The Last Trip To Kinston & Big Monday Notes
Before the season, it was announced that the Kinston Indians organization would move to Zebulon, NC and become the Carolina Mudcats in 2012. With that news, every journey through the Carolina League’s smallest city became slightly more sentimental over the past few months.
On Sunday afternoon, in the unrelenting heat, the Salem Sox split a doubleheader with the K-Tribe in their final visit to Grainger Stadium of 2011, and perhaps ever. At this time, it is unknown whether or not a professional baseball team will inhabit Kinston’s charming 62 year-old-ballpark moving forward.
The past few days in Kinston were made doubly nostalgic by the fact that longtime K-Tribe broadcaster Chris Hemeyer called his final Indians games on Sunday afternoon. The talented Hemeyer, whose professionalism and talent served as an example that I’ve looked up to since I joined the Salem organization in 2009, has taken a job at Campbell University as the new “Voice of the Camels.” He was understandably emotional while wrapping up his final postgame, and as I walked toward the bus, leaving Kinston for possibly the final time, I also realized that there were things about this venue I would miss in the future.
Though not a boon for my overall physique, I have become a connoisseur of concessions cuisine around the Carolina League in the past few years. Kinston’s chicken tender sub would win first prize in my personal ballpark dinner sweepstakes. Breaded tenders, melted white american cheese, and a hot, toasty hoagie, with scrumptious cajun-seasoned krinkle-cut fries often comfortably sat in my digestive chamber as the opening billboards of the broadcast began. Best pre-game meal in the league.
Additionally, while the location of the visiting hotel in Kinston never was ideal (basically next to a Hardees with nothing else nearby), the beds in our rooms were always absolutely perfect. They were comfortable enough for Gods, let alone measly broadcasters. The softness and plushness of the situation made it the best night’s sleep in the league. I’ll miss those beds.
Lastly, wonderful food and cozy rest are important, but the people at Grainger Stadium remain the #1 thing I’ll miss about visiting Kinston. Steve, the official scorer, always had a smile on his face. Fred, the Hawaiian-born scoreboard operator, often felt compelled to yell “Aloha” to Jon Hee over the PA (always embarrassing the former Salem infielder in the process). David Hall, the long-time beat writer for K-Tribe baseball, became a knowledgeable source and, more importantly, someone I really looked forward to catching up with. And of course Chris Hemeyer, whom I already mentioned, delivered Kinston baseball over the airwaves with creativity and energy, while also bringing a professionalism to his daily approach that I try to embody every day.
Kinston is not perfect, but I hope that baseball returns to Grainger Stadium. And if you head there for a ballgame over the next month or another time down the road, enjoy a chicken tender sub for me. It will be a good choice.
The road trip continues tonight in Woodbridge, with Chris Hernandez looking to win his 11th ballgame, which would tie him with Winston’s Cameron Bayne and Frederick’s Bobby Bundy for the league lead. We’re on the eve of Strasburg-mania here in Potomac, as the P-Nats are expecting the Washington righthander to continue his rehab on Friday night at Pfitzner Stadium.
Hope you’ll spend some of your Monday night with Kevin Burke and I on the broadcast at 7:05, airing live on NewsTalk 960 WFIR and online at www.salemsox.com.
Thanks for reading, and talk to you soon!
P.S. Your vaguely-themed NCAA game notes for Monday are below.
August 8, 2011 7:05 PM Salem Red Sox (50-61, 19-23) vs Potomac Nationals (59-49, 21-18) Game #112
Pfitzner Stadium Woodbridge, VA Road Game #58
Probable Starters: LHP Chris Hernandez (10-5, 2.50) vs RHP Paul Demny (7-10, 5.08)
The Final Four: With the regular season scheduled to wrap up four weeks from tonight, the Red Sox and Nationals begin their final series of the summer this evening at Pfitzner Stadium. After dropping two out of three to Kinston, Salem sits five and a half back of Winston-Salem in the Southern Division. Potomac currently trails Frederick by three games in the Northern Division chase, but leads Lynchburg by six games in its bid for the final playoff spot in the North. The Red Sox have 28 games remaining on their schedule, including the completion of a suspended game against Wilmington (Blue Rocks up 2-0 in the 2nd).
Lack of Institutional Control: At times, Salem’s inability to throw strikes over the weekend was jarring. Red Sox pitchers issued nine walks in eight innings on Friday, seven in seven in game one on Sunday, and an outrageous 10 in six in the finale of the doubleheader. All together, Red Sox pitchers 26 walks in just 21 innings pitched, handing the Indians countless opportunities that came back to bite them in the end. Seven walks became runs, including the go-ahead tallies in both Kinston victories. Pete Ruiz walked a career-high six in two and a third innings on Sunday. Will Latimer, who had never issued more than two in a game this year, walked three in a single frame in game one of the twin-bill. Even Anthony Ranaudo, who’s control has typically been stellar, walked a career-high four, all coming in the final two frames of his five-inning outing.
A Kickoff Classic: Derrik Gibson reached base twice in the first inning on Sunday, continuing a remarkable run of providing immediate impact. Gibson doubled to begin the ballgame on Friday, improving his first-inning batting average to .588 (10-for-17). He drew first-inning walks in both contests on Sunday, raising his first inning on-base percentage to .682. In 22 games batting first this season, Gibson has hit .286 (24-for-84) with and on-base percentage of .394. After his average dipped to .207, Gibson has hit .325 since July 14, bringing his full-season clip to .234.
Second-Half Stud: With two more hits in Sunday’s first game, Kolbrin Vitek improved his second-half clip to .327 (51-for-156), tops in the Carolina League since the All-Star break. His team-best 38th multi-hit performance improved his full-season average to .288, third-best in the circuit behind Winston’s Jose Martinez and Lynchburg’s Andrelton Simmons. After hitting .308 (32-for-104) in July, Vitek has been on fire in August, going 10-for-20 (.500) in five games played. Vitek also belted his second homer as a Salem Sock on Friday night, a solo shot in the sixth off Indians righthander Clayton Cook.
The Headmaster: Since July 23, first-baseman Miles Head has rediscovered his sensational first-half form, hitting .353 (18-for-51) over his last 14 games. In this stretch, his Carolina League batting average has surged from .229 to .276. He’s also reached base in 14 of his last 15 games. Promoted to Salem on June 28, Head lead the South Atlantic League with a .338 average at the time of his call-up. For the season, the 20-year-old Georgia-native has 18 homers and 69 RBI between the two levels.