It is with bittersweet emotions that I share this fact with you: I will not be working for the Salem Red Sox anymore.
When I became the “Voice of the Salem Sox” in 2009, it was a dream come true. The past six seasons have been full of rewarding relationships and thrilling opportunities. And, obviously, I have grown immensely as a broadcaster, a writer, a person, and a professional.
I know I will miss many things: walking the concourse at LewisGale Field before a game, being around the batting cage during BP, the honor of saying the words “Welcome to Salem Red Sox Baseball” at the opening of a new broadcast. I’ll miss my friends in the front office. I’ll miss the devoted and loyal listeners who would e-mail often to comment, praise, or critique. I’ll miss many aspects of the day-to-day baseball lifestyle. I’ll miss the privilege of being a small part of the team, riding the bus with the guys and almost always being welcome in the clubhouse. I’ll miss talking baseball with Carlos Febles, Billy McMillon, Bruce Crabbe, Kevin Boles, and Chad Epperson, the five managers I had the pleasure of working with, not to mention the countless coaches, trainers, rovers, scouts, and Boston Red Sox front office staffers that I had the remarkable fortune of connecting with as colleagues, and in many cases, as friends. I’ll miss my frequent chats with the talented Aaron McFarling of the Roanoke Times and the other relationships I’ve enjoyed with media members in the Roanoke Valley, in New England, and around the country. Quite simply, I will miss the team and this job way more than they will miss me.
If I am going to miss it all so much, why am I leaving?
It is a combination of a new, expanded opportunity and the right timing. As many readers of this blog know, my passion for broadcasting might only be exceeded by my passion for the sport of ultimate, known to many as ultimate frisbee. And over the past two years, I have been able to combine these two passions at the highest level, serving as one of the commentators for ESPN’s coverage of USA Ultimate’s collegiate championships and club championships as well as becoming the primary play-by-play voice of the AUDL, a professional ultimate league, on ESPN3.
Much like being the “Voice of the Salem Sox,” these ultimate endeavors brought me tremendous satisfaction and often opened the doors to experiences I had never thought possible. Whereas working in Salem allowed me to serve as the Public Address announcer at Fenway Park for a Boston Red Sox game in 2011, my role in ultimate provoked the thrill of journeying to Dubai last week to call the World Championships of Beach Ultimate, a quadrennial event that wrapped up on March 13.
Over the upcoming months, I will be devoting myself to the sport of ultimate. The AUDL season begins on April 11, at which time I’ll have the privilege of traveling North America to watch and broadcast the fourth season of this surging professional league. And when I’m not on the air, I will be looking to tell stories and create context in a variety of ways that can help the sport grow.
Unlike dreaming of broadcasting Red Sox baseball (and, in somewhat storybook fashion, fulfilling that dream), the upcoming ultimate journey on which I am about to embark is not like anything I ever could have imagined. I will miss baseball, but I am also brimming with enthusiasm for this ultimate adventure.
While generic all-encompassing thank yous can often seem hollow, please know that I truly have an otherworldly appreciation for how lucky I have been in crossing paths with so many great people throughout my time in the Carolina League. Ryan Shelton and Allen Lawrence, the current duo of dynamic Salem Red Sox leaders, made my time at the ballpark such a treat. They will be friends of mine forever, I hope. Previous General Managers John Katz and Todd Stephenson both took chances on me and enabled me to learn, grow, and make mistakes. I am grateful for their patience and guidance. Around the Carolina League, there were many other broadcasters whom I considered mentors and friends. I am thankful for their help, wisdom, and perspective.
I look forward to being an occasional guest with my successor, a talented and polished baseball voice that some long-time Salem Sox listeners will be familiar with. The team will announce his identity very soon. I know he’ll confidently take the torch and do a fine job moving forward.
If you see me, I would love to talk baseball, ultimate, or anything. Please say hey. Or feel free to e-mail me at evanlepler at gmail dot com.
