Results tagged ‘ MiLB ’

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.

Makin’ Moves

Despite going 2-5 on their recent road trip which included a sweep at the hands of the suddenly “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics team, the Yankees still possess the best record in baseball at 59-39 and continue to sit atop the AL East, looking eight games down at the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, and 10 1/2 games down at the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.

A number of things have happened in Yankees Universe and the baseball world in general these past couple of days. Therefore in the spirit of old-fashioned blogging, I figured I would give some thoughts, opine on some topics, and even throw in a story or two – just for old time’s sake.

Ichiro Joins the Yankees

Before Monday’s series opener vs. the Mariners huge news broke via the Twitter wire: the Yankees had acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for minor league pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.  

Just like that, Ichiro is a Yankee.

The news came as a shock to most Yankee fans, as well as me, seeing as how Ichiro spent his entire MLB career with the Mariners. Not only that, but the move was on no one’s radar; nobody saw it coming. It was obviously a trade General Manager Brian Cashman kept under wraps until it became official.

The first notion that entered everyone’s mind was the jersey number. Throughout his career Ichiro has always worn number 51, a number that has meant a lot to the Yankees – being that Bernie Williams wore it for 16 years in pinstripes.

To everyone’s relief, Ichiro chose to take 31, respecting Williams and the jersey number. Unfortunately Dave Winfield didn’t seem to take too kindly to Ichiro taking 31.

Right on, Dave.

In his first three games as a Yankee, Ichiro has collected three hits and has stolen a base. He hit eighth in the batting order in his first two games, and led off yesterday, showing his versatility in the lineup. Plug him in anywhere and he can still hit.

This was a good move for the Yankees. With Brett Gardner’s season over and Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones signed to be designated hitters and fourth outfielders, the trade makes sense. The Mariners organization is becoming tailor-made for young players and the veteran Ichiro, 38, didn’t feel he fit in with them – hence why he requested the trade.

Hats off to the Mariners not only granting his wish, but commenting on how he deserves to a chance to win a title before his career ends. It’s obvious Seattle isn’t going anywhere this season while the Yankees, now with Ichiro’s help, could potentially go very far.

After the final out was made in yesterday’s 5-2 win over the M’s, Ichiro waved goodbye from right field to the Mariners faithful. The fans seemed heartbroken at the thought of their golden boy for so many years leaving town.

The sight of it all made me sad. I couldn’t help but remember the way I felt when Joe Torre managed his last game in October, 2007. When someone has meant so much to a franchise, I know first-hand that it’s extremely difficult to see them leave.

Alex Rodriguez out 6-8 Weeks

On Tuesday night in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez was beaned on the left hand during an at-bat in the eighth inning – the third HBP in the game (Ichiro and Derek Jeter had previously been plunked). Rodriguez fell to the dirt in agonizing pain and left the game.

Afterward it became known that A-Rod has a broken hand and will miss 6-8 weeks; the Yanks are hoping to have him back by the middle of September.

Losing A-Rod is a blow, but perhaps it’s better the Yankees lost him now as opposed to a time when they really needed him. For example, if this injury occurred in 2005 or 2007 when Rodriguez put the team on his back and carried it, the Yanks would be in serious trouble.

Thank God we live in the year 2012.

Because now there are several players who are capable of coming up in big spots to bring the runs home, like Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano, among others. Not to mention in ’05 and ’07 the Yanks were constantly battling for first place, locked in a dogfight with the Red Sox for the division.

Obviously that’s not the case this year.

Although taking Rodriguez’s bat out of the lineup basically takes an offensive threat and a presence out of the Yankees’ arsenal, there’s more than enough power to compensate for it.  As far as defense is concerned, Ramiro Pena was called up to fill A-Rod’s roster spot and will obviously see time at third base along with Eric Chavez and yesterday’s hero, Jayson Nix.

There’s also speculation the Yankees might go after Chase Headley, the Padres’ third baseman, before the trade deadline on Tuesday. Headley, 28, is hitting .267 this year with 12 homers and 51 RBIs.

A-Rod looked devastated after the game; he was clearly not just in physical pain from the HBP and the fracture, but emotional pain as well. It was apparent the news of him missing more time due to another injury impacted his psyche and left him in disbelief, as evidenced by his words when he met with the press.

“It’s difficult; tough break,” he said, masked in a shell-shocked expression. “I never thought ‘fracture’ but it was. Tough blow. Tough blow.”

Rivalry Renewed

The Boston Red Sox will visit Yankee Stadium for the first time this season tomorrow night, as the Bombers and BoSox get set for a three-game weekend series. The last time these teams met, the Yankees took three of four from the Sox in Beantown.

