August 2011

Helmbold’s hot dogs, Healey’s homer

Fans enjoyed their favorite ballpark franks for just two quarters Wednesday night as Helmbold’s presented 50 Cent Hot Dog Night.
The festivities included three qualifying heats during the early innings with the winner of each heat earning a trip to the final round during the 7th inning. ValleyCats Box Office/Ticket Manager Jessica Kaszeta gave it a valiant effort in the qualifying round but didn’t make it to the finals.
Longtime ValleyCats employee John “Murf” Murphy also took part in one of the heats falling just short of a berth in the finals.
Everyone’s favorite pig, Ribbie, was in the house tonight to help officiate the contest and our friend’s Brian Cody & Chrissy Cavotta from the Fly Morning Rush dropped by to emcee. The participants competed to see who could eat ten Helmbold’s Minis in the shortest amount of time with Joe “The Machete” Manchete winning in impressive fashion.
Also winning in impressive fashion was the home team on the field. The second game against Brooklyn was a see-saw battle. The ‘Cats were on the board early thanks to a lead off home run from Neiko Johnson, but the Cyclones rallied in the middle innings. All-Star starter Kyle Hallock struck out six but departed after five innings with the score tied at two.
Trailing 4-3 in the 8th inning, shortstop Jacke Healey launched a grand slam to give the ValleyCats the lead for good. Joan Belliard finished off 2 and 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the victory.
The ‘Cats are still in the playoff hunt and will go for the series sweep against Brooklyn tomorrow. After winning tonight’s Old Brick Mayors Race, Troy Mayor, Harry Tutunjian is also still in the hunt for the season title. He celebrated with his likeness after tonight’s win.
Thursday at “The Joe” is Back to School Night with postgame fireworks. With only three home games remaining in the regular season, this may be one of your last opportunities to catch a game in 2011.

CTDA had a table by the front gate, educating fans on transit options in the Capital Region.

Neiko Johnson, shown here batting after Healey in the eighth, led off the first inning with his first professional home run.

Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

Blues, BBQ & Baseball

A busy day at “The Joe” kicked off with a press conference to announce the arrival of Houston’s first round draft pick, George Springer. The former UConn standout, who was selected 11th overall in this June’s draft, met with the local media Tuesday afternoon.
Blues legend Ernie Williams brought down the house with his annual Blues, BBQ & Baseball Night performance. Gates opened early for our final installment of Tunes for Tuesday this season.
Our friend “Cuppy” from Dunkin’ Donuts greeted fans throughout the night and accompanied our honorary managers as they exchanged lineup cards. Dunkin’ Donuts also provided gift cards to a select number of lucky fans throughout the night.
In celebration of the team’s 10th Anniversary Season, ValleyCats President Bill Gladstone introduced Senator Joe Bruno to the crowd and thanked him for his role in bringing the team to Troy. Following those remarks, Senator Bruno tossed out the ceremonial first pitch.
Tuesday’s game also marked Brooklyn’s first visit to “The Joe” since last year’s championship series. 4,802 fans packed the ballpark to watch the series opener against the Cyclones, and they were not disappointed.
The ‘Cats picked up right where they left off last fall, plating four runs in the first inning. Matt Duffy opened the scoring with an RBI single and Ryan McCurdy drove in two more with his first of two hits on the night. Adam Champion pitched five strong innings to earn the win and Zach Johnson provided some more support with his fifth home run of the year.

Catcher Ryan McCurdy tags Xorge Castillo, who was thrown out by right fielder Drew Muren while attempting to score from third on a single in the ninth inning.

After the game, Springer signed autographs for fans alongside pitcher Dayan Diaz.
With only four home games remaining, come cheer the ‘Cats on as they look to make a final push for the playoffs. Wednesday night is 50 Cent Hot Dog Night, presented by Helmbold’s, and will feature hot dog eating contests throughout the night. On the field, the team will look to take a second straight game from the downstate Mets affiliate.
Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

Mayor’s Race Analytics

In recent years, sabermetrics have revolutionized the study of baseball and other sports. Many other fields have also been influenced by statistical analysis, including politics and elections, to name a couple. But somehow, one very important area has been overlooked by the emerging field of analytics: politicians racing at sporting events.

Until today, that is. With most of the 2011 season in the books, we have enough data to properly analyze the Old Brick Furniture Tri-City Mayors Race, which takes place during the sixth inning of every ValleyCats home game. These new analytical methods will provide critical new insights on the three mayors’ strengths and weaknesses and may help us more accurately predict the final few races.

First, let’s review the current standings:

  1. Brian Stratton, Schenectady, 13
  2. Harry Tutunjian, Troy, 10
  3. Jerry Jennings, Albany, 8

Mayors Tutunjian (center) and Stratton (right) fight for the lead while Jennings lags behind, a rather common sight this summer.

Former Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton has led the standings for most of the season, and with only five races to go, he seems likely to keep it that way – one more win would clinch at least a share of the title at the season’s end.

But wins and losses tell only a fraction of the whole story. So much more happens during each race before the first mayor reaches the finish line, and all of it is valuable information that we can use to further our understanding of each runner. Let’s explore!

Getting started

If you’ve been to “The Joe” a couple times, you’ve likely seen at least one memorable comeback. After all, the 250-foot track can be grueling for these mayors, and anyone who gets off the blocks too quickly may fade down the home stretch. As the contestants jockey for position before the right-field gate opens, you may wonder, does the opening of the race even matter?

Indeed it does. The mayor who leads out of the gate has held on to win the race nine out of 20 times this season.* This certainly is not a prohibitive advantage – so don’t despair if your favorite politician is straggling down the right-field line early on – but it is clearly better than the one-in-three rate we would expect from random chance.

*In the other 11 races, data was not recorded or the leader was too close to call.

Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian is best at getting out in front – he has taken the early lead in half of these 20 races – but he is also the worst at capitalizing it, winning just 30% of the time that he starts in first. (Tutunjian has actually won a slightly higher percentage of the races that he has not led initially, suggesting that fighting for pole position may not be worthwhile for him.)

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings has won three of six races with the lead, bringing us to…

Sabermetrics of Stratton

The secret to Stratton’s success is not his performance off the blocks – he has taken the initial lead in only four races, the fewest of any mayor. Instead, like a shorter and slightly slower Usain Bolt, his strength is his ability to pull away from the pack. When Stratton does get an early lead, he is nearly unbeatable – he has lost only once after starting in first place. (Even that race would have been another Stratton victory had he not made the ill-fated decision to turn around and showboat near the end, allowing Tutunjian to pull off a stunning – if karmic – comeback.)

Stratton has the fastest top speed – he ran a blazing 13.92 in mid-July, the best time of any mayor this year by nearly a full second – but a deeper look reveals some very mixed results. He has gone a nearly unthinkable 6-0 in races decided by less than .3 seconds, and while defenders will argue that the pride of Schenectady “just knows how to win,” his performance in close contests is an indicator of good luck. Those wins are in hand – and the biggest reason why he will almost certainly take the end-of-season crown – but he has most likely been racing above his true talent level so far.

Stratton’s average race time this year is 22.05 – nearly a full second slower than Tutunjian’s.

Hard-luck Harry

That will probably come as little solace to the mayor of Troy, who has often played the role of Samuel Tilden to Stratton’s Rutherford Hayes – tantalizingly close but ultimately a loser. Tutunjian has lost four races by less than .1 seconds – and four others within half a second – naturally leading to the most second-place finishes.

And when Tutunjian has won, it has often been by Reagan-like margins. His average margin of victory is 1.1 seconds, nearly twice as high as any other candidate’s. Not even included are five other races in which Tutunjian led by so much that the other two candidates did not even cross the finish line – Jennings and Stratton have only three such victories combined.

With an average race time of 21.10 seconds, easily the fastest of the three contestants, Tutunjian has proven his consistency. Unfortunately, a series of disappointing photo finishes has relegated him to second place – and in the words of the immortal Ricky Bobby, if you ain’t first, you’re last.

Losing focus

Bringing up the rear of the standings is Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. Unlike Tutunjian, Jennings can’t blame bad luck for his position. Rather, he appears to be suffering a lack of concentration.

It’s natural for runners to break off a race sometimes – if you don’t feel you have a chance of winning, you might as well slow up and save your energy. But Jennings has been too willing to give up on competitions. While Tutunjian and Stratton have failed to finish 13 times between them, Jennings has accumulated 12 DNF’s on his own.

Though this might be excusable if it were part of a well-planned strategy, Jennings instead simply seems prone to all sorts of distractions. He has been sidetracked by a fight, a shoving match and even a lightsaber battle (on Star Wars Night, of course). Though it makes a great spectacle to entertain the fans, these incidents cost Albany’s mayor valuable time and are a big factor in his poor record.

If you’re looking for positive things to say about Jennings as a runner, start here: he’s a ‘mudder.’ Jennings has won three of the four slowest races this year, and will doubtlessly try to slow things down again this week in an effort to catch Tutunjian for second place.

As the mayors showed off for the fans in June, Jennings took the inside track for his first win of the season.

Dog days

After anonymous reports that an unnamed mayor had been taking illegal substances to gain an edge on his competitors late in the inaugural 2010 season, the ValleyCats instituted a tougher testing program to crack down on the mayors’ excessive use of caffeine and other stimulants. If the numbers are any indication, the testing has worked.

Check out this chart of the times throughout the season:

As you can see, the contestants are slowing down significantly as the calendar turns. As the best-fit line shows, the average time has increased by .22 seconds with every race, a substantial decrease in speed over the course of a season.

This fatigue manifests itself in other ways as well. In the first four homestands, the mayors were much more likely to finish races than in the last four. This difference is not quite statistically significant (p=.12), but it tells the same story:

These data suggest that players aren’t the only ones who get worn down by a long summer – and, unlike players, the mayors can’t be spelled by a reserve for a day’s rest.

But they’ve been off for eight days now, and the trio should be fresh for the home stretch. Will Tutunjian’s luck change enough for him to overcome Stratton? Will Jennings turn around a rough season? Will Stratton keep winning nailbiters? Watch the final five races at “The Joe,” starting tomorrow, to find out.

Kevin Whitaker

Summer Reader Night

New York’s 529 Savings Plan sponsored Summer Reader Night at “The Joe” on Saturday. Kids who completed their local library’s reading list were rewarded with two tickets to last night’s ValleyCats game, and were rewarded with quite a show – the ValleyCats scored a season-high 14 runs in front of a sellout crowd of 4,832 fans.
Justin Gominsky, Zach Johnson, and brand new dad Bubby Williams led the offensive attack with two hits apiece. The ‘Cats have taken three-straight from the Renegades and will go for the sweep on Sunday afternoon.
Young fans received drawstring bags at the gate, also courtesy of NY’s 529 College Savings Plan.
In other action on the field, the Cookie Factory Know Your Partner Contest included an extra special question. After two standard questions, Mark (Buddy) asked Cat to marry him. To the crowd’s delight, she said “Yes!” This was certainly a highlight for our staff – thanks for including us in such a special moment!
Some more scenes from Saturday’s action:
Tomorrow will be our annual NFL Night as we celebrate the end of the lockout – and more importantly, the coming season. Make sure to wear your favorite team’s jersey and stop by the Cat-tle Ranch to sample some of the Capital Region’s finest wings!
Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

Notebook: Little expectations, big numbers

According to simple math, an average team should sweep about one of every four doubleheaders. Entering last night, the ValleyCats – admittedly not quite an average team for most of their history – had played 19 doubleheaders in the last six years and swept exactly none of them. But that all changed on Friday, as the ‘Cats dominated Hudson Valley in the opener and eked out a 2-1 win in game two for their first sweep of a doubleheader since the Pence/Zobrist days of 2004.

At the center of it, of course, was Rafael Valenzuela. The infielder singled in the first inning of game one and added three more hits – all doubles – throughout the night. Valenzuela – who will start in right field tonight, his first professional appearance in the outfield – drove two balls to the center-field wall and took an 0-1 pitch the opposite way into the left-field corner, scoring three runs and breaking open the first game, which the ‘Cats ultimately won 9-2.

Since August 2, when he joined the team after making a short rehab appearance in the GCL, Valenzuela leads the NY-Penn League with ten extra-base hits. He ranks second in slugging (.762), tied for second in RBIs (10) and tied for third in batting average (.429).

“Having someone like him in the lineup not only makes everybody else better, but it makes the clubhouse better,” manager Stubby Clapp said. “When he got hurt in extended [spring training], we knew it was going to be a bit of a blow to us, and having him back has been important.”

Valenzuela, who said he has no idea what his numbers are (do they ever say they keep track of that?), does not have the pedigree of a player expected to have such success – he was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Arizona last summer. In a way, that makes him right at home on this team.

The ‘Cats had three undrafted free agents in the lineup in the first game (and will do so again tonight), and all three made a rather large impact. Four innings before Valenzuela’s bases-clearing double, catcher Ryan McCurdy pulled a low grounder to the same spot for a three-RBI hit of his own, capping a five-run first inning that gave the ‘Cats the lead for good.

Valenzuela and McCurdy are joined by Neiko Johnson, who has cemented a spot in the everyday lineup with a .424 on-base percentage, fourth-best among NYPL qualifiers. Listed at a generous 5’9”, Johnson has a small strike zone, and he knows how to use it. Despite seeing limited playing time in the first third of the season, the utility player has drawn 33 walks, third-best in the league. And this is no fluke – going back to his college days, Johnson routinely walked in 20 percent or more of his plate appearances.

Add in Johnson’s versatility – he has started games at five different positions this year – and the fact that he has been one of the only ValleyCats to add real value with his basestealing ability (16 of 19 on steal attempts for a team that has been caught more often than any other), and he’s clearly been one of the key parts of the Cats’ late-season charge.

In fact, this marks one of the biggest distinctions between the 2011 ValleyCats and last year’s NYPL champions: the 2010 team’s everyday lineup was comprised almost entirely of first- and second-day draft selections. In addition to Johnson, Valenzuela and McCurdy, Chris Epps – a recently-promoted outfielder and the walk-off hero from earlier this week – was a 45th-round selection, while Chase Davidson (who tore up Greeneville and was just added to the roster) was also taken late on day three.

A fourth undrafted free agent, Andrew Walter, made his second start with the ValleyCats and had an interesting evening. The righty pegged three batters, walked two others and threw a few pitches to the backstop, but he allowed only one hit and would have held the Renegades scoreless if not for a two-out passed ball in the second.

Walter struck out five batters, all swinging, going up the ladder with fastballs to get the first three and then fanning lefties Juniel Querecuto and Jeff Malm in order with inside curveballs.

“Walter was a little bit shaky, but he was good enough to keep us close and keep them off-balance,” Clapp said. The ‘Cats have won both games started by the young righty.

Travis Blankenship – a former third-day draft pick himself – replaced Walter after the righty hit Kyle Holloway for the second time and pitched much more conventionally. Blankenship needed only 33 pitches, 25 of them strikes, to record nine outs and preserve a one-run lead. Ryan Cole – dubbed “Cardiac Cole” after the game by Clapp – allowed two hits in the ninth but held on for his eighth save of the season.

Lost in the offensive outburst of the first game was a terrific pitching performance from Adam Champion. The southpaw, making just his third pro start, threw 80 pitches over six innings, striking out five and allowing only one hit over his final five frames.

“It was an easy game for McCurdy to call,” he said. “It was basically, sinker away and let them hit it, and they just kept beating it into the ground. It’s easy baseball when you just throw to a spot and keep pitching.”

Champion worked as a reliever for last year’s championship team and started 2011 in the ‘pen, even returning there after making a spot start against Staten Island. But with two great outings in August, he may force his way into a suddenly crowded rotation even as the hectic schedule settles down after the All-Star break.

“I’ve been a starter my whole life,” Champion said. “It’s pretty easy to go from relief to starter. I just go back to my roots, and basically do what I have done in the past, and keep the routine.”

The ‘Cats, winners of seven of their last ten games, look to keep it rolling against the Renegades tonight. The broadcast will probably have started by the time you read this; as always, if you can’t make the game, listen live online.

Kevin Whitaker

Double Play

In the immortal words of Ernie Banks: “Let’s play two!” On Friday, the ValleyCats did just that for the third time this week, following up doubleheaders on Sunday and Wednesday with another twin bill at “The Joe.”
The ‘Cats came to play last night, taking both games for their first doubleheader sweep since 2004. The first game was all about the offense as Rafael Valenzuela continued his hot hitting in the 9-4 victory.

Shortstop Miguel Arrendell slides into second with a stolen base.

Game 2 had a much different tone as Andrew Walter, Travis Blankenship, and Ryan Cole stymied the Renegades in a 2-1 win.

Friday night’s doubleheader was Farm & Agriculture Night at “The Joe,” with the NYS Farm Bureau and Cabot Creamery educating fans about local producers. The Dairy Princess, Marilyn Lamb, threw out a strike with one of our ceremonial first pitches and was escorted to the pitchers mound by Dean Casey, the president of the Rensselaer County Farm Bureau.

A select number of fans also received a 10th Anniversary canvas print as they entered the ballpark. This commemorative giveaway was made from a picture of pre-game ceremonies at “The Joe.”
Saturday is Summer Reader Night at “The Joe” presented by NY’s 529 College Savings Program. Kids will be rewarded for completing their summer reading and our young fans will also receive drawstring back packs courtesy of the 529 Plan. The ‘Cats are only 3.5 games out of first place and are looking to make up even more ground prior to the All-Star break.
Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

Hot Rods, Home Runs and Kids In Free

Fans of all ages packed “The Joe” to see classic cars, police vehicles, fireworks and of course some baseball. Thursday’s GE Kids-In-Free Night was a very popular promotion, bringing a sellout crowd of 5,188 to “The Joe.” GE also gave away t-shirts and selected children to participate in a variety of in-game contests to enhance the always kid-friendly atmosphere.
Tonight was also Stop DWI Night, with the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee bringing representatives from local law enforcement as well as a simulator to educate fans on the dangers of drinking and driving. The pre-game parade of police cars is always a highlight and a great backdrop for the National Anthem.
Fans were treated to a pre-game car show in the parking lot near the ticket windows. Thank you to our friends from the Saratoga Automobile Museum for coordinating a great turnout.
The National Guard added another unique element to the entertainment outside the main gates with a climbing wall. Kids, trained professionals and even a few members of the ValleyCats staff braved the heights before rappelling back down.
On the field, the ValleyCats battled all night but were never able to gain the upper hand. Matt Duffy helped keep the team in the game with a 4-for-5 performance, including a home run and four RBIs, and will be headed to the All-Star Game next week. Newcomer Rafael Valenzuela has also made an impact in the limited time that he’s worn a Tri-City uniform, getting a hit in all 10 games he has played for the team. Valenzuela was 3-for-3 on the night with three runs scored.
The ‘Cats are home again for a doubleheader on Friday night. The first game begins at 5:00 pm, kicking off a four-game-set with the Hudson Valley Renegades. Friday’s theme is Farm & Agriculture night, as we celebrate this important aspect of our local economy.
Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

Charlie Bobblehead Night

It had been a while since the ValleyCats were able to actually play baseball at “The Joe.” After Saturday marked the first home rainout of the season, the weather on Tuesday’s Irish Night was imported straight from Ireland, forcing another postponement.
But the ‘Cats finally took the field on Wednesday, playing a doubleheader that kicked off a stretch of five games in three days as they look to make up ground in the Stedler Division. The theme was Bat Boy Appreciation Night, which included a bobblehead giveaway of longtime bat boy Charles Constantino.
Game 1 was a fast-paced pitcher’s duel that included a safety squeeze and ended with a walk-off home run from newcomer Chris Epps. Prior to receiving a shaving cream pie in the face, Epps told the crowd that this was his first walk-off home run at any level during his South End Tavern Player of the Game interview.
As part of Bat Boy Appreciation Night a new on-field contest was debuted that put fans through the trials of a bat boy. They raced to see who could pick up balls, bats and helmets, with the winner earning a nod from Charlie himself.
In between games, Charlie was recognized on the field and with a video board tribute. Current and former ValleyCats players joined the staff in saying thank you to Charlie as he prepares to work his 300th game with the team. It was amazing to see guys in the big leagues like J.D. Martinez, Brian Bogusevic and Bud Norris, who still remember Charlie.
Following the video presentation, Charlie reversed his normal pre-game role and threw out our final ceremonial first pitch to Ryan McCurdy. Charlie was also give the night off from catching the other first pitches, as fellow bat boy Alex Koppel handled those duties.
Game 2 was tight for a while but Mahoning Valley pulled away late to secure a 4-0 victory. After the game, Charlie and Alex signed autographs to cap off their big night. To Charlie, Alex, and bat boys everywhere, thank you for your dedication and hard work.
The team returns to action tomorrow night, finishing off its series against Mahoning Valley. Kids get in to Thursday’s game for free, courtesy of GE, and there will be post-game fireworks. Come on out and join the fun!
Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

Notebook: Clutch hitting

Saturday night’s game has been postponed due to rain, and will be made up in a doubleheader at Vermont, as the Lake Monsters do not return to “The Joe” this year. Tickets for tonight’s game can be exchanged for any remaining regular-season home game.

All season long, the ValleyCats have struggled to get clutch hits. The ‘Cats have watched opponents execute better in the late innings, suffering an unlucky 4-10 record in close games despite playing nearly even in blowouts. On Friday night, that all changed, led by one of the newest members of the team.

Rafael Valenzuela joined the ValleyCats in Jamestown on Tuesday, the first of three position players assigned to Tri-City this week. Friday marked his first game at Joe Bruno Stadium, and it was a good day to debut – a pleasant evening in front of a sellout crowd of 5,267 fans.

After several fruitless opportunities in the earlier innings, Valenzuela strode to the plate with two on in the eighth inning to face NYPL saves leader Tanner Peters. He swing at a 3-1 fastball and flicked a high line drive the opposite way, slicing into left-center for a clean double. Justin Gominsky scored and Valenzuela replaced him on second, listening to his first ovation from the hometown crowd.

“I was nervous,” Valenzuela said of playing at Joe Bruno Stadium for the first time. “All the guys were talking about how great the atmosphere is and how great the fans are, and I was just happy I was able to give them a big hit tonight.”

Valenzuela was tentatively expected to open the season in Troy after playing at Rookie League Greeneville last season, but he broke his hamate bone in June and missed the first month. The infielder played four games in the Gulf Coast league on a rehab assignment and was happy to get the call-up to Tri-City this week.

“I spent most of my time with these guys during Spring Training, so being back with my friends here was really nice,” he said.

Drew Muren was intentionally walked to load the bases and Chris Epps struck out, preserving the tie game for Ryan McCurdy. With two outs, McCurdy took a strike and then turned on a fastball, driving a hard grounder two feet to the fair side of the third-base bag for a two-run, game-winning hit.

Manager Stubby Clapp was happy to see his team come through in the clutch. “That’s huge,” he said. “It’s good timing, if it’s going to start now.”

Don’t overlook the work of center fielder Justin Gominsky, who led off the inning with a hard single that bounced off pitcher Drew Bailey. Gominsky also singled to open the sixth inning, staying with a tough curveball on an 0-2 count and driving it up the middle, but was stranded at third.

A scout was in the press box before the game during last week’s homestand when the Michael Bourn trade went down. The scout, who covered the Midwest and saw some of Gominsky in college, said he thought Bourn could be a close comparison for Gominsky’s ceiling – great arm, good speed, little power but a good hit tool.

Also, make sure not to overlook another ValleyCat with an even stronger arm: reliever Dayan Diaz. He came on for Juri Perez with a man on and no outs in the seventh inning, and completed it with this sequence: 94 mph fastball past Jordan Tripp; 94-mph fastball up the ladder chased by Xavier Mackliln; fastball on the inside corner to freeze Jacob Tanis.

He got another strikeout to open the eighth inning, allowed a single, induced a ground ball but got the wrong end of a bang-bang call on the back end of the double play and allowed a soft roller with eyes through the 3-4 hole, giving the Lake Monsters some life. But Diaz got two strikes and reached back for a 95-mph fastball, and Chad Lewis had no chance.

Diaz, despite working out of the bullpen, has now earned five victories, tied for the NYPL lead.

The ValleyCats pulled to within five games of the division-leading Lake Monsters, exactly where they were through 47 games last season. Though they have three teams to catch, the ‘Cats can still dream of a comeback.

Adding to the excitement is the fact that all four teams have played at about the same level this season. Although five games separate the top and bottom of the division, every team has a run differential within 12 runs of the others:

*Also of note: Auburn has a winning percentage 100 points lower than Staten Island does, but the Doubledays have a notably higher run differential. The Yankees are a ludicrous 15-3 in one-run games.

Though they have struggled to win close games this season, the ‘Cats hope that last night may have been a turning point.

“It’s important to get the ball rolling at home,” McCurdy said. “We’ve got a couple games here, then we go on the road for a couple and a big homestand. It’s always fun to play at home, and over the last month or so, we really have to get going.”

Meanwhile, Valenzuela says he wouldn’t mind a playoff push – after missing the first half of the season, he wants to be a part of as many games as possible.

“I would like to play a lot of baseball still,” he said. “I really want us to get hot and keep playing a lot of games.”

Kevin Whitaker

Home Improvement

Friday, August 5th marked our 3rd Annual Home Improvement Night at “The Joe.” The stadium concourse was set up as a home show with displays from Dwight Plumbing & Heating, Eco Water, Capitaland Home Improvement, Tech Valley Recycling, Kepner Kitchens, Curtis Lumber, Culligan Water, Huff n’ Puff and Bath Fitter.
Game sponsor Trustco Bank also had a display and brought out one of SouthPaw’s favorite guests, Trusty, who joined SouthPaw on the field for a ceremonial first pitch and also participated in the t-shirt toss.
A new promotion took place on the field tonight with Caddie from Catseye Pest Control helping a contestant round up Rowdy in between innings.
Tonight also marked some improvement at home for the team on the field. The ValleyCats rallied late to earn a 3-1 victory in the first of four games against division leader Vermont.
Starter Juri Perez went six strong innings but the offense didn’t kick into gear until the bottom of the 8th. Newcomer Rafael Valenzuela drove in a run to tie the game at 1-1 and South End Tavern Player of the Game Ryan McCurdy plated two runs with a clutch two-out hit. Ryan Cole closed out the victory after two stellar innings of relief by winning pitcher Dayan Diaz.

Rafael Valenzuela, playing his first game at Joe Bruno Stadium, tied the score with an eighth-inning double.

Watch Ryan McCurdy take a pie to the face upon being named the South End Tavern Player of the Game: http://makeagif.com/i/uHmoSr
5,267 fans took in the ValleyCats victory, the eighth sellout of the season. Following the final out, Guilderland Martial Arts put on an exhibition prior to the always spectacular Price Chopper fireworks.
The ‘Cats are home again tomorrow for Adventure Sports/Outdoors Night as they look to sweep this brief two-game homestand. Tickets are still available and Boy/Girl Scouts will be invited to sleep over on the field following the game.
Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

‘Sir, I’m Canadian. I can’t fight in your army.’

Many professional baseball players have been immersed in the game since they were born. Maybe their father played pro ball, or they grew up in a baseball-crazy town in a warm-weather climate, where neighbors and older friends and community idols were drafted, paving a clear path to follow.

Stubby Clapp was not one of those players. A native of Windsor, Ontario, he grew up surrounded by hockey rinks and played on ice as well as diamonds until he was a teenager. The ValleyCats manager, telling his story to the Frank and Peggy Steele Interns from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum when they came to visit “The Joe” on Saturday, had to choose between baseball and hockey and, he said, “Baseball chose me. It paid for my education at the time, it gave me a better scholarship than hockey could offer at the time – I’m not very big, even on skates – and baseball gave me a life I could never replace.”

Stubby, who took his first trip to the Hall on an off day in early July, said he initially had no idea that he might be able to play professionally. “My whole goal in life was to be a doctor. When I went south, I figured if someone was going to pay for my education [with a scholarship], then I was going to be a doctor.”

The idea of pro ball was so foreign to Stubby that he had no idea that there was an MLB Draft until shortly before he was selected in 1996.

“My junior year at Texas Tech, I got called into the office with my coaches,” he said. He figured he must have been in trouble for something, but he couldn’t think of a reason – he was “pretty square then,” he says – so he couldn’t figure out a reason for the meeting.

“Larry Hays, who was our coach at the time, says, ‘If you get drafted, will you go?’ And he had me stumped, and I just looked him square in the eyes, and said, ‘Sir, I’m Canadian. I can’t fight in your army.’ True story, I had no idea what the major league draft was.”

Stubby, still stunned by the news, took some time to think about it and chose baseball – and he’s very glad that he did.

“I’ve seen the world for free through baseball,” he said, referencing his professional travels through America as well as his international stints with the Canadian national team. “I’m thinking about Beijing right now, and the amount of help that went into putting on that Olympics [in 2008] was unbelievable. I didn’t touch a door in Beijing – there was somebody at every single door of every venue that you went through, to open it and greet you.”

Watch Stubby’s full speech:

Kevin Whitaker

State Farm Clinic and Camp Day #2

Monday was an eventful day at “The Joe.” It began with a free youth baseball clinic for children from the Albany Police Athletic League courtesy of State Farm.
Manager Stubby Clapp and Houston Astros roving instructor Milt Thompson joined members of the ‘Cats front office to help provide instruction to dozens of children before the ValleyCats’ game.
The kids learned the basics of baseball at several stations, including throwing and catching, pop flies, infield drills and baseball lingo.
 
Our second and final Camp Day game of the season was a lot of fun with over 40 camps in attendance! The game started at 11 a.m., giving thousands of kids a chance to watch some daytime baseball.
To kick things off, Troy native and longtime R.P.I. baseball coach, Karl Steffen, painted the corner with one of our ceremonial first pitches. R.P.I. Athletics was on hand at the Top of the Hill to enjoy the afternoon game.
For the few who have not seen the clip, ‘Cats manager Stubby Clapp stole the show with his first ejection of the season. The team responded with a brief rally but couldn’t come all the way back, as Auburn completed a sweep with a 13-6 win.
Following the game, the team travelled to Jamestown for a three game set and will return on Friday for a series against Vermont. That game is presented by Trustco bank and will feature post-game fireworks courtesy of Price Chopper.
Tri-City vs. Auburn was not the only game played at “The Joe” yesterday, as the front office staff took advantage of the matinee game to get out onto the field themselves for a 4:00 pm tilt. The full-time staff dominated the interns, who narrowly escaped the ten-run rule. Stadium Operations manager Keith Sweeney pitched five strong innings, with vice president/GM Rick Murphy pacing the offense on the way to a 10-1 rout.
Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

Get to know the ‘Cats: OF Justin Gominsky

Check out another edition of Get to know the ‘Cats as I speak with Justin Gominsky. If you didn’t already know, and as you’ll find out, Justin’s a Minnesota native. We have some fun with that, plus he tells us what colleges were in hot pursuit of his football talents.

Erik Elken

Honoring Heroes

For the first time in franchise history, the ValleyCats have eclipsed the 100,000 mark in attendance before the end of July, with 103,072 spectators so far. Thank you fans for all your support this season and we look forward to even more fun in August!

MVP Health Care’s Sunday Funday included the usual festivities with a pre-game catch, balloons courtesy of Noble Gas and kids running the bases after the final out.

Tonight’s theme also payed tribute to the EMTs, fire fighters, police officers and first responders who help to keep the Capital Region safe. As part of Community Heroes Night, Mike Klugo from Valatie Rescue Squad threw out the ceremonial first pitch and an ambulance escorted SouthPaw in the Armory Fiat for his entrance.

Sticking with the Community Heroes theme, the Drug Free Capital District program continued tonight at “The Joe.” This initiative has the ValleyCats partnering with Rensselaer County District Attorney Richard McNally, Albany County District Attorney David Soares and local law enforcement to help start the conversation between children and parents about the dangers of drug use. Our young fans and their parents teamed up to take educational quizzes with prizes awarded in the Cat-tle Ranch.

For those who didn’t know, pulled pork is available at the Left Field Louie’s kiosk near the Cat-tle Ranch. Thanks for the heads up, Ribbie!

Old Navy from Crossgates Mall had a popular display on the concourse, including their famous mannequins.

On the field, the ‘Cats failed to solve Doubleday pitching and dropped their second game in a row by the score of 6-1. They will have one more chance to beat Auburn this morning, with the first pitch at 11:00 AM. This matinee start is the final game of the homestand before the team travels to Jamestown.

The ‘Cats will return home for Friday night fireworks on August 5th as they take on the division-leading Vermont Lake Monsters. Friday marks our 3rd Annual Home Improvement Night and is presented by Trustco Bank.

Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

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