Last night, @JDuganBarrett accompanied me to to Rancho Cucamonga for the second to last home game of the season for the Quakes. There are a lot of benefits of going to minor league stadiums, not the least of which is the $4 you’ll end up paying for parking. However, we did suffer two great injustices upon arriving at the park and they were:
- It was 100 degrees at 7 pm.
- The Chik-Fil-A down the street would be closed by the time the game ended.
We quickly got over those slights though, as the stadium’s charm and laid back atmosphere of a Class-A game quickly won me over. We watched as players brought back take out and ran into the clubhouse, all without autograph hounds snapping at their heels. As the two of us wandered around the park, we even came across an open gap in the outfield wall with seemingly no one to stop us from crossing over onto the outfield grass. But since the grounds crew put so much trust in us, we didn’t want to betray it. Plus, if I’m going to run across an outfield, it’s going to be mid-game and I’m going to be naked, so…
The greatest moment, though, was when we came across the Quakes Hall of Fame which featured, you guessed it, Gary Matthews Jr in all his glory.
I wore my Jeff Mathis Angels tee-shirt to the game and was a little hurt that no banners were hung to celebrate his 2003 campaign with the club when he hit .323/.384/.500. Read the rest behind the cut.
Once we were in our seats, buffeted against the heat with beers in hand, we quickly learned that numbers like Mathis’ are par for the course in Cal League baseball. Nearly every player seemed to be hitting above .300 with a dozen or so home runs, which, outside of the thin, dry air would put those players on prospect lists all across this great land. Instead, these numbers mean nothing, so remember to thank the scouts forced to work in these areas.
The only real prospect in the game was Gary Brown, the first round pick for the Giants in the 2010 draft. Brown, wearing the position player mandated striped socks, quickly made me fall in love with his speed and manner on the field. Brown choked up slightly on the bat, squeezing it without the aid of batting gloves, and rested it on his shoulder in a way that was reminiscent of John Olerud and hitters from the 1960s when he stepped into the box. When he struck the ball, he was off with a flash, his legs pumping as he made groundballs to second base a lot closer than they had any business being. At the end of the game, Brown had done a little of everything with two singles, a few pop-ups, groundouts, and he drew two walks to go with a stolen base and caught stealing. He was an absolute joy to watch.
Other than Brown, though, this was not the most talented crop you will ever see. If you want to re-appreciate the talent of Major Leaguers, please find your local class-A affiliate. The pitchers were not sharp, breaking balls were ugly (and yet still swung and missed on), choppers that had no business getting out of the infield did so with great success, outfielders took bizarre routes to flyballs, and there were more plays at the plate than I have ever seen in a single game before. Through the first seven innings, there had been only three 1-2-3 innings and four half-innings where a team failed to score.
Of course, with the game tied at seven, that was all due to change. Because at that point, both the Quakes and the Giants decided to bring in their Crafty Lefties(TM), the more advanced pitchers who lack the stuff to get upper level hitters out, but whose ability to command the strike zone make them threatening to these lower level hitters. Or maybe the hitters were tired of playing and they just wanted to go home. I really can’t say. Because we were in the land where the rule of baseball was king, the next six and a half innings were scoreless, with runners getting stranded all over the place. And then we reached the bottom of the 14th.
With the Giants out of pitchers, and midnight fast approaching, utility infielder Juan Ciriaco was brought in to pitch, helping cross off an item on my bucket list. With a short-armed, herky-jerky motion and a “fastball” that touched 84 and sat at 79-82, Ciriaco made sure that the end of the affair would not be boring. Ciriaco gave up a leadoff single and a stolen base before retiring the next two batters on lazy pop flies. It looked like the gambit was even going to work. Perhaps with an excess of pride, Ciriaco began to throw in some sidearmed pitches leading to two consecutive walks to load the bases. At this point the pitching coach came out to settle him down. I can only imagine the conversation went something like this:
Coach: So, uh, you’re throwing balls. Stop doing that.
Ciriaco: Yeah. Pitching is hard.
Coach: Yep. So, uh. Yeah, throw strikes.
Ciriaco: I’ll try.
Coach: Good. Also, the Chik-Fil-A is already closed, so that sucks.
Apparently it worked because with Wilberto Ortiz at the plate, Ciriaco found the strike zone again and the possibility of fifteenth inning was returned. With two strikes against him, Ortiz fisted the ball to shallow centerfield and Gary Brown, using that aforementioned speed, came on strong with his leather out. With a valiant though fruitless slide, Gary Brown came up just short and Ciriaco was handed an unfair loss in his first ever professional pitching appearance. It was early Sunday morning, and though the play on the field was far from sharp, it was one of the greatest baseball experienc
Last, here, for those interested, is my error-riddled Eephus League scorecard. Not to excuse myself, but the amount of defensive and pitching changes that were either never announced or incoherently mumbled through the PA was quite the challenge. Certainly don’t go to Cooperstown flashing this as a historic document.