Small Worlds and Oncoming Storms

The first time I went to see Nick Madrigal play, it rained a lot. It rained all day, then stopped long enough to lure me out of my apartment, then rained again. I sat in my car in the parking lot of BB&T Ballpark for ten minutes while it rained. I watched water inches deep cascade down asphalt into dirt and grates. I thought of the hours and hours of rain I’ve sat through during my years in the minors. I thought of how I always used to have at least one backup pair of shoes and socks in my car to change into if need be. I thought of my umbrella, sitting peacefully in my closet at home for some reason.

I arrived in the press box ten minutes later and five water-pounds heavier. It was 5pm, time for the first game of the doubleheader (itself a makeup for a previously rained-out game), and the crew was just taking the tarp off the field. Minor league employees will tell you about the nigh-mythical “window,” a period of time in between storms in which it’s theoretically possible to play baseball. You generally want a window to be at least an hour and a half long. I could already see the clouds of the next wave out beyond right field. There was a stupid little rainbow there too, like it had the sole authority to declare the deluge over for the day. Rainbows don’t know what they’re talking about.

At first it was just me and a Dash media intern in the box, but soon we were joined by someone else who clearly also worked for the Dash in a media capacity. I’m very new in town and this was my first time at the stadium, so obviously I was listening for conversation inlets into which I could tactfully thrust myself. It didn’t take long - the guy mentioned working out in the California League for a year. Perfect! Me too. I was in.

In a whirlwind of coincidence, we quickly pared it down. We were both there in 2015. I was with the Inland Empire 66ers, he was down the road doing play by play for the rival Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. My name is Julie, I said. He paused, and said, “Brady?!”

It was Dave Polaski, who I had run into a handful of times in San Bernardino while I was prepping promos for the game and he was prepping for the broadcast. We had been Facebook friends for three years. After 2015, he had returned to Winston-Salem for a variety of sports media jobs, including scorekeeping for the Dash. My route had been more circuitous, but it still ended up with us somehow both in the same press box in North Carolina in 2018.

The weight of this revelation combined with the decisive onslaught of the second storm was enough to cancel the doubleheader outright.

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The second time I went to see Nick Madrigal play, five days later, there was no rain in the forecast, but it rained anyway as soon as I stepped outside my front door. I was starting to suspect that this might be a North Carolina trend.

Overall, though, it was a much drier day, the tarp was off the field, and baseball was unavoidable. The Dash were playing the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, a Cubs affiliate. Madrigal was batting third, and Luis Robert was leading off in his return from the disabled list. In fact, the top four players in the lineup - Robert, Luis Gonzalez, Madrigal, and Blake Rutherford - are ranked by FutureSox in the top 13 of all Sox prospects, with Gavin Sheets at 18 and Laz Rivera and Ti’Quan Forbes just missing the top 30. It’s a roster that just oozes talent even before you look at the pitching, and it’s easy to see why the Dash are 68-45 on the year.

2018 has been disappointing for Robert, not because of performance but because of injuries that have limited his playing time to just 27 total games so far. That gives more weight to each at-bat, so it was great to see him start off with this:

He immediately stole second. Confidence, thy name is Luis Robert.

Top Prospect Luis Gonzalez followed it up with a single - Robert surprisingly holding at third - and Madrigal swung at the first pitch.

He would do this several times and made contact on almost every swing.

Meanwhile, Kyle Kubat had the start for the Dash. Kubat is an interesting player. He’s 25, practically ancient at high-A, and performed well across three levels including AA last season. He’s been utterly dominant out of the bullpen, which made it even more interesting that he was starting for the fourth time in a row. The top half of each inning flew by with ease - Kubat ended up going 7 IP, giving up only two hits (one of which was a bunt single against the shift), walking nobody, striking out five and giving up zero runs.

While Kubat dealt, the Dash mashed. Robert reached on a fielder’s choice in the third, and again immediately stole second, a move that was rendered pointless in the next at-bat as Luis Gonzalez absolutely destroyed a baseball. It looked like it disappeared as soon as his bat touched it. It was the 2017 third-round-pick’s 12th homer of the season and fourth with the Dash, giving them a 2-0 lead.

In the fourth, Rutherford turned on the wheels and eked out a double on a grounder to center. Yermin Mercedes continued his excellent August by singling him in, then got caught in a rundown between first and second. I love Yermin Mercedes and I love rundowns, so this was kind of a wash for me, emotionally.

Gavin Sheets, who seems to have settled on a batting average around .290, singled and was denied a stolen base in favor of an “advanced on wild pitch,” to the disappointment of the press box. Through a walk to Forbes and an error that allowed Zach Remillard to reach, the bases were loaded for Robert, but he struck out on a foul tip.

The next time Madrigal came up to bat, he swung at the first pitch again, with better results:

He was stranded at third, but each time he swung, it was with authority, no attempts at checking and none of that thing where a guy swings and visibly immediately regrets it. He looked like a professional hitter. Which is a good thing, because that’s literally what he is!

In the 7th and in his last at-bat, Robert reached on what was initially called an error but was changed after the game to a hit, leaving him 2-4 on the night in his return from DL purgatory.

The bullpen, in this case Blake Hickman, ran into some trouble in the 8th - not helped by a run-scoring Mercedes error - but the Dash held on for a 3-2 victory. Hunter Schryver, newly acquired from Tampa Bay for international signing bonus pool money and making his home debut, easily shut down the Pelicans in the 9th.

This was a very fun game to watch. The Dash have more talent than arguably any other White Sox team, all levels included, and it was on display. It’s my strong opinion that there’s no such thing as a good defensive class-A middle infielder, but Madrigal is testing that out. He positions himself well, he’s got a great sense of timing, and he’s quick. Meanwhile, Robert is as advertised - I saw him before in a long stretch at Frederick at the end of June, and he’s got some crazy physical talent. He explodes out of the box, accelerates like a frickin cheetah, and has the bat speed to match. The majority of this lineup could someday end up in Chicago - especially the top four, depending on how the impending outfield crunch plays out - and one game was enough to see why.

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    I can see just about all of the players mentioned in this article going through the system together and starting in AA next year.

  • fb_avatar

    Great stuff Julie. Hope to hear even more from you as these players develop.

  • In reply to Rick Berdelle:

    Thanks Rick! I live about 15 minutes from the Dash stadium now, so there will definitely be more!

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