***The following article was written by Chris Bassitt, a Chicago White Sox pitching prospect, as a guest of FutureSox. Chris tells the story of his partial season, and post-season run, with the Birmingham Barons. We hope this gives our readers a unique view into a player's perspective on life in the minors.
After learning that I was getting moved up to Birmingham, I immediately became excited about pitching for the Barons. To think that I was going to wear the same team uniform that Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Michael Jordon, Robin Ventura, and recent MLB Hall of Fame inductee Frank Thomas wore was truly humbling and inspiring. Combine this with playing in a spectacular new stadium, and for a team that had already qualified for the playoffs, was something that I was greatly looking forward to.
Watching my first game as a Baron, there was no doubt in my mind, that we had a serious shot at winning it all. As a team we looked like a championship caliber team, but what I didn't realize was how important one player in particular was to our success.
When Marcus Semien received his well deserved call up, we were all very happy and excited to see him advance. Unfortunately, at the time of his move, we struggled as a team. These struggles surfaced in every aspect of our game. Pitching, hitting, fielding . . . you name it - we struggled. Our early August series in Mobile was a huge let down. At this point, the players and coaches had enough. With the playoffs quickly approaching, we knew we had to fix what we had. Even though the team had lost a number of great position players and pitchers, we believed we still had the pieces in place to win it all. We just needed to find a way to come together to achieve our goal. Luckily for us, Micah Johnson was on the way up, and he was an instant spark plug. Chris Beck also proved to be a great addition to our team, throwing a number of quality innings. This, in return, gave our bullpen some much needed rest.
By the time the playoffs were on us, we felt our problems were behind us. We were by no means the hottest team going in, but each one of us knew we had what it takes to win. In the first round, we pulled together and won the first two games at home. However, as a team, one of our biggest struggles was closing out a series, and this time proved to be no different. For Tennessee, being down 0-2, it would have been very easy for them to say, "It's been a long season. Let's get this over with and go home". But they didn't. They played well and fought back to even the series at 2-2. So, on to game 5. Here we found out what we were made of, coming out on top in a 7-4 complete team win. It was then on to the Championship series, but not before one of the best celebrations I have ever been a part of. The club provided champagne for winning our division and making it to the finals. At some point during our celebration the bottles of champagne ran out, and that's when someone got a hold of liquid coffee creamer and pickle juice. It soon turned into a real food fight. Not sure how the smell of pickles, pretzels, coffee creamer, and a lot of other random things got washed out of our jerseys, but our management did it...somehow.
Playing for the Southern League Championship is exciting enough. Playing in the finals, against the defending champions and in the first year of our new park was even better. All this with our last outing against Mobile still fresh in our minds. We all remembered how they really let us have it. Chris Beck and I were locker neighbors. Early in the season, we found out that our initials are both CMB. We then came up with the "CMB Show". After the game 5 win in Tennessee, we kept joking with each other saying that the "CMB Show" is coming to Mobile. We ended up pitching in games one and two. While our pitching performance was good, our bats were even better against some of the best pitching in the league.
In game one, Cody Puckett welcomed Mobile to the finals with a 1st inning homer. From there our lineup went to work finishing with 22 hits in the first two games. After game two we headed back to Birmingham with a 2-0 lead, with just one more win needed for the title. Again, credit should be given to the Baybears. They wouldn't go down without a fight. They battled back to tie the series at 2-2 and bring on a game 5. Just think, we were playing game 5 of the Championship Series at home in the first year of the park vs. the defending champs. You couldn't ask for anything more.
The game aged me by 10 years. We got behind early but Myles Jaye kept on battling. He pitched a great game and then our bullpen, led by Kevin Vance, Ryan Kussmaul, and Cody Winiarski, took over. Micah Johnson (Finals MVP, but somehow not a SAL League All-Star) really stepped up his game in the playoffs. Black, Blanke, and Puckett took over along with Micah when we needed them the most. Saladino was a very unsung guy in the playoffs. He was fighting thru an injury that affected his hitting, but his glove at shortstop during the playoffs couldn't have been better. He sucked up the pain and did what he had to, giving us the chance to win. And then there is our extremely talented outfield of Mitchell, Jacobs, Earley, Walker, and Thompson. They all really spoiled our pitching staff.
All of us players couldn't thank the community enough. The atmosphere was amazing. We went on to win the title in a very special moment, not only for the players but for the entire Birmingham Family, and I couldn't be prouder of what we all accomplished.
On a different note. This year there were 2 things that just plain boggled my mind:
- First was Cody Puckett's home run at Birmingham. I still don't see how it's possible to hit a ball that far. For those nonbelievers, the very top of our huge score board bears the scar of his moon shot. I just wish there was video of it.
- Next is Kevin Vance's ping pong rankings. I know you are probably thinking, what the heck does ping pong have to do with baseball. Well, in the locker room we had a ping pong table set up. This was how we stayed loose mentally and had fun with each other prior to the games. We played throughout the year, right up to and including the last playoff game.
Kevin had his Top 10 rankings for the players. These rankings were based on 3 things: Attitude, Performance, and most importantly, how much he liked you. To me, the top 3 players were extremely easy to identify. David Herbek, Trayce Thompson, and Dan Black were all outstanding. David Herbek was probably the best of them all, although Trayce would likely argue that.
Against Herbek, you could give him your best shot, spiking the ball at him and he would somehow spike it right back at you. However, due to his "attitude problems" he was unranked. Note: Anyone that knows David, knows he is one of the nicest people in the world with the attitude of a new born puppy. I guess I am just biased, because I wasn't ranked either.
My problem went back and forth between "Attitude" and "How much Kevin liked me". However unfair, and even though Kevin's ranking system was as bad as the BCS system, I will give him credit. He handed out some awesome "End of the Year Rewards" that included, Best Hair, Best Ping Pong Range, and my favorite, Best Finishing Move. Best Hair went to Scott Carroll in a land slide, with Best Range going to Trayce Thompson. The Best Finishing Move winner was Michael Earley.
In his patented move, Michael would push off the table with one hand giving him extra height in a jump and slam return that would make anyone regret hitting a wimpy ball his way. The first time I saw this, I cried laughing. How the table didn't break is beyond me.
I hope you all enjoyed a little insight into the 2013 Season. I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2014. Hopefully this year brings us back lots of hardware from top to bottom.
As always, Go White Sox.