Tim Kurkjian says you should never miss the chance to go to a ballgame, because you might see something you’ve never seen before. On Tuesday I got the chance to go to see the Dayton Dragons play in their charming stadium, Fifth Third Field (seriously, that’s the name) in downtown Dayton, Ohio.
(I’m here this week teaching a class that combines Java Server Faces, Spring Web Flow, and Spring Faces — an adventure to say the least, but a story for another post.)
Accompanying me was my friend Stephen Williams, who I hadn’t seen in about eight months. He lives reasonably close to Dayton, but had never seen the Dragons play.
The Dragons are the A-ball affliate of the Cincinnati Reds. They draw extremely well in Dayton, despite the fact that they’re really, really bad this year.
(This is in contrast to my own Connecticut Defenders, who are limping their way out of town this season and playing to an almost empty stadium. That, too, though, is a post for another day.)
The Dragons were 8 – 23 when the game started. Their opponent tonight was the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Class A affliate of the Detroit Tigers and leaders of their division with a record of 21 – 9. The weather was beautiful, roughly 70 degrees and sunny, with a very mild breeze, and the stands were nearly filled. They were treated to what only can be described as a very odd game.
The fun started in the bottom of the second inning. There’s no score when Taylor Sloval led off with a walk. Then Stephen Chapman was called out on strikes, leaving a man on first with one out.
The official boxscore then says, “Kevin Coddington reaches on a fielders choice, fielded by third baseman Bryan Pounds. Tyler Stoval to 2nd.”
Hmm. How did that happen? How can a third baseman field a cleanly hit ball and manage not to get either runner out?
The key is that it looked to everyone in the place, including poor Bryan Pounds, like Coddington hit a soft fly right to him which he then caught. Pounds looked around, expecting the umpire to signal an out, but nothing happened. The runner, seeing this, kept going for 2nd, and by the time Pounds threw the ball there, he was called safe. Even that wasn’t clear, though, because it looked like the throw beat the runner.
So, either Coddington is out and Stoval is safe at 2nd on a stolen base, because he wasn’t tagged, or Coddington is safe at 1st because the ball bounced, but Stoval is out at 2nd on a force out. Which is it?
The umpires got together and talked it over. Eventually they settled on the unlikeliest of outcomes, which was that both runners were safe, but Coddington didn’t get a base hit on the play, nor was anybody charged with an error. Instead, it looked like Pounds was an idiot for holding onto the ball too long.
In my scorecard, I just put in a giant question mark. Welcome to A ball, where the umpires, too, are not necessarily ready for the big leagues. We’ll come back to that later.
Of course, what followed was a double and a single, resulting in a 2 – 0 lead for Dayton. Yay home team.
Skip forward to the top of the 7th, where the fun really started. The Dragons are holding onto a 2 – 1 lead when Billy Nowlin for the Whitecaps singled and stole 2nd. Joseph Bowen struck out swinging, then Luis Salas walked, and Gustavo Nunez popped out to the catcher in foul territory. So now we have men on 1st and 2nd, but with two outs. The tying run is on 2nd, but both teams have hit horribly with men in scoring position all night. Then the next batter, Brett Wyatt, hits a soft grounder to the pitcher. It looks like Andrew Bowman, the Dragon’s pitcher who came in at the top of the 6th, is going to escape with no damage.
Or not. His throw to 1st winds up somewhere near Cincinnati. Nowlin scores, Salas makes it to 3rd, and Wyatt is safe at 1st. Now the game is tied, with men on 1st and 3rd, still with two outs.
Surprise, surprise, the next batter, Ben Guez, gets hit by a pitch, loading the bases. This despite the fact that Guez was 0 for 2 at the time, with a strike out and a foul out to 3rd, and had already been hit by a pitch way back in the 1st inning.
The catcher trots out to have a word with Bowman. Steve and I imagine the conversation going something like:
Catcher: Dude, stop thinking about your throwing error, or the fact that you just blew the win so that the best you can hope for now is a no-decision. Just throw strikes.
Pitcher: Yeah, whatever.
Next up comes Brandon Douglas. Whack! Yet another hit by pitch, bringing home Salas. Now it’s 3 – 2 Whitecaps and the bases are still loaded. The night is now officially over for Andrew Bowman. He’s replaced by Aguido Gonzales.
Gonzales faces Bryan Pounds (remember him from the 2nd inning?). Pounds works the count full and is rewarded with a walk, bringing home another run. Ron Bourquin then singles, scoring yet another. Finally, Billy Nowlin (batting again this inning — yup, the Whitecaps batted around) pops out to 1st to end the inning. The score is now 6 – 2 Whitecaps and the game is effectively over.
By the way, the second-to-last batter was given a single by a generous home scorer when the 2nd baseman (Cody Pucket, who went 4 for 4 and probably won’t be playing here long) should have been given an error. If it had been ruled an error, then the Whitecaps would have scored 5 runs on one hit, two walks, two errors, and two hit-by-pitches. I don’t expect to ever see that again.
The fun wasn’t over yet. Advance to the bottom of the 8th, with the score still 6 to 2. After two fly-outs and two singles, it’s now men on 1st and 2nd with two outs, and up comes Byron Wiley for the home team. The count goes full, and to Byron Wiley, the next pitch looks very much like a ball. He actually tosses his bat three feet away and starts heading for 1st when the umpire yells strike!
Oops. Umpires really hate it when you show them up like that. Wiley retrieves his bat, and again Steve and I imagine the conversation going on at the moment.
Umpire: Make me look bad like that? You better swing at the next pitch, dude, because it’s a strike. I can tell you that right now. I don’t care if it’s over your head, in the dugout, or three rows into the stands, it’s a strike. So don’t forget to swing.
Sure enough, the next pitch is high and outside. Sure enough, Wiley swings and misses. Sure enough, the umpire calls it a strike before the swing even starts. Inning over.
Wiley throws both his helmet and his bat this time, and the umpire throws Wiley. Out of the game, actually, which comes as a surprise to nobody.
You’d think that would be it, but no, the top of the 9th was great, too. There were six total at-bats in the top of the 9th. They went: home run, strike out, strike out, home run, home run, strike out.
Yes, that’s three homers and three Ks. The fielders might as well have stayed in the dugout. How cool is that? 🙂
The bottom of the 9th featured yet another homer, meaning that there were four total home runs in the 9th. The final score was 9 – 4 in favor of the Whitecaps.
Even then my evening wasn’t finished. I convinced Steve to come with me to the Dragons Team Store, so I could buy a massively overpriced T-shirt or a massively overpriced cap. While I was browsing the massively overpriced merchandise ($35 for a shirt, and even $33 for a cap, but at least I wasn’t even tempted by the massively overpriced $125 jersey), a worker in the store pointed us to the line for autographs. It turned out one of the Dragon players was coming down to sign for the fans.
Who was the player? Yup, you guessed it, poor unfortunate pitcher Andrew Bowman, whose pitching line for the night read 1.2 innings, 1 hit, 5 runs, none earned (wow), two walks, two strike outs, a very bad throwing error and a 6.48 ERA. He got both a blown save and took the loss. Not his best day.
He was warm and friendly, though. He was kind enough to put an unintelligible scribble in my program and I got a quick picture with him on my phone.
I did feel I had to say something, though.
Me: How’s your arm?
Bowman (smiling): It’s sore.
Me: Ah. Well, good luck.
I think anything else would have been cruel. I paid for my massively overpriced shirt and left with a cool story to tell. Yup, never miss the chance to go to a ballgame. 🙂