Salem and Winston Ready for Millennial Matchup

April 18, 2014 7:00 PM Salem Red Sox (7-7) vs Winston-Salem Dash (4-10) Game # 15
BB&T Ballpark        Winston-Salem, NC        Road Game # 8
Probable Starters: LHP Brian Johnson (1-1, 7.24) vs RHP Braulio Ortiz (0-1, 0.96)

Extras Eruption: Salem avoided its first seven-game losing streak since August of 2012 by scoring eight times in the top of the tenth to dismantle the Mudcats 10-2 in 10 innings on Thursday night. Whereas the Red Sox scored just three runs in three games prior to the extra frame, Salem delivered its largest inning of the season thanks to Carolina’s sloppiness. The Red Sox received four walks, one hit-batter, and benefited from four Mudcats errors in the final frame. Still, the Sox would not have scored without Reed Gragnani’s clutch two-out, two-strike RBI single with the bases loaded that broke the tie. The eight-run inning was Salem’s biggest offensive frame since scoring nine times in the fifth on June 26, 2013 in Winston-Salem, a game the Red Sox won 12-3.

The Constant: While the first 14 games have given the Sox a tremendous peak and a deep valley, one Salem hitter has been hot from Opening Day to the present. Outfielder Kevin Heller, who’s been in the lineup for 11 of the team’s 14 games, is the only member of the club who’s reached base in every game he’s played. Consequently, Heller is hitting .400 (14-for-35), second-best in the league, and his on-base percentage is .500, #1 in the circuit. Heller has recorded an extra-base hit in each of his last five games, giving him a .686 slugging percentage that’s second in the league only to Myrtle Beach’s Joey Gallo. The Pelicans’ third-baseman has hit six homer in his last eight games to raise his slugging percentage to .733, tops in the league.

Leadoff Lacking: Entering Thursday night, one of the sources of Salem’s struggles has been the inability to put the leadoff man on base. In 13 games, Red Sox leadoff hitters batted only .126, the lowest clip in the league. Wilmington’s second worst with a .172 average, while everyone else is at .215 or higher. Matty Johnson is just 1-for-19 (.053) leading off innings. Ironically, the Sox have hit a league-best .307 with runners on base. Johnson’s 8-for-18 (.444) with men on. On Thursday, the Sox improved by going 3-for-10 to lead off innings.

Historic Matchup: Friday brings the 1,000th all-time meeting between Salem and Winston, and incredibly the all-time series is tied! Both teams have won 498 games and there have been three ties.

Monitoring Mookie Madness: While Salem’s 16-game winning streak ended nine days ago, one streak we’re still watching is continuing to unfold in Double-A, where second-baseman Mookie Betts has reached base in 10 straight games to begin the 2014 season. Considering that Betts reached safely in the final 35 games of 2013, including the playoffs, he has now recorded at least a hit or a walk in 45 consecutive games dating back to last August. In these 45 games between Salem and Portland, Betts is hitting .425 (71-for-167). In 10 games with the Sea Dogs, Betts is hitting .450 (18-for-40) with five walks and only three strikeouts. The Sea Dogs have not played since Monday, having had three straight games postponed as a result of the wet weather in the northeast.

Another Day with the Streaky Salem Sox

Good afternoon from Zebulon, NC, home of the Carolina Mudcats!

Salem’s hoping that talented southpaw Corey Littrell can deliver a steady performance that will help end the current six-game skid. In his first two Carolina League starts, Littrell struck out 15 in 10.2 innings, compiling a 1.69 ERA.

On Friday, the Salem Sox will kick off a four-game weekend wrap-around series against the 1797447_656951954340862_7528114285323486313_nWinston-Salem Dash. Since I’ll once again be stepping away for a couple days to broadcast the AUDL on ESPN3, I’m pleased to introduce Andrew Africk, another talented young broadcaster who will handle the play-by-play on Friday and Saturday nights. A former voice of the Hillcats and Dash, Andrew currently works at IMG College in Winston-Salem, where he has served as studio host for many of the top college football and basketball programs around the country. I think you’ll enjoy listening to him, if you tune in.

Meanwhile, I’ll be journeying north of the border to the wonderful city of Montreal, where this week’s AUDL Showcase Game will be held.

If you’re curious what an AUDL game on ESPN3 looks like, take a peak at what transpired out in California this past weekend. There were an extraordinary number of great highlight reel plays!

Baseball’s back on the air at 7 PM, with the Sox looking to snap their six-game losing streak. For more on the skid, Kevin Heller’s red-hot hitting, and other hot-off-the-presses game notes, simply scroll down!

Talk to you soon,
Evan

April 17, 2014 7:00 PM Salem Red Sox (6-7) vs Carolina Mudcats (8-5) Game # 14
Five County Stadium        Zebulon, NC        Road Game # 7
Probable Starters: LHP Corey Littrell (0-1, 1.69) vs RHP Cole Sulser (0-1, 2.53)

Streaking in the Wrong Direction: Salem won its first five games of the 2014 season and matched a Carolina League record with 16 consecutive victories spanning two seasons, a streak that now seems in the distant past. The Sox suffered their first loss in 224 days last Wednesday and have gone 1-7 since their 5-0 start, dropping the last six. It’s Salem’s longest losing streak since May 9-13 of 2013, a six-game skid that began by getting swept in a doubleheader against Carolina. The Salem Red Sox have not lost seven straight August of 2012, when seven straight setbacks occurred from August 9 to August 15.