The Red Sox are coming off a losing series to the Texas Rangers while the Yanks (as it’s known) just took two of three from the Mariners.  Aaron Cook (2-3, 3.50) will start for Boston tomorrow night while the Yanks will counter with Phil Hughes (9-8, 4.09 ERA). 

Saturday afternoon in a match-up of aces, CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30 ERA) will toe the rubber, facing off with Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). Finally on Sunday night, 10-game winner Hiroki Kuroda will gun for win number 11 – while Boston has not yet listed a starter for the finale.

MLB posed an excellent question a couple days ago:

Has the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry lost its luster?

Right now, I think it’s almost dormant. With Bobby Valentine shooting off his big mouth about Derek Jeter over the off-season, I thought for sure the rivalry would be ignited and something would happen this year; perhaps the boiling of some bad blood.

So far, however, nothing. But I suppose it’s not necessary when the Red Sox are AL East cellar dwellers and not pushing for first place at all. If Boston was in the pennant race, there might be more of a competitive element thrown into the mix.

Yet, it is clear that the days of A-Rod and Jason Varitek duking it out are long gone; Curt Schilling wanting to “make 55,000 people from New York shut up” is surely passé. It could take awhile – maybe even a number of years – before the Yankees and Red Sox go back to where they were in 2003, 2004, and even 2005.

Then again, you never know. It only takes one bean ball to start a fire.

Some Encouragement from Sandberg

As promised, I’ll throw in a little story to close this one.

The last time I blogged, I wrote about my experience covering the Hudson Valley Renegades, as most readers probably know by now, the same team I interned for.  I wound up covering them again last Friday after I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” (go see that movie if you haven’t yet done so).

Escaping damage in the ninth inning and with some eighth inning heroics, the Renegades beat the Aberdeen Ironbirds 3-2 – the Ironbirds being a farm team of the Baltimore Orioles, for the record.

After the game I went from the press box to the clubhouse and interviewed Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ skipper, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray, and nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

Tampa Bay Rays’ 2011 first round draft pick Taylor Guerrieri once again started, and Sandberg actually noticed that I had been there for Guerrieri’s previous start.     

“You were here the last time Taylor pitched (against Mahoning Valley) weren’t you?” he asked me after the interview.

“Yes,” I answered.

Jokingly he looked at me and asked, “Oh, so you only cover the games Taylor pitches?”

I let out a chuckle and said, “Well, we’re a newsweekly with so many coverage areas, so there are a lot of games and only so many we can get to every week.”

Sandberg answered, “Oh, I understand. I was just kidding. Which paper are you with again?”

The Examiner,” I replied.

“Oh, I saw that article from last week!” he exclaimed. Frightened, I had no idea what he was going to say next.

 “That was really well-written and very nicely done; nice spread – and the pictures came out great, too.”

I thanked him and told my editor about it. He was happy Sandberg saw it and basically said, “Now the pressure’s on us. He might expect great articles from now on.”

Honestly though, I am having a great time covering this team. They are performing extremely well, and are in first place in their division in the New York-Penn League, ahead of the likes of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees.

I’m looking forward to covering more of their games and I’m anxious to see how they are going to finish. When I interned for them in 2010, they ended at 39-36, missing the playoffs. At 24-13 right now, it looks as if they will indeed eclipse their 2010 record and go who knows where.

Hopefully to a League title.

A Minor Assignment

Yesterday afternoon was almost awesome for the Yankees, in their series finale vs. the Los Angeles Angels. But what’s that old saying? “Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

With the tying run on second base, the potential winning run on first base, and two outs in the ninth, Alex Rodriguez had a chance to channel his inner 2007 and walk off the Yankee Stadium field a hero. Instead he came up short, popping the ball up behind first base; the cowhide falling into waiting glove of Albert Pujols for a 10-8 loss.

Nonetheless, the Yankees still own the best record in baseball at 54-34, and remain in first place in the AL East, a cool eight games ahead of the second place Baltimore Orioles.

While the Yankees were taking two games out of three from the Angels this weekend, I had the opportunity to cover the same minor league team I interned for in 2010, the Hudson Valley Renegades, who are connected to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since the high school sports scene is obviously voided for summer vacation, my editor thought it might be fun for me to cover some Renegades games, just to give me some work and a chance to cover some professional baseball.

Saturday evening I made my way to up Dutchess Stadium, much like I did every game day two years ago, to cover the Renegades’ game vs. the Mahoning Valley Scrappers – a minor league team affiliated with the Cleveland Indians.

