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.

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