The Constant: While the team has enjoyed a tremendous peak and suffered through a deep valley, one Salem hitter has been hot from Opening Day to the present. Outfielder Kevin Heller, who’s been in the lineup for 10 of the team’s 13 games, is the only member of the club who’s reached base in every game he’s played. Consequently, Heller is hitting .433 (13-for-30), second-best in the league, and his on-base percentage is .541, #1 in the circuit. In fact, his on-base percentage is tops in the entire Advanced-A level, superior to any hitter in the California League and Florida State League too. Only two players in the minors, Memphis’ Joey Butler and Albuquerque’s Joc Pederson, have better OBPs than Heller entering Thursday night.

Sloppy Sox: Salem did not help itself defensively in Wednesday’s doubleheader. The Red Sox committed two errors in each game of the twin-bill, giving them 17 miscues in 13 games, third most in the league. Looking back, one of the keys to Salem’s remarkable championship run in 2013 was the team’s sensational defensive consistency. Salem made only 114 errors in 140 games last year, fewest in the league. Moreover, the Sox made multiple miscues only seven times in the entire second half and just twice in the final 36 games.

Leadoff Lacking: One of the sources of Salem’s struggles has been the inability to put the leadoff man on base. In 13 games, Red Sox leadoff hitters are batting only .126, the lowest clip in the league. Wilmington’s second worst with a .172 average, while everyone else is at .215 or higher. Matty Johnson is just 1-for-19 (.053) leading off innings. Ironically, the Sox have hit a league-best .307 with runners on base. Johnson’s 8-for-18 (.444) with men on.

Monitoring Mookie Madness: While Salem’s 16-game winning streak ended eight days ago, one streak we’re still watching is continuing to unfold in Double-A, where second-baseman Mookie Betts has reached base in 10 straight games to begin the 2014 season. Considering that Betts reached safely in the final 35 games of 2013, including the playoffs, he has now recorded at least a hit or a walk in 45 consecutive games dating back to last August. In these 45 games between Salem and Portland, Betts is hitting .425 (71-for-167). In 10 games with the Sea Dogs, Betts is hitting .450 (18-for-40) with five walks and only three strikeouts. In addition to Betts, former Salem catcher Blake Swihart has enjoyed a fine start to his time in Double-A. In eight games, Swihart is batting .323 (10-for-31) with two doubles, a triple, and five RBI for the 7-4 Sea Dogs.

Slumping Sox Hope Road Can Be Panacea

Every year, when my friends ask if Salem’s gonna be good this year, I say the following: Sometimes we’ll be good and sometimes we’ll not be so good. That’s baseball, especially in the minors, when rosters ebb and flow like daily tides. In the moment, I may not actually be that eloquent in my uage of simile. But the reality’s that, in most minor league seasons, there’ll be stretches when you win 20 out of 30 and other times when you lose 20 out of 30. This much I have learned over my first six years in minor league baseball.

While we still don’t have a very large sample size at the moment, the Sox have already experienced two distinct stretches in 2014: the 5-0 start and the 1-5 reality check since.

Perhaps the 5-0 start should really be looked at as a 4-0 start and a 2-5 stretch in the aftermath, since Salem’s four-game sweep over Myrtle when the Sox outscored the Pelicans 22-5 bore little resemblance to the home opener, when the Sox squeaked past the Dash in a 12-11 slugfest.

Once again, it all comes down to pitching.
Four road games: 36 IP, 4 ER, 1.00 ERA, 44 K, 5 BSeven home games: 63 IP, 45 ER, 6.43 ERA, 67 K, 28 BB

LewisGale Field has always been considered a pitcher-friendly ballpark too! Not so far in 2014.

Alas, the Red Sox travel to Five County Stadium in Zebulon, just outside the state capital of North Carolina for a three-game series with the Carolina Mudcats. Obviously, Salem’s hoping that the road can be a magical elixir.

By the way, the Salem Red Sox have won their last 12 road games, a streak that began on August 22 in Myrtle Beach, a measly 236 days ago. Salem’s last road loss came on August 21 when the Sox fell 5-0 to the Pelicans. Since then, the Sox won their final five road games of the 2013 regular season, prevailed in all three playoff road games, and swept the Pelicans in four straight by the Beach to begin 2014.

We’ll find out tonight (weather permitting, of course) if the Sox can win their 13th straight road game or lose their 5th straight game overall.

Either way, you better believe we’ll be streaking tomorrow…

Broadcast begins at 7 PM and the game notes are below…
Talk to you soon,Evan

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April 15, 2014 7:00 PM Salem Red Sox (6-5) vs Carolina Mudcats (6-5) Game # 12
Five County Stadium        Zebulon, NC        Home Game # 5
Probable Starters: RHP Luis Diaz (1-0, 0.00) vs RHP Michael Peoples (0-0, 4.91)

Ready for the Road: Perhaps a week-long excursion through North Carolina will cure Salem’s sudden struggles. After all, the Sox are a perfect 4-0 on the road so far this season, one of five teams in the minors who are currently unbeaten away from home in 2014. Myrtle Beach, who just swept the Red Sox in four straight at LewisGale Field, is a perfect 7-0 on the road, while the Triple-A Durham Bulls, the Double-A Frisco Rough Riders, and the Low-A Savannah Sand Gnats are also undefeated on the road entering Tuesday’s action. In the last two seasons, Salem has gone 13-7 at Carolina and 26-14 against the Mudcats overall. The Sox begin this journey having dropped five of their last six games. Salem and Carolina are tied for second in the Carolina League Southern Division, one game behind first place Myrtle Beach.

Eight Straight: No Sox hitter has had a hotter start to the season than outfielder Kevin Heller, who has reached base safely in each of the eight games he’s played. While he’s batting .440 (11-for-25) overall, the Brooklyn, NY-native has registered four hits and three walks in his last two games. His on-base percentage has climbed to a league best .563, and his .680 slugging percentage trails only Myrtle Beach’s Joey Gallo, who’s hit five home runs in his last five games for the surging Pelicans. Heller owns five extra-base hits on the season, tied with Mario Martinez and Jonathan Roof for the team lead. Heller’s tied with Ryan Dent for the team lead in total bases with 17.

Bitten By the Bug: Numerous Red Sox had super starts derailed by some minor nagging injuries. Outfielder Aneury Tavarez finished a triple shy of the cycle in Salem’s home opener last Tuesday, but tweaked a hamstring late in the game that kept him out of the lineup for the rest of the homestand. Infielder Reed Gragnani, who hit .421 with a .500 OBP in five games, took a cleat into the knee while covering second base on a steal attempt on Friday night, knocking him from the lineup the rest of the weekend. In addition, William Cuevas, scheduled to start on Monday, was scratched with some arm soreness, though he expects to be on the mound for his next turn in the rotation. Salem has also been without Jose Vinicio since the first road trip; the Opening Day shortstop injured his shoulder diving headfirst into first base on Saturday, April 5.

From Salem to Stardom: While Salem’s 16-game winning streak ended last Wednesday, one streak we’re still watching is continuing to unfold in Double-A, where second-baseman Mookie Betts has reached base in 10 straight games to begin the 2014 season. Considering that Betts reached safely in the final 35 games of 2013, including the playoffs, he has now recorded at least a hit or a walk in 45 consecutive games dating back to last August. In these 45 games between Salem and Portland, Betts is hitting .425 (71-for-167). In 10 games with the Sea Dogs, Betts is hitting .450 (18-for-40) with five walks and only three strikeouts. In addition to Betts, former Salem catcher Blake Swihart has enjoyed a fine start to his time in Double-A. In eight games, Swihart is batting .323 (10-for-31) with two doubles, a triple, and five RBI for the 7-4 Sea Dogs.

Monday Morning Game Notes

Salem wraps up its first homestand with an 11:05 AM start against Myrtle Beach.

All the info you’re looking for is in today’s game notes:

April 14, 2014 11:05 AM Myrtle Beach Pelicans (6-4) vs Salem Red Sox (6-4) Game # 11
LewisGale Field        Salem, VA        Home Game # 7
Probable Starters: LHP Victor Payano (0-1, 6.00) vs RHP William Cuevas (1-1, 2.45)

Stumbling Sox: After starting the season 5-0, the Salem Sox have dropped four of their last five, including three straight at home against Myrtle Beach. On Monday morning, the Sox will hope to avoid being swept at home in the four-game series with the Pelicans. After batting .270 and scoring 34 runs in their first five games, the Red Sox are only hitting .224 with 21 runs in the last five. In addition, Salem pitchers issued only seven walks in the first five games, but have walked 22 in the last five. After Monday’s finale, the Salem Sox will hit the road for a week-long trip through Carolina and Winston.

Crowded Company: After sitting in first place by themselves since Friday, April 4, the Salem Sox are suddenly in a three-way tie atop the Carolina League Southern Division. Carolina, Myrtle Beach, and Salem all enter Monday’s matchups with 6-4 records. Myrtle Beach is the only team in the Carolina League that has been in the playoffs for each of the last three seasons, while Carolina has not made the postseason since joining the Carolina League in 2012. Interestingly, Salem’s first 18 games of 2014 are against Southern Division opponents.

Kevin’s Seven: Outfielder Kevin Heller has reached base safely in all seven games he’s played, raising his average to .409 with two more hits on Sunday.  The outfielder from Brooklyn has gone 9-for-22 with four extra-base hits, six RBI, four walks, and two steals. Perhaps most notable has been his clutch performance, collecting hits in four out of six chances with runners in scoring position and two outs. A year ago, Heller went 0-for-9 in very limited playing time with Salem in the Carolina League. He played his college baseball at Amherst, the same school that Boston Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington attended.

Matty’s Mission: Salem has utilized a number of different lineups thus far in 2014, but through 10 contests, Matty Johnson has been a staple at the top of the order. While he has collected 10 hits and four walks in his 10 games, he has also reached on errors four times, often forcing infielders into bad throws because of his great speed. This past Thursday, Johnson collected four hits and three RBI in Salem’s 9-8 victory on his 26th birthday.

From Salem to Stardom: While Salem’s 16-game winning streak ended last Wednesday, one streak we’re still watching is continuing to unfold in Double-A, where second-baseman Mookie Betts has reached base in nine straight games to begin the 2014 season. Considering that Betts reached safely in the final 35 games of 2013, including the playoffs, he has now recorded at least a hit or a walk in 44 consecutive games dating back to last August. In these 44 games between Salem and Portland, Betts is hitting .426(69-for-162). In six games with the Sea Dogs, Betts is hitting .457 (16-for-35) with five walks and only three strikeouts. In addition to Betts, former Salem catcher Blake Swihart has enjoyed a fine start to his time in Double-A. In seven games, Swihart is batting .333 (9-for-27) with two doubles, a triple, and four RBI.

