The Minor League season kicked off Thursday, a momentous occasion that transitioned right into a weekend of baseball abundance. Even the most ardent of fans can't keep track of everything, however, no matter how hard they may try. What follows is a pithy roundup of easily overlooked yet notable events, the bow tie on top of the wonderful present that was Minor League Baseball's Opening Weekend.
All for one and one for all: It was unofficial as unofficial can be, but the first no-hitter of the 2011 Minor League season occurred on April 5. The High Desert Mavericks took on nearby Victor Valley Community College, and nine pitchers contributed a hitless frame apiece as the Mavs coasted to a 12-0 victory. The exceedingly equal workload was split between hurlers James Gillheeny, Tim Boyce, Nick Czyz, Austin Hudson, Johnathan Hesketh, Ogui Diaz, Jose Jimenez, John Housey and Chris Kirkland.
Attention future historians:
The first home run
of the 2011 Minor League season was hit by Nolan Reimold of the Norfolk Tides, who took on the Charlotte Knights in an 11:15 a.m. tilt Thursday. Reimold's sixth-inning blast knotted the score at 2-2, but the Knights were nonetheless able to eke out a 4-3 victory.
Looking on the bright side: The Visalia Rawhide were rained out on Thursday, postponing their home opener against the Bakersfield Blaze, but no matter. As the team cheerfully noted on their Facebook page: "The last time a home opener was rained out for this ball club, in 2006, we went on to win the [California League's] Northern Division Championship."
A sudden abundance taketh away: The Lansing Lugnuts had to postpone their home opener for a more unorthodox reason: a so-called "sudden abundance of moisture." As the visiting West Michigan Whitecaps explained in a press release: "The infield dirt on the right side became soaked as the teams began to stretch and warm up in the afternoon, and the Lugnuts' groundscrew spent the next few hours trying to dry it out." Such efforts were unsuccessful.
Action Van Stratten: The Northwest Arkansas Naturals lost on Opening Night to the San Antonio Missions by a score of 3-2, but don't blame Nick Van Stratten. The acrobatic left fielder robbed Blake Tekotte of a home runoand threw out a runner at first base after a fly out to complete the uncommon 7-3 double play.
Walk-off this way: The Naturals followed Thursday's Opening Night loss with three consecutive walk-off victories. The aforementioned Van Stratten hit an RBI single in the 11th inning to seal a 5-4 victory over San Antonio on Friday, and Mario Lisson broke a 5-5 tie on Saturday with his first home run in a Naturals uniform since 2009. The Corpus Christi Hooks were victimized on Sunday, as Wil Myers' 14th-inning single plated the suddenly ubiquitous Van Stratten with the winning run.
Mr. Versatility: The last we heard of Jacksonville backstop Chris Hatcher, he was hitting a home run to clinch the 2010 Southern League Championship. He's back with the Suns in 2011 but in a whole new capacity. The 26-year-old, who appeared in five games for the Marlins last season, is attempting to become the first Major League catcher to convert to pitcher. This quixotic quest got off to a good start on Opening Night, as Hatcher threw a scoreless seventh inning against Huntsville.
Like Sands through the hourglass: Slugger Jerry Sands rocketed up the Dodgers' system in 2010, and his ascension began with a terrific start to the season where he hit homers on the first Saturday and Sunday of 2010 with Great Lakes. Fifty-two weeks later and Sands did the same thing for Triple-A Albuquerque. He took Royals prospect Danny Duffy deep on Saturday and shelled Steven Shell on Sunday.
Sweet and Savery: The Philadelphia Phillies' drafted pitcher Joe Savery in the first round of the 2007 Draft, but the Rice product never quite did adjust to professional life atop the mound. He's now suiting up for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers as a designated hitter, and thus far he's found this new existence to be quite amenable: over the first four games of the season, Savery is hitting a whopping .800 (12-for-15). He collected four hits on both Thursday and Saturday against Dunedin, and bashed his first home run of the season in the latter contest.
Save some for later! The Tucson Padres are new to the Pacific Coast League this season, having relocated from Portland (where they were known as the Beavers). The club got off to a most auspicious start, beating host Colorado Springs by the score of 18-14 on Opening Day. All 12 batters to go to the plate for the T-Pads hit safely, with Logan Forsyth leading the way. The second baseman homered twice and drew four walks, ending the evening with a tidy 3.524 OPS.
Winning: The Lehigh Valley IronPigs won their home opener on Thursday, defeating the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees by a score of 7-2. This marked the first time in franchise history that the club had a winning record (they played their first season in 2008), as well as the first time since 1999 that the Phillies Triple-A affiliate had won its home opener. The last team to do so was -- you guessed it -- Scranton Wilkes-Barre (in their previous incarnation as the Philly-affiliated Red Barons).
Sampson is delightful: Perhaps the most dominating pitching line of Minor League Baseball's Opening Weekend came courtesy of Fort Wayne's Keyvius Sampson. The 20-year-old struck out 10 batters over six perfect frames as his TinCaps held on for a 2-1 win over Fort Wayne. Despite Sampson's youth, this sort of performance has precedent. He toed the rubber for the Everett AquaSox during their home opener in 2010, and struck out seven over five shutout frames.
Breakout! The South Bend Silver Hawks plated a mere three runs total en route to three straight losses to start the season against Fort Wayne. Sunday was a different story, as the club erupted for 19 runs (the most during Mark Haley's managerial tenure, which dates to the beginning of 2005). Eight Silver Hawks enjoyed multi-hit games, and the one who didn't -- Zachary Walters -- walked and scored three times. This marked the fifth consecutive season in which South Bend got off to an 0-3 start, but no matter -- three of the previous four teams to do so still made the playoffs.
Turnabout is fair play: The Bradenton Marauders romped to a 13-0 victory over the Charlotte Stone Crabs on Friday, but revenge was soon to be had. The Stone Crabs enjoyed a 14-1 win the very next day, punctuated by a nine-run fourth frame (the most runs ever scored against Bradenton in a single inning).
Take a seat: A trio of Quad Cities River Bandits pitchers combined to strike out 18 Beloit Snappers during Friday's Opening Night contest. Trevor Rosenthal led the way with 11 over just four frames, striking out the side in each of the first three.