For the first time since 2010, the Stockton Ports dropped their home opener. On a mist filled evening on the Banks of the Deep Water Channel, the Banner Island boys could muster almost no offense, managing only two hits on the night.
The lack of offense wasted the Cal League debut of Jesus Luzardo who over 4.2 innings gave up just one run on 4 hits, striking out 6.
Saturdays game was rained out by the Pineapple Express, with a double Header now scheduled for Wednesday.
Matt Sergey once pitched for the Laredo Lemurs.
That one fact you must keep in mind or nothing else that follows will seem magical. Or creepy.
After a disastrous five run 1st Inning in which Ports Tandem Starter Caesy Meisner was victimized by wind, an error and some weird bad luck, the game settled down into a relative pitching duel that saw the Ports go hitless into the 6th and the Modesto Nuts go quietly for five innings before adding one last run in a 6-1 shellacking of Stockton.
As so often happens during such a game, a new pitcher was brought in to try and calm things down, which Matt Sergey, who once pitched for the Laredo Lemurs, pretty much did. He went 2.0 innings, gave up a hit and walked one, but otherwise turned what was starting to be Modesto going #United on the Ports into a reasonable baseball game.
After a short discussion (on air) by Zack about the proper pronunciation of the word “lemur,” (le-muré, lah-mur, and so on), the discussion moved to the fact that lemurs are pretty much indigenous to Madagascar, not Texas, which is also where San Jacinto is located.
Lemurs, as it turns out are named after the Roman lemures, which were the malignant spirits of unburied and very unhappy dead people. They were also used by Mephistopheles to dig the grave for Faust. While singing, no doubt, in a terrifying and very German manner.
In ancient Rome, there were actually three “holidays” dedicated to placating the lemures, What you did, if you were an ancient Roman with a lemure problem, was get up in the middle of one of these three nights (May 9th, 11th or 13th) and have your Paterfamilias throw black beans behind himself with his gaze carefully averted. If that didn’t work (the beans were an offer of life to the malignant spirit), then you would bang a couple of pots together until the neighbors called the cops who told you to stop believing in lemures and quit disturbing the neighborhood.
Then a lemure would eat one of the cops and soon everybody would be throwing beans and banging pots.
Life was great in ancient Rome!
Needless to say, when the Shreveport-Bossier Captains of the American Association of Independent Baseball relocated to Laredo, Texas, in 2011, they were looking for a mascot that would strike fear and awe in the hearts of their opponents. They chose the lemur, an animal species that had been named by Carl Linnaeus (seriously, look it up) because of their “slow nocturnal movements” and satanic bug eyes that reminded him of the ancient Roman fear of such creatures. In other words, the Laredo Lemurs are represented by a cute, furry, slow moving, nocturnal mammal that is named for terrifying, zombie-like malignant spirits who are eternally unhappy and hungry.
After the game today, I will never, ever look at the lemurs at the Pt. Defiance Zoo the same way. I will also bring black beans and a pot with me when I go.
The other thing I finally learned today was the difference between a Slider and a Cutter. Yeah, I know, I’m behind the times. But just in case you don’t know either, both are essentially fastballs. The Slider moves down, while the Cutter moves horizontally. It also, as it turns out, is an easier pitch to teach and has been the salvation of several pitching staffs and pitchers over the past decade or so. And while there are no doubt imitators and copy-cats, the one man truly responsible for the Cutter Revolution or Evolution is Gil Patterson.
Gil, as he introduced himself to me in the press box, was once the hottest young pitching phenom in baseball. In early 1977 he was set to take the American League by storm. Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski called him the best young pitcher he’d ever seen. But the Baseball Gods, which might be lemures after all, saw things differently and the Yankees prospect blew his shoulder to shreds just ten short, glorious games into the 1977 Championship Season. His comeback was nothing short of remarkable, including learning to pitch left-handed, but ultimately he was not able to get back to the Majors.
If it ended there, it would have been sad. What I love so much about Baseball is that it is such a metaphor for life.
Gil Patterson started teaching. He became a Minor League Coach and used his own experience to protect young pitchers from overuse. Along the way, he started teaching the Cutter. And today, he was in Stockton watching over the pitchers as the Athletics Pitching Coordinator.
And in just one minute listening to him talk to Zack, I learned more about managing a baseball game that I had watched with my own eye than I possibly imagined. What I thought was a Pitcher getting pounded in the first inning was less a episode of bad pitching and more about positioning. There were positives here, and to an eye like Gil Patterson, those things were clear. I am also sure that he saw the problems, and he works with pitchers throughout the A’s Minor League System to fix those.
All these years later, he is still teaching and still having a direct and noticeable effect on the game. World Series Championships might shine, but how many people can point to a bunch of players who are having great success on the field at the highest levels and say, “I helped him do that.”
Gil Patterson can and does.
And that is how you really chase away the lemures.
Ports lose 6-0 getting one hit. But for all that, after the first inning the game was actually quite enjoyable. And I learned more than I ever imagined I would…
So I cannot go to the game tonight. Which is, of course, disappointing. At the same time, this has been a great first week of the 2016 MLB season, having watched more games these past few days than I have since 1985, when USS Michigan went to 12 hour shift work and Bob Langworthy and I went to all five of the first six Mariners games that season. By the way they opened the season 6-0. Probably because of our attention.
Tonight opens the MiLB season, with the Ports hosting the Nuts and the Rainiers hosting Albuquerque. We didn’t get moved to Tacoma because of my knee replacement surgery, and that same surgery has me sidelined and unable to attend the Ports game. Actually could probably sit there are watch but folding myself into the car is basically the most difficult thing in the world to do right now. So a 15 mile drive to the stadium would pretty much kill me right now.
The Rainiers have a solid roster this year, with one of my favorite recent Ports, Boog Powell, roaming centerfield and with a decent chance of moving up to the Mariners this year.
The Ports have a roster of names I will get to know again, some of them highly touted prospects some of them not so much but all with the promise of a new seasons start in what is – outside of the Majors – the most competitive level of baseball.
I heard someone say last week that AAA Baseball is the “most bitter” level for players. Either they are so close or trying so hard to stay up that the whole AAA is a seething mass of players who all think that they should be in the majors. Attitude goes a long way in baseball, and I think that sometimes you really can see that in AAA.
In High A Ball, I’ve come to see it as really the “make or break” level. If you don’t succeed at High-A there’s not much point in sending you to AA. Going back down to Low-A can be beneficial in some cases, but you can really see that pressure on the players and the pressure they put on themselves too. It makes for some o the most intense and competitive baseball I’ve seen. And given that “winning” isn’t supposedly “the goal” in A ball, but rather player development, it magnifies each and every play, if not every pitch as saying, “Look at me, I am going to make it!”
So here’s to a new season of the grand old game, Majors, Minors and every other level there is. We’re all but guaranteed to see something we’ve never seen before. We’ll cheer the highlights, have great moments, and in the end, for most of us, the game will break our hearts, as Bart Giamati once said. But in any case, it always comes back with promise.
And a new season.