A Weekend Of Firsts
After many days of preparation, with most of the staff
putting in 12+ hour days during the week leading up to Friday’s Opening Day,
Opening Weekend 2010 has come and gone. We had a lot of firsts this weekend and
we even made history.
There was no better way to start the season if you are a
ValleyCats fan. Scratch that, just a baseball fan in general. The ‘Cats scored
their first run of the year in their first inning of offense. Mike Kvasnicka,
the Astros first round supplemental pick (33rd overall), hit his
first professional home run on the first pitch he saw as a ValleyCat.
Tri-City also notched its first walk-off victory of the
season. With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Enrique Hernandez led
off the inning with a single to left. ValleyCats Manager Jim Pankovits wasted
no time and put the speedy veteran Ben Orloff into the game to run (“Walk-off”
Orloff was a part of pretty much every walk-off win last year). Wilton Infante
laid a nice sac bunt down to push Ben Orloff over to second base. With one down
and a runner on second, Oscar Figeroa lined a pitch down the third-base line
that just stayed fair (I’m talking
inches here). Orloff scored all the way from second to give the ‘Cats their
first victory of the young season. The ValleyCats bench erupted, along with the
crowd of 5,380 (the first sell out of the season), exploded out of the dugout,
and mobbed Figeroa as he rounded second. It was Figeroa’s first walk-off hit.
“I was thinking and concentrating on one pitch,” said
Figueroa. “I was looking for fastball middle in. That’s what he threw me,
fastball middle in. When I hit the ball, I was thinking ‘God, please make that
ball fair.’ When the guys got to me at second base, that was really exciting. I
never in my life have been in that situation. It was awesome.”
The excitement carried over to game two the following night
as the ValleyCats organization reached a huge milestone. Heading into this season, 992,109 people had walked through the front gates
at “The Joe” since the ValleyCats debuted in 2002. Now, the total is over one million. To
celebrate, ValleyCats employees gave out more free stuff than ever before.
Ushers were armed with gift certificates, t-shirts were tossed almost every
half inning, the “Giveaway Gun” made its debut, and special prizes were given
to some lucky fans (including four tickets to Country Fest and a baseball
signed by Nationals rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg). It was day for the fans;
a big thank you from the ValleyCats front office staff for years of dedication.
But who was the millionth fan? No one will ever really know, but the front
office staff here has deemed the entire crowd in attendance on June 19 the
millionth fan (remember, we are celebrating all year round).
Notes (including the first game against the Spinners):
As fellow ValleyCats Network (VCN) member Kevin Whitaker has
pointed out already, the ‘Cats bullpen this season has been exceptional. It has allowed two runs in 22 innings of work so far. Pankovits and his staff
have told me that they will be more reliant on the bullpen this year. Last year,
a lot of the starters had a predetermined pitch count. This year, Pank has more
control of the pitching staff and has said he is not afraid to pull someone
early if his stuff isn’t there. These first couple of games have been a test, a
measuring stick if you will. The ValleyCats aren’t going to send out four
relievers every game. That’s absurd, and is a quick way to exhaust your
pitchers. Pank is just seeing what talent is available to him. David Martinez
has been one of the standouts. In six innings of work so far he is 1-0, has a
perfect ERA, and has only let up two hits.
If people are worried about Mike Kvasnicka because he is 0
for his last 12 with two walks, chill out. It’s early. It generally takes
hitters longer to adjust to the wooden bats, but that isn’t always the case
(J.D. Martinez anyone?). Kvasnicka will turn it around. The guy led the team in
average at .355 this season for the Golden Gophers, with eight homers and 50
batted in (he batted .341 last season). Lowell Spinners outfielder Bryce Brentz
(team mate of ValleyCat Tyler Burnett), the Red Sox first round supplemental
pick (36 overall, just three spots later than Kvasnicka) is batting .077 so far
this season. He was considered one of the best bats in this year’s draft. Are
the Red Sox worried about him? Absolutely not.
The ValleyCats do have areas they need to fix. The defense
needs to get together. This team is 2-2. They have committed four errors in
their two losses and only one in their two wins. They have given up seven unearned
runs. Just not acceptable. I know it is early on in the season, but this trend
cannot continue. The pitching staff has been great, but the D needs to tighten
up behind them. I could see this team playing a lot of close, low scoring games
this year, and there is nothing wrong with that. Tri-City is a National League
affiliate and the NL is notorious for their “small ball.” Playing it here just
gets them more prepped for the big leagues.
All-in-all, not a bad way to start the season. There are a
few kinks to work out, but who doesn’t have that? Answer: everyone does. It’s
still early. We have not even come close to seeing this team’s potential. The
Stedler Division will be a tough battle this year. The Lake Monsters have
started the season off tied for the best record at 3-1, the Tigers always play
the ValleyCats tough, and the Spinners have a few first round picks on their
hands, and might get another one in Anthony Raunado when he finally signs after
playing a little bit in a summer league. The talent is definitely there for the
ValleyCats, and it should be interesting to see how they use it.
By Evan Valenti