Ray Olmedo hoists the Governors' Cup trophy.
I'd never been to a minor league post-season game before. I always assumed it would be hard to get tickets, or at least more crowded than a regular game. But last year, someone told me it was the opposite. The ballparks are usually empty during the post-season, and it's easy to get tickets, even for teams that are usually sold out.
I'd hoped it would be the Bats playing the SWB Yanks on Thursday, September 17, when the Governors' Cup finals came to Scranton. Alas, the Bats fell to the Bulls in five games. Turns out, they did better than the Baby Bombers would.
I'd planned to go to Thursday's game because as game 3 of a five-game series, it might be the last. The SWB Yankees rolled through the regular season and the playoffs, so I thought it was likely they would sweep the Bulls to take the Governors' Cup again.
Boy, was I wrong.
The SWB Yankees lost the first two games of the series to the Bulls (played in Durham - the home ballparks were pre-determined, based on the teams' divisions). So they came home to play a do or die game, and having to win three in a row to win the Cup.
My sources were correct; it was easy to get a ticket. In fact, I asked for one over the visitor's dugout, and ended up with an end seat in the first row. Holy cow! I could prop my feet on top of the dugout.
They even closed off the upper deck. I've never seen that before. (Of course, that meant there were no cheap seats, but it's not like minor league tickets are expensive anyway.)
The ballpark was so empty it was a little creepy. They didn't seem to be running with a full staff. Some of the concessions were closed, and they didn't have the video board working until late in the game.
I guess that's a sign of how many seats are season tickets/corporate sponsorships. The front row seat I got usually belongs to a season ticket holder, but there weren't any season tickets for the post-season. School had started, so there weren't many kids, except those too young to go to school. The weather was chilly - the kind of weather that has people thinking football, not baseball.
(That's the president of the IL and the president of the SWB Yankees with him. Or something like that.)
Unlike Soft-J, Ajax can blow bubbles:
Former Red Rainer Olmedo started out playing 3B, and moved to 2B later in the game.
Oops. Where's my bat?
The bat didn't injure anyone; the stands were so empty there wasn't much chance of it hitting anyone. The fan who retrieved it was eventually persuaded to give it back, to the annoyance of the rest of the fans, who were yelling at him not to give it back.
Ray-Ray didn't have a good game. He had a .300 post-season batting average coming into this game, but went 0 for 5. With an error.
Former Bat Calvin Medlock played well, however.
He pitched two innings, giving up only one hit and one walk, striking out four.
The SWB Yankees took an early lead, and it looked like they might live to fight another day. But the Bulls tied it in the 8th, going small ball on Ivan Nova and Zach Kroenke. It was 2-2 after nine innings - free baseball!
Fans were not too enthusiastic about this. It was freezing cold by then, and people had to go to work and school the next day. A lot of fans left, including the elderly gentleman beside me who had been keeping score. The previously empty stands became even emptier. I practically had the whole section to myself.
Sitting in the front row, I could hear the players' conversations in the dugout below. It was that quiet. Unfortunately, they were mostly speaking Spanish, and my Spanish is muy rusty. It seemed to be mostly commentary on the game. "Stop! Go! Good job!" That kind of thing.
Finally in the top of the 12th, poor Eric Wordekamper gave up a single and a double...and the lead.
The SWB Yanks made their last stand in the bottom of the 12th, and almost pulled it off. Winston Abreu came in, and I was looking forward to seeing him pitch. But he walked Juan Miranda, then left the game. The trainer was looking at his hand. Maybe a blister?
But Ray Olmedo, the cutoff man, threw it past the first baseman when he tried to throw to first. So Miranda made it to 3B anyway (and John Rodriguez made it to second). The Yanks were still alive.
But not for much longer. Doug Bernier grounded out to end the game.
The Bulls dugout immediately exploded. Everyone ran out onto the field.
Then the champagne came out:
There was a brief ceremony, in front of mostly empty stands.
As soon as the brass left, Little Ray-Ray grabbed the trophy and brought it to the Bulls' dugout.
Final score: Durham Bulls 3, SWB Yankees2.
A lot of SWB Yankees fans blamed the big club for their team's collapse in the finals. The Bronx Bombers gutted their AAA club, even DFA'ing the well-regarded Anthony Claggett in order to make a space on the roster for Freddy Guzman, whose sole purpose is to serve as a pinch-runner.
But it was mostly pitchers they called up, and the pitching wasn't really the problem. They just didn't hit. The hazards of short post-season series.
Anyway, if you get a chance to see a minor league post-season game, I recommend it. They have trouble selling tickets in the post-season, for a variety of reasons, and that's a shame. I admit, I thought the teams might be going through the motions at this point - eager for the season to end, so they could go home, or be called up. But these guys played their hearts out, and when the Bulls won, it was like they'd won the World Series. I felt privileged to witness it - even though I was rooting for the other team.