his breaking balls belong in a closet, because they hang. I don’t think the Yanks can win if he doesn’t get it right soon.
  • Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain were reportedly being pushed hard (by Cashman and the front office) to be traded. If neither gets moved this season, I don’t see them returning next year, as their contracts are up and they haven’t done much to help the Yanks win in recent times.
  • Austin Romine has been part of the Yankees’ offensive struggles, earning the Yankee Yapping moniker “Stone Cold Austin Romine.” However he’s picked it up the last couple games, going 3-for-4 in this afternoon’s 2-0 victory over the Rangers in Arlington with two doubles and a run scored.
  • ·“42” was released on DVD last week. I picked it up. Be sure to read the Yankee Yapping review of “42” here if you haven’t seen it!

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Good luck, DD

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On Tuesday night the Yankees were shut down and shutout 2-0 by the Colorado Rockies in Denver, in what was another dead effort in run scoring. Going into last night’s game the Yanks were 17th in the majors with 133 runs scored for the year, their wins being mostly one or two-run games. Case in point: last night’s ugly 3-2 victory over the Rockies to even the series up 1-1, scoring and stranding baserunners being two issues for the Bronx Bombers.

In the last three games alone the Yankees have left 36 men on base (18 in Sunday’s 5-4 loss to Oakland, 11 Tuesday night, eight last night), clearly struggling to generate runs and bring runners to the plate.

Maybe a crash course in “Run Scoring 101” is in order. That, or just actually hitting with runners in scoring position.

Either way this Yankee team, which sometimes looks more like a team you’d see in the final inning of a Spring Training game, will look to take the series from Colorado this afternoon; CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.31 ERA) trying to get back on track after a slew of starts that have been unlike the typical, dominant outings we normally see from him.

Throughout it all the Yanks (19-13) are still hanging in, numerically in second place in the AL East (behind Boston and Baltimore, who are tied for first) and just one game out of first place in the division – a stark contrast from the Miami Marlins, who are 10-25, in dead last in the NL East.

Over the winter the Marlins made a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays: Yunel Escobar for a name I recognized – infielder Derek Dietrich. The fledgling Marlins called Dietrich up yesterday morning, and later that day he made his MLB debut in Miami’s game in San Diego vs. the Padres. Dietrich started at second base, although all the times I saw him play, he was a shortstop and spent some time at third.

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Over the summer of 2010 (as most regular readers know) I interned for the Hudson Valley Renegades, the short-season Single-A affiliate of the Rays. Dietrich was on the team that season, climbing his way up the minor league rungs, and now he’s made it.

Always one to be pithy, I have a great story about the Marlins’ new second baseman.

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As an intern, one of our many jobs was to help entertain the fans in between innings – and if you’ve ever been to a minor league baseball game, you know it’s commonplace for wacky, tacky games to be played to keep the crowd interested while the players warm up.

We usually kept everything theme-oriented. For example one night our theme was “Groundhog Day” and in honor of the classic and quotable Billy Murray movie, we played the same exact game every inning, in accordance with the déjà vu Murray’s character Phil Connors experiences in the film. At the end of the night we had a groundhog mascot come out and dance on the field – suffice it to say, it was fun for everyone involved.

And that’s just one example. There were plenty of more nights similar to the Groundhog Day game.

One particular game was deemed “Rain Delay Night.” The cheesy, wacky tacky games in between innings involved us squirting each other with super soakers, and pretending the games in between innings were “rained out.” A blue pool tarp was even laid down in foul territory where we usually held these games.

Yeah, that’s how far we took it. Give us credit for committing to the bit, though.

At any rate, as we were stationed in the first base pit next to the Renegades’ dugout, Dietrich apparently thought our shenanigans were quite amusing, because he joined in on the action. I vividly remember him sitting near the edge of the dugout; on the top step plotting his course.

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He went over to the water cooler in the dugout and poured himself a cup. But instead of drinking it, he ran by and splashed the water on us, leaving us standing there like some puzzled, wet ducks on a rainy day.

Dietrich 1, interns 0. But we got our revenge.

In the top of the eighth he walked past us down the right field line towards the bullpen with an ear-to-ear grin; almost begging us to shoot him with our water guns and retaliate. I remember leaning over to another intern, Anthony, (who we called “Yeti” because he was tall and large, like the Yeti) and asking him if Dietrich was coming back to the dugout. I’ll never forget his answer:

“If he comes back down this way, he’s a dead man,” he playfully responded, cocking back his super soaker.

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Eventually the Renegades won the game and Dietrich came back from the bullpen – and right to the first base pit. Not even stopping to take congratulations on the field with the team, he came right up to us and turned his back, as all of us pulled our triggers and fired at will.

On second thought, in reality, we “watered” at will; completely drenched him. When I say we got him good, we got him good – good enough for two points in the water war, I’d say.

Interns 2, Dietrich 1.

