May 29, 2014
This is Not Your Father's Baseball Road Trip
Day Two: Asheville and Hickory
Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman, the proprietors of Cespedes Family Barbecue, are taking a baseball road trip and chronicling their travels at Baseball Prospectus. You can find the series introduction and itinerary here.
Day One: Lynchburg
Overview and Game Notes by Jake Mintz
Started in: Asheville, NC
Slept in: Asheville, NC
Total Mileage: 0
The sun peeked through the blinds of our Asheville hotel room. A day full of baseball was ahead of us: an 11 AM game in Asheville, followed by a 6 PM game in Hickory. Our busy schedule turned out to be only slightly more tempting than the other side of our pillows, and after some reluctant rumblings, we eventually got ourselves out of bed and out the door. The first stop on our way was a Red Sox Press Conference Dunkin’ Donuts. My egg scramble with veggies tasted sort of like an egg scramble with veggies, which is more than you can ask for from a fast-food breakfast stop.
Shortly after breakfast, we arrived at McCormick Field, home of the Asheville Tourists. The stadium, built into the mountainside, was unlike any other ballpark we’ve ever been to. With food and drink options aplenty, I settled on the always-exquisite “sno-cone,” though I’m still trying to figure out what “sno” actually is. While we are unable to partake in the consumption of alcohol considering our “underage” status, the complexity and number of original beer logos seemed to be something a snooty baseball blogger might like.
While the stadium itself was a joy to experience, the actual dimensions of McCormick Field are completely absurd. McCormick features possibly the most hitter-friendly dimensions in all of the minor leagues. Left field is fairly standard; it’s 326 feet down the line and 370 to left-center. But dead center field is only 373 feet away, and right-center is 320 feet from home plate. Down the right-field line? A comical 297 feet. Granted, the right field wall is a mini-Green Monster.
It was “Education Day” at the park, which meant that mandatory lectures on hitting mechanics and pitch recognition were held for the young school children throughout the concourse. Okay, what it actually meant was that the yard was chock-full of young people born after Barry Bonds “retired.” Along with the loud oohs and aahs every time a Tourist player hit a ball into the air, we were treated to a healthy diet of Spongebob Squarepants over the PA system. The best on-field promotion included two sets of three kids fitting into a pair of oversized tighty whities and racing to a set of cones. Jordan lost by a hair.
Asheville/Lexington Game Notes
- RHP Alex Balog, a second-round pick in 2013, had trouble getting out of the first after letting up a two-run dinger to Lexington catcher Frank Schwindel and a double to Chad Johnson (no, not that Chad Johnson, although that wouldn’t be the craziest thing we’ve seen on the trip). He eventually settled down and showed some pretty good stuff over the rest of his outing.
- Rockies no. 3 and overall no. 97 prospect Raimel Tapia gave us a reason to remember his name. After lining out sharply to right field in his first at-bat, Tapia launched a ball over the enormous scoreboard in right-center. He showed off his plus speed on a flyout to left that he ran out at full tilt. We aren’t scouts, but Tapia showed bat speed to spare, good pop, and swagger up the wazoo. We asked someone who was a scout about him, and he said “well, it seems like you guys love him.”
- Asheville’s derpy dimensions came into play in the top of the second as Schwindel lined a ball on a hop to right fielder Jordan Patterson. Because of the absurdly short fence in right, Patterson was obviously playing crazy close to the infield. He gathered the ball and fired to first, but Schwindel was safe by about a step. Never change, Asheville. Never change.
- Legends second baseman Carlos Garcia has Mike Aviles-level bat wiggle, but from the left side. More people need to talk about Aviles’ bat wiggle, because Aviles’ bat wiggle is amazing. Bat wiggle.
- Before he was a well-respected member of the internet baseball community, Gabe Kapler had forearms that looked like legs.
National Anthem: A nice-looking blonde lady from the visiting Baptist church opened up the festivities with a time of 1:27. Jordan’s guess was 1:19, while I continued aiming high at 1:39.
Mascot Creepiness: The Tourists actually have two mascots: an extremely generic bear named Ted E and a strange-looking moon person thing named Mr. Moon. Ted E was forgettable and harmless. Mr. Moon, on the other hand, was more odd than creepy, with moon craters dotting his face that looked more like astronomically bad green acne. I’d put a 4 on Ted E and a 5+ on Mr. Moon.
Purchases: I got a Russell Wilson Tourists shirsey and an awesome Tourists hat that apparently glows in the dark. Jordan splurged for a different Asheville cap. About 40 percent of the gift shop revolved around the fact that Russell Wilson once played for this team. Pictures, baseball cards, jerseys, and even shrines of Wilson surround not only McCormick Field, but all of western North Carolina.