Talk to you soon, somewhere or another…
The situation: Game One of the Southern Division Championship Series, Salem and Myrtle Beach tied 1-1 in the top of the 10th inning, Red Sox pinch-runner Dreily Guerrero at first base and catcher Jake Romanski at the plate, ready for a 1-2 pitch from Pelicans reliever Abel De Los Santos.
And the pitch….
Salem won the game 3-1 in 10 innings. Hours afterward, I was still just shaking my head, marveling at the madness.
Looking at the replay afterwards, it was impossible to say for sure whether the ball was fair or foul. The video was simply inconclusive.
I spent some time in the Salem clubhouse afterwards, and opinion was mixed. Some were confident it was fair. Others disagreed. The only unanimous notion was that it was absurdly close.
Around the 30 second mark in the video below, you can a very brief look at it. You’ll probably need to watch it multiple times to see the baseball.
Clearly, the Red Sox relievers down the left-field line in the bullpen, perhaps in a dose of wishful thinking, saw it fair. Unquestionably, Pelicans left-fielder Ryan Cordell, a Liberty alum, showed his respectable wheels in his furious sprint toward the umpire.
There was a lengthy delay before play resumed, following three ejections and the most controversial Carolina League homer in a long time.
Hey, at least Joe Mikulik kept his clothes on this time…
Game two of the series is Thursday night, and the Salem Sox can lock up a return trip to the Mills Cup Finals with one more win.
Biggest storyline heading into game two: Will Joe Mikulik make it through the pregame meeting with the umpires at home plate without getting tossed? Gotta be at least a 15-20% chance he gets run before the first pitch, right?
Even if that happened, it would be hard to create a crazier scene that what transpired in the 10th inning on Wednesday.
Southern Division Championship Series (Best of Three)
Game One: Wednesday, 9/3 – RHP Jacob Dahlstrand (3-0, 2.81) vs. RHP Sam Wolff (9-5, 3.37)
Game Two: Thursday, 9/4 – RHP Pat Light (6-6, 4.93) vs LHP Luis Parra (10-7, 4.71)
Game Three (If necessary): Friday, 9/5 – LHP Cody Kukuk (4-7, 5.26) vs LHP Chad James (4-3, 2.74)
September 3, 2014 7:05 Salem Red Sox (68-68, 35-33, 0-0) vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans (82-56, 38-32, 0-0)
TicketReturn.Com Field Myrtle Beach, SC S.D.C.S Game One
RHP Jacob Dahlstrand (3-0, 2.81) vs. RHP Sam Wolff (9-5, 3.37)
Soxtember: The defending Carolina League Champions return to the playoffs on Wednesday night, kicking off a best-of-three battle in Myrtle Beach for the right to advance to the Mills Cup finals. A season ago, Salem rolled through the postseason with five consecutive wins en route to the title, including a two-game sweep of the Pelicans in the Southern Division Championship Series. The Sox won two nailbiters over the Birds in 2013, 1-0 and 4-3, both in 10 innings. Incredibly, Salem has won six straight games in the Divisional round heading into tonight. That includes last year’s sweep, a three-game sweep of Winston-Salem in 2009, and the series-winner over Kinston in 2007 as the Avalanche, an Astros affiliate. This is Salem’s third time in the postseason in its six years as a Boston Red Sox farm club.
Bring on the Birds! Salem went 11-8 against Myrtle Beach in 2014, sweeping the Pelicans four straight at their place to begin the season in April and winning seven of the final nine regular season meetings in the second half. The Sox scored 105 runs against the Pelicans in 19 games, an average of more than five and a half per contest, while holding Myrtle to 80 runs, 4.2 per game. Even though Myrtle hit more homers than any other team in the league, the Sox out-homered the Pelicans 17-15 in their 19 head-to-head matchups.
