Cal League Tour 2004: Phase IV

By now we had become intimately familiar with the drive up I-5 and SR-99, and its associated sights, sounds, and smells (helpful hint: don’t stop at the McDonald’s in McFarland). Our Saturday night game would be at Bakersfield, to watch the appropriately named Blaze take on the visiting San Jose Giants.

Sam Lynn Ballpark, from the parking lot

The story so far…


Syntax of Things

The first thing to know about Sam Lynn Ballpark is that the sun sets directly behind center field. Even with a giant shield and a row of tall trees behind the outfield fence, the game’s start was delayed by a good 15-20 minutes while we waited for the sun to pass below the shield.

Sun setting behind center field shield

We sat directly behind, and slightly below, home plate. The playing field was roughly at our chest level while seated. This proved to a bit disorienting at times, as did the location of the dugouts, which are located beyond third and first base. (Trevor Wilson, San Jose’s pitching coach, actually came out to to do the slow walk at one point, then realized where he was and picked up the pace, still taking a good amount of time to reach the mound.)

The game itself featured a matchup between right-handers Brian Stirm (SJ) and Mark Comolli (Bak). Their respective stats entering the contest:

           IP  H HR BB SO  ERA   BA
Stirm    75.1 79  9 28 52 3.70 .268
Comolli  74.0 88  5 79 55 7.18 .306

Former Bakersfield pitcher, Don DrysdaleOn paper, it looked like a mismatch. But as we all know, they don’t play the games on paper. Comolli is a knuckleballer. He worked deep into counts, and nobody (catcher, coaches, umpire, opposing hitters) looked real comfortable with him out there. But he battled and kept his team in the game. Comolli’s mates reciprocated by scoring nine runs for him, as the Blaze defeated the Giants, 9-5, thus extending our streak to five games in which the home team had won.

Former Bakersfield catcher, Mike PiazzaThe Blaze, as you might expect from an affiliate of the Devil Rays, is filled with very aggressive hitters. The most impressive of the bunch on this night was right fielder Luis Mateo, who singled, doubled, and homered in four at-bats. He also had a terrific arm, which he liked to display regardless of whether it was appropriate (could help explain the 10 errors he’s made this year).

Statistically speaking, Mateo is the least disciplined at the plate. Entering the contest, his SO:BB ratio was 96:8. That’s not even the most amazing part. What’s mind-blowing is that this represented an improvement over last year at the same level. Check this out:

       AB BB  SO
2004  290  8  96
2003  400  8 130

In looking at him physically and watching him on the field, it was immediately obvious that Mateo is a gifted athlete. But it’s mighty tough to parlay numbers like those at Class A into a big-league paycheck.

Former Bakersfield pitcher, Pedro MartinezThe one other player who grabbed my attention was San Jose right-hander Brooks McNiven, who worked five solid innings of relief after starter Stirm made an early exit. McNiven was a fourth-round pick of the Giants last year out of the University of British Columbia (teammate of Colorado prospect Jeff Francis). Ranked #16 by Baseball America among Giant prospects, McNiven is a lanky kid who throws just hard enough, keeps the ball around the plate, and appeared to have terrific movement on his pitches this night. Who knows what will become of a Class A pitcher, but he impressed me.

Other memories that will stay with me from Bakersfield:

  • Because the dugouts are so far from home plate, there is no actual on-deck circle. Instead there is a little nook where bats are kept. Two hitters make the journey from the dugout to the nook and kind of hang out there until it’s time to bat. Think recreational softball league.
  • Bad hot dogs. Boiled, rubbery. No amount of condiments helped.
  • The giant posters (see above) of greats who passed through Bakersfield on their way to stardom. A good reminder that everyone starts their path the same way.
  • Blaze manager Mako Oliveras getting tossed after the field umpire summoned the wrong reliever. Apparently there were two guys up in the ‘pen, one lefty and one righty. Oliveras motioned with his right hand, so the umpire called for the right-hander. An animated discussion followed, and Oliveras got run. The clubhouse is beneath the field, and apparently the only entrance from the field is via a gate next to the on-deck nook. Very odd.
  • Quite possibly the funniest performance ever from a fan. Most drunken loudmouths I’ve seen at games are amusing, at best, to precisely one person. But this guy was hilarious. He had a full act. Very little to do with baseball, very un-PC, very funny.
  • The pathetic attempts of a couple other fans who tried to take his stage. One woman was yelling out stuff that just didn’t make sense. She obviously was a fan of the home team, but I’m not sure she really understood how the game is played. The other was from a much older man in a wheelchair, who started shouting at the plate umpire about how if he were 25 he’d come down and give him an ass-whooping. It could’ve been funny, but he said it with a little too much venom and like he thought that just maybe he could still do it even now. Really, it was just sad.

. . .

Pads took two out of three in Houston. Unfortunately, the Dodgers abused Arizona over the weekend, which means the Pads are now 3 1/2 back of first. Games remaining vs the D’backs the rest of the way:

    @BOB  not@BOB  tot
LA    3      3      6
SD    3      3      6
SF    5      3      8

Advantage Giants. The Padres don’t play Arizona again until September 24.

Up next for the Pads, a two-game set at Coors. Ismael Valdez vs Denny Stark tonight, 6 PM on Channel 4. Beware of falling objects…

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