Category Archives: Baseball Match

Who’s on first? who’s at the plate?

Good turnout for the Stars home opener, hours after owner Miles Prentice signed a new 5-year lease with the city on Joe Davis Stadium. Over 4,300 were ready for baseball from the reception they received tonight.

The weather was a real friend this year — one of the warmest openers (clear and 83³) I’ve seen in many years.

The Stars were ready for baseball, too. They didn’t leave their awesome, albeit modest-sounding 3-2 start in Chattanooga. Coming in to play, they were 1st in the Southern League in ERA (1.88), 1st in batting (.276), and 2nd in runs scored. Combining 13 hits and 4-hit pitching, the Stars won their 4th straight game, beating Jacksonville, 7-1……… The Stars have an all-time winning record against 6 of the 9 teams in the league, but the Suns are not one of them (149-168). The Stars are 13-32 against the Suns over the last four seasons (not counting tonight.)………. Only one hit came off the bullpen, working four innings in relief of Amaury Rivas, who allowed just 3 hits in 5 IP, and they managed to hold top minor league prospect Mike Stanton (#3 on Baseball America’s Top 100) hitless. Rivas, in fact, held Jacksonville hitless until the 4th, when Osvaldo Martinez hit a sharp grounder under a diving Taylor Green into left for a single on a 1-1 pitch to lead off the inning. After striking out Stanton, Mark Saccomanno tripled to the gap in right-center, putting the Suns on the scoreboard.

But by this time, Amaury already had a 4-0 lead, anyway……… Lorenzo Cain had led things off in the 1st with a single up the middle. In six games this season, Cain has led off the 1st with a single three times………. He then successfully took a tour of the bases. He went to second when unranked prospect Eli Villanueva walked Brett Lawrie on five pitches, then third when Jonathan Lucroy hit a broken-bat single to Matt Dominguez, who couldn’t find the handle on the ball as he looked to avoid the splinters. Lucroy was generously given the single, and the bases were full for Taylor Green (now leading the team in RBIs and 2nd in average)……. Green connected on a 1-2 pitch, sending it to the base of the center field wall near the 405 mark. Cain and Lawrie scored easily and Lucroy held up at third, giving the Stars a 2-0 lead……… Chris Errecart’s fly ball to right scored Lucroy to make it 3-0.

In the 3rd, Lucroy took Lorenzo Scott to the wall, where the ball tipped off his glove for a double. He eventually scored on Green’s fly ball to right and Errecart’s single through the left side. That made it 4-0…….. If you came to the Joe this night looking for drama, you didn’t get it, but if it was a solid Stars victory you came to see, it was stamped from the start.

Caleb Gindl hit the first home run of the year before a home crowd. It came in the 6th on a 2-0 pitch from reliever Jeff Allison, who took the loss in a 16-8 pounding by West Tennessee last Thursday. The ball went to deepest center field, hitting the top of the first fence just above the yellow line, and then bouncing back onto the field………. Seeing Gindl at the plate for the first time, my friends remarked that he looked like a midget up there (he’s 5’9″ on paper), especially when he goes into his crouch. But I had them convinced that he could hit — and so far, he hasn’t disproved that at all. Gindl is hitting .360 (4-for-11 in the early innings), and is one of 7 in the league with 2 HRs so far.

Rivas threw 50 of his 84 pitches for strikes (59.5%) and worked the count full four times — twice facing the last two batters in the 5th. He labored that inning, throwing 29 pitches, 17 for strikes. With Rivas due to bat in the bottom of the 5th, pitcher Jim Henderson hit for him and stayed in the game. Usually that’s just giving away an out, but Henderson doubled to left on an 0-1 pitch from Allison. It was a scoreless inning, but Henderson stayed in to pitch three scoreless innings, giving up just one hit……….. The Stars bullpen, as I’ve noticed for the last three years, has gotten off to a terrific start. Adding four more scoreless inning to the record book, the Stars’ pen has thrown 21 1/3 innings and given up just 3 earned runs — a 1.27 ERA — after six games.

There’s been a proclivity to score early, too it seems. 17 of the 34 runs the Stars have scored have come in the first four innings, seven of them in the 1st.

The staff of the Huntsville Stars did a grand job in preparing this opener. The field was in excellent shape and the stands, grounds, and concourse were spotless. The concession stands were inviting, even if the prices did make you think twice. For the first time, you can get a shake or a malt — if you want to part with $6.50…… Baskin-Robbins, one of the great places to get ice cream, especially if you’re looking for variety, is operating for the first time, and Oscar Meyer has replaced Sabretts, which from fans I talked to, weren’t too popular…… The soft drinks, the dogs, pretzels, most everything has gone up in price, but there are still specials at the park. Dogs, today, were two for a buck, as they will always be on Wednesdays, and Thirsty Thursdays will be around to the end of the season……. In all, there’s more to choose from this season, if your wallet’s loaded……… Unfortunately, despite all hope and promises, the scoreboard wasn’t ready. It was impossible to know who on the opposing team was at the plate, because Jacksonville’s numbers weren’t on the roster insert. The scoreboard is still being worked on, and has not been neglected, but it’s disappointing to see such an integral element of the baseball experience missing. Every park in the league has a fully-functioning scoreboard. We haven’t had one in two years………. Anyway, preparing for opening day is an awesome job and if you just think about what has to make it all work, the Stars have handled it in a most professional manner.

Thursday, manager Mike Guerrero should go with Alexandre Periard against right-hander Tom Koehler, who went four innings in his first start this year. Koehler gave up 6 runs (5 earned) on 4 hits and struck out 7 in 4 innings in that previously mentioned 16-8 loss to the Diamond Jaxx……… The Stars home opener marks the first of 25 straight games for the Stars. They don’t have another off day until May 9 (Mother’s Day). Fifteen of those 25 will be at the friendly confines.

The Stars are off to a 4-2 start, tying them for 2nd in the North, a game in back of the Smokies, who are 5-1…….. More details tomorrow, including the scoreboard situation, but I have to get off to work.

The Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League sold catcher Buck Afenir to the Houston Astros. Does that name sound familiar, Stars fans?……. Here’s another familiar name. Scott Spiezio. The former Huntsville Stars 3rd baseman was signed by the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League. He hit .285 for the Stars in 1995……. Outfielder Steve Moss was one of several players signed by that league’s Bridgeport Bluefish last Wednesday……… The Detroit Tigers have released Sam Narron, who was on the roster of the Toledo Mud Hens (IL). Narron was claimed off waivers by the Brewers in 2004. He made two starts for the Stars last year. He was 6-1 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts for the Stars in 2008.

A Memorable Match Between Huntsville and Birmingham

For the first time in its history, the Stars had to close their box office. The fire marshal finally said, “That’s enough”. The crowd was overflow. People standing in the concourse three deep. In the aisles, from the steps to the top.

There was even talk of letting them down on the field, as long as they stayed on the edge from the bullpen to the corner track, but that didn’t happen. Huntsvile hadn’t seen anything like it.

Before or since. The attendance this July night broke the old record of 13,074, set on April 30, 1994, on the third night of Michael Jordan’s first visit to the Stadium. And all it was was a perfect summer night with just The Chicken and fireworks. The only thing missing was the script.

Well, the script arrived in time, and it was played out to a Hollywood conclusion.

Derek Manning was matched against Nelson Cruz. For seven innings, Cruz held the Stars scoreless, setting them up for Birmingham’s designated stopper that year, Stacy Jones (Jones finished the season with a club-leading 14 saves.) Manning pitched well until he severely injured his right knee going after a Mario Valdez bunt. He never came back the rest of the year.

Bob Bennett and Gary Haught, the Stars best middle reliever in June and July, picked it up from there and kept Birmingham from scoring, though they had a number of chances, and they kept the Stars in this game.

Jones, in relief of Cruz in the 8th, couldn’t hold the Barons’ one-run lead. Rod Correia, the first batter Jones faced, ripped a triple to right to score pinch-runner David Francisco, tying the game, 1-1. Then with 2 out and runners on first and second, Demond Smith smacked his 9th triple of the year off the right field wall, scoring Correia and Charles Poe, who had singled, giving the Stars a 3-1 lead.

But Birmingham came back, as they always seemed to do against us, in the top of the 9th off Mike Maurer. Jimmy Hurst, the Barons’ leading RBI man that year, slammed a bases-loaded double to right, putting the Barons back in the lead, 4-3.

The Chicken, usually signing autographs on the inside concourse by this time, did something he, er -it, had never done. He came back to the field, stood on top of the Stars dugout, and pantomimed the inspirational taped monologue that was run over the PA, of John Belushi’s famous speech from “Animal House.” You know the one. “When the going gets tough……..”

Perhaps The Chicken helped win it for us that day. His antics, meant to provide more than comic relief, did something for that cast-iron kettle the dugout was becoming.

Reliever Steve Worrell, who finished the season 5-1 with a 2.12 ERA, walked leadoff hitter Ben Grieve and Mark Bellhorn. Rob DeBoer, the Stars’ muscular barrel-chested back-up catcher, surprised more than a few people by laying down a perfect bunt single to load the bases.

It looked as if the Stars would give the crowd an early fireworks display, but Worrell struck out Willie Morales and Rod Correia. On a warm summer evening in a crowded ballpark came a little more sweat. No one was leaving this ballpark. The Chicken was busy working the cheering section and Charles Poe was busy waving his bat in the on-deck circle before coming to the plate.

