Results tagged ‘ Durham Bulls ’

My First Game of 2014; Big Autograph Expectations

After nearly seven months, I’m finally attending another baseball game.

Later today, I’m heading out to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP), in Durham, North Carolina, where the visiting Gwinnett Braves are set to take on the defending International League Champion Bulls in game three of a four-game series. With the teams having split the series so far through two games, it’s sure to be an exciting game. Untitled

The thing I’m most excited about, besides the game itself, is seeing the DBAP for the first time since it underwent a multimillion dollar renovation this past offseason, which involved putting in new lights, new seats, a new playing surface, in addition to changing just about everything you can think of. Anything that helps make the fan experience better I always approve of.

Now, if you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you know the DBAP is one of the two local minor league ballparks — Five County Stadium, home of the Carolina Mudcats, being the other — that I frequent throughout each baseball season. Though I always enjoy a good baseball game, generally, I only go out to see a game when a good amount of prospects are set to be there, or if an MLB player is playing in a rehab game. Otherwise, I’m content to merely reading the box score each night.

As many of you are aware, within the past couple of seasons, I’ve developed a big passion for going out to games and getting autographs from the games’ most promising young players who are on their way up, and that’s the main reason I’m heading over to the ballpark tonight. Not living near any MLB teams, it’s truly my only chance to get autographs from what will likely be future MLB stars down the road, and Gwinnett certainly has plenty of them, with Christian Bethancourt, Tommy La Stella and Cody Martin, among others.

However, they’re not alone.

The Bulls definitely hold their own when it comes to roster construction. While this year’s roster doesn’t compare to the one they had last season, which saw Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer as part of the Opening Day roster, their lineup and pitching for this year is set to be good yet again. From Enny Romero to Nathan Karns, and many inbetween, the Bulls stand a good chance of repeating as Champions, and as such, there are numerous players I want to snag an autograph from at some point this year.

But the Braves are the team I’m going for tonight. I’m not going to be trying for any autographs from the Bulls players this time around due to the fact that I can always get them in a few weeks, as opposed to a team that may not return with the same players next time. I learned that lesson last year with Wil Myers. In taking three games to finally get Myers, I missed my chance to get the top opposing teams’ players. I won’t let that happen this time around.

The way I’m viewing the schedules right now, it’s likely that I’ll be going out to Durham often this first month, with possibly no trips to see the Mudcats until May.  The Mudcats simply aren’t that great of a team, and the teams that are going to be visiting aren’t that fantastic either. But it’s just the opposite All-Star-Game-Final-2014for the Bulls, as every team they’re playing against throughout April has some really good players on it that I hope to get autos from. Though, it’s likely that I won’t be blogging about any of it, unless things happen to change.

But that’s just the very beginning of what looks to be a great autographing season.

From May through the end of the season, both the Mudcats and Bulls are taking on loaded teams, making it difficult to decide when I want to head out to the ballpark and see certain players in person, though that’s a good problem to have.

More significant than that, however, the DBAP is hosting the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby and All-Star game in mid July, which will bring in numerous top prospects from the Pacific Coast League which usually never comes closer than Memphis. I truly can’t wait until then, as it’s a can’t miss experience that I’ll absolutely be blogging about.

From the exciting Bulls games to kick off the season, to the remaining strong schedules between both the Mudcats and the Bulls, and the All-Star events thrown in there as well, everything combined altogether, it’s sure to be an unforgettable season.

Recapping My 2013 MiLB & MLB Baseball Season

Now that the 2013 Minor League Baseball season is over, and with no shot at attending any more MLB games this year, I can finally post a blog entry recapping my season out at the ballpark.

