Archive for September, 2010

Walbeck Canned By Pirates

September 30, 2010

As first reported by Cory Giger over at The Altoona Mirror, the Pittsburgh Pirates have informed Altoona Curve manager Matt Walbeck that he will not be welcomed back to the organization for the 2011 season.

And really, it makes sense.

I mean, it’s not like the guy led his team to the Eastern League championship in a year in which he won the Manager of the Year Award.  That picture of Walbeck you see to the left?  Definitely wasn’t taken after he got done celebrating on the field with his team after they won the title. 

And it isn’t like he’d won three league championships and Manager of the Year honors four times in six seasons.

Because if that were all true, then it would be a really, really ridiculous decision.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

See You At The Show…

September 22, 2010

I’m up at Yankee Stadium today, for what’s likely my last big league game of the season.  It’s Yankees-Rays and A.J. Burnett versus Wade Davis…get pumped and such.

Anyway, I’ll be putting the finishing touches on my minor league memories series, as well as catching up with a few of the Yankees 40-man roster call-ups.  So stay tuned.  Yeah.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Thank You, Part 3

September 19, 2010

Thank you.

Thank you for making the third season of Thunder Thoughts a success.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years.  I remember when I first started this, all I wanted to do was get more hits on this site than Pete Rose did in his career.  845,640 people later, and it’s clear that my prediction skills were off from the start.

In all seriousness, there’s a lot more that goes into making this blog what it is than people realize.  The irony of that story on the financial aspect of the game that so many of you read was that I made nothing for writing it.  A few tiny sponsorships aside, this blog is a labor of love more than it is a profitable endeavor.  The hours are tough, I don’t get to see my friends too much from April to September, and the games almost blend together after a while.

But it’s all worth it.

I’ve been blessed to work with an amazing group of people over the past three years.  You hear players saying “what a great group of guys this is” to the point where it’s little more than a cliche at this point, but this year’s group really was a great bunch to be around.  This blog is nothing without the players, who were great to deal with as a whole.

The coaching staff was great to talk to, as always…and you can’t help but mention Tony Franklin by name.  Before every game, after every game and sometimes inbetween, we’d bother him…errr, ask him questions about his ballclub and often have conversations that strayed far, far away from baseball.  You couldn’t ask for a better guy to deal with, and I wish him nothing but the best in the future — whether he comes back next year or finally gets the better opportunity he deserves.

And there’s always a special thank you that needs to be given to the front office.  I feel like I’m late if I’m at the ballpark any later than four hours before game time, so suffice it to say, I spent a lot of time at Waterfront Park and the various areas of it this year.  A good amount of that time is spent in the front office, and the first person I’ve visited with from the first time I covered this team back in 2004 has been Bill Cook.

Bill does an amazing, amazing job handling the teams media relations duties, and the blog wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it has been without him.  I ask him every day for ideas for stuff to put on the blog, and more often than not, he’d have a great tidbit I could share with everyone.

After I got done talking to Bill, I’d go to Justin Shackil or Jay Burnham, the team’s great radio duo.  Two great, helpful guys who are both very good at what they do.  It’s been a pleasure working with them this season as well.  Inbetween, Will Smith would be walking around and helping take care of all there is to take care of at a minor league ballpark.  I got to speak with Will a lot this year, and he’s a great guy as well.

And of course, there’s Eric Lipsman, who’s seen the team grow since its inception in 1994.  Eric and I talked baseball quite a bit, all with Chase and Derby within earshot.  The more I write about my daily Thunder routine, the more I’ll miss it…and everyone you’ve read about is a big part of that.

That’s the thing with the front office, lots of great people in there who were very supportive of what I did and were always willing to chat for a minute or two to break up the monotony of the day.  I’ve always said it feels like one big family in there, it’s always flattering to even feel like a tiny part of it for the five-six months in which they let me in their home.

And I couldn’t do this without the readers.  I certainly don’t do this for myself — although I was blessed to get to do many amazing things this season because of my work.  The feedback and support that I’ve received from you guys this season has been amazing as always, and I look forward to interacting with you guys during the off-season.

As for the blog itself and my future…well, one at a time.  I will have alumni features for you during the off-season, as well as any pertinent news and some early looks at who could be on the 2011 Thunder squad.  I’ll also have a “Minor League Memories” series, where some of the biggest stars in the game today talk about their memories of playing minor league baseball.

My future…I am, as of now, a freelance writer.  I’ve busted my tail and feel like I deserve an opportunity to be a full-time beat writer of a hockey or baseball team, which is my goal.  Anything I can do to work towards that goal will happen, and if that means coming back for a fourth season of Thunder Thoughts, then I’ll be back with a smile on my face.

Regardless of where my future lies, Waterfront Park will always be a special place for me.  I came here as a fan with my dad while I was growing up quite a few times, and I bought just about anything and everything I could with the Thunder logo on it.  Among those items were media guides, because I wanted to know as much as I could about every player on the team.  To have my name in that media guide and to have been able to cover the team that I grew up following…it means more than anyone can realize.

But , in the meantime, if anyone wants to drop my name for any open spots you may know of, I’ve got two words for you…

Thank you.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

ELCS Game 4: Post-Game Notes

September 19, 2010

– Trenton reliever Adam Olbrychowski left two tickets for “A Win” on the pass list before the game.  His teammates never came to pick them up.

Altoona ended the Thunder’s season last night, beating them by a final score of 5-2 to win the Eastern League Championship in four games.  The game wasn’t as close as the score might indicate, however.  The Thunder and Curve played a total of 36 1/2 innings.  Trenton led for a grand total of 1 1/2 of those.

The half inning came tonight, when Dan Brewer — the only member of the Thunder lineup who hit over .300 this postseason — plated Matt Cusick with a two-out RBI single in the third inning. 

That lead came to an abrupt end when Jim Negrych lined a ball off of Manny Banuelos in the fourth inning.  Initially, it seemed the ball struck the lefty starter in his right, non-pitching shoulder, but after the game, we learned Banuelos was actually struck in the neck.

Things went downhill from there.  Banuelos stayed in the game, and Altoona had Hector Gimenez up.  He’d already struck out twice in the game, but Trenton opted to intentionally walk him with two outs and a runner on third to get to Jim Negrych — who was 2-for-2 at that point and had nearly decapitated Banuelos.  Make that 3-for-3, as the move backfired and Altoona scored another run to make it, at that point, a 4-1 game. 

Damon Sublett homered in the seventh to make it a two-run game, but Cory Arbiso — who hadn’t pitched since September 5 — seemed to run out of gas and gave up a single to Chase D’Arnaud that scored another run.

– As the Thunder cleaned out their lockers, which was done in record time, by the way…the sounds of the Curve celebrating could be heard penetrating the clubhouse.  This was a tough pill for a lot of these guys to swallow.

“I hate losing, I absolutely hate losing,” said Thunder catcher Austin Romine.

“There’s nothing worse than seeing a dogpile on my field.  It just sucks being on the other end.  Last year, I was the one out there and I was the one in there celebrating.  It’s bittersweet, but all in all, it was a good season for us.”

“At the end of the day, I give a lot of credit to that team,” Romine said.

“This team came in and they weren’t afraid at all.  They didn’t bat an eye.  In that first game, when D’Arnaud hit a bomb off Pettitte, I knew we were in for a battle.  You know what, that’s a good team right there.  They’ve got some good players on that team, and their pitching is phenomenal.”

– Trenton hit .226 this series.  That will not get the job done. 

“If we hit .326, we may have a different story here, but we didn’t,” said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.

“I just don’t have an answer as to why we didn’t hit well.  I wish I knew.  Coming out of the New Hampshire series, I thought we were playing really well.  We didn’t continue to play like that.”

– Perhaps it’s a different story if Brandon Laird’s still here.  Or Justin Christian.  Or Edwar Gonzalez.  Or any of the pitchers that the Thunder lost.  They weren’t, so it wasn’t.

When I asked Franklin if he felt handicapped by a bench that consisted of three players that had a combined three Double-A at-bats between them, the response was predictable.

“I’m not even going to go there with that, and I’ve told you guys this all year long.  What we have is enough,” he said.

