I had a decision to make. I knew that I was going to be going to a baseball game today, but I wasn't quite sure to which one it was going to be. Do I head down to Turner Field, and enjoy the privilege of watching Tommy Hanson pitch, and seeing what else the Jason Heyward legacy would fulfill, or do I head up to Gwinnett and watch . . . James Parr instead? Leaving from work, it takes me about 25 miles to get to Lawrenceville, as opposed to the 10 it would take me to get to Turner Field. But then the thought of being surrounded by Cubs fans, getting gauged for general admission to be surrounded by Cubs fans infiltrated my head. And before I knew it, I was driving northbound on I-85, instead of southbound.
The thought of enjoying yet another Opening Day had won out.
More pictures after the jump.
For those of you who aren't aware, some HVAC company bought out the naming rights to Gwinnett Stadium for the next decade or so, so now the home of the Gwinnett Braves is known henceforth as COOLRAY Field. I mean, it could very well be worse, but I suppose it is important for the organization to make money, so I guess COOLRAY will have to do.
As is the norm, getting to Lawrenceville at any time after 12:01 pm results in a debilitating rush hour that is practically impenetrable, and without fail, I missed a great deal of the pre-game festivities that were planned for Opening Day, but at least I was able to make it to the park before first pitch this time around. Pictured is pre-game stretching and loosening, featuring such familiar faces like Freddie Freeman, Brent Clevlen, Barbaro Canizares, and Wes Timmons.
Our right infielders, Joe Thurston and Freddie Freeman playing catch. I suppose the monsoon that pelted Atlanta for about two hours in the afternoon completely obliterated many peoples' idea of coming to the ballpark, because the attendance at COOLRAY was pretty light, and from what I gathered from the game at Turner Field, it was significantly down from the first two nights. With the rain came a bit of pollen relief, sure, but it also dropped the temperatures from early summer, back to what feels about right for April baseball.
Craig Kimbrel signing autographs for the kiddos. The fanbase over at Gwinnett is pretty casual. They're dedicated to their players, but a lot of them hardly know much about them; they just kind of accept who is given to the squad, and cheer for them. Nobody I spoke with had any real idea of what Kimbrel was capable of. I was hoping for a save situation, or any reason to put Kimbrel into the game, because I'm sure he was going to build some local fans real fast.
When I have a kid, I'm totally going to parade him around at ballgames wearing a dumpy hat way too big for him, because it seems to work wonders on players. Here's Todd Redmond and Freddie Freeman signing stuff for him, and not like he held out ball, they signed, they sought him out, and signed things for him. I guess I need a date first.
But what would be a minor-league game without some kooky, campy promotions? How about randomly parachuting in people onto the field prior to first pitch?
Joe Thurston is not amused.
Here's the outfield Bern, which is actually a nice large area to spread out a picnic blanket, or lay out in the grass while hoping for home run balls. And since it's impossible to keep the attention of infant children, a large variety of air rides and games are always available for the younglings.
#17 for the Charlotte Knights is none other than our former catching prospect, Tyler Flowers, who is getting closer and closer to the big leagues. Despite not really impressing much in his cup of coffee last season, it was good experience for him, and he still has a large fan base in Atlanta, being a Roswell native, and a local boy. His first at-bat in the game was a towering home run over the left field fence, and pretty much everything he hit was obliterated.
The obligatory Opening Day lineup shot. During the National Anthem, they blasted a hundred fireworks that literally scared the crap out of everyone in the park. Several players in the lineup jumped, startled, and about two infants in my section began crying from the fright.
For whatever reason, there was a large contingent of teenagers from Parkview High School in attendance. I figure they were looking for Jeff Francoeur; they're on the right track, looking in the minors, but I suppose they haven't quite figured out that he's with the Mets these days.
