Monday, August 24, 2009

Wingin' It in Rochester

The Twins have been playing better baseball of late, but I haven't been there to see it. Instead, I was getting my first glimpse of Twins AAA baseball at the beautiful Frontier Field in Rochester, NY.
Coming with me was my friend Dan (from here on known as Boston Dan):
A graduate of University of Rochester, Dan cheered for the Red Wings during the Cuddyer/Morneau era and still cheers for the local AAA affiliate of the Twins. He's actually one of the few east coast fans I know with some respect for our team -- so he's OK in my book.

We left Manhattan early Saturday morning to pick up our Kia rental at Newark Airport, and after a long drive discussing the minutae of Boston and Minnesota sports, we finally arrived in Rochester around 1 in time to stop by Dan's college hang-out, The Distillery, which I highly recommend if you're in the area.
Because of these delicious Buffalo wings (note the proximity of Rochester, NY to Buffalo, NY).
And this delicious Ithaca Apricot Wheat Beer. 
Which was the perfect blend of apricot flavor with a wheat beer. Much better than the other stuff Dan made me try while we were there.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Rochester, which had a great view of Frontier Field out our window 

and was right by the Genesee River. Unfortunately, our hotel was overrun by a very odd group of people -- I felt like I was walking through the set of Little Miss Sunshine.

We left our car at the hotel and wandered over to Frontier Field to purchase some tickets. FYI, seats right next to the field (a.k.a. "Premium Seats") are only $10. Tickets in the tiers behind home plate at the new Yankee Stadium run around $100. And the atmosphere and festivities (and food) at Frontier Field was much better than it was at Yankee Stadium. Dan and I both came to the conclusion that if we lived here we'd be season ticket owners.
(The view from our $10 seats)

We had some time to kill so we wandered around down to the nearby falls, saw the Genny Light brewery, picked up some cigars for later at a cigar lounge (where we also watched some of the Red Sox shellacking the Yankees), and then headed back to Frontier Field. When we got back we noticed that there was a special exhibit set up outside the stadium commemorating minor league baseball and it included a little showcase of Kirby Puckett, which obviously made me almost well up:

After checking out the exhibit, we made our way into the stadium and wandered around, and let me just say -- Rochester sure knows how to make a beautiful field. Maybe I was just happy to be out of the concrete jungle of Manhattan and about to see my hometown's minor leaguers play outdoors on a beautiful weekend day, but really, Minnesota is going to love outdoor baseball.
The stadium isn't extremely large. The capacity looked somewhat similar to Hammond down in Ft. Meyers, except the construction and amenities were much nicer. Also, as opposed to $11 beers at Yankee stadium, you could get a delicious, large, micro-brew for $6.
And it was good. Similar to the Leine's Sunset Wheat.

We explored the stadium and the gift shop for awhile longer before we finally took our seats to watch some of the pregame festivities:

(Look in the center, in the white get-up. Oh yes, that's Elvis. And he rode around the field in a white Caddy convertible waving to everyone.)

(Apparently the Geico Gecko is a Red Wings fan.)

(This is Mittsy, she is the female mascot for the Red Wings. Spikes was cool, but he had nothing on Mittsy's dance moves. She could groove.)

Things not pictured? How about Bill Buckner signing autographs for free at an autograph stand? (Boston Dan loved that Buckner was there.) Or maybe the Chinese Lion Dance group with the ceremonial drum parading through the concourses and then onto the field. Oh, wait, and then there's The Famous San Diego Chicken. He was amazing.

The Famous Chicken took over mascot duties for the game and provided some very entertaining spectacles between innings, including arguing with the home plate ump and pulling out an eye chart, trying to distract the pitcher in a critical at bat with a poster of a pin-up girl, getting in a water-balloon fight with the entire dugout of the visiting Norfolk Tides, and much much more.
(The Chicken arguing with the home plate ump.)

(The Chicken hexing the pitcher of the Norfolk Tides during his wind-up.)

And those were just the non-baseball highlights.

