A baseball trip to remember, Part 1

It wasn’t all baseball on the Overstreet baseball trip

From June 28 through July 7, Commissioner Emeritus James Overstreet and his son, Whit, embarked on a baseball trip. I asked James to chronicle the trip because I thought it would be fun to read. He wrote so much and sent so many pictures that I’m going to break this up into multiple blog posts over the next few days. TODAY: Introduction and the first three days of the trip:

Let’s get the basics out of the way. When did you leave, how many ballparks did you visit, how many miles on the car, how many nights in hotels?

We launched our magical mystery baseball tour on Friday, June 28, and ended it 10 days later with a grand slam on Sunday, July 7. We went to nine games, visited eight ballparks and traveled 2,114 miles through eight states, staying in seven hotels: shortest stay was four hours, the longest 21 hours.

How much planning did you do? Did you get all your hotel rooms in advance? Did you get your major league tickets in advance?

I began thinking about a baseball road trip toward the end of Whit’s baseball season, a highly successful campaign in which his team finished No. 19 in the nation and earned a berth in the National Championship tournament in Dallas. His team finished 42-13. allowing just four runs a game (astounding for an 11U team).

Whit’s team competed at the highest level of travel ball, playing more Major teams than any other team in the nation. It’s an understatement to say it was an often stressful season — particularly so for Whit, the team’s primary catcher and the closer. And while such high-pressure games are rewarding — and excellent for player development — I figured we needed to really chill out after the season and enjoy the game as fans in the stands.

So I busted out the trusty Baseball America map and began structuring a nine-game road trip (nine innings).The actual planning of the route took a few days — matching up the schedules of nine teams can be tricky. We probably created 10 different routes before finding the right one. Often we would get to the sixth or seventh day and not find a home team within 200 miles. So we’d have to reroute. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Once we found the right route — Memphis-Nashville-Bristol-Lexington-Cincinnati-Chicago-St. Louis-Memphis — we had to make sure good tickets were available in each of the cities. Buying tickets online and leaving them at will call is very easy, and I was able to find very decent seats at all of the ballparks in about an hour. (The Bristol White Sox, advanced rookie short season ball, was the only team in which tickets had to be bought at the gate.)
Once we bought the tickets ($700), we started making hotel reservations with only one real stipulation: must be close to the ballpark, preferably walking distance but no more than a 10-minute drive. Most expensive: $160, Hyatt Regency – Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY.; least expensive: $90, Holiday Inn, Lafayette, IND. (Note: It is very important to reserve hotel rooms prior to departure. This kind of trip can get hectic, particularly with extra innings, rain delays or other unpredictable events. And the last thing you want is to be racing to some city at 1 a.m. worrying about getting a hotel room.)

Essential tools: Baseball America map, a scorebook, the Baseball America Directory, Baseball America Prospect Handbook and the MLB channels on satellite radio.

Go day by day — or game by game — and take us through the trip.

We embarked on our journey just a few miles from home at AutoZone Park.

The trip begins with a visit to AutoZone Park.

First Inning: 7:05 p.m., Friday (June 28), MEMPHIS, Pacific Coast League (AAA)
Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals) vs. Albuquerque Isotopes (Dodgers)
Weather: 89 degrees, clear
Time: 3:05
Announced Attendance: 5,803
Seats: Section 109, Row G, Seats 2 & 3 ($32 total)
Ballpark: AutoZone Park
Opened: 2000
Capacity: 14,320
Cost: $80.5 million

Warm-ups: We all know AutoZone Park park well, but it’s worth repeating that it is one of the finest minor league baseball parks in America. From its retro design (based on Camden Yards) to the Bluff out in left field, everything about AutoZone Park is designed to provide a thoroughly enjoyable baseball experience. The standard fare of concessions is available, but as we all know, it’s the BBQ nachos that steal the show. The only complaints I have (and it was confirmed by our visits to several other minor league parks) are the prices.

Game: Come-From-Behind Rally Sinks Memphis, 4-3
The Redbirds took a 3-1 lead into the 8th inning over the Albuquerque Isotopes, but the Isotopes came alive in the 8th and roughed up Victor Marte for three runs for a come-from-behind 4-3 win. Dee Gordon, Isotope leadoff man, reached base in all five plate appearances, going 3-for-4 with a triple, a walk and two runs scored. Redbird Chad Huffman drove in all three runs for Memphis.

