Minor League Baseball is already home to the Pacific Coast League's Salt Lake Bees and the Midwest League's Burlington Bees, but until April 15 there were no bees in the California League.
On this sun-splashed day in Stockton, an otherwise placid afternoon was interrupted by the sudden fourth-inning appearance of an estimated 20,000 bees at Banner Island Ballpark. This swarm of intruders (who, unfortunately for the team, did not count toward the paid attendance) caused fans and players alike to duck for cover while wondering if they would soon have to welcome their new insect overlords.
Fortunately this was not the case, as the bees buzzed on past the stadium and instead swarmed onto a tree in the parking lot. Play resumed several minutes later, as if nothing had happened at all. This surreal moment of Class A Advanced insect intrusion was thoughtfully preserved for posterity by the Ports' staff, who provided an in-depth account on their front-office blog. Blake Hassebrock, whose name you cannot spell without "b-e-e," was on the mound at the time and offered the following observation:
"I turned around and saw my second baseman lying on the ground, and I stepped off the rubber to see what was going on -- I thought he was hurt, maybe," said Hassebrock. "And then our shortstop hit the dirt, and there was a base runner on second base, and I think he thought we were trying to pick him off, because he dove back to the bag on his face and he didn't know what was going on. And this was before I even saw one bee.
"Then the umpire hit the dirt, my outfielders were running around, and I started walking to the dugout, and before I knew it everyone on the field was on the ground and I was just walking to the dugout. Then the whole dugout started screaming at me, "Hass get on the ground!" like there was a bomb about to go off, so I got on the ground. And then I heard the bees -- just a huge swarm of them right over the infield. It was wild; I'd never seen anything like it. I was laughing my face off, lying down on the ground."
As it turned out, the bees were a harbinger of good luck for the hometown team. The visiting Modesto Nuts led by as many as six runs during the game, but the Ports pulled out a dramatic 10-9 win on the strength of a three-run, walk-off home run by Ryan Pineda. After flying around the basepaths, he was, quite appropriately, swarmed at the plate.
Right foot: Lane Adams of the Kane County Cougars had an Opening Night for the ages, as he homered and tripled (wait for it) in the same inning! The outfielder led off the inning with a triple, and capped the nine-run frame with a grand slam. It may have seemed excessive at the time, but the Cougars needed each and every one these runs en route to a harrowing 11-10 win over Quad Cities. (The final score was fitting, however, given that the game's first pitch was thrown by 111-year-old Shelby Harris.)
Wrong foot: The Northwest Arkansas Naturals didn't make five errors in a game at any point during the 2011 season, so naturally they went ahead and made five errors on Opening Day 2012. The last time the team had committed five miscues was April 9, 2009, in San Antonio.
Fresh start: The Delmarva Shorebirds won their first game of the season, defeating Asheville, 7-2, on April 6, and it was a much-needed victory. The team lost their final 14 games of the 2011 season, with their last win of the campaign occurring way back on Aug. 21.
Wear it with pride: The first "platinum sombrero" of the 2012 season was achieved by Bakersfield's Yorman Rodriguez, who went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts against Stockton on April 9. Rodriguez did this just two days after a "golden sombrero" four-strikeout game on April 7, and before April was out he once again picked up another platinum (striking out five times on April 24, again versus Stockton). Rodriguez finished the month with 32 strikeouts over 75 at-bats.
What's the opposite of platinum sombrero? Titanium beret? Also on April 9, Wynston Sawyer became the first Minor League player of the season to walk five times in one game.
It's amazing what good pitching can do: The Charleston RiverDogs scored just four runs over their first three games of the season, and still walked away with a three-game sweep of the Rome Braves (winning 1-0, 2-1 and 1-0). One of the pitchers that the RiverDogs defeated in the series was a rehabbing Tim Hudson, who went ahead and lost to the RiverDogs in his next start as well.
Little help? Edinson Rincon of the San Antonio Missions went 4-for-4 against the Northwest Arkansas on April 8, collecting his quartet of base knocks against three different pitchers. Too bad his performance occurred in a vacuum, as the remainder of the Missions lineup went 0-for-26 in the ballgame.
