Archive for September 19th, 2010

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


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