Written by Mark Firkins
While the calendar may say April, Winter obviously didn’t get the memo in the North East. Many home openers in the region were canceled, postponed, and will have to be made up later in the season. Temperatures dipped below freezing. Snow, ice, and tarps covered what were supposed to be manicured fields of green grass and groomed dirt infields. Like so many of my friends and fellow Western New Yorkers, I was aching to get outside, sit in the stands, enjoy some good ballpark food, and witness live baseball again.
Friday, April 6th was the scheduled home opener for the AAA Rochester Red Wings (Minnesota Twins). A few inches of slushy wet snow-covered Frontier Field. Opening day would be moved to Saturday, April 7th. Saturday brought light rain and temperatures in the mid 30’s, no way the field would be dry to play on by the 1:05 scheduled start. Sunday, April 8th would now be opening day. Sunday brought sunshine and mainly clear skies, unfortunately the temperature never got above freezing that day. A three game opening series against our I-90 rivals, the Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays) wiped out.
Monday, April 9th was now opening day! A new series with another I-90 rival, the Syracuse Chiefs (Washington Nationals), would begin. Monday brought clear skies and low temperatures, the 6:05 game start temperature was a brisk 34 degrees, but baseball would be played that night.
I enjoyed most of the game from the comforts of the press box above home plate. As seen being played out in many other ballparks so far this spring, when the temperatures are that cold, hitting is a luxury. The crowd (announced at 3,286, but I’m guessing the actual number was closer to 500) was not treated to an offensive explosion, but to a classic Pitchers duel.
The Red Wings started Aaron Slegers, a 2013, 5th round pick by the Minnesota Twins. In 4 MiLB seasons in the Twins organization Slegers has posted a 43-29 record, 3.48 ERA, with 448 strike outs in 107 games. In 2017 he was the Red Wings Ace and showed his best minor league season, starting 24 games, going 15-4 with a 3.40 ERA. On a frosty night in Rochester, Slegers pounded the strike zone and worked 6 solid innings. He allowed 5 hits, walked and struck out 1 and allowed 1 ER. He worked ahead in the count almost all night, throwing first pitch strikes to 20 of the 24 batters he faced. An admirable effort on a bone chilling night.
Relief pitcher, Tyler Duffey entered in the 7th. Duffey was a 5th round pick of the Twins in 2012. He has spent the past few seasons with the big league club. In 2016 he started 26 games and posted a 9-12 record with a 6.43 ERA. 2017 saw him pitch out of the Twins bullpen, where he threw 71 innings of relief in 56 appearances, going 2-3 with a 4.94 ERA. While the Twins aren’t closing the door on Duffey returning as a starter, working in the bullpen as a multi inning reliever will probably be his quickest way back to the big leagues.
In his first relief appearance of 2018, Tyler Duffey was almost perfect. He tossed 3 innings, giving up 0 hits, 0 walks, 0 ER and 1 K, but took the loss. In the 9th inning, with one out, Syracuse SS, Adrian Sanchez hit what appeared to be a routine fly ball to CF. The ball hit Rochester CF Zack Granite’s glove on the heel and popped out, resulting in a 3 base error. Second baseman Irving Falu hit a sacrifice fly to RF to score Sanchez. Rochester threatened in the bottom half of the 9th, but wasn’t able to respond. The Red Wings, after 3 days of delaying their home opener, lost 2-1 on brilliant starting and relief pitching.
This pitchers duel game went by quick and was played in 2 hours and 37 minutes. Thank goodness, as the temperature on the RF scoreboard showed 29 degrees at games end. I give credit to the few hundred die hard fans still left at the end of 9. Sooner or later, warmth will come to my corner of the world. Ski hats will be replaced by ball caps, scarves for shorts, pitchers will lose their advantage of cold bats and baseballs will fly again in the summer air.