Archive for June 30th, 2009

Eric Gagne Comes To Nashua

My road trip was originally supposed to end on Sunday, June 28, with a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  About three weeks ago, however, I saw a story that changed my plans slightly: the day after our return, Eric Gagne was coming to Nashua.

gagne looking sadIn a way, it’s more fitting that the long weekend (which I’ll write about eventually, provided I can remember all the wild stuff that happened) came to a close in Nashua.  Holman Stadium has become my home ballpark over the past five or six seasons, and the prospect of seeing Gagne from one of it’s 2,800 seats made the situation all the more perfect.

It rained at multiple points early in the day, making my actual attendance virtually a game-time decision.  My friend Chris and I were the only two people from the trip who were interested in going; we exchanged texts at 2:30 and basically decided that if they played, we were there.  I laid down on the couch shortly thereafter and didn’t wake up until my boss called at 4:37.  It was somewhat sunny, which could mean only one thing: it was American Defenders time!

Pulling into the parking lot, I was surprised by the number of empty spaces.  Gagne may not have been impressive in his last trip to New England with the Red Sox in 2007, and he may be working as a starter now, but he was a former major leaguer, and a damn good one.

While the weather certainly played a role in the low attendance, I ultimatelygagne in nashua chalk it up to the same old story: the team did a poor job of getting the word out about Gagne’s impending arrival.  It was mentioned on the road sign on Amherst St. and on the team Web site (the latter according to Chris; I looked there and never saw it), but obviously, those don’t do the trick.  Now, according to the most recent information I could find, about 25% of Nashuans have French or French-Canadian ancestry.  The team should have sought out prominent members of that population (like the mayor, perhaps – Donnalee Lozeau) and put together some sort of celebration, with Gagne’s appearance serving as the central point.  Who cares if he doesn’t play for the home team?

It was sad to see so many empty spaces outside, and it didn’t get any better after I paid my $5 and passed through the gates.  The people were nice enough and they had a band playing covers on a platform next to the offices on the first base side, but it was very clearly a minor league operation.  (Actually, the words I used to explain my thoughts to Chris when he arrived were, “Train wreck.”)

They have a woman who handles game-day promotions from the field level.  Prior to the game, she was walking around on the field with a microphone, chatting with Booster Club members who were doing some sort of Player of the Month presentation.  When the time came for them to give their award, though, she was nowhere to be found.  As the guy with the microphone struggled through his prepared speech (without any introduction from the main PA, as well), it was obvious that she should have done the main portion of his talk and turned it over to him for the actual presentation.  It would have achieved the same results and appeared much more professional.

This woman actually holds the key to improving attendance, in my opinion (as long as she works full-time for the team during the day).  The problem with the Can-Am League is that it’s hard to build the franchise’s image around a particular player or core of players because most of them don’t stick around very long.  So what they should do is make HER the face of the franchise.  Instead of having her sit in an office and make cold calls all day, get her out into public.  Send her to downtown Nashua, the Pheasant Lane Mall, anywhere people gather in the city, to hand out pocket schedules and chat with people about the team.  Bring the mascot.  Get the word out on a grassroots level.  Eventually, expand the operations to Merrimack, Hudson, Amherst, Milford, and other nearby communities that might be interested.  But give people a personal connection.  Think about it – is someone more likely to attend a game because they saw something about it on a road sign or because a pretty blonde took a few minutes to talk to them?

The biggest problem with Holman Stadium on this night, however, was the scoreboard.  There are two sections to the scoreboard: the top is a small message board, the bottom shows the line score, balls and strikes, and other basic stuff.  The top half hasn’t worked since 2003, I think (although I might be wrong), which is awkward in itself because rather than make an attempt to cover it up with something useful, the darkened screen just sits there, blank.  By this point, however, I think it’s one of those things we’ve all gotten used to.

The problem last night was that the rest of the scoreboard didn’t work.  The power was on, so either the unit in the press box was busted or they didn’t have anyone to run it.  Either way, it was embarrassing.  None of the fans knew the score.  The pitchers had to keep asking the umpire for the count.  Combined with the 150 people in attendance (official announced crowd: 892; must’ve been a lot of groups or season ticket holders that didn’t show up), it made me wonder just how long we can keep this “baseball in Nashua” thing going.

On the field wasn’t much better.  Gagne got lit up for nine runs on fourteen hits with only two strikeouts (one of them on a silly-slow breaking ball to end the first), and it wasn’t like the Defenders got lucky.  Dude got hit hard.  You kinda had to feel bad for him.

The good thing about small crowds is that we were able to leave our seats after the fifth and sit directly behind the third-base dugout.  Great seats, although I was constantly terrified that a foul ball was gonna take my head off.  It’s been awhile since I sat that close to the field.

(That makes me think of something else.  Mike Coolbaugh was killed by a foul ball less than two years ago.  Last season, Major League Baseball made a big deal of instituting a rule requiring all base coaches to wear helmets on the field.  No base coach last night, for either team, had any sort of protective headgear.  Now, I’m inclined to think that the MLB rule is a little reactionary – based on where he was hit, Coolbaugh wouldn’t have been saved by the type of helmet those coaches now wear – but it’s not a terrible idea.  And the coaches last night were standing pretty close to the action.  I’m just surprised the rule change hasn’t filtered down into the independent leagues yet.)

The clouds looked ominous all evening.  They finally opened up in the seventh – I felt a drop on my arm, looked out at the field, and realized it was pouring rain in center field.  I looked at Chris and thought, “That’s our cue.”  Almost at the same time, he looked at me and said, “That’s my cue.”  We had barely made it to shelter when the rain began in earnest, quickly making it apparent that baseball was done for the night. I hit the store for a couple things (a program, two packs of 1987 Topps baseball cards, and a U.S. Military All-Stars card set that included Jonathan Johnston), decided against wandering into the Capitales locker room to interview Gagne (and trust me, I thought about it) and called it a night.

If the Defenders can put people in the seats, they might have a shot.  The in-game promotions were unimaginative but not awful, the team can hit, and all the staff I dealt with was very nice (when I got into the store, the girl behind the counter was receiving a call from the tarp crew saying that the tarp was messed up.  I told her, as seriously as I could manage, that I had tarp experience and could help if they needed me.  I then told her that I had experience messing up the tarp and could help out with that as well.  She didn’t look very amused).

But man, they need to get that scoreboard fixed, and more people in the seats to look at it.  In other words, not much has changed in Nashua.

The Z-Meter: 6/29/2009

The Z-meter tracks the story arcs of 25 top prospects (or players we just like) on their way to the bigs. It is named after current Washington Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman, who made the transition from anchoring the University of Virginia to starring in MLB in one year.

Promoted:

Jordan Zimmermann: Syracuse Chiefs (AAA) to Washington Nationals (MLB)
Matt LaPorta: Columbus Clippers (AAA) to Cleveland Indians (MLB)
Daniel Bard: Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA) to Boston Red Sox (MLB)
Mat Gamel: Nashville Sounds (AAA) to Milwaukee Brewers (MLB)
Fernando Martinez: Buffalo Bisons (AAA) to New York Mets (MLB)
Matt Wieters: Norfolk Tides (AAA) to Baltimore Orioles (MLB)
Antonio Bastardo: Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (AAA) to Philadelphia Phillies (MLB)
Andrew McCutchen: Indianapolis Indians (AAA) to Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB)Antonio Bastardo: Reading Phillies (AA) to Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (AAA)

Madison Bumgarner: San Jose Giants (A) to Connecticut Defenders (AA)

Yonder Alonso: Sarasota Reds (A) to Carolina Mudcats (AA)

Pedro Alvarez: Lynchburg Hillcats (A) to Altoona Curve (AA)

Mauricio Robles: West Michigan Whitecaps (A) to Lakeland Flying Tigers (A+)

Still not a lot to see here. Many players are coming off of mid-season injuries, some all-star games have been played, and a couple of players have made jumps.

One amusing side-note, however. Justin Smoak, who spends most of his time with the Frisco Roughriders, recently spent two games with the Arizona League Rangers while rehabbing an injury. In two games and six at-bats, Smoaky managed a slugging % of 2.000, and an OPS of 2.714. I’d say he’s feeling better.

Our primary mover this week was Pedro Alvarez, who’s steaming toward Pittsburgh as fast as he can. His power numbers in Lynchburg earned him a promotion to Altoona. Mauricio Robles made a small leap from A to A-Advanced, which is actually interesting, since he was coming off an injury. Usually, don’t you rehab at a lower level?

We’ve also noticed that Michel Ynoa has been assigned to the AZL Athletics, but hasn’t accrued any stats yet. We’re dying to get him on the meter, so we’ll keep an eye out.


The top level. These prospects are in AAA in the prime of their youth, waiting for the call that will change their lives.

Wade Davis, RHP – Durham Bulls (Rays): 16 Games – 7W – 4L – 3.90 ERA – 35 BB – 75 K

Kila Kaaihue, 1B – Omaha Royals – .273 – 50 R – 12 HR – 33 RBI – 59 BB – 0 SB – .508 SLG – .920 OPS

Alcides Escobar, SS – Nashville Sounds (Brewers): .302 – 55 R – 3 HR – 26 RBI – 18 BB – 27 SB – .420 SLG – .765 OPS

Carlos Carrasco, RHP – Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (Phillies): 15 Starts – 4 W – 7 L – 4.92 ERA – 25 BB – 84 K

Austin Jackson, OF – Scranton Wilkes-Barre (Yankees): .320 – 41 R – 3 HR – 29 RBI – 25 BB – 13 SB – .444 SLG – .829 OPS


These guys also have the potential to skip straight to the majors, but may get promoted to AAA first.

 

Lars Anderson, 1B – Portland SeaDogs (Red Sox): .258 AVG – 33 R – 8 HR – 36 RBI – 37 BB – 0 SB – .411 SLG – .767 OPS

Jhoulys Chacin, RHP – Tulsa Drillers (Rockies): 15 Starts – 6 W – 6 L – 3.35 ERA – 29 BB – 76 K

Carlos Santana, C – Akron Aeros (Indians): .265 AVG – 49 R – 11 HR – 47 RBI – 53 BB – 0 SB – .498 SLG – .899 OPS

Justin Smoak, 1B – Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers): .331 AVG – 30 R – 6 HR – 29 RBI – 35 BB – 0 SB – .483 SLG – .928 OPS
 
Andrew Locke, OF – Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros): .323 AVG – 44 R – 11 HR – 71 RBI – 25 BB – 0 SB – .505 SLG – .877 OPS
 
Madison Bumgarner, LHP – Connecticut Defenders (Giants): 8 Games – 7 Starts – 5 W – 1 L – 1.96 ERA – 12 BB – 38 K
 
 
Jeanmar Gomez, RHP – Akron Aeros (Indians): 11 Starts – 6 W – 2 L – 2.79 ERA – 14 BB – 54 K
 
 
Yonder Alonso, 1B (injured) – Carolina Mudcats (Reds): .246 AVG – 4 R – 1 HR – 8 RBI – 6 BB – 1 SB – .377 SLG – .686 OPS
 
Kyle Drabek, RHP – Reading Phillies (Phillies): 5 Starts – 4 W – 0 L – 2.43 ERA – 13 BB – 26 K
 
Pedro Alvarez, 3B – Altoona Curve (Pirates): .120 AVG – 6 R – 2 HR – 5 RBI – 1 BB – 0 SB – .400 SLG – .548 OPS
 
 

These guys have vast potential but need to work out some kinks in A-ball before they can advance.

Ian Gac, 1B – Bakersfield Blaze (Rangers): .228 AVG – 26 R – 12 HR – 30 RBI – 16 BB – 1 SB – .447 SLG – .733 OPS

Mike Moustakas, SS – Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals): .259 AVG – 43 R – 8 HR – 43 RBI – 15 BB – 7 SB – .417 SLG – .714 OPS

Che-Hsuan Lin, OF – Salem Red Sox: .256 AVG – 41 R – 4 HR – 28 RBI – 37 BB – 16 SB – .350 SLG – .707 OPS

Josh Vitters, 3B – Peoria Chiefs (Cubs): .316 AVG – 42 R – 15 HR – 46 RBI – 7 BB – 4 SB – .535 SLG – .886 OPS

Shooter Hunt (rehabbing in Gulf Coast League), RHP – Beloit Snappers (Twins): 7 Games – 5 Starts – 0 W – 1 L – 10.70 ERA – 33 BB – 18 K

Collin Cowgill, OF (injured) – Visalia Rawhide (Diamondbacks): .277 AVG – 39 R – 6 HR – 36 RBI – 29 BB – 11 SB – .445 SLG – .819 OPS

Mauricio Robles, P – Lakeland Flying Tigers (Tigers): 2 Starts – 1 W – 1 L – 9.35 ERA – 3 BB – 12 K

Tim Beckham, SS – Bowling Green Hot Rods (Rays): .282 AVG – 30 R – 3 HR – 38 RBI – 21 BB – 4 SB – .404 SLG – .746 OPS

Ezekiel Spruill, RHP – Rome Braves (Braves): 13 Games – 12 Starts – 7 W – 3 L – 1 SV – 3.18 ERA – 14 BB – 54 K 

Brad Brach, RHP – Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres): 32 Games – 0 Starts – 1.64 ERA – 3 W – 2 L – 17 SV – 7 BB – 43 K


NCAA: Only used if a prospect in college shows really, truly, immensely, hugely inescapable potential.

Stephen Strasburg, RHP – San Diego State: 14 Starts – 13 W – 1 L – 1.32 ERA – 19 BB – 195 K

Strasburg was the #1 pick in the college draft this season, and will join the Washington Nationals system any old day now.


Prospects chosen from Diamond Cutter’s Top 25, Baseball America, and our trademark irrational sense of whimsy.