A pair of games

After our first game at the beginning of this month we decided it was time to try a couple more. A good thing too since Covid numbers are going up again and it might get a bit scary to take the kids out soon. Things aren’t bad yet and hopefully we’ll respond fast enough to turn things around rather than let them spiral out of control for a month.

Anyway enough about Covid, this is about the two baseball games we went to last week as a way of salvaging a bit of normalcy for the first time in over a year.

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The first game we went to was at Somerset where we got to watch some of the guys we used to watch at Trenton. It’s interesting to compare the experience to what it was when Somerset was independent a couple years ago. Food is definitely cheaper and the crowd is a bit more partisan. Something about Independent ball caused fans to be a bit agnostic about things. Being a Yankees affiliate in definitive Yankee territory though resulted in a crowd that’s a bit more vocal: heckling the opposing team, complaining about the Somerset pitching, etc.

Heck the crowd was a bit more aggressive than Trenton too. Definitely a different vibe and made all of us miss the Trenton experience a bit. It’s not Major League Baseball’s fault in this case since the Yankees are the ones who changed affiliates but the fact that Trenton ended up in the Draft League is something we can blame MLB for.

The game though was good. At first. Got through six innings in 1:45 and we were having a pretty good time. Baseball card night so we each got a small pack of four Bowman cards. Somerset was winning 6–1 and cruising. And then the wheels fell off. The last three innings took another 1:45 as Somerset’s relievers couldn’t find the plate and shipped eight runs to lose 9–7.

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Still it was good to get out. A bit of a weird experience as the smoke from the West Coast wildfires made the air hazy and the moon red but I really like the drive through the wilderness to and from the stadium. No autographs. The boys tried for Sparky Lyle but he walked too fast and neither of them is bold enough to walk fast or call his name.

Later last week we went to a Draft League game. With the Canada border opening up again, Toronto is moving out of Buffalo and so the Bisons are leaving Trenton and returning to Buffalo. The last AAA Thunder game was last Sunday and as a result, the Draft League Thunder are moving back to Trenton for the last week of their season.

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Through this month though the Draft League Thunder have been playing their games at Rider University. Free admission and I wanted to check it out. The experience couldn’t have been better. Maybe 20 of us in the stands at a small college field. Super fast crisp game—so fast they didn’t even have a national anthem or 7th inning stretch*—which finished in two hours. Started at 3:00. Ended at 5:00. 80° day with clouds in the sky and just enough shade in the stands to be comfortable.

*Still got Sweet Caroline in though.

I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon with the boys. Due to free admission you can’t keep foul balls but the Thunder equipment manager gave one to each of the boys since they were the only kids in the stands. Plus we added a couple more autographs to our binders. Jeff Manto is the Draft League Thunder manager and Derrick May manages the Frederick Keys and they’re both in the 1991 Topps set.

I got some of my dupes signed but I’m really just excited for the boys. My eldest is up to seven signed cards from his 1991 Topps set. He got Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, and two Frank Violas back in 2019 and has now added Casey Candeale, Jeff Manto, and Derrick May. My youngest was working my 1991 Donruss duplicates in 2019 but now has a 1991 Score set of his own so he’s gotten Candeale, Manto, and May this year to go with the TTM Will Clark he got last year.

I know I’ve wondered before what resonance these players have to my kids but I also know that by getting autographs of the guys who come through town as coaches it actually makes these sets more personal to them as well. They’re not just players who played when their dad was a kid any more. Instead they’re a way for my kids to document the games they went to with me over the past couple years.

Restarting Normalcy

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On Father’s Day the Trenton Thunder invited everyone who had been in the Kids Club in 2020 to a day at the park. They had dollar hot dogs and free popcorn and soda. The kids could take part in various activities like hitting from home plate and running the bases. It looked to be a fun thing to do and so I duly took the boys.

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We had fun. Good to be back at the park and remember what it felt like to be in the stands even if there wasn’t a game. Also good to see that we felt relatively safe there. Which is why when the Thunder offered us half-price tickets to any upcoming Tuesday night game I decided to get some.

So last Tuesday we went to our first game since September 2019. It’s been way too long. I should’ve gotten more than one game’s worth of tickets.*

*Seriously though, until the kids can get vaccinated I reserve the right to turtle the family at home for a month and committing to multiple games is not something I feel comfortable doing yet. As much as I’d love for this post to bookend my start of Covid post, we’re not out of the woods yet.

We ended up with seats four rows off the field, right behind the plate. The boys have never sat that close before and it would’ve been plenty of fun if that was all that we did. But it turned out to be quite the event-filled night out.

It was a mystery giveaway night so we all got bats. Not full size but not mini either. Two-foot bats are big enough to actually use and kind of scary as giveaways.* I’m glad I brought a bad to put them into otherwise the boys would’ve been swinging them all game and there’s a decent chance someone would’ve been accidentally noggined.

*Though not as scary as the metal BBQ spatula and fork set a couple years ago.

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Then, since they were wearing their BRIGHT orange Kids Club tshirts, they were approached to do two of the activities—specifically throwing out the first pitch and saying “play ball” to start the game. My eldest was game, my youngest was not. So the eldest ended up throwing out the first pitch and being named the “fan of the game.” Very cool.

Oh, also it was kids eat free night so they each got a free hot dog, bag of popcorn, and soda. Plus dollar hot dogs for the rest of us. No complaints here.

No complaints about the weather either. Kind of a perfect balmy night. No rain in sight. A crisp well-played pitching duel (even though the teams combined to go through nine pitchers) which the Thunder won 2–1 by coming from behind and scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the 7th inning. No pitch clock in AAA but we still clocked in at ~2.5 hours.

And we even got some autographs. Turns out the Trenton/Buffalo coaches feature a couple guys who have a ton of junk wax cards (including in the 1991 sets that each of the boys has). We only got manager Casey Candaele’s autograph after the game but it was a wonderful way to wrap up a perfect night. I got these two signed—I love the 1993 photo and it looks better on-card than in the scan—while the boys got a 1991 Topps and 1991 Score from their sets.* Unlike a lot of the times when I’ve wondered what their connection to an autographed card will be, Candeale has an obvious hook due to his brother and mom’s relation to A League of Their Own.

*My eldest is up to five (I think) 1991 Topps cards signed from his set while this is my youngest’s second 1991 Score. This isn’t a project as much as a fun way for them to use their complete sets as a way of elating to the players.  

The boys went to bed a little late and took a while to fall asleep since they were both a bit hyped up.

For my part I’m less excited and more almost relieved. Feels nice to do something normal again. But even besides Covid, it’s great to remember how much going to a ball game—especially a low-stakes minor league game—just relaxes me. I can enjoy the good plays but just the pace and ambiance does wonders for my peace of mind. I hope I can get to some more this summer.

Revisiting the 2019 Thunder

While we haven’t been able to go to a Minor League game in well over a year, that 2019 season that the boys and I spent at Trenton is the gift that keeps on giving. We’ve been keeping an eye out for the players we got to know and it’s been a lot of fun to see them progress through the Minors and into the Majors.

This is something the three of us are all doing kind of in parallel. No one’s tracking, we’re just letting each other know when someone we watched makes it to the show or does something noteworthy. I have however decided to do quick card mockups of the guys who have debuted in the majors.

Since we’re up to a page’s-worth of cards now I figure it’s time for a quick rundown of who we’ve been following. And for fun I’m including autographs (when I have them) which I got that 2019 season as well as looking into whether or not their major league appearances have translated to cardboard yet.

Adonis Rosa was the first of the 2019 Thunder to make it to the show, debuting in the summer of 2019. This was a thrill for the boys since they had just gotten his autograph in Trenton that spring. Rosa pitched one game in 2019, then 2020 happened and he not only never got called up again he ended up being released last September.

He’s supposedly playing for Guadalajara in the Mexican League but his name doesn’t show up on the Guadalajara roster

Detroit grabbed Rony García in the 2019 Rule 5 draft so he ended up spending the entire 2020 season on the Tigers’ MLB roster. He ended up pitching 21 innings over 15 games, winning one game but getting knocked around a bit with a 8.15 ERA. His 2021 looked to be going better until he sprained his knee.

Unlike Rosa, García does have a Major League card that I should consider grabbing for the album. I haven’t started a “guys I watched in the minors” mini-PC but I can totally see myself doing this.

Brooks Kriske pitched in four games in 2020 and has pitched in four more this season. His ERA is not great (12.91 after 7.2 innings) but one horrible appearance each season for a reliever will really mess things up.

He looks to be a member of New York’s taxi squad for this season so I suspect we’ll see more of him this year. He has no MLB cards yet but if he sticks around all year he might slip into one of the end-of-year sets.

So I did get Nick Nelson’s autograph in 2019 only I sent it to Zippy. Probably should’ve gotten a stub signed. Oh well no regrets. Hardest part of Minor League autographing is getting the cards.

Nelson has been pitching a lot more that Kriske has for the Yankees—11 games last year, 8 games so far this year—and has a stronger ERA to show for it. He did pick up his first win last year but only has two losses this year. Like Kriske, he appears to be doing the tax squad thing bouncing between Scranton and New York.

Like Rony García, Nelson is on a multiplayer rookie card in 2021 Heritage.

So far, none of the guys who made it to the Majors where a big deal when they were in Trenton. Albert Abreu on the other hand is a completely different story. He was one of the guys to watch in 2019 and already had a bunch of cards available for autograph hunters to the point where he had to set strict one-per limits on requests.

He actually sort of struggled that season but I wasn’t surprised to see him get a chance in 2020. His 2020 numbers weren’t great (2 games, 1.1 innings, 3 earned runs) but he’s been doing good so far in 2021. Yes he’s made the trip between Scranton and New York a dozen times this season, but he’s kept the batters off the basepaths when he’s in New York.

Abreu also shares the same multiplayer rookie card as Nick Nelson. Unfortunately, the third player (Yajure) is not one of the Trenton guys.

Now, in terms of players who had it when they were at Trenton, Deivi Garcia is probably the best example. He could pitch and we all knew it was only a matter of time before he got called up. Unfortunately, I never managed to get his autograph but it was fun to watch him play.

Deivi is the first of the pitchers here who has featured as a starter. He had a decent 2020 where he went 3–2 over 6 starts and an ERA of 4.98. He’s primarily in Scranton this year but has been called up for two spot starts after which he is immediately sent back down. Neither of his year’s starts went particularly great.

Of the players here, Deivi is the one who Topps is hammering as one of the choice rookies of the season. He’s got cards in every product and I’ll be unable to avoid snagging one at some point.

Like Albert Abreu, Trevor Stephan was another prospect we all knew to watch in 2019. He battled injuries during the spring we were going to games but we did get to watch him pitch one great one. He’s also the only autograph in this post which we got at the open house. He got picked by Cleveland in the 2020 Rule 5 draft so he’s been up in the Majors since opening day.

So far he’s doing okay. 24.1 innings over 17 games. A 4.07 ERA which suggests that he’s been effective in most of his appearances nor has he gotten knocked around yet. And as a Rule 5 guy there’s a decent chance he’ll end up on one of the fall sets.

Garrett Whitlock wasn’t as good as Deivi Garcia but he was another pitcher who was clearly one to pay attention to. Unlike with Garcia, I did manage to get Whitlock’s autograph on a ticket stub. Whitlock was grabbed by Boston in last winter’s Rule 5 draft and has been pitching great for them all season.

34 strikeouts in 32.2 innings over 19 games. A 2–1 record and 1.95 ERA. It’s been fun to see how well he’s doing since he was also one of the friendlier players at Trenton too. He has no cards yet and I’m definitely looking forward to when he gets his first one.

And finally the first position player. Chris Gittens was literally the nicest guy on the Trenton team. Great with the fans. The type of player to promise to return to waiting kids and then actually do so. He was a good hitter and put together a pretty good season but I had to temper my kids’ optimism about his future because he’d been stuck at Trenton for a few years.

Was cool to see him get called up and the morning after he hit his first MLB home run my kids were more excited about him than they were about the Giants coming back from a 7–0 deficit. My eldest couldn’t wait to do the ceremonial transfer of the autographed card from the Minor League page to the Major League page. I’m pretty sure they’ll be excited to get a Major League card of him should he actually get one. Debuting in June 5 means there’s a chance he’ll make it into Update.

And for now that’s it. There are other guys from the 2019 team who have made it to the Majors but they weren’t part of that spring team that we got to know. Will be interesting to see if anyone else makes it up since this would be the year to do it. I see a decent number of guys in AAA (including a bunch in the Padres organization) so we’ll see if I have to make a sequel to this page.

Easter

A few photos from Easter this year. It’s been a long time since we dyed eggs. Last year we were in the midst of stocking food for Covid reasons and so didn’t have the space. It was nice to see the kids get so into it.

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Of course, them getting so into dying eggs meant that they didn’t want to break or eat their creations. So I had to photograph everything so they’d remember what they had done.

I also found many of the peeled eggs to be kind of interesting as well.

January 6

One of the interesting things about the kids being home from school for basically an entire year now is that we’ve gotten to see a lot more of their curriculum than we used to. Before it was mainly just math problem sets and already-completed writing assignments. Now we get to see a glimpse of what they’re doing in all their subjects.

This has made their social studies classwork kind of fascinating to see. Given the backdrop of what’s been going on in the country over the past couple decades but especially during the past year, what they’re learning has often felt woefully outdated and embarrassingly naïve. It’s basic stuff: Three branches of government. Checks and Balances. Limitation of powers. There’s also been instruction about what government does with examples like food safety and the postal service.

Nothing inherently bad or even wrong. Just that we have to gently explain the difference between the theory and the execution. One of the first things they commented on was that the President wasn’t nearly as powerful as they thought he was. So we had to explain that he gets to be as powerful as the other branches allowed him to be. And that Congress has been abdicating its responsibilities for decades now.

Same thing goes with what government does. We’ve had a year of government actively not doing what it’s supposed to do. Killing the mail. Letting the food supply chain break. Sticking its head in the sand regarding COVID. It’s been dismaying to see how far apart what they’re being taught is  from the actual reality of things.

At the same time, I don’t have a problem with this. Learning how things are supposed to work is not a bad thing. Learning what you should demand of your government is a great thing. We’ve just had to step in and explain that if things aren’t working it means we should be trying to fix them. And in order to fix something we need to know what it’s supposed to be doing.

Of course, not everything that government is supposed to be doing is a good thing. We’ve also discussed the electoral college and the Senate and how they’re both inherently undemocratic. And how the concept of voting for who you want most is usually not possible and you have to vote pragmatically. Lots of discussion about who we want to be President which we had to reframe to be about who we wanted to avoid being President.

Anyway, it’s been an ongoing topic for months. Last September we warned them that things were going to be especially bad after the election. While school suggests that elections just work without effort, this year has been a textbook demonstration that all the the things that “just happen” do in fact have to be maintained to continue happening. And that once the maintenance is neglected, everything that the schools teach us to take for granted might break.

We told them that the two most-likely scenarios were either a Trump win followed by months of retribution or a Biden win followed by months of denial and burning things to the ground. They haven’t been actively following the trainwreck that’s been gathering speed ever since election day but it’s something that we kept discussing in the house. We’ll let them know when a milestone is reached and how closer we are to a change in power while also making sure they know that there’s still a lot of stuff going on.

Which brings us to last Wednesday. Did it scare the kids? Yes. Of course it did. It scared us too. Did it surprise them? Not at all. We’ve been building toward that conversation for over a year. We explained that it finally happened and Trump’s supporters tried to disrupt Congress and derail the election. That some people got hurt. That it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been. That the police appeared to be complicit. That the election still got certified despite everything. That this is part of a long pattern of white men breaking the rules in the country and not suffering any consequences. And that we were now in uncharted territory.

The conversations we’ve had since have surprised me a little. They’ve ranged from obvious reactions like concern that something like this will happen locally. To how much we trust the police and how their interactions with them in town have been good ones. To what will happen if there’s another coup attempt. To the Little House Books and how Pa and other settlers ignored the rules and tried to homestead on Indian land. To issues of multiracial identity, blood quantum, and the Dawes Rolls.

I think we’re going to continue to have interesting conversations all week. Especially as the ramifications of Wednesday start to shake out. I will probably have to remind them Inauguration Day is likely to have some problems. That’s an event which I can see them watching in school so I hope the schools are ready for it to get weird. But I’m glad that the door is open and they’re not in that shocked/stunned stupor that way too many adults are in.