The World Series Trophy Comes to Salem

2013 World Series Game 6: St. Louis Cardinals v. Boston Red Sox

Of the four major sports, baseball’s championship trophy probably has the least memorable name. Everyone knows the Stanley Cup, and the Lombardi Trophy is certainly a familiar moniker. Perhaps fewer know that the NBA champ wins the Larry O’Brien Trophy. But do you even know what the World Series Trophy is called?

I must admit, I looked it up. It’s called the Commissioner’s Trophy. It should be better than that, right? Maybe it’ll become the Selig Trophy one day, although I’m not sure that’s a good idea either. It just seems like a somewhat likely scenario in the aftermath of Selig’s tenure.

Today, the World Series Trophy, with all its gold pennants, comes to Salem, VA to visit LewisGale Field. It should be a special night at Salem Memorial Ballpark.

Once again, Kevin Burke will have the call on AM 1240 WGMN and salemsox.com starting at 6 PM.

If you’re curious to see what professional ultimate frisbee looks like, log on to watchespn.com at tune in at 10 PM eastern for the San Francisco Flame Throwers and the San Jose Spiders. Should be fun!

AUDL ESPN3

Here are today’s game notes:

April 12, 2014 6:05 PM Myrtle Beach Pelicans (4-4) vs Salem Red Sox (6-2) Game # 9
LewisGale Field        Salem, VA        Home Game # 5
Probable Starters: RHP Sam Wolff (0-1, 1.80) vs LHP Corey Littrell (0-0, 0.00)

Championship Weekend: On Friday night, members of the 2013 Mills Cup Champions received their rings in a pregame ceremony. Tonight, everyone at LewisGale Field will get to enjoy an up close visit with Boston’s 2013 World Series Trophy. Numerous former Salem Red Sox players earned World Series rings last year, including Xander Bogaerts, Daniel Nava, Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Alex Wilson. Since the Red Sox affiliation began in 2009, 24 players have ascended from the Carolina League to the majors. For a full list, see the chart on the final page of these notes.

First, Not Foremost: For the seventh time in eight games, the Salem Sox struck first in Friday’s series opener against Myrtle Beach. With a three spot in the last of the second, the Red Sox established the early position. But for the first time in 2014, scoring first did not translate into a victory. Last year, Salem won 68% of its games when scoring first, going 53-25 in such situations. Down the stretch, however, the Sox scored first in 10 of their last 11 games en route to a championship. Dating back to last August 28, the Sox have scored the first run in 17 of their last 19 games, going 17-2 in this stretch.

From Salem to Stardom: One streak we’re still watching is continuing to unfold in Double-A, where second-baseman Mookie Betts has reached base in six straight games to begin the 2014 season. Considering that Betts reached safely in the final 35 games of 2013, including the playoffs, he has now recorded at least a hit or a walk in 42 consecutive games dating back to last August. In these 42 games between Salem and Portland, Betts is hitting .426(66-for-155). In six games with the Sea Dogs, Betts is hitting .464 (13-for-28) with four walks and only three strikeouts. In addition to Betts, former Salem catcher Blake Swihart has enjoyed a fine start to his time in Double-A. In six games, Swihart is batting .348 (8-for-23) with a double, a triple, and four RBI.

Second Time Success: When Kevin Heller made a very brief appearance with the Salem Red Sox in 2013, he did not leave a strong impression. After all, in limited playing time, he went 0-for-9. But in getting assigned to start 2014 in the Carolina League, Heller has enjoyed a completely different experience and is impacting the ball every night he’s in the lineup. The outfielder from Brooklyn has recorded hits in each of the five games he’s played, going 7-for-17 for an average of .412. Friday may have been his best game with the bat yet, reaching base three times with a double, a triple, and a walk.

Matt’s Bat: After starting just 1-for-8 in his first two games, first-baseman/DH Matt Gedman has gone 9-for-35 (.360) since, recording multiple hits in four of his last six games. The lone Massachusetts native on Salem’s roster has gone 4-for-8 and scored three runs in his last two contests, raising his season average above .300 for the first time. Gedman is one of three members of the Sox who have played every game thus far in 2014, along with Ryan Dent and Matty Johnson. Dent is batting .310 in eight games, while Johnson is hitting .278, having served as Salem’s leadoff hitter in every game.

Bring on the Bling #GameNotesRhymeTime

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The front office received their rings over the winter. The championship players and coaches receive them tonight!

April 11, 2014 7:05 PM Myrtle Beach Pelicans (3-4) vs Salem Red Sox (6-1) Game # 8
LewisGale Field        Salem, VA        Home Game # 4
Probable Starters: RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez (0-1, 4.91) vs RHP Justin Haley (0-0, 6.00)

Bring on the Bling: Before tonight’s game, the members of the Salem Sox who were part of last year’s championship team will receive their rings. There were 12 members Salem’s Opening Day roster who will be collecting their jewelry tonight, not to mention Pitching Coach Kevin Walker and Athletic Trainer David Herrera, both of whom return from last year. The Sox won the title by sweeping Potomac in the finals, clinching the Mills Cup on September 10, 2013, exactly 12 years after Salem’s last championship. The Avalanche, a Rockies affiliate won the Carolina League crown in 2001. Salem previously won three other Mills Cups in 1972, 1974, and 1987.

