Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Potential Marauders' All-Stars

The Florida State League All-Star Game will be played at McKechnie Field in a little over two weeks. And since the FSL doesn't publish a running total of all-star votes, we can only speculate which Marauders will get to represent the South Division in front of their hometown fans.
So let the speculation begin. Here is a list of Marauders who may have a chance to play in the game, scheduled for Saturday, June 14.

Josh Bell, RF: Bell, pictured above, has performed well despite having to anchor a lineup ranked near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. Bell is hitting .303 following today's 3-0 win over the Tampa Yankees with 29 RBIs and 11 doubles, and though he has hit just four home runs, his three triples have helped him to a .462 slugging percentage, good for ninth in the league. A switch hitter, Bell has found success against lefties (.288) and righties (.312). Plus, it wouldn't hurt the All-Star game to have the host team's best player on one of the rosters.

Orlando Castro, P: Forget the modest record (3-2) and look at what the lefty has done for Bradenton this season, beginning with the 2.91 ERA in 55 2/3 innings. He has walked just seven while striking out 41, and opposing batters are hitting .229 off of him. He's really been impressive at hitter-friendly McKechnie Field, where Castro is 2-1 with 2.80 ERA in six starts. Opponents are hitting .190 against him in Bradenton.

Jonathan Schwind, OF: He has only logged 106 at-bats in 31 games, making Schwind ineligible for the batting race. Too bad, because his .330 clip would have him right near the pack. His late start will also deter some voters, too, even though Schwind is slugging .453 and has an on-base percentage (.395) hovering around .400. Schwind is hitting .375 over his last 10 games, so he is getting hot at the right time. Consequently, he could be a selected as an alternate if an All-Star gets promoted to Double-A prior to the game.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Opening night

That cursive yellow B can only mean one thing:
The Marauders are back in Bradenton.
The high Single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates opens its fifth season in a half four against the Charlotte Stone Crabs, aka the Baby Rays, after the teams split their first two games at Charlotte Sports Park.
A little twist this season: The Marauders will be on the visiting side of the field (third-base side) and will be utilizing the visiting teams' bullpen and dugout. Construction of the home clubhouse, perhaps? We'll see.
Here are the lineups:

Andrew Toles, cf
Tyler Goeddel, 3b
Leonardo Reginatto, ss
Kes Carter, rf
Justin O'Connor, c
Hector Guevara, 2b
Marty Gantt, lf
Josh Sale, dh
Jonathan Quinonez, 1b
Jeffrey Ames, p

Jeff Roy, cf
Jonathan Schwind, lf
Adam Frazier, ss
Josh Bell, rf
Jose Osuna, dh
Max Moroff, 2b
Jordan Steranka, 1b
Jacob Stallings, c
D.J. Crumlluch, 3b
John Kuchno, p

Monday, December 2, 2013

Players use Twitter to mourn the loss of Evan Chambers

Evan Chambers appeared in 395 games in the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization, 186 of those as a Bradenton Marauder in 2011 and '12.
That was enough time for him to make a positive impact on his teammates.
Chambers, 24, died in his sleep over the weekend, and current and former members of the Pirates' organization took to Twitter to express their grief.
"RIP Evan Chambers," wrote Pirates prospect Austin Meadows. "Great guy, God bless his family and friends."
"Completely heartbroken," added Brock Holt, a former Pirates farmhand who was dealt to the Boston Red Sox last year. "Evan Chambers was as good as they come. Can't believe you're gone. Love you brother, always."
Tony Sanchez, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2009 who made his pro debut last year, wrote that news of Chambers' passing "makes me sick", and former Pirate/current Baltimore Oriole prospect Aaron Baker lamented the loss of his former roommate.
"I love you man," Baker tweeted, "and I will miss ya..."
Neal Huntington, the Pirates' general manager, issued a statement on behalf of the team.
“All of us at the Pittsburgh Pirates are shocked and saddened by Evan’s sudden passing in his sleep this past weekend," Huntington wrote. "Beyond being just a talented ballplayer, Evan was a great teammate and a quiet leader who went about his craft as a professional every day.  Off the field, Evan loved making a difference in the community, and often dedicated a lot of his time working with children in the communities in which he played.  Our heartfelt sympathies and prayers go out to his family for this unimaginable loss.  He was far too young.  He will be missed.”
Chambers graduated from Lakeland High School and was drafted by the Pirates out of Hillsborough Community College in 2009.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

McKechnie Field's renovations considered the year's best

McKechnie Field's $10 million overhaul was named as the Best Ballpark Renovation (over $1 million) for 2013 by Ballpark Digest.
"There is so much history at McKechnie Field," Kevin Reichard, the publisher of Ballpark Digest, said in a statement. "But historically, it's not been one of the most inviting venues in the Grapefruit League. The renovations really added to the fan comfort - and the fans responded by coming out in droves."
The upgrades included a 360-degree, 19,000-square foot boardwalk featuring a tiki bar, concession stand, party deck and bleachers.
An additional 2,000 seats and new flip-up chairs were installed, along with an old-time scoreboard, and a new fan plaza with palm trees and more concessions stands was built along the concourse.
A record 93,433 fans flocked to McKechnie last spring to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have called Bradenton their spring home since 1969. And the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates' Single-A affiliate who have been playing Florida State League games at McKechnie since 2010, also set an attendance record by drawing 109,845 in 62 openings during the summer.
“The renovations kept the best parts of McKechnie Field – the intimate atmosphere – while adding more comfort and accessibility,” Reichard said. “It a great day when a historic venue like McKechnie Field can get a substantial upgrade and still retain its unique nature. That’s the very nature of a successful ballpark renovation.”

Friday, September 27, 2013

Marauders release 2014 schedule

The Bradenton Marauders released the schedule for the 2014 season, which marks the franchise's fifth anniversary serving as the high Single-A affiliate for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Marauders open the season 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 3 at Charlotte Sports Park against the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
Their home-opener is 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 5 at McKechnie Field, also against the Stone Crabs, the high-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Marauders host the Florida State League All-Star Game 7:05 p.m. Saturday, June 14. It is the first time the game will be played at McKechnie Field.
All non-Sunday home games will be played 6:30 p.m.  Sunday home games begin 1 p.m. in April and May and 5 p.m. in June, July and August.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Remembering the night Jeff Locke ruined my dinner plans

Few places in Bradenton are more aptly named than Ball Park Deli & Sub Shop, located a short fly ball away from McKechnie Field, which is the spring home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the summer home of the Bradenton Marauders, the Pirates' high Single-A team.
Ball Park became a haven for me of sorts during the summer of 2010, when I started chronicling the Marauders' inaugural season.
My routine went like this: I'd head to the Marauders clubhouse at around 5, get my interviews, grab a spot in the press box, grab a sub from Ball Park (which closed at 6) and spend the rest of the night working on a feature while working my way through a scrumptious sub the length and width of a baseball bat.
It was a good plan. It worked.
Then along came Jeff Locke.
I was covering the Marauders the night after Armando Galarraga, pitching for the Detroit Tigers at the time, came within an out of tossing a perfect game before he was done in on a blown call by first-base umpire Jim Joyce.
As galling as it was for fans to watch Galarraga's quest for greatness get snatched away so unfairly, I figured it was more so for a fellow pitcher, who knows how hard it is to get three professional hitters out in a row, let alone 27.
It was about 5:30 or so when the Marauders' pitchers finished their stretching and tossing and began making their way back into the clubhouse to grab some dinner.
The first guy I saw was Locke, which was good, because not only was he one of the better pitchers on the staff (he went 9-3 that year before a promotion to Double-A Altoona), but he was one of the few guys I hadn't talked to.
So I made my way over and we started chatting. Off the bat, he was one of the nicest and most articulate people I have interviewed.
Lots of eye contact, lots of good answers. This wasn't a guy spouting out a bunch of yes and no answers - he and his teammates watched Galaragga's shot at history get wiped away by a mistake, and Locke, who had never met Galaragga, was hurting for him.
“It’s sad, it’s shocking,” Locke told me that night. “Honestly, as a pitcher, you’re speechless.”
Turns out, Locke lost two no-hitters in the seventh inning twice the season before against the Salem Red Sox, but considered himself lucky because he lost them on clean hits rather than close calls.
“It’s wacky how you can do that — 27 up, 27 down,” Locke said. “Especially because the major-league strike zone is like a postage stamp. It’s tough to throw strikes over that plate and not have professional baseball players hit them.”
We spoke for awhile, after which I thanked Locked for his time and made my way out of the clubhouse. Then I noticed the time: It was 5:55. No way I'd make it to Ball Park in time. Jeff Locke had been such a good interview he forced me to alter my dinner plans.
But I really didn't care. I got a pretty decent column out of it, and, most importantly, a better understanding of Locke.
As I write this, the Pirates are 51-30 and owners of baseball's best record. And Locke, who won a spot in the rotation this spring, has been a revelation, posting a 7-1 record and 2.06 ERA in 16 starts.
Maybe the Pirates will ride this wave all the way into the postseason for the first time since 1992. And maybe Locke will get to pitch in a playoff game. If he does, I'll be sure to watch. And while my diet is much better now than it was three years ago, I may have to celebrate the moment with a sub from Ball Park.
I just have to remember to get there before 6.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gregory Polanco selected for Futures Game

Gregory Polanco is headed to New York City.
The former Bradenton Marauder and one of the Pirates' top prospects, Polanco has been selected to play in the 15th All-Star Futures Game, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, July 14, at New York's Citi Field.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Polanco will play for the World Team.
Polanco, 21, began this season with the Marauders. He hit .312 with 30 RBIs and 24 steals in 57 games before he was bumped to Double-A Altoona, where he is batting .313 with six RBIs and a home run in eight games.
Entering this season, Polanco was ranked the 51st-best prospect by Baseball America and 65th by
Dilson Herrera, 19, an infielder, will also represent the Pirates in the Futures Game. He was named the Gulf Coast League's Player of the Year in 2012 while with the GCL Pirates and is currently with low Single-A West Virginia.