All-Star Game Showcases Eastern Leagueâ€™s Best and Harrisburgâ€™s New Digs
The last time that I was in Harrisburg, home of the Eastern League AA Senators, was in 2004 to watch them play the Reading Phillies. Two things from that game still stand out to me; watching a kid by the name of Ryan Howard crush the ball all over the field and, to be frank with you, the other was what a dump the ballpark was. Since then things have changed. Oh, Ryan Howard still mashes, but now it is on major league fields and after a two-year $45 million renovation project, Metro Bank Park is anything but the field it once was.
Back in 2004 the place reminded me of a glorified high school baseball field with below-average seating selection and a concession area that left a lot to be desired as far as choices and size goes. It also was one of the worst things you could say about a minor league park and that is, forgettable, with no distinctive or memorable piece about it making you want to go back.
I returned with some trepidation on July 14th with my minor league baseball wingman, my brother, to see the Eastern League League All-Star Game. I can honestly say that every bit of that renovation money was well spent and it was the perfect setting to showcase an All-Star game and the Senâ€™s new playground. Previously it was your basic seating with the grandstand and seats down either base line but they went and added outfield seats along with a boardwalk style walk way behind them that allows you to make your way around the entire outfield. This provided an extra dimension of excitement for the Home Run Derby that was held.
The Altoona Curveâ€™s (Pirates) Hector Gimenez edged out hometown favorite Harrisburg Senatorâ€™s (Nationals) Chris Marrero 8 homers to 7. Each of them was dropping some serious 400-foot plus bombs along the way in getting to and including the finals. Seeing anyone who is connected to either the Nats or the Bucs battling for something aside from last place took some getting used to. It is always a scene to see the players clubbing homers into the stands and beyond where the fans are gathered, setting off mad scrambles for the ball. What is it about actually catching a home run ball that is so much fun? Catching it or telling the story of how you did it for the next thirty years to every breathing soul?
Even before the HR Derby began the Senâ€™s did a commendable job in setting up the player autograph session in the lower concourse in the shade and out of the sun that has brought brutal heat to the northeast for weeks now. It makes the wait much more enjoyable for the fans when you are in the shade and also easier on the players who normally would have to sit and bake if it were on the field. Getting to meet the players before the game at the autograph session gives you a unique experience. I was able to get a ball signed by about fifteen different players for my oldest son to put on his shelf in his room.
The best conversation that I had was with the New Britain Rock Catâ€™s (Twins) outfielder Ben Revere. Revere was one of six Eastern League All-Starâ€™s who played in the Futureâ€™s Game out in Anaheim during Major League Baseballâ€™s All-Star weekend; Zach Britton (Orioles), Lonnie Chisenhall (Indians), Danny Espinosa (Nationals), Trystan Magnuson (Blue Jays) and Austin Romine (Yankees) were the others. Seeing New Britainâ€™s short line and knowing Revere was in the Futureâ€™s Game, I thought he would be a quality signature to get. When I got up to him I asked him about the game and he seemed pretty excited to talk about it and told me what a cool experience it was. All the players there were amicable and looked like they enjoyed the fan interaction, and no one appeared annoyed or hassled for having to sign for the fans. Imagine if Bud Selig made the players in the majors do this and not get paid for their autographs. Their agents and the Playerâ€™s Union would be beside themselves.
As for the game itself it was played tightly and at a quick pace through the first six innings with both teams tied at two. To that point the highlight was a two-run triple in the third by the Westâ€™s second baseman Josh Harrison (Altoona Curve), who drove one off the left-center field wall that center fielder Ben Revere made a play for while leaping into the wall but missed. It was a little disappointing because I thought Harrison had a shot at an inside-the-park homer and with it being an All-Star game you have to at least send him if you’re the third base coach, right? Needless to say, he sold out and threw up the stop sign for Harrison, if it were me I would have blown out my shoulder waving him around.
In the bottom of the seventh the Reading Phillies’ pitcher Drew Naylor entered the game for the East and left with a 162.00 ERA. His line read: 0.1 IP, 5H, 6ER, 1BB and 2HR including a grand slam by the gameâ€™s MVP, Altoonaâ€™s SS Chase dâ€™Arnaud. Now dâ€™Arnaudâ€™s homer got the press, but it was the Erie Seawolves’ (Tigers) Andy Dirks who was up next, who just crushed the ball into right field for back-to-back jacks that impressed me. Every hit Naylor gave up was ripped, and he was lucky he was not taken out with a neck brace on for as many times as he had to jerk his head around to follow the flight of the ball. By this point the West was up 8-2 and it was just a matter of playing out the string.Â The final ended up being 10-3.
If you are a minor league fan or just a baseball fan in general and Harrisburg is even remotely close to you, I would say you should definitely go for a visit. It has gone from a place I wanted to forget to a ballpark that I am looking forward to visiting again. Their presentation of the All-Star game was commendable from start to finish.
- I was thinking about this the other day, shouldnâ€™t the MLB Network bring back â€œThe Baseball Bunchâ€? I am in my mid-thirties and the show ran from 1982-1985 right in the sweet spot of my youth. You had Johnny Bench hosting it, Tommy Lasorda as â€œThe Dugout Wizardâ€ and Bud Selig before he became the Commissioner of Baseball doing ridiculous thingsâ€¦.oops that was The San Diego Chicken. If you grew up watching it, tell me you would not catch a few episodes now if MLB put it on weekend mornings. Plus it would be great for kids to watch because the show revolved around fundamentals in a light-hearted way. Check out some of the players that I found on the internet that were on the show: Ted Williams, Mike Schmidt, Frank Robinson, Tom Seaver, George Brett, Joe Morgan and Ozzie Smith just to name a few. How awesome is that?
- Driving back from the shore on a Sunday morning, on your way to church or just laying around the house? I got the show for you, â€œEd Randallâ€™s Talking Baseballâ€ that runs from 9-11 am on Sunday mornings on New Yorkâ€™s WFAN. A refreshing talk show that discusses baseball through all the eras with a humble and knowledgeable host in Ed Randall. Randall stands out among todayâ€™s talk show hosts because he does not yell or scream or make it a point to put down the caller or make the listener feel stupid. Randall is soft spoken with timely topics and has people and players who have been around the game who call in that adds to the show. Whether you or a rookie to the game of baseball or a seasoned veteran, treat yourself and give the show a try.
Matt Aber is a baseball enthusiast who thinks you should never use e-tickets in place of actual game tickets. He is an advocate of the national organization called The Miracle League which allows special needs children to play baseball.Â He encourages you to support this worthy cause and learn more at www.miracleleague.com.