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Crooked Numbers: Unlikely heroes

A look at May, from ejected fans to moonlighting pitchers
June 5, 2013

May 21's game between the Stockton Ports and visiting Lake Elsinore Storm could be called crazy, but that would be selling it short. This 17-inning contest, ultimately won by the Ports by a score of 11-9, existed within a fantastical realm of the absurd in which anything that could happen seemingly did.

The two teams were tied 6-6 at the end of nine innings, 8-8 at the end of 13, and 9-9 at the end of 16. Wade Kirkland finally won it with a two-run walk-off homer in the 17th, his first at-bat of the ballgame, and the blast also made him the game's winning pitcher. The moonlighting shortstop had hurled the last two frames for the Ports, allowing a run in the 16th before blanking the Storm in the 17th. (Kirkland was preceded by Tony Thompson, who tossed two scoreless innings after beginning the game as a designated hitter.)

A perusal of the game's box score reveals other rarities, such as the fact that Ports right fielder Dusty Robinson earned the ultra-rare "Titanium Sombrero" (for lack of a better term) by striking out seven times! But what was perhaps the afternoon's most surreal moment can't be found in the box score, as it didn't directly involve any of either team's players or coaches. As the Ports were batting in the bottom of the 15th inning, umpire Mike Huus ejected a fan from the ballgame.

Yes, a fan, and that fan was Will MacNeil. A resident of Pleasanton, Calif., MacNeil is a self-described "ballpark junkie" who attends every Oakland A's game as well as an estimated 60 Ports games a season. He'd never been tossed from a game before -- didn't think it was possible, in fact -- but that's just what happened as the Ports were batting in the bottom of the 15th inning. The announced Education Day crowd of 4,551 had dwindled to the point where only a few dozen diehards remained, and many of these diehards were expressing a profound displeasure with Huus' ball-and-strike-calling abilities.

"Most of the fans were saying stuff like 'C'mon Blue,' chirping like that, but I had stayed pretty quiet," recalled MacNeil. "The pitch I got in trouble for, it was called a strike even though it was at the guy's shoe tops."

MacNeil, incensed, directed an insult toward Huus. Huus, in turn, promptly turned around and ejected MacNeil from the ballpark.

"If I'd said a racial slur or something homophobic, something really over the line, then I'd understand," said MacNeil. "But I just said 'Terrible strike zone, midget!' and that's what got me the heave-ho. When he threw me out I had a 'Are you kidding me?' reaction, and at first the Ports dugout thought it was one of them [who was ejected] but, no, it was me. The Ports staff was laughing at me, like, 'Well, I guess you have to leave.' It was funny, because I'm not the tallest guy in the world -- I'm only five-foot-seven."

MacNeil left the stands but did not leave the ballpark, as the Ports' staff allowed him to watch the remainder of the ballgame while crouched behind a merchandise kiosk. Though he still feels that Huus was unjustified in ejecting him, there aren't any hard feelings.

"Sometimes you talk before the filter in your brain kicks in, and that's what happened to me. I was a bit on the offensive side, and it wasn't the best choice of wording. I should have said 'little person' instead," said MacNeil. "I'm sure [Huus] was tired, and at that point we were all just sitting there wondering when it was going to end."

More position players pitching

For that small but passionate subgenre of baseball aficionados who thrill to the sight of position players taking up temporary occupancy on the mound, May 11's 20-inning contest between Northwest Arkansas and Springfield was an absolute bonanza. Catcher Mitch Canham came on in the 15th and hurled three shutout frames, followed by Matt Fields. The moonlighting first baseman tossed three innings of his own, scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the 20th before securing the victory in the bottom of the frame (allowing a run, but recording the final out with the tying run at third). Springfield's moonlighters held their own as well, with shortstop Vance Albitz throwing three scoreless innings before second baseman Ruben Gotay yielded two in the 20th and took the loss.

Something in the water

Strange has been the new normal for the Tucson Padres this season, as the team has been involved in odd on-field occurrences at a prodigious clip. To wit:

May 5 vs. Salt Lake: Dean Anna pulled off the rare feat of back-to-back interference, as he reached on catcher's interference in the top of the fifth inning and then one batter later was called out for runner's interference.

May 8 vs. Albuquerque: The first 13 Tucson batters were retired in order, but then, with one out in the fifth, 10 consecutive batters reached base en route to an eight-run inning. Naturally, no Tucson batter reached base during the remainder of the ballgame.

May 9 vs. Albuquerque: This time it was Albuquerque's turn to get streaky with it, as the first seven batters of the game reached base en route to a five-run frame and eventual 8-7 victory over Tucson.

May 21 vs. Omaha: The T-Pads batted around in the 10th inning and scored three runs, despite not collecting a hit. The frame featured three walks, an error, a sac bunt and an RBI groundout.

