The End of the MiLB Season

1280px-MiLB_logo.svgWritten by Mark Firkins

If spring gets me excited for baseball and summer brings out my passion for the game, what does fall bring? Fall brings, hmm… well, fall brings mixed emotions. The season offers plenty of exciting baseball. In the minors, if you’re still playing in September it means your team has had a good season and has made it into the playoffs in your league. It also means if you’re fortunate enough to be on the 40 man, that MLB rosters have expanded and it’s a possibility you get a call up to the big league club.

Labor Day and Fall are also a sad time for me. My two hometown teams, The Rochester Red Wings (AAA affiliate of the Twins) and The Batavia Muckdogs (A affiliate of the Marlins), wrap up play Labor Day weekend. Neither team will qualify for post season play this year. Which means that on Tuesday, September 4th, I start the all too long countdown until I see live baseball again in Western New York. It will be 7 months until I once again visit Frontier Field and take in the view of Kodak HQ and the skyline of downtown Rochester. It will be more than 9 months until Batavia, the NY PENN League, and quaint Dwyer Stadium opens and I find myself sitting in the summer sun, past the visitors dugout by first base.

No more dollar hot dogs nights. No more $1 Genesee Beer on Thirsty Thursdays. No more seeing AAA players so close to the major league level and wondering which players will make the big league club next season. No more watching first year players in short season rookie ball. It really is bittersweet and cruel to have the season end on Labor Day before summer officially ends September 21st. September offers some of the finest weather in these cities. There’s still plenty of warm days with gorgeous, clear blue skies. Nights offer a crisp and comfortable coolness, perfect for jeans, hoodies, and your favorite cap. I get it though. Kids are back in school, families (my own included) have to get back into a routine, high school sports and activities take over, and it’s time for young players to go back home, and/or prepare for fall and winter league baseball.

I look back at this past season as a season of firsts and personal success for me. This was my first year as a MiLB writer and one that included press privileges at the above named facilities. In Rochester, I was able to view the game from the press box above home plate, watch batting practice on the field, walk the outfield grass and warning track pregame. I wandered the stadium concourse and seating bowl and could sit in just about any open seat, getting any view I needed, and get up close to see the logos and brands of bats players were using (more on that in a future article). In Batavia, I was provided the opportunity to meet and interview 4 different players (which are all available to read in my older posts). I watched freshly drafted prospects develop into professional players in 3 short months. I saw players improve their swing, fielding, and pitching, game after game. Unfortunately, I also saw players get sent back to the Gulf Coast League and even released shortly after the season began, but that’s also part of the business and game. I connected with Jeremiah Jackson, an exciting top prospect drafted by the Angels this past June. Although we were thousands of miles apart, he playing in the Arizona Rookie League and me travelling through New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio all summer, I was able to check in on his progress, look at the box scores regularly, and see plenty of video clips of his play posted on social media.

I attended 42 NY PENN, Eastern, and International League games combined in 7 different cities. I viewed some of the most gorgeous baseball skies and sunsets that can be seen. I viewed some of the funniest promotions and on field contests for both kids and adults to play. I ate some of the best food and treats one can possibly enjoy, honestly, does anything taste as good and beat ballpark food? I feel fortunate and blessed to have seen players ranging in age from fresh out of high school to seasoned MLB veterans play the game with such passion, joy, and pure enthusiasm. I met up with old friends and fellow travelling baseball lovers, including Malcolm MacMillan from theballparkguide.com  who I met up with twice this season. Malcolm is one of baseball’s travelling authorities on ballparks/stadiums, their scenic views, host city and the food they all offer. I made new connections, both in person and through my twitter account who followed along with me on my journeys and I now consider friends.

I witnessed Sean Reynolds of the Batavia Muckdogs crush 17 home runs this season, twice as many as the next closest player in the league. On three occasions I watched a no hitter go into the 7th inning. One game featured pitchers from both teams taking their no no’s into the eighth only to be spoiled by a solo home run from one team and a bunt single from the other.  On July 22nd, the Batavia Muckdogs and Mahoning Valley Scrappers combined for 32 hits, 24 runs, 4 errors, and used 10 pitchers to complete a game. On August 30th, these two teams met again for a double header. Game one ended in a 2-1 Scrappers win, with each team recording 5 hits. Game two had the Muckdogs on top 1-0 with each team combining for 5 hits total. Two games featuring excellent pitching and defense performances from both clubs, keeping hits and runs to a minimum.

It’s no secret that my sons Thomas and Travis are my main travelling partners and witnesses at most of these games. Thomas has been away at college and this summer had the opportunity to take a job in the Adirondacks (5 hours away, northeast of Rochester, NY) that fit well into his field of study, Environmental Science. He was home for only a brief period at the beginning of summer but we did manage to squeeze in a few Rochester Red Wings games together. Travis attended just about all other games with me, kept score, tracked down some foul balls as souvenirs, and was my road warrior, travelling the I-90 through New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Although his name didn’t appear in the writing credits, he certainly helped and collaborated with many of the articles I have posted.

Labor Day, September 3, 2018 is now upon me. It’s the last game of the season for the Batavia Muckdogs. Our family tradition is that everyone goes to the first and last game of the season. This means my wife and daughter will join Travis and me (Thomas is moved back into the dorms and at school). We’ll be some of the first fans into Dwyer Stadium when the gates open at noon. We’ll enjoy lunch pregame, wander the small concourse for a while, take a good look around, then take our seats around 12:45. The game will start at 1:00 and end around 4:00. We’ll have our family picture taken by an usher after the game in front of the dugout, soak in the view one last time, then be the last ones to leave the stadium. It won’t be until June 2019 when we’re allowed back into Dwyer, 9 long months.

