On Opening Day in the New York-Penn League, many players are experiencing their first game of professional baseball. That inexperience was evident on Friday night, when the Vermont Lake Monsters defeated the ValleyCats 9-3 on Opening Day in front of 5,081 people.
"That was sloppy," manager Stubby Clapp said after the game. "It's tough to win a ballgame when the other team scores more runs than they have hits."
The hosts committed five errors in the loss, leading to five unearned runs. ValleyCats pitchers combined to issue six walks, hit three batters and throw four wild pitches, two of which brought home runners from third base.
Vermont scored nine runs on seven hits, only one of which went for extra bases.
Both teams strung together consecutive baserunners with two outs in the first inning, but neither could bring home a run. The Lake Monsters struck first after a pair of leadoff walks; a two-out, two-strike wild pitch brought home designated hitter Chad Oberacker for the game's first run. The hosts answered in the same way one inning later, as Brandon Meredith drew a walk and scored on a wild pitch when Seth Frankoff was one strike away from escaping the inning.
Vermont broke the game open in the top of the fifth inning, putting the first four runners on base against tiring starter Juri Perez. Perez, who fanned three but walked four in four-plus innings, hit Oberacker's helmet along the first-base line on a sacrifice attempt, the first of three errors 'Cats hurlers committed in the game. The righty, who took the loss, left in a 4-1 hole and watched Chris Affintino's double bring home a fifth run.
The ValleyCats got one back in the bottom of the inning. Center fielder Justin Gominsky was hit by a pitch, advanced to second and scored on right fielder Drew Muren's one-out single. Muren doubled and scored a run in the eighth inning, one of two ValleyCats with a multi-hit game.
"I think for the newer guys, like myself ... in the first game of pro ball, my first at-bats, I had a lot of jitters," Muren said. "But I got a couple hits, and now I can focus on winning ballgames."
Vermont scored an unearned run in the sixth and added three in the eighth on scoring plays of two throwing errors and a wild pitch.
Mixed in with the miscues were some strong defensive plays by the hosts, particularly in the outfield. In the second inning, Muren went back to the warning track, turned back over the opposite shoulder and grabbed a Dimoedes Lopez fly ball shortly before crashing into the wall. And in the seventh, Gominsky came charging in for a sinking line drive and dove to rob Affinto of a base hit.
Nonetheless, five errors in the first game are impossible to overlook.
"In their first time ever playing pro ball, there were some situations where guys made errors, baserunning blunders," Clapp said. "But you can't get mad - if you get mad at that, you'll be mad all season. That's why we're in short-season A-ball, you expect that, you tell the guys to correct it, and we'll play another game tomorrow."
Before the game, the ValleyCats unveiled a banner to commemorate the team's 2010 NY-Penn League title, and league president Ben Hayes presented the championship trophy to owner Bill Gladstone at home plate.
The ceremonies and start of the game were delayed by about 20 minutes due to afternoon rain, but it stopped before the first pitch. The game drew a sellout crowd of 5,081 despite the poor weather conditions, marking the fifth consecutive sellout in the ValleyCats' home opener.
"It was a good crowd, especially for a rainy day like this," Muren said. "I was surprised we had so many people in the stadium. I heard it's like that a lot here, so I'm pretty excited about it. When I played in college [at Cal State Northridge], it was in front of 1000 or 1500, it's a small school. So coming here to New York, it's awesome, the fans are great."
The 'Cats look for revenge against the Lake Monsters at 7 p.m. on Saturday, followed by postgame fireworks.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.