Tag Archives: Skeeters

Spending Summer’s Last Gasp at the Ballpark

Today marks the first day of fall.

By and large fall, or autumn if you prefer, is my favorite season.

I enjoy the changing leaves, and the chill in the air, along with the various pumpkin flavored items that hit the grocery stores and restaurants this time of year to mark the season.

Of course having lived in Florida and Texas for the majority of my life, I usually have to settle on pumpkin flavored ice cream and chilled apple cider since for the most part  temperatures are still too hot for changing leaves and breaking out the fall coats.

But when I lived in Maryland as a much younger version of myself, I would visit the local apple orchard and pumpkin patch each year on school trips and jump into leaf piles that were above my head.

The Sugar Land Skeeters may be the road less traveled in the Houston area baseball scene but word is quickly spreading as the success grows. Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters may be the road less traveled in the Houston area baseball scene but word is quickly spreading as the success grows.
Photo R. Anderson

I may yet return someday to a land where autumn and other seasons exist but for now I will take part in the two Texas seasons of hot and not quite as hot.

So on the last day of summer with temperatures still in the low 90’s, I decided to mark the occasion with a baseball game.

After all baseball players are often referred to as the Boys of Summer so what could be more American than baseball to mark the end of summer?

When it came down to picking where to catch this fall eve last gasp of summer game I had the choice between the Houston Astros or the Sugar Land Skeeters since both teams were in town.

In true Robert Frost poem fashion it was much like I was standing before two roads, one well-traveled and one less traveled.

Were I to choose the more traveled road of the Astros, I would be watching a meaningless game in a mostly empty air conditioned Ballpark that seats 45,000 or so as the Astros went through the motions of finishing out another losing season that cannot end soon enough for players and fans alike.

Fans Gathered to see the Sugar Land Skeeters play the York Revolution on the final day of summer Sunday. Photo R. Anderson

Fans Gathered to see the Sugar Land Skeeters play the York Revolution on the final day of summer Sunday.
Photo R. Anderson

On the other hand, were I to choose the less traveled road that led to the Skeeters, I would be watching a game outside as nature intended in a much more fan-filled Ballpark as the Skeeters battled to clinch the Second Half division title.

With choices like that it was easy to pick the Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball over the Major League Baseball Astros.

That is not to say that I have completely given up on the Astros, but with some of the front office moves made by the team lately it becomes increasingly more difficult to justify spending MLB type money to see a lesser product.

I will continue to wish the Astros well in their rebuilding effort but for now will be voting with my wallet by not supporting them in person until they make more strides towards being a competitive team. That will not stop me from visiting Minute Maid Park next year to see my Orioles and Rays play however.

While many of the recent players for the Astros seem to be in over their heads at times as they try to establish their careers many of the players for Skeeters are just trying to hold on to their careers a little longer.

The Sugar Land Skeeters are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year.  Photo R. Anderson

The Sugar Land Skeeters are heading to the playoffs for the second straight year.
Photo R. Anderson

Players in the Atlantic League for the most part will not be confused with Major League All-Stars, with the exception of Scott Kazmir who parlayed a stint with the Skeeters into a return to the MLB All-Star Game.

Rosters are comprised of former Major Leaguers and other players who could not find a place on an affiliated team roster for whatever reason.

The play in independent leagues, such as the one the Skeeters call home, can sometimes be sloppy with routine plays turning into errors on occasion but for the most part the errors even out as both teams are making them.

But what the players lack in polished skills they more than make up for in heart and determination. That is not to say that there are not Major League baseball players who play with heart and determination but as a whole those seem to be the exception.

Consider this, with entire team salaries far below what a single Major League Baseball player would make the men who make up the Skeeters roster are playing for the love of the game and the chance to put on a show each night for a couple of thousand fans under the lights.

Gary Gaetti has managed the Sugar Land Skeeters for their entire three-year existence. Photo R. Anderson

Gary Gaetti has managed the Sugar Land Skeeters for their entire three-year existence.
Photo R. Anderson

They know that their playing careers are finite but while they can they will continue to play the game that many of them have played as far back as they can remember.

So with these reasons in mind my last day of summer was spent under the sun watching the Skeeters defeat the York Revolution to clinch that division title for a berth in the playoffs.

I will take a game with players giving their all on every play over a game with players going through the motions every time. Also, a reasonably priced concession stand does not hurt either.

Two game diverged in a field, and I – I took the one where the players have the most heart. And that has made all the difference.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some playoff tickets to buy.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

McGrady Shows That he Wants to Be Like Mike

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordon’s attempt to become a professional baseball player.

For those who may have been too young to know, or old enough to have forgotten, “Air Jordon” took a stab at being “Ballpark Jordon” during a stint with the Chicago White Sox Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordon's tenure as a Minor League Baseball player. Tracy McGrady is trying to be like Mike and make the rster of the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League. Photo R. Anderson

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordon’s tenure as a Minor League Baseball player. Tracy McGrady is trying to be like Mike and make the roster of the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.
Photo R. Anderson

As a 31-year-old multimillionaire with NBA titles under his belt Jordon certainly did not fit the mold of the typical Minor League Baseball player but in a gesture of good will towards his new teammates his “Airness” bought the team a new bus to travel all of the Southern League back roads on.

Throughout Jordon’s time with the Barons Ballparks across the Southern League sold out as fans crowded to see the future NBA Hall of Famer in action on the diamond.

Jordon’s time as a baseball player was also given the Hollywood treatment in the movie Space Jam.

When the Michael Jordon baseball carnival rolled into a Ballpark every media outlet in town sent a reporter and a photographer down to capture every swing of the bat and to capture the electricity in the stands.

By most accounts Jordon’s baseball career was a complete flop.

Or to put it more kindly Jordon was one of the many Minor League prospects who just don’t pan out and have to fall back on another career in order to put food on the table.

For Jordon the post baseball career included a return to the NBA and the Chicago Bulls and some more championships.

Now, 20 years after the Jordon baseball experiment another retired NBA star is set to try to find extra innings in his athletic career through Minor League baseball.

After retiring from the NBA, Tracy McGrady is trying to reinvent himself as a pitcher with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League.

While it is unknown if McGrady will earn one of the 27 roster spots available on the team his presence has already created a bit of buzz around the Skeeters facility.

At 6’8” McGrady creates a towering presence on the mound.

Former Houston Rocket Tracy McGrady is looking to join the ranks of the Sugar Land Skeeters as a pitcher. Photo R. Anderson

Former Houston Rocket Tracy McGrady is looking to join the ranks of the Sugar Land Skeeters as a pitcher.
Photo R. Anderson

Teams tend to like taller pitchers as they allow the ball to have more downward movement in most cases.

So from a size and stature standpoint McGrady has the intangibles to be a successful pitcher.

From a marketing perspective the Skeeters, fresh off of an Atlantic League crown, are benefiting from the publicity that comes from a former basketball player turned pitcher.

The Skeeters are also the team who lured Roger Clemens out of retirement to make a couple of starts during their inaugural season to stir up some publicity so they know a thing or two about putting on a show.

Like Roger Clemens who had both ties to Houston and a Hall of Fame worthy career, McGrady is also quite a household name around town with the local fan base since he was a member of the Houston Rockets.

Of course as Michael Jordon showed it is not easy to switch gears late in one’s career and try something completely new.

There have certainly been successful two sport stars before but most of them played both sports at a high level throughout high school and college before going pro.

Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are perhaps the most famous two sport athletes and each played both baseball and football at a high level.

If all goes to plan Tracy McGrady will be up on the Texas jumbotron soon for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

If all goes to plan Tracy McGrady will be up on the Texas jumbotron soon for the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

But neither Jackson nor Sanders waited until after retiring from one of the sports to pick up the other.

I think the world needs another Bo and “Prime Time” to spice things up but I also think the commitments from teams on athletes nowadays would make it difficult for a two sport star to succeed.

Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, and under contract of the Texas Rangers, is the next logical player to be a two sport star but it is unlikely that the Seahawks would want to risk their star quarterback getting injured on the baseball field.

Of course Wilson could always decide to go into baseball after his NFL career is over since baseball players on average can play longer than football players.

But that brings us back to McGrady and his attempt to turn pro in a new sport.

In order for McGrady to make the team he will need to knock one of the existing pitchers off of the roster.

Rosters will be finalized next week so it will be known at that time whether Tracy McGrady can add professional baseball player to his already impressive athletic roster.

There will be a few Spring Training games between now and the roster deadline to allow him to show his stuff on the mound and for the coaches to decide whether or not he makes the opening day roster.

If Tracy McGrady does make the roster for the Skeeters and trades jump shots for curve balls he will join a unique set of players who have enjoyed a second act with a new sport.

As another bonus should McGrady defy the odds and make the team is that his battery mate behind the plate will be Koby Clemens, son of Roger Clemens.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch a basketball player pitch.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Astros Hire Ryan, Just Not the Ryan Most Fans Wanted

In one of the worst kept secrets since the invention of the secret, the Houston Astros are set to officially announce today that they have hired Reid Ryan, son of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, to be their next team president/CEO following the sudden resignation of the last team president earlier this week.

Nolan, the Ryan most fans would have loved to welcome back to the Astros fold, currently serves as president of the Texas Rangers and owner of the two Minor League teams that son Reid oversees.

So, the Astros will hope that Reid can weave some of the same success that he has had with the Triple A Round Rock Express (Rangers affiliate) and the Double A team Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros affiliate) with his call up to the Majors.

Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi is one of two Minor League teams run by incoming Astros president Reid Ryan. Photo R. Anderson

Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi is home to the Hooks which is one of two Minor League teams run by incoming Astros president Reid Ryan and his father Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.
Photo R. Anderson

I have attended games in both Round Rock and Corpus Christi and did enjoy the overall experience. How much of that was related to the influence of the father and how much of it was based on the son is up for debate but few can argue the quality of product being put on the field. And with years of running a pair of successful franchises behind him it seems some of that knowledge will translate to running a dysfunctional franchise like the Astros that seems to take more steps backward than forward.

Of course, in all honesty I much prefer the Ballpark experience that the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and the Frisco Roughriders provide over my experience at Reid Ryan’s Ballparks in Corpus Christi and Round Rock.

But if one truly buys into the Astros public relations campaign of this being a time to strip the team down to the foundation and rebuild, than the move to hire Reid Ryan fits right into that plan.

With the team being 5-10 years away from being competitive by most estimates that gives Reid Ryan time to learn how to be a Major League Baseball team President.

The Dell Diamond is home to the Round Rock Express. Incoming Astros president Reid Ryan ran the Express with his father Nolan. Photo R. Anderson

The Dell Diamond is home to the Round Rock Express. Incoming Astros president Reid Ryan ran the Express with his father Nolan.
Photo R. Anderson

To be fair, I am not alone in assessing the talent on the Astros roster and calling it Triple A level.  With mandates to minimize costs coming down from the top the baseball side of the house tried to put out a quality roster on the field but with the amount of money they were given to work with it is not going to be the same level of competition of the other 29 teams when you are spending less for the whole team than many other teams pay single players.

That is not to say that the Astros won’t get lucky here and there and manage to put a win together. In fact a quarter into the season they have managed 10 such victories. After all even a broken clock is right twice a day.

So with a roster that is a moving target full of players that would still be in the minors on any other roster, and expectations for winning being as low as they are, the pressure for Reid Ryan to succeed right away would be rather low in theory allowing him the chance to proceed slower than someone taking a job at a team that was expected to win right away.

It is more likely that he will be given marching orders to try to press the flesh as it were and to mend broken fences and ill will in the community while the baseball product catches up to the Major League level.

