Whenever the distance is managable and I'm available to, I love to travel and see the Braves' Minor League teams play. But, nothing beats having one of them show up in your backyard, so last week I was very pleased to be able to make the arduous seven minute journey from my house to Harbor Park to watch the Gwinnett Braves take on the Norfolk Tides.
The prospect laiden Gwinnett rotation that was present the last time the team rolled through has been decimated by trade (Charlie Morton), promotion (Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen), and injury (JoJo Reyes and James Parr), meaning that the starters for this two game set were 37 year old John Halama and 31 year old Tony Armas (not Jr., he will get pissed):
Halama was very effective, stifling the Norfolk offense for just 2 runs over the course of 7 innings. I found it interesting that he pitched from the stretch even from the start of the game, showing that he knows that if he does get the call to Atlanata, it won't be as a starter. While I think Halama could be effective given some Major League innings, I can't say the same for Armas. After a horrible first inning, he settled down, allowing 3 runs in 6 innings, but his stuff was so mediocre that I just can't see it being successful in the Majors.
Now, my feelings about the two as people are the exact opposite. I'd never met Armas before, and he struck me as a very quiet, very polite guy, who was gracious about signing a few autographs for people, which is pretty much what I'd heard about him. Halama, on the other hand, is exactly as I remember, a lanky grouch who's never smiled and, even though he will sign an autograph, he won't do so without giving a bit of crap to the people who ask. I have to say, I've met him several times, and I really don't care for the guy.
Opposing the well-traveled Gwinnett starters for Norfolk were a pair of future aces, 23 year old Jake Arrieta (number 67 on Baseball America's Top 100 prospects entering the season) and 21 year old Chris Tillman (number 23 on the same list):
Arrieta pitched well, allowing just 1 run over 7 innings, but he found trouble stopping the run game. For some inexplicable reason, with Wes Timmons on first, he threw over about 10 times in a row. As soon as Arrieta made a move to the plate, Timmons walked to second. He had figured out Arrieta's move and the team used that knowledge to steal 5 bases off him throughout the game. Tillman was much more dominant in his start, shutting out the G-Braves for 7 2/3 innings. I've gotten to see Tillman a bunch this season and I'm as impressed with him as any young pitcher I've seen. It won't be long before the Orioles actually have an ace.
Getting back to the guys we care about, I was excited to see another one of our new AAA players, a guy the Braves were burned by before, Chris Burke:
I've seen a few people on TC, and heard a few people in person, say "I hate Chris Burke" because of his walk-off grand slam against Joey Devine. Well, I really like Chris Burke. He's a Braves kind of player; he's smart, professional, and very fan friendly. He looks like he's committed to playing and playing well and I think he can be an asset to the Major league team in the second half.
Aside from getting to meet some of the new players, i got to meet some fellow Braves fans. As Rhyno18 mentioned in his fanpost, we met up on the concourse and had a nice little talk. I have yet to meet a TCer who isn't a pretty great person; it's nice to get to meet other Braves fans who are passionate, and intelligent, about the team. A couple of the other fans I met were pretty interesting too; you guys might remember royhobbs' fanpost from a few weeks ago, where he mentioned scaring off a couple of lovely young Braves fans by mentioning Failcouer, only to see, as they walked away, that one of them was wearing a Francoeur t-shirt. Even if you don't remember, here's his picture of them:
Well, I guess I'm just more suave and debonaire than royhobbs, cause they like me better; at least his Failcouer girl does anyway:
Yeah, she's super pretty.Like really pretty. We bonded over our love of the Braves and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I proposed and we've having a Braves themed wedding, in November of course, after the season.
Getting back to the game on the field, another new-ish Brave who I've met before, but a lot of you might not have gotten a look at, is the other guy we got for Tex, Steve Marek:
He isn't exactly having a dominating season, but he seems to be doing well lately, and he looks like he can handle AAA hitters. I'm a fan; he grew up a Braves fan, he loves playing baseball, and he's got very good stuff.
A guy we're all a little more familiar with is Jordan Schafer. Jordan had a tough series, going 0 for 6, getting ejected in the first game and having to leave the second game early as his wrist continues to give him trouble. Now, I can't deny that Jordan argued with the umpire a little in the first game, heck, you can clearly see it here:
But the guy is not a good umpire. His name is Al Porter and every time he comes through Norfolk he does this same nonsense with somebody. He has the least consistent strike zone of any ump I've ever seen and he chooses the first guy who says something about it to pick on. Jordan complained his first at bat after striking out, didn't say anything after striking out his second one, and then, after cursing at himself for lining out in his third one, was run by the guy. There really was no call for ejecting him other than that this guy has an inferiority complex and always has to throw somebody out. This picture of Jordan sort of sums things up:
Well, I got attacked by a puma, I got ejected from the game, my wrist, hurts, and I ruined my Crystal Gale shirt, but other than that it was a great day.
And I always read and hear stuff where people want to say Jordan is this arrogant, cocky kid and it always kind of baffles me. Really, he's a great kid, who loves the game. He's got a good attitude; he wants to learn and be the best.
Before the second game he was cutting up and laughing about the night before, saying, "My goal is to not get thrown out tonight." He even had a laugh when a couple of junior cleat chasers asked him to get Johnny Venters, the resident cutie on the team.
Speaking of great guys, Todd Redmond is a fun dude. He always looks like he's having a blast during the game. Sometimes you see starting pitchers on their day off and they look bored and tired, but Todd is just entertaining himself and enjoying the game.
Another guy who deserves a mention is JC Holt:
I have to admit, from seeing him way back in A ball, I never thought JC would make it, not even to AAA, but he's put in a ton of work and made himself into a fine player. He's probably never going to be a starter in the Majors, but with the versatility to play second base and the outfield in addition to his speed and superior ability to bunt, he could have an impact off the bench for a team.
It's easy to forget that being in AAA can be frustrating for some guys, and Brandon Jones had that look:
We all know about his power outage this season, and I'm sure he finds himself wondering when, if ever, he's going to get another shot at the major leagues. This is where having veteran players like Alvin Colina is a huge plus:
Colina is in his 10th professional season and he's only played in 2 Major League games. He's a guy who's been around a little, and typically as a backup catcher, so he's no stranger to the grind of a Minor League season. During a pitching change in the 7th inning of the first game, Jones was standing out in left field with his hands on his knees, looking down at the grass. On his way to the bullpen, Colina ran by and buzzed a completely unsuspecting Jones, both scaring him and breaking him out of his funk. Veteran leadership is hugely important on a Minor League team.
Since I've run out of neat stuff to type about, here's a bunch of the Gwinnett hitters:
And I know it's not related to the Braves, but I figure as baseball fans you guys could appreciate this; the next night, the 4th of July, I was able to get Hall Of Famer Ryne Sandberg's autograph at a game in Zebulon, NC:
Come on, that's just cool. So that's all I've got for now, but remember, no matter what, you can't salt Reid Gorecki's game: