A long bus ride, the Twins’ 1987 World Series video, an impromptu stop at the Saint Louis Cardinals’ Team Store, a baseball game in Memphis (TN), free hats and hot dogs, a light/power malfunction game delay, a 6-4-3 double play (finally) in the top of the ninth, impressive fireworks, a carriage ride home, a lobby bar … Day Two of Ballpark Tours XXXIV had a little bit of everything. They do say, however, don’t bury the lead – so here goes.
Last night’s winning pitcher was the Tacoma Raniers’ Pat Venditte. Why is that the lead? Venditte got the victory (the Raniers won over the Memphis Redbirds 6-5 in a less than cleanly played contest) by virtue of two innings pitched, giving up one hit and two walks, no runs and fanning two – and pitching to six batters right-handed and two left-handed. That’s right, our Ballpark Tours’ group got to see MLB’s most recent ambidextrous pitcher. Venditte, who was traded from Toronto to Seattle August 6 (and assigned to Tacoma by the Mariners), has plied his left-right trade in the majors for the Blue Jays and A’s – MLB stat line: 2-2, 4.58 in 34 games. More on Venditte later, but when it comes to the second day of our ten-day baseball trek, he’s the lead.
With that, let’s take a look at Day Two in a somewhat chronological order.
We go off to an early start from Peoria (IL), still lamenting: 1) Last night’s rainout; 2) The heat and humidity; 3) A not-so-friendly weather forecast for Memphis (our next stop). Things picked up on the six-hour bus ride, thanks in part to the video of Game Seven of the Twins’ 1987 World Series win over the Cardinals. Our intrepid tour leader, Julian Loscalzo distributed the tickers for the Saturday and Sunday games on the bus – and we also each received vouchers for a Memphis Redbirds hat, hot dog and beverage for each game. Freebies – almost as popular as the Twins (repeat) Game Seven win. The day also included an impromtu stop at the St. Louis Cardinals Team Store – where we had a chance to check out the statues of Cardinal heroes from Hornsby to Musial to Smith.
We pulled into the Crowne Plaza Downtown Memphis – and, as usual, Ballpark Tours selected well-located (about a ten-block walk to the ballpark), quality accommodations. (The hotel completed a significant remodeling in May.) The lobby bar, shuttle service (some preferred to avoid the ten-block walk) and breakfast buffet proved especially popular. (And, I was even provided office space in which to work on this blog.)
THE BALL PARK- from blues to Bloody Mary’s
We headed to Autozone Park for the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariner’ farm club) versus Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals’ farm team) tilt about an hour before the 6:35 p.m. game time. I was glad I did, pregame there was a pretty good blues-rock band (The Memphis Winslows) playing in the right field corner. I also had plenty of time to take in a few tunes, pick up a scorecard (free), purchase my traditional Bloody Mary and collect my freebies (nice hat, good hot dog, Diet Coke).
I always review the Bloody Mary. Autozone’s Park’s offering, available for $8.75 at the Brewhouse, was adequate (good pour and I was asked how spicy I wanted it). However, there were none of the garnishes or extra spices (like celery salt) that make a Bloody Mary pop, at least in BBRT’s eyes. It was pretty much the family sedan of Bloody Mary’s. Stick to cold beer.
It was a hot and steamy night (sounds like the start of a mystery novel) and the threat of rain delayed the start of the game about ten minutes – getting the tarp on and off the field. We had great seats, lower deck in the first few rows just beyond first base. (We had a perfect view of a catcher-to-first base pick-off in the bottom of the fifth inning). The park itself, which opened in 2000, is slotted nicely into downtown Memphis. Like CHS Field (Saint Paul Saints), you really don’t notice the ball park until you are practically at the gate and, once inside, you get the always pleasing panorama of a baseball arena. Memphis also has one of the largest – and to my eye, clearest – video screens in the minor leagues – which, as you will read later, came in handy during a mid-game delay. Like most minor league parks, there was plenty of between innings entertainment: Baby Races; Pizza Box Races; Tricycle Races.
The game started off pretty well, zero-zero after three – and we were pleased to have a chance to see Taijuan Walker take the mound for the Raniers. The 23-year-old Walker, long considered a top prospect for the Mariners, went 11-8, 4.56 for the Mariners in 2015 – and was 4-7, 4.10 in 17 starts before an early August demotion (after a stretch of five starts in which his ERA was a lofty 5.96).
Things went a little south in the fourth inning, as the Raniers sent 11 hitters to the plate, scoring six runs on five hits, a walk and a hit batsman. Walker looked to be on the way to a victory – having given up no hits and fanning four in the first three frames (the only blemish was a hit-by-pitch). He had a six-run lead and just needed to go five innings for a win. That was not to be. In the fourth, Walker gave up two runs on three doubles. The fifth would be even worse for Walker, who retired the leadoff batter and then gave up two singles and a pair of walks (walking in a run) before the ambidextrous Venditte came. While Venditte did walk in another run, he got out of the inning and – as noted earlier – picked up the win.
Pat Venditte, Jr.
Pat Venditte was drafted by the Yankees in the 20th round of the 2008 MLB draft – out of Creighton University, where the ambidextrous pitcher was a 2007 first-team All Missouri Valley Conference player, the 2007 Most Valuable Player in the conference tournament and a third-team All American. Since signing, he has been in the Yankees, A’s, Blue Jays and now the Mariners’ systems. In nine minor league seasons, his record is 21-23, 2.52 ERA, with 52 saves in 295 games. He appeared in the major with the A’s in 2015 and the Blue Jays in 2016 – going a combined 2-2, 4.58 in 34 games.
Throwing righty, Venditte delivers a mid- to high-80s fastball, as well as a slider and curve. Left-handed, he relies on a low- to mid-80s fastball and a slider.
The “Pat Venditte Rule”
Venditte’s ambidextrous offerings led to the development of a new set of rules – generally referred to as the Pat Venditte Rule – for dealing with the actions of switch-pitchers within an at bat. Basically, a pitcher must indicate visually to the umpire which hand he intends to use to pitch to each batter – and he may not switch hands until that batter is retired, reaches base, the inning ends (i.e. baserunner picked off), a pinch hitter takes the batter’s place or the pitcher injures his arm.
Ultimately, the Raniers prevailed six-to-five in a game which we saw four pitchers for each team – 19 hits, 11 walks, two hit batters, three wild pitches and one error; as well as a brief weather delay at the start of a game and an 18-minute mid-game delay due to a power loss to parts of the lighting banks. Note: They put the Olympic swimming event on the video board during the delay and the U.S. relay team;s win got the most enthusiastic response of the night. I did get to see my 6-4-3 double play (but not until the top of the ninth); Memphis’ left fielder Jose Martinez made a great sliding catch in the top of the first; Tacoma 2B Mike Freeman made a nice play, ranging to his right and making a jump/spin-move throw to first in the bottom of the second; and Tacoma catcher Jesus Sucre picked a Redbirds’ runner of first to end the fifth.
Post game the Redbirds put on a one of the best fireworks display we have seen on the tour – and, as one would expect in Memphis – it was set to music and video of Elvis.
Then it was back to the hotel – on foot, via shuttle or, for one group in true style, a horse-drawn carriage.
So, there is Day Two, I’ll report again from Nashville (tonight, in Memphis, it’s Elvis Night at the ball park). Now I’m off to explore Memphis.
In The Majors – A First First
Yesterday (August 13), Yankee prospects Tyler Austin (1B) and Aaron Judge (RF) made their major league debuts – and launched back-to-back home runs in the second inning of the Yankees 8-4 win over the Rays. It was the first at bat for each of them. Judge and Aaron are the first teamates to hit home runs in their first MLB at bats in the same game.
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