The image of the damp “3” and “2” on the back of his (#32) jersey will forever be burnt into my brain. The laughter that ensued by us and Dietrich is also burnt into my brain – truly a fun and lighthearted moment between a player and the ballclub interns.

In his MLB debut today Dietrich went 1-for-3, collecting his first big league hit on a line drive single to right field to lead off the top of the third inning.

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Bear in mind, this is just one story involving one player. There were countless other exchanges and moments during my internship with the Renegades that were just as funny and memorable. In my mind I’ve kicked around the idea of writing a book about that summer and telling a lot of the stories similar to the water war with Dietrich.

I think it’d be a fun read. Wouldn’t you…?

In the meantime, I’m wishing the absolute best of luck to Dietrich in his MLB career. Just know, I was part of a team that once beat him in a water fight…we totally won.

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Back to the Minors

When the summer commenced and the high school sports season ended, my editor contacted me and asked if I wanted to cover some Hudson Valley Renegades games. Having interned for the Renegades over the summer of 2010, and needing to keep busy with work while school was out, I leaped at the opportunity, and spent many summer nights in the Dutchess Stadium press box.

Little did I know how far Hudson Valley was going to go, in terms of its season.

This past Thursday night, the Renegades captured the New York-Penn League title, beating the Tri-City Valley Cats 8-3. It marked the first time since 1999 Hudson Valley won a title and it was only the Renegades’ second championship in the team’s history.

Manager Jared Sandberg was nearly speechless after his team won it all, and was happy his squad was victorious for such a loyal fan base. His team pied him in the face while I was interviewing him, but he wiped it off and said,

“Hudson Valley has always meant a lot to me and my family, and to win a championship for these fans is amazing. The team had fun, but it was a focused fun; they came to play every single day and they came to work every single day. You really have to tip the cap to these players.”

What struck me about the Renegades from the first game I covered up until their champagne celebration after Thursday’s win was their resiliency. If they trailed late in the game, you could be almost certain they would find a way to come back and win it.

In fact, that resiliency was never more evident than in the playoffs. The New York-Penn League postseason is almost set up the way the MLB playoff system used to work. Four teams make it; three division winners and a Wild Card team. Elimination is best two-out-of-three – and twice the Renegades were down 1-0 after Game One, facing elimination in Game Two.

In the first round, Hudson Valley lost the first game to the Wild Card team, the Brooklyn Cyclones. With their backs to the ropes, the Renegades rebounded for two straight wins to advance to the League Championship Series.

Once it got there, Hudson Valley lost the first game to the Valley Cats. On the ropes again, and one win away from becoming a team who almost won, the Renegades came from behind and survived to win Game Two last Wednesday before reaching baseball nirvana on Thursday.

A big first inning highlighted the deciding game, as Hudson Valley wasted no time scoring runs.  First baseman Ryan Dunn rocketed a two-run single to center field to give the Renegades a quick 2-0 lead. Shortstop Leonardo Reginatto and catcher Jake DePew then followed with back-to-back RBI singles to give Hudson Valley a commanding 4-0 edge in the early going.

The Valley Cats chopped the lead in half by the sixth, but the Renegades fought back for more runs. Left fielder Marty Gantt drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, and later in the frame, Dunn came to the plate on an error.

Tri-City tacked on one in the seventh, but in the eighth Hudson Valley put it away, adding two more runs to its 6-3 lead. Gantt drove in a run with an RBI single to the right-center field gap, and eventually scored on a wild pitch to cap the night on offense.

Just as the Renegades’ bats were clicking, Hudson Valley’s pitching also held up. The Renegades used seven pitchers to piece together the clincher and were carried by a two-inning, four-strikeout performance from Brandon Henderson, who recorded the win.

Henderson also notched the win in the Renegades’ 2-0 victory over Brooklyn last Monday, setting down 13 consecutive Cyclone batters through 4.1 innings. He maintained the relaxed mentality throughout the playoffs.

“I just took it one pitch at a time, that was the mindset,” Henderson said. “I tried to dial in each pitch, and we got the job done. It was great energy, and all year we played really loose.”

Tampa Bay Rays’ first round draft pick this year, third baseman Richie Shaffer, finished the playoffs with five RBIs, three runs scored, and a triple.

Shaffer knocked in one of the Renegades’ two runs in the final game of the Brooklyn series, not to mention he crushed a go-ahead, three-run home run in the eighth inning of Game Two of the LCS to force a Game Three. The Renegades’ win overwhelmed Shaffer, and marked the first time he captured a team title.

“It’s incredible and this is why you play the game,” he said. “I could tell we had something special here and the chemistry among this team was unparalleled. This is one of the first times I ever won a championship in my career in baseball, since I was eight years old, and it’s just an awesome feeling.”

 Like the players, after it was all over, Sandberg felt a huge sense of satisfaction.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Both series we were down 1-0 and that’s how we played this entire season. We never gave up. It was a special season – they turned it into a special season.”

