This past weekend, August 12, the ValleyCats box office gave ‘Cats fans the chance to see their first-place team on the road at one of the most beautiful ball parks in the country. As a part of the package, each fan received a seat on the bus, a box lunch, a ticket to that night’s ValleyCats-Yankees game, a hot dog and soda at the game, and a chance to win two tickets to a Yankees-Blue Jays game on September 18.
A full bus load left “The Joe” early in the morning to see the strongest road team in the New York-Penn League. How do you get to a baseball park located on an island? By ferry of course!
Richmond County Bank Ballpark offers something that no other Minor League Baseball park can: a view of the Manhattan skyline.
The ‘Cats amassed six runs on 12 hits as they got out to a quick 6-1 lead after six-and-a-half innings. The Yanks struck for four runs in the bottom of the seventh, but Preston Tucker and the rest of Tri-City’s offense were just too much for Staten Island. The ValleyCats picked up their 40th victory of the season, which is the most in the NYPL this year heading into the All-Star break.
Tri-City will host the Staten Island Yankees in the later part of the upcoming six-game ”New York-New York” homestand. The ‘Cats will play the Brooklyn Cyclones for the first time this year from August 15-17 and the Yankees from August 18-20! Each game is filled with promotions including Dunkin Donuts Day (Thursday, August 16), the first ”White Out” game (Friday, August 17), and Derek Jeter Bobblehead Giveaway Night (Monday, August 20). Tickets are still available and can be purchased here!
We’re going to try something new here . . . a ValleyCats PodCast! Click below to listen! ValleyCats Broadcaster Evan Valenti and ‘Cats Media Relations/Production Manager Chris Chenes break down this ValleyCats season including: the 40-14 start, the performance of offense and defense, and the upcoming schedule!
by: Evan Valenti
I am honestly running out of new adjectives and superlatives to describe how good this year’s Tri-City ValleyCats team is. Amazing. Hot. Well-rounded. Incredible. Dominant (feel free to add your own personal adjectives in the comments section). Even using those, I feel like I am still underrating and undervaluing how well this team has performed over the first 44 games.
Heading into the New York-Penn League All-Star Game, the ValleyCats are 40-14 (best record in the NYPL and shockingly off to the best start in team history), have the highest winning percentage in all of Minor League Baseball, have a commanding 14-game lead over second place Lowell, and are near the top, if not number one, in almost every statistical category. Oh yeah, they have also only lost one series so far this year (a three-game sweep at the hands of the State College Spikes).
They do it with pitching, defense (second lowest in NYPL with 59 errors), speed, and hitting (both for average and power). They’re a five-tool team. And the most important part of that is the word ‘TEAM”.
The biggest issue with Tri-City this season has been their offense. They have had some troubled times at the plate, mainly when they are not patient. Yes, they just lost the league-MVP Andrew Aplin to High-A Lancaster. Yes, the team home run leader, catcher Jobduan Morales, was also promoted. Those two were keys in the ‘Cats stout offense. But like a well-oiled machine, manager Stubby Clapp has the right pieces to replace those two (and lefty reliever Kenny Long) to keep the cog maintaining at peak performance.
Outfielder Preston Tucker has hit five home runs in his first 21 games in Troy, equaling the number put up by Morales (which he did in 37 games). Tucker is a ferocious hitter, pulverizing opposing pitchers with scorching line drive after scorching line drive. But what he adds cannot be undersold: his experience on the big stage. Tucker played with a premier collegiate program, Florida, which reached the College World Series numerous times. In postseason play, Tucker hit a combined .368 in 30 NCAA tournament games with ten doubles, 11 home runs, and 41 RBI.
Tyler Heineman, now that he has enough at-bats, has taken the batting title crown from Aplin, and given his production over the past two months, has no intentions on giving it up. Batavia’s Breyvic Valera has the best shot, but he’s over 30 points behind Heineman (who’s currently hitting .366). He has collected a hit in every game so far in August (he’s hitting .417 this month) and has shown a great approach at the plate. He never tries to do too much with a pitch. He takes what the pitcher gives him and simply puts it where people are not. He is hitting over .300 from both sides of the plate and is another experienced collegian the ‘Cats can rely on.
Despite those two break-out players, M.P. Cokinos could end up being the “x-factor” for the ‘Cats offensively. I will admit, it is sort of a cop-out. He has not played much so far this season, so what you might get from him is honestly unknown, making him a prime candidate for the “x-factor” label. He’s off to a good start (14-last 33) and has received an increase in playing time since the Time Warner Cable Customer Appreciation Night against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, where he went 2-4 with a home run and two RBI.
The ValleyCats received a visit from Astros Hitting Coordinator Ty Van Burkleo in late-July/early-August, and Cokinos took full advantage of that. He was a sponge while Van Burkleo was in town, soaking up as much knowledge as possible. Literally, after every round of batting practice Cokinos would head behind the cage and break down his swing with Van Burkleo. I’m not sure what was said during those conversations, but they seem to have paid off for the ValleyCats backstop.
Between Tucker, Heineman, and Cokinos (with also Neiko Johnson sprinkled in as well), Stubby Clapp and the ‘Cats should have no trouble replacing the production of Aplin and Morales, which is the TRUE sign of a team. If they can do that they will prove something that has been discussed among people around the NYPL: The ValleyCats are simply just better than everyone else in almost every facet of the game.
This season is going to be one for the record books. But remember folks: It is not how you start, it is how you finish.
Whenever I get the chance to attend a road game, I usually take advantage of it….and Staten Island is one of those “can’t miss” places (if it falls on a weekend). This edition comes on the heels of the promotion of three ‘Cats, and very important pieces to this year’s team. I’m talking about Andrew Aplin, Kenny Long and Jobduan Morales.
When I first heard the news, I was not shocked. Maybe a bit upset that we couldn’t hold onto these guys for the rest of the way, but that quickly went away, since the promotion is such a great thing for these kids. You can’t feel anything but joy for these players…who quickly proved themselves in the Penn League. They were a very important part of the team, and were big factors in the reason why the ‘Cats are where they are today (39-14, best in the NYPL).
Even with the losses of Aplin, Long and Morales, the ValleyCats remain the best team in the league, with a strong pitching staff and great hitting. Pitching is the reason the ‘Cats won it all in 2010, and this staff ranks 2nd in the league in ERA (2.58) behind Brooklyn (2.46). The only question mark may be how the bullpen handles the loss of Kenny Long, who lefties couldn’t touch (0 for 25, 14 K’s, 1 BB). Jeremiah Meiners remains the lone southpaw reliever, so he will be the guy to fill that hole. In his last 9-innings of work, Meiners has given up no runs on three hits, striking out 11 while walking four.
Hitting-wise, the ‘Cats still have the leading NYPL hitter in catcher Tyler Heineman (.365), and Preston Tucker (.351), Austin Elkins (.315), Jesse Wierzbicki (.305) and M.P. Cokinos (.305) are all batting over .300. Tucker looks to be the guy who adds that big bat to the ‘Cats lineup. Tucker drove in six runs against Staten Island on Friday night with two homers, and is now batting over .370 in his last 10-games.
Taking over in centerfield will be a platoon of Neiko Johnson and Emilio King. There’s no replacing Aplin’s play at that position, but Neiko and King are both capable of playing a respectable centerfield. Plus, this will give Neiko more playing time, and he’s a gamer who gets on base and helps the team win in any way possible.
With 23 games remaining in the regular season, the ValleyCats lead their division by a commanding 14-games. Their magic number to clinch now stands at 10, with Lowell, Vermont and Connecticut in a virtual tie for 2nd place. Pending a historic collapse, it will be interesting to see just who the ‘Cats face in the first round of the playoffs. If the season were to end today, the ‘Cats would face the Brooklyn Cyclones, who are currently leading in the wild card standings. That would be a bit of Deja Vu, as the ‘Cats defeated the Cyclones in Brooklyn to win their first ever championship in 2010.
However, this year’s ValleyCats are in a completely opposite position from where they were in 2010. That year, the ‘Cats clawed their way back into the division race after a dismal start to the season. They were 9.5 games out of first place on July 19, then squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season (in Brooklyn), and the rest is history.
This season, the ‘Cats are the cream of the crop, the best team in the league and the one to beat. With that comes added pressure to perform, and to win. The 2010 team was not expected to win it all, let alone even make the playoffs. With the way the 2012 season has gone thus far, anything short of a second championship would be a disappointment for this team.
Even with the ‘Cats on the road, there was still plenty of baseball going on at “The Joe” on Tuesday. The Houston Astros regional scouts held their annual open tryout at the ballpark yesterday morning. Players from Massachusetts, western New York, New York City, and of course the Capital Region were on hand to display their skills.
Evan Valenti talks with ValleyCats Manager Stubby Clapp about the team’s dominance after a 5-1 win against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the emergence of catcher Tyler Heineman, and much much more! Remember to post your questions to the blog in the comments section, on our Facebook page, or tweeting @ValleyCats using #AskStubby to get your questions in for next time!
We couldn’t have asked for better weather during our second matinee game of the season. Comfortable temperatures, a nice breeze, and intermittent cloud cover made for a great Camp Day game on Monday, August 6th.
Good morning, ValleyCats fans! Your “Pregame Meal” today should be breakfast, as the ‘Cats and Scrappers will get underway at 11am, for this year’s second Camp Day here at “The Joe.” Tri-City will look to sweep Mahoning Valley here today, and improve to 5-1 on this home stand before the team hits the road. This will actually be the ‘Cats last home game until August 15th, as the upcoming road trip is a prelude to the All-Star break. The game itself is August 14th at Mahoning Valley.
-The ValleyCats came from behind last night to knock off the Scrappers 5-4, in what was truly a wacky game. Luis Morel, the starter for Mahoning Valley, had one of the oddest starts I’ve ever seen. After a nightmare start in which he walked 4 of the first 5 hitters he faced, resulting in a 2-0 lead for the ‘Cats, Morel instantly flipped the switch. On Superhero Night at the ballpark, Morel went into the phone booth and came out as Superman for the next 9 hitters. However, Morel then ran into more trouble in the 4th, and his night was done. It was as much of a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” start, if I’ve ever seen one.
-The most amazing thing from the game last night? The ValleyCats, who lead the league in home runs and slugging percentage, had 9 hits, all of them for singles. Over the previous two games, the team had 10 extra base hits. That’s why you can’t predict baseball, even in the slightest.
-Going through some notes on the players before the game, I came across a little factoid: Andrew Aplin was drafted in the 33rd round of the 2009 MLB draft by the Yankees. I asked Aplin about that and he said, “It really made me think. I just really wanted to go play at Arizona State though.” He added that mostly, his choice to enter the draft was more or less to see where he’d be picked. I’d say his decision has turned out pretty well, and the time he spent at ASU increased his draft status by a mere 28 rounds.
-Brady Rodgers starts today for the ‘Cats, in search of his 5th win of the season. Now go back a few weeks, folks, to the last 11am game. Who started in that game for the team? I’ll give you a few seconds…..that’s right, Brady Rodgers. In that game, Rodgers got the win in his longest start of the year as he went 7 strong against Connecticut. For the ValleyCats sake, let’s hope Brady is a morning person for the second time in a row.
-I feel like I write about him every day, but Tyler Heineman is just on another planet right now. In his last 14 games, the ‘Cats catcher has 8 multi hit games, and has boosted his average all the way up to a stunning .373. He still doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, but when he does, Andrew Aplin might have some competition.
-Like I mentioned earlier, the NYPL All-Star game is a week from tomorrow. You could easily make a case for at least 7 ValleyCats to make the NL affiliates roster. Aplin, Elkins, and West I’d say are the locks. In addition, I think one of the trio of Holmes-Rodgers-Velasquez will make the team, and so probably will Blake Ford, who leads the league in saves. I’d say its a good bet for at least 5 ‘Cats to make the roster, if not possibly more.
-No BP today, because who in their right mind would want to take batting practice at 9 in the morning. So, without further ado, here is the ValleyCats lineup for today’s action:
Brady Rodgers RHP
Superheroes Night at “The Joe” featured special appearances by some of our favorite super friends, including: Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, and even one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
By Matt Appel (@mattappel)
The ValleyCats will aim to clinch yet another series win Sunday night with a victory of Mahoning Valley. Rain might have something to say about that, but as of right now, the plan to is play this ballgame, which is scheduled for a 5pm start. It’s Community Heroes night at “The Joe”, and in honor of that, players’ head shots on the scoreboard in left will be super-hero themed. Holy promotion, Batman!
