NEW GUYS

All sorts of new guys have joined the Naturals lately.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch on them:

SS Jeff Bianchi – 22 years old and really looks good at the plate.  The only knock him in his career has been an inability to stay totally healthy.  So far, so good in that category this season.  He should add some good punch to the middle of the Naturals line-up.

C Vance Wilson – obviously it’s nice to have an 8 year ML vet around for leadership and he’s been great at the plate as well.  Should also provide the young pitchers on the staff a nice veteran mind to lean on and trust

OF Jarrod Dyson – just joined the team today and debuts tonight but from all accounts he can “flat out fly”.  Not literally of course, but if he can provide the offense with a burner it adds a great new dimension to things.

Hopefully, the Naturals get the 2nd half off to a great start tonight in Tulsa.

New Faces Aplenty

The two newest Naturals looked great in their debuts last night.

SS Jeff Bianchi just in from Class-A Wilmington started 0-2, but finished the night with 3 doubles.  He looked smooth at the shortstop position where he will be most nights.

At just 22-years old, Bianchi has a chance to be a very special player.  He should provide some nice punch to the middle of the Naturals line-up.

It’s also good to have catcher Vance Wilson active.  Playing in a game for the first time since 2007 because of his elbow surgeries, Vance pinch-hit last night and had an RBI single.  His presence in the clubhouse has been great for the Naturals so far this season, and hopefully he can continue the contributions on the field now.

Remember, a week from tonight is Vance Wilson bobblehead night at Arvest Ballpark!

Wow!

What an ending today as the Naturals nearly blew a 6-run lead in the 9th, but they throw out the tying run at the plate to end the game!  To me, it was more exciting than a walk-off win at home would be because it looked like it was turning into a sure loss and then the team made a great play to get a win.

Before the game, Ed Lucas was as happy as I’ve ever seen him.

Why?  Because he got to bat leadoff today, the only place in the order he had never batted in his baseball career.  Congrats to Ed for achieving this distinct but never tracked milestone.  By the way, he went 2-5 with a double and a triple.  The guy can flat out hit.

That’s all for now.  Naturals and Travs again tomorrow night at 5:30.

Birthdays Galore

Hey y’all…

I didn’t forget about you, just got lost in the biggest crowd ever at Arvest Ballpark.  8,998! this past Wednesday for a day game with thousands of kids there.  It was packed.

We’ve got birthdays like crazy surrounding this team right now.  Manager Brian Poldberg celebrated his birthday this past Saturday.

Yesterday, 3B Ed Lucas turned 25 plus 2 (27) and today it’s pitching coach Larry Carter’s turn to blow out the candles.  If John Bale hadn’t already completed his major league rehab assignment with the Naturals, he could join the party since today is his b-day too.

Not to look ahead, but Cody Strait get his day this coming Thursday and Mario Lisson’s is just 9 days away.

This isn’t actually the busiest time of the year for birthdays among members of the Naturals.  Several players were born in early October including Gilbert de la Vara, Matt Kniginyzky, John Suomi and Joe Dickerson all being within 2 days of each other.

Bonding Time

In case you weren’t awake at 8:00 a.m. this morning (and some of us weren’t), there was a tornado warning for Springfield, MO which caused the tornado sirens to go off (waking some of us up) and forcing our team hotel to make an announcement asking everyone to go to the ballroom area on the lowest level and take shelter.

Let me tell you, there’s nothing like a bunch of guys who are only half-awake hanging out in the back hallways of a hotel not knowing if they should be worried about an impending natural (no pun intended) disaster, or if they should be looking out the windows trying to catch a glimpse.

Luckily, the tornado(es) that were in the area did not come near the hotel and everyone was OK, but there were reports of 70-80 mph straight line winds just outside the hotel.

It also gave the team a chance for a little bonding in a very informal setting with some of the guys having gotten dressed a little, while others were still in their sleeping attire. 

All in all, it was just another adventure in the life of the minor leagues.
-Steven

Rain in Springfield

The rain has followed the Naturals north to Springfield, MO as the tarp is on the field right now.  With first pitch still over an hour away though, they are hopeful of getting this game started close to on time.

Last night’s doubleheader was not very pretty baseball at times, but like usual the Naturals found a way to get a win in a game that they needed to win.

But last night is last night and now we look ahead to tonight:

- Blake Wood needs a solid outing to bounce back from his rough go six days ago when he lasted only 1.1 innings.  Unfortunately, Springfield is the team that Wood has had the least amount of success against in his AA career.

- Royals LH reliever John Bale has joined Naturals on a rehabilitation stint and will work out of the bullpen.  Look for Bale to be used about every other day and somewhat cautiously to begin with.  He is active and could be in there tonight against a Cardinals line-up that features 7 LH hitters.

- Finally, I recorded a funny (sarcastic) interview with Chris Hayes for the pregame show today (yes, those interviews are recorded).  We talk about everything from the doubleheader last night to his pitching to the rain to yogurt.  Definitely worth a listen.

I plan to interview him again sometime soon about his blog and why he likes it so he can give me some advice to make this one better.

That’s it for now…I’m going to do an anti-rain dance so that we can get started tonight.

My Favorite Cartoon

I’ve always had a thing for the cartoon show Scooby Doo.  It’s not the greatest show in history but it’s funny, has great characters and how can you not like a talking dog.  Right, Raggy?  (I guess the Scoob voice doesn’t work too well in print but it’s not really a dog anyway.)

On top of that, Scooby and I share the same initials (SD) so I have to like him for that reason too.  Also with the same initials is Scooby’s nephew, Scrappy Doo.  Scrappy was always the one who wanted to fight the big, bad ghost no matter how stacked against him the odds were.  He was always ready to challenge somebody and always believed he would win.  And it’s scrappy that brings this blog back to baseball.

I’ve called this Naturals team scrappy all year long and last night’s game is maybe the biggest example we’ll have of that for the entire season.  Down 8-0 in the 2nd, the Naturals fashioned the biggest comeback in franchise history finally knocking off Springfield in 12 innings 9-8 thanks to 2 Cardinal errors in the 12th.

This 2009 Naturals team NEVER QUITS!

Down 8 runs in the 2nd with your starting pitcher already out of the game is a real easy time to throw in the towel but not these guys.  5 runs in the 3rd got the game a little tighter and the bullpen did its thing to give the offense the chance to rally.

Kyle Crist steadied the ship out of the pen and then Carlos Sencion (4 IP), Greg Holland (2 IP) and Chris Nicoll (2 IP) put nothing but zeros up on the board.  Corey Smith would finish the comeback with an RBI double in the 5th and then tied in the 7th with a 2-run bomb.

Finally, Springfield caved in the 12th inning after Brian McFall worked a lead-off walk and was bunted to 2nd.  Back-to-back Card errors sealed the deal to move NWA within a game of 1st.

There will still be some rough moments throughout the season, but this group no matter what knocks there may be against their size of level of talent or consistency is going to take the field every day and scrap and best they can to earn a victory.

That’s the kind of effort that Scrappy-Doo and baseball fans in Northwest Arkansas can be proud of.

Bizarre Game

Last Night was a strange game at Dickey-Stephen Park as the Naturals beat the Travelers 2-0.  It was the first shutout of the season for NWA and both teams threw it well.

In fact, the Naturals very nearly got no-hit.  The lone knock came in the 5th on a blooper into short right by Chris McConnell.  Travelers’ 2nd baseman Ryan Mount nearly made a basket catch sliding on his back but couldn’t hang onto it as he was sliding on his back.

It’s great that the Naturals can win when the offense is not clicking (due in large part to great pitching) but it wouldn’t hurt for the offense to pick things up again.

The bats have been either real hot or real cold of late.  In the last 6 contests, the Naturals have had some of their poorest offensive games this year, with hit totals of 1, 4 and 5 in three different games.  But have also had double-digit hits twice including a season-best 13 on Tuesday when they scored 9 runs against Corpus Christi.

Hopefully the offense can start to heat things up again tonight as they go for back-to-back wins over the in-state rivals.

Streaks Snapped

Big win today for the Naturals and in the process snapped a couple of streaks.  Obviously, the two-game losing streaks ended but on the pitching staff, there was good news as well.

Anthony Lerew garnered the first win of the season for a Naturals starting pitcher.  Considering it was the 12th game of the season and the 6th win, it took quite a while.  Now the Naturals pitchers just got their pitch counts stretched out to 90 pitches so they should be able to go a little deeper into ballgames and hopefully can pick up a few more victories.

Also today, the Naturals got their first save as Chris Nicoll recorded the final two outs of the contest with the tying runs on base.  There really shouldn’t have been a save opportunity today, but after the Hooks had scored 4 in the 9th to pull within two, it was good to see Nicoll come in and slam the door.

Hopefully, the Naturals can carry the momentum from this win (in front of the 4th biggest Naturals home crowd ever) down to North Little Rock this weekend for the first series of the year against the Travelers.

We’ll check in with an update from the Rock…until then, enjoy the off day and Go Naturals and Royals!

What a Rally!

If we’ve learned anything about this ’09 edition of the Naturals so far, it’s that this group is going to be exciting to watch on a daily basis.

They will play hard and scrap until the final out is made and if they get it done like yesterday then they are rewarded with a win.

There have been some rocky moments so far, see 11 actual errors in the first 3 games and several other plays that could/should have been made, pitching that at times has been less than expected but on the plus side, they’ve shown good aptitude at the plate.

This was not a team that was expected to score much offensively or show much power, but the offense has been a bright spot so far and it was the power game yesterday that created the come-from-behind win as the Naturals rallied from 4 down.

While it’s still to early to call it a trend, it’s good to see the homerun ball from the Naturals early in the season.  Brian McFall (3 doubles, 2 HRs so far) lined a 3-run shot off the foul pole in left to cut it to a 1-run game.  Then leading off the 9th, Jeff Howell homered the opposite way to tie it and cap his 4-4 day at the plate.  And finally Mario Lisson’s lead-off bomb in the 10th turned out to be the difference.

That’s now 5 homers for NWA in 4 games this year and some very bright signs from these young hitters at the plate.

Credit also the Naturals pitching yesterday.  After a rocky start, Blake Wood retired the final 10 hitters he faced and really looked dominant in those final 3-plus innings.  Gilbert de la Vara and Greg Holland each tossed two scoreless innings in relief allowing for the offense to get it going.

After the way a couple of the games in San Antonio went, yesterday’s victory, especially how it happened, was a very welcome feeling.

Oh, and for those of you wanting to hate on our traveling party, the weather is absolutely perfect again here today.   Temperatures expected in the upper-80s, light breeze, no clouds, low humidity.  And to top it off, I have a spectacular view of Corpus Christi Bay as I look out my hotel window.  Enough bragging for now, talk to you later this week.

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