“I always feel what I have on my roster is enough.  We’ve got baseball players on this team, whether they’re left-handed or whether they’re right-handed…what I do expect from baseball players is production.  I didn’t feel handicapped, I felt we had an opportunity to win some baseball games.  This is not the major leagues.  We can’t make our lineup or put the roster together like the major league teams do.  And I think you guys are looking a little too far beyond that.  This is the minor leagues, and these are prospects.  Even though there’s a championship round, we need to develop.  They’re going to face left-handed pitching in their career, and they’re going to have to learn how to deal with it.  So no, I didn’t feel like I were handicapped.  I felt like we had baseball players out there who could handle the situation.”

I, of course, respectfully disagree with Franklin to an extent and point to the fact that Ryan Baker, Rob Segedin and Taylor Grote didn’t so much as get a sniff of the postseason.  With players such as Rene Rivera having gone 1-for-15 and Marcos Vechionacci going 2-for-16, having options like Edwar Gonzalez or Sublett coming off the bench in favor of Justin Christian sure might have made a big difference in this series instead of having to trot the same nine guys out there every night.

And don’t forget Brandon Laird, who won an Eastern League MVP title despite being in Scranton for final two months of the year.

“There’s no doubt that if they were here, this would be a completely different series,” Romine said.

“There’s no doubt that if all those starters that are in Triple-A were here…but that’s not the point of this.  I hate to say this, but the point of the Yankees is not to win a Double-A championship, it’s to win a World Series.  Those guys are supposed to be in Triple-A, they earned it.  Being here all year and being a catcher, I’ve got to be selfish and say I want them back, but there’s no doubt that if they were here, it would have been different.”

Infielder Justin Snyder had a bit of a different take on the matter.

“That’s like an excuse,” he said.

“We had capable players left and right here.  The sheer fact of people getting called up should have no bearing on our season.  Yeah, it sucks that Christian and Laird and our whole starting rotation got called up, but we had a bunch of guys come in and step up.  Our pitchers that got called up from Tampa, me and (Cusick) getting in regular time, it’s big.  Some people are going to have to make that adjustment on the way up the ladder, and a lot of people did that.”

And disagree all you want with what J.B. Cox did, but he would have actually pitched, unlike Ben Watkins, who collected dust over the past week.  But that is, to be clear, not Tony’s fault…the Yankees stacked Scranton and left Trenton out to dry, and Justin Christian and Edwar Gonzalez sat at home while their team got shellacked in the final round.

– Snyder, as he tends to do, said it best, when describing how long it will take to get over the Thunder losing the series.

“It’ll take a while,” he said.

“Esepcially after getting up 1-0 and thinking we have the upper hand, and them just coming into our place and just shoving it.  It’s going to be a bitter taste for a while.”

– Justin Wilson, who shut down the Thunder last night and went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 13 postseason IP, was named the 2010 Eastern League Playoff MVP.  I voted for Daniel Moskos, who converted all five save opportunities he faced and didn’t allow a run in six games…but hey, I clearly can’t predict anything.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Altoona Celebrates Eastern League Title

September 19, 2010

Gear is scattered all over the field as the Curve celebrate winning the championship…

Players and coaches embrace after emerging from the dogpile…

Curve manager Matt Walbeck is interviewed by a local station…

The team poses for one of several photos taken…

Altoona traveled well, with a good amount of fans making the 5 hour drive…

Josh Harrison (10) is one of several players to hoist the trophy…

Jordy Mercer (14) hands off the hardware to a teammate…

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Curve Beat Thunder, 5-2; Win First Eastern League Championship

September 18, 2010

Congratulations to the Altoona Curve, who defeated the Trenton Thunder, 5-2, to win the 2010 Eastern League Championship Series, three games to one, for their first title in franchise history.

I have video, more photos and post-game reaction from Tony Franklin, Justin Snyder and Austin Romine.  Stay tuned…

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

ELCS Game 4: In-Game Updates

September 18, 2010

Top 1st — Manny Banuelos struck out Chase D’Arnaud to start off the game…but Josh Harrison reached when third baseman Justin Snyder made a very poor throw to first base after charging a grounder.  But Banuelos got Mercer to strike out, and  Snyder redeemed himself on a 5-3 to Matt Hague to end the inning.  0-0.

