In the words of Mark Twain, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” An excellent thought but obviously Mr. Twain never saw a baseball game at NYSEG Stadium in Binghamton, NY on a Friday night at the beginning of April. Wow, it really gives new meaning to the phrase “chilled to the bone” I can tell you that much.
I had arrived in Binghamton at around noon on Friday after making the three hour drive from my home in the Hudson Valley. I arrived at NYSEG Stadium around one o’clock. After meeting the B-Mets Director of Media Relations and Broadcasting, Tim Heiman, I was able to do a little exploring around the ballpark, and the surrounding neighborhood in downtown Bingo.
When I got back to the stadium at around 2:30, it was not long before the pitchers started filtering out onto the field to begin stretching and warm-ups with trainer Dustin Clarke. I got a few pictures as the players hit the field. Here’s one of Josh Edgin, (and you can click on any photo to supersize it).
I introduced myself to some of the players I had interviewed this past winter on MMO. I met Collin McHugh, Josh Edgin, Rob Carson, and Darin Gorski right off the bat. When Gorski said to me, “how you doing?” I simply answered, “I’m freezing my a$$ off, how you doing?” I also chatted a bit with Jefry Marte and hitting coach Luis Natera.
When speaking with coach Natera, I asked him about the progress of top prospect Reese Havens who is on the Binghamton DL with a strained oblique. He stated that Havens is “doing well,” and that he is still in Florida rehabbing. He also said that Havens has resumed full baseball activities, including hitting, and that he will be playing in extended ST games anytime now, however no return is imminent at this point.
I also asked him about the status of another player working his way back from injury, outfielder Sean Ratliff, who is testing out a new contact lens designed to restore his vision after a horrific freak accident last ST when he was struck in the eye with a foul ball. Natera said Ratliff is progressing well, and that the main reason he stayed behind in Florida was to give him a chance to play some games “under the lights,” to test his nighttime vision. Presumably that will take place at some point with some single-A minor league rehab games with St. Lucie.
After chatting a little with Rob Carson, I moved over to watch batting practice from behind the cage. Here’s a shot of Juan Lagares and Allan Dykstra (24), waiting to take their turns to hit:
By the time batting practice was over I was wind-burned, hungry and cold. So I went off seeking consumables to nourish body and soul, and found them in the form of a delicious Pork Spiedie, and an ice cold Bass Ale. I think that spiedie was probably the most wonderful thing I had ever tasted. If you go to Bingo, you’ll find them in the picnic area down the right field line, and they come in chicken or pork.
Fortunately the B-Mets were nice enough to permit me to sit in the press box during the game, so rather than thinking about the cold I was able to concentrate on watching some baseball. The press box is small, and built on two tiers, with the radio booth attached at the far end. The upper tier housed around 7-8 journalists, and the P.A. guy. I was sitting in the middle of the lower tier which has six more seats. To my left at the end was the scoreboard guy, and the official scorer.
The banter in the press box of a minor league ballpark is something to behold. But I get the feeling that it’s a lot like Vegas, what happens there stays there. So my journal is going to take a detour around all of the off-the-wall-humor that was flying about the place all night. But suffice it to say, it was a delightful way to avoid freezing at the park on Friday night, and hang out with a bunch of guys who really know baseball at the same time.
The game itself fizzled like a wet firecracker. It started with all the promise of a new season and Zack Wheeler, the Mets top prospect making his first start of the year. His first pitch of the night was a fastball that hit 98 mph. The anticipation climbed even higher. But it soon became apparent that Wheeler was having trouble with his command that night. For the game, he threw just over 70 pitches and only about half were strikes. He battled through three very tough innings and left the game before the fourth having given up 2 ER on 4 hits, with 4 K’s and 3 BB’s.
When I spoke to Zack the next day, I asked him if it was really tough to play the night before in those temperatures, and he confided that, “I had never pitched in those kind of conditions before.” The temperatures hit a low later that night of 28 degrees.