The MiLB season began for me on a raw, bitter cold, 34 degree April night, covering a Rochester Red Wings game. It will end on a steamy, humid, 91 degree September day, watching a Batavia Muckdogs game. I have so many notes and ideas for future articles thanks to all of the games and players I’ve seen this 2018 season. You can be sure that in the off season I will be busy putting it all together for you to read and enjoy. Thank you to the staff at the Rochester Red Wings and Batavia Muckdogs for being such gracious and hospitable hosts; allowing me access to their press box, stadium, field, and players for me to interview. Thank you to my family for understanding what the love of this game means to me and why I do what I do during baseball season. HUGE thanks to you, my Real McCoy Minors audience and twitter followers who have read, liked, retweeted and shared my articles for others to enjoy!

For now it’s goodbye Minor League Baseball. I understand you need to take a break. I’ll impatiently be waiting for your return next spring (try to do a little better job with opening day weather though? PLEASE). Thanks again MiLB, I guess it’s not really goodbye, it’s until we meet again, next April.

Pitching Prospects and Teammates: Cameron Mingo & Alex Royalty

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Written by Mark Firkins

Baseball is said to be a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a sport whose season begins in February with spring training and the fall classic now ends in November. However, any fan of the minor leagues knows that summer and the season goes by way too quick. This is especially true if you’re a fan of and follow the NY PENN League. Their season begins in mid June, ends Labor Day, and plays 75 games. While the season may be short, the talent and play on the field is excellent. Most players are fresh from the June MLB draft and/or promoted from the parents club Rookie Leagues; The Arizona, Appalachian, or Gulf Coast Leagues.

With 14 teams in 3 divisions, you’re bound to catch the same teams and players with regular frequency. I have been fortunate to attend 24 NY PENN League games so far this season, 14 of them featuring the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland Indians). My faithful travel companion and youngest son Travis (14) is usually by my side at these games. He’ll act as my score keeper, second pair of eyes, and someone knowledgeable to bounce ideas off of. Without telling each other we decided to each pick out a few players that impressed us, pay a little more attention to, keep notes on and compare our findings. After our 8th or 9th Scrappers game we shared our findings. Amazingly, as if we read each others minds we each had picked two of the same players.

Even more remarkable, our notes and comparisons were unbelievably similar for these two players. We each chose Pitchers, Cameron Mingo (RHP) and Alex Royalty (RHP).

Here’s what we found together:

Cameron Mingo pitched for Princeton in the Ivy League and was signed by the Cleveland Indians as an undrafted free agent in August 2016. In his 2 seasons he has pitched in the Arizona, NY PENN, Midwest, and Eastern Leagues (rookie to AA level). He has logged 140 innings pitched, a 4.00 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 89 strikeouts, and rarely gives up the long ball.

He features a sinking fastball that regularly sits in the low 90’s and one that registers plenty of ground outs. Mixed with a slider and curve ball, Cameron keeps plenty of batters off balance and guessing at his offerings.

At 6′ 4″ and 185 lbs. Cameron is a lean figure on the mound. The first time I saw his pre game bullpen warm ups and then in game action, there was something about him that was all too familiar to me. Not surprising, as sometimes I feel we share a brain, Travis had the same reaction. Cameron’s stance on the mound, arm angle, wind up from the stretch, delivery and stature on the field is remarkably similar if not identical to Indians Pitcher, Josh Tomlin. Coincidence? Maybe. However Josh Tomlin is the Indians longest tenured player, well respected in the organization, and even shared the bullpen and played with Cameron in Mahoning Valley in 2017 when he was on a rehab assignment there. While I’m sure it’s more of a coincidence, being compared to Josh Tomlin can only be viewed as high praise.  I can certainly see Cameron filling and playing that same role in the Indians organization.

Alex Royalty was drafted in the 8th round this past June. A college product from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Alex earned many collegiate honors including the 2017 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Pitcher of the Year and 2018 CAA All Tournament Team.

Drafted in June and after a brief 4 game appearance in the Arizona League he was promoted to the Scrappers. He has started 5 games in the NY PENN League, and is on a relatively low pitch count for now as he gets stretched out and prepared for longer appearances later in August and the fall. Through 5 games he has pitched 15 innings (exactly 3 innings each game), owns a 2.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 16 strikeouts.

Travis and I once again compared notes and again, wrote down the same thing, curveball. Alex heavily relies on and uses the curveball to get hitters out. We saw him pitch a few weeks ago on July 22nd. He logged three innings, threw 47 pitches total, 38 which were off speed and/or a variety of curveball. While I’m not an expert at identifying pitches, I was definitely able to tell the difference in some of Alex’s. He throws the classic straight curve that breaks down and away from right handed batters. He throws the 12-6 curveball that features plenty of top spin and breaks from the batters shoulders to ankles. Alex also featured a slightly faster pitch with excellent tailing action that I assumed to be a slider.

After his exit in the 3rd inning Alex headed for the bullpen along with Scrappers pitching coach Jason Blanton. I wandered down to that area of the field to see what he might be doing after his impressive start. After some arm and leg stretches, Alex and coach Blanton each held a ball, compared grips, and the coach appeared to be showing him something with his legs. Alex then threw 15 more pitches in the bullpen. I was able to hear the pitching coach tell him what to throw and yell out “knee up!” telling him to get his left knee/leg higher in his wind up. Of the 15 bullpen pitches thrown? You guessed it, curveballs.

Travis and I have viewed plenty of other players from many teams that we each have notes for, ideas on and plan on collaborating together for future articles. I always tell him, every one of these players we see has a story, has a dream, has something to offer to the game of baseball, and one day, one of them will make their MLB debut, and we’ll be able to say, we saw them play in the NY PENN League. Cameron Mingo and Alex Royalty are the boys of summer that we remarkably found similarities together for this article. A pitching style and comparison to an established Major League pitcher belongs to Cameron. An impressive, hooking curveball graces Alex. As summer winds down and Labor Day is only a few short weeks away, our chance to see some of the games youngest talent is unfortunately coming to an end. Have Travis and I possibly spotted future MLB players in our corner of the baseball world? As we do for every minor league player we’re fortunate enough to see in action, we certainly hope so.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Marlins Catching Prospect: J.D. Osborne

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Marlins Catcher OsborneWritten by Mark Firkins Photo by Twitter

J.D. Osborne was drafted by the Miami Marlin in 2017 in the 22nd round. He is off to an impressive season debut in the NY PENN League and with the Batavia Muckdogs. Through 44 games he is batting .350 with 7 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HR, 18 RBIs and a .414 OBP. He has spent most of the season as a catcher but has also played first and third base.

