Watching a future star

August 21, 2008 at 12:46 am | Posted in Minor Leagues, Rays | Leave a comment

One of the things that I did during my week off from blogging was watch David Price pitch in his Triple-A debut at Durham Bulls Athletic Park last Wednesday, August 13.  Price, as I have mentioned before, was the #1 overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft, is considered to be the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues, and is property of the Rays.  It turned out to be one of his weaker starts this year as he gave up 3 runs in 4 innings, allowing 7 hits and no walks with 6 strikeouts.  Part of the problem was poor defensive play behind him, which was likely due to the wet field conditions that day.  I estimated that 3-4 hits would have been outs if the Rays defense was behind Price and the game was played at climate-controlled Tropicana Field.

Here are some pictures from what I hope is a short stay for Price with the Bulls:

Warming up in the bullpen before the game

Warming up in the bullpen before the game

The wind-up

The wind-up

Delivering the heat!

Delivering the heat!

One of the great things about the minor leagues is how easy it is to get close to the players and the action.  I was only one row away from Price and catcher John Jaso when I took these pictures.

Delivering a pitch in the first inning

Delivering a pitch in the first inning

The wind-up

The wind-up

Throwing some 97 MPH heat for a strike!

Throwing some 97 MPH heat for a strike!

With the Rays’ rotation filled with Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, and Andy Sonnanstine, all of whom are having terrific years, it’ll be interesting to see how the Rays make room for Price and Wade Davis, their other pitching phenom who is currently in Triple-A.  The rest of the A.L. East should be very scared!

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Southern League All Star Game

July 18, 2008 at 1:35 am | Posted in Baseball, Minor Leagues | 3 Comments

After the great experience that I had at the Single-A South Atlantic League All Star game in June, I was excited to attend the Double-A Southern League All Star game on Monday night, July 14. The event took place at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, North Carolina, which is the home of the Carolina Mudcats, the Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins.

My wife and I had fun, but overall the event was not as great as the South Atlantic League All Star game. Five County Stadium pales in comparison to NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, and the Mudcats staff seemed to be far less skilled in putting on a great event than the employees of the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Still, I was able to get some good autographs and see some great prospects play.

I arrived at the stadium a little after 5:00 for the autograph session. This didn’t take place on the field with easy access to the players like the autograph session in Greensboro. Instead, the Mudcats staff made everyone stand in one long line and only about 10 people at a time had access to all of the players. This may have been good for people who wanted an autograph from every single player, but I really only wanted autographs from about 15 players who I considered to be legit prospects. They had the players from the South Division (which included the Montgomery Biscuits, the Rays affiliate) available from 5:00 – 5:30 and the players from the North Division from 5:30 – 6:00. I got in the line at about 5:05, and the wait was so long that I didn’t get to the front until right at 5:30. Once I was allowed in to the area where the players sat, I walked over to Wade Davis (a top prospect for the Rays and one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball) as quickly as I could. I was able to get him to sign a ball for me right before he had to walk away. I also got to congratulate him on his promotion to Triple-A Durham that was effective right after the game. Here’s the ball:

I also got an autograph from Justin Cassel, a White Sox prospect, right before the South Division players left and the North Division players sat down. I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get more autographs from the South Division players, but I did get autographs from almost the entire North Division roster: Chris Coghlan, Gaby Sanchez, John Raynor, and Chris Mobley (Marlins), Robert Manuel, Eric Eymann, and Ben Jukich (Reds), Nate Spears, Doug Deeds, and Donnie Veal (Cubs), Alcides Escobar, Angel Salome, David Welch, Patrick Ryan, Michael Brantley, and Cole Gillespie (Brewers), and Adam Moore, Ryan Ketchner, Marshall Hubbard, and Mike Wilson (Mariners). I was happy to get Escobar, Coghlan, Moore, and Veal, who are all very good prospects.

David Welch on his 2008 Bowman card:

Alcides Escobar:

Chris Coghlan:

Adam Moore:

If you’re interested in the cards on which I got the above three signatures, and would like to order some, check out this post on Bad Wax. I would highly recommend them.

After the autograph session, there was still an hour to go before the game. In Greensboro, this time was filled by a very exciting home run derby. In Zebulon, it was a game played by kids with physical disabilities. I certainly don’t have anything against kids with disabilities, but that type of event really could have taken place at any game, and it didn’t have the entertainment value of a home run derby.

Right before the All Star game, one of the highlights of the evening was the National Anthem, sung by Katherine Fritsch. Katherine is a nine-year old girl who is something of a local celebrity. She’s been singing the anthem at Carolina Hurricanes hockey games since the start of the 2007-08 season when she was only eight. She has an amazing voice and is one of the most talented singers of any age that I have ever heard. I predict that she will win American Idol in 2015 and become a major star. You heard it here first!

The players lined up during the National Anthem:

The game itself was very good. The pitching was better than what you’d expect in an All Star game. Dodgers pitching prospect James McDonald was particularly impressive to me. The North Division won it 6-1, led by home runs from Chris Coghlan and Doug Deeds. Here are some of the pictures that I took:

Wade Davis of Montgomery (Rays):

Chris Coghlan of Carolina (Marlins), who will replace Dan Uggla at second base once the Marlins trade him in a salary dump. This guy is very good in the field and at the plate:

Alcides Escobar of Huntsville (Brewers), who made some outstanding plays at shortstop and looks like he’ll be a future star:

Southern League All Star game coming up

July 9, 2008 at 10:39 pm | Posted in Baseball, Minor Leagues | Leave a comment

One of my first blog posts, and one of the most widely viewed (due to internet searches for Madison Bumgarner), was about my trip to the South Atlantic League (Single-A) All Star game in Greensboro, NC a few weeks ago. Well, North Carolina baseball fans are truly lucky this summer because the Southern League (Double-A) All Star game will be held in Zebulon, home of the Carolina Mudcats, on this coming Monday, July 14. Of course, I will be in attendance watching some of the brightest prospects in baseball.

The Mudcats have announced that there will be a pre-game autograph session. If it’s anything like the one in Greensboro, I’ll have any chance to get autographs from any and all of the All Star players. Some of the best prospects who will be there include Wade Davis (Rays), Alcides Escobar (Brewers), Chris Coghlan (Marlins), Donald Veal (Cubs), and James McDonald (Dodgers). You can see the entire rosters here. If any of my readers are interested in getting an autograph from a specific player or players, just let me know before Monday and I’ll try to get them for you. Mario and Tatiana, you’ll definitely have some autographs from the Marlins prospects coming your way.

More David Price

July 6, 2008 at 1:59 am | Posted in Minor Leagues, My Cards, Rays | 2 Comments

I recently wrote about David Price and showcased my collection of his cards. Today I happily added a fifth autographed Price card to my collection when I received a 2007 Donruss Elite Extra Edition “School Colors” card numbered to only 50 that I recently won on eBay:

As you can see, it is a sweet looking card, and I am thrilled to own it. It actually has a very shiny, refractor-like surface that you can’t really see in the scan. I really like the cards from Donruss Elite Extra Edition that I have, although they are all David Price cards. The quality of the cards is making me think that Donruss-Playoff should be awarded a license to start producing baseball cards again (the Elite Extra Edition set is ostensibly a college sports set).

The thing that amazes me about the card is the bargain price that I paid for it. There are only 50 of these cards in existence and I was able to buy it for about one-third of the price that some less rare 2008 Bowman Chrome refractor autographs of Price are selling for, and only slightly more than I paid for the “Turn of the Century” Elite Extra Edition card that is numbered to 500. I’m not sure why this card isn’t in higher demand, but I’m glad that I was able to get it for less than I expected!

Meet David Price and Jeremy Hellickson

June 24, 2008 at 1:45 am | Posted in Minor Leagues, My Cards, Rays | 2 Comments

As great of a season as it has been for the Tampa Bay Rays so far, Rays fans know that even better days may be on the horizon in upcoming years. The reason for that optimism is the talent that the Rays have accumulated in their farm system. While there are some good hitters in the system that is rated #1 in all of baseball by Baseball America, it is the Rays’ pitching prospects that really stand out. Former first round pick Jeff Niemann, along with Mitch Talbot and Chris Mason, headlines the rotation at Triple-A Durham. Uber prospects Wade Davis and Jake McGee have been with Double-A Montgomery this season. But the best of the prospects are last year’s #1 overall draft pick, David Price, and Jeremy Hellickson, who were both promoted from Single-A Vero Beach to Montgomery this weekend.

Most people know about David Price. In fact, he might be the top pitching prospect in all of baseball. He certainly lived up to the hype with Vero Beach, where he went 4-0 with a 1.82 ERA, and 37 strikeouts with only 7 walks in 34 2/3 innings. Hellickson is a name that you may not be familiar with. However, he excelled in each of the last two seasons, and is 7-1 with a 2.00 ERA this year. Even more impressive are his 83 strikeouts and only 5 walks in 76 2/3 innings. That is an unbelievable 16.6:1 K:BB ratio!

I have become a big fan of both of these guys. Here are the autographed David Price cards in my collection:

2007 Bowman Sterling:

2008 Bowman Chrome:

2007 Donruss Elite Extra Edition “Turn of the Century” #/500:

And my favorite, a 2007 Donruss Elite Extra Edition “Collegiate Patches” #/250:

I only have one autographed Jeremy Hellickson card. I don’t believe that there are any cards of him in any Major League sets yet. I hope to collect many more of his cards in the coming years.

2006 Just Minors Justifiable Silver Edition #/100:

More on Madison Bumgarner

June 18, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Minor Leagues | Leave a comment

I guess I’ve had Madison Bumgarner on my mind today. I found a great article about him from the Burlington Times News. I’d highly recommend checking it out to get a sense for the kind of person this kid is. I was most impressed by this quote:

“The better I do, the harder I want to work for some reason,” Bumgarner said. “I’ve got to work hard and try to be a good example for the rest of the guys. Even though I’m younger, I can still be a good example with working hard. I don’t really look at it like it’s pressure. That’s just really how I should act.”

After reading this, I am extremely confident that Madison Bumgarner is going to be a great major league pitcher and a great role model for kids. Who knows, maybe my future kids will idolize him someday.

Pick up your Madison Bumgarner cards now, while they’re still affordable!

Oh, what a night – at the South Atlantic League All Star Game and meeting Madison Bumgarner

June 18, 2008 at 2:19 am | Posted in Minor Leagues | 6 Comments

What a night! I took a trip to Greensboro, NC for the South Atlantic League (Low Single-A) All Star Game at NewBridge Bank Park. First, let me just say that NewBridge Bank Park is an outstanding stadium! For any readers living in North Carolina, I would strongly recommend making a trip there to check it out. It opened in 2005 and was built to Double-A specifications. It’s about a million times nicer than Five County Stadium in Zebulon, which is an actual Double-A stadium. I hope that Greensboro gets a Double-A team someday because they truly deserve it.

Anyway, this was the first All Star Game of any variety that I’ve attended. I bought tickets soon after they went on sale and had great seats three rows from the field, right next to the dugout for the South Division team. All for $9. You gotta love the Minor Leagues! I was hoping to get to see a lot of Rays prospects, but their South Atlantic League team, the Columbus Catfish, has been disappointing this year. They only had two players on the All Star team, pitcher Alex Cobb (a legit prospect) and outfielder Maiko Loyola (not much of a prospect). I was also excited to see prospects like Jason Heyward (Braves), Michael Burgess (Nationals), and Jesus Montero (Yankees). But most importantly, Madison Bumgarner (Giants) would be there. Not only is he one of the top pitching prospects in the minors, but he is rather infamous in the baseball card blogosphere due to controversy over some posts that Mario from Wax Heaven made about him. See here and here for the details.

The event was great. I got there a little bit after 4:00 PM and the on-field autograph session had just started. They let all fans onto the field (which I thought was cool) where every single player on both All Star teams sat in chairs to sign autographs. The longest lines were for Bumgarner, Heyward, and Burgess, but there wasn’t a huge wait for anyone. I was able to get autographs from every player that I wanted: Bumgarner, Heyward, Burgess, Montero, Cobb, Loyola, Freddie Freeman (Braves), Brian Rike (Rockies), Jon Lucroy (Brewers), and the hometown guys, Garrett Parcell, Corey Madden, and A.J. Battisto, who are all Marlins prospects playing for Greensboro.

Here is a picture of me with Madison Bumgarner:

I was able to obtain an autographed souvenir from Madison Bumgarner for Mario, which I will be sending to him soon. I won’t mention the specific details about it, so he can be surprised. By the way Mario, I doubt very much that you’ll have to worry about Madison “jumping over the 2 security guards at Dolphin Stadium, pushing through the 12 fans who arrive before a game, punching Tatiana in the face and raping Mario Alejandro”. He seems like a very nice guy (actually a kid, since he’s only 18 years old!). He was very polite to all of his fans, and seemed a little shy, definitely a far cry from many of today’s egocentric major leaguers. Also, he and Jason Heyward stayed on the field after all of the other players left to make sure that every fan who wanted their autographs could have them. They are both class acts.

After the autograph session was a home run derby. This was extremely entertaining as I had never seen a home run derby in person before. I was most impressed by Michael Burgess, who hit 14 home runs in the first two rounds and won the derby. At one point, he hit about 5 in a row, and he had many of the longest shots in the derby. Nationals fans have a lot to look forward to with this kid. Some pics:

Marlins prospect Mike Stanton:

Michael Burgess watches one of his shots leave the yard:

Check it out, 14 home runs for Burgess:

Jesus Montero in the finals:

The players were just as interested in the derby as the fans (Bumgarner is #15 here):

And a hugely exciting event occurred during the home run derby. After 22 years of attending minor league and major league baseball games, I finally caught (or maybe I should say obtained) my first foul ball! It was hit by Jesus Montero during the home run derby. The ball actually landed about 10 rows in back of me, and rolled down to where I was sitting. Still, it was awesome to finally get a ball after years of trying!

After the home run derby, I walked around the stadium to get food, and found this banner:

Yep, my hero Don Mattingly played in Greensboro and his great season in 1980 is still commemorated there.

From the pre-game introductions:

That is Andre Dawson that you see. He was the “honorary manager” for the South team. Unfortunately he was not available for autographs. Also, Tony Perez was on hand as the “honorary manager” for the North. It was great to see two Hall of Famers (one who’s already in and one who needs to be ASAP). Hopefully Charlie, a frequent comment leaver on Wax Heaven and the owner of the “Hawk to the Hall” blog, will enjoy this picture.

Alex Cobb giving a fist pump to Madison Bumgarner (I love this one):

A few more pictures from the game … maybe Fielder’s Choice Photography will give Wax Heaven Photography a run for its money … nah, I’m not that good:

Madison Bumgarner:

And Alex Cobb:

All in all, this was one of the most enjoyable baseball experiences that I’ve ever had. Thanks to the Greensboro Grasshoppers for hosting such a wonderful event! This fan from the Triangle will be making many more trips down I-40 to visit the beautiful NewBridge Bank Park.

The North All Stars beat the South All Stars 13-4. If you’re interested, you can check out the box score here.

Finally, I want to say that I made all of the pictures in this post small so that it would not take a long time to load the front page of the blog. If anyone is interested in getting any of the full-size pictures, you can contact me.

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