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.