Monday, September 7, 2009

Minor League Fun

I decided to take my son Jack to catch some minor league baseball in New Britain, Conn., on Sunday.

Turns out that it was one of the smartest decisions I have ever made in my life, ranking somewhere after marrying my amazing wife and having a child, becoming a Yankees fan, and attending UConn (go Huskies!).

Why in the world would people voluntarily subject themselves to the disaster that was Sergio Mitre in the Yankees' embarrassing 14-8 loss to the Blue Jays in Toronto? The Yankees' lead in the AL East over the Red Sox was shaved 7-1/2 games and their magic number remained at 19.

The numbers on Mitre were ugly: 11 runs -- nine earned -- on 11 hits and two walks in 4-1/3 innings. Some of the Double-A pitchers I saw Sunday wouldn't have pitched anywhere near as poorly in Mitre's place. All I can say is thank goodness Josh Towers was recalled to eat 3-1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, Derek Jeter went 3-for-3 to push his career hits total to 2,718, four from passing Lou Gehrig as the team's all-time hits leader. With a double header today, it's very likely that Jeter will at least tie.

But that's enough from the major league game. Who really wants to relive that disaster anyway?

Last year I took Jack to a game at Yankee Stadium -- a 2-1, 10-inning victory over the Rays. Sidney Ponson started the July 9, 2008, game and Bobby Abreu drove in Jeter from first with the winner on a double. We sat in the lower deck, left field stands in fair territory.

Normally I wouldn't have taken Jack to a game when he was just 2 years old, but because it was the final year of the old Stadium, I wanted to make sure he could say that he saw a game at the field were the greats such as Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle played ... and have photographic evidence to back him up.

One of the photographs we took serves as the wallpaper on the laptop I use for work and whenever Jack sees the picture, he says, "Daddy, I want to go there again. I want to go to the ballfield."

Right now I have no plans on taking Jack to the new stadium this year or probably for the next couple of years because I want Jack to be old enough to have his own strong, sharp memories of his first experience in the new place. I want him to be able to recount the grandeur and glory of the new place in his own words.

But Sunday was an absolutely perfect baseball weather day, and with the Trenton Thunder in the area to face the New Britain Rock Cats in what was essentially a playoff game, I decided to take Jack. The Thunder needed to win Sunday and Monday to clinch an Eastern League playoff berth, while the Rock Cats needed just one win in their last two for that playoff spot.

I also figured it would be a good chance to scout some Yankee farmhands playing on the Thunder.

Of course, I quickly found out that with a 3-year-old, the last part of my plan was just a tad unfeasible. Jack fell asleep during the 50-minute car ride and woke up cranky as we pulled into the parking lot of New Britain Stadium.

We quickly purchased our tickets and settled into our seats behind home plate on the third base side just in time for first pitch.

But Jack was more interested in playing that watching, saying, "I need something to pitch with."

We managed go get through the first inning with the Thunder somehow batting around and scoring four runs and the Rock Cats answering with one in their half.

I decided to try to settle Jack down with some food. He wanted a cherry ice and I got some popcorn. Jack ended up eating most of the popcorn and I ended up eating most of the ice.

That got us through the second inning, but Jack still wanted "something to pitch with," so we headed to the gift shop. I was hoping to find a little matchbox car with a Rock Cats logo, but had no luck, so I got Jack a black baseball. That's something to pitch with, right?

Well, not quite. What Jack actually wanted was his glove. Oy.

So I decided to head down with him to the interactive fan area, where kids could play. That kept Jack thoroughly entertained for about two innings before we returned to our seats in the sixth.

But as we were walk back into the stands, Jack pointed out to the field and said, " Daddy, I want to play out there!"

Aha! My big opportunity. On Sundays the Rock Cats allow kids to run the field after the game, so I told Jack that first we had to let the players finish playing their game and if he behaved and watched the rest of the game, he could go on the field.

Problem solved, giving me a chance to snap off a few action shots with my very modest digital camera.

Getting a decent shot of a pitcher was no problem, though the camera isn't good enough to get a clean, sharp shot from that distance.

But trying to snap a shot with the ball hitting the bat at the point of contact proved much, much tougher.

Either I was too early ...

... or too late ...

... but I did manage to get one.

Jack meanwhile started to get into the game, clapping when everyone else did and enjoying the music, though he wasn't too sure of Rookie, the Rock Cats' mascot, when he paid us a visit in the seventh.

The eighth proved a little tough for Jack as he was starting to get a tad bored.

But the crowd came to life in the ninth as the Rock Cats had rallied to take a 6-4 lead before closing it out for their first playoff berth in six years (Hey, now I can actually say I say a playoff clinching game in person as a fan!)

And that's when the fun began.

I dropped Jack off on the field along the first base line, and Jack took off like a shot, running toward second and throwing his new ball. He continued toward third, but left his ball behind. A terrific staffer, however, grabbed the ball and chased after Jack to give it back to him.

Meanwhile I scrambled toward the third base side of the field to pick up Jack, who quickly headed toward home and decided to stay there. Thankfully a staff member let me on the field so I could convince Jack it was time to leave.

As we walked off the field, Jack said "Thank you, Daddy. That was fun."

Indeed it was, and I'm hoping it was the start of a love affair with the sport that will last Jack a life time.

Runners In Scoring Position
3-for-9 (.333)
351-for-1,290 (.272)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
134-for-471 (.285)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
286-for-1,017 (.281)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Monday, double header vs. Rays
Game 1, 1:05 p.m., YES
Matt Garza (7-9, 4.01 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (16-7, 3.48)
Game 2, 7:05 p.m., YES
Andy Sonnanstine (6-8, 6.62) vs. A.J. Burnett (10-8, 4.29)

The Yankees' bullpen has logged a lot of innings over the past four games and could use a break (though Mariano Rivera should be available to return from his slight groin strain). CC and AJ both need to go deep into their starts. A complete game from one would be nice.

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