by Evan Valenti (@EvanValenti)
Earlier this month, I wrote about how this year’s ValleyCats team could end up being the best ever in terms of record (and quite possibly major league players). A little more than half the season is gone and Tri-City is a league-best 30-12. The ‘Cats earned their off-day on Tuesday after winning both legs of the two-team road series against fellow division leaders Hudson Valley and Auburn. To date, the ValleyCats are now atop of the New York-Penn League in terms of road record at 18-4.
Yeah, you heard me. 18 wins and four losses. That is absurd.
To put it in perspective, from 2004-2011 Tri-City is a respectable 138-159 away from Joseph L. Bruno Stadium (winning percentage of .465). Those numbers, however, are a little skewed thanks to the team’s success in 2004 and 2006, the only two years since 2004 the ‘Cats have finished above .500 on the road. Taking those two years out of the equation the team is 90-133 (.401 winning percentage), with the most wins coming in 2010 (19).
Fans will always remember the 2004 ‘Cats. They had the dynamic major-league duo of outfielder Hunter Pence and switch-hitting infielder Ben Zobrist. That team feasted on teams on the road, going 25-12 and having five hitters bat above .300 (including Zobrist and Pence) helps. Pence had some very impressive numbers (.333/.392/.639, 18 XBH including 7 HR), but arguably the biggest road warrior on the team was Ronnie Martinez. The right-hander made six starts going 6-0 with a 1.46 ERA (1 CG). In 37 innings, Martinez surrendered 25 hits, six runs (all earned), walked five, punched out 36, and held opposing hitters to a .189 batting average. Outfielder Edgar Babilonia (.379/.423/.500, 6 XB) and reliever Rodrigo Escobar (3-0, 0.62 ERA, 14 G, 5 SV) were two others with solid road success.
The 2006 team, powered by outfielder Jordan Parraz, finished the season 23-14 away from Troy, NY. That version of the ValleyCats had trouble at the plate (only two players that season hit over .300), which accompanied the squad on the road (.249 batting average as a team). Parraz’s road splits stand out (.359/.450/.531, 16 XBH, 19 RBI), mostly because he was the best hitter on that team, but the ‘Cats pitching staff propelled the team to those 23 wins (collective 2.76 ERA). Reliever Victor Garate (2-0, 0.81 ERA, 11 G, 5 SV) and starter Chris Salamida (6-0, 1.02 ERA, 7 starts) were a two-headed monster for Manager Gregg Langbehn.
But this year’s team is, again, different. They seemingly do it all. They’re getting it done at the plate (.281 batting average and scoring about six runs per game) and on the mound (2.32 collective ERA, opposing batters hitting .216 against the ‘Cats staff).
Outfielder Andrew Aplin and second baseman Catfish Elkins, who are first and third respectively in the NYPL in batting average, are feasting off of opposing pitchers this year, and being on the road has seemingly made no impact on either hitter. Elkins has the most impressive triple-slash (.418/.451/.657), with 10 extra-base hits and 13 RBI. Aplin, who might be the MVP of the league right now, has been just as good (.360/.478/.560 8 XBH), but has played in four more games.
The pitcher with the best road splits might surprise you. It’s not Vincent Velasquez, Brady Rodgers, or Aaron West. Closer Blake Ford has been lights out (only allowing one run), but not even he has been as dominate as lefty Brian Holmes. Coming off a 7-inning complete-game shutout against the Hudson Valley Renegades, Holmes boasts a 3-0 road record and a spotless ERA. In 19 innings, Holmes has only allowed nine base runners (four hits and five walks) and has punched out 18.
Road success always translates well. Ask anyone. A good road record is a synonym for a physically and mentally strong team. The ValleyCats have only made the playoffs three times. What do all of those teams have in common? A .500 record or better on the road. The ‘Cats are currently 18-4 on the road and have a double-digit lead in the division. It’s a long way off, but Tri-City’s road dominance could translate well as they make a push for the playoffs.
The ‘Cats Street Team has been out and about in the community all season. Let’s take a look at exactly where Southpaw and friends have been in the past few weeks.
B 95.5 Kids Club
On Tuesday morning, SouthPaw and Amy headed over to Crossgates Mall where they took part in the B 95.5 Kids Club! SouthPaw colored, danced, and played hot potato with the kids in attendance. Kids also had the opportunity to spin the prize wheel to win ValleyCats prizes such as bobbleheads, team cards, yearbooks, and team posters! SouthPaw and Amy plan on making many more appearances this summer at the B 95.5 Kids Club which is every Tuesday from 9-10am on the lower level outside of Macy’s.
Saratoga Arts & Crafts Day
The first appearance of the day for SouthPaw and Amy on Wednesday July 18th was at the Saratoga Springs Public Library for their Arts and Crafts Summer Celebration. They set up cornhole in the children’s room and had coloring pages and activity books available for the kids to have. SouthPaw visited with all of the kids and many of the kids gave the crafts they did to SouthPaw as gifts.
Nassau Public Library Visit
SouthPaw and Amy visited the Nassau Free Library to do a reading visit for the New York’s 529 College Savings Summer Reading with the ValleyCats Program where they read two books to the 30 children in attendance. The kids got into the books and helped Amy sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. After reading, the kids had SouthPaw autograph posters and then they colored ValleyCats pictures and were given tickets to our Summer Reader Night game on Saturday August 25th.
Desmond Hotel Picnic
On Friday July 20th the Street Team went over to the Desmond Hotel on Albany-Shaker Road to take part in their employee appreciation picnic. They set up the inflatable skee-ball game and had a table set-up with 2012 team posters, July Playbills, Astros vs Mets Raffle Tickets, and information on upcoming game promotions.
Schenectady Summer Night Festival
Friday night ValleyCats staff attended the Schenectady Summer Night Festival where SouthPaw greeted many excited fans and the inflatable skee-ball game was set up with 2012 team posters as prizes. There was also a table with information on upcoming promotions as well as a raffle for four tickets to see the Astros take on the Mets at Citi Field.
Applebee’s Player Appearance
After Sunday evening’s game against Vermont, the Street Team along with infielders Jesse Wierzbicki and Ryan Dineen, visited Applebee’s in North Greenbush where they signed autographs for fans.
Colonie Library Visit
Monday morning the Street Team and media department, along with catcher Tyler Heineman and outfield Preston Tucker, visited the William K. Sanford Town Library where each player read two books to about 60 people and answered great questions asked by the young fans and then signed autographs and posed for pictures. Everyone in attendance were given four tickets to the Summer Reader Night game on Saturday August 25th.
Cap Com Player Appearance
Pitchers Brian Holmes, Kenny Long, and Travis Ballew hosted a baseball clinic for kids at Vanderheyden Hall. SouthPaw made a guest appearance once the ice-cream truck came and everyone took pictures and signed autographs.
Thursday afternoon the Street Team brought the small inflatable skee-ball game to Camp Givah. The camp will be bringing out a group to the Sunday August 5th game and the Street Team helped get everyone excited for the game and handed out team posters that the kids can bring back to the game to get signed.
Play-by-Play Broadcaster Evan Valenti (@EvanValenti) talks with ValleyCats Manager Stubby Clapp about the ‘Cats success so far this year. Thank you to our fans for your great questions! Make sure you keep them coming for next time. If you have a questions already for Stubby, post them in the comments section in the bottom of the post.
by: Gabe Cassillo
The 2012 Tri-City ValleyCats interns enjoyed a well-deserved off day on Wednesday and were fortunate enough to take a road trip to Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. All were smiling as they made the drive to visit the Mecca of Baseball history and were treated to lunch with the the Frank and Peggy Steele interns.
First up on the agenda was a brief time of introductions. Everyone gave a bit of background and spoke about future goals. The HOF interns spoke about their experiences and roles over the past few weeks.
After introductions, the “red shirts” moved to the Learning Center to take in a presentation of the Hall of Fame’s “artifact spotlight.” Structured in story form, one of the Steele interns spoke about the changes to baseball’s playoff system. Originally the regular-season winner from both the NL and AL would play each other. Eventually each league added divisions, and then more recently, the Wild Card team was created. This past year, and this Fall, the newest system will commence with two wild cards in each league playing in a one-game series. The specific artifacts that illustrated this history were Troy Glaus’ 2002 jersey (this was the first World Series between two wild card teams) and a cartoon from Minesota that illustrated the frustration of fans when their first-place Twins were swept in a four-game series by the Eastern division champion Orioles.
Following the spotlight was lunch and a time to talk with and get to know some of the “blue shirts.” Many of the Steele interns interestingly came from various parts of the country including Colorado, Minnesota, and Florida.
Next up on the day was a live video call to the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. All were treated to a virtual presentation about the famed Louisville slugger and the history of the company. The presentation was complemented by live visual aides (various bats) that were passed around during the presentation. It was amazing to see the Louisville Factory up close in person all the way from Cooperstown!
After the presentation, the interns were free to take in the various exhibits and HOF plaques across the three floors of the Museum. One of the most popular exhibits had to be the display case of every World Series ring. Also of interest were various Colt .45′s/Houston Astros artifacts, but who could forget the awesome Hank Aaron exhibit made possible in part by the ValleyCats own, Bill and Millie Gladstone.
All in all, it was a great day in Cooperstown, NY. It was a great way to appreciate America’s pastime and the history of the game that we could very easily take for granted. Everyone came away from the trip with a great re-appreciation of what a privilege it is be a part of the world’s greatest game.
Tuesday morning featured our first Camp Day/Senior Day of the season! The game had a special matinee start time of 11am and close to 5,000 fans came out to “The Joe”, including many campers, to create an exciting and energetic atmosphere!
The ValleyCats got seven strong innings from starter Brady Rodgers and erupted for five runs in the deciding sixth inning to down the Connecticut Tigers by a score of 7-3 in front of 4,923 bright-eyed fans!
Social Media Madness invaded “The Joe” on Monday night for the ‘Cats first game against their Stedler rival Connecticut Tigers. Special thanks to all of our Facebook fans for getting us to 6,000 “Likes.” As a result we offered $1 tickets to any of those 6,000-plus fans!
The ValleyCats staff and players were pretty in pink tonight for the 2nd Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Day at “The Joe.”
Saturday was GE Kids in Free Night at “The Joe” as children under 12 received a free ticket with a paying adult. Families from all over the Capital Region took advantage of this promotion as 5,994 fans packed the ballpark.
by: Evan Valenti (@EvanValenti)
After exactly one month, the ValleyCats have cruised out to a New York-Penn League-best 22-8, holding a six game lead over the Vermont Lake Monsters. The team has simply been dominant in almost every category (click here to see why this might be the best ValleyCat team of all time). Stellar pitching, aggressive base running, and timely hitting are the main reasons why this team has built this early lead. They have put together winning streaks of 11, seven, and are currently riding an 11-game road game streak heading into a quick two-game series with Vermont on Thursday. If this kind of baseball continues you’re not only talking about one of the seasons in ValleyCat history, but maybe one of the best in NYPL history.
In almost a month from today Mahoning Valley will play host to the 2012 NYPL All-Star Game, which got me thinking. How many players on this current team have a shot of making the “National League” roster?
In terms of position players, you have to assume that outfielder Andrew Aplin is the only sure-fire All-Star on this ValleyCats roster (we’ll get to others in a minute). In his first season of professional baseball, Aplin leads the league in batting average, on-base plus slugging (OPS), on-base percentage, and stolen bases (he’s a disappointing second overall in slugging percentage). He has hit in every spot in the top third of the line up and produced superbly, been a leader in the clubhouse, and has done whatever it takes to make sure the team comes away with a “W”. He has done all of that while playing a stellar center field, seemingly snagging everything that has been hit his way.
You could make the argument that Aplin is the MVP of the league right now. It’s funny to think that after seeing State College Spike outfielder Barrett Barnes in person, that Aplin is the no-doubt starting center fielder for the NL squad.
You could seemingly name the entire ValleyCats starting rotation and bullpen to the NL in the All-Star team and feel good about it. They have the best ERA in the league at 2.25, almost a half-run better than Batavia. Now, putting the entire Tri-City pitching staff on the team might be a little ridiculous, you better believe that a few of them will be penciled onto the roster on August 14.
Aaron West and Brady Rodgers are two starters that I expect to be on the roster, and I believe both have a shot at starting the game for the NL side. West has been almost perfect this season. He has gone 3-0 in his first five starts, logging a 1.14 ERA in 23.2 IP. He has shown great control, a 19:2 K:BB ratio, and has an even more impressive WHIP (0.63). Rodgers, who might be the most polished of the starters, is a measly 3-1 with a 1.37 ERA. Rodgers is tied for the team lead in strikeouts (28), and has shown exceptional command of both sides of the play with his wide assortment of pitches.
Blake Ford, who is close to breaking the ValleyCats all-time record in saves (10), is another ‘Cats pitcher I fully expect to be donning a Tri-City uniform in the game. Ford has been perfect on the mound this year, closing out all nine attempts for saves. He has been quietly effective, with some fans calling him the ‘Cats version of Yankees great closer Mariano Rivera. Ford is currently the league-leader in saves.
Catfish Elkins and Vincent Velasquez have strong cases to be selected to the All-Star Game in Mahoning Valley. Elkins is second in the league in batting average and in hits, while rounding out the top three in stolen bases. Clearly he has a case, but there are second baseman behind him who might get selected to avoid favoritism. Velasquez, like Rodgers, is 3-1, but has a slightly higher ERA at 2.39 (landing him just outside the top 10). When he is on, he might have the best pure stuff on the team. But sometimes he keeps hitters in it by surrendering two-strike hits. The 20-year old might have the highest ceiling of anyone on the team.
Someone that might not get an equal shot to make the team, but really should get more notice. When it comes to getting other lefties out, he has been the best lefty reliever in the league this year. He has faced 15 left-handed batters so far and retired them all, including nine strikeouts. But lately, he has started to really take it to righties as well (.154 opposing BA), which only boosts his shot in my book. In his last ten outings (8.0 IP), Long has only allowed two base runners (one hit and one walk).
The ‘Cats have the best record in the league and are deserving of the most spots on the National League roster. If it were up to me, there would be at least six players representing Tri-City in this year’s All-Star Game.
The ‘Cats Street Team has been out and about in the community all season. Let’s take a look at exactly where Southpaw and friends have been in the past few weeks.
Baseball game DevilCats vs Braves
SouthPaw and Amy stopped by the DevilCats vs Braves baseball game on the 4th of July to interact with the families and players in attendance and hand out pocket schedules.
4th of July at the Plaza
On Wednesday July 4th the Street Team spent most of their day at the Empire State Plaza 4th of July Celebration. They saw thousands of people visit their table, spin the prize wheel, and play with the small inflatable and cornhole set. There was also a raffle set up where the winner will receive four tickets to see the Houston Astros take on the NY Mets at Citi Field! Everyone was really excited to see the ValleyCats present at the celebration and, after learning about all of the great promotions happening at “The Joe” this season, look forward to coming out to take in a ballgame.
Summer Fest Party
On Saturday July 7th, SouthPaw and the Street Team visited the Summer Fest Party at the Albany Public Library Delaware Branch. The small inflatable and cornhole were set up as well as the prize wheel where hundred of children had their chance to win various ValleyCats prizes. SouthPaw event stopped by for about an hour to interact with the children.
North Creek Railroad
Starting pitchers Brady Rodgers, Joe Bircher, and Vince Velasquez as well as pitching coach Rick Aponte, SouthPaw, and ValleyCats staff spent a rare non-game day aboard the North Creek Railroad for a trip up north. The players signed autographs and posed for pictures on the train with people who made the trip just to meet them. After the two hour train ride they took a short bus trip to Gore Mountain where they played a few rounds of frisbee golf and then took a Gondala up the mountain where they were met with breathtaking views. After spending a good amount of time on the mountain, the group took the Gondala back down and went into town where the stopped for Oreo Milkshakes at a local restaurant and took in the sites of the very small town. Then it was back on board the train for the two hour ride back to Saratoga. The players had a great time and said it was the best way to spend an off day!
GE Kids Day at the Plaza
On Sunday July 8th the Street Team spent the hours leading up to the first Sunday baseball game this season at home for the ValleyCats at the Empire State Plaza for the annual GE Kids Day! The small inflatable and cornhole sets were set up and thousands of kid walked away with awesome ValleyCats prizes such as bobbleheads and team posters! They even met some fans that would be attending their first ValleyCats game that night so the Street Team signed them up to dance on the field for Dunkin Donuts Field Dancing at the end of the 7th inning. Everyone had a blast and hopefully we’ll see a lot of these same families in attendance on GE Kids in Free Night on July 21!
Greenwich Library Visit
On Wednesday July 11th SouthPaw and Amy visited children in the summer reading program at the Greenwich Library. For the first program, they listened to books about sleeping and then did a craft with the children. Then they headed outside and visited the older kids reading program where Amy handed out team posters, schedules, and SouthPaw activity books while SouthPaw signed dozens of autographs! Many of the children in attendance plan on visiting “The Joe” for a game this season.
Troy Pig Out
On Saturday July 14th and Sunday July 15th, ValleyCats staff attended the 5th annual Troy Pig Out where they set up the small inflatable, cornhole, and had giveaways that included 2012 team posters. They interacted with thousands of fans who were excited to learn about the upcoming games and the staff made sure they found time to walk around and sample all of the delicious food available!
On Saturday July 14th the Street Team attended the 2nd Annual Proctors Brewfest where they set up the prize wheel where hundred of people spun at the chance to win ValleyCats prizes such as bobbleheads, team cards, team posters, and yearbooks. They also marketed the Capital Region Brewfest happening at “The Joe” on Saturday July 28th and found that many people at Proctors looked forward to attending the one at the stadium. The ValleyCats table was next to one that had the regional manager of three local breweries raving about how “The Joe’s,” Brewfest was one of the best he has ever been to!
The late Ernie Williams has been a staple for the annual Tunes for Tuesday: Blues, BBQ, and Baseball Night at “The Joe.” Williams’ bandmates took center stage as we paid tribute to the late blues legend.
by: Gabe Cassillo
As the Tri-City ValleyCats wrap up their six game road-trip through Williamsport and Jamestown this afternoon with a doubleheader against the Jammers, the focus will soon be on the ‘Cats upcoming homestand and week of games
The short of the matter is this. The ‘Cats will open tomorrow with no worse than a three-game lead in the Stedler Division over second place Vermont. Depending on the results of tonight’s NY-Penn League action, Tri-City could very well be five games ahead when they arrive home in Troy early tomorrow morning. Connecticut enters the day 9.5 back and Lowell is even further behind (12.5 behind) and with the fewest wins in the entire league.
Suffice to say, the ValleyCats have a nice cushion on their division opponents and don’t appear to be in danger of losing that lead anytime soon. This is what makes the next week of games all the more important.
Starting tomorrow, Tri-City will play eight straight games against the Stedler Division, with only two of those games coming away from home. After two with Lowell on Tuesday and Wednesday, a home-and-home four game series against Vermont followed with two against Connecticut can most assuredly give them a lock down on the division title….in July.
Now I understand baseball is a game of attrition. We’ve all heard the motto that it’s a marathon and not a sprint, but with a successful stretch in these next few games, Tri-City could very well be heading into the last week of July with a 6 or 7 game lead over Vermont. With the way the schedule works, Tri-City would not play their division opponents again until the last two weeks of the season, making it hard for their opponents to gain a large amount of ground in a short period of time.
The time is now for the ‘Cats who already are in the midst of the most successful starts in team history. This group certainly has the talent and apparent chemistry to continue their strong play through the summer, but this next week will largely determine just how much pressure will be on through the “dog days” of late July and August as they push toward a hopeful playoff appearance.
Fans, our second “Stubby Session” coming at you tomorrow afternoon and we are giving you the opportunity to ask ValleyCat Manager Stubby Clapp a question! To get your question(s) asked, either type them into the comments section here or tweet us your question(s) @ValleyCats by using the #AskStubby.
Tuesday was the first day off for the Tri-City ValleyCats baseball team since the season began on Monday, June 18. That’s 22 straight days without a break (aside from one postponed game in Connecticut on Friday, June 29).
While many of the players stuck around town to kick-back, relax, watch TV or a movie and play video games, others had different, more adventurous plans. A few took a trip to New York City and manager Stubby Clapp went hiking.
For pitchers Joe Bircher (from Nebraska), Brady Rodgers (from Texas), Vince Velasquez (from California) and pitching coach Rick Aponte, the trip was a chance to experience some of the great outdoors that New York State has to offer. It was a trip aboard the Saratoga & North Creek Railway for a scenic train ride through the Adirondacks and up to Gore Mountain.
The train departed from Saratoga Springs at 10am and Velasquez thought he would play the piano to kill some time before they left. Let’s just say he should stick to baseball.
Once the train departed and everyone settled in their seats (including SouthPaw!), Aponte got really excited for the trip he was about to embark upon (including a nice breakfast).
There were even some ValleyCats fans on-board, and the players took some time to sign autographs and take a few photos:
The ride from Saratoga Springs to North Creek lasted a little over 2-hours, plenty of time to take in the sights, and something the players took advantage of.
The train arrived in North Creek right around noon, and before getting on a bus to Gore Mountain, everyone browsed the gift shop, making one slight change to one of the displays (nice work guys!):
After about a 7-minute bus ride, we arrived at Gore Mountain. The itinerary had us taking a gondola ride to the top of the mountain, but we first made a brief pit-stop at one of the frisbee golf holes.
Following an unsuccessful 15-minutes of trying for a “hole-in-one,” the most breathtaking part of the trip was about to take place. A ride on a gondola to the summit of Gore Mountain, an elevation of 3,600 feet.
After a 10-minute ride to the top of the mountain, and about a 20-degree drop in temperature, the view of the beautiful Adirondack Mountains was about to come in full-view.
That was before he came across this sign:
Overall, it was an off-day well spent, and one these guys will not soon forget. Let’s hope all that nice air freshens them up for next 20 straight days of baseball!
Here is a highlight video of the trip: