Archive for September 15th, 2008

Thunder Thoughts Postseason Plans

September 15, 2008

Just because the Thunder’s season has ended doesn’t mean that this blog will be going on hiatus.  In fact, as you read this, I’m likely on a train heading back from Yankee Stadium after hopefully working on stories on Phil Coke and Humberto Sanchez.

I’ve also still got my alumni feature with Brett Gardner, tons of leftover stuff from the season, and a championship winning team-signed baseball to give away.

Not to mention my annual awards, which I’ve given out through my paper since I first took over this beat before the 2006 season.  MVP, Cy Young and Good Guy awards will all be handed out.

So there are plenty of reasons to keep checking this blog out.

I’m going to make a thank you post sometime in the near future when I have the chance to sit back and really collect my thoughts about all of the countless people who have helped me out and made this blog what it’s become.

As for me, my season isn’t over.  One thing that probably 98% of the people who read this blog don’t realize is that the Thunder aren’t the only team I cover during baseball season…I also cover a team in the independent Atlantic League, and that team has also clinched a playoff berth.  So I’ve got at least another two weeks of work ahead of me.

In the meantime, keep checking back for updates on the blog, and make sure you check out the Bricktown Showdown tomorrow night.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Thunder React To Winning Second Straight Championship

September 15, 2008

An amazing season was capped off by an amazing celebration both on the field and in the clubhouse following the Thunder’s 5-1 Game Four victory over the Akron Aeros to win the 2008 Eastern League Championship.

Music was played at eardrum shattering levels, certainly some awful dancing took place, and there was plenty of collective hooting and hollering that could be heard echoing through the underbelly of the stadium after the final out.

Every square inch of the home clubhouse was covered in large plastic sheets, and so much champagne was sprayed inside that players were leaving wet footprints as they emerged and walked on the carpet in the hallway.

But the focus eventually shifted back to what the team accomplished on the field, and the participants couldn’t have been happier to talk about their long and successful journey.

TONY FRANKLIN

“Fantastic, it was fantastic.  They’re all special in their own way.  It’s special.  After last year’s season, you think that with it being such a magical season, you’re not going to surpass it.  To surpass what we did last year with championships in consecutive years, man that’s just fantastic.  It just doesn’t happen, I’ve spent a lot of time in this game.  I’ve been in this game a long time and won a couple championships here and there and gone to the playoffs a few times, but this is far and beyond what I ever thought could happen to me.  It’s still a lot of fun for me, and I guess that’s why I still do it.”

“You know what I think is special about them, is there ability to compete.  They’re a young club, I had a young club in terms of experience.  But I also had some guys in key positions who were back, like P.J., Colin Curtis, Jonesy.  But what impressed me most about these guys was their ability to compete.  These guys battled their butts off out there.  When you’ve got young guys, you’re just not sure what they’re going to do.  And here comes AJ with all of these press clippings and people touting him as being the next so and so, and in the back of my mind, I’m saying I’m not sure because I hadn’t seen him play except for that one week.  I see the tools, I see the ability to run, hit, throw.  Is he going to be able to do it consistently over 140 games?  He surprised the heck out of me, man.  He pulled it off.  The game last night was indicative of what you’re going to see for maybe 15-20 years in a Major League career.  That’s pretty special stuff.”

“(Winning it in Trenton) is even more special, just in front of the hometown fans.  Where else would you want to win it?  These are the people who support you all year, why would you want to win it somewhere else.  We did it (in Akron) last year because of the schedule and it dictated that.  But the people here in Trenton are very supportive, they love their baseball.  They are very, very compassionate about what we do.  I’m just happy we were able to win them a championship.”

P.J. PILITTERE

“It’s nice to do it at home in front of the fans and the all the people that have supported us for how many years here in Trenton.  I’m sure a part of them missed out a little bit last year, but I’m sure it was great for them tonight to be a part of this.”

“It’s a great feeling.  It’s been a lot of hard work, it’s not easy.  We expected this to be a championship season, but I’m just glad it turned out the way it did.  It just shows you if you work hard enough, we can do this two years in a row.  It was nice to come out on top.”

“There’s been a lot of opportunities (in the clutch).  The ones you have success with will show up in the box score more than the ones you get out on.  I felt really confident up there.  I faced that guy a few times earlier in the series, and I was actually excited to have that matchup and get a chance to drive in a big run for us and get a chance to put a crooked number up there for us.”

JASON JONES

“I was just happy to get some innings in the playoffs this time around, it’s good to be a part of the championship.  It’s been a good year, and it was a great ending to my year.”

“Timely pitching, timely hitting and we had a great coaching staff.  Put it all together, and it’s still hard to go back to back.  All the guys did their part throughout the year.”

“Everything’s come together, everything’s been really good.  It’s great to win in front of our home crowd.  We have great fans, they’re just a great bunch of people.  It was awesome to win it in front of them.”

JEFF MARQUEZ

“Jones came in and did an awesome job, and the offense came through and did a good job.  I just had a good team behind me overall, and it was a good team win today.”

“(Being hurt) is stuff that you don’t want to happen, obviously.  But I’m healthy now, and I’m feeling good now, and that’s in the past.  Hopefully I can just keep on moving forward.”