And of course with expectations set so low in the event that he can’t right the ship few would hold that against him when he applied for other jobs. So, it really is the perfect opportunity to try some things out without committing career sabotage. Of course the famous last name also provides some protection that others would not have in terms of career protection. And having a famous father in a similar position four hours up the road that can be called for advice doesn’t hurt either.

I do hope that the rebuilding effort works out for Ryan and the Astros. The process to date has been painful to watch on several fronts.

If I ran the Astros the eyesore billboards in the outfield would go away. Here's to hoping new team President Reid Ryan shares that view and restores the skyline view in Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson

If I ran the Astros the eyesore billboards in the outfield would go away. Here’s to hoping new team President Reid Ryan shares that view and restores the skyline view in Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

The Public Relations major in me cringes at every misstep that the team makes. And for goodness sake find somewhere else in the ballpark to put those gaudy community partner billboards that block out the train and the skyline.

You have a stadium that offers great views of the night sky and then you go and block them with signs. Seriously?

And the whole charging fans excessive amounts of money for seats while failing to field a product worth seeing at those prices should be declared a crime.

Then there is that whole television debacle with only 40 percent of the Houston market getting to watch the games on the new Astros channel. The channel is supposed to be a revenue source for the team to allow them to spend money on players but so far that has not come to pass.

There are several other challenges that will face Reid Ryan when he takes the helm but those are certainly some of the more challenging ones that come to mind.

Skeeters

Of course when one gets tired of waiting on the Astros to get competitive again they can always catch the Sugar Land Skeeters in action. The Skeeters currently hold the best winning percentage in all of professional baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

Did the ownership of the team under estimate what it takes to own a Major League Baseball team? Perhaps.

Can all of the missteps and public relations faux pas be fixed to allow the disenfranchised fans to return to Minute Maid Park to once again watch competitive baseball being played by the home team on a consistent basis? Time will tell.

Until then, there is a team in Sugar Land called the Skeeters to watch.  I am also one of the lucky 40 percent who has the new cable channel so I can watch the Astros from the comfort of my own home without paying Major League prices to watch Minor League talent. I can also watch the Texas Rangers each night so I am thankfully not going through baseball withdrawal during the epic Astros slump.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about Minor League Baseball teams, and teams playing like Minor League teams has given me a sudden urge to go up to Frisco to catch the Roughriders.

 Copyright 2013 R Anderson

Skeeter Experience as Sweet as Sugar

No mater the level of competition, from Little League to Major League, the passion for the game of baseball remains the same for those players who truly love the game.

The other night I saw that passion displayed in an Atlantic League game between the Lancaster Barnstormers and the Sugar Land Skeeters at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, TX.

The Skeeters are in their second season of play and ever since it was announced that they were coming to town I have wanted to catch a game. Sadly, something always seemed to come up last year whenever I planned to head that direction so my goal of seeing a game during the inaugural season did not come to pass.

Ballparks just look better under the lights. Photo R. Anderson

Ballparks just look better under the lights.
Photo R. Anderson

All of the elements finally aligned this past weekend to allow me to make my first trip to the Ballpark. And even some tricky Google map directions, and poor ballpark signage that sent me to the unlabeled parking lot A instead of the equally unlabeled parking lot B, couldn’t dampen the spirits of adding another Ballpark to my list of places that I have seen games.

The night featured many firsts for me as it was my first Atlantic League game which meant it was my first time seeing both the Barnstormers and Skeeters as well as my first trip to Constellation Field.

Constellation Field in Sugar Land, TX is the home ballpark of the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

Constellation Field in Sugar Land, TX is the home ballpark of the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

But of course every trip to the Ballpark, especially a first trip to the Ballpark involves a bit of a learning curve.

While I had a seat two rows from the field on the third base side I zigged when I should have zagged when it came to the food choices.