Back on Track: When Salem trailed 1-0 after the third inning on Wednesday, it marked the end of a remarkable run of never playing from behind. Salem had been either tied or ahead at the conclusion of the previous 80 innings, spanning more than eight full games, before the Dash scored a run on Tim Anderson’s double in the third. Winston went on to beat Salem 4-2, snapping Salem’s 16-game winning streak. But the Red Sox returned to their winning ways on Thursday night, scoring the game’s first tally for the 16th time in their last 18 games dating back to last year. In fact, the Red Sox have not lost back-to-back games since August 12 and 13 of last year. Since then, Salem has gone a ridiculous 28-4 in its last 32 games, with half of those losses coming in shortened seven-inning doubleheader games.

Lets Talk Betts: One streak we’re still watching is continuing to unfold in Double-A, where second-baseman Mookie Betts has reached base in six straight games to begin the 2014 season. Considering that Betts reached safely in the final 35 games of 2013, including the playoffs, he has now recorded at least a hit or a walk in 42 consecutive games dating back to last August. In these 42 games between Salem and Portland, Betts is hitting .426(66-for-155). In six games with the Sea Dogs, Betts is hitting .464 (13-for-28) with four walks and only three strikeouts. In addition to Betts, former Salem catcher Blake Swihart has enjoyed a fine start to his time in Double-A. In five games, Swihart is batting .368 (7-for-19) with a double, a triple, and three RBI.

Myrtle’s Fertile: While Salem swept the Pelicans in four straight in the season opening series, Myrtle Beach responded by winning the first three games of its road trip to inch back within a game of .500. After losing four games by the combined score of 22-5 against Salem, the Pelicans outscored Wilmington 15-11 and won three close games in Delaware. Perhaps most notable was Thursday’s performance from power-hitting third-baseman Joey Gallo, who launched his first two home runs of the season. In 2013, Gallo hit 40 homers for the year, most in the minor leagues.

Demand Command: The small size is still quite small, but through seven games, the Salem Sox pitching staff has set an amazing tone in terms of throwing plenty of strikes. Collectively, Salem hurlers have struck out 77 batters thus far, 11 more than the next-highest total in the Carolina League. In addition, Sox pitchers have issued only 14 walks, seven fewer than the next-smallest amount of free passes. And this comes after the Red Sox hurlers walked a season-high five on Thursday night. Salem’s bullpen has only walked two in 23.2 innings so far this year. Salem and Myrtle Beach enter this series with exactly the same ERA, tied at 3.29 (23 ER/63 IP). The two clubs are tied for the second best ERA in the league behind Carolina, who sits at 3.14.

Today Brings a New Opportunity

Life in the minors is a constant grind, for players, coaches, front office staff, and broadcasters too! It’s long hours, few days off, and still very rewarding. This blog, in particular, has been a labor of love over the past few seasons. During Salem’s run to a championship last September through the five-game winning streak to begin 2014, I have been very fortunate to have so many good times to chronicle and reflect upon. In the midst of all this, readership has swelled, a rewarding dynamic and something I’m very grateful for.

As many of you might already know, my passion for broadcasting is only matched by my passion for the sport of ultimate. Last year, I had the privilege of serving as the color analyst for USA Ultimate’s coverage on ESPNU and ESPN3, working tournaments in May, July, and October. It was a thrill to be able to contribute and help showcase a spectacular game that not enough people are familiar with. I had the privilege to meet so many great people, and I’m very appreciative that USA Ultimate and ESPN have asked me to return to their events in 2014.

About a month ago, I was contacted by an executive with the AUDL. What’s the AUDL? It’s the American Ultimate Disc League, a professional ultimate league beginning its third season with 17 teams located in different cities around the United States and Canada. The league was in the process of finalizing a deal to broadcast a featured showcase game every week on ESPN3, and it asked me if I might be interested in being a part of it. It was a tremendous honor to be approached, and after a bunch of conversations with many different people, I realized how amazing of an opportunity it was.

I’m fortunate to have a pretty fantastic relationship with my baseball bosses. They are much more my friends than my bosses. I’m very lucky. So when I discussed this opportunity with them, they were very open and encouraging. And in the end, they gave me the go-ahead to continue to pursue it.

So here’s the deal: As Ultiworld reported earlier today, I am thrilled to share that I will be AUDL ESPN3traveling North America over the next four months to broadcast ultimate for the AUDL. On Friday, I’ll soar cross-country to San Francisco for the season opener on Saturday! Next week, I get to visit the great city of Montreal! It’s all super exciting and I’m so curious to see how the next months unfold.

Where does that leave me with the Salem Sox? I’ll still be in the booth for the vast majority of the season. The 2014 roster is full of intrigue, our coaching staff is a genuinely great group to spend time around, and obviously we’ve gotten off to an amazing start, the best in franchise history!

When I’m gone, I guarantee Salem fans will enjoy the voices that will be heard in my stead. There will be some very talented broadcasters who will help me out, and I’m excited to call some games with them and to listen to them while I’m racing through a terminal somewhere, rushing to catch a flight.

Tonight, Kevin Burke, a 2012 Virginia Tech alum and a superb broadcaster who will be the “Voice of the Traverse City Beach Bums” this spring, will join me for the rubber game of the series against the Dash. Kevin will have the call of Friday and Saturday’s action, and travel karma permitting, I’ll be back on Sunday afternoon.

