Friday, October 15, 2010

5 Best Things I Saw at the Ballpark - 2010

Even though I don't live in Baltimore these days, I still go to a lot of games every season. I figured it was worth my while to go through my memory banks and coming up with some of the best things I saw during the 2010 baseball season. These aren't necessarily Oriole related or even MLB related but here they are.

Honorable Mention - The One That Got Away

The Norfolk Tides were coming to the Atlanta area (vs. the Gwinnett Braves)  in late April and I was only going to be able to get out to one game during the week. I decided to go to Thursday's game since Jake Arrieta would be pitching on April 29th and I hadn't seen him pitch yet. Chris Tillman was going on Wednesday but I had seen him a couple times in 2009.

Well, that one decision cost me the chance to see Tillman throw a no-hitter for the Tides. Minor leagues or not, I have never seen a no-hitter in person and I missed my shot by 24 hours. Adding insult to injury, Arrieta didn't even pitch that well and the Tides lost a lackluster contest to the G-Braves the following evening.

#5 - August 6th, Turner Field, Atlanta, GA: Chipper Jones Last HR?

I headed downtown to watch the Braves take on the Giants for a Friday night game, mostly to see Jason Heyward (who had not been in the starting lineup during my previous trips to Turner Field) and see Tommy Hanson pitch again. Heyward went 0-5 but Hanson pitched well as the Braves lost 3-2 in 11 innings.

But with 2 out in the bottom of the 6th, Chipper Jones hit a homer to left to give the Braves the 2-1 lead. He played three more games in 2010 before being shut down on August 11th. There is no guarantee that Jones will be healthy enough to return in 2011. So that was, perhaps, the last home run of a Hall of Fame career. It is also likely that I saw Chipper's last multi-homer game on June 7th, 2009 when he clubbed two off of Brewer's hurler Manny Parra.

#4 - April 10th, Fluor Field, Greenville, SC: Justin Dalles with a Moonshot

The Delmarva Shorebirds helped me get credentialed for this game (thanks Shorebirds!) and it was to be the professional debut of the Orioles' 2009 top draft pick, SP Matt Hobgood. So I was looking forward to watching Hobgood and catching prospect Micahel Ohlman on a fine spring Saturday evening in South Carolina.

But as with most of these stories, it's the things you are not expecting that end up making the game memorable. Hobgood pitched but was wild and gave up 3 earned runs over 4 innings pitched. Ohlman was dinged up from the night before and was replaced at catcher by University of South Carolina product Justin Dalles.

Leading off the top of the 7th, Dalles hit a mammoth solo home run to center. It's 420 ft to center with a 30 feet of wall/netting to clear. It cleared all of that with no problem. The centerfielder took two steps back than just stopped and watched it. It was a no doubter. I don't know how far that ball travelled as it sailed out into the inky blackness but it was the longest home run I've ever seen in person. It may have gone 500 ft.

#3 - August 14th, State Mutual Stadium, Rome, GA: Inside the Park Homer

I took the family out to watch the Rome Braves who were hosting the Augusta Green Jackets for a Saturday night game. Well, my family was basically there to see Birdzerk. There weren't any prospects of note playing that evening so I was there purely to watch a minor league baseball game the old fashioned way...with no angles.

In the top of the 8th, there was a man on second with one out. The game was tied 4-4 and Augusta 2B Ryan Cavan strode to the plate to face Rome reliever Kyle Mertins. Cavan proceeded to hit a loopy liner to right center. Rome CF Bobby Rauh sprinted toward the gap and dove for the ball hoping to prevent the man on second from scoring but he missed it and the ball bounced over him and rolled all the way to the wall. Cavan was not particularly fast but was running hard out of the box. He rounded third before the ball hit the cutoff man and scored a full step ahead of the ball for an inside-the-park home run. First one I've seen in person and probably the most exciting play I've seen all year.

#2 - June 28th, Turner Field, Atlanta, Ga: Stephen Strasburg vs. Tim Hudson

Strasmas came to Atlanta on June 28th as the rookie phenom squared off against Tim Hudson in a game that, at least for 6 innings, turned out to be the pitcher's duel that had been anticipated. After 6 innings, Strasburg had struck out 7, walked just one and allowed no runs. Hudson has struck out 5, walked 3 and had also allowed no runs.

The 7th inning told the tale however, as Hudson got through the 7th with a single hit allowed and Strasburg got wild, was victimized by an error on a sure double play ball and his bullpen gave up 4 runs after he exited. It was a fun atmosphere. Strasburg outpitched Hudson but Hudson kept finding ways to stay alive. Strasburg was also making the Braves lineup look silly for most of the evening and the Braves fans HATED him. They booed him at every turn, urges Hudson to throw at him whenever he came to bat and wished (prophetically, perhaps) terrible injury on the rookie. It's a game that I won't soon forget.

#1 - Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD: Josh Bell Goes Deep Twice, O's Spank Rangers

It was my first game at OPACY as a credentialed "journalist" and rookie 3B Josh Bell made it a memorable one. Bell's struggles against lefties were well known and he surprised everyone when he hit not one but two homers against lefty Cliff Lee. Luke Scott and Ty Wigginton got in on the act as they also went deep against the Rangers' ace. The crowd was on their feet in the 9th as Koji Uehara closed out the game. The atmosphere was electric and was a snapshot of the excitement Buck Showalter had brought to Baltimore late int he summer of 2010.

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