He has a powerful, level swing and makes hard contact with the ball. For a catcher he has decent speed and gets around the bases quickly and efficiently. On defense he has a strong arm, shows leadership and confidence on the field

J.D. Osborne jogged out the Batavia Muckdogs clubhouse, greeted me as if we were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in years and powerfully shook my hand with his huge muscular arms. There’s no doubt he takes his training seriously and hits the weight room often. He was energetic and appeared to be thrilled to talk with me and do an interview. J.D. is definitely a fun person to be around and enjoys life as a professional baseball palyer.

MF: This is your first season in the NY PENN League, what are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing?

JD: I played college ball in Division II, so the velocity from the pitchers is a little higher than I saw at school ball. I’m still making some adjustments with the guys who throw 95 mph or more.

MF: You’ve played third base, first base, and catcher so far this season. All physically and mentally demanding positions to play, how do you prepare yourself for such diverse roles?

JD: I take my reps daily at all of those positions. I catch bullpens and work on my blocking and receiving. I take fielding practice and ground balls at both third and first almost every day as well. I just stayed mentally prepared, focused, and always ready for wherever I’m needed on the field.

MF: You’ve been very consistent at the plate all season and over the past three weeks your bat has really come alive. Did you make any adjustments or change anything in your approach at the plate?

JD: No, my approach to hitting has always been the same. I go to the plate looking for a pitch that I know I can put in play. I’ve been taught to never deviate from the plan.

MF: Speaking of hitting, what type of bat do you swing?

JD: I love Old Hickory bats, they just feel so comfortable with my swing. I have used some Mark Lumber bats as well, they’re a Canadian maker of really good bats.

MF: You’re from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, almost directly across Lake Ontario from where we sit. You’ve spent the past few years down in Florida playing for Polk State College and then the University of Tampa. Now you are playing in the Marlins organization, that’s a lot of Florida connections. Is there anything truly unique that you miss from Canada?

JD: I miss the people from home and good authentic poutine. There’s a restaurant back home I really miss called Jimmy Guaco’s, THE BEST burritos ever, man do I miss those!

MF: There’s such a diverse mix of international players on your team and in the league, what are some of the obstacles you guys face together?

JD: Communication is a big issue. I don’t speak Spanish and a lot of the guys I catch for do. So we’re learning to communicate with each other with our signals. Even though we haven’t learned each other’s language yet doesn’t mean we don’t understand each other. They know on mound visits that I’m trying to make sure we’re on the same page and that I’m supporting them and have their back.

MF: Tell me something different about learning and playing the game in Canada?

JD: We play it a little more aggressively, maybe you want to call it a hockey mentality when we run the basses or slide into a base or home.

MF: Who in the Marlins organization has been a positive influence or given you some great advice?

JD: All the coaches here in Batavia are so supportive, positive and want you to learn and succeed. I couldn’t ask for a better first year manager than Mike Jacobs. He has so much experience and knowledge to share and offer. We all feed off one another and learn so much together.

MF: In your limited free time away from baseball what do you like to do?

JD: I just started playing the guitar about a year or so ago. I’m learning and watching YouTube videos to help me. I’m getting pretty good.

MF: Who are some of your favorite athletes?

JD: Brett Lawrie in baseball. #16, Darcy Tucker for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I loved that guy.

MF: Favorite MLB Ballpark?

JD: I saw a lot of games at the Sky Dome now the Rogers Centre

MF: Favorite song or music heard in the ballpark?

JD: Anything Michael Jackson, Rock with You by MJ

MF: What’s better day games or night games?

JD; Either is great, I just want to play.

MF: Spring or Fall baseball?

JD: Spring baseball

MF: Favorite ballpark food?

JD: Hot dog, loaded

MF: Why is it called the foul pole?

JD: Um… I’m not sure, you got me (shrugging and laughing). It’s fair and in play. Weird.

Chatting with a baseball player is always enjoyable but talking with J.D. was downright fun. He has a powerful energy to him that’s infectious and definitely carries out into his game. You can tell that same energy transfers into his swings at the plate and while wearing the tools of ignorance.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Batavia Muckdogs OF – Michael Donadio

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648097354-612x612Written by Mark Firkins Photo by Getty Images

Michael Donadio was selected by the Marlins in the 30th round in 2017. He played in the Gulf Coast League in 2017 and made his debut in the New York Penn League with the Batavia Muckdogs on June 15, 2018.

He has appeared in 31 of the 38 games played so far this season. He currently features a .288 AVG, 8 doubles, 4 HR, and 20 RBI. He has a quick hard swing. Makes solid contact that makes the ball jump off the bat and find its way to outfield quickly.

A natural Left Fielder, but he can also play Center and Right Field when called upon. Through 336 defensive innings played between the GCL and Batavia, Michael has a perfect 1.000 FPCT.

We sat down in Dwyer Stadium recently and talked about Long Island, life in the minors, and of course baseball.

MF: You’re a NY born and raised player from Long Island. You played your college ball at St. John’s in Queens. You’re now playing on the opposite side of the state in Western NY. Have you had to make any adjustments to life in a small town and a with a small community minor league team like Batavia?

MD: The game is no different. I have the same mentality playing here as I have no matter where else I’ve ever played. Play hard, work hard and give 100% every day. Long Island has their small towns too and where I’m from isn’t that much different.

MF: The NY PENN League has teams in Staten Island, Hudson Valley, Brooklyn, and Connecticut.  Unfortunately Batavia has few games scheduled in those parks this season. It would have been nice from your family’s perspective to have caught you in action there. Have they made the trip down the Thruway to visit you here?