The daily batch of fresh factoids in the form of Salem Sox game notes are below!
Talk to you soon,Evan

P.S. If you’re curious, here’s a map of the teams in the AUDL. Pick a favorite! (Click on it to make it easier to read)

Team Map

******

April 10, 2014 7:05 PM Winston-Salem Dash (3-3) vs Salem Red Sox (5-1) Game # 7
LewisGale Field        Salem, VA        Home Game # 3
Probable Starters: RHP Brad Goldberg (0-1, 4.50) vs RHP Luis Diaz (1-0, 0.00)

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc: Salem’s franchise record and Carolina League tying 16-game winning streak came to an end on Wednesday night, falling to the Winston-Salem Dash 4-2. It was just the second time in the last 17 games that Salem failed to score the game’s first run, snapping a stretch of eight consecutive games when the Red Sox did score first. Consequently, the chances of winning shrunk, and Salem’s threat of a ninth inning rally did not come to fruition. In the life of the 16-game hitting streak, which spanned from August 28, 2013 to April 9, 2014, the Sox hit .267, pitched to a Team ERA of 1.53, and outscored their opponents 82-33. In fact, one-third of their runs allowed during the 16-game streak came in the final its final victory, a 12-11 nailbiter at LewisGale Field on Tuesday night in the 2014 home opener. With a 5-0 start to the new season, Salem set a new franchise record for best start to a season. The 16-game winning streak matched the 1950 Winston-Salem Cardinals for the longest winning streak in the history of the Carolina League.

A Proportional Response: When Salem trailed 1-0 after the third inning on Wednesday, it marked the end of a remarkable run of never playing from behind. Salem had been either tied or ahead at the conclusion of the previous 80 innings, spanning more than eight full games, before the Dash scored a run on Tim Anderson’s double in the third. Salem scored first in 15 of the 16 games in the winning streak, an obviously unsustainable pattern for all of eternity.

Let Diaz Be Diaz: Salem’s top starting pitcher during the winning streak was unquestionably Luis Diaz, the hard-throwing righty from Venezuela who dealt 20 scoreless innings during the streak. He tossed seven scoreless against Frederick on August 29 in his second ever Carolina League appearance. Then, he dominated with eight shutout frames in the postseason opener against Myrtle Beach on September 4. He continued his brilliance this past Saturday, with five innings of shut-down ball in Myrtle Beach in his first start of 2014. Tonight will mark his fifth Carolina League start; he’s allowed two earned runs in 26 innings so far at this level.

He Shall, From Time to Time: One streak we’re still watching is continuing to unfold in Double-A, where second-baseman Mookie Betts has reached base in six straight games to begin the 2014 season. Considering that Betts reached safely in the final 35 games of 2013, including the playoffs, he has now recorded at least a hit or a walk in 41 consecutive games dating back to last August. In these 41 games between Salem and Portland, Betts is hitting .424(64-for-151). In six games with the Sea Dogs, Betts is hitting .458 (11-for-24) with four walks and only two strikeouts. In addition to Betts, former Salem catcher Blake Swihart has enjoyed a fine start to his time in Double-A. In five games, Swihart is batting .368 (7-for-19) with a double, a triple, and three RBI.

And It’s Surely to Their Credit: The small size is still quite small, but through six games, the Salem Sox pitching staff has set an amazing tone in terms of throwing plenty of strikes. Collectively, Salem hurlers have struck out 70 batters thus far, 13 more than the next-highest total in the Carolina League. In addition, Sox pitchers have issued only nine walks, half as many as the next-smallest amount of free passes. Salem’s bullpen has only walked two in 23.2 innings so far this year. In addition, there have only been three shutouts so far in Carolina League action in 2014, and the Salem staff has combined for two of them.

Salem Shooting for 17th Consecutive Victory

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The Winston-Salem Cardinals won 16 consecutive games in June of 1950.

What kind of day has it been?

Well, if the Salem Sox win on Wednesday, they will rise above the 1950 Winston-Salem Cardinals, who have held the record for the longest winning streak in the Carolina League for 64 years.

Additionally, the Red Sox, at 5-0 in 2014, are one of just two remaining undefeated teams in all of professional baseball. From A-ball to the majors, only Salem and Triple-A Buffalo are still unbeaten, although one could argue that Mother Nature has beaten the Bisons a few times. Buffalo has three wins and three rainouts.

It has already been a historic start to the season, and here’s hoping that today adds even more mystique to this magical baseball experience…

Some fresh game notes, with perhaps an even more impressive streak inside the streak, are below…

It’s been 224 days now since Salem last lost. To quote the cast of Les Miserables, one day more?

Talk to you soon and thanks for reading,
Evan

April 9, 2014 7:05 PM Winston-Salem Dash (2-3) vs Salem Red Sox (5-0) Game # 6
LewisGale Field        Salem, VA        Home Game # 2
Probable Starters: RHP J.B. Wendelken (0-1, 3.60) vs RHP William Cuevas (1-0, 0.00)

An Unprecedented Opportunity: For the first time ever, a Carolina League baseball team will take the field looking to break the 64-year-old record of the 1950 Winston-Salem Cardinals. Just five years into the creation of the Carolina League, Winston won 16 games in a row, a feat that was never equaled until Tuesday night, when the Salem Red Sox warded off the Winston-Salem Dash for a 12-11 victory in the home opener at LewisGale Field. Salem improved to 5-0 to start a season for the first time in franchise history, and more incredibly, the Red Sox won their 16th straight game dating back to August 28, 2013. Salem won its final six regular season games last year, garnering all five playoff games too to end the season on a 11-game winning streak that prefaced the super start of 2014. A victory on Wednesday night would give Salem 17 straight wins, the longest streak in Carolina League history. Since 1950, there have only been two Major League winning streaks longer than Salem’s sweet 16: in 2002, Oakland won 20 in a row; in 1953, the Yankees won 18 straight.

Leading Legends: Unbelievably, it’s possible that Salem’s streak of 16 straight victories is the second most impressive fact of the day. Somehow, the Red Sox have played eight straight games without trailing for a single inning! The last time the Red Sox were behind in a game was on September 5, 2013 during game two of the Southern Division Championship Series against Myrtle Beach. Down after two innings that day, the Sox tied it in the fifth and have not trailed since. Therefore, at the conclusion of each of the last 78 innings, the Red Sox have either been tied or ahead.

Cuevas’ Continued Quest: After dealing six scoreless innings on Friday night in Myrtle Beach, Salem starter William Cuevas takes the ball at LewisGale Field tonight, his first chance to pitch at home since earning the victory in the clinching game of the Mills Cup Championship series. On September 10, 2013, Cuevas allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings as Salem beat Potomac 6-4 to wrap up a series sweep. In his last 18 starts, including the playoffs, Cuevas has gone 9-3 with a 3.67 ERA since June 11, 2013. This is a drastic improvement from his first 10 Carolina League starts, where he went 1-6 with a 7.31 ERA to begin last season.

In The Zone: Even after allowing 11 earned runs on Tuesday night, Salem still has the top ERA in the league through five games. Salem’s 3.00 ERA has been created, in large part, by the consistent ability to pound the strike zone. In fact, the Red Sox pitching staff has accumulated 58 strikeouts and issued just seven walks, the most punchouts and the fewest free passes of any team in the league. There have only been three shutouts so far in Carolina League action in 2014, and the Salem staff has combined for two of them.

The Magic Before the Streak: Last summer, on July 30, the Salem Sox took the field with a 51-56 record, losers of four straight, and situated five and a half games out of first in the Carolina League Southern Division. That night, an amazing late-game comeback gave the Red Sox a 6-5 walk-off win in 10 innings over Potomac, beginning an unbelievable stretch of baseball. After winning the final game of July, the Sox went 22-8 in August and won both regular season games in September, finishing the year 25-8 in the final 33 to win the second-half Southern Division title by six games. The momentum clearly carried over into the postseason, with back-to-back one-run wins over the Pelicans advancing the Sox into the finals.  In the championship series, brilliant pitching bulldozed the Sox past the Nationals in the first two road games, and Sean Coyle drove in four runs in Salem’s 6-4, Mills Cup clinching win on September 10.  While Coyle was named MVP of the Championship Series, it came in a DH role. Salem’s MVP of the stretch run was undoubtedly second-baseman Mookie Betts, who reached base safely in his final 35 games of the season, including the playoffs. In that stretch, he hit .417 (53-for-127) with 16 extra-base hits and 32 RBI. Betts and Coyle both have begun the new season well with Portland; each has homered already in 2014 for the Sea Dogs.

The Final Call from Sweet 16

What a night!

It’s after midnight, I’m still at the park, and I’m not the least bit tired.

I know that this minor league winning streak barely registers on any meaningful mainstream sports radar. But as someone who has worked in professional baseball for seven years now, it represents one of the more unprecedented and unlikely accomplishments to witness and be a part of. From last August, when the Salem Sox caught fire to go 22-8, to September, when the ballclub played nearly perfect baseball and rolled to the championship without a single setback, to today, when the new group of Salem ballplayers became the first team in the history of baseball in this town to begin a season 5-0 and extend the overall winning streak to 16 consecutive games, it has been just an absolute pleasure to be along for the ride.

As of Tuesday night at 10:33 PM, the 1950 Winston-Salem Cardinals and the 2013-14 Salem Red Sox are the only teams in the 70-year history of the Carolina League to cherish winning streaks of 16 games. On Wednesday, we’ll see if Salem can stand alone, or if the 2014 Winston-Salem Dash strike back in defense of the legacy of their local baseball ancestors.

Usually, life in the minors in April is all about how individuals are faring, adjusting, and either succeeding or floundering in their pursuit of the ultimate goal. Regardless of their progress, it’s always still early, and drawing any ultimate conclusions is generally futile. You really don’t know how a kid will adapt to the long season at a new level. Being able to study the day-to-day development of different human beings looking to advance in a game of failure is really what following minor league baseball is about. And trust me, it’s a fun and rewarding job.

But in April of 2014, we are enjoying a remarkable context where the team and franchise are the focus, much more than the individuals. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in baseball. Forty-two players over 223 days with two different managers have somehow won 16 consecutive games wearing a Salem Red Sox jersey. Read that last sentence again.

We’re gonna lose one of these days. I think. Unless we go 140-0, at which point I think the national media might pick up on this story and Carlos Febles might be managing in the big leagues. But regardless of what happens going forward, the mystique of this 16-game experience will linger forever.

