On Aug. 31, shortstop Sammie Starr made his Norfolk Tides debut and went 0-for-4. But simply by appearing in the ballgame, he made International League history.
Starr wore No. 75 when he made his one-and-only appearance for the Tides, and that was no coincidence -- the 24-year-old infielder was the 75th player to take the field for the club in 2012, bypassing the previous IL record of 74 set by the 2003 Louisville Bats. Change was the only constant for Baltimore's Triple-A affiliate as, en route to setting the record, the Tides made a staggering 230 roster moves.
Two hundred and thirty!
"[The season] started off pretty slow; there were 20 moves for the month of April," said Tides media relations director Ian Locke, who meticulously tracked the Tides' comings and goings throughout the season. "But then over the first four days of May, there were another 20 moves, and that's when we thought to ourselves 'Huh, this could be something.'"
Something it most certainly was. Along the way to IL immortality the Tides tied a record previously established by the Buffalo Bisons as 25 pitchers started at least one ballgame (Jason Berken led the way with 26, but no other hurler started more than 15). Similarly, 27 pitchers notched at least one win and 15 recorded a save. If there's one assumption that could be made about this rather random assemblage of moundsmen, it's that there was a better-than-average chance that he bore the first name of Zach. No fewer than six pitchers with that moniker appeared on the active roster, and when their surnames are strung together this confluence of Zachs sounds like a particularly unwieldy law firm: Booker, Britton, Clark, Fowler, Petersime and Phillips.
But the 2012 Tides featured names that were notable for other, far more substantial, reasons as well. The club fielded a preponderance of veterans, and at no point during the season was this more evident than its June 9 game in Buffalo. Rehabbing Baltimore veteran Brian Roberts, 34, played second base for the Tides that night, and Major League veterans Miguel Tejada (38), Lew Ford (35) and Bill Hall (32) were in the starting lineup as well. And on the mound? That would be none other than 49-year-old Jamie Moyer, making the first of what turned out to be three starts for the Tides (over which he compiled a stellar 1.69 ERA).
Other Major League vets who appeared for the Tides included J.C. Romero, Nate McClouth, Joel Pineiro and Dontrelle Willis. And of course, there were many up-and-comers who went on to make an impact with the surprising Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz among them).
Locke characterizes the 2012 Tides as a "nice mix" and goes out of his way to praise the efforts of Ron Johnson, the Tides' endlessly adapting manager.
"The Orioles have been so successful, and there were so many points throughout the year where [Tides players] were able to go up and contribute, even if it was just for a couple of days," he said. "Ron Johnson did a great job incorporating it all. ... Even with all of the moves and the roster turnover, [the Tides] still finished at 74-70. That was the first winning record since 2005, which speaks to how well he handled all of the changes."
It was certainly a memorable Triple-A campaign, but perhaps it's the other end of the alphabet that people will most remember.
"It was crazy, but a fun experience," Locke said. "We had a Zelous [Wheeler], Xavier [Avery] and a [Richard] Zagone."
And of course, six Zachs.
Going into Labor: In Minor League Baseball, weird things can and do happen at any time. From April through September, the first inning through extras, bizarre situations are always as close as the next pitch. But perhaps no date on the regular-season schedule is as rife with the potential for anomalous events as Labor Day.
For that is the last day of the regular season for full-season leagues, the culmination of a 140-game, five-month grind, and as such represents the chance for players and coaches to lighten up and let their guard down a little bit (or as was the case in Bakersfield last season, speed through the ballgame at a blazing pace in the interest of catching the first flight back home). Wondering what sort of strange occurrences took place this past Labor Day? (I'm going to pretend that you, the reader, just yelled "Yes!" at the computer screen.) Then read on!
Almost doing it all: Justin Toole of the Carolina Mudcats made headlines on Aug. 25, when he played all nine positions in a game (an event that was chronicled in last month's column). Toole would have been joined in this exclusive club by Jeff Larish of the Indianapolis Indians on Labor Day, except that he was foiled by that most uncontrollable of external forces: Mother Nature. Larish's line in the box score reads "LF-CF-RF-3B-SS-2B-1B-P," but he never made it to the crouching position after rain caused the ballgame to be called in the top of the eighth inning with the Indians leading host Louisville by a 2-0 score.
The Indians sure made things entertaining at the end of the game, despite the truncated ending. Larish entered the game as pitcher with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, and in a corresponding move, 300-pound reliever Jose Diaz was inserted at second base. Diaz escaped that adventure unscathed, but the eighth brought even more hijinks. Diaz led off the frame and made it to second base on a throwing error. And then, with Chase d'Arnaud batting, the lumbering pitcher stole third before scoring on a single. (Diaz's swipe of third has become must-see viewing material.)
And that was how the season ended, more or less, as one batter later the game was called due to rain. Earning the save was none other than the moonlighting Mr. Larish.
Necessity is the mother of invention: The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees and Pawtucket Red Sox went into their Labor Day contest knowing that they'd be facing each other in the first round of the IL playoffs. So when the contest went into extra innings, neither team was about to tire out their bullpens on the brink of postseason play.
So you know what this meant -- position players pitching! The Yankees' Ryan Baker, who ended the ballgame with an extremely rare "PH-DH-P" description in the Gameday box score, pitched a scoreless 11th inning but took the loss after allowing J.C. Linares' walk-off homer in the 12th. This made a winner out of moonlighting shortstop Jeremy Hee, who had shut down the Yanks in the top of the frame. Interestingly, this marked the second time this season that both Baker and Hee had toed the rubber. The former tossed two shutout innings against Norfolk on June 4 and earned the win, while Hee hurled a scoreless inning against Louisville on July 22.
Shared lumber: Another tried-and-true last game of the season tradition is to have both teams share the same bat, and this year the Harrisburg Senators and Bowie Baysox did just that until spoilsport Robbie Widlansky broke it in the top of the third inning. (This tidbit courtesy of @TheSportsBurger, a Twitter account devoted to Central Pennsylvania's Minor League sports teams.)
On a roll: The Reno Aces were champions of the Pacific Coast League this season and went on to win the Triple-A Championship Game in Durham, N.C. This playoff success was presaged by their final three games of the season, which were all wins of the walk-off variety -- a bases-loaded walk Sept. 1, a home run Sept. 2 and an RBI single Sept. 3.
Playoffs? Of course, Minor League weirdness doesn't end with the regular season. Because too much is never enough, here are two postseason occurrences of note.
Amphibious invaders: Game 2 of the Florida State League semifinals between St. Lucie and Jupiter was marred by a rain delay that lasted nearly three hours. And during that delay, a different species of fan was present at Roger Dean Stadium. From MiLB.com's game story: "By the time water drained, frogs had taken up residence in the outfield."
Reruns, hits and errors: The Lake County Captains swept the Bowling Green Hot Rods in the first round of the Midwest League playoffs, and in both games of the series both teams finished with the same number of runs, hits and errors (5-12-2 for the Captains and 4-12-0 for the Hot Rods). You could look it up: Here are the box scores for Game 1 and Game 2.
And finally: Here's a trivia question that is sure to stump your friends: Name the only two teams to have defeated Tim Hudson twice this season.
The answer? The Washington Nationals and (drumroll please) the Charleston RiverDogs. Hudson began the year by making two rehab starts for the Class A Rome Braves, and in both of those outings (April 7 and 12) he went down in defeat to the Class A RiverDogs. He made his Major League season debut April 29 and since then has gone a stellar 15-6.