May 26 vs. Sacramento: The tables were turned on Tucson, as the River Cats scored 10 first-inning runs after 12 consecutive batters reached base with two outs.

Stricken from the record

May 2's tilt between Peoria and Lake County ended in a 2-2 tie, as weather woes caused play to be suspended after seven innings. Except not quite. Lake County actually scored a go-ahead run in the top of the eighth, and the Chiefs had a runner on first with no outs in the bottom of the frame when play was halted. Because the Chiefs didn't get a chance to complete their half of the eighth, the Captains' run was declared null and void. Hence, the tie.

A formality

If a player is ejected after the game is over, then is it an ejection? Apparently so, as Kane County catcher Wilson Contreras was tossed from May 23's game against Peoria as a result of an altercation that occurred after Peoria had scored the winning run in the bottom of the 14th inning.

Out of order

When West Michigan's Devon Travis collected a hit against Bowling Green on May 19, it extended a hitting streak that had come to an end the week before. This is because Travis's May 19th base knock occurred during a completion of a game that had started on May 10. By hitting safely on the 19th he got credit for a hit on the 10th, which then became the 18th game of a hitting streak that had now ended at 20. Got that?

Out of order, part two

Oklahoma City RedHawks broadcaster Alex Freedman has long been a friend of this column, and this month he has contributed a riveting tale of confusion and, well, more confusion. Alex writes:

"During Game 1 of a doubleheader between the RedHawks and Iowa Cubs on Sunday, May 26, Brandon Laird was a late scratch from the lineup, forcing the RedHawks to make some last-minute changes. In the new lineup, Jason Jaramillo was batting seventh and Andy Simunic was batting eighth.

"However, when the seventh spot in the lineup came up in the second inning, Simunic was at the plate. He ended up with an RBI groundout. Jaramillo followed and drew a walk, but would not score. At this point, Iowa did not appeal or mention anything to the umpiring crew.

"When the seven spot in the lineup came up next time, in the fourth inning, Jaramillo went to the plate and drew a walk. It was after the walk that Iowa's manager went to speak with the home plate umpire. As rule 6.07 essentially states, the lineup submitted at the beginning of the game is the final lineup, so Jaramillo was batting in his correct spot. Simunic came up next and struck out.

"Had Iowa appealed in the second inning after Simunic batted out of order, Jaramillo would have been called out, no run would have scored, and Simunic would have gone back to the plate to hit in his correct spot."

If at first you don't succeed

On May 23, in a game against Kannapolis, Hickory's Jordan Akins led off the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 2-2 and promptly blasted a game-winning home run. Except no, as after a conference amongst the umpires this apparent home run was deemed foul. The game then ended up going into extra innings, and after Kannapolis scored four runs in the top of the 12th all looked lost. Hickory mounted an improbable comeback, however, scoring five in the bottom of the frame. And fittingly it was Akins who scored the game's winning run, this time for real.

As an added bonus, the game's winning pitcher was moonlighting infielder Nick Vickerson, who had recorded the final out of the top of the 12th inning.

For the record

The presence of a skunk on the field will result in a stoppage of play. An earthquake, on the other hand? Play on!

Crooked Nuggets: Minor League on-field weirdness, in 75 words or fewer

Been a while: On May 2, the Fresno Grizzlies did something they hadn't done in 1,759 games: win despite not striking out a batter. The last time this had occurred was Aug. 21, 2000.

Everybody hits: The Beloit Snappers suffered their worst defeat of the month on May 12, losing by seven runs to Cedar Rapids. Yet, they scored a season-high 16 runs! In this 23-16 Kernels victory, every player in the starting lineup on both teams hit safely and scored at least once.

Everybody gets hit: Three Winston-Salem batters were hit by a pitch in the eighth inning of May 26's game against Carolina. This in and of itself is uncommon, but making it even more uncommon is that each hit by pitch came courtesy of a different pitcher.

Getting to second base: Beloit and Cedar Rapids returned to Earth the next day, with the Snappers earning a 3-2 win on the strength of Chad Lewis' walk-off single. But what the box score won't tell you is that this single bounced off the second base bag, and otherwise would likely have been fielded.

Pitches gone wild: Stockton pitchers uncorked four wild pitches in the eighth inning of their May 11 loss to Lancaster. Jose Macias threw the first one, and Jonathan Joseph came on in relief and threw three more.

One-upmanship: In the first game of May 19's doubleheader against Delmarva, Hickory starter C.J. Edwards pitched a complete-game one-hitter. In the second game, four Hickory hurlers combined to toss a no-hitter.

Doubly grand: On May 30 against Pensacola, Jacksonville's Jake Marisnick hit the first grand slam of his professional career. Then, making up for lost time, he hit another grand slam just one inning later.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog.