Archive for July, 2012
In the baseball portion of my 11-day vacation, my second and last Northwest League game was about 70 miles up I-5 from Eugene. After spending some time checking out the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, I got over to the ballpark, did my shooting, then headed up to Portland for the night. Here’s the standard info:
The AquaSox won, 6-2. In his fourth game as a professional, Mike Zunino hit a pair of solo homers as part of a 3-for-4 night. Marcus Littlewood singled twice and Ketel Marte drove in a pair of runs. Ryan Jones singled twice for Salem-Keizer while Rafael Rodriguez had a couple RBI.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s entry, Short Season A-Ball grants people the chance to see recent draft picks just starting their professional careers. Zunino, who attended the University of Florida, was the 3rd Overall pick by the Seattle Mariners. Obviously you can’t make much out of any one game but after homering the day before, hitting two more while just starting one’s path to the bigs is hard to look down on. The next question may be how long before he’s passing through Tacoma on the way to Seattle, which might just be sooner than most. I also don’t know how many players from these two games will eventually reach the bigs, but Zunino is by far the most likely.
There wasn’t too much else that stood out in this game. Neither starting pitcher was drafted, but that doesn’t mean they have no future. There’s just no real hype for them that usually goes along with, say, someone selected in the first few rounds. I did this with the last two teams, so I’ll break it down again. As of this game, Salem-Keizer’s roster was 47% full of players drafted this year while Everett’s was an even 50%. As it turns out, Eugene’s 70% ended up easily being the highest total. That might just be a timing thing, since other teams may give some of their new draftees more time in rookie ball first.
I ended up getting numerous shots I liked in this game and a large part of that had to do with the lighting conditions. Volcanoes Stadium, like Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield, has no actual photo wells so photographers don’t work from the field area itself. However, the seats near the dugouts may as well be just as good for the angles they provided.
Also, like John Thurman Field in Modesto, where the sun sets directly behind the first base side, the same thing is the case in Salem-Keizer but on the third base side instead. That meant I could really ramp up my settings from that spot, as high as a 1/8000 shutter speed, f2.8, ISO 250 or so until the sun fully set. Even on the first base side, which I spent more time on because of all the right-handed hitters in both lineups, I could shoot pretty fast most of the way.
Given the choice I still prefer an actual photo well because sometimes there will be games that have very few open seats to claim, but I can’t complain about the shooting conditions themselves. They probably rate as better than what’s possible at PK Park in Eugene, which is a much nicer actual facility. Some may call attention to the fact that I-5 can likely be reached with a particularly long home run but I didn’t find any noise from the highway to be an issue.
The action I got was satisfactory, but I was happiest with a sequence I got at home plate that centered around a collision. For one reason or another the camera’s burst mode didn’t rip off about 10 shots in a second – I got about half that, which happens unexpectedly sometimes – but I still got the moments before and during impact. There just aren’t many plays at the plate that lead to collisions so getting a good one is nice. Well, nice for me.
One thing you may or may not have noticed is Everett’s logo. If you’re familiar at all with the Seattle Mariners, an early logo of theirs featured a trident in the shape of an M. Since the AquaSox team is a Seattle affiliate, they just took the old M, turned it sideways, and now it’s an E. Pretty clever and a nice nod to the past.
After this will be that 18-inning marathon from my first visit to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
My initiation to Short Season A-Ball was a good one as I saw a low-scoring game between Vancouver and Eugene that featured multiple ejections and a walkoff homer. Before I get into the details, here’s the info and link:
The Emeralds won, 2-1. After two walks earlier, Ronnie Richardson hit a game-winning homer on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the 9th after manager Pat Murphy was tossed arguing balls and strikes. Jorge Flores accounted for Vancouver’s only run with a home run in the 3rd to go with a double and walk. Goose Kallunki doubled twice for Eugene while Christopher Nunn struck out all six hitters he faced.
I’ve shot High-A baseball numerous times, most often in Stockton, but based on the Minor League hierarchy that level is more or less in the middle of the system typical players pass through. For those who might be unaware, it goes like this:
* Rookie (mostly for newer draftees and injured players working through a sort of “extended spring training” setup against real competition)
* A Short Season (typically new draft picks and undrafted players signed as free agents)
* A (basic level, this is also considered Low-A)
* A Advanced (also considered High-A)
Short Season A-ball is where many players begin their professional careers, so it can be fun to see which people eventually reach the big leagues. Obviously, the lower the level the smaller that percentage is.
The Northwest League consists of eight teams, most of them in Oregon and Washington with one each in Idaho and Vancouver, BC. Right now, Vancouver is the only location in Canada with an affiliation to an MLB team (Toronto, in this case). Both cities of Vancouver and Eugene also have long histories tied to the minors. For years Eugene’s team played in Civic Stadium, but when the University of Oregon built a new ballpark next to Autzen Stadium as the Ducks resumed varsity baseball after decades of it just being a club sport, the Emeralds also took up play in 2010 at what would be named PK Park, after former Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny (not Phil Knight, the Nike co-founder who has strong ties to the University of Oregon as a graduate).
I’d seen a few Ducks games on TV and one of the things I like to do before going to a ballpark for the first time is check satellite images and other photos so I know exactly what it looks like. PK Park doesn’t have grass, but FieldTurf instead. With most artificial turf fields, there are just cutouts at the pitcher’s mound, home plate area and each base. What I’d noticed was for Ducks games, except for the pitcher’s mound the rest of the place is all turf, even around the plate. The batter’s boxes were permanently painted in.
The Emeralds don’t use that, but a more traditional dirt cutout instead. Apart from that, it’s styled such that it looks like a normal dirt infield and even has a “mow pattern” you’d see in real grass, so it can be deceptive to people who aren’t used to it. However, when people slide in the field, you get those little rubber bits that kick up and blend back into the turf afterward. It also took me a little while to notice it, but the area that serves as the warning track has a slightly different texture than the “grass” so it gives enough of a feel that you can tell when you’re close to a wall. Pretty interesting.
PK Park has no formal photo wells, but there are ramps to either side of the dugouts with a painted line for photographers to stay behind. It works, but the only drawback is it’s at enough of an angle and distance that you’re roughly at the edge of the infield instead of closer to being lined up with the bases, and depending on which team is hitting it can be tough to shoot the batters without people in the on deck circle being directly in the background. However, you’re pretty close and the seats closer to the plate are also great spots to shoot from. As I understand it, since the sun sets directly behind the plate the roof can cast deep shadows on the infield while the outfield remains bright, but that wasn’t an issue in this game as it was partly cloudy around gametime. You can get an idea of it in one of the earlier photos in the gallery, though.
As for the game itself, it featured a couple 2012 2nd Round picks in Jeremy Baltz and Dane Phillips for Eugene, which is an affiliate of San Diego. They also have 11th Round pick Maxx Tissenbaum, who played for the underdog Stony Brook team that knocked off LSU to reach the College World Series before being quickly bounced from Omaha with two losses. Looking at Eugene’s roster, about 70% of their team was either drafted or signed this year.
Comparatively, Vancouver’s roster was only about 38% filled by players from this year’s draft period. One, Marcus Stroman, was picked in the 1st Round and 22nd overall, but he pitched in relief the day before and I didn’t see him here. Tucker Donahue, who was selected in the 4th Round, did see action late in this one. He gave up the game-ending homer to Ronnie Richardson, which came exactly one pitch after Eugene’s manager Pat Murphy (formerly Arizona State’s head coach) was tossed during a long argument over balls and strikes. In fact, both managers ended up ejected in this one. The funny thing? After the ejection I said to Eugene’s photographer, “Might as well end it now after all that.” Within seconds, game over. Good timing, I’d say.
Jorge Flores was mentioned above for Vancouver. What stood out to me was just how short he was – 5’5″. In fact, that’s the same height as Jose Altuve so if Flores has any sort of career there are sure to be comparisons drawn between the two for that reason alone. He got under the skin of the Eugene team and their fans in the 3rd when he repeatedly held his hand up before each pitch to signal time as he set up in the batter’s box. It became enough of an issue that there was a dispute over what the count was, as apparently the plate ump actually called time before a couple pitches were thrown. After a debate about it, Flores stepped back in and poked a home run over the fence in left. I did notice that afterward, he stopped giving the signal for time before each pitch. Keep an eye on him, Toronto fans.
The next game will be Everett at Salem-Keizer, in which I saw Mike Zunino hit a pair of home runs. He was Seattle’s 1st Rounder and the 3rd Overall pick this year.
There will be more once I’m done with various photos, but that’s going to take a while. For now, a summary:
* 7/16: drove to Eugene, saw the game at PK Park next to Autzen Stadium. Nice place, though some of the shooting locations in the ballpark were a bit further away than I’m used to. After Eugene’s manager got tossed in the bottom of the 9th arguing balls and strikes (it went almost 5 minutes) I turned to the photographer next to me and said, “Might as well end it now.” No kidding, next pitch: walkoff home run.
* 7/17: had VooDoo Doughnuts at the Eugene location (not bad, but probably overrated), drove to Salem, stopped off at the Oregon state capitol building, saw the game at Volcanoes Stadium. Mariners #3 pick Mike Zunino hit two home runs in his fourth professional game for visiting Everett, who beat Salem-Keizer. No photo wells at the place but the shooting spots were still great. Drove to Portland for the motel.
* 7/18: did a little wandering before lunch with a couple people at the downtown food carts. After that, got to Tacoma and rushed over to Cheney Stadium with a little time to spare before the game. That was the 18-inning marathon I wrote about, ending with a position player who’d come in to pitch hitting a walkoff homer.
* 7/19: wandered around Tacoma’s inner harbor area, which had some decent sights. Shot my second game in Tacoma, a Sacramento blowout win. Left at 10 PM to make it up to the Seattle area before it got too late, where I stayed with friends.
* 7/20-22: worked from there, though on the 21st I went out to a car with a completely dead battery so I had to get that replaced. Good thing that happened when it did and not while I was in the middle of any part of the trip.
* 7/23: up early to get on the ferry to Victoria, BC from Seattle. Nice ride, though the waters were rough enough getting close to the end that everyone looked drunk when they were walking around. Hopped a tour bus to go to Butchart Gardens and two hours was too short to really enjoy everything, but part of that was me having to speed it up after I realized I was taking too long in one area. Checked into the hotel, got some Canadian money, then did some walking around the harbor and a few blocks away here and there to see various things. Went back out a little after 9 PM to take pics around the harbor & parliament building at night.
* 7/24: checked out some of the interior of the Empress then toured inside the parliament building. That was worth seeing. They also had some people dressed in period clothes to act like certain people from the past. We got the architect, Francis Rattenbury. You can look him up for more info. After that I rented a bike because I didn’t think I’d have enough time to see what I wanted by walking alone, and my feet were already complaining from the day before. Hadn’t rode in nearly 15 years but I had Tim Horton’s before seeing Craigdarroch Castle, going over the Johnson Street Bridge (“Big Blue”) to see the harbor from the other side, Chinatown, parts of Beacon Hill Park and the coastal road back into the harbor, then the miniature world at one side of the Empress. The bike helped a lot because most of those places were multiple blocks away and back from the same central area. Then, rode the ferry back to Seattle and stayed in Olympia for the night.
* 7/25: checked out the Washington state capitol in Olympia, which was really impressive, then drove on to Redding for the night. Went out to the Sundial Bridge with the tripod to do some shooting with a DSLR.
* 7/26: went back to the Sundial Bridge to get some morning shots around 9 AM, then got back on the road to get home by 1 PM. Now it’s time to catch up on everything and go through a few thousand photos.
18-inning game? Yeah, that happened.
I’ll talk more later on about Eugene and Salem-Keizer, the first two of my four baseball games on this trip, but last night’s contest between Sacramento and Tacoma deserves a special spot of its own here.
I like Cheney Stadium well enough, especially after the renovations. It seemed like a typically old ballpark from the photos I saw before they tore down the old structure and put in something new while keeping and updating the seating layout, but I’ll cover a game just about anywhere if I get the chance.