Just one hit pleaded a noisy agitated crowd. The count to Poe went to 3-and-2, one strike away from a loss. Then Poe got all of a slider than hung over the plate and Poe was all over it. To dead centerfield it went.

Grand-slam home run in the bottom of the ninth.

“That was sweet, man,” said Poe. “I was trying to go the other way, believe it or not. I just got the head of the bat on it and there it went.”

Call it a present to the largest crowd in the history of Joe Davis Stadium.

Winning pitcher Chris Michalak is now active in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He’s got a new sidearm pitching motion that just wasn’t good enough for the 40-man roster.

He’ll probably wind up with Indianapolis this season. Birmingham’s lineup was peppered with future major leaguers –Mike Cameron, Magglio Ordonez, and Frank Menechino.

And Charles Poe, ironically a former Baron who was a Southern League All-Star the previous year, is now a coach in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system.

He’ll be working with hitters for the Class A-Charleston Alley Cats of the South Atlantic League. He finished his playing career in Las Vegas, the San Diego Padres’ Class AAA farm club.

Jones Gets a Hand

Scoreless for eight innings, Drew Anderson and the Huntsville Stars capitalized on a throwing error on a pickoff throw to get pinch-runner Freddy Parejo in the 9th and parlayed it into another last-at-bat, one-run victory on a warm, but windy Friday night at the friendly confines. With a 0-1 count, Anderson greeted a belt-high fast ball and lined it into left field close to the line, scoring Parejo from third to give the Stars their 3rd straight win and put them, once again, over .500 and back in 1st place in the SL North……. The Stars, who’ve made clutch hitting a specialty this year, are 11-5 in one-run games. It was also the 10th time this year the Stars have won with a late-inning (7th or later) comeback.

Mike Jones, who went at least five innings only once in 12 stars last year, did not win for lack of support, but he supplied a fine six-inning outing and gave fans hope for more strength to what has been, in my opinion, the weakest and least successful starting rotation in many years. Jones threw 89 pitches, 53 for strikes (59.5%).

West Tennessee pitcher Kyle Parker was successful in keeping Huntsville hitters from going deep (12 groundouts to 7 fly outs). In fact, the Stars didn’t get the ball out of the infield until Vinny Rottino singled to right-center over the leaping glove of 2nd baseman Ron Prettyman with two out. That was the Stars first and only hit until the 9th inning game-winner. Only one other ball was hit in the outfield in the first five innings for the Stars — a weak pop up to Prettyman by Yohannis Perez in the 5th…… The Stars put runners on 1st and 2nd in the 2nd thanks to a bad hop grounder that went through Prettyman and a two-out walk to newcomer Taylor Green, but Kevin Melillo bounced out weakly to first to end the inning…….. After Shane Justis struck out swinging to open the bottom of the 9th, reliever Nicolas Hill walked another fresh face, Frank Catalanotto, on a 3-1 pitch. Pinch-runner Freddy Parejo then made it to third when Hill, who was 1-and-2 on Jonathan Lucroy, threw over the head of 1st baseman Marshall Hubbard, allowing Parejo to third, setting up Anderson and the game-winning hit on an 0-1 pitch.

Baseball Card night attracted only a little more than 1,200. The cards, printed by Grandstand, a major company that has done minor league cards for years, are picture-framed by a heavy red and blue border in the motif of the Stars logo. In the lower left corner is Pepsi’s new logo and on the right, the name of the player. The team name “Huntsville Stars” is inside the border, in upper and lower case in blue with a white border on the left side of the card extending almost up to the corner, then in the upper left, leaving some space in the corner where the team name ends, is the year, “2009”. In the upper right corner is the Stars logo…. The photos and the design were selected by media relations man Brian Massey with a little help from his friends. I got more than a dozen autographed tonight. Nicest autograph: Adam Stern. Derrick Ellison’s autograph included a bible reference to Hebrews 11:6. Jeremy Jeffress and Chris Errecart, who are not with the team, are included in the set.

Saturday, Bobby Bramhall will try to get his first win and extend the Stars’ winning streak to four against Luis Munoz (1-1). Munoz started the season with Class AAA-Tacoma (PCL) and was sent down with an 0-3 record to the Diamond Jaxx on May 19.

Kevin Melillo is struggling through a 3-for-27 slump……. Freddy Parejo is 5-for-36 (.139) with one RBI…… Adam Stern is in a bit of a slump. He’s 5-for-30 going back to the start of the Mobile series……. Who’s hot? Vinny Rottino. 9-for-25 in 7 games with 3 doubles and 7 RBIs and Shane Justis, who despite his 0-for-4 night, is 14-for-28.