-Kevin Mulvey pitched a beautiful 7 innings on 112 pitches while only giving up 2 earned runs. He worked himself out of one or two minor jams, but never seemed to lose composure on the mound.
-Danny Valencia had mixed results in the field. He made a very quick throw on a slow dribbler in time to get the runner in the first inning. Then he had a great stab in the 2nd. In the third, however, he missed a seemingly easy line-drive off his glove eliciting groans from the fans (that run ended up scoring). Later he bobbled an easy grounder leading to another runner. He made up for all this by lacing a huge double down the third base line in the 9th for what was eventually the game winning rally.
-Plouffe made a very agile stab and quick turn for a double play in the 2nd which ended a Norfolk rally.
-Huber can rake. He hit a sharp comeback on a rope in the 3rd which took a nasty sharp deflection off the pitcher's mound straight to the third baseman and robbed himself of a hit in the consequence!
-Dustin Martin made a beautiful catch in the outfield to lead off the 8th and followed it up in the 9th with a solid 2 RBI single right through the gap between 2nd and 3rd in the exciting 9th inning rally.
-Morales had a pinch hit appearance with a base-hit in the 9th inning rally.
-Tolbert was the hero, with an amazing diving catch where he splayed out on the ground in left field to rob a sure extra-base hit in the 6th. He was then the first to bat in the bottom of the inning and led off with the Red Wings' first run of the game with a solo blast down the left field line. He also had the game winning walk-off hit with a single to the warning track.
-Henn looked untouchable with two K's in a perfect 8th.
-Delaney got hit around, though his defense didn't help him with Tolleson playing out of position in RF making a few mistakes, but he didn't look horribly dominant, sadly.

But the Red Wings won in walk-off fashion and it was pandemonium at Frontier Field. Even Boston Dan was ecstatic. The evening was capped off by fireworks, but we rushed back to the hotel to change in time for some Dinosaur BBQ.
If you've never had Dinosaur BBQ, you're missing out. There are 3 locations (Syracuse, which is the original, along with Rochester, and Harlem). If you are ever near one of those areas, you should do yourself a favor and eat the best BBQ you'll ever find.

Dinner was followed up by a jaunt down to Rochester's "nightlife" area, which we quickly abandoned after we found out there essentially was no nightlife, and we took advantage of our cigars on a pleasant walk home.

A quick lunch of more Buffalo chicken set us up on Sunday to enjoy a day game. We got to Frontier Field as soon as the gates opened, but a number of people were already lined up for Bill Buckner autograph day. Instead of Buckner, I had more important people I wanted to see:

(Reid Santos and Jose Morales working out with Bobby Cuellar.)

(Jose Lugo talking to a grounds crew member.)

(Slama & Delaney conferring near the bullpen.)

(Matt Tolbert looking skeptical as I congratulate him for his good game Saturday.)

(Huber signing an autograph for a fan.)

(Buscher and Tolbert standing around during pregame warm-ups.)

And when warm-ups were over, I managed to catch the three people I was there for to add to my shelf of autographed Twins baseballs.

(Delaney signed a ball for me on his way out to the bullpen. Dan took over camera duties.)

(Slama signed the ball with Delaney, and I asked if they were excited about probably being on the roster for Target Field's opening season. They just laughed.)

(Valencia blinked in our picture after signing a ball for me. Oh well.)

I felt pretty content with that haul -- 3 future big leaguers with a bright future. Dan and I settled in to watch the game, and this time we were sitting a few rows above the Red Wings dugout along 1st base. Amazing seats. Some notes:

-Huber and Morales both had sharp base hits in the 1st, but the rally didn't go anywhere. Morales looks as solid as ever and I can't wait for him to take over the back-up catcher and pinch-hitting duties for the Twins:
(Morales at bat.)
-Tolleson was back at 2nd after the night game in RF. He had a nice pick in the top of the 2nd inning. He also got thrown out on a great throw by the Norfolk catcher when he tried to steal second base in the 4th inning:
(Tolleson on deck.)
-Dustin Martin had a mammoth homerun in the 2nd, followed immediately by Brock Peterson. The Twins never looked back after that. Martin just barely missed another homerun and settled for a triple in the bottom of the 6th. Macri followed that with an RBI double down the third base line to scored Martin from 3rd base.
(Martin and Tolleson wait between innings.)
-Tolbert again flashed his bat with a bases clearing triple in the 4th to continue an impressive series.
-The Red Wings pitching continued to impress! Reid Santos pitched 6 incredibly strong innings, showing lots of poise on the mound, and he only gave up one run.
(Santos on the mound.)
-Henn gave up a double but no runs as he pitched the 7th.
-Delaney looked like hittable again. He gave up a couple hits and couldn't finish out the 8th, so they brought Slama in early.
(Delaney in the 8th.)
-Slama gave up an inherited runner in the 8th before finishing with a slow roller back to the mound in the next at bat. In the 9th, he struck out a Norfolk player with a particularly nasty offspeed pitch and made the Norfolk batter just look silly.
(Slama, nasty.)

All in all, the games were great. It was amazing to see the beautiful stadium and enjoy a game so inexpensively with such great seats. Congratulations to Rochester on quickly become one of my favorite places to see a game -- that is -- until this, I'm sure.

That's about it for our trip. We got back in late thanks to horrible traffic, otherwise this post would've been up earlier.

And, how about that game against the Orioles Monday night? That brings the winning streak to 4 -- which is actually starting to look like a streak. One thing I noticed during the game, which really has nothing to do with anything, but isn't there a striking similarity between Orioles manager Dave Trembley and William Shatner?

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