I’d like to thank the Renegades right now for allowing me to be a part of the team this season, albeit a small part. It was extremely fun to cover this group of players and I’m also happy manager Sandberg enjoyed my articles – he even went out of his way to compliment them several times.

I can only hope covering the Renegades this season served as just a prelude of what is to come for me in my career as a journalist. Perhaps a few years down the road, I’ll make the big press box at Yankee Stadium.

Let’s hope so.

A Minor Sample

Coming off a night when Hiroki Kuroda spun an absolute gem for the Yankees, beating the Texas Rangers 3-0 with a complete game, two-hit shutout, the baseball world has learned former Bronx Bomber Melky Cabrera has been suspended 50 games for testing positive for testosterone.

Apparently it was never the “Melky Way.” It was the “Juicy Juice way.”

Cabrera had been leading the majors in the hits and runs offensive categories; he even captured the MVP Award of this year’s All-Star Game in Kansas City.

To my knowledge, this is the first time anything of this sort has occurred: a player wins the ASG MVP and later in the season gets suspended for violating the drug policy. It came as a little bit of a surprise to me, but I get the feeling the topic of whether or not PEDs affect a player’s performance will come up as a result of this recent finding.

Anyhow, for this specific blog topic, I figured I would try something different ; something a little more original, as opposed to ranting about the Yankees’ last two victories over Texas. As I’ve written about these past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity this summer to cover a Minor League Baseball team, the Hudson Valley Renegades, several times.

Instead of writing a typical opinionated piece, I figured I would share my latest Renegades article, which just so happened to be a win last Thursday over the Vermont Lake Monsters, a MiLB team affiliated with the Oakland Athletics.

Enjoy the story and be sure to comment on how you like the article!

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Renegades Slug Lake Monsters in Extras

By: A.J. Martelli

The Hudson Valley Renegades celebrated Irish night on Thursday at Dutchess Stadium. Therefore it was only fitting designated hitter Justin O’Conner came up with the game-winning hit in the 10th inning, a bases-loaded infield single bringing home Charlie Epperson, to give the Renegades a thrilling 5-4 win over the Vermont Lake Monsters, completing Hudson Valley’s second consecutive sweep.

O’Conner embraced the challenge, remaining calm in the pressure-laden situation.

“I just wanted to do a job,” he said of the big at-bat that sank the Lake Monsters. “I got down in the count 1-2 and just wanted to put the ball in play. I’ve just been trying to relax in every at-bat and I did the job.”

Renegades Manager Jared Sandberg was left almost in disbelief following the extra inning victory.

“Wow,” he said. “It’s a lot fun, the way we’re winning. It seems somebody different is stepping up every single time, whether it’s a pitcher, a base-running play, a defensive play, or an offensive play. Every night it’s somebody different and it’s fun.”

The Renegades had to fight for the win, as they trailed 4-3 in the bottom of eighth. But after O’Conner crushed a booming, one out double into the right field corner, he took third on a passed ball and came home on a wild pitch, capitalizing on a few Lake Monster mistakes to tie it up.

Vermont had taken the lead in the seventh, knocking around Hudson Valley reliever Kris Carlson to take the lead. The Lake Monsters were down 3-1 heading into the frame, but sent eight batters to the plate and put up three runs.

The Lake Monsters plated their first run in the top of the sixth, but Hudson Valley had an answer in the bottom half of the inning, taking the lead with three runs. An RBI single off the bat of first baseman Michael Williams and a two-run single from shortstop Leonardo Reginatto accounted for the Renegades’ offensive strike in the sixth.

Sandberg knew his resilient team wasn’t going to lose without putting up a battle.

“There’s no real panic,” he said. “There’s no give-up, and there’s a ton of fight in this team.”

Jeff Ames, one of six Renegades who have been selected to the New York-Penn League All-Star team, toed the rubber and gave a solid performance. Ames tossed 4.2 innings and allowed no runs on three hits. He walked one and struck out four, lowering his season earned run average to 1.68.

“Jeff Ames came out and gave us five zeros on the board,” Sandberg said of his starting pitcher. “He did a nice job battling through his outing.”

Reliever Ryan Garton, who pitched a scoreless 10th inning, notched the win, improving to 3-0 on the year. Rob Finneran also contributed with 2.1 scoreless innings, relieving Carlson and preventing further damage in the seventh. Lefty Jose Molina came on in relief of Ames, and threw in 1.1 innings and allowed Vermont’s first run in the sixth. 

With yet another tenacious win under his team’s collective belt, Sandberg is becoming more and more impressed with his squad every time they take the field.

“What can you say about the Renegades?” he said. “It’s a special group, they really feed off each other, and I hope everyone who comes out to the Dutch to see us is having as much fun as we’re having on the field.”

Following the sweep of Vermont, the Renegades (35-19) dropped three straight to the Lowell Spinners, entering the All-Star break in first place — one game ahead of the second place Brooklyn Cyclones in the NY-Penn League McNamara division.

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