One of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- things about baseball is its infinite capacity for strange and unusual occurrences. Even if you've watched the game every day for the entirety of your existence, you will still be regularly confronted with moments that make you scratch your head and declare, "Well, I've never seen that before."
With 120 teams currently playing (and 40 more to join them in June), the Minor Leagues certainly provides its share of weird, wacky and wholly improbable events. Whether it's an on-field bee attack, a barrage of intentional balks or an all-righty bullpen, Crooked Numbers is dedicated to chronicling as many of them as time and authorial sanity allow. The column will appear on a monthly basis throughout the season. Consider this Opening Weekend roundup a mere prelude of the madness to come.
On Opening Night in Nashville, right-hander Tyler Thornburg took the hill for the hometown Sounds and proceeded to strike out the first four Las Vegas batters he faced. Impressive? Sure. But what made Thornburg's feat downright crooked was that he did it all in the first inning. Kevin Mattison struck out to lead off the game but reached base on a wild pitch, and Thornburg then whiffed Ed Lucas, Bryan Petersen and Ben Lasater to escape the frame unscathed.
Opening Night sure was good to Triple-A players with the last name of Snyder -- Brad hit a two-run homer for Pawtucket, Brandon came through with a two-run double for Reno and Salt Lake's Chris enjoyed a three-RBI evening.
Weight, don't tell me
Outside of Little League fields, one would be hard-pressed to find a more lightweight double play combination than the one that the Greenville Drive are currently fielding. Five-foot-11 shortstop Jose Vinicio is listed at 150 pounds, while second baseman Mookie Betts tips the scales at a whopping 156.
When you're up, you're up; and when you're down, you're down
On April 5, Dayton's Ismael Guillon went through a nine-batter stretch of dizzying extremes. He struck out five batters consecutively and followed that up with four straight walks before being removed from the ballgame with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning.
In 2012, the diligent pair of broadcasters behind Winston-Salem's indispensable Dash Board blog informed us that it wasn't until the 90th game of the season that a left-handed reliever made an appearance for the team. This year's pitching anomaly is a bit different -- not only is the team's Opening Day starting rotation entirely right-handed, but entering the season they've only started a combined 77 games among them (out of 310 Minor League appearances). Want more? Justin Collop has made 55 of those starts, meaning that the remaining four starters have combined for a mere 22.
In 2012, his debut professional season, shortstop Joel Hutter hit one triple over the course of 245 at-bats. So what he did he do on Opening Day? He hit two triples, of course.
In 2012, no Gwinnett Braves batter enjoyed a multi-homer game within their home of CoolRay Field, but two have already done so in 2013. Ernesto Mejia accomplished the feat on April 6, and then Jordan Parraz followed suit the very next day. Thus far, these account for the only long balls that the G-Braves have hit this season.
With all due respect to Kale Kiser of Kannapolis, this year's most alliterative team/player name combo is none other than Buck Britton of the Bowie Baysox. Crooked Numbers has yet to receive word on whether or not the 26-year-old outfielder owns a BB gun, listens to the music of B.B. King or thrills to the nuanced acting of Bebe Neuwirth.
And finally, your Mike Hessman update
Super-slugger Mike Hessman entered the season with 364 Minor League home runs under his belt, and the start of 2013 proved that there are plenty more where that came from. The 35-year-old first baseman, now with the Louisville Bats, has five hits thus far and four of them left the yard. Though his home run clip may slacken as the season progresses, he's currently on pace for 144.