the prize was right there underneath our eyeballs
And when it all came down we were looking for the pitfalls
Until Junie said, "Baby, get yourself to going."
And we were so far gone we had no way of knowing
That image up top is one that the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are not expecting a lot of in 2011. Max Walla crushed a pitch for a three-run homer in Wisconsin's 13-4 win over the Lake County Captains on Saturday afternoon. Walla, heck, the entire offense had a great day. There were 18 hits to go along with the 13 runs. Mike Walker hit an inside-the-park homer to go along with Walla's more conventional blast. There was also a triple by Gerard Ogrinc and seven doubles in the game. Overall it was an impressive performance.
But, the image that fans are more likely to see this season is one that is just as exciting - though maybe not as breathtaking - as Bambi's Bombers reincarnated. Four times in Saturday's game, Rattlers runners got great jumps on balls in the dirt and advanced an extra base. Each of the four times those runners moved up they came around to score.
Look at it this way. In 2010, the Timber Rattlers were 13-29 in one run games. An extra run or two in those close games could have made a difference.
I know. A defensive play here, a strikeout there, or a big hit waaaay over there could have made the difference. But, [WARNING: INCOMING BROADCASTER CLICHÉ] little things add up and can win some games. Little things like grabbing the extra base when you can.
The wild pitches in the game on Saturday were not 'To the backstop' wild. They were pitches in the dirt the rolled less than ten feet from the catcher. The runners who moved up - Demetrius McKelvie, John Dishon, TJ Mittelstaedt, and Robbie Garvey all got great jumps to move take the next base.
Here is an example from the fifth inning. McKelvie reaches on a walk, takes off for second on a ball in the dirt, and gets to third after a poor throw by the catcher. Dishon walked and during an at bat by Yadiel Rivera he took off for second on a pitch in the dirt that didn't get behind the Lake County catcher. The throw went down to second, McKelvie broke for home, and scored without a play. One run manufactured. On top of that, Garvey comes up with a two-out RBI single later in the inning to drive in Dishon. Two runs manufactured.
I was watching the game near the fence right behind the Rattlers on deck circle and manager Matt Erickson stopped by after the inning. He was excited about the jumps by his runners and made a point to tell me that the team is working on getting good reads on 'dirt balls'. So, not only will the Rattlers be looking to take the extra base when they can, they should be able to tell our security staff if there are any juvenile delinquents in the crowd during any game this season.
The pitchers had a pretty good day, too. Marques Kyles, who is the son of Brewers' bullpen coach Stan Kyles started and went one scoreless inning. Brooks Hall, a 4th round pick in 2009 out of a South Carolina High School, tossed a pair of innings and gave up one run. Jose Oviedo, a 31st rounder in 2009 from Miami-Dade Community College, also worked two innings and allowed one run. Chad Robinson, Manuel Ruiz, Dexter Bobo, and Travis Stortz all worked an inning. All but Ruiz allowed a run.
Defense has also been stressed. I think everyone remembers that there were a lot of errors in 2010. You do realize that 184 errors in 138 games is not a good ratio. I took a page out of Jerry Coleman and hung a star on some outstanding plays by the Rattlers today.
The plays with the stars were:
Shortstop Yadiel Rivera with a diving stop going to his right getting up and throwing the runner out at first.
Second baseman Greg Hopkins with leaping back-handed spear of a line drive that looked like it a definite base hit.
Oviedo caught a line drive out of self-defense with one out and runners at first and second. He casually turned it into a 1-4, inning ending double play.
It wasn't a spectacular play by any means, but watching McKelvie make a backhand pick of a short hop on the first play of the game was especially nice to see. The team had been working on that exact drill earlier in the day during practice.
Also, Matt Erickson called for a squeeze play in the eighth inning when the score was only 5-3. It didn't work because the bunt was fouled off by Walla, but hey! A squeeze play to try to get an insurance run in late.
Just like yesterday, I am not going to jump to conclusions and say this is going to be the most exciting team in Timber Rattlers history, they will run through the rest of the Midwest League, and it is time to find a spot on the flagpole for the 2011 Championship Pennant. Because, this was one spring training game on a minor league field with players who might not even make it to Time Warner Cable Field to start the season.
All that being said, whoever is on this Rattlers team come April 7 it should not be boring.
I had a chance to talk a bit with Lee Tunnell, the minor league pitching coordinator for the Brewers, before practice started on Saturday. He was not confirming anyone for Wisconsin just yet, but he did mention that there will only be one pitching tandem for the Rattlers to start the season. Also, the other starters that are probably heading to Wisconsin in the next week will all be stretched out to pitch at least six innings or 75 pitches.
The Brewers hosted the Mariners on Saturday in a Cactus League game. Plenty of former Timber Rattlers were in M's colors at Maryvale. Michael Pineda ('08) pretty much sewed up his spot on Seattle's Opening Day roster with six shutout innings, seven strikeouts, and only two hits allowed. Michael Saunders ('06) (0-for-4, 3K) and Matt Tuiasosopo ('05) (1-for-4, 2K) are probably still on the bubble to start the season for the M's. Mike Wilson ('05) got into the game as a sub and went 1-for-1 with a double. Danny Carroll ('08) was on the roster and did not play. Caesar Jimenez ('03) worked a scoreless inning of relief.
I did get down to the rail by the M's bullpen just before I had to head over to the minor league game. I briefly spoke with Tuisosopo before he had to start getting loose for the game. He asked about the Rattlers and how things were going with the Brewers.
The minor league game finished up a little before the major league game, so I managed to get to the stadium in time to see Craig Counsell's game winning sacrifice fly. Good to see a Brewers' win.
Also, it was good to meet Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times who was covering the game. I have followed Geoff's work since he started covering the M's since Seattle was the parent club of the Rattlers. We had a quick chat about some of the former Rattlers up with the M's now.
Quick personal story: The charger on my phone died overnight. This is par for the course. I was going to upgrade to a Smart Phone when I returned from this trip. Nothing like putting a few more bucks into this phone, right? I ran to the Wal*Mart a block from the Brewers complex in Maryvale after the morning practice but before the game against the Captains. I forgot to take my credential off and I was wearing my red Timber Rattlers shirt. After finding the charger with the proper fit for my phone I started for the checkout line so that I could get back in time for lunch and the game.
A woman stopped me in one of the aisles with an "Excuse me. Could you please tell me where..."
There was an awkward pause before she continued with, "You don't work here, do you?"
The schedule for Sunday is practice in the morning and a game against the Fort Wayne TinCaps in at the Padres Complex in Peoria, Arizona at 3:00pm CDT. Start checking @CMehring on twitter during around that time for updates on the Rattlers.