-Hitters did not take BP before today’s game, but in what is becoming a Sunday home game tradition, the pitchers took some rips in the cage. The hurlers are divided into two teams: starters and relievers. Once the ball is put in play, it is up to Stubby Clapp, who is throwing the pitches, to decide if they contact would, in a real game situation, get down for a hit. The worst place for one of the pitchers to hit the ball is anywhere near center, because Stubby will typically say that Andrew Aplin would have ran it down. The starters hung on for a tough-earned 5-4 win over the relievers in today’s action. The highlight of the game was pitching coach Rick Aponte pinch-hitting and laying down a beautiful sac bunt. In warm-ups, Brady Rodgers went yard.
-There are some ‘Cats pitchers that actually have pretty-good looking swings. Vince Velasquez leads that group and the last time these two sides matched up, the righty hit 3 doubles. He is also the only one of the bunch that can switch-hit. For every Velasquez, there is a Juan Minaya, who by the way he swings, probably hasn’t hit in quite a long time. Probably a good call by Juan to decide to pursue the pitching route.
-While he was getting ready to hit, Jamaine Cotton approached me with a bit of an issue. Cotton, who pitched 2.1 spotless innings of relief last night, was a little upset that he didn’t get a mention on Twitter last night for his valiant effort. My apologies, Jamaine. Cotton has really excelled out the pen this year, with an ERA of 1.19 in 15 appearances.
-Huge night last night for the ValleyCats, as their three home runs powered their 8-3 win. The three bombs, including back to back shots by M.P. Cokinos and Dan Gulbransen, gave the ‘Cats the outright NYPL lead with 26 home runs. That’s really surprising to me, because when I think of the team offensively, I think of aggressive base running and timely hitting. The ValleyCats now lead the league in home runs, stolen bases, average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage. It’s not hard to see why they are 33-13.
-I was so impressed with Neiko Johnson’s performance last night. Johnson, who doesn’t start more than twice a week at the most, made the most of a great opportunity to play second, his natural position. Neiko went 3-for-3, his first home run of 2012, and stole two bases as well. Stubby Clapp added after the game that he’s stuck with a pretty good problem right now: not enough spots in the lineup to play everyone who’s hitting. Neiko’s forced his way into tonight’s lineup, and how could he not after the way he played last night?
-Another good start for Lance Day Saturday night. Day improved to 3-0 in 4 starts for the team. With Day winning last night, the current 6 ValleyCat starters are a combined 23-6. Once again, not hard to see why they have been the best team in the league pretty much since the get-go.
-Joe Bircher starts tonight for the ‘Cats. The lefty only has one win this year, but as received two or three no decisions in games that he pitched well enough to win. He enters the game with a 3.86 ERA, the highest of any ‘Cats starter, but still respectable. He will oppose Luis Morel, who has bounced around between the staring rotation and ‘pen this year for the Scrappers.
-Batting Practice Hero: Today’s unconventional BPH award will go to Brady Rodgers, who not only went yard in the warmups, also added a key RBI single for the starters. Brady can hit, as this is his second impressive “Pitchers BP” performance. The former Sun Devil apparently can do no wrong.
Time Warner’s Annual Customer Appreciation Night has become one of the biggest nights at “The Joe” each summer as fans are able to show their cable bill at the Box Office to receive four free tickets and concession vouchers. Saturday, August 4th, continued that trend as 5,304 fans packed the ballpark.
Time Warner Cable (TWC) set up interactive displays in the Picnic Pavilion that included a Whole House DVR, the Live TV app, IntelligentHome, Remote DVR Manager, Ultimate Internet, HBO and Max Go and more.
The YNN Stormchaser vehicle was also on hand offering fans their own chance to make a forecast.
A number of Cable Guys and Girls greeted fans as they entered the ballpark. They assisted customers throughout the night and also provided a number of prizes/giveaways.
Marcie Fraser from YNN tossed out a Ceremonial First Pitch and Innae Park, also from YNN, provide a wonderful rendition of the national anthem.
Special thanks to Greg Bobbitt and his staff as last night’s game was broadcast statewide on TW3!
The team on the field did not wilt on the big stage as they downed the Scrappers by a score of 8-3. Back-to-back home runs from M.P. Cokinos and Dan Gulbransen powered the offense early with Neiko Johnson adding a two-run shot for some insurance later in the game. Lance Day turned in another quality start from the rotation as he racked up 6 K’s in 6+ innings of work.
