Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 Baseball Preview

I decided to forgo buying a season preview magazine this year, in favor of availing myself of a free subscription to Sports Illustrated.  (Thank you Coke Points.  Your final gift to me.  RIP.)  I received their baseball preview yesterday and read their scouting reports last night.  I haven’t watched any Spring Training so far and even missed watching Team America’s awesome victory in the World Baseball Classic.  With changes coming to my job and my entire living schedule, I’m just not sure I’m going to be able to follow baseball this season as much as I have been.  My enthusiasm just isn’t where it should be.

So let’s get down to it.  Your 2017 World Series winner will be (JDH417 waits five full minutes for the clouds to part and for a divine light to shine upon him, gifting him with prophecy) . . . determined by the end of this post.  We’ll have to work our way through this and arrive at a solution the hard way.    

The American League East is expected to be dominated by the Boston Red Sox with the addition of Chris Sale to the rotation and their awesome hitting.  I’m not sold.  Even if they win the division, frankly, they’re soft.  Dustin Pedoria’s got grit, but he’s the only one.  They’re not going anywhere near the World Series.  People are counting out the Blue Jays after losing Edwin Encarnacion, but Marcus Stroman really impressed me in the WBC.  I think they’ve got the grit.  Expect them to at least get a Wild Card.

Meanwhile, Boston’s loss was Cleveland’s gain.  Encarnacion, along with Michael Brantley returning from injury, should give the Indians plenty of pop.  With Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller, along with the rest of the staff healing from last season’s late injuries, they should be getting plenty of outs.  They should win the AL Central going away.  Unfortunately, the window may have closed for the Tigers and the Royals due to a couple of unfortunate deaths.  Tigers owner, Mike Illitch, was the soul of the team (not to mention the money) and pitcher, Yordano Ventura, was the Royal’s fire.  Detroit may spontaneously combust from injuries to their older players.  Kansas City’s homegrown core may be dispersed during or after this season.  (Sigh.  I like those guys together so much.  They should start a band in the offseason.)

Boy did I get it wrong last year, riding the Astros and the Rangers to the championship.  The Astros are just so loaded with the youthful talent.  Seductive.  Then they add high-level veteran talent in Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick.  Very seductive.  They finally got rid of that stupid hill in the outfield.  Extremely very seductive.  I just have to question their pitching.  The Rangers are a bunch of “if’s.”  If Cole Hamels bounces back from a late season slump.  If Yu Darvish returns to his pre-injury form.  If the rest of the rotation pitches the way they should be capable of pitching.  If the bullpen’s arms don’t fall off covering for the rest of the rotation when they don’t.  If Mike Napoli can still be productive after a poor post-season last year.  If Shin-Soo Choo can come back from his injury and stay healthy.  And can Joey Gallo stop striking out all the time?  Maybe the Rangers can win if a few if these things come together.  The Mariners are actually a more complete team than either of these guys, but will team history get in their way?  I’ll take the Astros taking the AL West with reservations.      

The National League East should be a slam dunk for the Washington Nationals, as everyone says every year.  However much talent gets added to this team, they’re cancer-ridden.  It starts with their unofficial captain, Bryce Harper.  He really needs to go to a team where somebody like Adrian Beltre or Big Pappi can screw his attitude on straight.  I don’t know how the Mets are going to score runs, but their opponents aren’t going to score any either with the Met’s starting rotation.  I’ll pick them to win the division.  The Nationals may talent their way into a Wild Card.

The Cubs are going to degrade badly after their World Series triumph.  It’s their starting pitching that’s going to collapse.  Unfortunately for the Cardinals and the Pirates, they’re not in a position to capitalize on the Cubs’ weakness.  It’s still going to be the Cubs winning the NL Central.  Let’s just move along.             

Let’s start with Rockies here first in the NL West.  I don’t think they’ll win it, but they are intriguing.  If they could just stay healthy and get a little pitching, they’d bludgeon everyone.  It’s too much to hope for.  Meanwhile, the Giants at least shored up their bullpen by adding Mark Melcancon and getting rid of Hunter Strickland (addition by subtraction).  Relief pitching overshadowed every other problem they had.  Oh, crap!  Wait.  They kept Strickland.  Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and Johnny Cueto’s great performances this year will all be wasted.  I guess it’ll be the Dodgers winning the division, but they’ll choke in the playoffs.  (Meanwhile on the Padres, it's nice to see so many former Chihuahuas on the big league club.  Unfortunately, they're listed as the worst team in SI’s preview because of their pitching.)

So how does it all end?  Cleveland over the Astros in the AL.  Mets over Cubs in the NL.  (Yes, shocking.  Isn’t it?  The Dodgers lose in the Division Series after accumulating the best record in baseball.)  Cleveland takes it all.  I can only really see them losing if they suffer a rash of injuries during the season, in which case I’ll go with the Astros again (foolishly) as my backup pick.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Aggie Basketball Recap

First, let me start by congratulating the Aggie Men’s and Women’s basketball teams on their seasons.  I should have done this earlier.  Since I didn’t actually see the tournament games, only hearing them on the radio, I didn’t want to comment on them at the time.  Maybe I was being a bit lazy, but I don’t like recapping events I didn’t actually see, especially a sport as visual as basketball. 

The girls finished their WAC season undefeated.  The championship game was decided in the second quarter.  With the Aggies up by five, Seattle’s coach drew a technical, which the Aggies converted into two free throws, the ball back, a three-pointer, and a 10-point lead.  It was over from there.  The men had a much harder time later that day against Bakersfield.  They made four field goals in the first half and were down by nine going into half.  Only their foul shooting and defense saved them.  Down by as many as 13, the Aggies then started finding the basket and turning up the wick on defense.  They won by 10.  The next day at work, I found out my co-workers had all tuned out halftime.  I was dubbed a true fan for staying until the end.

Both teams drew tough seeding in the NCAA tournament.  The Men hung with Baylor for a half and even had the lead going into the locker rooms.  Baylor then completely dominated the Aggies in the second half.  The guys look like they’ll still have a good team next season and really seem to have a good new coach in Paul Weir.  Hopefully he sticks around.  Perhaps my favorite moment of the tournament was a story that occurred before it happened.  Girls’ coach, Mark Trakh, with his two NCAA appearances in a row, went in and talked to Weir before the games to give him some advice and encouragement.       

The girls’ game against Stanford was a bit more heartbreaking.  The Aggies led by as many as nine and led through three quarters, though the girls gave up size and height at every position to the Cardinal.  I don’t think I’ve heard Adam Young so excited calling a game.  It was going to take an almost perfect performance to win, as they were overpowered in the fourth.   As coach Trakh said later, “We both got tired in the end, but they were still taller.”  What a great season though.  The girls didn’t beat themselves and certainly proved they deserved to be there.  

Brooke Salas, who was a bit quiet in the WAC championship, came out in a big way with 26 points.  She even took an elbow to the throat early in the game (as I saw later on the news).  With all the senior departures, it’s going to be though next season.  Brooke does just about every well on the court.  She just needs to learn one more thing: leadership.  I’d love to suggest that she spend some time with Jordan Abalos, captain of the volleyball team.  She’s got it.  Moriah Mack had a quiet leadership quality, but it was still there.  Brooke isn’t Jordan or Mo, but there are some leadership qualities that transcend personality.  I hope she can pick it up somewhere, because I’m looking forward to seeing her develop into a star next season.  I also hope I can find a “3-Pete” shirt (for the team’s three conference championships in a row) for games next season. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

NM State Aggies vs Yale Bulldogs Baseball 3-5-17

I was sorry I was at work Friday night and not able to go to the first game of the Aggies’ series versus Yale.  I could hear the size of the crowd over the radio, which was listed at 1,300+.  It was Little League night and a bunch of little kids were there.  Adam Young reported that the concession stand was doing great business.  (On a similar note, Nolan Fox did a really good job during the game providing color commentary.)  Unfortunately, the crowd may have scared the Aggie’s mighty bats in a 1-3 loss.  At least the kids got to see Marcus Still making an awesome diving, highlight reel catch in centerfield during the game. 

When Ron picked me up for today’s game, I found out he’d been at the Friday night game.  He’d baseball-cheated on me!  Well, I can’t blame for that, given that I’ve gone several times without him.  He reported that the parking for the entire baseball/softball complex was filled on Friday.  Ron was concerned about another big crowd and we got there way early.  It turned out to be a more modest 673 in attendance today, but a reasonable crowd.  We got to watch the team take infield.

What was easy to spot was how many fans were there for Yale.  They were outside tailgating in team gear.  Inside, they filled up the whole section next to the Yale dugout.  “I’m feeling outnumbered,” I remarked, as we sat next to them.  However, this was a friendly rivalry.  There were Aggie and Yale fans chatting amicably, including myself.  I talked to a friendly fellow in a cowboy hat with a Yale pin on the headband.  He was from California and had brought a scorecard book with him.  I mentioned last year’s star, Daniel Johnson, to him, just in case DJ makes the big time, he’ll know that he was an Aggie. 

Yale also brought along a pretty blonde trainer in their dugout, but I never saw her again after the anthem.  Not to be outdone, we saw a hot blonde going in the Aggie clubhouse with a case of beer before the game.  (Just partially kidding NCAA officials, I think she was actually heading to the Diamond Club section.)  A group of Aggie volleyball girls were sitting behind us.  A few softball players were on the other side of the stadium, but I couldn’t identify them.    

The pre-game crowd warnings seem to be getting longer.  Now the fans were cautioned to not shout out profanity in English or any other language.  I proudly yelled out a Klingon curse word at this overbearing political correctness.  Ron, helpfully, brought up a list of further Klingon profanity on his phone.  Fight the power!  

To start the game, we found out that the Yale fans were not here as passive observers.  I had heard them during the Friday night broadcast, but couldn’t really believe it.  It must have sounded like an away game to the Aggie dugout.  They were getting all over the umps with every contrary call.  When the Bulldogs scored, they absolutely erupted.  My hat is off to these Ivy Leaguers for their enthusiasm.  It was 0-1 Yale after a half inning. 

Maybe it was all the cheering that woke up the Aggie bats in the bottom of the frame.  The Bulldogs definitely shouldn’t have started off the game with an error that put leadoff hitter, Marcus Still, in scoring position.  What happened next may well describe what will characterize this season for the Aggies.  Mediocre pitching plus shaky defense equals Aggie runs in bunches.  All nine batters came to the plate, resulting in a 5-1 Aggie lead.

Things quieted down for the next couple of innings.  Marcus (just using “Still” is setting off my spellchecker) leadoff the second. He stole second and was singled in by Austin Botello.  That’s the line score.  What actually happened is Marcus slipped on the artificial turf rounding third.  He feigned back to third and then scampered home without a throw.  6-1 Aggies.  I still can’t believe I saw that.  And that was just the beginning of Marcus’ adventures on the basepads today. 

The top of the third saw the strange line score of LJ Hatch at shortstop recording three putouts in a row to Cooper Williams at first.  It was déjà vous all over again.  In the bottom, a Jason Bush liner bounced off the Yale first baseman, giving Marcus his third at bat in three innings, but it was cut short on a caught stealing attempt by Bush.  Marcus would start off the next inning.  Actually, he batted in every inning except the seventh. 

The fourth had a free What-a-Burger coupon giveaway.  The cowboy Yale fan tried to get in on the action, but was ignored.  A little bitty kid took up the broken window challenge before the fifth and had the whole crowd behind him, but just couldn’t find the pane.  The top of the fifth had a moment that Adam and Nolan actually missed on the radio call.  A foul tip hit the home plate umpire on the hand.  Catcher Bush grabbed him immediately and asked him if he was okay.  Bush then made a courtesy visit to Kyle Bradish on the mound, while the ump was literally shaking it off.   

The bottom of the fifth saw a Mason Fishback fly ball lost in the sun drop between the left and centerfielders, who were standing next to each other.  That went as a double, but failed to score Hatch who was at second at the time, since he had tagged up, assuming somebody would catch it.  Yale pitcher, Tyler Duncan, talked his way out of getting taken out after a line out.  The mound meeting sound clip from the PA was terrible, “And 10 minutes later.  Meanwhile, six months had passed.” And so on.  That was too funny.  Not so funny for Duncan, Cooper came up and rapped a single to drive in both runs.  You could just about sense that was coming.  The Yale crowd gave him a nice round of applause as he was lifted right after.  PA cruelly played “Let it go” from Frozen for his exit.  Duncan’s relief was greeted by a monster two-run homer by Bush to right field.  10-1 Aggies.

I took a shot at the Aggie trivia question in the sixth, but was wrong.  Oh well.  Bradish finally got into trouble in the inning, giving up four hits and two runs.  Frankly, he works too slow with runners on and it doesn’t seem to help his pitching.  10-3 Aggies.  Not to worry, the Aggies tacked on four more runs in the bottom, two on passed balls by the catcher.  They also scored two more in the seventh, one of those on a passed ball.  16-3 Aggies. 

Busted.  In the eighth, the Yale cowboy caught me yawning.  “There’s no yawning in baseball,” he said.  Chance Hroch came in for Bradish to finish the game.  He looked good for 1 2/3 innings.  What happened next confused me terribly.  After the passed ball runs in the sixth, Andrew Herrera came into catch (which didn’t help, as mentioned above) for Alex Boos.  When Boos came up to bat in the ninth, I was surprised.  I had assumed Boos was out of the game, but he had actually moved to short and kept his place in the batting order, but I hadn’t taken note of that at the time.  Maybe Hroch was surprised too.  What happened next was a home run and then a run scored on a wild pitch.  At least the Yale fans got something to cheer about.  It took six batters to get that final out.  Our final was Aggies 16, Bulldogs 5.

My Game one defensive star is Kyle Bradish for his seven-inning, three-run starting pitching performance.  Big ups also to the Aggie fielders for a clean game.  Picking an offensive star is harder, given all the hitting, but I’ll go with Austin Botello, going 2 for 4 with two runs and two RBI’s.  Our stat of the game is this: both teams had double digit hits and left eight runners on, but Yale gave up eight walks and the Aggies, only one.  

Game one went in a fairly tidy three hours.  The half hour break was uneventful, though I think I ran into the new female PA voice coming out of the bathrooms.  I would have told her she was doing a good job, if I’d been sure.  She took the night cap off in any case, and another PA came in.  We kind of lost our seats for Game two and I was behind a netting pole, but could still see the game fairly well. 

The Centennial high school baseball team came in, wearing their uniforms.  They were mostly seated in the Diamond Club area (though I assume the beer wasn’t there), but a few were in the stands.  Athletic Director Mario Moccia made a quick appearance at the game before going over to the Men’s basketball game.  He kind of stood out, being the only person in a suit and tie.  A few drunken frat boys came to the game after it started and were seated behind us, amongst the Yale fans.  I was afraid there might be problems, but they were just vocal in their cheering, so it was cool.  Several of the fans had blankets, including me.  Some kids were using theirs for blanket fort by the Aggie dugout.      

The Aggies got the game started with Marcus Still singling, stealing a base, getting moved over to third on a single, and finally being driven in on a Botello sac fly.  1-0 Aggies.  In the second, Yale fans were only able to get vocal over the mispronunciation of their left fielder’s name for his at bat (Rud-dee, not Rue-dee).  A new laughing porpoise strikeout sound effect was used in the third.  The PA was on fire today with the sound effects.  Marcus got on again in the bottom, but was thrown out on a blown hit and run.        

In the top of the fifth, Brent Sakurai and LJ Hatch combined for the defensive play of the game, with Brent fielding a grounder falling down and glove-flipping to LJ, who barehanded it for the out.  A couple of batters later, the rare Catcher’s Interference error was called on Mason Fishback.  Or was it rare?  It was called the previous night, with the same batter at the plate, who happened to be the opposing catcher, Andrew Herrera.  A little gamesmanship going on perhaps.  There was a close play at first to end the inning that the Yale faithful didn’t like.  I told Ron at this point that this one-run game was not going to hold up.  “If this is a 1-0 game, it’ll be the first at Presley-Askew Field.”  (A statistical exaggeration I’m sure.)  In the bottom of the fifth, the Aggies did tack on some insurance with Botello driving in two more runs.  3-0 Aggies.  

Our starter, Matt McHugh, had pitched a great game.  In the sixth, he finally showed some vulnerability with a single and his first walk to start the inning.  Marcus made a play in center on line drive that Yale fans and the radio guys thought was probably a trap.  The problem for the umps was that none of them called it quickly.  The Aggie dugout was screaming to throw the ball in, while Yale fans were screaming about the call.  The Yale baserunners barely made it back to their bases before getting doubled off.  Matthew Perea came in for McHugh.  He got another out on a fielder’s choice, but then surrendered a game tying three-run home run to Griffind Dey.  The Yale crowd was already worked up and this sent them into a frenzy.

In the bottom of the sixth, the inning ended on another close play at first that the umps appear to have gotten wrong again.  Questionable officiating were the watchwords of this game.  Aggie coach, Brian Green, had a talk with the first base ump between innings, but without any hysterics.  In the seventh, Perea gave way to Andy Frakes for the last two outs.  He came off the mound screaming, startling everyone, especially the Yale fans.  Frakes started pounding on his teammates as they met him coming into the dugout.  He was telling them to get fired up.  That they did. 

Marcus Still singled on and was moved over on a sacrifice.  A Botello double next should have scored him, but he got a bad break and only made it to third.  What happened next was complicated.  Dan Hetzel hit a grounder into the drawn in infield with Marcus and Botello going on contact.  Marcus was completely hung out between third and home as Botello took third.  Hetzel went to second as Marcus started dancing on the baseline.  Somehow, he forced enough throws that the pitcher made a mistake and he was able to slide around the catcher’s tag and slap the plate.  Fishback’s two-run single was almost an anti-climax after that.  6-3 Aggies.       
The Bulldogs did not threaten again.  Botello would drive in Marcus in the eight for the final run of the game.  As a final insult, the RBI was driven in off a shot that hit Yale reliever, Alex Stiegler’s leg.  That had to hurt, but he waved off the trainers, thus depriving me of seeing the cute blonde in their dugout.  Though not a save situation, Ruger Rodriguez finished off the game quickly in the ninth.  Our final was Aggies 7, Bulldogs 3. 

I went over to the cowboy Yale fan after the game and shook hands and found out he was a doctor.  He probably has a good bedside manner.  I told him not to feel bad about the losses.  From the radio call, I’d learned that the Aggies were leading the country in hits and runs.  Then I told him what the team did to Mount St. Mary’s last weekend.  That did actually seem to brighten him up a bit, and certainly magnified their Friday win.   

For Game two, Griffind Dey for Yale gets my opposing MVP for his game-tying, sixth inning three-run blast.  He looked big and took some mean cuts in the game, so that shot wasn’t a total surprise.  For the Aggies, Matt McHugh, Ruger Rodriguez, and Austin Botello all had great games.  But for the MVP’s, I’m picking guys for having great moments.  Marcus Still had some bad baserunning moments in this game, but watching him somehow evade an easy rundown to score and break the tie in the seventh was epic and made up for everything.  Andy Frakes had a really good relief outing, but his emotional outburst coming off the mound in the seventh got the team fired up and led to Still and two other runs scoring in the bottom of the inning. 

Even at two hours and 43 minutes for Game two, it had been another long day at the ballpark, but a successful one.  Thank goodness the Aggies have learned how to play more efficiently.  Ron and I got pizza down the street.  I got the final scores on the Aggie Men’s and Women’s basketball.  The Women won and went undefeated in conference this season.  The Men won and ripped off another 100+ point game.  Lastly, I found out that the US Women’s soccer team was defeated by England on a goal in the 89’.  Don’t say I’m not making sacrifices for the Aggies.  I gave up precious Alex Morgan viewing time to come to these baseball games.  Oh well.  Alex is still beautiful, win, lose, or tie.     

Afterward, we went to a local froyo place nearby.  Inside was most of the Aggie volleyball team, which was surprising.  Perhaps they had been at the Men’s basketball game.  After getting our order, I mustered my courage and spoke to Sasha-Lee Thomas on the way out, since she felt like the most approachable one of the group.  (Hey, these girls are a bit intimidating when together, being a team of attractive athletic young women.)  I said “Hi” and said I was looking forward to seeing them play next season.  Sasha seemed like she recognized me.  She’d have to have a pretty memory to remember our one meeting for autographs months ago.  She smiled and said “Thanks.”  I asked about her ankle, but she thought I was confused and asking about Tatyana Battle’s bad ankle, which I didn’t know was bad.  It was slightly embarrassing.  So from this, I guess that Sasha’s okay and Tatyana was playing hurt, but is okay now.  I think. 

There’s a while to wait before seeing the girls play again.  There’s also going to be a wait for more Aggie baseball and softball, three long weeks.  Hopefully the boys and girls’ basketball teams will be playing for a while longer in tournament play for something to listen to in the meantime.                 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Daytona 500 2017 and NM State Aggie Baseball

As if that title isn’t confusing enough, but it’s still not as confusing as the new NASCAR points rules and “Stage Racing.”  In Rally racing, they have stage racing where the teams go from one interesting course to another at an event.  In NASCAR, it just means breaking the race up into three segments, so that they can stop the race after each and put in a couple more commercial breaks and lengthen the time of the race.  I already covered this earlier, but now we get to see it in action.

Dad was coming over to watch the race, so I was going to have to at least pretend to be interested.  He had tried to read an article about the new rules and gave up halfway through, but he still wanted to watch it anyway.  He also got his new teeth in and was looking forward to having a pizza.  I hadn’t had one in a while either.  Papa John’s filled the bill with a large pepperoni, breadsticks, and a large chocolate cookie.  It was all very good and worth the wait. 

The Fox pre-race started with a nice, classy intro.  I wish “classy” would be the word they used as a guide for all their extraneous production material.  On that note, Chris Meyers got us started with a flashback of his Tom Brady interview at the Superbowl and the quip, “I should have given him back his jersey.  I didn’t know it was going to cause that much of a fuss.”  Jeff Gordon and the Waltrip brothers rounded out the pre-race crew.  Jeff has slotted into the TV analyst role pretty well and has been fairly insightful.  I had seen Jeff last month at the 24 Hours of Daytona race.  He was there driving and had Ingrid and the kids with him.  After seeing his black prototype ride for the race, the kids said that they thought he was now cool because he was driving the Batmobile.  During Jeff’s interview, his little girl Ella looked like she was yearning to get into a car and start driving. 

I missed most of the discussions while going out for the pizza.  I heard them talk about Carl Edwards’ sudden departure, though no mention of a possible political run was made.  Edwards’ departure has been overshadowed by talk of his replacement, Daniel Suarez.  The promo image had him in front of an American flag.  He’s actually Mexican and something of a racing hero there.  (There is, or at least was, a Mexican NASCAR series.)  There was an animated explanation of the new stage racing rules.  Even using cartoons, it still didn’t make any more sense. 

There was a remote shot of Texas Motor Speedway.  The infield was open for a Daytona viewing party on the track’s big screen.  What a good idea.  There was detailed explanation of how to play fantasy racing at an Internet betting site.  Another great idea.  Heavy betting is the only thing that will save the sport now.  Then the best idea of all was introduced: the Monster Energy Girls.  Frankly, the new series sponsor didn’t get a lot of mention during the coverage (until the end, but we’ll get to that).  I say that these new trophy girls should get non-stop exposure during the race by whatever means necessary.

Jeff got to drive the pace car, but not before Tony Stewart, also now retired, came over and gave him some good-natured trouble while Jeff was being interviewed.  The stands were sold out.  This may have more to do with the beautiful weather and last year’s remodeling than the new rules.  And with that, the green flag dropped and we were underway!

Though the drivers were out for points in the first half of the race, it still felt pretty perfunctory.  Dad and I were both nodding off, though this may have been food-induced narcolepsy.  During the commercials (dad liked the Uber-calling bank robbers one), I put in an earplug and tuned into the Sunday Aggie baseball game on the radio.  I had started listening to it before dad came over.  The weather was a little cold, but still reasonably nice to start off.  I rejoined the game in the bottom of the fourth.  The score was a shocking 14-0 Aggies over Mount St. Mary’s!  In the two minutes I was listening, they hit two home runs!  Well, given Friday’s 13-2 win and Saturday night’s 25-4 win, maybe this wasn’t entirely shocking, but still, “Wow!” 

Meanwhile back at Daytona, what was probably the critical moment of the race occurred.  In Stage two, Kyle Busch cut a tire while leading the pack of Toyota entries.  This took out many of the favored drivers, including Dale Jr, who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The Toyota teams may be reconsidering their pack strategies after this.  The wreck red flagged the race for a short time, during which I flipped over to a college basketball game, which dad seemed to enjoy more.      

The winds had picked up here in the meantime, making it cold and nasty out.  I was sort of glad I wasn’t at the ballpark.  Then again, in the seventh, it was now 22-1 Aggies.  I heard two more home runs within a couple of minutes of listening.  Even having been there for the Saturday night game, this game would have still been impressive to watch in person.  I kept listening.  The broadcasters were openly wondering why the run-rule (which ends games that get out-of-control like this early) wasn’t in effect for non-conference games.  The final was 29-1 Aggies.  Five of the Aggie players were now, unsurprisingly, hitting over .400 after this weekend.  Amazingly with all that scoring, the game just went a bit over three hours.

The race was getting ugly.  Big wrecks were dragging out the race and had taken out the rest of the favorites, including Jimmie Johnson in the Stage three.  With 50 laps left, three-quarters of the field had some kind of damage.  Dad had to leave early, since the race was running late.  With 25 laps left, there were only 25 cars on track, 17 on the lead lap.  The new damaged car rule was having an effect. 

With all the wrecks and trying to account for the stage yellows, the fuel situation at the end of the race became an issue.  Most of cars in front that had stayed out for track position were now close to empty.  This somewhat forced the remaining contenders to all stay together in single file to conserve fuel.  Whoever was leading was getting the least conservation.  Chase Elliot, the polesitter, was out in front for most of final sprint, but he ran out with three laps left.  Martin Truex was briefly in the lead, before he ran out of gas.  After some jockeying, Kyle Larson was in front on the last lap, but he couldn’t make it.  Kurt Busch, who had earlier been tagged to run out on the last lap, powered right on across the finish line.

Now we have a bit controversy.  Series sponsor, Monster Energy, was also Kurt’s sponsor.  It looks a little suspicious, given that this was their first race as the series sponsor.  Regardless, Tony Gibson, Kurt’s crew chief, was so happy afterward, he was shaking during his interview.  Tony Stewart, at least had the satisfaction of winning Daytona as an owner.  Manufacturer-wise, Ford stealing Stewart-Haas from Chevrolet had just totally paid off.  Kurt Busch was all grateful happy in Victory Lane.  He made sure to thank his new wife on stage for “Making a man out of me.”  For a guy who’d had some embarrassingly public girlfriend troubles a couple of years ago, this may have been some redemption.  Speaking of that, Michael Waltrip, in his last race, managed to finish in the top 10 and unscathed.  And one of my favorites, AJ Allmendinger, finished a surprising third.    

Honestly, the race was not more interesting for having a couple of extra stops.  It probably dragged out the race a bit, that along with numerous field-clearing wrecks.  I don’t think quarter and halfway points lead to the additional wrecks at least.  It’s Daytona though, a race unto itself.  We won’t really see how this new format works until the following races.

Monday, February 27, 2017

NM State Aggies vs Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers Baseball 2-25-17

The last game for the Aggie baseball team I was at went pretty well at 20-7.  In the meantime, they’d had a terrible loss on Tuesday to Texas Tech, 1-16.  I got to listen to some of that at work.  Friday’s game against “The Mount” was a good bounce back at 13-2 Aggies.  So, it’s been all or nothing this week for the boys. 

Adam Young and Nolan Fox were clearly freezing last night doing the radio call.  It was the wind more than the temperature.  Today’s double header was going to be a bit cold, but just a little breezy.  I came prepared with a heavy coat and blanket.  Ron’s wife, for some reason, was okay with him being at the ballpark all afternoon and evening.  After a heavy, but good meal at Schlotzsky’s, we were pulling into the parking lot, well away from any potential foul balls and fighting off a desire to take a food-induced nap.  The lot had some class today.  Along with a couple of RV’s, there was a pretty yellow Porsche and a Subaru Impreza with a rally package.  I wonder who these belong to, hopefully boosters. 

This time, I grabbed both new baseball posters on the way in and didn’t wait like I did last time, when I missed getting them.  With the weather being a bit better, I was expecting a good crowd.  The fans came in a bit late, but filled in to an “okay” crowd.  Maybe, you need that bunting out to attract people.  There were a few attractive young women there, some of them in shorts and t-shirts and completely insane given the temperature.  Look for more girls to show when it’s warmer.  An attractive lady was sitting in front of us that seemed friendly, but she made friends with another fan next to her, not us.  Unhappily, I could see an unlucky Aggie player, Trey Stine, was also a spectator.  He was on crutches in the Aggie dugout and will have to wait until next year to play. 

Game 1
The scoring didn’t start until the top of the second with a line drive homer by the Mounts.  (Hey, that’s what they call themselves for short.)  In the bottom of the third, their catcher mistakenly got the number of outs wrong after a strikeout.  Maybe it was because the umpire was making some dramatic calls on called strikes and strikeouts looking.  Too bad for them it wasn’t the last out, since the next hitter, Austin Botello, drove in the first Aggie run, trying the score.  The broken window challenge was on tap between innings.  A kid with a mitt and no arm gave it a shot, coming up empty. 

The Aggies flashed some leather in the top of the fourth.  Botello made a great play in deep right field near the line.  LJ Hatch followed that with a great snag on a grounder, deep in the hole, to throw out the runner at first.  Then, a hot shot foul straight back struck one of the hollow metal shade supports.  It rang loudly for several seconds afterward.  Between halves, I noticed Adam out talking to the radar gun guys.  No idea why.  Greg Popylisen would drive in a go-ahead run in the bottom with an infield hit.  2-1 Aggies. 
In the fifth, the Aggies scored a run off a couple of doubles.  At least, that’s the official scoring.  In reality, the Mount left fielder dropped a couple of fly balls.  It was ruled that the wind would have made those extraordinary catches, I guess.  With a home run and two multi-base non-errors, Mount left fielder, Zach Hostetter had an interesting game.  3-1 Aggies.  The top of the sixth was the third inning in a row that Aggie starter, Kyle Bradish, had allowed two batters on without allowing a score.  He ended his last inning of work by striking out pinch hitter, Damond Dixon, and stranding the runners again.  According to Nolan, Dixon doesn’t like using spoons.  Last night, we also found out that, as a child, one of the Mounts locked his mother out of the house so that he could eat a bowl of M&M’s.  With this level of opposition research, how could the Aggies lose?

The bottom of the sixth featured more questionable scoring.  A slow bouncer by Marcus Still went between second and short.  Somebody really should have caught that, but instead it bounced into shallow center.  And somebody really should have covered second afterward, as Still went ahead and took the extra unguarded base.  All this was ruled a double.  And this all happened after a great diving catch by Dixon on a popped up bunt, basically negating it.  Popylisen actually faked an attempt to steal home, but the inning ended on a strikeout and without any scoring.

In seventh, with Andy Frakes on the mound, the Mounts finally cashed in on having two runners on.  3-2 Aggies.  This didn’t last, as the Aggies manage to plate a run without a hit after a bases loaded walk.  4-2 Aggies.  Not to be out done, the Mount did the same in the top of the eighth, getting a run without a hit.  Not to say it was without hard effort, as one of their players took a rubber pellet in the eye from the artificial infield surface.  4-3 Aggies.  The Aggies weren’t done and scored two more runs in the bottom.  Still actually managed to beat out a sacrifice bunt and get to first in the inning. 

Ruger Rodriguez came in for the ninth and struck out the side in an overpowering fashion.  He’s really starting to impress me.  Our final was Aggies 6, Mountaineers 3.  Bradish had a good, gritty game, giving up one run over six innings.  I’d pick Botello as my offensive player.  Dan Hetzel and, catcher, Jason Bush also had good games.   The Mountaineers played a pretty good game.  The two outfield miscues probably cost them.  By using their Game two starter as a reliever here, they at least slowed down the Aggie offense and gave themselves a chance in this game, but it would come back to haunt them in the next game.

Game one took about three hours, which isn’t bad by college standards.  Unfortunately, it was three hours out in the cold.  My fingers and nose were numb.  Ron wasn’t doing much better.  We spent the intermission in his car, warming up.  I took my blanket and heavy jacket, and Ron took his light jacket back inside.  We took separate bathroom breaks.  I saw the team in the dugout while waiting and smiled and gave them a thumbs up.  One of the catchers did the same back.  I suddenly also noticed that there were stadium seats outside the men’s bathroom.    That seemed unnecessary. 

We ran into a bolting Adam Young on his way to the bathroom.  If you’re talking for three hours, you probably need to drink quite a bit.  Then you’re in an open pressbox, getting the cold full on.  Also, there’s not enough time between innings to go from the pressbox to the bathrooms.  Bottom line, Adam and Nolan likely have iron bladders.  I picked up a welcome hot chocolate and a small popcorn, which I offered to Ron.  Back at the seats, I put down the blanket and sat on it.  My rear end, at least, was warm for the rest of the game.  The announced temperature was 61.  Ron said it felt more like 31. 

Game 2
The crowd had thinned out.  Aggie fans and Mount fans were about equal in number.  In the first, the Mount fans and the Aggie dugout were actually competing with each other in cheering.  The players on the field were certainly playing with some purpose in the cold.  In what felt like a blink of an eye, the Mountaineers scored two runs and then the inning was over.  I looked over at Ron to get the popcorn back and found him with the cup upended over his mouth, finishing it.  Good thing I wasn’t hungry.

The cheering competition ended in the bottom of the first.  Take a look at my sloppy scorecard.  I’m not going to try and recap all those runs.  The Aggies scored 25 runs in the game.  They scored in six of their eight innings and batted around in two of them.  All of the starters scored and got a hit.  Okay, so the game was basically over after the second.  That established, I’ll just bring up the interesting events during the innings. 

The sun was going down in the bottom of the first, and Adam mentioned the lovely sunset lighting of Las Cruces’ Organ Mountains in the background of the stadium.  Austin Botello cranked a monster home run to center right afterward.  Nolan Fox chipped in, “That ball may have hit the Organs.”  Also adding to the scenery, some large flocks of birds circled around the trees beyond the outfield.  There’s more to life than baseball.  Not much more admittedly. 

The new ump seemed to have a bigger strikezone.  Not a bad idea in the cold.  LJ Hatch initiated a double play to end the top of the second.  Marcus Still again beat out an infield single trying to advance a runner in the bottom of the second.  Sacrificing in this inning would not be necessary.  I couldn’t even figure out the Mount pitcher lines after what happened next.  The Game two scheduled starter was used in long relief in Game one.  Trey McGough just didn’t seem ready to start this one.  He was pulled in this inning after starting off with a walk and three straight hits.  Josh Little was brought in, throwing between 59 and 72 mph, a soft-tosser.  By and large, the Aggies weren’t hitting him hard, just often.  There was some good base running too with Brent Sakurai scoring from first on a single as he was off with the pitch.  By the time the smoke had cleared, nine runs had crossed the plate.  “13-2 was the same score as on Friday, but that was after nine innings!” exclaimed Nolan.

From here it was an endurance contest, mostly for the crowd.  An Aggie basketball game started during the game, and I began flipping between them.  Little did I know that I was draining the battery on my radio in a rapid manner by doing so.   That’s what I get for sports infidelity.  Between innings, they ran the broken window challenge again.  This time the little kid had a legit pro wind up and won a hat.  By the fourth, about half of the Mount fans had had enough and left.  Concurrently with that, their team started putting in their reserves.  Mitch Sprignoli came in and rapped an RBI single to the cheers of the remaining fans and the dugout.  He must be well-liked.

About 10 minutes into the basketball game, the score was 16-6 Aggies, pretty close to what it was at the ballpark.  The Aggie baseball team would score three more runs in the fourth, though the inning ended on an unassisted double play by the Mount first baseman.  There were kids running up and down the aisles for foul balls in this game.  Two little girls came up with a couple of balls and carried them around with big smiles.  If you can believe it, in spite of the six runs, the Aggies weren’t trying to run up the score in the bottom of the fifth.  Coach Green kept holding up runners at third, but the guys kept getting hits.  That must have been a good problem for the coach.  The guys in the booth start looking up school records for runs and hits. 

