Those who have been around for a while are probably used to these, but for everyone who is new for the 2009 season, here's the routine - Braves slump, people become irritable, fights are picked, remarks are taken out of proportion, and all of Talking Chop becomes this awkward, miserable, scab on the internet that only gets worse with each successive loss, and doesn't really go away even with a win. I, being the eternal optimist, make as much effort as I can feasibly make to take your minds off of the drab situation, and hope to encourage some less-hostile discussion and light banter. With a sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants, I figure now is as good as time as any to bust one of these out.
Before I proceed, thanks goes out to TC member secondbass for his advice about the town of Rome. Definitely was useful to have an idea of what to expect before diving in.
On Memorial Day this year, since the Atlanta Braves were on the road, I decided to indulge my desire for live baseball on my day off with some Minor League Action. According to the calendar, both the Gwinnett Braves (AAA), and the Rome Braves (Low-A) were playing at home, which gave me two options, and options are always nice.
So I've been to Gwinnett before now, and I'm really not looking forward to making the 65 mile drive from my house all the way up to Lawrenceville. So already, Rome, where I've never been to before is already in the lead here, since they've got that novelty of a new place for me.
A little bit of prodding also revealed that young sensation, Zeke Spruill was to be taking the mound that Memorial Day. Since I had heard nothing but great things about him, I figured why not? If anyone was going to break my bad luck of Minor League Braves games, why not the kid who's 6-1 with a microscopic ERA.
Awesome. So it was settled. I was going to spend my Memorial Day baseball up in Rome. Called the stadium, got my ticket, charged my camera, and enjoyed the Braves tear into the Blue Jays to end out the excellent homestand, and looked forward to visiting a park I'd never been to before.
Wait a second, how far is Rome? Google maps to the rescue...
90 miles. From my house to State Mutual Stadium in Rome, Georgia, was an estimated 90 miles. An unfortunate oversight on my part, but I'm not going to lie, I've made longer road trips for less rewarding circumstances before. That being said, I bit the bullet and did not deter.
The drive was actually nice and relaxing, aside from being really long. I drove like a sissy the entire way, because I've heard nothing but nightmare stories of Polk and Floyd county police up in the northern part of Georgia, and I certainly did not want to be one to have a story of my own to share at some time. So after about an an hour and a half, I found myself in Rome, on site of State Mutual Stadium, the home of the Rome Braves.
Already, I was liking the place. Clearly, the novelty of being new like Gwinnett was not the case here, so there was no absurd traffic or any frustrating car situations prior, and apparently according to people I chatted with in the park, the crowd was small because of the threat of impending rain. Little did they realize that I had brought my magic umbrella, that once inside the confines of a ballpark, will deter any rain from showering to make me feel silly that I brought an umbrella for nothing.
This is what the magic umbrella had to fend off. The skies were cloudy, and it looked like it was going to rain at any moment. I was actually a little apprehensive that I just made a 90 mile drive for a rain out, and I would need to hop in my car and drive back 90 miles having watched no baseball. Also, you can see young Ezekiel taking some warmup tosses here - not pictured is starting catcher Braeden Schlehuber.
Craig Kimbrel here, signing a baseball for a young fan. If not already obvious, I'm supportive of any young baseball player who takes the time to do autographs and pictures with fans, because to me, they realize that without fans, baseball would be dead where it stood.
Now there has been a lot of debate within the last few years of "should baseball have cheerleaders?" and its effect on the integrity of the game. Largely, the resounding populous is against cheerleaders, but that never really stopped many teams from having "teams" of mostly attractive young females to run around and cajole with the fans. Just try and call a Tomahawk Team member a "cheerleader," and see the expression you get.
Rome, however has no qualms with it, and even goes as far as to even provide the obligatory pom-poms. And honestly, you don't really hear me complaining. They're hardly anywhere to be seen during the actual game play.
Manager Randy Ingle flashing the surf's up sign at acknowledgment of my camera. Totally cool dude. Yeah, I am sitting right on the dugout. That's one thing I love about Minor League ball - dirt cheap seats, and fairly easy accessibility.
Zeke Spruill in action. He was giving up a lot of hits, but they were all singles. And the Rome defense, which is apparently notorious bad, was not helping his cause. Several in-field hits, a ball which should've resulted in a double play ended up being mis-timed and resulted in a run scoring.
It also didn't help Spruill's cause when the umps were making bad calls. Here is Randy Ingle arguing with the home plate ump after a questionable safe call during a play at the plate. Schlehuber is pointing at the trail in the dirt where Greenville LF David Mailman slid, and allegedly never actually touched the plate.
Spruill and Schlehuber with an emotional celebration getting out the inning after a slick play at the plate when RF Luis Sumoza threw a bullet to Schlehuber who tagged Greenville catcher Tim Federowicz.
And speaking of Luis Sumoza, here he is. 1-4 on the day, but with a slick outfield assist to end the prior inning. Already sounds better than what we've currently got.
And what trip to Rome would be complete without seeing the Rome Braves' mascot, Romey? Clearly, I'm missing out on some local joke here, hence him coming out in a stretcher, but apparently, he was cleared to "come off the DL" on Memorial Day.
Don't know what it is with Minor League Promotions and plungers, but this made me think about when bigjoe was going crazy over the chance to get a plunger at Lehigh Valley. Little leaguers got to throw toilet seats like horseshoes, to try and get it around the plunger stick for prizes. Did I mention how much I loved going to Minor League games?
Except for the part where I haven't seen a Braves affiliate win live, like ever. And the reason for the loss on Memorial Day is none other than Greenville pitcher, Casey Kelly. His line for the day was a dominant 6.0 IP, 1H, 3SO. The one hit came courtesy of Sumoza, but Kelly did an amazing job of keeping everything low, and induced an unPujolsy amount of groundballs. I stopped counting after 14. It was reminding me too much of the shutout to Aaron Cook.
Zeke Spruill getting the hook. Which is such a shame, because he did everything possible to keep his team in the game. The first eleven hits he gave up were ALL singles, and he kept Rome within a 2-run defecit for seven innings. Unfortunately, like we've been so privy to witness, a pitcher going one out too many. The twelveth hit that Spruill surrendered just happened to be a 2-run bomb to left that put the score to 4-1, and forced Ingle to get him out of the game. Regardless, I was glad to see myself and the people near me still giving him applause in recognition of the solid 7.2 IP performance he made look relatively easy until the last few batters. Great poise for such a young kid, and pitched his way out of a lot of tough situations, whether they were created by him or the defense.
And the unfortunate end result on Memorial Day, Greenville wins, 5-1.
As a whole, I was pleased with the trip to Rome, and despite not seeing a Braves win, I can't complain much otherwise. What looked like severe weather held off just long enough for the skies to open up, the sun to shine warmly down, and get a game of baseball in.
In conclusion - it's not the end of the world. I hope I've taken your mind off the negative aspects of a slumping period.
There are still over 100 games left to play, and from what it looks like all around MLB, it doesn't look there's going to be a single .600 team to come out of any division. So, being around .500 isn't a bad thing at all, it still keeps us in a position to strike. And I'm still hoping that the team is one middle reliever, and one (or two) outfield bats from taking this division.