I managed to make it to 16 baseball games this season. Two of those were major league games — one up in Baltimore and one in Seattle — with the remaining fourteen being minor league games. In those minor league games, I saw numerous top prospects, as well as future Hall of Famer, Chipper Jones, on August 20th, at his number retirement ceremony in Durham. It was a great season, full of fun, and I thought I’d take the time to recap it all:

April 5th – Carolina Mudcats Vs. Winston Salem Dash

I went into this game looking forward to seeing Indians’ top prospect, Francisco Lindor, and White Sox’ top prospect, Courtney Hawkins. Both are sure to be future MLB stars, and both are exciting players to keep an eye on. I didn’t get an autograph from Lindor at this particular game, but I did receive the bat that Hawkins cracked during his second at-bat of the game, in which he got a bloop-single:

DSCN5713(The bat is signed, but the auto is around the other side. It was done very hastily.)

April 9th – Durham Bulls Vs. Gwinnett Braves

Having one of the best opening day Bulls lineups ever — including Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, and Hak-Ju Lee — I was excited to attend this game. I didn’t get Myers, but I ended up with an autograph from both Lee and Brandon Guyer….:

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….as well as a game home run ball hit by the Braves’ Ernesto Mejia:

DSCN5554(This was my first ever home run ball.)

April 24th – Durham Bulls Vs. Toledo Mud Hens

I was hoping to get an autograph from Wil Myers at this game, since I was unsuccessful the last time, but I failed, once again. I did, however, get an auto from Mike Fontenot….:

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….as well as a game homer from Tigers’ number one prospect, Nick Castellanos:

DSCN5602(Castellanos was a September call-up by the Tigers.)

May 9th – Durham Bulls Vs. Syracuse Chiefs

Not much to say about this game. Just that I finally got Wil Myers to sign for me; once on a program, and once on a card:

DSCN5845(Myers is a top candidate for 2013 American League Rookie of the Year.)

May 14th – Carolina Mudcats Vs. Salem Red Sox

I didn’t have the chance to get an autograph from Indians’ top prospects, Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin, as I was too busy getting autos from all the Red Sox’ top prospects. Salem was loaded with great players when I saw them in May, and I ended up getting an auto from Garin Cecchini, Blake Swihart and Brandon Jacobs:

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Then, after the game, I picked up a game used, unbroken bat from Deven Marrero:

DSCN5719(Great guy — actually took the time to sign nicely, unlike Hawkins.)

May 30th – Carolina Mudcats Vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks

I was able to get an autograph from Cheslor Cuthbert, however, due to a mistake on my part, I missed out on Royals’ top prospect, Kyle Zimmer. Although, I did manage to finally get an autograph from Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin after the game — both are super-nice guys. I was happy to finally get those:

DSCN5847(Lindor would go on to take part in the 2013 Futures game, up in New York City.)

June 3rd – Durham Bulls Vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

I was really hoping to get an autograph from Chien-Ming Wang, but I never saw him in the dugout before the game, so I figured he wasn’t there. But after the game, I ended up running into him on my way out of the ballpark. Turns out, Wang had been in the stands, charting the game. So I was thankfully able to get him:

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I also got a game home run ball hit by Ronnier Mustelier:

BL2j594CIAI5CH_(Chasing down home run balls never gets old.)

June 15th – Durham Bulls Vs. Indianapolis Indians

With the great year he was having, I was looking to get an autograph from Vince Belnome, since I had finally gotten his card. Not only did I get Belnome, but I also got Jake Odorizzi; as well as Wil Myers, for the third time:

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(Little did I know that this would be the last time I’d ever see Myers with the Bulls, as he was called up the next day.)

June 17th – Durham Bulls Vs. Louisville Bats

I had been planning on attending this game since before the season even started. The record holder for most stolen bases in a single season, with 155, Billy Hamilton, was set to be there, and I was looking to get his autograph. I was able to get it, as well as an auto from Reds’ prospect Henry Rodriguez:

DSCN5850(Two things: Hamilton is now in the majors, and Rodriguez needs to work on his auto.)

June 25th – Carolina Mudcats Vs. Frederick Keys

I didn’t think I’d be going to this game, but I got an offer from Orioles’ prospect, Nick Delmonico, for free tickets, and I couldn’t pass it up. I was able to thank him in person, as well as get him to sign a card, making it a great time:

DSCN5851(Delmonico is now part of the Brewers’ organization.)