In the sixth, our female PA (I should really find out who these people are) took the inning off.  She must have gotten tired from calling all those at bats.  Meanwhile in the second half of the basketball game, Jack Nixon declared that, “The mustard is off the hot dog,” as the Aggies were up by 20.  The women were also announced to have won their basketball game on the road.  (All I needed was a softball update to complete my Saturday sports.) 

In the seventh, Vaughn Parker II for the Mount was injured diving for a foul ball well away from the field.  It was a great effort.  The Aggie dugout applauded him as he came off.  I finally lost power on the radio in the 9th, right before both games ended.  Austin Bryan finished the game on the mound for the Aggies.  He’d had a very rough outing against Texas Tech and the team cheered him on from the dugout with every out.  Our Game two final, Aggies 25?!, Mountaineers 4.       

Ron felt sorry for the other team, but I thought the Mountaineers played pretty well in the field in this game, and they didn’t get shut out.  Their pitching was just not there for this game, perhaps because of the sudden spot start, and the Aggies tee’d off on it.  For the Aggies, Matt McHugh gave up four runs in five innings, but had nine strikeouts with only one walk.  Offensively, Austin Botello went five for six with four runs and four RBI’s.  His bat was so hot, it glowed.  With 29 total hits, obviously the rest of the team had a pretty good night too.

Our attendance was announced at 680, including a couple of popsicles, which were me and Ron.  The running time was a surprising three hours and 12 minutes.  I’ve seen much lower scoring in longer games.  No team batting records were broken tonight.  Myself and Adam disputed the official scoring.  The scorer had the team at 26 hits, which was wrong.  They also had the Mount with two errors, but I never saw anything like an error on the field.  The basketball team won 86-53.  That game let out at the same time, leading to some traffic getting out of the university.  We were off to What-a-Burger, as the team had won (twice) and handed out coupons.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

NM State Aggies vs Tennessee Volunteers Softball 2-20-17

I’m not sure how many people in town are interested in the Aggie Softball team, but I’m sure that those who are all had this date circled on their calendars.  Tennessee is pretty much a big time opponent in any sport.  Having them show here in Las Cruces will get people excited.  I was excited.  Unfortunately, bad signs were flashing in front of me well before the game started.

I wasn’t sure what to do with my day off while waiting for the game.  That got taken care of thanks to a domestic dispute in apartment above mine, which involved the police and for some reason, me.  Nobody was harmed and some good may even come of it, but it wrecked the day for me.  I should get another day off to make up for this.  I was supposed to go get dinner with Ron before the game.  That time came and went.  I finally called him an hour before the game.  “Ooops.  I forgot.  I’ll be right there,” he said in a hurry.

Once at the ball field, we couldn’t get tickets because their computer was down.  With the Tennessee fans standing there with us, this was embarrassing for the university, like the shot clocks not working at the women’s basketball game for ESPN3 on Saturday.  After about 10 minutes, they were able to work around it.  We even got tickets at a discount, since it should have cost more for a tournament game.  (I lost the ticket stub, so no image of that this time.)

After the delay and close to game time, I skipped the concession.  Ron got a couple of hot dogs.  I picked up a program instead.  And there it was.  The full schedule of the tournament was printed there.  I couldn’t find a full schedule online.  If I’d had this, I might have made different plans.  The full tournament pass was only $12.  I might have even re-thought going to see the Sunday baseball game if I’d known that Tennessee was playing Oregon State at the same time.  Guys, next time, put the full schedule up somewhere please.

It was a beautiful evening at least.  There was a bit of a nip in the air, but it wasn’t as bad being at the Sunday baseball game.  The really pleasant surprise was the crowd.  The Opening Day attendance was really good.  This was even better.  There were quite a few Tennessee fans there.  There were some girls from area high school softball teams, including one from El Paso.  It felt like there was a palatable buzz in the air.  On radio, Adam Young was not there.  The long time voice of Las Cruces sports, Jack Nixon, was calling the game with Nolan Fox.  Adam would have probably been there, but he was in transit to Lubbock to call the baseball game there Tuesday.  

The radio pre-game call was no comfort in the ominous warnings department.  Tennessee’s team is nationally ranked at #15, and this squad is currently 9-0.  Their starter this evening, Caylan Arnold, had not given up an earned run this year.  They were in their familiar bright day-glo orange tops, as many of their fans in the stands were also in team colors.  The Aggies were in their new black and gray away uniforms, though they were the home team.  They’re nice-looking, (vaguely “Logan’s Run” Sandman-ish) but probably need a little crimson trim to look properly Aggie.      

As the starters were announced for the game, I was a bit surprised.  Seniors Misty Hoohuli and Haley Nakamura were out.  Freshmen Caity Szczesny and Jeanelle Medina were in.  Likewise, sophomore and local girl, Alexis Maynez, was replaced by freshman Kaitlyn Rubio behind the plate.  I thought Alexis was the regular catcher, but I may have been mistaken.  On the field, once again, Kelsey Horton was at second instead of first, where Fahren Glackin was instead positioned.

My game got off to a good start as I got all the positions and numbers down while the lineups were announced.  Ron’s nemesis, the old man, was there getting his pipes warmed up for a long evening of loudly encouraging the girls.  A nice looking lady sat down in front of me with her husband.  She would turn out to be the second-loudest cheerer in the crowd.  For the ceremonial first pitch, I found out that the Troy Cox Classic, as this tournament was officially called, was actually named in honor of someone.  I had assumed it was a corporate sponsorship.  A relative of the deceased person did a fast-pitch wind up and tossed an impressive hard strike into the catcher’s mitt to start the game.

To be honest, these are most brutal scorecards I’ve ever added up.  I mean, even the Sunday baseball game, where Bryant gave up 20 runs, they least scored 7.  The Aggie offense was overpowered by Tennessee’s pitching, and the Vol’s had no trouble hitting Aggie pitching.  As soon as the Volunteers had gotten over the 8 run rule, they politely called off the dogs and put in the reserves.  Lastly, even the Aggie’s fielding was helping them out with three errors and poor decisions and plays not made.  There’s your summary.  As much as I don’t want to, let’s go into the details.

My favorite out there, Kayla Green, is having a problem pitching first innings this season from what I’ve seen.  I think she’s given up first inning runs in every start so far.  I couldn’t tell you the reason, if there is one.  She looked good taking out the first two batters, but a couple hits, a walk, and a double put three up for Tennessee just as quick.  Kayla gave up another walk before getting a grounder to end the inning.  The Volunteers have some really good hitters, and Kayla seemed stunned by their proficiency.  0-3 Tennessee.

Things at least started well for Aggie hitting, as Rachel Rodriguez led off with a single.  The Aggie dugout started singing for Fahren Glackin, up next, but she struck out.  Kelsey Horton was not intimidated in her at bat and pounded a double.  Rachel was held at third on the hit.  I’m not going to say this was the critical moment of the game, because Tennessee was probably going to win regardless, but even at the time, that was a bad stop sign.  Rachel is one of the fastest runners on the team and the ball wasn’t that close to the infield.  It was going to require a good throw to put her out.  You’re already down three to a good team, and getting the first score of the year on Arnold, might have rattled her.  Instead, the rest of the side struck out, stranding both runners.

We won’t know if Kayla was going to settle in for the rest of the game, as the second inning started off with an error.  Then there was another error two batters later.  Good fielding actually took out both runners later, but a couple of hits drove in another run.  0-4 Tennessee.  The Aggies went down in order in their half.

The third inning went to pieces for the Aggies.  Kayla wasn’t just hittable, she was losing the strike zone with a walk, a lightly hit batter, and a wild pitch.  A passed ball and Fahren dropping a foul ball really didn’t help.  After three more runs, Coach Rodolph went directly to the umpire to make changes.  Kayla wandered off out of the circle into the dugout by herself.  I wish I could have given her a hug.

The team’s other starter, freshman Samaria Diaz, entered the game.  “Sam,” as I’m going to nickname her, unfortunately didn’t have any better luck.  The main damage was done on a two RBI double that went over the head of left fielder, Amy Bergeson.  You know the team is having defensive troubles when the normally automatic Amy misjudges a looping fly ball.  And to make it worse, Sam took one off her pitching hand on a grounder by the next batter.  She was okay on a couple of practice pitches, but walked the next two batters.  Kayla had to come back out to finish the inning.  0-9 Volunteers.

If you can believe it, the crowd was still there and they were into it.  Jeanelle Medina started off the inning with a strikeout, but up next, Rachel would get a hit and a stolen base and take third on a bad throw by the catcher.  Fahren would strike out.  Kelsey took one of the angriest at bats I’ve ever seen in person.  She was swinging hard for the fences, but it turned into another strikeout to end the inning.

To start the fourth, Jack and Nolan had a discussion about Nolan’s hometown of Los Alamos.  You can tell it’s a blowout.  The lady next to Ron asked him if the run rule was in effect.  If I respected Tennessee’s playing abilities, in this inning, I respected them as competitors.  With little further to prove, their coach subbed out several of their regulars.  Even their fans were generally quiet during the game.  Aggie fans, though, kept cheering their girls’ efforts.  Jeanelle made a great pick in front of the circle and throw to first for an out.  The crowd erupted for her.  Local girl Brandy Hernandez was put in to play left field and caught a fly ball to cheers of the fans.

I think there were giveaways every inning, including t-shirts and towels thrown into the enthusiastic crowd.  The husband of the lady in front of me polished off his third beer in an hour and a half.  He was having a good time.  There was some giggling behind me about the old man’s constant cheering, but everyone was still into the game.  Kayla surrendered a single to start the fifth.  Once again, as on Opening Day, her and Fahren exchanged gloves and positions.  Caity Szczensny in right field made the next two outs on fly balls and the best play of the game, as she threw out the runner trying to tag up and take second.  That ended the inning to thunderous applause and cheers.

The Onate high school softball team in attendance gave Brandy a big cheer when she came up to bat.  That was the last outburst as the game ended on the rule run with the end of the fifth.  Our final, Aggies 0, Volunteers 9.  The girls all quickly lined up and shook hands, and the Aggie girls went to the circle and said, “Thank you,” to the crowd.                

My player of the game is Rachel Rodriguez.  She went two for two with a stolen base.  That’s as good as I can find, but even then, I have Rachel with an error.  The two freshman, Caity and Jeanelle, looked good fielding today.  Tennessee just looked good all around.  I wish they’d spaced out scoring their runs, so that we could have gotten a full seven innings.  My real hero for this game is actually the fans.  That was one of the best Aggie crowds I’ve ever been a part of.  I can’t remember ever seeing fans cheer more when their team was giving them so little to cheer about.  It was a tough game to watch, but also kind of awesome to be there for.  I hope the crowd at least picked the girls up a bit.        

Okay, now for my questions and suggestions.  While Caity and Jeanelle did a good job in field, why were the more experienced Misty and Haley not taking the at bats instead for this game?  The freshman should be pinch hitting and working as defensive replacements.  If they work their way into the regular lineup, that’s fine, but not before then.  Why was Alexis not catching?  I like the way she works behind the plate.  I don’t think you were missing anything on offense and it would have been better to have put the hometown girl in.

This experiment with Kelsey at second needs to end.  In addition to an error, she had some other problems there that didn’t show up on the scorecard.  Put her back at first, her natural position.  With the pitching staff being anchored by a sophomore and a freshman, have Fahren concentrate on her pitching to be able to back up Kayla and Sam more.  No more putting Kayla at first either.  Have her concentrate on pitching too.  Alternately, trade Kelsey to the baseball team for Brent Sakurai.  You’ll get a better second baseman with some power.  (And he’ll mesh well with the island girls on the team.)  Kelsey can play first for the baseball team and hit third, helping to protect Dan Hetzel.

The girls are on their way to a tough tournament, in which any success isn’t guaranteed.  I’m remembering the women’s basketball team losing a hard one to Arizona and then losing all four tournament games in Las Vegas soon after.  They’ve done pretty well since (undefeated in conference).  Hopefully, this game and the ones to come here in the early season will be the same kind of learning experience for the softball team.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

NM State Aggies vs Bryant Bulldogs Baseball 2-19-17

Aggie baseball didn’t get off to a good start this season.  They lost their first two games.  I listened to the Friday night game and heard a bit of Nolan Fox flying solo, calling the first game of a double header on Saturday.  I had some opportunity to go to the second baseball game after going to the women’s basketball game in the afternoon, but after I got dropped off back home, I had no desire to go back out.  Sorry, Aggie athletics. 

I feel like that was a good decision.  It got cold and windy and the whole double header went from 2:00 in the afternoon to 10:00 at night.  I’m not an iron man like broadcaster, Adam Young, who went from calling the basketball game to calling that second baseball game.  Also, I got to hear the Aggie men’s basketball game where they gave up over 100 points, but still won. 

I did get to hear what may be the weird play of the season for baseball.  A Bryant Bulldog player hit what would have been a game-tying three-run homer, except he passed the first base runner, as both were watching the ball go out.  Here’s the reason you listen to the radio broadcast, even when you’re at the ballgame, because nobody in the stands likely figured out what happened.  The batter was ruled out (3 unassisted) and credited with a single and two RBI’s.  That lost run was the difference in the 9th as Ruger Rodriguez came in with the bases loaded and one out and the Aggies up by a run.  He shut the door.  The Aggies won 4-3.  Ouch.  What do you say to the team as a coach in that situation?         

The weather forecast was never promising for Sunday, but the sun was playing peek-a-boo enough to make you think that it might be a nice day anyway.  It was in the 50’s with a breeze.  Not wanting to miss all of the Opening Weekend, I layered up and took a windbreaker in case the predicted rain showed up.  There were a couple of buses in front of the softball stadium.  I wish somebody at the university would have published the full schedule for the softball tournament and not just the Aggies’ games.  I guess I could have went to the guest teams’ websites and reconstructed it, but with baseball and basketball, I wasn’t going to be seeing the other games anyway.  Still, I was interested in the other games since getting one ticket for the day could get you into several games. 

The baseball parking lot had a few RV’s parked there.  This was one goal of the coach, Brian Green.  He wants tailgaters at home games.  You know what Sundays at the park means: $1 hot dogs.  From what I saw during the game, they sold plenty.  With that discount, I went ahead and tried something new with it: corn in a cup.  It’s corn in a cup, obviously, but with melted cheese on top.  It’s good too.   

I was hoping to talk to Adam Young at some point and ran right into him after getting my lunch.  He still remembers me.  (I’m guessing sports broadcasters have to be pretty good with names and faces.)  I wanted to tell him that I’d enjoyed his commenting on the volleyball and basketball this season.  I was especially impressed with his volleyball call, and he confirmed that is a very hard sport to broadcast.  I also found out that Kaylee Neal was doing an internship with the basketball team, somewhat clearing up that mystery.  I actually got to tell him something about the basketball, relating the story of Brooke and the brave trumpet player, which he’d missed while being focused on production.  I probably could have chatted for a while about various sports, but one of us needed to get up to the radio booth.

You could tell it was Opening Weekend since the bunting was out and a big crowd came for the game.  There were families and individuals like myself.  Some smart people brought blankets with them.  There were plenty of young attractive women, as usual.  I didn’t see lovely Megan Hart from the volleyball team, who’s not hard to spot at 6’5”, but I think I saw a couple other members of the team.  (I was too shy to talk to them.)  The softball team wasn’t there on their day off, but maybe they were watching their next opponent at the softball field.  (Which I now realize may mean I passed up an opportunity to sit with them there.  Damn.)  The trees behind the outfield wall seemed a bit more filled in, but I could still see the orange of the Tennessee softball team at the softball stadium facing the ballpark.  It’s too bad Ron wasn’t able to come.  I don’t think his nemesis, the loud old man, was there.  I didn’t see Ron’s “niece” either.  He would have missed her.     

There’s a new Diamond Club section along the left field line.  They took down the pavilions that were out there, which I’m thinking they regretted in the third inning.  We’ll get to that.  Also new is the female PA for the ballpark.  She did a good, well-spoken, enthusiastic job for the game.  I don’t know if she meant to, but her Aggie player at-bat introductions sounded more flirtatious than excited.  The guys probably liked it.  For the anthem, the Aggie players stood along the third base line.  After the music finished, they waited three beats and then all left as one unit.  It looked good.  They formed a circle and let out a cheer before the game started.  Play ball!

Marcel Renteria took the mound for the Aggies.  He has his own cheering section in the stands, likely consisting of his parents.  I figured Bryant would come in angry after last night’s loss.  Their second batter of the game blasted a home run.  The wind was blowing out for most of the game.  Balls in the air had a tendency to float and carry in the outfield all day.  In the second, they doubled in another run.  2-0 Bryant. 

Then the bottom of the second happened.  This was one of those times I was happy to see my scorecard destroyed and confused as the Aggies sent 12 men to the plate.  They scored 8 runs on, get this, on two hits.  In order for this to happen the Bulldogs had to give up five walks, one hit by pitch, an error, a passed ball, and a wild pitch.  Bryant pretty much pounded the self-destruct button, but credit Dan Hetzel for the big blow, a three-run home run.  He’d be pleased to know the girls behind me liked him even before the home run.  (They made some comment about “Hetzel’s Pretzels.”  I don’t know what they were referring to.  I’m just going to leave it at that.)  8-2 Aggies. 

What’s amazing is that the only other hit, which started the scoring, was an easy Brent Sakurai fly ball that the left fielder completely lost in the sky.  That was the biggest mistake of the inning and it wasn’t even an error.  I can’t be too critical though.  I lost just about every ball that fouled back.  It was a difficult sky, alternating between heavy clouds and sunlight constantly.           

Of course, all this took quite a while to play out.  The Bulldogs went through three pitchers in the inning, along with many catcher and coach visits to the mound.  The fans were into the game, but given the weather conditions, they weren’t happy with all the delays.  The Bryant fans got on the ump for the strike zone.  The Aggie fans wanted the ump to pick up the pace of play. 

An ominous rain cloud rolled overhead to start the third.  Men’s basketball coach, Paul Weir, and his family made an appearance.  His little toddler son motored around all over the place.  I thought I recognized him, but wasn’t sure until Adam and Nolan mentioned it.  I was looking for an opportunity to say, “Hi coach, nice win last night,” but they left after a half inning.  As the temperature dropped and the skies became more threatening, I don’t blame him.  A little PA recognition wouldn’t have been a bad idea when he came in, especially with team coming off a win. 

In the bottom of the inning, the Aggies tacked on another run.  9-2 Aggies.  The Bulldogs made another pitching change.  “How many pitchers do you guys have?” I heard from the crowd.  I didn’t record things right on the scorecard with their pitchers at the time.  I gave up trying to reconstruct it.  The cold was making my nose drip, but I refused to use my new Aggie hoodie to wipe with.  Suddenly, there’s sprinkles and my scorecard was getting wet.  I quickly put on my windbreaker to protect the hoodie. 

Gasp!  OMG!  OMG!  Can it be?  Ashley Ford, women’s basketball assistant coach/goddess, is in the house.  This is it!  This is my moment.  My chance has come!  She walked up the stairs and went directly into the pressbox.  I didn’t see her for the rest of the game. 


That was disappointing.

Sigh.  Back to baseball.

A nice double play finished off the top of the inning.  The rain went back to sprinkles, as the cloud had moved on.  I started hearing loud music and announcements.  The game at the softball field had started.  I could see Tennessee players, but never saw their opponents.  Were they wearing camouflage?  I could even hear the girls cheering at times during their game. 

The Aggies batted around again in the bottom of the fourth.  They were aided by two hit batters, three walks, a wild pitch, and an error.  Two hits drove in five runs, including a two-run shot by Mason Fishback.  The Bulldogs had to burn another pitcher.  14-2 Aggies.   

“Stacy’s mom has got it going on!”  This came on at my game during the break.  I hope that song becomes a ballpark staple.  Okay, by this point the game had been pretty much decided, but that didn’t mean the scoring stopped.  The Bulldogs tacked on a run in the fifth.  In the sixth, I knew the Aggie trivia question, but not being anywhere near the press box, I had no chance at getting the prize.  The Aggies put up two more runs with passed balls, a wild pitch, and a walk again aiding them.  Bieber’s “Sorry” played over at the softball field to end our inning.  16-3 Aggies.

Oooh, I saw a gentleman wearing a retro Brewers hat.  It looked completely sweet.  By the seventh, a parade of one-inning relievers appeared for both sides for the rest of the game.  The most effective of the Aggie relievers was Chris Butcher with a no drama 9th inning, though there was a great catch by a fan in the Diamond Club.  The others gave up four runs, including a three-run homer.  More walks and an error gave the Aggies two runs in the seventh.  In the eighth, the Aggies finally got an honest inning of scoring with three hits, including a Brent Sakuri two-run homer.  Our final was Aggies 20, Bulldogs 7.  That would have been a good game for the Aggie football team on the road.

Several of the Bryant Bulldogs had a good game hitting, but the pitching and defense were so bad today, it didn’t matter.  My defensive player of the game for the Aggies was Marcel Renteria.  He went six innings, giving up three runs in the win.  Given the wind blowing out, it was a good outing.  Marcel certainly showed what he was made of in the third.  After two easy outs, an error and passed ball put two runners on.  He got a strikeout to end the inning without allowing a run.  There’s several choices for offensive player, but I’m picking Brent Sakurai.  He scored four times, drove in three runs, and hit a home run.  We’re waiting to see what his mom sends from Hawaii to give the team good luck this year.

The game ran in a nice tidy three hours, 40 minutes.  This was one brutal four game series, likely running over 15 hours total.  You know it was bad when the broadcasters were lamenting this game wasn’t subject to a run rule or a curfew.  I couldn’t hold it any longer and ran to the bathroom in the eighth.  On the way back, I noticed the baseball posters got rained on.  Then they got picked up before the end of the game, so I should have gotten them when I came in.  I thought I’d read that there was an autograph session after this game, but that didn’t happen to my knowledge.  I was tired and had a bit of exposure by the end, but God help me, I was still was happy to be back at the ballpark.