MD: Yeah, those locations would’ve been within an hour or so from home. It’s about a six, seven hour drive for them to visit me here, depending on the traffic on the Island, New York City/New Jersey, but they came up to see my debut a month ago and hopefully they’ll get back again before season’s end.

MF: You’re from Long Island, went to college in Queens, so, I have to ask, growing up were you a Yankees or Mets fan?

MD: I was more of a Mets fans. My dad is from Queens and that’s where the Mets are. My mom’s side of the family are all Yankees fans, so we’re split in half on our NY teams.

MF: Everyone gets along during the holidays when the subject of baseball comes up?

MD: Oh yeah, there’s the good natured teasing, but everyone loves their NY teams.

MF: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a new minor league player?

MD: The every day grind. You practice for a few hours each day, a game each night, then you have the bus rides home or to the next city.

MF: Have the Marlins brought in any ex MLB players or roving instructor coaches to teach and give you any extra guidance as a young player?

MD: Our coach Mike Jacobs has a lot of MLB experience and is one of the most positive influences on all of us. His message is pretty clear. Believe in yourself and play the game the way you did that got you here. Don’t change anything about your game now because you’re in a pro league.

MF: There are so many diverse pitching styles and with young pitchers on a smaller pitch count early in the season, there’s frequent pitching changes. What adjustments do you make or what do you go up there looking for facing a new pitcher every few innings?

MD: I don’t make too many adjustments. No matter who’s pitching I go up there looking for the fastball over the plate.

MF: You’ve been very consistent at the plate and I’ve seen you hit the gaps and with a little power this season. What brand of bat do you like?

MD: Tucci Lumber. Some of my past coaches in summer ball introduced me to that brand. I’ve had good luck and success with them, no need to look at any other type.

MF: You’ve played all three OF spots this season. Do you favor one and why?

MD: I played all 4 years in college in LF and most of my games here have also been there as well. I can play all three, but I’m most comfortable with the view, throw and angle of left.

MF: It’s tough on the minor league road. The bus rides, travel schedule, long days at the field. In your limited free time what do you enjoy doing?

MD: I love fishing. I haven’t had much time around here to do any, but when I’m home I go to the Long Island Sound and fish for Blue Fish, Bass, anything to relax and catch some fish.

MF: Some fun and quick questions for you, ready?

MF: Favorite sport other than baseball?

MD: Football, the NY Giants

MF: MLB park you’d LOVE to play in some day?

MD: Ooh, I should say something else but I’m going to say Fenway Park, it’s about as legendary as it gets.

MF: Day games or night games?

MD: It’s cooler at night, both temperature and under the lights

MF: Spring baseball or Fall baseball?

MD: Spring

MF: Favorite ballpark treat?

MD: Cracker Jack

MF: Favorite song you’ve heard play in the stadium?

MD: It’s cool they play Sweet Caroline here in the 8th

MF: Do you have any baseball superstitions?

MD: None

MF: A debate I’m stirring up between pitchers and hitters, why is it called the foul pole?

MD: That’s good, I don’t know, it’s in play, it should be the fair pole, but that doesn’t sound right. Why, what do pitchers say?

Michael Donadio is proving that no matter where you’re picked in the draft, first, last or somewhere in between, if you work hard, practice hard, listen to and learn from your coaches, the game will find a place for you. Michael’s aggressive approach at the plate and impressive defensive play should find him climbing the organizational ladder and stay in the starting lineup for many seasons to come.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Marlins 1B prospect – Sean Reynolds

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SeanSean Reynolds was picked by the Marlins in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. Through 2 1/2 professional seasons he has split time between the Gulf Coast and NY PENN Leagues. He has slugged 13 HR, 15 doubles, 5 triples, and 59 RBI. I was fortunate enough to witness him pound his 7th and 8th home runs of this season on Sunday July 22. He hit both shots to almost the same spot, directly into the power alley of RC field, right at the scoreboard.

Sean was an interesting choice and draft pick by the Marlins. They saw him blast baseballs 400 feet in high school. They also saw him throw a 7-0 record, strike out 73 batters in 57 innings, a 1.23 ERA as a pitcher and reach back and throw the ball 92 mph. At 6′ 7″ he’d be the ideal fit as the Marlins tend to favor tall athletic pitching prospects. It was his bat though that Marlins vice president of scouting, Stan Meek,  liked the most about Sean. He is quoted as saying “We like the bat, there’s power in it. He’s an aggressive kid and makes good contact. There’s definitely a chance for him to be developed as a power hitter.”

His size, swing and defensive style have been compared to Richie Sexon and John Olerud, good company to be compared with.

I sat down with Sean after his batting practice session on Saturday, July 21st. His 6′ 7″ frame towered above me. His long extended arm pointed downward toward me as we shook hands. He was friendly, enthusiastic, and open to talk about his role and development within the Marlins organization, the Batavia Muckdogs, and the minor leagues.

MF: I think the Marlins saw two possibilities in you when they drafted you in 2016. One, the player we’re seeing now, first baseman with an aggressive swing, power and pop in his bat, good OPS and hitting stats that continue to climb. What a lot of fans might not know is that you were a very good high school pitching prospect as well. Did the Marlins ever take a look at you as pitcher?

SR: They knew I could pitch and some scouts talked to me about that possibility, but the Marlins saw me for what I really am. A 6′ 7″ first baseman with a power lefty swing. They’ve developed me as hitter and saw my future more as a hitter than on the mound.

MF: You bat left but throw right. Is this something natural you’ve always done?

SR: Hitting is the only thing I do as a lefty. Everything else I do is right handed. My dad said when I was 2-3 years old I picked up a wiffle ball bat and started swinging it as a lefty. No one ever tried to change that about me, so I’m a lefty at the plate.

MF: What brand of bat are you using?

SR: Right now I’m swinging Old Hickory maple bats. But I do have some Victus, Rawlings, and Homewood Bats as well. I like a bat with a thin handle and big barrel and when I pick one out I know when it feels just right in my hands.

