Friday, June 10, 2011

On the Rox

It looks like I've got some blog catching up to do.

On Friday night, May 27, KJ and I attended our first game at Campanelli Stadium, home of the Brockton Rox of the independent Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball, otherwise known as the Can-Am League.

I've got a bit of a history with independent minor league baseball. In 1995, I tried out for an umpiring position with the brand new North Atlantic League, and was selected as an alternate. Unfortunately, due to financial issues, the league released all of its umpires and decided to go with local officials mid-way through that first season, so I never got the call to work a game. Not surprisingly, the league disbanded after only two years in existence.

My pal Fred, whom I met at umpire school, was also one of the alternates in that inaugural North Atlantic League season. Following this unsuccessful venture, he went on to work close to ten years in the Northeast League, which eventually became what is now the Can-Am League.

I saw Fred work games in small cities such as Newburgh (NY), Waterbury (CT), Nashua (NH) and Lynn (MA), three of which are sometimes known as the armpit of their respective states. My main observation regarding the crowds in these cities are that they can sometimes be a little less than civil. That's possibly a spillover from the on-field action, as the lack of affiliation with a major league organization generally makes for a less professional contest. Not in terms of the quality of play, but instead with regard to the way the players carry themselves on the field.

Neither of these prior impressions were confirmed by my first taste of Can-Am League action. The size of the crowd—2017, or about 1/3 the capacity of the 6000-seat stadium—wasn't all that impressive, but there was a definite family/community feel to the atmosphere. I've also learned to appreciate that the between-innings games and promotions are part of the experience when it comes to the minor leagues.

On this particular night, my favorite was the "Pie-In-The-Face Game," which basically consisted of a 5-year old three times being offered the choice between a prize in an envelope/box or hitting his father in the face with a pie. Not surprisingly, he chose the pie in the face every time. In the end, though, quite predictably he was awarded the prizes anyway.

As far as the baseball was concerned, the Can-Am League claims to be AA-quality baseball. While there were a couple errors—both by Brockton's opponent, the Worcester Tornadoes—and a few more mental lapses during the game, I'd have to say this is a fair assessment.

The offensive talent is definitely there, as evidenced by the three home runs the two teams combined for. That kind of hitting display is something you almost never see in the short-A New York-Penn League, because the players at that level just haven't developed enough power yet, particularly due to the adjustment to wooden bats. Of course, the exception was the four homers Evan Longoria hit in just eight games for Hudson Valley back in 2006.

The Rox defeated Worcester 7-5, in what was the second game of a season-opening four-game sweep en route to an 8-1 start. They've since lost four of five games, including three of four to the Quebec Capitales, the Can-Am League's two-time defending champions.

At 9-5 prior to tonight's game, Brockton finds themselves tied for second place with this weekend's opponent, the Newark Bears, with both teams trailing first-place Quebec by a half game.

Newark is managed by none other than Tim Raines—his son is also on the team and one of the league's major hitting stars—so we'll definitely be checking out some of this weekend's action. Of course, you know Brockton has a pretty noteworthy—especially in these parts—skipper of their own.

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