Baseball is the greatest sport in the world for many reasons, and chief among them is the fact that seemingly anything can happen at any time. Even if you're a grizzled scout or a veteran play-by-play announcer, each game brings with it the distinct possibility that you'll see something that you've never seen before. Hence, this column. The purpose of "Beyond the Box Score" is to take a look back at the month that was in the Minor Leagues, in order to highlight some of the many curious and absurd incidents that have taken place. Enjoy, and please don't hesitate to get in touch with suggestions for future editions of this column.
The Long and the Short of It: It is indeed a bizarre coincidence that the roster of the Midwest League's Beloit Snappers includes both the shortest and tallest player in all of professional baseball. At one end of the spectrum is 5-foot-3 shortstop Chris Cates, the 38th-round selection of the Minnesota Twins in last year's draft. At the other is 7-foot-1 pitcher Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, who is better known as "Loek". The Netherlands native was signed by the Twins as a non-drafted free agent in 2005.
Briefly on Pace To Score 12,600 Runs This Season: On April 3, the defending Midwest League champion West Michigan Whitecaps scored 10 runs in the first inning of their first game of the season. The Whitecaps sent 13 men to the plate in the frame, which included five hits, four walks, and an error. They went on to defeat South Bend by a score of 15-2.
The Old Unit: The most aged player to appear in the Minors this season will almost undoubtedly be 44-year-old Randy Johnson, who made rehab starts for the Tucson Sidewinders on April 3 and 8. As ancient as Johnson is, he's got nothing on Julio Franco. In 2007, the veteran infielder appeared in four games each for the Rome Braves and Richmond Braves at age 49.
A Memorable Way to Start the Season: Lynchburg's Michael Crotto was dominant in his 2008 debut, as he retired the first 18 batters he faced. In the seventh, however, he loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter and was yanked after yielding Brandon Snyder's sacrifice fly. Derek Antelo came on in relief and allowed two more runs, both of which were charged to Crotto. Therefore Crotto's final line in the box score was: 6.1 IP, 0 H, 3 ER. He still received the win, as Lynchburg coasted to a 9-3 victory.
Well, That Was Convenient: On April 8, Lancaster and Inland Empire played an extra-inning game that was eventually suspended after 15 frames. During the game, the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers executed a trade involving Lancaster infielder Christian Lara, who had spent the ballgame on the JetHawks bench. As a result of the trade, Lara was transferred from Lancaster's roster to that of Inland Empire, a Dodgers affiliate. When the contest resumed the following day, Lara completed it as a member of the 66ers, meaning that he had worn the uniform of both teams during the course of the same game.
It Had to Happen Eventually: When Binghamton reliever Nick Abel gave up a grand slam to Erie's Danny Worth on April 10, it marked the first time in his professional career that he had allowed a batter to go deep against him. Abel's remarkable homer-free streak lasted 66 innings and 94 outings, dating back to the 2006 season.
Best of Both Worlds: Wil Nieves entered the 2008 season with 994 career hits, the most among active Minor Leaguers. Playing for the Columbus Clippers, the veteran backstop collected his milestone 1000th career hit on April 13. Nieves would no doubt be happy if this was the last Minor League base knock of his career, as he was called up to the Washington Nationals just two days later.
Let's Get This Party Started Quickly, Right?: On April 14, 15, and 16, Lexington's Matthew Cusick led off the the Legends' half of the first inning with a home run. He has gone yard just one other time this season.
The Harder the Work, the Sweeter the Victory: The Kane County Cougars began the season with an impressive 10-game winning streak, but they really had to work hard for that 10th victory. The Cougars defeated the Peoria Chiefs, 6-4, in 17 innings -- in the second game of a doubleheader, no less. Designated hitter Shane Keough pitched a scoreless 14th inning for the Cougars before Leonardo Espinal (an actual pitcher) came on for the final three frames. Jonathan Johnston's sac fly in the top of the 17th finally broke the 4-4 deadlock, which had been in place since the fourth inning.
Long Time Coming: When the Binghamton Mets went up against the Akron Aeros on April 14, it marked the first time since June 23, 2006, that the two clubs had played against one another in Akron. The B-Mets and Aeros met 15 times in 2007, but due to a series of weather-related woes as well as an unbalanced schedule, all 15 games took place in Binghamton.
Gettin' It Done on Both Ends: Portland outfielder Jay Johnson did it all in the Sea Dogs' 17-inning, 8-7 win over the Connecticut Defenders, on April 16. The 25-year-old pitched two scoreless innings and then made himself the game's winning pitcher by blasting an RBI double off of fellow position-player-turned-pitcher Simon Klink in the bottom of the 17th.
Not All Grand Slams are Dramatic: On April 17, Tulsa's Brian Esposito connected for a ninth-inning grand slam against Springfield's Kris Honel. This prodigious blast narrowed Springfield's lead to 20-5.
Small Ball, Ad Nauseum: On April 20, the Greenville Drive pummeled the Augusta GreenJackets, 19-7. The blowout victory was highlighted by the Drive's 13th-run seventh inning, which did not include an extra-base hit. Of Greenville's 18 hits in the ballgame, 16 were singles.
Robbed by the Man Upstairs: It's commonplace to hear of a player falling a home run or a triple short of the cycle, but on April 27 Louisville's Paul Janish fell short by ... a scorer's decision? In the fourth inning, Janish made it to third after ripping a line drive to left field, but it was ruled that he had only been able to advance because left fielder Jason Dubois threw home in an attempt to nail Chris Dickerson at the plate. Janish finished the game with a single, two doubles, and a home run.
No-Hitter, No Victory: On April 29, the Winston-Salem Warthogs became the first Carolina League team in 30 years to throw a no-hitter ... and lose. In the sixth inning, relievers Matthew Long and Kanekoa Texeira combined to allow five walks, an error, and a passed ball, and the Potomac Nationals eked out a 3-2 win.
An Unorthodox Approach to Success: After his first three appearances of the season, Jacksonville's Eduardo Sierra possessed the following statistics: 3-0, 0.00 ERA, 5 IP, 0 H, 5 BB.
An Unorthodox Approach to Success, Pt. II: Meanwhile, here are the stats of Palm Beach's Gary Daley over his first three appearances: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2.2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 SO, 5 HBP.
An Unorthodox Approach to Success, Pt. III: Mobile's Brandon Burgess was hit by a pitch 10 times over the first 11 games of the season.
They Cancel Each Other Out: Two of the biggest stories of the 2008 season have been the success of the Salt Lake Bees and the futility of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The Bees finished the month with an eye-popping 23-2 record, one of the greatest starts in the history of Minor League Baseball. Meanwhile, the IronPigs have done much to deflate the excitement surrounding their inaugural season by winning just three of their first 27 ballgames.
Slow and Steady Results in .500 Baseball: Nearly a month into the season, the Delmarva Shorebirds were the only team remaining in Minor League Baseball who had not put together a winning or losing streak of more than two games. The club had compiled three two-game winning streaks, as well as three two-game skids.