I ended up with a loaded hot dog which included chilli, cheese, onions, sauerkraut, and probably some other things that I missed under the cheese blanket. While the hot dog was good, and the Dr. Pepper was cold, it was not until I took another lap around the concourse that I saw the real food choices that the ballpark had to offer. There was a pizza booth which as I have mentioned before is one of my favorite ballpark staples. There were also booths selling barbecue, gourmet popcorn, Tex Mex, and Philly cheese steaks.

Lest one forget what state they are watching the game in there is a Texas shaped scoreboard to guide them. Photo R. Anderson

Lest one forget what state they are watching the game in there is a Texas shaped scoreboard to guide them.
Photo R. Anderson

So, the lesson learned is no matter how hungry I am entering a Ballpark the trick is to walk the full concourse before selecting a food item.

The food remorse passed quickly and it was time to get immersed in the feel of the in game between inning entertainment which included dizzy bat, tricycle races and boxing.

The game itself was good as well as the home team remained undefeated at home for the season. Of course, the other professional baseball team in the Houston area cannot say the same thing but more on that later.

Despite the Ballpark I am in when I am watching a game, one constant always seems to find me. No matter where I sit it never fails that within earshot and visible range there will be at least one overly intoxicated fan who feels the need to make their presence known through, a) berating players or umpires or b) telling a story (or two, or three) that is way too loud to ignore and takes away from the ballpark experience. Another constant with these loud mouths is the presence of small children with them.

Former Boston Red Sox player Aaron Bates up to bat for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

Former Boston Red Sox player Aaron Bates up to bat for the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

All of those factors came into play one section over from me with the extra loud drunk fan there with friends as well as small children providing a totally unnecessary running commentary.

The only break from his commentary was the two innings he spent in the concession line which of course he had to retell in great detail upon his return.

Now, before I get comments saying that I am trying to take away people’s right to drink at the ballpark let me say that is not the case.

Personally for me the hardest drink I need at the ballpark is an ice cold Dr. Pepper. But, for those who want something with alcohol in it I can totally support that desire and their right to do that.

Both teams kept the base paths busy but it was a couple of long balls that proved to be the deciding factor. Photo R. Anderson

Both teams kept the base paths busy but it was a couple of long balls that proved to be the deciding factor.
Photo R. Anderson

What I refuse to support is the fan who downs a six pack or more during the pregame and then proceeds to get drunk and annoying during the course of the game. And this goes across all sports not just baseball. Every sporting event I have ever attended where I was not covering it from the press box has included at least one fan who is way too loud and way too drunk.

I am not sure how Ballparks and stadiums can address this but it is also one of the reasons that I rarely stay for an entire game. I like to have a two inning head start before the drunks hit the road.

So, drunk annoying fan aside there was a lot to enjoy at the Skeeters game. The food is reasonably priced. The sight lines from the seats are good.  And the quality of play is top notch and allows fans to catch glimpses of former and future Major Leaguers in action at a fraction of big league prices.

And speaking of that other professional baseball team in Houston. As I was driving past Minute Maid Park on the way home I happened to turn on the radio to see how the Astros were doing.

Sunsets look best on the beach and at the Ballpark. Photo R. Anderson

Sunsets look best on the beach and at the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

I want to say I was surprised when I heard that they were losing by a score of 13-1 to the Detroit Tigers but in reality my only thought was how did they manage to score the one run.

The Astros ended up losing by a score of 17-2 when all was said and done. Conversely the Skeeters defeated the Barnstormers 5-4 in a game that saw the lead traded back and forth several times.

So, while it is a little further for me to drive to Sugar Land to see the Skeeters as opposed to driving to see the Astros, I believe that I will be spending more of my baseball viewing time with the Skeeters for the foreseeable future.

Of course when the Rays, Orioles and Rangers are in town I will probably make the trek to Minute Maid Park.

That is not to say that I won’t still catch the Astros on TV or that I am no longer a fan but if I am spending money on something I want to feel that the team is committed to winning. Quite frankly I do not get that impression these days from Houston management.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to figure out what the next new Ballpark to visit will be. Perhaps I will see some of you there.

 Copyright 2013 R. Anderson