Join the ‘Cats this evening for Sunday Funday at “The Joe!” Family 4-Packs are still available and as always, there will be a pre-game catch and post-game run the bases for the kids. The team is also home for a matinee game on Monday morning. Don’t miss your last chance to catch the first-place ValleyCats before the All-Star break!
By Matt Appel (@mattappel)
After taking two of three from the Batavia Muckdogs, the ValleyCats will take on another Pickney division opponent, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Over 7000 people expected to be in attendance tonight for the 3rd annual Time Warner Cable Customer Appreciation Night. The game is going to be televised, so this is a great opportunity to see the winningest team in the minors this year from the comfort of your own home. Now, to share what tidbits were picked up before the game, in the first weekend edition of the “Pregame Meal”:
-Late scratch from the lineup, as Jesse Wierzbicki will sit tonight. Whether this is related or not, both Andrew Aplin and M.P. Cokinos were taking turns fielding grounders at first. M.P. even made a few nice plays on line drives. If this illness of Wierzbicki’s carries a few more days, it might be interesting to see if one of those two gets a look at first. Preston Tucker will take Jesse’s spot in the field tonight. It is Tucker’s first appearance in the infield this season.
-Before the game, both myself and my broadcast partner Evan Valenti (@EvanValenti) were shooting a video with M.P. Cokinos, part of a series we will be bringing to you about how to keep your body in shape to play baseball. M.P. was showing us what he does to warm-up, what he does during the work out, and what he does afterwards. The latter part was quite awesome. Cokinos was talking about how he uses Muscle Milk to recover, but it turned into more of an ad for the protein shake than a lesson to young ballplayers. At one point, M.P. looked directly into the camera and said “Muscle Milk helps me refuel after a game or a workout, and that’s why I use Muscle Milk!” Priceless. Stay tuned for the finished product.
-If the ValleyCats can get a win tonight, they will be 33-13, 20 games over .500. For a team at any level to be 20 games over and not even 50 games into a season is simply incredible. The way they have pitched this year makes teams like this slump-proof more or less, because if you only give up 2-3 runs a night, your odds of winning are pretty darn high. For those who are curious, Tri-City’s best record for a full season is 50-25 and that came back in 2004. This year’s squad is well on their way to surpassing that mark.
-Last night, the ‘Cats as a team were just 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position, which was a rare off night for them in that department. As a team this year, the ‘Cats are hitting a very impressive .297 with runners on 2nd and 3rd. Amongst the players who have at least 25 at bats in those situations, no one is excelling more than Tyler Heineman, who has a robust .393 clip. Timely hitting has been one the most important features of the ‘Cats offensively in 2012.
-In the 9th inning of last night’s game, Andrew Aplin made a full-extension dive for a sinking liner in center for the second out of the inning. I think it was the best play any ValleyCat has made this year, at least at home. During BP, I asked Andrew how that felt, and he told me it “knocked the wind out of me for a second.” When then prompted about whether or not it was the best catch he ever made, he told me he made a better one in the Cape Cod league last summer, and told me to ask his then (and current, of course) teammate Kenny Long about it. When I approached Kenny, he told me that Aplin jumped over the fence, which was about shoulder-high, and landed on the other side, while securing the ball. The best part? It would have been a walk-off home run for the other team. Kenny said, “As soon as we saw he caught it, we all ran out there and made sure he was ok.”
-Catfish Elkins will make his first start of the year at short tonight. Elkins did play there during his college days at Dallas Baptist, but it should still be interesting to see him in maning the area between 2nd and 3rd.
-Batting Practice Hero: For the second time is as many BP sessions, today’s honor goes to Jarrod McKinney. In his final round, the ‘Cats right fielder tonight hit a long shot to left that was clearly leaving the park. But then it kept going and going and going, until it hit off the scoreboard. It was an absolute blast that stopped everyone in their tracks. Without question, it is the longest homer a righty has hit this year at The Joe.
-Lance Day taking the bump for the ‘Cats tonight. Since joining the rotation, Day has been very solid, recording a win in two of his three starts. The righty enters tonight with a 2-0 record and an ERA of 3.06
Lance Day RHP
Buongiorno! Come Stai? (Translation: Good morning! How are you?)
Italian Night at “The Joe” is always a festive occasion and Friday, August 3rd was no different. Our friends from Home Brewed welcomed fans with some pre-game entertainment outside the main gate. SouthPaw even got into the act as he joined the jam.