“(Last year’s team and this year’s team) are very similar.  Good group of guys, tremendous staff.  Everyone’s like a big family, so that always helps going into playoffs and championship series like tonight.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Franklin’s First Trip To Yankee Stadium Will Be In Uniform

September 15, 2008

Tony Franklin has had a long, distinguished career in baseball.

39 years of service, to be exact, according to the man himself.

That’s a bunch of different uniforms, thousands of games and two Trenton Thunder championship rings.

But that’s all on the field.

Off the field, Tony Franklin is a first ballot Hall of Famer.  If they ever have a Good Guy Hall of Fame, he should be in the inaugural class.

Covering a team on a daily basis can be significantly more difficult if a manager or coaching staff doesn’t particularly enjoy dealing with the media.

I can say in all honesty that my two years of interacting with Tony have been an absolute pleasure, and our conversations before games tend to be the best part of my day.  The stories he has and the kindness he’s shown to both myself and fellow reporters are both priceless.

Something that had come up in a conversation during the season was that he’d never been to Yankee Stadium, which was hard to believe considering the amount of experience he has in the game and the proximity of Waterfront Park to New York.

Last night, Franklin revealed that he will in fact be heading to Yankee Stadium in a few days.

And he’ll be in uniform and on the field.

For anyone lucky enough to get to know him, you know he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“It’s fantastic,” said Franklin, with a smile from ear to ear.

“39 years in the game, and I’ve never seen Yankee Stadium.  And I’m so happy to be going.  I’m going to go out to Monument Park and I’m just going to sit there and take it all in and watch the guys play.  I really want to thank the Yankees for inviting me out there.  This is special for me.”

After that, Franklin will return home to Los Angeles to spend time with his wife, who he has not seen since February.

“I miss her tremendously,” he said.

And I think it’s safe to say the media will miss Franklin tremendously as well until the Thunder — and presumably Franklin — return to Trenton next April.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Jackson Named MVP; To Have MRI On Back

September 15, 2008

There were few things that hadn’t already been written about Austin Jackson.

You can scratch 2008 Eastern League Playoff MVP off that list, too.

“I don’t think you can expect something like that,” Jackson said after emerging from a loud and lengthy closed door clubhouse celebration.

“I think you just have to go out and try to play your heart out.  It’s the end of the season and you want to just leave it all on the field and hopefully it pays off.  It did tonight.”

Jackson had so many clutch moments during this postseason and certainly earned my vote for MVP.  With all those moments in mind — the home runs off of Buchholz and Edell, the stellar defensive plays, etc. — I asked him if he approached the postseason any differently than the first 140 games.

“You try to take it like any other game, even thought it’s not,” he said.

“You just want to play the game like it’s supposed to be played and come out with the victory.”

But although he downplayed it initially, it was hard for him to control his excitement over winning his second consecutive Eastern League championship ring.

“This is definitely what you play this game for,” he said.

“At the end of the season, you want to be in the playoffs and you want to be in the championship series.  I don’t think anything’s better than winning it in front of the home crowd.”

But not everything was positive regarding Jackson.  He told reporters after the game that he’s heading to New York to “get an MRI maybe” on his back to get it checked out. 

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Bronx Bomber

September 15, 2008

Humberto Sanchez is from the Bronx, you know.

A few days ago, he told me that he thought about wearing pinstripes in Yankee Stadium the second he got traded to the Yankees organization.

So with just one week left in the history of his hometown’s most treasured baseball cathedral, it was hard not be happy to learn that Sanchez’s dreams will come true.

Sanchez got an added bonus after celebrating with the Thunder in the clubhouse last night, learning that he was getting the call to go to the big leagues and play for the New York Yankees. 

And if you think people were happy for him, you should have talked to Sanchez himself…

“It’s a shock,” Sanchez told me in an exclusive chat.

“I’m just going to soak this in and enjoy it.  I’m going to go with my family and especially my wife, she’s real excited that our son’s going to see his daddy — he won’t remember it — but see his daddy pitch at Yankee Stadium.”

Sanchez, who is one of the most engaging and unfiltered athletes you’ll ever want to meet, was at somewhat of a loss for words when asked about pitching in front of a true hometown crowd.

“I still don’t know (how I’ll feel).  When I walk into the stadium tomorrow, I’ll find out,” he said. 

“But I’m absolutely excited and I’m just looking forward to the opportunity of being around something so big.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Eastern League Champion Photo Gallery

September 15, 2008

The players stand on the top step, waiting for the inevitable during the top of the 9th

The future of the Yankees?  Austin Jackson and Francisco Cervelli celebrate in the infield

The scoreboard says it all…

Chris Malec and Joe Muich celebrate their championship win

The fans were more into this game than any other I’ve seen at Waterfront Park

The Eastern League president congratulates Tony Franklin and his team

Eric Lipsman presents Franklin and a very happy group of players with the championship trophy

The players all celebrate with the trophy

Colin Curtis hoists the trophy over his head

Malec and Curtis don the championship apparel

Austin Jackson is presented with the playoff MVP award

Jose Valdez is happy to hoist the hardware

Boomer, Christian Garcia and Valdez hold the trophy

Garcia and Jeff Marquez pose for a picture with the trophy

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com


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