If you missed it, here’s the recap of Tuesday’s topsy-turvy contest, which Salem barely hung on to win 12-11: http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20140408&content_id=71422944&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_t414&sid=t414

And here’s the final call on the radio:

Homecoming and History for the Champs

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It’s a beautiful day for baseball in Salem. The sun is shining, the Red Sox are undefeated, and the defending Carolina League champs will take the field at home for the first time since hoisting the Mills Cup last September.

It’s always subject to change until first pitch, but here’s the lineup the Sox will use as they try to accomplish something that no other Carolina League team has done in the last 64 years:

  1. Matty Johnson RF
  2. Jonathan Roof LF
  3. Carson Blair C
  4. David Chester 1B
  5. Matt Gedman DH
  6. Mario Martinez 3B
  7. Aneury Tavarez CF
  8. Ryan Dent SS
  9. Reed Gragnani 2B

LHP Brian Johnson, Boston’s 1st round pick in 2012 out of Florida, will make the start on the mound. Five days ago, Johnson dealt five solid innings and earned the win in the opener in Myrtle Beach.

For much more on Salem’s 15-game winning streak, check out yesterday’s blog post with all the details of the club’s pursuit of history.

It’s great to be back home, and I look forward to enjoying the brilliant view showcased in the above picture around 7 PM, when the radio broadcast commences on AM 1240 WGMN in the Roanoke Valley and streamed online here.

April 8, 2014 7:05 PM Winston-Salem Dash (2-2) vs Salem Red Sox (4-0) Game # 5
LewisGale Field        Salem, VA        Home Game # 1
Probable Starters: RHP Mike Recchia (0-0, –) vs LHP Brian Johnson (1-0, 1.80)

Evidence of Things Not Seen: Following a four-game sweep of Myrtle Beach, the Salem Sox return home for their 2014 home opener, the first game at LewisGale Field since clinching a Carolina League championship on September 10, 2013. The first game at home to begin a new season is always special, but tonight could be historic! First of all, Salem has never started a season 5-0. But perhaps more significantly, the Red Sox are the first Carolina League team in 55 years to win 15 straight games, and a win on Tuesday night would tie the circuit’s 64-year-old record for longest winning streak. In 1950, the Winston-Salem Cardinals won 16 straight games en route to a championship. Nine years later, in 1959, the Raleigh Capitals won 15 games in a row. Since then, no team has compiled a greater winning streak than the 2013-14 Salem Sox. Appropriately, the Red Sox will need to beat Winston-Salem to match, and perhaps break, the record.

Burying the Birds: Salem never trailed in its four-game sweep over Myrtle Beach, outscoring the sloppy Pelicans 22-5 in South Carolina to start the 2014 season. Salem pitchers permitted only four earned runs in the series, issuing just five walks. On the other hand, Myrtle Beach hurlers walked 26 Red Sox batters in the series, half of which came in the season opener this past Thursday. While the Red Sox did not exactly rake with runners in scoring position (12-for-50, .240) in the series, the Pelicans could not buy a clutch hit, batting .087 (2-for-23) with men in scoring position over the four games.

More Maniacal Minutiae: Salem’s current winning streak includes six straight wins to conclude the 2013 regular season, five straight postseason wins en route to the Mills Cup last September, and four decisive triumphs over Myrtle Beach to begin 2014. Overall, the Red Sox have outscored their foes 70-22 over the 15 games, with 42 different players taking the field. Offensively, the 22 position players have only combined to bat .259 over the past 15 games, but the pitching staff has been completely dominant, compiling a miniscule ERA of 0.94. The only player to appear in every single game during the streak is Matty Johnson, who’s actually been somewhat chilly offensively, hitting only .211 (12-for-57) over the 15 games. Luis Diaz has made three starts on the mound during the streak and has pitched 20 scoreless innings.

Wahoo: Despite not even playing in the opener, second baseman Reed Gragnani leads the squad with seven hits on the young season. The former All-ACC infielder at Virginia has gone 7-for-12 with a walk and two RBI. On Saturday, Gragnani went 4-for-5, the second four-hit experience as a pro; he also registered four hits on July 4, 2013 in Lowell’s 4-2 win at Tri-City. If not for Gragnani, the Salem Sox would be hitting only .210 as a team through four games.

The Magic Before the Streak: Last summer, on July 30, the Salem Sox took the field with a 51-56 record, losers of four straight, and situated five and a half games out of first in the Carolina League Southern Division. That night, an amazing late-game comeback gave the Red Sox a 6-5 walk-off win in 10 innings over Potomac, beginning an unbelievable stretch of baseball. After winning the final game of July, the Sox went 22-8 in August and won both regular season games in September, finishing the year 25-8 in the final 33 to win the second-half Southern Division title by six games. The momentum clearly carried over into the postseason, with back-to-back one-run wins over the Pelicans advancing the Sox into the finals.  In the championship series, brilliant pitching bulldozed the Sox past the Nationals in the first two road games, and Sean Coyle drove in four runs in Salem’s 6-4, Mills Cup clinching win on September 10.  While Coyle was named MVP of the Championship Series, it came in a DH role. Salem’s MVP of the stretch run was undoubtedly second-baseman Mookie Betts, who reached base safely in his final 35 games of the season, including the playoffs. In that stretch, he hit .417 (53-for-127) with 16 extra-base hits and 32 RBI. Betts and Coyle both have begun the new season well with Portland; each has homered already in 2014 for the Sea Dogs.

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