Vini, Vidi, Vici: Heading into action on August 17, Salem shortstop Jose Vinicio was 11-for-73 on the season, a .151 clip over 24 games. Since then, the youthful infielder has caught fire, going 23-for-56 (.411), the top average in the Carolina League during this stretch. In the process, he has raised his season average from .151 to .264. The next best batting average in the circuit since August 17 belongs to Jantzen Witte, who’s hit .375 (24-for-64) since then.
Full Season Sensations: While Matty Johnson’s 30-game on-base streak came to an end on Friday, the Salem outfielder still enjoyed a remarkable season, in which he led the league in hits (141) and runs (104). Last Wednesday, Johnson became the seventh player in the minors to reach 100 runs scored in 2014, and he became the first Salem player to steal 40 bases in a season since Juan Sosa in 1998. While Johnson’s been scoring the runs, Carlos Asuaje and Jantzen Witte have consistently been driving them in. Both Asuaje and Witte are in the top 30 in the minors in RBI for the season. In 129 games, Asauje’s total of 101 RBI was 10th in minor league baseball, and he also owns 38 doubles, 12 triples, 15 homers, and a .310 average. Witte finished 26th in the minors with 93 RBI in 130 games, in which he collected 44 doubles, 6 triples, 12 homers, and a .312 average. Only three players in all of minor league baseball finished with more doubles than Witte in 2014.
Second’s Spectacular: While Potomac’s Tony Renda finished at the top of the Carolina League batting chart (among qualifiers) with a .307 clip, the only other player in the league with a .300 average for the entire season was Salem second-baseman Reed Gragnani. The UVA-alum went 108-for-360 to bat .300 right on the nose. He hit .365 in April, .317 in May, .306 in June, .195 in July, and .278 in August. In addition, his .409 on-base percentage ranked #1 in the circuit for the year. He also struck out at the lowest rate in the league, going down on strikes only once for every 8.49 plate appearances. Gragnani was Salem’s lone representative on the postseason Carolina League All-Star Team.
A Similar Story: In 2013, the Salem Sox were five games below .500 heading into their final game in July. The Sox won that July 30th contest in walk-off fashion, proceeded to go 22-8 in August, and carried the momentum into a perfect September that culminated in a Mills Cup. In 2004, the Salem Sox were eight games below .500 heading into their final game in July. A walk-off win in the July finale preceded another strong August, in which the Sox went 18-10 to get back to the .500 mark for the season. The Sox clinched a playoff berth on August 29 in 2013 and August 30 in 2014. Salem’s gone 44-19 in its last 63 August ballgames, a winning percentage of .698, dating back to 2012.
August 31, 2014 1:35 Salem Red Sox (67-67, 34-32) vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks (64-71, 31-36) Game # 135
Frawley Stadium Wilmington, DE Road Game # 68
RHP Simon Mercedes (4-10, 5.08) vs RHP Miguel Almonte (6-7, 4.61)
Back in the Dance!: For the first time since 2006-07, Salem has clinched a spot in the Carolina League Playoffs for the second straight season. The Red Sox wrapped up its place in the 2014 postseason by sweeping a twin-bill in Wilmington on Saturday night, creating a familiar first round matchup. The Sox will face the Pelicans in the Southern Division Championship Series for the second year in a row. Salem swept Myrtle Beach last year, winning back-to-back one-run victories, each in 10 innings. If the Pelicans win one of their final two games or if the Sox lose one of their final two games, the entirety of the S.D.C.S will take place in Myrtle Beach.
Vini, Vidi, Vici: In the last two weeks, Salem shortstop Jose Vinicio has conquered all pitching that he’s seen. With multiple hits in nine of his last 13 games. Vinicio has gone 21-for-48 (.438) in the last two weeks, the top average in the Advanced-A level during this stretch. In the process, he has raised his season average from .152 to .264. Prior to August 17, Vinicio had been just 11-for-73 at the plate on the year. The 21-year-old infielder had never experienced four straight games with multiple hits in his career prior to this past week, and on Friday night he registered his first three-hit game of the 2014 season.
Full Season Sensations: Even though Matty Johnson’s 30-game on-base streak came to an end on Friday, the Salem outfielder still leads the Carolina League in hits and runs. On Wednesday, Johnson became the seventh player in the minors to reach 100 runs scored in 2014, and he became the first Salem player to steal 40 bases in a season since Juan Sosa in 1998. While Johnson’s been scoring the runs, Carlos Asuaje and Jantzen Witte have consistently been driving them in. Both Asuaje and Witte are in the top 20 in the minors in RBI for the season. In 126 games, Asauje’s total of 99 RBI is 11th in minor league baseball, and he also owns 37 doubles, 12 triples, 15 homers, and a .313 average. Witte is tied for 20th in the minors with 93 RBI in 128 games, in which he’s collected 44 doubles, 6 triples, 12 homers, and a .313 average. Only three players in all of minor league baseball have more doubles than Witte in 2014.
Useful Utility: Infielder Dreily Guerrero has not been an everyday guy, but he has contributed in his spots, especially since the All-Star Break. Guerrero is batting .316 in August and .300 in the second half. In addition, the 23-year-old Dominican launched his third homer of the season on Friday night, a two-run blast in Salem’s four-run fourth in Frederick. His round-tripper ended Salem’s 10-game drought without a long-ball.
Battling for a Batting Title: Salem’s lone representative on the Carolina League’s postseason All-Star squad is second baseman Reed Gragnani, who currently possesses the second-best batting average in the league among qualifiers at .298. In addition, his .408 on-base percentage is tops in the circuit. With two days remaining in the regular season, Gragnani trails Potomac’s Tony Renda by six points in the race for the batting title.
A Similar Story: In 2013, the Salem Sox were five games below .500 heading into their final game in July. The Sox won it in walk-off fashion, proceeded to go 22-8 in August, and carried the momentum into a perfect September that culminated in a Mills Cup. In 2004, the Salem Sox were eight games below .500 heading into their final game in July. A walk-off win in the July finale preceded another strong August, in which the Sox have gone 17-10 to get back to the .500 mark for the season. The Sox clinched a playoff berth on August 29 in 2013 and August 30 in 2014.
We’re coming down the stretch of the 2014 regular season. Six games left over the next five days. Still a lot to determine.
Check out today’s notes to read about Salem’s end-of-the-year All-Star, and the one guy who absolutely should have been an All-Star who ended up snubbed.
August 28, 2014 7:00 Salem Red Sox (65-65, 32-30) vs. Frederick Keys (62-69, 30-34) Game # 131
Harry Grove Stadium Frederick, MD Road Game # 64
LHP Cody Kukuk (4-6, 4.92) vs RHP Sebastian Vader (2-4, 4.71)
Sensational Split: The Salem Sox used a clutch comeback to earn a win in Wednesday’s nightcap, resulting in a one-game lead in the Southern Division wild card race with five days remaining in the season. The Sox will have six games in the next five days, including a twin-bill on Saturday in Wilmington, while the Carolina Mudcats have just five games left. The Sox also enter Thursday night with a game and a half deficit toward Myrtle Beach. While Myrtle Beach’s standing does not impact Salem’s quest to make the playoffs, the Pelicans’ position is relevant in regard to a possible home game for the Sox in the S.D.C.S. If the Pelicans were to win the 2nd half, they would host all games in the best-of-three series.
Reed All About It: Salem’s lone representative on the Carolina League’s postseason All-Star squad is second baseman Reed Gragnani, who currently possesses the third-best batting average in the league among qualifiers at .299. In addition, his .406 on-base percentage is tops in the circuit.
