Eastern League Road Tripby Robert Dudek
April 29, 2004
There we were -- Gerry McDonald, Kent Williams and I -- on the road to Erie, Pennsylvania, where the Blue Jays' AA affiliate New Hampshire Fisher Cats were to play the Tigers' affiliate Erie SeaWolves. My nerves were tingling at the prospect of my first baseball roadtrip. The intrepid Kent Williams, founder and spiritual heart of Batter's Box, had arranged media credentials for all of us by e-mail (I was to be the photographer). The prospect of interviewing minor league players and coaches fueled our drive from Toronto to the south shore of Lake Erie.
We arrived at Jerry Uht Park about three hours before game time. The double-decked structure is split by the concourse with a dozen rows on either side. There are no outfield bleachers, just an advertising-coated wall ranging from the typical 8-foot kind to a 17-foot mini-monster in leftfield. In ideal spring conditions, the home side was taking batting practice while the visitors were milling around their bullpen. We surveyed the scene and decided to head off in search of the director of media relations. Finding that our media passes were not yet ready, we returned to the field to have a closer look.
After his bullpen session was over, Fisher Cats manager Mike Basso graciously sat down for an interview (in the visitors' dugout) and talked about his team and his role in the organization. It was great to break the ice and it made us feel like we were real media types. Satisfield with a good start on the interview front, we spent the rest of the pre-game warmup watching batting practice, trying to identify the players and lining up interviews for the next day.
Come gametime, we took our seats behind the visitors' dugout. The homeside pushed two runs across in the second inning and held that lead for most of the game. The sun was setting and it was getting colder, though thankfully only a gentle breeze was blowing in from centerfield. I recalled April games in Exhibition Stadium in Toronto during which the temperature would drop to the high 30s (F) and I would sit in my spring jacket and shiver. Many of the patrons stood in the concourse under heaters -- but I preferred the view from the front row.
In the 4th inning, Kent left us to join Mike Murphy, the voice of the Fisher Cats, for a one-inning guest appearance on the radio. A few innings later, Jays' prospect Brandon League entered the game and Gerry and I moved to two of the many vacant ones behind the plate. League is a righthander who has just been converted to relief and throws a 4-seam fastball in the 93-98 MPH range, with a slider that was clocked at about 87-88 on this particular night. He comes at the hitter from the three-quarters arm slot. He had his good stuff and he shattered the bat of the first batter he faced. Unfortunately, the ball slithered down the first-base line for a double. The next batter hit a routine grounder to first baseman Matt Logan, who made a mental mistake and tried to get the runner advancing to third. Through no fault of his own League found himself in a first-and-third-no-out jam, but worked his way out of it flawlessly.
With the cold nearly unbearable, Gerry and I climbed up to the radio booth for the 7th inning. Kent had extended his one-inning spot and was now the colorman du jour. Erie went up 4-0 after Canadian Maxim St. Pierre hit a two-run shot off Fisher Cats reliever Adam Peterson over the mini-monster, and that turned out to be the final score.
Most play-by-play men have to pay their dues in the minors just as the players do. If talent is any indication of future success, we can expect good thinks for Mike Murphy. I came away impressed by Mike's ability to integrate his notes into the broadcast without missing a beat. His transitions to and from station breaks are seamless. Mike wrapped up his post-game show and that was our queue to return to our hotel rooms to freshen up.
The hotel across the street from the ballpark (not the one we were staying at) has a cozy pub and eatery. We found one member of the Fisher Cats having dinner with family (and/or friends), and a couple of coaches sitting at the bar. Later, Mike joined us and we watched Baseball Tonight and talked baseball. After 11 PM, we called it a night.
The next morning, the forecasted thunder showers had moved into the area, threatening to cancel the early afternoon tilt. This was getaway day and the last time the Fisher Cats were going to be in Erie this season, so we assumed they would make every effort to get the game in. However, our first thoughts of the day focused on the mundane - where could we get a decent breakfast in this town? You won't find many souls stirring in downtown Erie on a Sunday morning, and so locating an establishment serving breakfast was a challenge. We found a diner on the outskirts of town and consumed our eggs, bacon and sausages while Kent regaled us with tales of his former life in horse racing.
Arriving at the park at about 11 AM, we peaked into the Fisher Cats' locker room (located in a building adjacent to the park, beyond the centerfield wall). The players were just about to head out for their pre-game warmups and we felt like interlopers, so we asked one of the players to pass on our interview request to Matt Logan, a Canadian who is heading to Athens this summer to compete for an Olympic medal. Minutes later, Matt emerged and answered all our questions.
The dark clouds opened up and soaked the pitchers doing their stretching; they sprinted across the field back to their dressing rooms. The rain let up but then fell again with renewed vigor. That gave us time to corral some of the players and coaches for interviews as they scurried from the cages to the locker room and back. We talked to pitching coach Rick Adair, Maxim St. Pierre (Erie), second baseman Dominic Rich and shortstop prospect Aaron Hill, all of whom were courteous and forthcoming.
With the interviews and pictures done, we retreated to the comfort of the press box. It's a good place to get some free food (hey, it was lunch time) and have a chat with the local scribes. Looking out the windows, we noticed a conference taking place on the warning track. Soon after, word came down that the game had been called and would be made up when Erie visits the Fisher Cats in August. The New Hampshire players, coaches and the one-man media corps would be packing up and heading for the bus, on their way to Akron for a three-game set.
That was it for us too. Satisfied with the material we had collected and thrilled by the experience, we headed home. On the way back, we tuned in the Blue Jays-Orioles broadcast. The Jays were hitting on all cylinders and they delighted us with a 15-3 thrashing of their division rivals, a fitting end to our road trip.
References and Resources
Player and coach interviews will be posted on Batter's Box in the coming weeks, along with photos and video clips. For a sneak preview, check out this thread.
Robert Dudek is also a Batter's Box author and can be contacted via e-mail.