WTNYAugust 25, 2003
Finally Home
By Bryan Smith

Wow, I had quite the week. Seven stadiums in eight days, and I still manage to miss a ton of baseball news. I'll hit everything I missed in the coming days, but first, here's a brief synopsis of my trip:

August 16: Camden Yards
Yankees at Orioles

Well, the matchup couldn't get any more uninspiring: Sterling Hitchcock vs. Pat Hentgen. But, in the end it was the best, and most exciting game of the trip. I loved Camden Yards, everything from its old-time feel, to it's Yawkey Way impersonation past the outfield wall. The food was great outside the stadium, although it was disappointing more Yankees fans were there than O's fans.

So, back to the game. In the first inning, following a Luis Matos double, Tony Batista hit a sacrifice fly to give the Orioles the early lead. But I noticed in the third inning that Jay Gibbons, not Batista, hit after Matos. This was a violation of the rules, but wasn't really disputed by Joe Torre. This was the first time I saw a Major League team screw up its lineup, although Little League Baseball is famous for it.

OK, flash to the ninth, when Mariano Rivera has the game one out from ending. Then, for the third time in five chances, he blows it. Luis Matos, by far the most impressive player from the game, hit a towering game-tying blast. The tie lasted until the 12th, when Jason Giambi sent a Henry Carrasco pitch far.

Then came the worst baserunning play ever. Jack Cust walked (as usual), bringing Larry Bigbie to the plate. Bigbie hit a Jeff Nelson pitch into the right field gap, a standup double. Cust was originally waved to home, but decided to stop instead. He lost hit footing, falling down 10 feet from the bad. Alfonso Soriano took the relay throw straight to third, landing Cust in a run-down. The only problem was, after avoiding the catcher, Cust had a straight path to home. Nelson forgot to cover the plate, but only ten feet from home Cust fell, again, leading to an Aaron Boone tag.

Wow. I guess the people who called Jack Cust one-dimensional were right.

August 17- Shea Stadium
Rockies at Mets

Then, after a four-hour drive to New York, we arrived for the only day game of the trip, in the Big Apple. The Mets stadium left me unimpressed, especially the fans who hardly cheered their team. Shea reminded me of U.S. Cellular Field, due to its ugly blue tint. If I don't land in Shea again before I die, no big deal.

The game wasn't that great either, with Jason Jennings getting hit hard. Al Leiter struck out ten in six innings, although he was alarmingly unefficient with his pitches. The two exciting parts were seeing phenom Jose Reyes, and being at Cliff Floyd's last game. Both of those two shined, Reyes going 2-5 with two runs, and Floyd going four-for-four. Cliff Floyd's swing is probably the easiest in baseball, and he is a sensational hitter. Reyes is a superstar in the making, needing a better batting eye to become the best leadoff hitter in the game.

August 18- Yankee Stadium
Royals at Yankees

Lima vs. Weaver! Headcase vs. Headcase! Not exactly expected to be a pitcher's duel, and it lived up to its billing. Both were horrible, and as it turned out, I saw Weaver's last start for a long time. While I was watching this game, Jose Contreras was striking out 15 men in a rehab start.

The game itself wasn't very exciting, with the Yankees outclubbing the Royals 11-6. Hideki Matsui showed dominance over Angel Berroa, hitting his 36th double of the year. Unfortunatly, Matsui is well on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year. Carlos Beltran had a spectacular game, and is possibly passing Vladimir Guerrero on some charts. I'll do a report on this later, but I can't say Vlad is better than Beltran.

August 19- Fenway Park
A's at Red Sox

Sadly, I later found out this was Mark Mulder's final start of the season. His hip led to an early exit, and has ended his season. The A's will struggle without him, needing John Halama to replace him every fifth day. I'm currently reading Moneyball, and it gives way too little credit to the pitching. Without the big 3, Billy Beane would never have been anything to write a book about.

A blister forced Derek Lowe out of the game after six fabulous innings, due to a blister problem. Then, Scott Sauerbeck and Scott Williamson promptly blew the game, giving up three runs in the seventh inning. Moneyball relievers Ricardo Rincon and Chad Bradford set it up, while Keith Foulke delivered the knockout punch. The only bad part? I was in the bathroom for the biggest play of the game, a Ramon Hernandez three-run jack.

August 20- McCoy Stadium
Syracuse SkyChiefs at Pawtucket Red Sox

Cory Lidle vs. Bruce Chen! Seriously, I went to a AAA game, and saw two Major League dropouts. How unfortunate. Well both looked decent, Lidle going four innings in his rehab start. He was shaky in two of them, but managed to allow zero runs for the game, handing the ball to Corey Thurman.

Chen was great untill the seventh, when the Blue Jays lit him up. But the PawSox came back, scoring six runs in the final inning for an unprobable finish. Earl Snyder hit a walk off three-run homer that sealed the game.

The only real prospect I saw was the Greek God of Walks, Mr. Kevin Youkilis. Kevin has been struggling since he got to AAA, and had no great day in front of me. In the second inning he took a Lidle pitch to deep center, only to have catcher-converted-center fielder Jayson Werth rob his home run.

August 22- Frontier Field
Scranton Wilkes-Barre Barons at Rochester Red Wings

Baseball America called Rochester the 2002 Baseball City, U.S.A, and it lived up to its billing. More than nine thousand people saw the game, topping most Expos games in Olympic Stadium. The stadium or city isn't awe-inspiring, but its the product of good marketing and passionate fans.

I did get to see Brandon Duckworth's second start since being demoted from Philadelphia. He looked good until his final inning, the sixth, when Rochester lit him up. Minnesota top prospect Justin Morneau played, although nothing special came out of it. Neither team had any other great prospects, as I had just missed Chase Utley (since he is now Philly's 2B).

August 23- Dunn Tire Park
Rochester Red Wings at Buffalo Bisons


Right outside the stadium a man was nice enough to give us free tickets, which happened to be directly behind home plate, eight rows up. So I'm people watching before the game, when I notice Indians' GM Mark Shapiro is a row behind me. After waiting a few innings I talked to him for awhile, about his breaking in with a baseball team and becoming a GM. He was soft-spoken but a very approachable man, and it was an honor to meet him. I'm easily star-struck, so this was definitly the highlight of the trip.

Also, I saw Brandon Phillips hit a home run. Phillips, supposed to be Jose Reyes' counterpart, is well below the Mendoza line in 150 AAA at-bats. But his towering shot to left field was impressive, as was his defense at second. Although I didn't ask Shapiro, I found myself wondering if Phillips decline has been partially due to moving from shortstop.

Buffalo's stadium didn't draw many fans, but it is the most Major League looking minor league ballpark I have ever seen. No ads along the walls or across the outfield, but they did have luxury boxes located well above home plate. I liked Rochester more, but its a shame more people don't go to Dunn Tire Park.

So that's it. I saw some rehab and some injuries, some heroics and shame, but in the end I loved every minute of it. I'll be back tomarrow hopefully documenting everything I've missed.