June 29th – Baltimore Orioles Vs. New York Yankees

Didn’t get any autographs, but had a great time.

Check out my recap HERE.

July 26th – Seattle Mariners Vs. Minnesota Twins

As with the Baltimore game, nothing too exciting.

Check out my recap HERE.

August 20th – Durham Bulls Vs. Charlotte Knights

Third straight game without an auto, but Chipper Jones was there, so it was fun anyway.

Check out my recap HERE.

August 24th – Durham Bulls Vs. Norfolk Tides

This game turned out to be the most successful game of the season; as I got four out of the five guys I wanted an autograph from to sign for me. Those players include Orioles’ top prospects, Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop, as well as Alex Liddi and Eric Thames. All were extremely nice about it, and I was surprised with the number of autos I got:

DSCN6936(As with Rodriguez, some of these autographs need work.)

September 3rd – Durham Bulls Vs. Indianapolis Indians

As if this game wasn’t exciting enough, being a playoff game, I was able to get autos from Pirates’ number one and two prospects, Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco:

DSCN6938(Both are expected to do big things in the majors as soon as next season.)

September 10th – Durham Bulls Vs. Pawtucket Red Sox

Didn’t get any autographs or home run balls — bad way to end the season.

But what a season it was.

I can’t wait for next year; when the auto collecting, home run chasing, and prospect scouting can start all over again.

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By the Numbers

Though you could take the time for yourself to add it all up, I figured I’d make things a bit easier. Here’s a numbers recap of my 2013 MiLB & MLB season:

Games attended: 16

Win-loss record for the home team: 12-4

Total runs scored (Home Team-Visitor): 102-44

Top 100 prospects seen in person: 16

Autographs from top 100 prospects: 8

Total autographs: 26

Game used gear: 2 bats (Courtney Hawkins & Deven Marrero — both signed.)

Game homers: 3 (Ernesto Mejia, Nick Castellanos & Ronnier Mustelier)

Total miles traveled to & from games: 7,740 (Including Baltimore & Seattle)

Final Baseball Game of the Year for Me

Tonight’s Bulls game versus the Pawtucket Red Sox will be my final game of the season.

The Bulls are in the final round of the Governors’ Cup Playoffs, against Pawtucket, in a best three out of five series, to determine the winner of the International League, and after Wednesday’s game, won’t play at the DBAP until April of next year.

Starting for the Bulls, in tonight’s game one, is their Ace, Jake Odorizzi, who has been outstanding all year; even more so in his past two home starts. On the mound for the opposing Red Sox is Anthony Ranaudo, who has also had a great season and is subsequently sure to pitch a great game.

As with any game I go to, I’m looking to try for autographs. Mainly, at this game, I’m hoping to get an auto from Pawtucket’s Matt Barnes and Bryce Brentz. Earlier in the season, when they first came to Durham, the Sox had Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Allen Webster on the roster, but I wasn’t able to attend, as I was across the country in Seattle — they’re all in the majors now.

But in the end, with two great pitchers, along with two outstanding teams, it’s sure to be an exciting conclusion to the season for me, regardless.

Overall, it’s been a really fun year, and I’ve been able to attend more baseball games (mostly minor league) this season than in all of the other years of my life combined; including a game at two different MLB ballparks (Safeco Field and Camden Yards) — the first time I’ve ever done so in the same year. Truly something when you think about it.

I’ve seen numerous MLB top prospects — Nick Castellanos, Billy Hamilton, Wil Myers, Francisco Lindor, Jameson Taillon and Courtney Hawkins, to name a few — and have gotten a good deal of autographs this season. (I plan to post a recap of it all in the next week or so.)

But as fun as this year has been, I’m already looking ahead to next season.

The Bulls are set to host the 2014 AAA All-Star game, in July of 2014, and I’m fully planning to attend. With so many top prospects in one place, it’s any autograph collectors’ dream. The festivities are also going to include a Home Run Derby, showcasing some of the best sluggers on the Triple-A level; many of which will become big league stars. So, obviously, that’s something to be excited about.

In addition to my readiness for the 2014 MiLB season, I’m also looking forward to the 2014 MLB season, as the schedule for each team is set to come out later today. I’m sure I’ll make it to one or two games next year — which games is yet to be determined — and therefore, I’m going to study the schedules to plan out which teams I’ll be seeing.

But even with the season almost over for me, there’s still tonight’s game left to be played.

And I’m going to make the absolute most of it.

8/20/13 Bulls Game: Chipper Jones Number Retirement

I wasn’t originally planning to attend this game, as I had already gotten most of the Bulls players autographs that I wanted, and the opposing team, the Charlotte Knights, didn’t really have any players that were worth a trip out to the ballpark. But when it was announced back in June that the Bulls were going to retire Chipper Jones’ uniform number in August, and that Chipper himself was going to be there, of course I had to go.

As with any game I go to, I showed up (along with my dad) to the ballpark around thirty minutes before the gates were set to open. With the large crowd expected, due to Jones being there, the gates opened up an extra thirty minutes earlier than usual, which was nice, as when I headed down to my normal spot beside the Bulls dugout, I was able to witness batting practice for the first time at the DBAP:

DSCN6894Taking in batting practice at this particular ballpark is something I’ve always wanted to do — it’s usually over by the time the gates open — ,however, after seeing it, I can honestly say that it wasn’t any grander than any other BP I’ve seen at major league parks. (I guess that makes sense; I don’t know what I was expecting, really.)

But getting back to Chipper Jones; I stuck around by the dugout for nearly an hour, at which point the ushers cleared out the aisles. I made my way to an empty nearby seat, and shortly thereafter, Chipper entered the ballpark, in a Porsche (as to be expected), to make a “parade lap” around the warning track:

DSCN6901It was great to see Chipper again, for what will likely be the last time. The crowd was electric upon his entrance, and it truly was an amazing moment to be apart of.

After making his way around the park, and back to the infield, Jones headed up onto the stage that had been set up for the ceremony, where he was given a piece of the old ‘Hit Bull, Win Steak’ sign…:

DSCN6912….shown a brief highlight video of his career….:

DSCN6914….and presented his number 10 retirement plaque….:

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….before taking to the podium, for his speech:

DSCN6921Jones didn’t speak terribly long, but he didn’t have to. People know what he did here, and what he went on to do. A no doubt Hall of Famer, Chipper Jones is one of those few players that comes along and just does everything right, both on and off the field. Calling Durham “the greatest place to play Minor League Baseball in the country”, the fans still, and always will, admire Jones as one of the best to ever come through Durham, on the way to a successful Major League career.

After throwing out the first pitch of the game, Chipper quickly exited the ballpark. Although I didn’t get an autograph like I was hoping, it was still one of the greatest times I’ve ever had out at a Minor League Baseball game. It was an incredible night.

But the night didn’t end when Chipper Jones left. There was still a game to be played.

Bulls’ starting pitcher, Mike Montgomery, started off the night great, as he didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning. After the one hit, however, the wheels fell off. Giving up three runs in the fourth, the Bulls quickly found themselves down 3-1. But they didn’t waste any time answering back, posting three runs of their own in the bottom half of the same inning.

Both teams would score a run in the fifth, putting the score at 5-4, Bulls. And that’s how things would end. (An appropriate ending to the night, in my book.)

I stopped by the Bulls’ retired numbers wall on the way out of the ballpark, where Jones’ number had already been added:

DSCN6935I have no doubt I’ll stop to glance at the wall every time I head out to the ballpark from now on; recalling the night of August 20, 2013 — one of the most special nights I’ve ever experienced at the DBAP.

Durham Bulls to Retire Chipper Jones’ Number

Twenty-one years since playing for the Bulls, Chipper Jones is returning to Durham.