Bottom 1st — Trenton again got two men on with two out, and again did nothing

 with it.  Marcos Vechionacci K’s on three pitches to end the threat.  0-0

Top 2nd — Banuelos ran into trouble with two outs, putting two men on…but he got out of it, inducing a 4-3 groundout to Anthony Norman to end the inning.

Bottom 2nd — 1-2-3 inning for Curve starter Tony Watson…0-0.

Top 3rd — And Banuelos matches with a 1-2-3 inning of his own, including a Jordy Mercer K.  0-0

Bottom 3rd  — Matt Cusick led off the inning with a triple, and Trenton finally puts a run on the board when Dan Brewer’s two-out single to right scores him…Thunder, 1-0, going into T4.

Top 4th — Very scary moment in the fourth here…with runners on second and third, Jim Negrych laced a ball through the middle that caught Manny Banuelos flush — he did not deflect it, and it struck him underneath his right, non-pitching shoulder.  Banuelos stayed in the game, but two runs scored on the play.  2-1, Altoona, going into B4.

Bottom 4th — Watson strikes out the side in order.  2-1, Curve.

Top 5th — Well, this one’s about over.  Matt Hague’s little flare of an RBI single dropped in right field and scored another Curve run to put them up, 3-1.  Then, with Hector Gimenez up…they intentionally walk him (he struck out twice) to get to Negrych (who went 2-for-2 and nearly killed Banuelos).  Negrych promptly doubled to left.  Banuelos got knocked out of the game for good that time, and Wilkins Arias came in to finish the frame.  With the way Trenton’s offense has done next to nothing this whole postseason, and it’s hard to think they have it in them to come back.  4-1, Curve.

Bottom 5th — Austin Krum singles to left field with two outs…Justin Snyder walks…but Brewer flies out to right field.  End of the threat.  Again.  4-1, Curve.

Top 6th — Cory Arbiso in…Altoona goes down without scoring.  4-1, Altoona.

Bottom 6th — Watson shuts them down again…1-2-3 inning.  He has 10 K’s tonight.  4-1, Curve.

Top 7th — Arbiso retires the Curve in order in the 7th…

Bottom 7th — Damon Sublett hits home run to right center to make this a 4-2 game…

Top 8th — Altoona has made it a 5-2 game…a single by Chase D’Arnaud and a double by Josh Harrison do the damage.  Josh Schmidt relieved Arbiso with two outs in the frame.

Bottom 8th — Trenton goes down 1-2-3 in the eighth with their 3-4-5 hitters up…

Top 9th — I’ve got to head down to the field…if anything miraculous happens, check Twitter.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

ELCS Game 4: Pre-Game Notes

September 18, 2010

5:55 PM — Lineup change.  I guess Miles Durham isn’t all right after all.  Anthony Norman moves from center field to right field, and Jose de los Santos goes to right in Durham’s place in the order, eighth.

5:45 PM — Not a whole lot going on here today…perhaps the most interesting thing that came out of the clubhouse was looking at the pass list and seeing that reliever Adam Olbrychowski left two tickets for “A Win.”

“I hope he or she comes on in,” quipped Thunder manager Tony Franklin.

4:00 PM — Lineups…

ALTOONA

Chase D’Arnaud, 2B
Josh Harrison, 3B
Jordy Mercer, SS
Matt Hague, 1B
Andrew Lambo, LF
Hector Gimenez, C
Jim Negrych, DH
Miles Durham, RF
Anthony Norman, CF

Tony Watson, P

TRENTON

Austin Krum, CF
Justin Snyder, 3B
Dan Brewer, RF
Austin Romine, C
Marcos Vechionacci, 1B
Rene Rivera, DH
Damon Sublett, LF
Luis Nunez, SS
Matt Cusick, 2B

Manny Banuelos, P 

3:45 PM — I have a note, but not related to this series…because honestly, there’s nothing to tell you just yet.

The Thunder have a survey on their website.  Take it.  You can win stuff.  And you can help them do a better job, too.  But yeah…win stuff.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Manny Banuelos, M.D.

September 18, 2010

You may recall the popular late 80’s-early 90’s television program, “Doogie Howser, M.D.”

In it, Neil Patrick Harris played a teenage doctor, holding the lives of his patients in his hands while still developing his craft. 

With their season on the line, the Trenton Thunder are relying on a teenager of their own with their playoff lives as well.

19-year-old Manny Banuelos, who has made a grand total of three Double-A starts, and is still in the early stages of his development, will take the ball for Game 4 at Waterfront Park later today.   

“I feel great, I’m not nervous,” Banuelos said.

“We have a little bit of pressure, we’re down 2-1 for (today).  I will try to get all my stuff pretty good to get a win.  I love this situation.  I can do my best.”

Thunder manager Tony Franklin obviously is well aware of what’s at stake for his young starter tonight.

“I don’t see it as a lot of pressure,” he said.

“I know he’s a young guy and is new to this level, but he was pretty good his last time against New Hampshire.  When you’re playing this time of year and you’re a pretty talented guy, I don’t think they feel like it’s a lot of pressure, I think they know they have to go out there and pitch a good baseball game.”

The Thunder certainly Wanda…errr…want to win tonight to extend the series to a decisive Game 5 on Sunday at 1:05 PM at Waterfront Park.  Banuelos feels he may have an advantage given that the Curve haven’t faced him yet this season.

“They don’t know me.  I know their hitters,” Banuelos said.

“I did the game chart a couple days ago and today.  I have a little bit of an idea of how I can throw to them.”

And if he doesn’t it’s all hands on deck for Franklin, who’s hoping to win his third championship ring in four seasons as Thunder manager.

“It’s the most important game of the season right now,” he said.  “We’ve got to win, there’s no question about it.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

ELCS Game 3: Post-Game Notes

September 17, 2010

– Confidence.  There would be no reason for the Thunder not to have had it against Altoona Curve starter Justin Wilson.  The 23-year-old lefty made just one appearance against Trenton this season, and they lit him up to the tune of three runs on six walks and three hits in a 2 1/3 inning outing that was his shortest of the year.

He may very well have turned in his best outing of the year tonight.

“I felt good out there, I got ahead of guys,” Wilson told me.

“I had awesome defense behind me with Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Miles Durham with that huge catch.  A lot of those guys played outstanding tonight.”

The Anaheim, CA native said that July 23 disaster against Trenton never so much as crossed his mind.

“That was a long time ago,” he said.  “I didn’t even think about it, truthfully.”

There is no “glass half-full” situation when talking about how Trenton did against Wilson tonight.  He either buried them, or they buried themselves — Trenton left eight men on base during the course of the game — but either way, he shut them down.

According to Thunder manager Tony Franklin, he did not feel the team was overconfident against Wilson given what they’d done against him their last time out.

“You can’t be overconfident.  Not when you’re in a short series like we are right now,” he said.

“You’ve got to be ready to play and do what you normally do to win ballgames.  That didn’t happen for us tonight.  That kid pitched a pretty good ballgame against us, he shut us down pretty good.”

– Adam Warren gave up one hard hit-ball all night.  Andrew Lambo’s second inning shot — which actually turned out to be all the offense Altoona needed — accounted for that.  Things really unraveled for him in the fifth inning though, where he issued a two-out walk to Jim Negrych, which was followed up by Negrych advancing a few pitches later on a passed ball.  Three runs later, and Warren’s night was essentially over.

“Generally, when you lose the strike zone there, bad things happen,” Franklin said.

“The result was the three runs.  When you make pitches and you get the outs you need, things work out OK.  If you walk Negrych, and the ball gets past Romine and he ends up at second base and miss a play on De Los Santos, before you know it, you’ve got three runs.”

For Warren, a good kid who put together a real good year, it’s a tough way for him to go out.

“I’m not going to dwell on it too heavily.  I felt like I had good stuff,” he said.

“It’ll hurt for a day or two, but in the long run, I feel like I’ve grown so much this year as a pitcher that I can’t really let one outing define this year.”

– I questioned why Ryan Pope came in to pitch the ninth inning tonight.  The back seat manager that I am, I’d have saved him for a potential save situation in Game 4 so that he didn’t have to go back-to-back days.  So I asked Franklin about it after the game.

“He needed some work,” Franklin said.  “He hadn’t pitched in a while.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com


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