Interview by Jordan Shusterman
I didn’t get a chance to speak to any players in Hickory, but I did talk to Asheville first baseman Correlle Prime a bit after the game. Prime was selected out of high school by the Rockies in the 12th round of the 2012 draft. After two seasons at rookie-level Grand Junction, this is his first year playing for a full-season affiliate. He finished the day 1-for-3 (with his one hit being an absolute moonshot to straightaway center field) and two walks. He’s now hitting .289/.325/.561 on the year.
On playing in the ridiculous dimensions of McCormick Field:
“It’s nice as a hitter; probably a bit better for lefties. It’s actually good for a righty because you have an approach to the opposite way. People talk about the field, but it takes a lot of big hits away too. I’ve seen some doubles [turn] into singles and guys get thrown out at first [from right field], so it plays both ways.”
On the right-center field fence only being 320 feet away:
“For the lefties, yeah, they love that. But then again, a lefty will crush a ball, and if you hit it two feet to the right it’s off the wall, two feet to the left it’s a home run. You never know.”
On the dimensions changing his approach:
No, it’s good to be a righty. It’s good to think that way, you stay on the ball a little longer. You don’t go and try to yank curveballs; you stay on them and hit them the other way and play pepper with that wall a little bit.”
On teammate Tapia and his development:
“When I look at Tapia, I can’t help but laugh because he’s a big clown. He’s a goofy kid; nothing really rattles him and there’s no competition on the mound that’s gonna scare him or affect him. He’s a big-time competitor, and that’s what helps him. He’s got a real good two-strike approach, he gets real low to the ground and it’s hard to blow the ball by him. He’s a tough out for anybody. Coming over from the Dominican, he’s really adjusted well and he’s learning a lot of English on the fly.”
On how he would look as a pitcher right now (Prime pitched for his high school team, which won two district titles while he was there):
“Oh man, I would just throw it as hard as I can. I topped out about 90-91 in high school, so not bad. We had a game, my very first season at Grand Junction, it was like a 17-inning game, and I’m on the bench and I’m like ‘Coach, let me pitch,’ and he’s like, ‘Nah, you can’t do that anymore. You’re a first baseman now.’ They took someone from the outfield because they know I’d probably end up doing something stupid.”
Hickory/Kannapolis game notes
- On the second pitch of the game, Kannapolis outfielder Hunter Jones hit his first professional home run after four years in pro baseball. Move over Ben Revere, nobody cares about you ending your power futility anymore.
- At first glance, Crawdads shortstop Michael De Leon looks like most other Latin shortstops in Low-A—a slight build, a slick glove, and some questions about the hit tool. What makes De Leon special is that he was born in January of 1997. Signed last year, he’d essentially be a high school junior finishing up his state playoffs right now if he had been born and raised in the U.S. He’s younger than both Austin Mahone and Abigail Breslin, which is absolutely bonkers.
- Nomar Mazara, the no. 5 prospect in the Rangers system, hit a ball at least 420 feet over the enormous wall in right. Earlier in the game, he got rung up on a pitch about 420 feet off the plate and proceeded to let the umpire know exactly how he felt about it. This is a big dude with some serious raw power.
- The Kannapolis manager is none other than Pete Rose Jr., who, believe it or not, is the son of former major-league manager Pete Rose. Father and son look startlingly similar and act the same way as well. “I bet you we’re gonna win today,” he confidently scoffed at us during BP. Pete Jr. also offered to sign an autograph for us at least 17 times in the parking lot after the game, even though we repeatedly declined.
- Some minor-league teams have nicknames for their team names, but none are as...unique as the Crawdads’, or should I say, THE DADS’. That’s right, throughout the game, people continuously referred to the home team as “the dads.” This included a cheer from a particularly enthusiastic gentleman in the front row that went something like this: “D-A-D-S. DADS! DADS! DADS.” Maybe someone should inform the fine people of Hickory that their team is not a Padres affiliate.
National Anthem: A heavyset man with Elvis Presley muttonchops was given the patriotic task. He completed the anthem in a solid 1:30. Jake was closer, with a guess of 1:35. Jordan underestimated this man’s ability to draw out his expression of American pride with a guess of 1:19.
Mascot Creepiness: The Crawdads’ mascot is unfortunately not a dad. It’s a giant red Crawdad thing with enormous pinchers named Conrad the Crawdad. The crazy loopy ears on top of the head and the terrifyingly persistent eyes give this mascot a 6 OFP with a current 5+.
Purchases: Unfortunately, Hickory didn’t have a car flag to go with the one I got in Lynchburg, but I did get a souvenir to help with the pimping of my ride. No, my window isn’t actually broken and no I’m not a soccer mom, I’m just a P-I-M-P.
Happy Count: 2
Mup Count: 3
Life Goes On Count: 5
Fast Food Stops: 4
What’s Next: A five-hour drive to Huntsville, Alabama, where we will be greeted by these majestic beauties. Kris Bryant and the Tennessee Smokies await.