Jones is set to join Crash Davis, Joe Morgan and Bill Evers as the only players to ever have their number retired by the Bulls, in a chipper28retirement ceremony on Tuesday. Morgan currently holds the distinction of being the only Bull to go on to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but that’s likely to change, once Chipper becomes eligible a few years down the road.

Jones played with the Bulls for a total of 70 games during the 1992 season, in which he batted .277 with four home runs and 31 RBIs. This coming back when the Bulls were the Class-A affiliate of the Braves, Jones would go on to become an eight-time All-Star, playing for the Braves his entire career.

Jones’ career MLB stats of 468 home runs and 1,623 RBI’s, coming over 2,726 hits, will go down as one of the best careers of anyone to ever don a Bulls uniform.

The uniform number retirement ceremony for Chipper Jones is set to take place at around 7:00, before tomorrow night’s Bulls game. And I’m planning to be there.

Gates are set to open at 5:30, and I’m hoping to be one of the first inside. This will more than likely be my last time seeing Chipper, and I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to get his autograph. (I’m going to try to get it on a 2012 All-Star baseball, that I won last year in a Twitter contest.) But no matter what happens, it’s sure to be an exciting night, and I’ll be sure to blog about it all on Wednesday.

But as if that’s not enough baseball excitement for one week, I’m also planning to attend Saturday’s Bulls game, versus the Norfolk Tides (AAA affiliate of the Orioles).

The Tides are loaded with great players and prospects, with the most notable being Orioles number one and number five prospects, Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop, who have both been having great seasons. I’m hoping to pick up an autograph from both. (Eric Thames, Zach Britton, Danny Valencia and Freddy Garcia being the other players I’m after for an auto.)

I haven’t yet decided whether or not I’ll be blogging about Saturday’s game, but you never know. It really depends on if anything out of the ordinary occurs, and how much else is going on around the rest of the baseball world. So, stay tuned….

4/24/13 Durham Bulls Vs. Toledo Mud Hens

I hadn’t been planning on attending this game–under normal circumstances I probably wouldn’t have–but I was trying to accomplish what I was unable to do the last time I was at the ballpark: Get an autograph from Rays’ number one prospect, Wil Myers. That was my main reason for being there, on what turned out to be a fantastic day for a ballgame: DSCN5586 I figured with it being a day game there wouldn’t be as many people at the ballpark, making it easier to get autographs. I was partially right, as while there was a decent amount of people at the game, there were fewer than usual autograph seekers. But in the end, fewer people didn’t do much good, as just like the first Bulls game I had attended, a couple weeks ago, Wil Myers didn’t sign for me. It was very frustrating.

But I didn’t let it bring me down, as the game itself was far more exciting. With there being fewer fans than usual, you could basically sit wherever you wanted, and I ended up sitting in the fourth or fifth row to start the game. The close proximity to the field made the game all that more enjoyable. (Not that I don’t always have a great time at the ballpark.)

Bulls’ starting pitcher for the game, Jake Odorizzi….: DSCN5589 ….didn’t do as well as I had expected him to (though he would get the win) giving up a solo-shot to the third batter of the game, Nick Castellanos, who would go 3-3 for the game.

The home run was a very big deal for me because (for those of you who don’t know) Castellanos is the Tigers’ number one prospect, and baseball’s 21st overall prospect. My heart literally skipped a beat when he crushed the ball out onto the center field grass and I was still seated in the infield. I looked on for a few minutes, fully expecting someone to run out there and grab it, but to my surprise, no one did. A few people went over to have a look, but no one grabbed it. I couldn’t stand to just sit there, so I decided to see if I could make it over in time to get the home run ball.

Now, something you have to realize, at the Durham Bulls ballpark, it’s not a mere walk to the outfield. There’s a big flight of stairs you have to climb before you can make the trek over. During that climb, I had my eye off of the center field grass for nearly half a minute, and I was worried that during that short period of time, someone had gone out to get the ball. But thankfully, when I finally made it to the outfield, in what must’ve been record time, I saw a little white speck over in the grass. I patiently waited for three outs to be recorded before I jumped the short fence, and trotted over to grab the ball: DSCN5602This was Nick Castellanos’ second home run of the season, and just the 19th of his career.