You say it's your birthday? Mine too! April 10 was a day to celebrate for the Clinton LumberKings, as the team sported a birthday battery. It was starting pitcher Cameron Hobson's 23rd, and his catcher Michael Dowd turned 22. But the party was ruined by the Cedar Rapids Kernels, who eked out a 4-3 victory.
The first of many: According to my (perhaps not-so) meticulous records, the first position player to take the mound in Minor League Baseball this season was Steve Tolleson of the Norfolk Tides. The moonlighting shortstop entered April 11's game versus Gwinnett in a tough situation, with the score knotted at 12-12 in the top of the 11th and a runner on first. Tolleson acquitted himself admirably but was undone by an error and a two-out triple as Gwinnett grinded out a 14-12 victory. This was Tolleson's first time on the mound since Aug. 7 of last year, when he threw a scoreless inning for Tucson. He was the first Tides position player to pitch since Brandon Pinckney on April 8, 2009.
In which a first baseman outpitches a second baseman: Strange things happen when Minor League games go 16 innings. The Mississippi Braves needed that many frames to beat the Jackson Generals on April 15, a ballgame in which both "pitchers" of record were anything but. Ian Gac's home run made a loser of moonlighting second baseman Eric Campbell (who had hurled two scoreless innings prior to the decisive blow) and a winner of moonlighting first baseman Barrett Kleinknecht.
Getting it done on both ends: If the name Jason Lane rings a bell, it's probably because he played outfield for the Houston Astros from 2003-07. He's currently a member of the Reno Aces and has left his outfield days behind in favor of a career on the pitcher's mound. Lane's past and present collided in heroic fashion on April 12 -- he pitched two scoreless innings for Salt Lake, and then secured his own victory with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 13th (that it was a check-swing infield nubber matters not).
Getting it done on both ends, Part II: Entering this season, the last time a Buffalo Bisons pitcher had hit a home run was during the 1994 campaign. Dylan Owen changed that during April 23's ballgame against Lehigh Valley, and he soon had company. A mere two days later, Matt Harvey hit one of his own.
Getting it done on both ends, part III: The final word on April's heroic pitching exploits comes courtesy of long-time Crooked Numbers contributor Alex Freedman, currently the broadcaster and media relations manager of the Oklahoma City RedHawks. On April 22, Albuquerque defeated Oklahoma City by a score of 11-10 in 14 innings. Freedman provides the following account:
"The game featured 36 hits and 37 runners stranded on base, but here's the real kicker: Each team used a pitcher as a pinch hitter in extras, and each one got a hit. Mike Parisi singled for the Isotopes in the 10th and Dallas Keuchel collected a pinch-hit single in the 13th. Both were solid singles, too. Parisi's was a sharp grounder up the middle, and Keuchel's as a liner to left."
Midwest slugfest: Buoyed by an 11-run ninth inning, Bowling Green defeated Lake County on April 15 by the improbable score of 22-12. That's the most runs scored in a Midwest League game this season, but far from the circuit record. According to the Midwest League Traveler blog, the Dubuque Packers defeated the Paris Lakers by a score of 36-12 on Aug. 29, 1956.
Meltdown! Losses don't come any more confounding, or painful, than that which Las Vegas reliever Jim Hoey suffered against Colorado Springs on April 14. The 29-year-old Major League veteran entered the ballgame in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied, 3-3. He recorded two quick outs before allowing a single to Jimmy Cesario, and then the unthinkable occurred: Hoey uncorked three wild pitches, the last of which allowed Cesario to score the ballgame's winning run.
More meltdowns! The Charlotte Knights made a staggering seven errors in their game against Syracuse on April 30, and all of them were made by the team's middle infielders. Shortstop Osvaldo Martinez led the way with four miscues, and second baseman Tyler Kuhn contributed three.
Four! The Tucson Padres made four errors in the fourth inning on April 20, and this led to four unearned runs as the team went on to lose by four runs to Colorado Springs. This dropped the T-Pads to 4-12 on the season, with the team having won one game in each of their first four series.
The single life: San Jose rapped out 17 hits en route to a 9-5 win over High Desert on April 24, and all but one of the hits was a single. All nine of the hits the team collected during their seven-run sixth frame went for one base.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog.