At the risk of sounding jaded, Wednesday night marked the fifth straight season I have watched the IronBirds play their first game at Ripken Stadium. It was a bit unusual in that it was not "opening day," because the IronBirds opened up the 2012 campaign on the road at Hudson Valley, but you would never have been able to tell that from the number of people who showed up. Seeing a sell-out crowd at Ripken Stadium reminds me of what 2009 first-round pick Matt Hobgood said last year, when he was assigned to Aberdeen for a rehab stint: "The fans here are pretty intense. I just came up from the Gulf Coast League, and I think the average attendance was three people per game." Hobgood was obviously joking, but I'm glad I don't have to cover baseball games at some field in south Florida that doesn't have a press box and is so empty on game nights that you can hear the players chattering in the dugout. Full stadiums and air-conditioned press booths are a-OK with me. In any case, to stick with last week's idea of expanding on the things I jotted down in my gameday notebook, here are my thoughts on the IronBirds' home opener.
One heck of a professional debut: Please excuse me for starting this thing on a non-IronBirds note, but I'm an objective observer of the games I cover, not a fan, and Hudson Valley starter Taylor Guerrieri had one of the best professional debuts I've ever witnessed. I have seen guys hit home runs in their first pro game (I'm pretty sure Steven Bumbry did this, but I can't verify), and I have watched guys toss very good games during their first starts after being drafted, but Guerrieri takes the cake. He was bringing his fastball across at 92 to 94 mph, while his changeup dragged in around 84 mph and had late movement, and he was throwing his breaking ball for strikes. The IronBirds couldn't do much with him, but as soon as he left after the fifth, they tagged his replacement for three runs and tied it up, 3-3. That's one of the things about this level of baseball; even if the guy is throwing a no-hitter, you're going to see a reliever in the sixth or seventh inning.
Gary Allenson is patient: During post-game interviews, Aberdeen skipper Gary Allenson, whom I mentioned in last week's column (specifically, I said he was a bit intimidating), answered one of the assembled journalists' questions by saying, "Well, at this level of baseball, it's all about patience. You have to be very patient," and smiled at us. Maybe I'm reading into this more than need be, but I think he was employing a double entendre, implying that managers, in addition to nurturing budding baseball talents, need to be patient with the sportswriters as well. I thought it was pretty funny, double meaning or not.
Retaliation, not so much: IronBirds' catcher Pedro Perez, who has been in the Orioles' organization for three seasons since joining the Dominican Summer League in 2009 at age 18, had his bell rung twice on Wednesday night, once in the third and again in the eighth, both times when applying the tag to runners who were trying to score from third on ground balls to shortstop Joel Hutter. The second was the worst of the two, as the Hudson Valley runner applied an old wrestling move, the "double ax handle," to the side of Perez's head, but it didn't seem to bother him so much. Now, I don't know if retaliation for such acts was more prevalent in the minor leagues when I was a kid, but growing up I was bombarded with stories of vengeance being meted out on major league diamonds. A guy runs over your catcher, he gets dusted off with an inside pitch the next time up, or maybe, if he's a middle infielder and there's a double play ball, he catches a shoulder directly in the thighs instead of a normal, hard slide. If a pitcher plunks one of your hitters, one of their hitters of equal or lesser ability gets plunked in turn. It's a macho series of checks and balances called, "the code," and every time I see something like a catcher get decked on a play at home, I start thinking, "are they going to retaliate for that?" Well, thankfully, nobody really has the time to sort all that out in Class A baseball, where everyone is just trying to adapt to the professional game and move up the ladder. If there's a message in there, it's this: don't bother with the hooligan behavior, younger players, because you're wasting time you could be using getting better. If you want to get back at a guy who ran over your catcher, have more runs when the game is over.