Between Innings: We left Memphis Saturday, June 30, and headed 212 miles for the Holiday Inn Express near Herschel Greer Stadium in Nashville.

History Stop: Sulphur Springs Bottom (downtown Nashville), the site of former Athletic Park (aka Sulphur Dell), where tradition has it baseball in Nashville was born in 1862 when Union soldiers played ball here and passed it on to the natives. In 1885, the first professional Nashville team (the Americans of the Southern League) began playing here. The last game held here was in 1963. The park was demolished in 1969.

Day 2: Nashville

Second Inning: 6:05 p.m., Saturday (June 29), NASHVILLE, Pacific Coast League (AAA)
Nashville Sounds (Brewers) vs. Oklahoma City Redhawks (Astros)
W: 86 degrees, partly cloudy
T: 2:48
A: 8,889
Seats: H, 15, 14 & 15 ($24)
Ballpark: Herschel Greer Stadium
Opened: 1978
Capacity: 10,700
Cost: N/A

Warm-ups: Personally, I felt like I was at old Tim McCarver Stadium in Memphis — both were built in 1978 and Herschel Greer Stadium is very 1978. Obviously the park is vastly outdated in contrast to other AAA ballparks, but there’s still a lot to enjoy. Gotta love the guitar-shaped scoreboard. If you want food, there’s plenty (particularly enjoyed the full-size batting helmet of popcorn with free refills), but you can’t see the field from the concourse. Of course, that’s not uncommon for parks built pre-1990. The neighborhood is a dump — while close to downtown, it’s well off the beaten path and there’s nothing within miles. The fans were awesome and they packed in nearly 10,000 on this night. Whit said it best: “This isn’t retro; this is vintage.” I love old ballparks but, come on Nashville, build a new ballpark downtown.

Game: Ninth-Inning Comeback Falls Short For Nashville
Our second game saw former MLB pitcher Chris Narveson take the mound for the Nashville Sounds, who dropped their third straight game to the Oklahoma City RedHawks. Narveson gave up five runs on eight hits in six innings. Odd play: a 6-4-6-8 double play in the top of the first. Redhawk Brad Peacock retired 13 of 14, including 10 in a row, holding the Sounds to 2 runs on 5 hits while striking out 9 in 7 innings. Sounds Catcher Robinzon Diaz went 2-for-4 in his Nashville debut.

Between Innings: From Nashville we drove 291 miles to Appalachia, crossing the Tennessee border into Virginia. Highlight of the morning: crossing downtown Bristol’s State Street back and forth, going from Virginia to Tennessee (repeatedly). It’s a charming downtown with one side of the street lined with U.S. and Virginia flags and the other side lined with U.S. and Tennessee flags. When in town, try Machiavelli’s Pizza.

Historical Stop: Ronald Andrew Necciai struck out 27 batters in a nine-inning game on May 13, 1952, for the Bristol Twins, the Pirates Class-D Appy League affiliate, against the Welch Miners. (Four batters did reach base via a walk, hit by pitch, error and dropped third strike passed ball.) Note: Necciai followed up that performance with a 24-strikeout game. He was called up to the Pirates amid great fanfare in August 1952, where his Major League career ended a month later, consisting of a 1-6 record in six starts, a 7.08 ERA and 31 Ks in 54.2 innings.

Day 3: From one end of Tennessee to the other. Bristol.

Third Inning: 6 p.m., Sunday (June 30), BRISTOL, Va., Appalachian League (Advanced Rookie)
Bristol White Sox (White Sox) vs. Pulaski Mariners (Mariners)
W: 89 degrees, cloudy
T: 2:14
A: 587
Seats: $4 for general admission; $2 upgrade to box seats behind home plate.
Ballpark: Boyce Cox Field at Devault Memorial Stadium
Opened: 1969
Capacity: 2,000
Cost: N/A

Warm-ups: When you go to a ballpark in the Appalachian League, you don’t expect any bells or whistles — and you don’t get them. Bristol’s ballpark sits next to a high school football stadium and the baseball park is even used for high school teams. And that’s really what you get: a high school ballpark (complete with some interesting concrete bleachers that are less than ideal for sitting through a game but are certainly unique). Definitely upgrade to box seats if you go. And if you are looking for a picnic atmosphere, many fans bring lawn chairs and sit on a hill behind home plate on the third base side. Overall, Boyce Cox Field is a very comfortable place to sit back and watch a game without all the distractions of higher minor league baseball.

Game: White Sox sink Mariners with two-out, five-run rally in seventh inning
The Bristol White Sox rallied in the seventh inning with two outs, scoring five runs to defeat the Pulaski Mariners 6-2. Bristol, which was managed by Pete Rose Jr. for the past two years, features the organization’s top three 2013 draft picks: shortstop Tim Anderson (17th overall pick), right-hander Tyler Danish (2nd rounder, $1 million signing bonus) and center fielder Jacob May (3rd rounder, son and grandson of former Major Leaguers Lee May Jr. and Lee May). Danish pitched two innings in relief, giving up a run on two hits and a strikeout. He was throwing gas, hitting low-90s consistently.

NEXT UP: Innings 4-6

They’re killing us!

With the All-Star Game approaching, let’s take a look at the players who have done immeasurable damage to our teams.

This is only a look at offensive players and is NOT necessarily a look at a player’s entire body of work, but just how he performed for one team or another in CDRL. As we’re all aware, players tend to change uniforms rather quickly in our little corner of the world.

So without further adieu, whatever that means, here is your CDRL Terrible All-Star lineup for the first half of the season (stats through Monday, July 8; at least 30 at bats for a team is required to be considered):

C — Mike McKenry, Keynesians, .188
1B — Ike Davis, Knights, .154
2B — Danny Espinosa, Suspects, .158
SS — Josh Rutledge, Crusoes, .142
3B — Pablo Sandoval, Mojo, .118
OF — Rick Ankiel, McBride, .057
OF — Cameron Maybin, Bears, .130
OF — Jason Heyward, Kings, .103

And the award for least valuable player goes to Rick Ankiel, a midseason free agent pickup by Bake’s McBride who was sent up 38 times and came back to the dugout with failure written on his face 33 times. He did manage 2 singles and 3 walks, which gave him an OPS of .189. McBride owner Dave Baker consulted with the Mets organization and the two teams jettisoned him simultaneously.

Sad minor league news: Chase the bat dog dies

The Class AA Trenton Thunder used a dog — a golden retriever named Chase — to fetch bats after balls were put into play.

Chase did this for about a decade before having to retire because of a cancer diagnosis.

Now comes news of Chase’s death.

Somebody put together a cool tribute video to Chase, so I thought I’d share it.

Back in the swing

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything. Vacation and work were equally responsible.

This will be quick. I saw this today and had to pass it on. R.A. Dickey isn’t in our league any more, but this is incredible.

Sunday notebook: You don’t want to lead the league in THIS stat

A couple of things for the Sunday notebook:

** Took a look at each team’s disabled list. Here’s what I found:

— As a league, we average 4.1 players per team.

— The Kings have NO one on the disabled list.

— Bake’s McBride leads the league with seven players currently on DL stints, the top being Hanley Ramirez.

— The Crusoes and MOJO each have six infirm players, led by Rafael Furcal (who was admittedly one of those “let’s take a shot at a guy who may pay off NEXT year” reserve picks) and Corey Hart, respectively.

— Flash (J.J. Putz) and the Suspects (Jayson Werth) have five each.

— The Bears and the Keynesians have four each and the Hose have three.

** Thinking about doing a piece on how owners pick up free agents and I’d like to include some other voices. Tell me how you monitor the minors. Hey, sounds like a future blog headline: Monitoring the Minors. Anyway, you don’t have to be specific if it might mess up a future plan, but in general, how do you “scout”? Send your thoughts to robinson@commercialappeal.com.

Here’s an example. A couple years ago, I stumbled across a story about a diminutive infielder tearing it up in the Houston organization. I made a mental note on Jose Altuve, checked his minor league stats from time to time, and when he got called up that July, I grabbed him. Even put in a bid of $11 because I was sure someone else had read the same thing.

** Do you guys do much texting with other owners? Sometimes I wonder if e-mailing is a slow, outmoded communication device. I have cell numbers for a few, but not everyone. Then again, maybe you don’t want to get text messages about trades.

Seems like I could put together a list of cell numbers and post it here. Tell me what you think. You can send me your cell number (robinson@commercialappeal.com) or leave a comment here.

Abbott and Costello were right

Our good friend and favorite substitute teacher Clay Bailey sent this to me, with the notation that Abbott and Costello were right.

On a very busy day for me, the laugh was what I needed:

Sunday update: What a close race; who’s wrecking our teams?

Haven’t had a chance to update in awhile, so on a quiet Sunday waiting for the Grizzlies to play, here we go.

** I should have written something about this when it happened, but it got lost in the shuffle of life. We’re having an incredible race for the title this year, so close that it’s reasonable to say five or six teams all have chances to take home the trophy (which doesn’t actually exist). But about 10 days ago, the race was so close (how close was it, Johnny?) that only 5.5 points separated the first place team and the seventh place team.

Right now, first-place MOJO is ahead of the third-place Suspects by 2.5 points. Bake’s McBride is but a half-point out of the top spot. Flash and the Knights are eight back, but that’s just a good day these days.

** Friday night, I watched a kid named Burch Smith make his second start for the Padres. Man, he was throwing seeds up there. After three innings, I decided he needed to be a Crusoe. So I went into the Add-Drop, figured which underachieving Crusoe would get his release (there are many to choose from), and started the process. Only problem was, the system was telling me that Burch Smith was unavailable. “That’s odd,” thought I, “I’m watching him pitch. How can he not be available?”

Well, there’s always a reason. And there was this time. The Kings had grabbed him several days before. Their scouting system is unbelievable!

** Here’s a team-by-team look at early disappointments, in order of team standings:

1. MOJO: B.J. Upton has been a complete bust, both for the Braves and MOJO. He’s hitting .145 with three homers, six RBI and three steals.

2. Bake’s McBride: Although they’ve combined for 11 homers and 33 RBI, Pedro Alvarez and Carlos Quentin are dragging down Bake’s BA, hitting .197 and .181 respectively.

3. Suspects: Danny Espinosa couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. He’s at .168 with three homers, 10 RBI and a steal. And Cole Hamels has pitched to a 4.61 ERA with exactly one victory so far.

T4: Flash: Edwin Jackson isn’t a good Flash. He’s not even a flash-in-the-pan, not with a 5.75 ERA and a WHIP of 1.52 to accompany his one victory.

T4: Knights: Considered the pre-auction favorite, the Knights have struggled. Why, you ask? Glad you did. Look no further than Miguel Montero (.184-3-13-0), Dan Uggla (.183-7-13-0), Ike Davis (.156-4-9-0) and Memphis’ own Matt Cain (5.43 ERA).

6: Keynesians: The Economists have been singing a sad song every time Ryan Vogelsong takes the hill. He’s at an 8.06 ERA, 1.84 WHIP and one victory. That can have a trickle-down effect on your pitching economy.

7. Crusoes: The defending champs took eight pitchers into the auction. Two of them are Tim Hudson (5.11 ERA) and John Axford (7.74-2.02, ZERO saves). Nice planning.

8. Hamm’s Bears: Yovani Gallardo has been pitching like Mike Gallego (4.50 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, three victories)

9. Carmine Hose: Nothing will make an offense colder than the start David Freese has had (.210-1-8-1). And while Matt Kemp has a respectable average at .266, he’s gone yard once.

10. Kings: Hard to judge here, since the Kings divested themselves of their talent within 96 hours of the opening of the trade season. So we’ll go with the aforementioned Burch Smith, who has impressed everyone with his 15.63 ER and his 2.21 WHIP. (And I’d STILL like to have him!)

Who has disappointed you the most on your team so far? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

‘Get yer popcorn! Cold beer:’ The sounds of the ballpark

Tim Kurkjian, the fine baseball writer for ESPN, wrote a cool piece talking to players about the sounds of the game. If you’re looking for something to do — other than work — this afternoon, I commend it to your attention.

Are there historical trends in CDRL?

One day long ago, let’s call it the middle of 2012, the owner of the Memphis Kings and the owner of the Crusoes of Robinsonville were discussing (stop me if you’re heard this before) trades.

As they have been frequent trading partners over the years since both entered CDRL in 2006, this doesn’t come as startling news. But read on.