It was a different feeling on the way to the ballpark, however, knowing I’d be sitting up in the press box rather than setting up for the game and handling all the oftentimes unpleasant tasks interns have to do. Like this…

When I walked into the Stadium, it felt surreal. Not having been there in two years and having so many memories – and all those memories coming back to me in that moment – was a little overwhelming. All of the players (including Robinson Cano’s cousin Burt Reynolds) and interns who were there in 2010 have moved on; it was so strange looking around and not seeing all the familiar faces.

Wearing my press pass, I made my way up to the breezeway, past the luxury boxes and into the press box, where a number of MiLB personnel and beat writers were.

A group of them were conversing about the recent draft, and speculating about which players were going to make an impact in the future. They also shared with each other some stories about traveling, going from city to city following their respective teams. It was a little intimidating for me, knowing these reporters are the real deal; not that I’m not the real deal, but they are writers that get to experience professional baseball on a daily basis.

I guess it was only natural to feel intimidated; me being just a fresh, relatively new high school sports reporter who was given an assignment – they being writers with years of experience in the business. I’ll admit I was nervous – nervous, but not scared. Believe it or not, a Tweet from one of my former co-workers at the Renegades put my mind at ease.

Thanks, Dan.

The other writers eventually left though, and took seats down the left field line in a designated area for press members. I elected to remain in the press box with another reporter, the official scorer, and the girl who runs the Renegades’ Twitter page. The group of us shared a lot of laughs and banter throughout the game.

Before the game started, I kind of soaked it in; took in the view.

The Renegades led off the bottom of the first with a home run from their center fielder Joey Rickard. They then took a 2-0 lead after two innings when their left fielder, DeShun Dixon, led off the bottom of the second with a home run.

Dixon would knock in a run on an RBI single in the third after an RBI single off the bat of Renegades’ shortstop Ryan Dunn (Yes, Ryan Dunn. I’m aware he shares the same name as Bam Margera’s late friend).

Leading 4-0 heading into the fourth, the Scrappers put up two runs on back-to-back RBI doubles off reliever Brandon Henderson. Renegades’ starter, 19-year-old Taylor Guerrieri – who was Tampa Bay’s top pick out of Columbia, S.C. a year ago – left the game after three innings, using up a lot of his pitches.  

Following the back-to-back RBI doubles, the ‘Gades bent but didn’t break. They held the score until the seventh when second baseman Tommy Coyle blasted a two-run homer, the Renegades’ third round-tripper of the night.

Trailing 6-2, the Scrappers threatened in the ninth. Mahoning Valley loaded the bases with nobody out, but again, the Renegades refused to fold. Reliever Ryan Garton induced a 6-4-3 double play, which allowed a run to come home, before notching the last out.

Final score: Renegades 6, Scrappers 3

It marked the Renegades’ eighth win at home this year, and they are only a game out of first place in their division behind the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ farm team.

I left the press box and went to the clubhouse where I caught up with Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ manager, ex-Devil Ray, and nephew of famed Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg. I had to ask him what makes his team so good when they’re playing at home.

“We get the last at-bats, we make it exciting, and we get the chance to put on a show for the home crowd,” he said.

“The crowd comes out and supports us every night, with 4,000-plus, and it’s fun to play in front of a big crowd. They get behind us and it’s good energy.”

I then questioned him about the home runs, seeing as how a power surge led to the win. He admitted the long ball raised his eyebrows.

 “We haven’t hit many homers this year, so it was a little bit of a surprise,” he said.

“It was also good to see because guys aren’t trying to hit home runs and they’re hitting home runs. Any time Joey Rickard can lead off the game with a homer and give us that boost, that’s nice, and then DeShun Dixon hits a two-run homer with a flick of the bat. Then obviously Tommy Coyle’s late home run gave us some breathing room.”

With the top pick on the mound, and a decent job from the relief corps, I inquired about how well the Renegades’ pitching has been anchoring the team.

“The pitching is keeping our season going in the right direction,” Sandberg said.

“We can lean on the pitchers right now because they’re throwing strikes and competing extremely well. The team is playing relaxed but we’re going out there competing every night and that’s what a manager wants.”

Overall I was extremely satisfied with how it went. My editor thought I did a great job with the story, and I hope this is just serving as a warm-up; the start of what I pray is a long career covering pro baseball.

Perhaps I’ll be one of those beat writers in the press box, talking about the new draft picks and sharing stories about life on the road, covering pro baseball teams.

Maybe someday. Until then, I have this story: getting the chance to cover a pro baseball game for the first time.

Bottom line: I loved it.

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