Snubbed, Still Streaking: It’s easy to argue that Salem outfielder Matty Johnson was the most deserved ballplayer to be omitted from the end-of-the-year Carolina League All Star squad. The speedster has been an amazingly consistent regular for the Sox, playing in 126 of Salem’s 130 games. In addition, his production has been superb, considering he leads the league in hits (137) and runs (100), while he’s second in on-base percentage, behind only Gragnani. On Wednesday, Johnson extended his consecutive games on base streak to 29, surpassing Carson Blair’s 28-game streak as the longest in the CL this season. In his streak, Johnson is batting .366 (41-for-112) with a .450 OBP and 28 runs scored. Also on Wednesday, Johnson became the seventh player in the minors to reach 100 runs scored in 2014, and he became the first Salem player to steal 40 bases in a season since Juan Sosa in 1998.
Suave-Eh?: His 11-game hitting streak came to an end on Tuesday, when he went 0-for-1 with three walks. But on Wednesday, Carlos Asuaje did his damage with the bat, going 1-for-3 in the first game and 4-for-4 with three doubles in the nightcap, his first four-hit game of the season. Dating back to August 14, Asuaje has recorded hits in 13 of his last 14 games, in which he’s batting .400 (22-for-55). For the full season, Asauje is batting .317 in 123 games between Greenville and Salem, with 37 doubles, 12 triples, 15 homers and 96 RBI. His RBI total is tied for the 10th most in all of minor league baseball in 2014.
Vini, Vidi, Vici: Salem shortstop Jose Vinicio is riding a remarkable hot streak into Thursday’s action, with multiple hits in seven of his last nine games. Vinicio has gone 14-for-31 (.452) in the last 11 days, raising his season average from .152 to .240. Prior to August 17, Vinicio had been just 11-for-73 at the plate on the year. The 21-year-old infielder had never experienced four straight games with multiple hits in his career prior to this past week.
August Awesomeness: Dating back to 2012, Salem is 41-17 (.707) in its last 58 games played in the month of August. The Sox won four of their final five games in August in 2012, went 22-8 in August of 2013, and are currently 15-8 in August of 2014. The Sox have hit 19 home runs in August, their most of any month all season. With that said, no Salem player has homered in any of the last nine games after the Sox blasted nine bombs in the previous five games.
August 23, 2014 6:05 Wilmington Blue Rocks (61-64, 28-29) vs. Salem Red Sox (62-62, 29-27) Game # 125
LewisGale Field Salem, VA Home Game # 65
LHP Jonathan Dziedzic (5-7, 2.61) vs LHP Cody Kukuk (4-6, 5.13)
Sox-Rocks Drama: Salem snuck past Wilmington in another nailbiter between the two clubs on Friday night, with the Sox overcoming a 3-1 deficit to prevail 4-3 in 10 innings. While the Sox have now won nine of 13 meetings against the Blue Rocks in 2014, the nine wins have come by a grand total of 15 runs, with eight of the nine victories coming by either one or two runs. On Friday, the Sox enjoyed their third walk-off win over Wilmington this year, with dramatic victories on May 5 and June 30 joining last night’s magic. Salem now has eight walk-off wins on the season.
A Dozen to Go: That’s not a takeout order, it’s Salem’s remaining schedule. Over the next 10 days, the Sox will play 12 more times, seven against Wilmington and five against Frederick. The Red Sox currently lead the Southern Division Wild Card race by two and a half games over Carolina, with Winston-Salem three games back. The Mudcats beat the Dash 8-7 on Friday night, and those two squads will meet six more times in the final 10 days of the season.
Carlos Cruising: While he was hitless in the first nine innings, Carlos Asauje delivered a clutch single in the 10th to extend his hitting streak to eight games in a row. He’s batting .305 (11-for-36) during this stretch, dating back to August 14 at Potomac. Since starting with one hit in his first 11 at-bats in the Caroilna League, Asuaje has gone 35-for-105, a .333 clip since July 22. The versatile Asuaje hit .305 in 90 games for Greenville earlier in 2014.
Matty Mania: While his 17-game hitting streak came to an end with an 0-for-3 on Tuesday, Matty Johnson has delivered multiple hits in his last three games, extending his consecutive games on base streak to 23 straight. In this stretch, Johnson is batting .386 (34-for-88) with a .471 OBP and 24 runs scored. The former top prospect out of Indy ball is leading the Carolina League in hits (130) and runs (96) and he’s second in on-base percentage (.378) and tied for second in stolen bases (37).
August Awesomeness: Dating back to 2012, Salem is 38-14 (.731) in its last 52 games played in the month of August. The Sox won four of their final five games in August in 2012, went 22-8 in August of 2013, and are currently 12-5 in August of 2014. Salem’s .289 team average this month is #1 in the league, with Matty Johnson’s .382 clip this month leading the way. Cody Kukuk, who starts on Saturday night against Wilmington, has a 1.80 ERA in two August starts, permitting only two runs and four hits in 10 innings on the hill. Jacob Dahlstrand, who starts on Sunday, is 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts in August.
Blackjack: The Red Sox reached 21 hits last Saturday night, the first time that Salem has recorded that many knocks since August 30, 2005, when the Rockies-affiliated Salem Avalanche pounded 23 hits in a 16-7 rout over Wilmington. Hunter Pence went 2-for-4 that day for Salem. Prior to Saturday night, the Salem Sox of 2014 had never registered more than 15 hits in a game, a feat they had achieved five times.
August 20, 2014 7:00 Salem Red Sox (60-61, 27-26) vs. Winston-Salem Dash (57-69, 27-30) Game # 122
BB&T Ballpark Winston-Salem, NC Road Game # 59
RHP Pat Light (5-5, 5.18) vs RHP Brandon Brennan (1-0, 3.00)
Seeing the Light: Salem’s eight-game winning streak came to an end on Tuesday night, with the Dash using one big inning to knock off the Sox in the series opener in Winston. With the wild card race tightening up, the Sox will send Pat Light to the hill for the middle matchup of the series hoping that the third time will be the charm. Light is 0-2 against the Dash on the season, losing to Winston on May 22 and June 19. In his last eight starts, Light has gone 4-1 with a 3.13 ERA since June 29.
Witte Remarks: Catching fire in his last three games, Jantzen Witte has gone 9-for-11 since the third inning on Saturday in the immediate aftermath of an 0-for-20 slump. The corner infielder doubled twice on Tuesday night in Winston, giving him 42 doubles on the year between Salem and Greenville. Only three players in all of the minors have more doubles than Witte, who also possesses a .309 average, 12 homers, and 84 RBI over his 116 games on the year.
Margot’s Multiples: With two more hits on Tuesday, Salem’s new center-fielder Manuel Margot recorded his third straight multi-hit effort and is now batting . 471 (8-for-17) in four games with the Sox. His round-tripper on Sunday was an exhilarating inside-the-park home run, which showcased his dynamic speed.. The 19-year-old has now recorded hits in 16 out of 17 games he’s played in August between Greenville and Salem, with an average of .452 (33-for-73) this month. At the time of his promotion last Friday, Margot was one of seven players in all of minor league baseball with double-digit homers and at least 30 stolen bases on the season. The 19-year-old Margot is the only member of that list under the age of 21.
Matty Hit, But No Hit: He reached base twice on Tuesday, but a walk and a hit-by-pitch could not extend his hitting streak, which ended at 17 games. He batted .391 (27-for-69) during this stretch, with two home runs, 12 RBI, and 18 runs scored. No other Carolina League player recorded a hitting streak longer than 16 games in the 2014 season.
Power Surge: With Mario Martinez’s two-run blast in the sixth inning on Tuesday night, Salem’s August home run count has blown away the total from the entire month of July. After only hitting eight in July, the Sox have already launched 19 bombs in August, more than any other month for the season. In the last week, Carlos Asuaje, Jantzen Witte, Kenrick Perkins, Jake Romanski, and Manny Margot have all hit multiple home runs.
Blackjack: The Red Sox reached 21 hits on Saturday night, the first time that Salem has recorded that many knocks since August 30, 2005, when the Rockies-affiliated Salem Avalanche pounded 23 hits in a 16-7 rout over Wilmington. Hunter Pence went 2-for-4 that day for Salem. Prior to Saturday night, the Salem Sox of 2014 had never registered more than 15 hits in a game, a feat they had achieved five times.
August Awesomeness: Dating back to 2012, Salem is 36-13 (.735) in its last 49 games played in the month of August. The Sox won four of their final five games in August in 2012, went 22-8 in August of 2013, and are currently 10-4 in August of 2014.
The Rest of the Way: After a three-game series with Winston, the Sox will play four at home against Wilmington this weekend (Friday thru Monday). Then, the Sox close the season with nine games in seven days on the road, five in four days in Frederick and four in three days in Wilmington.
Well, you probably know this by now, but this happened on Sunday:
Personally, I think it’s a tad unfortunate that Joe Mikulik’s madness gets this outrageous attention while Manuel Margot’s epic inside-the-park three-run homer never enters the public’s awareness, but I understand. Mikulik’s meltdown was pretty nuts.
Meanwhile, the Salem Sox are in the midst of another magical run. Will this amazing August lead to another surreal September? Only time will tell, but it’ll be fun to relax and enjoy the ride.
Salem kicks off a huge three-game series in Winston-Salem tonight at 7 PM, and the latest game notes are below.
August 19, 2014 7:00 Salem Red Sox (60-60, 27-25) vs. Winston-Salem Dash (56-59, 26-30) Game # 121
BB&T Ballpark Winston-Salem, NC Road Game # 58
RHP Joe Gunkel (3-4, 3.75) vs RHP Terance Marin (3-3, 4.06)
Eight Straight: The red-hot Salem Sox are in the midst of an unprecedent stretch of regular season success. Since 2009, the Red Sox have never won eight regular season games in a row during the same season until Sunday’s 9-1 rout over the Pelicans gave Salem and eight-game streak. The Sox have outscored their foes 54-25 over these past eight games, a sequence that began on August 7 with a 5-2 win over Lynchburg. The Red Sox did win 11 straight games to close the 2013 campaign, six to finish the regular season and five more in the playoffs. Plus, the Sox opened the 2014 season with five straight wins, creating a unique multi-season 16-game winning streak. With 16 games remaining in the 2014 season (to be played in14 days), the Sox have a three game lead over Winston for the final playoff spot in the Southern Division as the two squads kick off a three-game series tonight.
Manny Being Manny: The highly-touted outfield prospect, Manny Margot, bounced back from an 0-for-4 performance in his Carolina League debut by going a 6-for-9 night with a pair of three-run homers and seven RBI over his last two games. His round-tripper on Sunday was an exhilarating inside-the-park home run, which showcased 6is dynamic speed.. The 19-year-old has now recorded hits in 15 out of 15 games he’s played in August between Greenville and Salem, with an average of .449 (31-for-69) this month. At the time of his promotion last Friday, Margot was one of seven players in all of minor league baseball with double-digit homers and at least 30 stolen bases on the season. The 19-year-old Margot is the only member of that list under the age of 21.
Another Sensational Streak: While the Sox have won eight in a row, perhaps in even more impressive streak is Matty Johnson’s individual 17-game hitting streah, the longest batting streak in the Carolina League this season. He’s batting .391 (27-for-69) during this stretch, with two home runs, 12 RBI, and 18 runs scored in the last 17 contests.
Blackjack: The Red Sox reached 21 hits on Saturday night, the first time that Salem has recorded that many knocks since August 30, 2005, when the Rockies-affiliated Salem Avalanche pounded 23 hits in a 16-7 rout over Wilmington. Hunter Pence went 2-for-4 that day for Salem. Prior to Saturday night, the Salem Sox of 2014 had never registered more than 15 hits in a game, a feat they had achieved five times. The Sox also set a season-high with eight extra-base hits in the contest and matched a season-high with three home runs.
Bombs Away: With three more jacks on Sunday afternoon, Salem’s August home run count has blown away the total from the entire month of July. After only hitting eight homers in July, the Sox have already launched 18 bombs in August, more than any other month for the season.
In the last week, Carlos Asuaje, Jantzen Witte, Kenrick Perkins, Jake Romanski, and Manny Margot have all hit multiple home runs.
August Awesomeness: Dating back to 2012, Salem is 36-12 (.750) in its last 48 games played in the month of August. The Sox won four of their final five games in August in 2012, went 22-8 in August of 2013, and are currently 10-3 in August of 2014.
The Rest of the Way: After a three-game series with Winston, the Sox will play four at home against Wilmington this weekend (Friday thru Monday). Then, the Sox close the season with nine games in seven days on the road, five in four days in Frederick and four in three days in Wilmington.
(Editor’s Note: Eric Gallanty, a rising senior at Syracuse University, joined the Salem Red Sox broadcast team in mid-May. It’s his first experience working in professional baseball, and over the course of the season, he will detail some aspects of his journey through the Carolina League here on “Salem Sox Talk.” Follow along as the Connecticut-native gradually adapts to life down south.)
My journey through the Carolina League continues at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, VA. Home of the Potomac Nationals since 1984, “The Fitz” is certainly a unique place in the Carolina League. It makes you feel like you’re living in 1935 despite being built in the 80s. It’s the only spot in the league where there is no booth for the broadcasters, just one long row of a press box where everyone piles in. And with a lack of A/C, there can be some scorchers of afternoons in Northern Virginia. The Fitz has not been kind to the Salem Sox this year, with the Nationals taking all seven games so far. The excitement of the 7,000 plus fans in attendance for minor league rehabbers, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, and Wilson Ramos even rattled the press box, attached to the rows of metal bleachers directly below. It combines for the most unique atmosphere in the league, and gives the meaning of “unique” a multitude of definitions.
A couple new promotions popped up at the Fitz that fit the uniqueness of the place. There’s the Plunger toss, which has a fairly simple premise. Take a plunger, and try to throw it into a toilet bowl, which is brought out on the field. They bring out the same toilet onto the field for every game. I mean I guess the idea is original. Then there’s a tennis ball toss where each person in the press box gets to throw a ball out to the fans waiting below, with a free pizza the prize for catching. I did my best to find a Red Sox fan in the stands. A few times, some middle aged men would intercept the pass intended for a little kid, which makes me question the fine people of Prince William County.
On a serious note, it was quite a thrill to be at the Fitz to see the major league rehabbers Zimmerman, Harper and Ramos. Harper and Ramos both hit impressive major league home runs, with Zimmerman hitting over .300 in four games.
Another quirk of the Fitz is that it faces west, rather than most stadiums, which face east. So as the sun set on the longest day of the year, it smashed into the press box, giving me a suntan over my seven games there without even having to go to the beach. And creates an odd shadow pattern with the pitcher in the shade and batter in the light, which cause left fielders to misplay four balls in my time there. And the sun bakes on the press box, turning the cozy confines into a heat-infested inferno.
Also over the last few weeks, the Sox took a visit to Frederick, Maryland, as close to the Mason-Dixon line as I’ve been since I got down here. The fine folks in Frederick toe the line of a slightly ridiculous, yet unique back-story of their team name. The Keys are named after Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner and native of Frederick. In fact, a short stroll across the street from Harry Grove Stadium, the Keys home ballpark, is Key’s gravesite. Perhaps the idea of aimlessly exploring a cemetery isn’t the usual preparation for a baseball game, but just another part of my world in minor league baseball.
The most famous thing about Keys games, perhaps, is the Key song. During the seventh inning stretch, a song called “Shake Your Keys” blasts over the loud speaker as fans rattle their keys in support of their Club. If you think I’m kidding, check it out for yourself. I’ll let this post end with the beloved anthem of the Orioles High-A club.