Tacoma ended up winning 2-1. Yes, in 18 innings. For much of the, shall we say, expected portion of the game, it was going by at a nice pace. Dan Straily & Danny Hultzen were as advertised. In fact, Hultzen had his best game in Triple-A out of five starts so far (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8 SO). His only blemish was a homer by Jermaine Mitchell in the 6th.
Meanwhile, Straily was nearly untouchable in his sixth PCL start. Taking a one-hit shutout into the 9th, he was finally removed after allowing a leadoff double to lightning-fast Darren Ford, who would score on a sacrifice fly. Straily: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8 SO.
The game went to extra innings, and it went on, and on, and on. At a couple points, River Cats pitching coach Scott Emerson gave running play-by-play commentary in the dugout. Pitcher Bruce Billings came over and we chatted for about an inning about photography and various ballparks. Wes Timmons used athletic tape to spell “RUNS!” on the dugout wall. Later, around the 17th, Daric Barton borrowed my camera for a few minutes to snap some shots as we talked about this and that (and yeah, I mentioned seeing him using a camera with a huge lens once in Detroit, which led into him talking about his own photography hobby).
Finally, in the 18th inning and with a PCL curfew looming in which no inning can start past 12:50 AM (else the game would be suspended and completed later), position player Scott Savastano entered to pitch for Tacoma. Michael Taylor, who ended up 0-for-8 in the game, crushed one to deep left-center but Ford ran it down. I thought for sure it was an easy double or even more.
Then in the bottom of the 18th, after Shane Peterson (another position player) came on to throw for Sacramento, Savastano destroyed a pitch to left, over the bullpen and a building behind it to mercifully end the game. So, the “pitcher” won it with a walkoff homer.
It was the longest game in River Cats history, both in innings and length (5 hours, 32 minutes). I didn’t have anywhere special to be last night, so by the time it reached 11 PM and was in the 12th inning or so I figured I might as well stay to the end. Turns out I saw a little history as far as these things go.
I had a bit of an e-mail exchange last night with California League President Charlie Blaney and I obtained his permission to make it public. I thought he might because I believe he told me the same things he’d say to anyone who asked and I appreciated his open willingness to explain himself to me, which he did not have to do. I am not a reporter or a team official, just a photographer and fan.
Further, I have to admit I see his position better than I first did prior to reading any explanations. Even though I still believe some leniency would have been warranted given the situation at the time, I can’t dispute Blaney’s defense of the integrity of the game when Steverson did have other options at his disposal, such as just having his pitching position players groove fastballs down the middle (or even throwing them more at batting practice speeds). It could have still allowed for the risk of injury, but the point is if you lose you do so because the other team hit the ball and beat you fairly. Even though Steverson required Modesto to put the ball in play in the end, the intentional balks did give them a more likely chance of winning if they did.
As Blaney notes, the punishment itself does not prevent Steverson from giving instruction – he just cannot be in the dugout during the games until the end of June 2013. Could the California League have just scolded Steverson privately and been done with it without anyone being the wiser? Absolutely. However, it may also be more important to send some kind of message overall that even when something like this happens and a difficult decision may need to be made, there are certain standards that ought to be maintained.
I’ll let Charlie Blaney speak for himself below. I consider his explanations reasonable in the end and I thank him again for taking the time to respond.
Blaney’s initial response:
We appreciate and respect your thoughts regarding the intentional balk/integrity situation that happened at the end of the extra inning game between Stockton and Modesto on June 23.
In response to your question as to what is the goal of the California League; it is to prepare players for the Major Leagues both on and off the field.
Besides helping the players improve their physical baseball skills, it is also important to teach them to always give their best effort, and how to win each game fairly and properly.
Even though the Stockton Manger, Todd Steverson, had other options available to him, he chose to instruct his pitcher to advance the opposing team’s base runners into scoring position via 3 intentional balks for the sole purpose of expediting the end of the game in Modesto’s favor. While Mr. Steverson’s intent was to protect his players from injury, his decision was a clear compromise of the integrity of the game, and this can never be condoned or tolerated.