The big blow in the game came in the top of the third inning when Akron shortstop Juan Diaz drove in two runs on a double to right-center. That would be all the offense the Aeros could muster all night, and all that they would require, in winning the game 2-1. But the positives to be taken from this game came in the form of the four relievers who came on after Wheeler left to hold down the opponents to 1 hit and 0 runs over the last 6 innings of the game, with 8 strikeouts and 3 walks.
Edgar Ramirez pitched two solid innings allowing no runs, no hits, striking out 2 and walking 1. The big right-hander is healthy and feeling good for the first time since 2010, after his 2011 season was undermined by a myriad of injuries. I spoke with Edgar at length the following day, Saturday, so there will be much more to follow from him in my next piece.
Edgar was followed by Elvin Ramirez, who is now back with the Mets after being selected and then returned by the Washington Nationals in the 2010 Rule 5 Draft. Elvin looked terrific also, going 2 innings with 2 K’s and 2 BB’s.
Brad Holt came on to pitch the 8th, and he looked absolutely dominant on the mound. First he got DH Adam Abraham to pop out to first baseman Eric Campbell. Then he struck out the next two batters in succession making them look really bad. It seemed that while first-baseman Chun Chen, and right-fielder Nick Weglarz were sitting on Holt’s mid-nineties fastball, he was throwing them some nasty sliders and broke off a 78-mph curveball to Weglarz that had his knees knocking together, while the sliders had Chen looking confused. The result? Both batters caught looking.
I spoke with Holt at length the next day in the B-Mets dugout. I was able to ask him stuff about the game the night before, his thoughts on relieving vs. starting, his current repertoire, and some other good stuff. Stay tuned for some more from the big righty in my next post.
Holt was followed by lefty Josh Edgin, who although he allowed a two-out single up the middle, looked very good in his inning of work, striking out two. Josh was very effective as he used his off-speed stuff to set up his 93-mph fastball. If you wonder what the other teams in the Eastern League are thinking about when they play the B-Mets, I think it might be the pitching staff and more specifically, the closer. Although not a save situation, when Edgin was warming up to pitch the ninth, everyone in the Akron dugout was watching him from the top step.
The B-Mets went down quietly in the ninth to lose their second game in a row from the start of the season, having lost the opener Thursday night by a score of 4-0. The B-Mets hitting attack in Friday’s game was weak as they managed only six hits and two walks all night. Their lone run came after Allan Dykstra doubled leading off the fourth, followed by a one-out double by Jefry Marte.
The pitching staff fared much better on the night. In nine innings they gave up 2 earned runs on 9 hits, with 6 walks, a hit batter, and 12 strikeouts. Six of the B-Met punch-outs were recorded in the last three innings of the game. The game ended around 10:30 pm, and I headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before my big day on Saturday.
As I dropped off to sleep that night, I thought about what a great day I’d had. Getting to meet the guys I interviewed over the winter, and talking to coach Natera. It was a good first day on the road. But I had no idea what was about to happen to me the next day. Little did I realize that the following day I would get the opportunity to have conversations with: Collin McHugh, Mark Cohoon, Greg Peavey, Rob Carson, Josh Edgin, Brad Holt, Edgar Ramirez, Armando Rodriguez, Juan Centeno, and Zack Wheeler. Not to mention all the fabulous photos I would get of the players working out, hanging out, signing autographs, and throwing bullpens. And the great live-action shots I got during Saturday’s game.
So check back tomorrow for Petey’s Bingo Adventure Pt. 2. You’ll be very glad you did!
P.S. If you’re into the Mets minor leagues and crazy about following all the Mets prospects like I am, Joe’s looking to add two more writers to our MMO Minor League team. We’re like the Navy Seals division of MMO. If you’re interested in enlisting for some great minor league action complete with access, MMO is where you want to be. Let me tell you first hand, it’s a total blast! Contact Joe at GetMetsmerized@aol.com.