I’ve spent a sizable proportion of my adult life at minor league baseball stadiums, mostly working (read: pulling tarp, getting clobbered by foul balls, corralling mascots, etc). So when the Winston-Salem Dash came to play Local Minor League Team (box score here), it was the opportunity to not just see a team full of exciting young Sox prospects, but also to sit and relax and take in a class-A ballgame. Two of them, in fact. And they sure were interesting. Here’s a series of observations, some serious, some not so much.
-We learn that Bryant Flete’s name is not, in fact, pronounced “Fleet,” as fitting as that is. It’s Flay-tay. Or Fleh-tay. Or Flay-teh. The PA is ambiguous and seems to change the pronunciation each at-bat.
-When major leaguers are on rehab assignments in the minors, you can immediately pick out which one they are on the field; they have a different stature and build. Eloy Jimenez is a major leaguer who just hasn’t gotten there yet. It’s hard to believe the kid is just 20. When I was 20, it took me and five friends 30 minutes to move a couch into my room, and I believe Jimenez could do it by himself in five. Also, RIP Room Couch.
-This is recently-acquired AJ Puckett’s Dash debut, and it doesn’t get off to a great start! Puckett runs into early trouble, giving up three runs in his first two innings, and there are at least fifteen pictures in my photo roll of him glumly walking back to the dugout with his head down. They are all very sad, but are also collectively the least bad pictures I took that day, so here’s one.
Puckett does rally and gives up no runs in his next and final two innings, but the pictures do not get any happier. In retrospect, maybe that’s just how he walks back to the dugout.
-This is World Series Game 4 Hero Willie Harris’s first season managing the Dash. In the second inning, when he sends Brady Conlan from second on a Yeyson Yrizarri single to left field, resulting in Conlan being thrown out at the plate, we sigh at the tough play and great throw. As it turns out, this is foreshadowing.
-We’re a Seby Zavala household, so we were rooting for him to mash, and mash he does in his third-inning at-bat. Nymeo Field, where the Frederick Keys play, has an absurdly high outfield fence, and what is recorded as a double for Zavala in the box score would have been a home run in most other parks, and what is recorded as a putout on an attempted advancement to third on the throw would have been a triple with most other umpires.
-In the fourth inning, Louis Silverio has a baserunning adventure that leaves him at second after a single and an error by the left fielder, and with two outs, Yeyson Yrizarri steps to the plate. For the second straight at-bat, Yrizarri singles to left field with a runner on second. For the second time, Willie Harris sends the runner home with poor results. By the time Silverio rounds third, the throw home is already in the air. It beats him by a good 20 feet. It was a bewildering send, but if you’re going to take risks like that, the minors are the best place to do it, I guess. (He was out.)
-Luis Alexander Basabe makes hard contact when he hits the ball, although he goes hitless. He does walk once, and is caught stealing with an extremely inelegant slide that you see more in slapstick movies than in baseball games.
-The White Sox always have young guys with great hair; Gordon Beckham will never be forgotten, and his crown (ha ha) was passed onto Matt Davidson. However, Jameson Fisher is a strong contender for succession. Dude has some beautiful locks. I will not discuss the mustache on the other side, which half the Dash seem to have grown.
-Allegedly, Yrizarri makes a beautiful catch on a liner, but I don’t see it on account of the bat splinters and hits the net right in front of us, and despite everything I still have a survival instinct.
-Future All-Star Eloy Jimenez is a natural hitter and it is apparent he outclasses the league (and he was, in fact, promoted mere days after this game). In his fourth at-bat, he pops up a cookie, and is clearly frustrated with himself on the way back to the dugout (after he sprinted all the way to second base while it was in the air). He already has a double and single in the game, but it’s hard to be satisfied when you’re Eloy Jimenez. In fact, he sprints everywhere. He sprints back to the dugout after he grounds out.
-The home plate ump has some trouble with a consistent strike zone, and I helpfully suggest that he grow an eyeball. He glares at me.
-We try to identify the non-dressed players in the dugout. “That’s Hansen at the end,” I say. I’m trying to imagine what the player would look like screaming, and I think it matches up. My parents don’t believe me until he flashes a smile, and the broad white teeth are enough to make them both go “ooooh” in recognition. Hansen is the tallest man in the ballpark.
-Pitchface #7 Ian Hamilton enters the game in the seventh, and is very impressive, both in face and in performance. He doesn’t give up a hit or a walk in his two innings.
-The Dash commit five errors in this game and the Keys two. It is… not the tightest defensive showing.
-The Keys play Blur’s “Song #2” as a pump-up song between innings and their on-field emcee yells the “Woo-hoo!” parts half a measure off-beat every single time.
-The Dash are up 7-6 going into the bottom of the ninth when we bail, since Louie Lechich isn’t coming into the game, making attendance pointless. The hapless Matt Foster, who has been absolutely lights out this season, gives up the game-tying and game-winning run in the ninth and tenth respectively, both unearned. So it goes.
-Bryant Flete (Fleh-teh?) draws a walk to start the game and proceeds to deliver the hugest bat flip I’ve ever seen. Also, Bryant Flete is my favorite player.
-Zack Collins grounds out but makes it close at first, and we’re impressed by his speed. He’s no Billy Hamilton, of course, but he’s not an iceberg either. His plate discipline is also on display as he draws his normal two walks.
-We are all very disappointed when Future Hall of Famer Jimenez draws a walk with two on, rather than hits a dong.
-Finally, it happens. On a 1-2 count leading off the fourth inning, Seby Zavala makes contact and this time the wall is no match for him. Zavala’s laser bounces off his own dang face on the videoboard, and he has his 19th homer of the season after an 11-game dong drought. It’s a fine piece of hitting and ties the game at one.
-Willie Harris steps on the foul line.
-This game features two thrown bats, one by a Dash and one by a Key. The bat from the Key flies into the one empty patch in a crowd of JCC summer camp kids, and one emerges victorious, holding it high in his fist, ready for the clouds to part and a sunbeam to shine upon it. “Everyone has to touch it,” he declares.
-Collins and Bernardo Flores team up for a phenomenal play at the plate on a wild pitch. Flores doesn’t hesitate to cover home and Collins flips it to him just in time for the tag.
-When Flores leaves the game after a good start, he comes back to the dugout wearing glasses and looking almost identical to Dane Dunning. It’s uncanny and I can't believe we didn't get pictures.
-Future Greatest Hitter of All Time Jimenez flicks a double into right field like it’s the easiest thing anyone has ever done.
-This game gets extremely weird in the seventh inning. Kelvis Valerio takes the mound. I notice that there’s not a lot of time between his set and his delivery, but don’t think anything of it until the Keys manager comes out of the dugout jangling mad. He screams at the home plate ump for a few minutes, and just when we think that he surely must be toast, the umpire goes to talk to his crew partner in the field, confusing everyone. They both return to talk to the Keys manager, who doesn’t seem to realize how miraculous it is that he hasn’t been ejected.
After a few more minutes of talking, bewilderment, and wild speculation by our section, the home plate ump comes over to the Dash dugout to talk to Willie. We all strain to hear. He says something about checking the rules because he wants to be very sure. Everyone walks off the field and gathers by their respective dugouts. The bullpen comes in. There are clumps of players by third, in foul territory, against the dugout fence. Nobody knows what is happening. Willie Harris gets a call on his cell phone and answers it, something absolutely unheard of during a game unless it’s an exceptionally abnormal situation, which it is. I put forth the theory that Valerio had been quick pitching, and our section agrees.
Finally, after at least ten minutes of perplexed players and fans, the umpire comes back to the Dash dugout. It’s hard to hear, but we hear the words “quick pitch,” confirming our thoughts. It is unclear how this changes the existing game situation, but the players retake the field and play is allowed to resume.
Kelvis Valerio quick pitches the next batter and gets him for the third out of the inning. The Keys manager is not pleased.
Valerio comes out again for the 8th. He gives up a single and picks the guy off (he has a nice pickoff move, actually). Then, he quick pitches the next guy for a strikeout. This is too much for both the manager and the batter, and benches clear as they are ejected. Alec Hansen stalks around being tall. Willie tries to figure out just what exactly is going on?? In the middle of it, future Commissioner of Baseball and current Arbiter of Peace Eloy Jimenez is animatedly speaking to his own team and gesturing emphatically for them to return to the dugout.
Eventually, things calm down, play resumes, and Valerio gets the last out of the inning with a quick pitch.
-Normality resumes, and as Louie Lechich is again not warming for the bottom of the ninth (Dash up 5-2), we leave. Not before I harass Willie into giving me the pronunciation of his name: Leh-chick. Don’t say I never did anything for you.
-As we leave, the emcee’s “Woo-hoo!”s are immediately echoed by the “Woo-hoo!”s recorded in the song.
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