Friday, July 22, 2011

Rock a No-Show vs. Rox

Last night was my last chance of the season to see Tim Raines's Newark Bears play at Campanelli Stadium versus the local team, the Brockton Rox. I had fully intended to write a blog post about how I saw Tim Raines in Brockton last night, when I really should be seeing him in Cooperstown this weekend.

Of course, I've written plenty here about how I feel Tim Raines should be a Hall of Famer. In fact, I didn't realize how many times his name has been mentioned in this blog until a search on Raines returned 11 results. One of those was actually about his son, but if you're interested you can read my feelings on Rock's Hall of Fame credentials here.

If you want even more on the subject, check out this excellent web site.

Anyway, I didn't get to see Raines last night, because he wasn't there. In fact, neither was his son, Tim Raines Jr., who is one of Newark's star players. He's currently hitting .321, with 8 HR, 38 RBI, 46 runs and 16 stolen bases in 46 games.

As it turns out, the junior Raines hasn't played since July 16 due to injury. But, according to this article, the elder Raines is out with a bad back. So, I was disappointed not to get to see him, but I was pleasantly surprised that the Bears' acting manager and pitching coach is none other than Yankees' 1996 World Series hero Jim Leyritz.

My good friend—and former drinking buddy—Barb accompanied me to last night's game. At one point, a question she asked prompted me to explain that most of the players in the independent minor leagues have previous experience in affiliated professional baseball and are just trying to work their way back into the system. That is, they're trying to get noticed enough to earn a contract with a major league organization and get their dreams back on track.

My post-game research uncovered a good example of such a player. Jorge Jimenez started the 2011 season with the Brockton Rox, and was the starting third baseman for the team when KJ and I attended our first game back in late May. Jimenez, who had previous experience in the Boston Red Sox farm system, recently had his contract purchased by the Cincinnati Reds and is currently playing for the Bakersfield Blaze in the Class A California League.

She also asked me if I'd seen any "washed-up former major leaguers" at these games. My reply was no, but last night provided a good example of this as well. Former Astro/Dodger/Pirate/National/Brave/Cub Daryle Ward is the first baseman for Newark. Ward, now 36 years old, played 11 years in the majors from 1998 to 2008, and was basically an average-to-slightly-below player.

Of course, this makes him a star in the Can-Am League, and last night provided evidence of this. He got the scoring started for the Bears by hitting a solo homer in the second and an RBI single in the third to give Newark a 2-0 lead.

Then, in the bottom of the 6th, with his team leading 9-2, Chris Valencia was on second for Brockton with no outs. The batter—Mike Torres—smacked a hard grounder that Ward snared on a hop and threw to third, with Valencia attempting to advance, as he's supposed to, on a ball hit to the right side. My initial reaction was, "What the heck is he doing?" (in reference to Ward). But, lo and behold, he threw the runner out. Unorthodox, but unbelievable. Leyritz had to have been shaking his head in the dugout.

Newark won the game, 10-2, snapping an eleven-game home winning streak for Brockton. The loss was also the Rox's first defeat in the second half of the Can-Am League season.

The league plays a split-season schedule, with the first-half and second-half champions (if different) both qualifying for the playoffs, in addition to the two (or three) additional teams with the best overall records. The Qu├ębec Capitales won the first half, while Brockton and the New Jersey Jackals are currently tied for the second half lead at 4-1. The Rox are also third overall, so they're in a good position to qualify for the postseason in Bill Buckner's first season as manager.

Unless Brockton meets Newark in the playoffs, I'll likely have to wait until next season to see Tim Raines at Campanelli Stadium. It remains to be seen how much longer than that I'll have to wait to see him in Cooperstown.

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