MF: This your second summer in Batavia and the NY PENN League. You’re now playing against some fresh rookies and some players with 2-3 years of professional experience. What are some of the challenges you’re still facing?

SR: With that fresh talent, there’s always good fresh arms. You’re a pro if you’re here. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new player and this is your first taste, it’s pretty much an even playing field.

MF: Nothing is easy in baseball, especially the minor leagues. However after two seasons now in Batavia have you found it easier to adjust to life in Western NY and life on the road?

SR: The bus trips aren’t that bad. Our longest trip is around 6 1/2 hours, most are shorter drives. The buses certainly weren’t made for guys like me (6′ 7″) to get comfortable on and stretch out. Life in this area is good. It’s a small city but it has everything you need and the community has been very welcoming of us.

MF: After a long day of instruction, practice, then a game, what do you do to relax in your limited free time?

SR: I catch up on my sleep when I can. I love to listen to music.

MF: What kind of music would I find on your phone?

SR: I like a little of everything. Country, classic rock, some oldies, I love just about anything from the 60’s, 70’s & 80″s

MF: What’s some of the best advice you’ve been given by someone in the Marlins organization?

SR: Our manager, Mike Jacobs has been a great influence and example for us to follow. He knows how to teach, has a lot of stories and experience. He’s got recent MLB experience and finished his career with 100 home runs. He always tells me it’s a results based game. He’s a big advocate that when you’re in slump or missing the ball, to remind you not to panic and don’t try to make big adjustments to your approach at the plate. He’ll say the hits will come and that good swings will turn into hits.

MF: Who was your favorite baseball player as a kid?

SR: David Ortiz. My parents lived in New Hampshire for a while before moving to California. My sister lives in Boston, so there was a lot of Red Sox influence when I was younger.

MF: Then I think I know the answer to this, what is your favorite MLB Ballpark?

SR: Oh yeah, Fenway Park

MF: Favorite ballpark food or treat?

SR: Hot dogs – Fenway Franks

MF: What’s better spring baseball or fall baseball?

SR: Fall ball. If you’re still playing in the fall that means you’ve had a good season and you’re part of the post season.

MF: Day games or night games?

SR: Night games. There’s nothing like playing under the lights. The crowds are bigger and the atmosphere has a little more energy to it.

MF: A silly question, yet a baseball one, would you rather sing the National Anthem or dance with the team mascot?

SR: (laughing) I’m not much of a dancer, so I’d rather sing.

MF: A debate I’m stirring up between pitchers and hitters. Why is it called the foul pole?

SR: Ooh, good question, I don’t know, is there a right answer? It’s a home run if you hit it, I’ve never been asked that before.

Sean Reynolds’ offensive stats have continued to climb as he gets more at bats, sees more pitches and faces righties and lefties on a regular basis. His defense is excellent. With his long legs and tall frame, he easily stretches and scoops low throws and turns them into outs. He is vocal on the field and in constant communication with the coaches in the dugout and relays info to the outfield. As I witnessed, Sean is always trying to improve his swing. After BP and before the game he was working individually with Batavia hitting coach, Jesus Merchan then with manager Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was also a first baseman who had the uniqueness of throwing right and batting left. It’s no surprise that Sean respects and looks to his manager for guidance and help to advance his career in baseball.

 

20 Questions with Jeremiah Jackson

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JJ Blog photoWritten by Mark Firkins Photo by Twitter.com

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremiah Jackson, the June 2018 2nd round draft selection by the Los Angeles Angels.

Jeremiah is an exciting young Short Stop from Mobile, Alabama who by his sophomore year of high school had committed to playing college baseball at Mississippi State. However, when the Angels came calling with the 57th overall pick in the 2018 draft, Jeremiah knew it was time for his professional debut.

He’s best described by most scouts and publications as an all around complete player. He features an athletic build and is smooth defensively. He has good range, a strong arm and quick hands making him an ideal double play man at SS. He gets good extension when swinging the bat, makes solid contact, and hits to all parts of the field. He flashes full power when he sees his pitch.

Jeremiah was very polite and personal on the phone. He was polished and honest in his answers about his new life in professional baseball. The following interview took place on Wednesday, July 18th.

MF: Congratulations on your selection by the Angels. They have one of the finest development, training, and coaching staffs in baseball. I can see you excelling in their environment.

JJ: Thank you, it’s a dream come true. I’ve always admired the Angels and now I get to call them my team and hopefully one day my teammates. I am blessed to be in the same organization as Albert Pujols, Upton, Trout, and so many other baseball greats.

MF: You just dropped a few, but can you tell me some of the other big names the Angels have brought into camp and you’ve been introduced to?

JJ: I’ve met so many great people. Jose Molina, Alexis Gomez. I was invited to Anaheim and was introduced to everyone, Mike Scioscia, Eric Hinske, Pujols, Trout, Kinsler, Upton, everyone, my head was spinning meeting everyone being so young.

MF: My head would’ve been spinning as well in that group.

MF: What’s the best advice you’ve been given by someone in the Angels organization that you truly take to heart?

JJ: Everyone is consistent with their message. Work hard and be dedicated. You have to work to get to the next level, nothing is ever given. You have to go out and play every day as if it may be your last day.

MF: You’re playing with and against a great diverse mix of young professionals, new draft picks, international players, and some players with a year or two of professional experience. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced so far?

JJ: You’re right, the talent level is amazing. There are a lot of Latino players and we all have to learn to communicate with each other. We don’t all speak the same language so we have to get to know each other, learn each others signals, use our body language. It’s been an adjustment working together with the 2nd basemen on defense. I’m picking up and understand some Spanish and he’s learning English. We’re all growing together and getting to know each other out on the field together.

MF: Speaking of defense, tell me something about defense you’ve found challenging?

JJ: Working out that communication with my 2nd baseman has been the first. The game is speedier. I take a lot of reps with the defense coaches. I take about 50 reps in practice with the coaches hitting it as hard as they can.