After grabbing the ball, I decided to stay seated in the outfield for a few more innings, just in case anyone blasted a home run onto the grass, but looking back, that was a dumb decision. I ended up getting sunburnt, and as I sit here typing this, my arms tingle with every keystroke. (Perhaps not wearing sunscreen was the dumb decision?)

Anyway, when it became apparent that no one was going to hit a home run in my direction, and that my arms were turning red, I gave up my outfield view, for my original seat, where I had begun the game: DSCN5616I know it doesn’t appear to be, but the seat I was in had just fallen into the shade. It felt good to not have my skin roasting anymore.

Since I had been in the outfield for the majority of the game up until this point, I had missed Wil Myers’ first two at-bats. Therefore, I ended up taking roughly 30 pictures of Myers (I won’t share them all, don’t worry) beginning with his third at-bat of the game….: DSCN5641 ….and continuing with him above the dugout….: DSCN5653 ….in the on-deck circle….: DSCN5658 ….and ending with him on first base, after singling in his final at-bat: DSCN5690 I went a little Myer’s-crazy. I know. I admit it. But hey, it’s Wil Myers.

The Bulls would go on to win the game, 9-8, despite an attempted comeback from the Mud Hens, who scored four runs in the top of the eight inning. I failed, yet again, in getting Myers to sign for me after the game, but I was able to get Mike Fontenot to autograph a card for me. So it wasn’t a total loss for the day, autograph-wise.

It remains a top priority for me to get an auto from Wil Myers, and although I won’t be able to attend tonight or tomorrow night’s game, if he’s still with the Bulls when they return home from an 8-game road trip, on May 6th, I plan on going back. It’s certainly a challenge to get an autograph from Wil Myers, but I generally enjoy challenges, and refuse to give up.

Chapman Prefers Closing; Myers To Begin 2013 In AAA

When it was first reported that the Cincinnati Reds had plans to convert Aroldis Chapman–known for his overpowering fastball, that’s been clocked up to 106 MPH–from closer to a starter, to begin the 2013 season, I couldn’t help but question the decision.mlb_u_chapman_b1_400

Chapman struggled a bit last year after pitching in multiple outings in a row, so I don’t understand what good would it really do to make him a starter. And now, with the recent comments from Chapman himself that he would prefer closing out games over starting, I question the change even more.

“In the beginning when I started closing, it was something I didn’t know,” Chapman stated in an interview. “But as I started throwing and getting into the late part of the game when the game is more exciting and has more meaning, I kind of liked it. Yeah, the adrenaline goes up and I like to be in that situation. I would like to be a closer, yeah, but there are some things that I can’t control.”

I understand that the Reds would like for Chapman to have a greater impact on the entire game, rather than just the ninth inning, but I feel they should just leave things the way everyone’s used to: With Chapman as their closer. That’s where Chapman feels the most comfortable, and where he has proven to be the most dominant–recording 38 saves off a 1.51 ERA, with 122 strikeouts in 71.2 inning pitched, last season.

To me, there’s too much uncertainty to have the move work out in the long run, especially with Chapman not fully on board.

In other news, Wil Myers was reassigned to minor league camp on Saturday, ensuring that he will begin the 2013 season with Triple-A Durham. Thus finally answering the question everyone had on their minds throughout the entire offseason, of whether or not Myers would break camp with the big league club.

Myers seems to be taking the news well, stating, “It was something I knew was going to come eventually. It wasn’t a surprise at all…I’m really looking forward to getting down there [to minor league camp] and getting some at-bats….I really enjoyed my time here, it was a blast. But now I’m ready to get down to business.”

While I somewhat disagree with the Rays’ decision, Myers beginning the year with Durham guarantees the opportunity for fans, like myself, to see the number four prospect in all of baseball in action. So I can’t really complain all that much.

UPDATE: 3/21/13

The Reds have made the decision to leave Aroldis Chapman as their closer.

2013 Durham Bulls Fan Fest

About a year ago, I made the statement that I’d love to take batting practice and play catch on a professional baseball field, should the opportunity ever present itself. Little did I know that there was a way to make my wish a reality, as the local Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Durham Bulls, hold a fan fest twice a year, giving fans the chance to participate in both of the activities I was looking to take part in.

When I first learned that there was such a thing as fan fest, in October of last year, I already had a vacation planned with my family, so I unfortunately couldn’t attend. Therefore, when it was announced that they were holding another one in March, I made sure to mark the date on my calendar.

I wasn’t going to miss it this time around.

Accompanied by my dad, I arrived at fan fest at 12:30, right at an hour and a half after the gates first opened:

image2The line you see extending from the batting cage is (obviously) the line of fans waiting for their chance to hit.

With the line being so long (continuing further out of the frame in the picture above), we decided to go ahead and play catch first. So we made our way down the steps, and into the outfield:

image4All of the balls were being used when we first arrived–we weren’t told to bring our own, though I think most people did–however, a couple of kids were nice enough to let the both of us play catch with them, in a square formation, of sorts.

After the four of us played catch for around 30 minutes, the plan was to head to the batting cage, to take some hacks, but after watching a few people take their turn, it came to my attention that you only received five swings. Knowing that I would more than likely swing and miss on every pitch, I figured it wasn’t worth it. So after a stop in the Bulls’ dugout….

image6….I decided to take a trek around the outfield warning track:

image9Here’s what it looked like from straight away center field:

image8From where I was standing, it’s exactly 400 feet to home plate.

I continued my walk, ending up over by the blue monster….

image11….where I had my picture taken, just before my dad and I made our way out of the ballpark:

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I had a great time at Bulls fan fest. It’s something I’d recommend to anyone, if you’re ever in the area when they hold it. But then again, it’s hard not to have fun anytime baseball is involved.

All of the pictures were taken on my phone, so if they seem a bit blurry, that’s why.

Should Wil Myers Begin 2013 In the Minor Leagues?

Although Spring Training games have yet to begin, the current speculation is that Rays’ phenom Wil Myers will start 2013 with AAA Durham, instead of with the big league club, down in Tampa, regardless of how he performs over the course of the next month. This leaves many people wil-myers-landov2(myself included) to ask the question: Is this the right decision for Myers?

I’m not 100 percent sold on the idea.

This past season, before getting traded from the Royals to the Rays, in December, Myers batted .314 with 37 home runs and 109 RBI’s, between AA North West Arkansas and AAA Omaha. The expectation was for Myers to receive a September call up from the Royals, however, that didn’t end up happening. Leaving many people scratching their heads.

In response to not calling up Myers, the Royals made the statement that they didn’t feel he was big league ready. While that might be true, I still don’t understand why they didn’t give him a shot for the last few games of the season, especially with them not being in play off contention; just as I’m not fully understanding the Rays’ logic with Wil Myers, going into the 2013 season.

According to Rays’ manager Joe Maddon, the decision to keep Myers down in the minors, to begin the season, is merely a “baseball decision”, that would give Myers a greater chance of success once he makes the transition to the major league level, sometime this season. Maddon is known for preferring this type of strategy, as his recent comments would suggest:

“I just think that it’s easier for a player with that kind of expectation level to get some time under his belt on a Minor League level, get it rolling, get the feel going, when you know it’s going well, then walk into a big league situation. Not as difficult as opposed to leaving a camp with all this expectation, all this hype then having to match up to that on a Major League level right out of the chute.”

I sort of understand where Maddon is coming from, though I still have to disagree.

While it’s vastly debated as to whether or not Maddon’s approach with Myers is the correct one, there’s no argument when it comes to if Myers has enough natural talent, and potential, to perform at the big league level. Anyone can see that, just by watching the guy play. No one more so than Rays’ hitting coach, Derek Shelton, who, after day one of Rays Spring Training, had this to say about Myers, and his talent level:

“The thing that’s the most impressive is the bat speed. The way the ball comes off his bat….You don’t see very many people who generate that kind of bat speed….It’s loud. It’s a different sound….You don’t hear many guys that can create that sound….it’s exciting to see.”

