I’ve never been up to Fox Cities Stadium before. I’ve driven by it many times, but my brother and I decided to take in a game on Sunday, before Monday’s Packers’ Shareholder meeting, so there we were.
There was a good crowd - 3700 people or so - because of a Brewers Sunday, but also because of a promotion (I’m not certain how often they do this) where kids (and some adults) get to go out into the outfield and play catch. That was really a cool idea, and the kids had a great time. The adults, too. I’m taking a ball and glove next time.
But I’m SURE that the main reason for the excellent attendance was the Yadiel Rivera Bobblehead giveaway. They went to the first thousand, and we each got one. Bet nobody else on here has one! I will treasure it always.
I wondered why the Western Michigan White Caps were so much better this year than the T-Rats - and the rest of the league, too. Over the whole season, they are 66-30 (the T-Rats came back to beat them today), 14.5 games up on the second best team in the Eastern Division and 10.5 up on the top team in the West. Do the Tigers have great young players in their system, so selling off veterans is a necessity as the rookies are pushing their way up?
Not so fast. The Caps average a full year older than the T-Rats (23.2 to 22.3). They have a AAA, AA, and a high A team above the Caps, but they also have a Short Season A team, two rookie league teams (Tigers East and Tigers West), and a Foreign Rookies team. Up until two years ago there were TWO Foreign Rookies teams and no short season A team.
Milwaukee’s system is much the same, but they don’t have a short season A team. So that would have the younger players for Detroit that are missing in Appleton. It’s a small difference, but that one more year of experience across the board would make a big difference in over-all performance.
Secondly, the White Caps seemed to be playing more to win the game than the T-Rats. They bunted at around six times, only twice as a sacrifice. The Timber Rattlers focused more on solid at bats - to lesser degrees of success - which said to me that this is more of a developmental situation for the Brewers.
Both teams had a first round pick on their roster. The Brewers recently brought up Keston Hiura after a brief time in the Arizona League. He certainly didn’t appear over-matched, with two solid singles. Detroit has their first round pick from 2014 on the roster - Derek Hill, an outfielder.
None of the pitchers that we saw (we left after nine innings with the score tied at 4 - meeting my son and family at the Packer Hall of Fame - the Caps won 6-4 in 13 innings) threw over 90 mph. I have no idea how prevalent that is in A ball, but we were surprised. Maybe they have a slow gun.
Aside from Hiura, nobody jumped out at me from the T-Rats. Mario Feliciano didn’t look out of place as an 18 year old, which is good. Demi Orimoloye hit one off the wall in left (it would have left Miller Park - Fox Cities Field is a big ballpark, and the left field wall is about 15 feet high). Ronnie Gideon is huge, and made solid contact almost every time, but is very slow. He’s only hitting about .220. Devin Hairston is tiny...the White Caps played him way too deep. In fact, there was very little fielder shifting at all, for either team. I can’t imagine a harder job than scouting guys at this level. They all seem to be more or less interchangeable. The differences are minute. I don’t know that any more than two of the players I saw will ever make the majors.
I also saw some very funky approaches to hitting, and wonder at what point you try and change that, or do you leave them swinging in ways that look to me like they’ll never work? But what do I know? I was very critical of Orlando Arcia earlier this year, and he has started hitting the ball better. However, I think he is just a more naturally gifted athlete and can get away with it. I also think he would hit better with a different swing. Again, though, I am not a coach or a developmental expert.
We had a good time, despite the inning and a half that we sat through the rain - er, well, we went up under cover for the worst of it. The teams played right through it. Of course, there are only two umpires. What do they do if one becomes incapacitated? (Credit where credit is due: this was my brother’s question.)
And there were about 20 first pitches before the actual game started, a whole long line of them stretching back almost to the third base dugout.
I wasn’t one of them.