As for the game itself, the G-Braves jumped all over Lucas Harrell and the Charlotte Knights, and took advantage of some two-out magic, scoring four times in the bottom of the first. Here's Freddie Freeman's first at-bat of the season in AAA, and it results in an RBI single. What a bum - he didn't even HR like his BFF, Jason Heyward. And I know what you people are thinking - this RBI already makes him more productive than Troy Glaus. I roll my eyes at you, it's early, chill out. The G-Braves actually batted around in the first inning, and the unlucky guy was none other than Gregor Blanco who accounted for the first, and third outs of the inning.
And what would be a minor league game without the local jailbait, trying to flirt and coerce a free baseball out of the opposing team's bullpen?
Meanwhile, in the G-Braves' bullpen, we find these fine pitching apparatuses. I haven't seen these since watching some instructional video back when I was like 11. Basically on the player silhouette, pitching at the height of red means you're hanging your pitches, yellow is a risky pitch, green is where you want to be pitching, and blue means you suck. On the plate, the red section, that's right down the middle is clearly the part of the plate you don't want to be hitting, and it's tries to drill home that you should be trying to pitch to the yellows and greens; if you can paint the corners of the greens, then you're golden.
Now I kind of skip around at this point, because I do some walking, eating, and chatting with random people, but to summarize the game, Harrell settles down after the first inning, and becomes pretty filthy, holding the G-Braves to nothing more until he's ultimately pulled in the 6th inning, clearly fatiguing and walking a few guys. But in that stretch, the Knights have fought back, and with guys like Flowers, and of all people, Brent Lillibridge driving in runs, they take a 6-4 lead. Greg Aquino comes in, promptly blows the save, coughs up the lead, and the G-Braves answer with more two-out magic. Gregor Blanco ties the game, and Matt Young adds some insurance.
Jonny Venters comes in relief of James Parr, who was quite frankly, less than Parr (get it?) on the evening. I know there's really no point in it, but traditionally I always thought teams sent their best pitchers on Opening Day? Anyway, Venters started off a little out of control, but the velocity was good (topped out at 92 mph). He allowed two hits, which turned into an earned run, but he finished two innings of work, striking out three in the process. He looked like he just had to shake some nerves off there.
Matt Young is short jokes!
Freddie Freeman was kind enough to have signed a baseball for me. I don't know why, but every prospect I've gotten baseball signed from never use the sweet spot, and often times choose the worst places to sign. I know there's the stigma that they do it to protect the integrity of the baseballs they might sign for profit or charity elsewhere, but come on, I have no intention of trying to profit off the things I collect. Now giving them away as prizes for contests that may amuse me is a different story, but definitely not for profit.
And with the score being 8-6, it's a save situation, so that means Craig Kimbrel. In the bottom of the 8th, Wes Timmons was plunked by a 90mph fastball, so with the very first pitch of his 2010 AAA career, Kimbrel plunks C.J. Retherford. Now I didn't photograph it in time, but the speedo literally read "100 mph" on the plunking. I question whether or not it was true, but I'm hoping that I wasn't the only one to have noticed it. For the inning, Kimbrel showed his problematic wildness, and walked a Alejandro De Aza immediately afterward, and Clint Sammons had to come calm him down, but he got the force at third to kill the lead runner, and Thurston ended the game on a sweet, leaping grabbing line drive-DP 4U.
And with that bang-bang finish, Kimbrel has his first save of the season, and the Gwinnett Braves start their season with a sweet win at home. So much for my bad luck at watching Braves affiliates, as they've now won four in a row in my presence.
I got in my car to make the long drive back to my home in Fulton County, just in time to hear the conclusion of the Atlanta Braves game, only to hear of what I imagined to be a frustrating loss to all those participating in the OT, to which all I have to say is to please try not to jump all over Glaus, Melky, and McLouth. It's only been three games, and we still won the series against the Cubs. There are 159 games left. Maybe more of you should make sacrifices, like buying peculiar shirts to appease Jobu into giving the Braves some wins.
So it turns out that in the end, I made the right call to which game to go to - three games into the season, and I've only watched three Braves wins. THIS IS BRAVES COUNTRY.