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….:

DSCN6916

….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:

image17

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