Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mavericks, Bruins, Cyclones

I know when the season begins for the teams in the New York-Penn League, one of the two "Short Season-A" leagues in Minor League Baseball.  (The other is the Northwest League.)  When Melvin told me about the conference in April, probably some time in 2009, my first thought was, 'We'll miss the Lowell Spinners because their season won't have begun yet.'  Even so, it is easy to forget about the short-season teams.  By the time they start playing, the major league teams have completed 40 percent of their seasons.

Among friends and acquaintances, I am known as that guy who goes to minor league baseball games.  As him, I get asked often, "When do the Cyclones start playing?"  Late-June is my standard answer, but in the days leading up to Monday night's game in Coney Island, the fourth of the season, I realized there is a new way to remember.

The short-season leagues begin when the NBA and Stanley Cup finals are over.  Usually I hate this time of year.  You settle into some bar, one-third of the baseball season already in the record books, and all the TVs are tuned to basketball and hockey.  You cannot even get the bartender to switch to a Yankees game, let alone a team you might really want to see.

This spring, however, I actually got into watching the NBA finals.  Most of the young guys were rooting for the Miami Heat but everyone else was cheering on the Dallas Mavericks.  Or, more truthfully, they were cheering for the team that was playing the squad with LeBron James on it.

It could have been five lanky kids from some Division III high school and we would have applauded every basket.  File it under the bigger they come—no, the bigger they talk, the harder they fall.

cartoon by Jeff Darcy for The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer  (view full size)

Melvin and I also saw disdain for "King James" when we made our trip to northeast Ohio last July, a not surprising sentiment since he was a Cleveland Cavalier for seven seasons before he made "The Decision" to sign with the Heat.  At the Mahoning Valley Scappers game we attended, the team was offering a free ticket to anyone who would bring fuel for a planned "LeBronfire."

So, watching the Mavs win in six was a pretty fair consolation prize for having to fight for equal time on the tubes in a public house.  The Bruins won their sixth Stanley Cup title a couple days later and then we could all get back to baseball.

And, by my new calendar, we could see the Brooklyn Cyclones, which I got to do on Monday, the guest of a friend from college.  The evening started with the usual ceremonies.  The promotion was an Angel Pagan bobble-head doll and the center fielder for the parent club Mets, whose number has been retired by the Cyclones, was on hand.  In defiance of ordinal numbers, there were multiple first pitches.  The national anthem was sung, during which select groups were allowed to stand on the warning track—something I've never seen before—before tromping across the field to their seats (above).

The home team scored first, in the bottom of the fourth.  The first run came home on a balk; the second on an RBI single by Travis Taijeron, the only one of three Cyclones outfielders from the 2011 draft to play on Monday.  The Cyclones scored another pair in the next frame, an inning that might have been worse for the visitors but for a double play and a pick-off at second.

Cyclones starter Chris Hilliard, who led the league with nine wins last year, went five scoreless innings.  Orlando Tovar, who relieved him, hit a batter, served up a home run to Joe Velleggia and then a single, sac bunt, and double, letting the Orioles' affiliate back into the game, 4-3.  The Cyclones tacked on an insurance run in the seventh when shortstop Daniel Muno, an eighth-round Mets pick earlier this year, raced around the bases for a triple and scored three batters later.  That proved critical when Ironbird Wynston Sawyer knocked one over the left field wall in the ninth.  That was the only hit given up by closer Jeremy Gould and the Cyclones won 5-4.

David, Sandy, Darren and Victoria, post-game in front of Nathan's

I'll be honest: without looking at the box score, much of the action sort of blurs together.  That is because this was one of those baseball games where the company in the stands was as enjoyable as the play on the field.  We had gathered to celebrate the birthday—one of those divisible equally by the number of fingers on two hands—of David Bragdon.  Check out the vintage Portland Beavers jersey!  David was joined by Andrea, his partner and my friend from school, [Mrs.] Sandy [Mintz], Dan, David's godfather Richard, Darren, Victoria, Albert, Eric and Amenée, and for good measure a second Eric.  Interesting people have interesting friends.

I titled this post "Mavericks, Bruins, Cyclones" because we got to see the last after the first two were done doing their thing.  But maybe if uttered together, winning can be contagious.  Last year the Cyclones team stats were at or near the top of the league for batting average (.283), OPS (.793), ERA (3.05), and wins (51), but they fell short in the play-offs.  Maybe 2011 can be the year the four-time championship contender can win it all.  Maybe all they need is to have LeBron James playing for their opponent.

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