MF: With such a deep and talented pool of pitching prospects on all teams and with young pitchers most likely on a smaller pitch count, you’re seeing 3-5 pitchers per game. Do you find hitters have the disadvantage facing so many frequent pitching changes?

JJ: The pitchers always have the advantage, no matter what level or how many pitchers you may bat against each game. They know what pitch they’re throwing, you don’t. I try to pay attention to the pitcher in his warm ups, read him and look for anything different in his delivery. Once I see a curve or change up I try to remember something in his wind up that I can use so I can recognize it the next time I see it. The coaches tell you what to look for in certain situations and certain counts. I always try to stay ahead in the count, be aggressive, and try not to get behind in a count giving the pitcher back the advantage.

MF: How hard of an adjustment has it been for you swinging a wood bat now in a professional league?

JJ: I’ve trained with a wood bat since high school. I’ve used it in the cages and during BP. I started training with wood very young in case this day ever came. It did and I’m so grateful that I decided to train that way.

MF: You’re batting .295 so far with some extra base hits and a HR. I’d say your training has paid off.

MF: What brands of bats do you prefer?

JJ: Right now my gamers are Marucci. I use an AP 5 model. I also have some Dove Tail and Victus bats that are 271 models that I like.

MF: Did you know that you are the first middle infielder from an Alabama high school to be drafted within the first three rounds of the MLB draft since 1982? Do you know who the 1982 pick was?

JJ: Bo Jackson was the last Alabama pick back then.

MF: Overall, what’s it like being a professional baseball player in the Angels organization?

JJ: Awesome. I play baseball for a living, an absolute dream come true. I love this game and I get to play and improve my game every day. I can’t thank the Angels enough for this opportunity.

MF: I’m an old school guy who still gets the most out of my writing by talking with the players, visiting the ballpark and seeing them in action. I still pay more attention stat lines like AVG, RBI, OBP, FPCT. What do you think about all of the new stat categories, sabr metrics, and technology that a computer can figure out about a player without ever seeing him play?

JJ: The game is always changing. All I can do is work hard and give my best every day. At the end of the game the numbers are what they are. Technology is great though. It has really improved my swing and allowed me to see and learn new things about that part of my game.

MF: In a lot of the minor leagues the players can’t afford their own apartments or can’t find short term rentals, and therefore live with host families in that community. What’s your living situation in the Arizona League?

JJ: The Angels provide us with two bedroom apartments. Right now I have just one roommate and that’s what I expected with an apartment like that. It was funny when I first got out here. I moved into my place and there were already two other players living there as well. So four of us shared a two bedroom unit. That didn’t last too long though. Those guys were promoted to A ball and now it’s just me and my teammate.

MF: You’re from Mobile, Alabama. A long way from home at a young age. What do you miss most about home?

JJ: My family & friends. I grew up in my Grand Dad’s and Mom’s house and they took good care of me. I’m on my own now so I’m responsible for myself. I have to make sure I get up on time, follow my schedule, eat right, and take care of myself.

MF: After a long day of practice, instruction, then a night game, what do you do to unwind and relax in your limited free time?

JJ: My days are long. I’m at the field most days around noon. We take fielding practice, bating practice, shower, eat, then get ready for our game which usually starts at 7:00. I don’t get home until around 11:30 and when I do, I usually shower then get my sleep and rest because I have to do it again the next day.

MF: Do you have any good luck charms, rituals, or baseball superstitions?

JJ: I used to. If I had a good game maybe I’d wear the same socks or compression sleeves again, but I’ve outgrown that. I work and play hard, what happens, happens out there.

MF: I’d like to ask you some quick and fun baseball questions. Answer as many as you can as fast as you can, ready?

– Favorite sport other than baseball?

Auburn Football

– Day games or night games?

Night games

– Spring baseball or Fall baseball

Spring

– Favorite ballpark food or treat?

Nachos

– Favorite MLB ballpark?

Angel Stadium

– Favorite baseball player?

Albert Pujols

– Why is it called the foul pole?

I don’t know, it’s a sight line for me. It’s fair if you hit it.

MF: Jeremiah, thank you for taking the time to speak with me and Real McCoy Minors. It was truly a pleasure chatting with you. Best wishes to you this season in Arizona and your future with the Angels. I hope someday our paths cross at a game and if they do I’ll be sure to introduce myself.

JJ: The pleasure was all mine. You guys do a great job. I look forward to meeting you someday.

Jeremiah Jackson. Professional, polite, mature beyond 18 years old, and hopefully one day in the near future; The Los Angeles Angels Short Stop, teammate of Mike Trout and his idol, Angels 1b/DH, Albert Pujols.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Summer and The NY PENN League

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League Presentation

Written by Mark Firkins

While spring brings me comfort and the start of a new baseball season, it’s summer that brings out my true passion for the game. June signals the start of the NY PENN League. A Class A, short season league that plays from mid June until Labor Day weekend (75 games), featuring 14 teams in three divisions (McNamara, Pickney, and Stedler). The NY PENN League has a long and proud history dating back to 1939. The team closest to my home in Western NY is in Batavia (halfway between Rochester and Buffalo). Batavia has been called home of the NY PENN League and is one of the founding clubs.

The current team is called the Muckdogs and they are affiliated with the Miami Marlins. In the past they have been called the Clippers, Trojans, Indians, and Pirates. They have been affiliated with the Pirates, Mets, Indians, Tigers, Cardinals, and Phillies.

With a population of less than 16,000, Batavia is one of the smallest cities to host a professional baseball team in 21st century United States. Yet, they have produced more than their share of Major League players. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Carrasco, J.A. Happ, Gene Baker, Woodie Fryman, Matt Carpenter, Andy Ashby and dozens of others have all called Batavia home for a summer.