In the course of the conversation, one of the players discussed was Emilio Bonifacio of the Miami Marlins. The head islander, Gary Robinson, was Bonifacio’s owner and was reluctant to part with him. The top monarch, Kerry Sewell, questioned that, as he has cautioned repeatedly over the years not to “fall in love” with a player.

The conversation went something like this:

“You’re going to hold up the trade because of Emilio Bonifacio? Really?” Kerry asked, incredulity leaking into his kingly voice.

Replied Gary: “He’s a big source of stolen bases and I’m concerned about being a bit weak there.”

“He’s not THAT big,” Kerry said. “Why do you think he’s so important?”

Gary paused for a bit, made some nonsensical response and the conversation moved on. Before they finished talking, though, Gary had an answer.

“Early on, I always felt like I could never find enough stolen bases,” he said. “So now I tend to value them maybe a little higher than I should.”

And that bit of self-revelation sat in the back of his mind. Until now. Do owners have a tendency, he thought, to be strong — or weak — in the same categories year after year? And if you knew that, would it change your strategy?

So he went back to 2006 and compiled stats, chronicling how each current owner has done in each category during his tenure. He’ll be doing some studying and blogging with interesting (he hopes) tidbits for CDRL owners to mull. Would love feedback and we’re studying how to post the actual list.


** The Crusoes indeed did have a speed problem (no, not THAT kind of speed). His first three years, he finished tied for sixth, 10th and 12th in bags. With that in his mind, he has corrected, finishing second, fourth, second and first the past four years. Emilio Bonifacio is only part of the solution.

** We all know the majestic history of the Kings franchise. But did you know that Kerry has never finished lower than eighth in any offensive or pitching category in any year?

** And speaking of speed, he was first in the league in stolen bases four consecutive years, an achievement he matched in victories.

** In 2008, The Flash had the league’s best offense but didn’t win an offensive category. He was third in average, second in homers, tied for third in RBI and third in steals.

** There is an auction theory that you blow off one category and focus on the others. That doesn’t seem like it is a recipe for titles, but it worked in 2007, the title repeat year for the Carmine Hose. The Hose won BA, HR, RBI and WHIP, finished second in SB, third in ERA and Saves … and last in wins.

** The Hose have struggled with victories, historically. In a four-year stretch — 2007-10 — they finished last twice and next-to-last twice.

** This is the Bears’ fourth year in the league. In their first three years, they ALWAYS finished sixth in ERA.

** Kerry has won every category at least twice except batting average, which he only won in 2010.

** James has won every category except SB, ERA and, you guessed it, wins.

** Gary has never won BA, wins or WHIP.

** MOJO lacks only wins in RBI and SB, but has finished second in each of those.

** Flash has a lot of seconds, but only has a tie for first in wins and a first in WHIP to go with his overall first (2008) in offense.

** The Suspects, in six years, have finished third, fourth or fifth in BA every year but one, and have finished sixth through ninth every year in stolen bases.

The Kings of trade: How it all began

Followers of the CDRL know that the king of trading is none other than Kerry Sewell, owner of the Memphis Kings, who won the league in 2008, 2009, 2010 AND 2011.

We’ve always joked that Kerry actually has three teams: one team on its way in from a trade, one team on the field and one team on its way out via trade. For proof, we only need to look at 2012, when the Kings used 94 players, 30 more than the next highest total.

But has it always been so? Did Kerry enter the league in 2006 with a sign that said, “Under new ownership, no reasonable trade refused”?

To answer, we dug into the CDRL transaction archive.

It turns out that the Kings were a bit slow — relatively speaking — coming to the trade mart. In fact, six trades had been made before that fateful day, May 26, 2006. And then the Kings pulled the trigger for the first time. They sent Todd Coffey, Jeremy Hermida and Merkin Valdez to The Flash, receiving Todd Helton (right) and Trevor Hoffman in the deal.

That first taste inspired another deal early in June, when he traded Logan Kensing, Felix Pie, Anibal Sanchez and Taylor Tankersley to JRock for Craig Biggio, Jose Guillen and Pedro Martinez.

Then came the full blossoming. In a 23-hour period in the middle of June, the Kings swung three trades, receiving players like Carlos Beltran, Jake Peavy, Derrek Lee and Edgar Renteria, and the rest, as they say, is history.