After reading all of what Shelton had to say, combined with my personal observations of Wil Myers’, and his stats from 2012, if it were up to me, I’d choose to let him loose to see what he can do at the major league level. Worst-case scenario, Myers doesn’t produce, and the Rays could then decide to either work through it or send him back down to the minors. But there’s always the possibility that Myers could hold his own, picking up where he left off in 2012, absolutely tearing it up out of the gate.

To me, the mere chance that Myers could be an impact player for the Rays to begin the season is enough to give him a shot. Playing in the somewhat difficult American League East, if the Rays want a chance to win their division, I’m not sure they can afford even a few weeks without Myers.

Q and A With Stephen Vogt

Stephen Vogt was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 12th round of the 2007 draft. Since the draft, Vogt has been able to steadily work his way up through the ranks of the Rays’ system, all the way up to AAA Durham; where he currently resides. (This year with Durham, Vogt has posted a .269 batting average, with 9 home runs and 43 RBI’s.)

Earlier this season Vogt received a taste of what it’s like to play in the big leagues, as he spent 10 games with the Rays. Things didn’t go as planned for Vogt, however, as he went hitless in all 17 of his at-bats; though he did put the ball in play in all but 2 of them.

Although his short stint in the Majors didn’t go all that well, Vogt still has a good shot of making it back to the big leagues in the near future, if he can continue to post decent numbers. (Something he’s been able to do fairly consistently throughout his baseball career.) He certainly has the work ethic, and determination to make it happen.

Stephen Vogt–utility man in the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization–took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I was always interested in playing baseball from a very early age.  I loved playing anytime, all the time.  My father and brother helped me the most at a young age.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

Barry Bonds was my favorite player because I was a huge Giants fan and [he] is one of the greatest hitters of all time.  Every time I went to watch him play it was the most exciting moment, whenever he stepped in the box.

3.) You were drafted by the Rays in the 12th round of the 2007 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you found out? Initial thoughts?

I was a senior in college and was hoping to just get a chance to play.  I was at my parents house with some friends and my wife just waiting to see my name pop up on the computer and fortunately it did.

4.) You made your MLB debut on April 6th of this year. How did you receive the news that you’d been called up? What do you remember from that game? 

I was told by our hitting coach in AAA, Dave Myers, that I was going up and I immediately began to shake and just have an overwhelming excitement come over me.  I remember getting my name announced with all the great players of the Rays and Yankees and thinking how honored I was to be there. My journey through baseball had so many twists and turns that I was just humbled and honored to be there.

5.) After spending 10 games with the Rays you were sent back down to AAA Durham. What aspect of your game are you currently working on most to hopefully help speed up your journey back to the big leagues?

I am working mostly on my quality of at bats.  I learned a lot about hitting in my short stint in the big leagues to know how much more detailed everything has to be.  At bats are much different than AAA.

6.) Playing at the Triple-A level, do you feel any more pressure to perform well in every game then you did in the lower ranks of the Rays’ organization, when you weren’t just a phone call away from ‘The Show’? 

The only pressure you feel is the pressure you put on yourself.  I have to just relax and play the way I know how.

7.) Favorite thing to do on an off day during the season?

Nothing! Honestly the pool and a nice BBQ’d steak for dinner are what make me happy on off days.

8.) Favorite food?

Steak and potatoes.

9.) Favorite TV show?

White Collar and Saved by the Bell.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

You have to love the game and be dedicated to working everyday to be the best you can be.  In a professional season you will get worn out and tired and the love of the game and hard work will get you through any tough times you may have.  Also, family will keep you focused on the goal.  Without my wife Alyssa’s support I would never be where I am today.

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Big thanks to Stephen Vogt for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on twitter: @SVogt1229

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