While I enjoy my trips to MLB stadiums and my press box view at AAA Rochester, I honestly feel most at home in Batavia and the other NY PENN League stadiums I visit. There is no seat that is not up close to the action. You can hear the players chatter and manager/coaches talk in the dugout. The Umpires calls are loud and clear. The crack of a maple bat can be heard anywhere in the park. While most stadiums are more modern with plenty of good amenities; the crowds, character, and feel of this league is not that far removed from the classic baseball movie Bull Durham.

For most of the players in this league, this is their first taste of professional baseball and part of their long journey to the majors. It’s a diverse mix of the occasional #1 draft picks through #40 picks. Recently graduated and drafted high school players, junior college, Division I, and international players are assembled onto a team and all play together. I’ve seen Indians top pick Will Benson, OF – Mahoning Valley Scrappers, play against Marlins #40 pick Matt Foley, Catcher (both players I have profiled and can be seen in my older posts). I was treated to a perfect game on June 24, 2015 (thrown by Muckdogs Pitchers, Gabriel Castellanos, Brett Lilek, and Steven Farnworth) and have seen 22-0 losses. On rare occasions I’ve seen veteran MLB players on rehab assignments face off against top prospects.

The players are there to learn, mature and develop. There’s no shortage of ex-MLB players who have, or still are, coaching at this level to teach these fresh players the ins and outs of the pro game. Pat Borders, Travis Fryman, Tim Raines, Luke Carlin, Joel Skinner, Buck Showalter and many other famous names have all manned the dugouts in this league. The Brooklyn Cyclones alone feature 1980’s Mets greats Edgar Alfonso, Howard Johnson, and Bobby Ojeda as their coaching trio.

The NY PENN League opens on June 18th. I will once again find my seats in the sun a few rows above the visitors dugout, on the third base side. While rosters are still being put together, I’m excited to watch a fresh batch of eager, young players from all of the teams. I look forward to seeing all of the different uniform colors, interesting team names and logos. I’m eager to witness a player get his first professional hit, RBI, and home run with a wooden bat. As the season progresses I start to wonder, which of these players will eventually make it to their MLB club? Who will be the next Francisco Lindor and rise rapidly through the MiLB system to stardom? Will I watch a player quietly fly under the radar and play his way to a Major League roster like Brian Anderson? Which player will be like Pitcher Brandon Mann? A player who grinds out another season in the minors, becomes a fan favorite, has the heart of a lion, and never gives up on his dream of playing in the MLB.

Summer and baseball go hand in hand. It’s time to get outside, visit with friends you haven’t seen since the end of last season, and meet and chat with new, great baseball fans at the ballpark you’re at that night. To me there’s nothing more American than watching our national pastime and seeing young talent getting their first chance to play professionally. The NY PENN League offers just that, 14 teams, 350 players, most playing professional baseball for the first time and providing their fans with entertainment.

For more minor league player news and graphing information check us out on Twitter. Also, feel free to check out our online store on eBay.

MiLB – Never Give Up

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Brandon Mann

Written by Mark Firkins Photo by MiLB.com

Stay positive. Stay focussed. Have a good attitude. Keep your eye on the prize. Don’t quit. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Follow your dreams. One more, and the most important, NEVER, give up.

We’ve all been given this type of advice and life lessons from our parents, teachers, or coaches. Let’s face it, most of us have had to alter our life’s plans. We’ve made sacrifices, done what’s best for our families, and convince ourselves to be practical. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just what we need to do. Sometimes dreams don’t come true and life finds a different path for you. However, once in a while, someone with courage and determination so strong, defies the odds and inspires a whole new generation of dreamers. A 34 year old Minor Leaguer who made Major League headlines last week is a prime example of this.

Most of my articles concentrate on rookies or young prospects in their first few years of professional baseball. Yet when inspiration strikes, it strikes hard and the story needs to be shared. Brandon Mann, who after toiling in the minors, Japanese, and Independent Leagues since 2002, finally achieved his dreams of playing Major League Baseball and is the inspiration of my latest article.

Brandon Mann is a left handed pitcher, drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (yes, you read that correct, Devil Rays) in the 27th round in 2002. A true journeyman in every sense of the word. He has played in order, in the following leagues:

2002 – Appalachian League   

2003 – NY Penn League & Appalachian League

2004 – NY Penn League

2005 – Midwest League

2006 – California League

2008 – Florida State League

2009 – Southern Atlantic League

2010 – Atlantic League (Independent)

2011 – Japan Central League

2012 – Japan Central League

2014 – Atlantic League (Independent)

2015 – American Association (Independent)

2016 – Pacific Coast League, Texas League, & Arizona League

2017 – Texas League

2018 – Pacific Coast League

2018 – American League – MLB

* Note in 2007 and 2013 he did not play professional baseball.

That’s a lot of traveling, in a lot of leagues, with a lot of organizations.

Call him lucky. Call him blessed. Call him persistent. Or as the old joke in baseball goes, what do you call an old righty pitcher? Coach. How about an old lefty pitcher? Crafty. Let’s face it, lefty’s sometimes get picked on, teased, and in years past, were forced to be right handers in school and jobs. But in baseball, they still come at a premium, and if there’s a chance they can help your club, they’re worth taking a look at it. That’s exactly what the Texas Rangers did on January 10, 2018. They offered him a minor league contract and assigned him to the Round Rock Express, their AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League.

Brandon Mann has a 15 year resume of minor league pitching and has held every job a pitcher can have; starter, long relief, set up, and occasional closer. Through all of his leagues and travels he owns a 59-91 record. A 4.34 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. He’s recorded 4 saves and has 1052 strikeouts in 1274 innings pitched. Brandon Mann wasn’t even on the Rangers 40 man roster. So why make a roster move and purchase the contract of a 34 year old rookie? Surely the Rangers must have a qualified player, righty or lefty, already on their 40 man capable of relief duties. Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “The command of his fastball, command of his delivery, secondary stuff, how he was handling hitters, all our scouts felt he was a solid option.”

