TROY, NY- It would make sense that some players might conceivably be nervous in the first game as professionals. It might also make sense that a team that has spent less than a week together might come out in its first game playing rusty. Apparently, someone forgot to tell the Tri-City ValleyCats.
Playing their first game as a unit under new manger Ed Romero, the 2013 ValleyCats used every one of their 15 hits efficiently in Monday night's season-opening 9-3 win over the Vermont Lake Monsters in front of a sold-out crowd of 4, 889. Tri-City scored in 6 of its 8 offensive innings, including each of the first three. Two players in particular, 2B Tony Kemp and LF Jon Kemmer, made their presence immediately felt in each of the duo's first games since being drafted less than two weeks ago.
Kemp started the bottom of the first with a ringing double down the right field line, and later came around to score thanks to college teammate and ValleyCat 1B Conrad Gregor's RBI single. It was the first of three hits on the night for Kemp, this year's SEC Player of the Year for Vanderbilt. After stealing 34 bases in college this year, Kemp added one more for good measure in the 5th.
It was Kemmer who ultimately stole the show, however. With one out in the second inning, Kemmer took a 1-2 offering from Vermont starter Gregory Paulino (1-0) and promptly deposited it beyond the outfield fence in right. That was the start of a two-run 2nd inning for the 'Cats Kemmer, known for his slugging prowess at NAIA Brewton Parker College, said he was surprised by his instant success.
"It was a little shocking off the start, I wasn't really expecting to do that of course," said the Shippenville, PA native of his solo shot. "I was down two strikes, just trying to put the ball in play, really. It worked out great for me."
Kemmer added three more hits, including a run-scoring infield hit in the eighth that was aided by the deflection off of base umpire Nate Caldwell. Kemmer, who batted 8th in the Tri-City lineup Monday, was part of a constant offensive attack, especially from the bottom of the order. 7-8-9 hitters Dan Gulbransen, Kemmer, and Ryan Dineen combined to go 8-for-13. Romero spoke very highly of his club's approach at the plate.
"These guys took into the game exactly what we worked on in the last few days," said Romero, who is known for preaching aggressiveness as a manager. "We were very aggressive, especially going after the fastball. We had many good at-bats during the game, and it projected into many runs."
From a pitching perspective, the tandem pitching rotation that the ValleyCats will implement at the start of this season, where two pitchers are paired together on the days they throw, worked out quite well Monday. The tandem of LHP Evan Grills and RHP Kevin Comer (1-0) threw a combined eight innings of one-run ball. Comer received the win after a dazzling four innings of one-hit ball with five strikeouts. The only hiccup the entire night for Tri-City came in the 5th with RHP Edison Friaz on the mound. Friaz let the first three Lake Monster hitters reach, allowing two of them to score to momentarily cut the lead to 4-3.
The lone offensive standout for Vermont was RF Kelvin Rojas. Leading off the third inning, Rojas went the opposite way to right field with an Evan Grills offering and saw it sail over the wall. That put the Lake Monsters on the scoreboard for the first time in 2013. Rojas added another hit in the 9th with the game out of reach.
The 'Cats and Lake Monsters meet again at 7:00 Tuesday night for the middle game of this three-game series. The starters will be Tanner Bushue for the ValleyCats, and an official starter has not yet been named for the Lake Monsters. Gates at "The Joe" open at 5:00 for the first "Tunes for Tuesday" concert of the new season.