My son and I had the pleasure of going to see the Palm Beach Cardinals host the Charlotte Stone Crabs (Tampa Bay Rays) in a Florida League battle of High-A baseball at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. First, it was fun to see a game with my boy, who shares my baseball passion. And secondly, it was nice to take in a minor league game in an intimate setting, something only minor league baseball can provide.
The stadium, unfortunately, only had a few hundred fans show up and the concession stands were limited as a result. We sat in Section 107, just behind the home dugout, which was very hot until the sun went down, but that did not take away from the enjoyment of the game.
In minor league baseball, you can hear the players and coaches talking. You can hear their cleats when they run the bases. You can hear the ball hitting the infield between innings as the first baseman warms up the infielders. Stadium employees bring kids on the field for a variety of sponsored games to win prizes. Everything is magnified in its closeness. Foul balls are sudden, the speed of the pitcher evident and the arms of infielders show that this is professional baseball, even if it is a long way from the Big Leagues.
In minor league baseball, the stadium's sound man can get away with playing the Three's Company theme song when the manager goes to the mound or Peter Griffin's voice from The Family Guy laughing when an opposing batter struck out looking. And since the Cardinals' Jimmy Reed was making his High-A debut, the announcer gleefully read Reed's statistics (all zeroes, of course). It's baseball at it's most enjoyable.
The Cardinals won the game, roughing up the Stone Crabs' starter Reinaldo Lopez. But to be sure, one of the weaknesses of a weak Stone Crabs' unit is the team's defense and Lopez was not aided greatly there.
Reed is a good prospect according to some Cardinal sites, one even ranked him second in the Cards' system. I am no scout, so I could not tell why. He sat most of the game at 85-87 with his fastball but he did seem to have good breaking stuff that the Stone Crabs could not do much with. When he got men on base, he was able to entice two double-plays to get out of jams. He gave up two runs in 6.2 innings and was efficient and threw a lot of strikes.
The real fun was the guy who followed Reed for the Cardinals. His name is Sam Tuivailala. We had no idea how to pronounce the guy's name so we said, "lalalalala," a lot. But the guy could throw the gas. He threw an easy 97-98 and blew it by a lot of hitters. His breaking stuff had a lot of spin, but he had little command of it. H did give up a run in an inning and a third, but he also struck out two and is blowing people away at a rate of over 15 strikeouts per nine. He was impressive.
None of the Stone Crabs' pitchers impressed me. I was only impressed with three of their position players. One was the catcher, Justin O'Conner. He did not hit in this game, but his receiving skills looked top notch. Conversely, shortstop, Leonardo Reginatto, had three hits but was totally unimpressive in the field.
But the guy I really liked was the Stone Crabs' first baseman, Patrick Leonard. Leonard does not show up on prospect lists, but he can rake. He hit his 11th homer of the season in the game and just looks like a hitter.
The same could be said of the Cardinals' first baseman, Luke Voit. He's a big guy at 6'3" with a good idea of the strike zone. He showed pretty good range at first and good scooping ability.
I also liked Charlie Tilson. He had two hits including a double and made a great diving catch in center. It looks like he is one to watch in that system. I liked Dante Rosenberg both as a catcher and a batter. I loved Edward Mejia's glove at shortstop--very acrobatic--but I hated his bat.
One other thing impressed both my son and I. He was a baseball lifer who coached first base for the Cardinals. His name is Roger LaFrancois. He always looked interested and jogged out to his position even though he has been doing this for decades and his players pay little attention to him. That's a love of baseball.
It was a great night in a great park and it was especially great watching it with my son and I hope we get to do it again together next year.