Friday, August 26, 2011

8/26/11 Lehigh Valley IronPigs 4, Louisville Bats 7

Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, KY
Game 3 of 4

Dear Mr. Sandberg: I’m sorry I missed my opportunity to meet you this evening, it would have been unbelievable to shake hands with a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and better yet, one who made his mark as a Chicago Cub. My regret is merely tempered by the fact that, had I chose to wait in line with the rest of the folks like me who wanted to meet you and get you to sign something, I would have been ultimately disappointed. Just the same, it was great to see you again, regardless of what uniform you were wearing at this time. My best to you and your family, Stevo-sama.

My 12-year-old daughter Chihiro chose this game from the schedule, primarily for the post-game fireworks, I saw something entirely different on the schedule…I saw the Lehigh Valley IronPigs comin’ to town, and with them their famous manager, Mr. Ryne Sandberg. Sure she kinda knows about Ryno, but hey…without any $1 hot dog Tuesdays on my list, this was her next best option. Meanwhile, my option was simple: bring a baseball and a card for Ryno to sign. That’s it in a nutshell.

As per my own baseball game superstitious practices, we arrived at Louisville Slugger Field promptly at 6:00 for the gates to open (first pitch = 7:05pm). Anyone stalking me knows how consistent I strive to be at this, leaving the house as early as 45 minutes prior to the gates opening so that I can make it in time due to traffic concerns. When we showed up, we were shocked to see a line of Cubs fans toting baseballs, photos, and jerseys extending from the entry to the concourse all the way outside the East building entry doors.

Well, lots of folks read the schedule like I do…Ryne Sandberg is here today.

As we hit the concourse and stopped by Slugger Monkey for our mandatory “mystery baseball rookie card” purchase, we noticed the line of autograph seekers extending from the left side of the visitor’s dugout to the very top step of the concourse. We decided to step in and see if we could get to meet Ryno after all. We held our place for about 5 minutes or so, as more folks added on behind us and the line started to move around the home plate side of the concourse.

Good ol’ Chihiro was kind of excited, but also kind of hungry, and as the game clock slowly crept past 6:15pm I started to re-think this. Chihiro is a good sport, but at 12 I think she’s kind of young for the ‘wait in a long line to see somebody famous’ game. I’m really not that fickle: it was important for me (us) to take advantage of this opportunity, but the focus of this experience is really enjoying this game. If Ryno were to emerge now, it would be at least 7:00 until we had our chance, not nearly enough to get something to eat and make it up to our seats, let alone have our scoresheets and lineups ready for the first pitch.

No disrespect intended for my ‘fan boy’ conscience, I moved in the fatherly direction and asked her for advice: “Well, kiddo…do we wait here or go get something to eat and head upstairs?” “Let’s get something to eat, Dad.”

So that was strike one, swinging. We rounded up our grub and went upstairs, where at 6:35, Ryno still hadn’t emerged. The line was outrageously wrapped around the concourse by now. Then, a few bites into my Philly Nachos, Chihiro says “Dad…LOOK!”

And there was Ryno; smiling, shaking hands, signing baseballs…on the right side of the dugout. The fans on the left side were just beginning to exhibit the long look of desperation as they suddenly realized the ballpark-directed logistics had a serious flaw: Ryno popped his head out of the dugout, saw a smiling face on the dugout side opposite of the massive line that had formed.

That was strike two, looking. I couldn’t see them, but I could tell that folks at the end of the ‘staged line’ were scrambling to get down the other side aisle, and the folks at the front of the ‘staged line’ were hem-hawing in absolute frustration. Had we stayed, we would have missed out anyway.

Good call, Chihiro…time to enjoy the game!! Maybe we’ll catch Mr. Sandberg after the game…

Ryne Sandberg (#23), Rick Sweet, 3 umps & camera man exchange lineups

Ryno heads back to LHV dugout

Chad Reineke worked 6.1 inning most excellent outing…LHV pitcher Dave Bush (yes, that Dave Bush, Brewers rotation 2010…we remember him well) kept his game alive as well…the pitch selection that seemed to doom his success as a starter for the Brewers seemed more refined and well-executed against minor league batters tonight.

Former top prospect Domonic Brown continued his ‘average’ performance for the IronPigs. The Bats were a little on the “we’re on fire” side of the equation this evening, and maybe a bit too much so…we were promised post-game fireworks, and got those…plus a healthy dose of during-the-game fireworks, no punches were thrown but the benches cleared TWICE and 2 ejections followed.

It really started in the first inning…first batter for Lehigh Valley, Rich Thompson, entered the batter’s box at 7:04pm. First pitch subsequently thrown, and blasted into right center for a lead-off triple. Kevin Frandsen is next, who looks at a ball from Reineke, then a seeing-eye single right up the middle to score Thompson. Yes, at 7:05pm the IronPigs were on the board with no outs.

In response, Dave Bush gets Kris Negron to ground out on 2 pitches and Chris Valaika to line out on 2 pitches. Juan Francisco, who is doing well since returning from the DL, sees 4 pitches; one of them fouled back and one of them a called strike fastball at the numbers. Pitch #5 is the same, and this time he takes it for a tape-measure HR that lands on the roof of the Overlook Grille and then bounces down.

I was watching the 5 or 6 drunk guys at the Grille scrambling for the ball as it caromed around the concourse. As I returned my eyes to the basepaths, I see Francisco just now jogging around first base.

Uh oh…he must have admired it…

He sure did, and the ramifications would naturally make themselves quite evident later in the game…

LHV 2B Josh Barfield faces RHP Chad Reineke in the 2nd

RF Jeremy Hermida leading off the 2nd against RHP Dave Bush

Chad Reineke fires to “former top prospect” LHV LF Domonic Brown

Ryno heads out to discuss 1B ump Chris Ward’s “Chad Reineke ‘safe’ at 1B” call to lead off the 3rd

…and heads back, not sure if he’s understanding

Runners at 1st and 3rd with 2 outs for Domonic Brown vs. Reineke in the 5th

Former top prospect…Called out on strikes!

CF Denis Phipps faces LHP Juan Perez with 1 on and 2 outs in the 7th

…and nails it to left center to keep the inning alive

Domonic Brown fouls one back against LHP Jeremy Horst

Josh Barfield at bat…doesn’t his stance remind you of Todd Frazier?
This is Josh tonight:

This is Todd from 7/6/11 against the Columbus Clippers:

Josh fouls one back against RHP Jerry Gil in the 8th

LHV SS Freddy Galvis at bat, fouls to stay alive, with 2 on and 2 out

…and again

Galvis (the blur) grounds out to SS Kris Negron to end the 8th inning

So, here begins the ‘during-the-game’ fireworks. After bringing the very pear-like Drew Carpenter and the diminutive Juan Perez during the 7th, in relief of starter Dave Bush, the IronPigs gave the ball to the hard-throwing French Canadian RHP Phillipe Aumont. He retires Negron on a lineout, and allows a bloop single to Valaika. Juan Francisco enters the box, and in apparent retaliation for Francisco’s solo shot admiration in the 1st…POP!

Juan Francisco is hit on the first pitch he sees from Aumont, exchanges cross words with the LHV dugout on his way to first base, and the benches immediately clear

Warnings are issued to both teams; 2 strikeouts later in the top of the 9th, Jerry Gil hits PH Delwyn Young before I can even get a shot of him at the plate. Gil is ejected immediately, shouting profanities at the LHV dugout as he marches off the mound. The benches clear again, and Rick Sweet is also subsequently ejected

During the near-fracas, Francisco sits crouched at 3B at first, then stands erect and begins to laboriously shout more profanities at the LHV dugout, ending his mostly unintelligible diatribe with a serious round of crotch-grabbing. The guy next to me has his 7 year old daughter with him, and her eyes are as big as softballs.

Many moms and dads had the pleasure of explaining to their kids what Francisco was “saying” with this gesture; fortunately the “Ceelo song” is around to help us out with this. Juan Francisco isn’t the best player in how he treats the fans and in how he’s dealing with his lack of performance at the Major League level…he further shows us his respect by behaving like a gangsta in front of over 9,000 folks in attendance. What a guy.

…and much love to the bespectacled white-guy-who-speaks-in-Kentuckybonics Reds fan after the game, who called Francisco “his boy”…hey buddy, I’m sure hearing you call him “your boy” would make him blush with admiration for you…

As the game ended with a well-executed Bats victory (if not entirely brimming with good sportsmanship), we did enjoy the post-game fireworks…then headed to the East entrance to get some autographs. Maybe this was my chance to catch up with Mr. Sandberg!!

Chihiro got her scorecard signed by Chris Valaika, and I was fortunate enough to catch up with Scott Carroll (still one of my favorite pitchers) who signed a baseball for me. Chihiro was in awe of Denis Phipps’ performance this evening (and also admired his walk-up music) and was set on having him autograph her baseball.

This probably wasn’t the best night to get autographs, as some tension in the air over the events of the evening did seem to put a damper on the atmosphere. Several IronPigs and Bats were glad to accommodate fans’ requests, but in particular Domonic Brown was aggressive in his disdain for autograph hounds, literally brushing aside kids and adults alike as he made his way to the hotel shuttle.

Chihiro has her dad’s genes, picking the one guy on the Bats who was taking the longest to emerge. We learned later that he was whisked away in secret by the other Dominicans (Juan Francisco and Edinson Volquez) through the front door entrance. So our sights were set on Sandberg.

Nearly two hours had passed until we learned that Ryno was picked up by the hotel shuttle outside the Witherspoon Street center field exit earlier in the evening. Called strike three, with my bat on my shoulder. Better luck next time…

Official Scorecard, signed by Chris Valaika, and Bat Chat

Official Program, #3 of 3 for the 2011 season, featuring CORKY MILLER on the cover!

If you missed it, please take a moment to enjoy this fantastic article with great photos by the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Erardi on Corky and his career and unestimable worth as a staff catcher!!

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