The baseball Gods have smiled upon Brandon in 2018. In his 12 appearances with Round Rock, he has pitched 17.1 innings, posting a 1-0 record, with 13 strikeouts, a 1.04 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and has kept opponents batting against him to a .133 AVG. A small sample size in the beginning of this AAA season, but arguably his best start to a season and statistics in his pitching career.

On May 13, 2018, 3 days before his 34th birthday, he got the call that all minor leaguers long to hear. His contract had been selected by the Texas Rangers and he had been called up to pitch in the Major Leagues. He would now share a locker near veteran pitchers Cole Hammels, Doug Fister, and Bartolo Colon. He would join the Rangers bullpen and get prepared for when he was to be called upon. In his first ever Major League game (5/13/18), he was summoned from the bullpen and pitched 1.2 innings of relief. He allowed 1 hit, 0 runs and registered no walks or strikeouts. He put up the the same exact stats in his next appearance on 5/15/18.

What does the future hold for Brandon Mann? No one knows. Baseball is a beautiful game but can also be fickle and cruel. He could spend the rest of the season finding his groove and filling a role with the Rangers in the big leagues. He could be DFA, have to clear waivers, and/or be claimed by and play for yet another team and another league. Whatever it may be, you must know by now that Brandon Mann will face any challenge thrown his way. Work as hard and diligent as possible. Be prepared for whenever he is needed and in whatever situation that may be. And of course, Brandon Mann will never give up.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster for more MLB prospect news and updates!

Captains of the Midwest League

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Screen Shot 2018-04-28 at 5.49.15 PMWritten by Mark Firkins

Minor League Baseball has started. With three weeks of play behind us we’re starting to see trends appear from some of the games younger talents. It seems like an eternity since I last visited a baseball stadium. However now that the weather seems to be turning in my favor, I’m making the most of it. I’m getting out to the ballpark as often as I can and visiting as many teams and cities as my schedule allows this season.

It’s no secret that North East Ohio is a favorite road trip of mine. There’s plenty of Major and Minor League baseball in and around Cleveland. Located only 15 minutes east of Cleveland, in East Lake, Ohio, is Classic Park. Home of the Lake County Captains, the Cleveland Indians A affiliate of the Midwest League. Plenty of the Indians current roster have made this a stop on their way to big leagues, including Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor.

A lot of the players on this years Captains roster are familiar to me as I saw plenty of them in action last season in their rookie years with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the NY PENN League. Their manager Luke Carlin is also a familiar face. Carlin managed the Scrappers last season and led them to the NY PENN League playoffs and finals. It was wise of the Indians to promote Carlin as the Captains manager as well. He’s familiar with most of the roster, the players have a good rapport, respect, and will continue to develop with him for another year.

Two names from last season that are off to an impressive start this season are SS Ernie Clement and Starting Pitcher Eli Morgan. Ernie Clement is not a name that most baseball fans are familiar with, yet. After being drafted in the 4th round by the Cleveland Indians with the No. 132 overall pick in the 2017 Draft, Clement has flown under-the-radar a bit. Those who do know about him are excited for his future with the Indians.

In his first MiLB season, he split time between second base and shortstop. In 149 innings at second he fielded a perfect 1.000 FPCT. At SS, he played 187 innings, with a .951 FPCT.  At the plate Clement went 49 for 175 for a .280 AVG. So far in 2018 Clement has appeared in 14 of the 16 Captains games as their SS. He’s off to a fast start with the bat, going 20 for 59, a .339 AVG. Clement is definitely a tough out for opposing pitchers. He has an excellent batting eye and rarely strikes out. He has an open batting stance, quick level swing, squares the ball on the barrel, and makes hard contact. He features the potential for a being a top of the order table setter with good base running skills and the ability to steal a few bases.

Clement is known for his enthusiasm and extreme work ethic. I caught up with Ernie during a rain delay, before a game last season and asked him what it was like to be a player in the Indians farm system. He answered “It’s been amazing. First of all the organization has treated me so well. From the coaches to the strength and conditioning department, everyone is fully invested into your development as a player. And then all the guys around me on the field are amazing. Every teammate I’ve had so far has been positive and wants to work hard. It’s really cool to be a part of. I just love playing the game. I have fun and try to make that positive energy contagious. It’s not a job for me, I look forward to showing up to the park every single day.” With a positive attitude like that, strong work ethic, and the skills he has, Clement is likely to have a stellar season with the Captains.

Elijah Morgan was an 8th round pick by Cleveland in 2017. Last season for Mahoning Valley, Eli went 3-2, with a 1.03 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and struck out 58 batters in 35 innings of work. So far in 2018 he has started 4 games, has a 1-0 record, 1.74 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 27 strikeouts through 20 2/3 innings. Morgan mixes a four-seam fastball that sits in the low 90s with a hard slider and a change-up that rates as on of the best in the Indians’ farm system. Morgan is a classic power pitcher who is not afraid to challenge opposing hitters. He idolized Pedro Martinez growing up and said he likens his approach to pitching like Pedro did. “The guy wasn’t afraid of any batter, he threw hard strikes, challenged them to swing at his stuff, and had swagger on the mound.”

Morgan has learned a lot from former MLB catcher and now manager Luke Carlin and his fellow pitchers from last season at Mahoning Valley. He has confidence in himself and teammates after their 44-29 record and run in the NY PENN League playoffs last summer. “The pitchers we have here this season dominated last year at Mahoning Valley. Our goal is to do the same this season in the Midwest League and win a champion-ship.” Morgan’s confidence and abilities will make him a positive addition to the Lake County pitching staff.

Spring baseball has just begun. Summer is just around the corner. One that promises to be one full of adventurous road trips. New stadiums, cities, and exciting baseball at different levels of play for me to view. The opportunity to see how players I’ve enjoyed in the past mature and develop. The chance for me to watch new players show off their baseball skills all summer long.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster for more MLB prospect news and updates!

Opening Day in AAA Rochester

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Red Wings logoWritten 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.

Rochester Opening DayThe 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.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster for more MLB prospect news and updates. Also, check  out our collection of autographed photos on eBay!