Mr. Steverson is the Minor League Hitting Coordinator for the Oakland A’s and will be allowed to perform his regular duties prior to each game as usual. He must then watch the game from the stands when he is visiting any Cal League ballpark until next June 24, 2013.
Mr. Steverson has recognized his mistake, apologized, and both he and the Oakland Organization have agreed that this punishment is fair and reasonable.
Thank you very much for your interest and support of Cal League baseball.
My reply to Mr. Blaney:
Thank you for the response. I do see both sides of the issue and understand the position it puts the league in when it comes to games being played the way they ought to be.
I’ve read that Steverson could have had his position player simply “get wild” and walk someone or throw a couple wild pitches if ending the game safely was the goal, and perhaps that would have kept up appearances since it’s reasonable to expect a position player might not have good control as a pitcher. In spite of that, I appreciate Steverson’s honesty whether it hurt or not.
I simply think that at some point, especially at this level, trying to give your best effort with people who really shouldn’t be pitching and only are because the equivalent of two full-length games have been played ought to lead to some flexibility given the circumstances. You’d like to win every game, but not at the cost of anyone’s health or safety.
Yes, the punishment for Steverson might not hinder things very much when it comes to the instructional side, but I do wonder what could be done to take extenuating circumstances into account when games in the minors reach this length.
Thanks again for your perspective and explanation. In the interest of being fair, since I shared my e-mail with others, would you mind if I also shared your response with them? Whether others agree or not, at least the reasons are clear.
As to having his pitcher ‘get wild’, the method is different, but the intent is the same. And what does this teach the players; that they should try their best for 18 innings and then quit?
Yes, preventing injuries is important, but as long as the game has been played, when pitching has been exhausted, managers have had to pitch position players in extra inning games and told them to just throw fast balls over the plate. While the quality of pitching diminishes, at least both teams are giving their best effort, which wasn’t the case in the 17th and 18th innings on June 23rd. Injuries are possible, but not always probable.
Extenuating circumstances were very much taken into account when making this decision. Fortunately, Mr. Steverson had no malice of thought or any illegal gain in assisting the opposing team win the game, or the penalty would have been much more severe.
The Stockton team still had pitchers available, but the manager was saving them for tomorrow’s game which means he put more importance on that game than the one he was playing. Then, once both managers were out of available arms, they could have asked the umpires to call me and request that the game be suspended and resumed the next time both teams played.
It is not in my power to change the baseball rules and limit the game to a certain number of innings. This would have to be done by Major League Baseball. Therefore, my job is to enforce the current rules and, most importantly, protect the integrity of the game.
Feel free to share your thoughts and my responses.
All the best.
Edit: A little bit more from this morning. I think what Blaney says at the end about working with the A’s organization on this speaks volumes and it’s something that most people almost certainly don’t know.
Good points, and I wanted to thank you again for your openness in your explanation. As I just told others, you did not have to explain yourself to me – I’m not a reporter or a team official, just a fan and photographer who has worked dozens of minor league games over the last half-decade or so, including visiting every park in the Cal League at one time or another.
Some of my initial reaction was prior to knowing a few of the particulars of your perspective in the decision, and knowing that now I can’t really dispute the reasoning in the end. I may think leniency would have been fine but you do have certain standards to uphold and a message to send. As you said, Steverson himself is not prevented from instructing players before games until the end of next June, and he did have other options at hand.
Once again, thanks for taking some time to write back. I think this helps tell me the league is in good hands when the President is willing to have an exchange with a random person like me.
PS – if I’m not mistaken, didn’t you work to make the schedule more balanced with more games between teams in the two divisions rather than it being so heavily weighted toward the teams in their own divisions playing each other much more? That’s definitely a move I like, as it gives people the chance to see more of the prospects in the other division.
Yes, Mr. Venes, I make up the League Schedule and have tried to give it more balance by playing more inter divisional games.
Your thoughts and comments are much appreciated. Since there was no precedent that I could find, I spent a lot of time and thought investigating and pondering the matter as my goal was to ‘get it right’. To this end I brought the Oakland Organization on board right from the beginning to work this through together, and both Oakland and Mr. Steverson were very cooperative, apologetic, and accepting of the final decision.
Feel free to write any time. It keeps me on my toes hearing what the fans, my real bosses, think.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, but I’m still covering games and putting things up in my galleries. This is a baseball-related post but it’s about something I didn’t think I’d be writing about.
Todd Steverson has been in the Oakland A’s organization for years now, as a manager and hitting coach in the minors, briefly as a base coach in the majors, and now as an instructor in the minors. Recently he was filling in as manager for the Stockton Ports as they played a road game against the Modesto Nuts.
In this game, the Ports tied it in the 9th inning and it went into extras. Usually the games don’t last much longer at that point – it IS the California League, which is a High-A level. There are some good players there, and there are some bad. However, this one kept going, and going, and going. 18 innings, in fact. Boxscore here.
You’ll notice Modesto infielder Jared Clark threw three scoreless innings. You’ll also see that Stockton used not one position player but two in Tony Thompson and Josh Whitaker. In the 17th inning, Steverson had Whitaker balk twice to advance Kyle Parker to third after a one-out walk. Clark himself struck out, then Jayson Langfels flied out.
In the 18th Dustin Garneau led off with a single and was sacrificed to second. Whitaker was tasked with balking again to move Garneau to third before Helder Velazquez mercifully ended it with a single.
Stockton lost the game but Steverson appeared to see the bigger picture by looking out for his position players in hope of avoiding injury. Ports radio man Zack Bayrouty tweeted that Steverson had no regrets about the intentional balks and his position players that pitched were sore afterward. Further, as noted by OaklandClubhouse.com editor Melissa Lockard’s tweet, Ports OF Mitch LeVier once pitched in a game in Low-A Kane County, hurt himself, and required Tommy John Surgery. Further, in this story by the Modesto Bee about the 18-inning game, Nuts Manager Lenn Sakata even noted he once used a position player on the mound with San Jose. That player hurt his elbow and never played again.
You’d think all of this would lead to an understanding by the California League that Steverson was looking out for his players first and foremost, but you’d be wrong. League President Charlie Blaney fined Steverson an undisclosed amount of money and banned him from dugouts for a year.
This prompted me to send an e-mail to the California League. Lacking a direct line to Blaney himself, I had to send to email@example.com to his attention. If you feel the decision is as questionable and incorrect as I do, let them know. Here’s what I wrote, complete with a typo I noticed afterward. Will it accomplish anything? Perhaps not, but the important thing is speaking up.
Subj: Fine & Suspension of Todd Steverson
To Pres. Charlie Blaney and whoever else it may concern,
This is in response to the decision laid down on Oakland A’s instructor Todd Steverson, who was filling in for Stockton during the 18-inning game between the Ports and Modesto Nuts on Saturday, June 23.
In that game, both teams were forced to use position players as their bullpens were depleted. In hope of protecting his players from injury, Steverson elected to have position player Josh Whitaker balk runners into scoring position in two innings. Then, Modesto won in the bottom of the 18th.
I refer you to the Modesto Bee story here: http://www.modbee.com/2012/06/25/2255980/stockton-helps-nuts-put-an-end.html
He was quoted as being concerned about position players being hurt, and Modesto Manager Lenn Sakata even said at once he had a position player pitch when he managed at San Jose, that player hurt his elbow, and never played again. One of Stockton’s position players, Mitch LeVier, had Tommy John Surgery after pitching in a game in Kane County and injuring himself.
I have to ask what the goal of the California League is. Is it winning baseball games no matter the potential cost and risk, or is it developing players for the next level and beyond?
Would the punishment have been any different if Steverson ordered Whitaker to intentionally walk batters? I’m all about upholding the integrity of the game but this sort of punishment does not fit the so-called crime of looking after the health of your players first when a game is in the 18th inning and you’re not sure when it’s going to end.
Rather than fining Steverson and suspending him for a full season (which mainly means he can’t fill in for the Stockton manager), I believe the California League should look more at what’s right for the players in an abnormal situation. I urge you to reconsider the action taken and prove the league’s top priority is the development of its players.
Edit: Here’s more from a Modesto bee story, including Blaney’s statement.