Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Trip To See Altoona

No, not Al Tuna....
That loveable mascot of the Curve!

But rather the Altoona Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates' AA minor league baseball team.

My first attempt got rained out in the third inning a few weeks back. But, it actually worked out for the better as Gregory Polanco was not in the lineup due to a sore shoulder from a play in the outfield and Casey Sadler was on the mound. On Thursday, top Pirates' position player prospect Gregory Polanco was in the lineup and top Pirates' pitching prospect Jameson Taillon was on the bump.

Jameson Taillon warming up before the first inning

Jameson Taillon beginning his night
I tried something new at the game and attempted to post to twitter my observations for every half inning of Taillon's outing, as well as any positives from Altoona's offense in the bottom half of each inning.

It looked something like this:

(First Inning) In Altoona seeing J Taillon for 1st time. After if single &SB, retired the next 3, striking out 1 & 2 GO 3-u. Hitting 94-95

It seemed like he was getting warmed up to full speed still in the first. The first batter hit a weak grounder up the middle that got past Taillon and second baseman Jarek Cunningham flagged down, but didn't have time to get the speedy runner, Jamie Johnson. Johnson then stole second on a close play, but he's a good base stealer (15 SB, 2 CS). The strikeout was an 8-pitch at-bat, the most pitches of any of his strikeouts again showing he was still getting ramped up. The next two batters helped out Taillon's pitch count by grounding weak rollers to first base.

Taillon 2nd: PopupSS, line 1B to RF, seeing eye 1B to RF, sawed off 96mph popup, sb, bloop1B scores2, BB, 4-3. tied 2-2

This was a frustrating inning that goes back to the box score doesn't tell the whole story. He didn't get hit hard, but ended up giving up two runs. Taillon's fastball was much more consistently 96 mph in the second inning.

J Taillon 3rd: 3-pitch K- 96fb, 85 change (swing), 81 curve (frozen looking); go 6-3; go 3-u;43 pitches totthru 3. tied 2-2

A good recovery inning after the second. He made the first batter look like a high schooler with the pitch sequence. Overall, a 7-pitch inning.

Taillon 4th: weak go 4-3,  K (95 fb, 95 fb, 96 fb ball, 81 curve looking), lazy inf popup. 3-2 Curve after 4. 

More weak contact, another statue of a batter on a curveball, and a weak pop up. 9 pitch inning.

Taillon 5th: ripped 3B to RC on 95fb, rbi 4-3 go, K (fb,fb,96fb,change,fb looking), K (fb,change,foul fb, 81curve swinging)

The triple was pretty much the only hard-hit ball on Taillon the whole night. I'm assuming the 1-2 fastball wasn't where Taillon wanted it. But, he managed the rest of the inning even though you would've like to have seen him strand the leadoff triple.The first strikeout off the inning you had to think the batter was looking off-speed and got locked up on the fastball. The second was probably the opposite and went flailing at what he thought was going to be a fastball.

Taillon 6th: 3-pitch easy f8, dicey 2-pitch go 4-1 (1st pretty 82 curve), K (fb,change, curve, ch, 96fb, 83curve swinging)

A lazy fly ball to lead off the inning. I described the second out as "dicey" because 1B Justin Howard came off the line to try to get it, but wasn't able to reach it. 2B Cunningham did get to it, and Taillon beat the runner to the bag and received the throw. It wasn't pretty but another out on weak contact. And the whiff on the curve again set up by premium fastball velocity.

Taillon 7th: 1 pitch 92fb sliding f8 (polanco), k (95 fb, fb, 81curve swinging), 3-2 BB, go 4-3 (96fb on pitch 95)

Gregory Polanco made a nice grab and covered a lot of ground to make it look like a "routine" sliding catch. The strikeout was again an overwhelmed batter with the speed and then curve. Only his second walk of the game (and first since the second inning). Then, a routine grounder finished his night with Taillon still putting 96 on Peoples Natural Gas Field's radar gun.

Taillon's final line: 7IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7K

My impressions of Taillon didn't change much since I saw him look like he belonged in the World Baseball Classic against Team USA back in March. That curve is devastating and his fastball is major-league caliber. He needs to work on his control more, especially of his 87-88 mph changeup/slider. It seemed like he was searching a little on that pitch and it was up and in the right hand hitter's batter's box.

As far as the offense, the leading role is played by Gregory Polanco. No other hitters are ranked in Pirates Prospects mid-season top 20. Players like Adalberto Santos, Alex Dickerson, and Jarek Cunninham have shown flashes but nothing to make you think they will be a standout player in the majors. The additional factor that made it difficult to look at the hitters was that Erie's pitcher, Patrick Cooper was only throwing in the 80's so was this night's 6-run outburst good hitting or poor pitching on Erie's part?

Gregory Polanco coming to bat in the first inning
Gregory Polanco just before hitting a sacrifice fly into foul territory in right field
Regardless, a few observations on Polanco. His first at-bat he struck out after working the count full. In the third inning, he put a bunt down the third base line. I didn't notice where the third baseman was playing before the pitch, but there was no chance of getting Polanco as he glided down the line. In the fourth inning, he lofted a 2-1 pitch into foul ground out in right field by the Altoona bullpen, deep enough to score Andy Vasquez. In the seventh inning, Polanco led off the inning by grounding a 2-2 pitch to the shortstop but made the play close with his hustle down the line.

Defensively, he didn't get many chances with Taillon's strikeouts and many weakly-hit ground balls. He had one ball hit to him, charged in three quick steps, but then glided back two lazy steps to catch the ball. Also, there was the previously mentioned sliding catch in left center.

All-in-all, a worthwhile trip to Altoona and I hope to make it out again before school starts. I'd like to see Nick Kingman and perhaps Alen Hanson will be up then.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Home of the Hoosiers

Beth and I didn't really know what to expect with our trip to Muncie. What was the area like? What was the race like? What were the people like? How would the homestay work out?

Well, things certainly couldn't have been better! Although, it started off with a rocky beginning on Wednesday trying to get out of the 'burgh.

I learned the definition of "flash flooding" on my way down to cross country practice in the morning. The roads I travelled on were becoming rivers. There were some areas that were impassible due to 2-3 feet of water. It was crazy! I finally made it to the 8:00 practice around 8:45 with all the detours and road closures. And, sure enough, there were our guys doing some "ball-toss" laps (similar to an indian run) on the non-flooded track with Coach A. #commitment

The return home wasn't as harrowing and I made it back in time to join Beth for a run. Then we packed up and got on the road around 3pm, dropped off the dog at my parents', and started heading west on I-70. We stopped for dinner near Wheeling and then round two of the major thunderstorm lines came through as we were crossing into Ohio. It slowed us down a little more and we were doing the calculations realizing we wouldn't make it to Muncie and our host's house until 11pm or so. 

This prompted us to search for a hotel along the way and finish the trip on Thursday. Thank goodness for the internet, and we settled on a spot outside of Dayton. It worked out well as there was a YMCA about a mile away to get our Thursday morning scheduled swim taken care of. It also didn't hurt that there was a Tim Hortons next door to the hotel (Hooray for Timbits!).

We finished our drive Thursday morning, stopping at the race site at the Prairie Creek Reservoir, about 20 minutes outside of Muncie. Beth did her usual ride and run and I did a run and run (without then with Beth). After driving the courses, we then got to our host James' place and got settled in. James was an amazing host! As we entered our room, we have souvenir shirts, local travel guide info, and the wifi password waiting. Very prepared!

We're now Ball State Fans! Go Cardinals! #ChirpChirp

We drove around Ball State's campus after dinner Thursday and it was really nice. Everything looked so new!

The Football Stadium

A large bell tower in the middle of campus

David Letterman's Communication Building. We found out he had the quote of
calling the cardinal the "fiercest of the robin-sized birds."

They are proud of their Cardinals!

Friday morning I ran as Beth had the day off from training. Then our day involved IHOP, the expo to check in, lunch at the Pita Pit (with great triathlon supporters Luke and Lisa), pro meeting, a movie (Despicable Me those minions!), dinner at Noodles, and then final preparations for the race.

Going into the race, I knew I had an opportunity to see Beth on both the bike and the run, but it was going to take some work. Beth has outlined her day here, so here was my race day.

Getting things ready in transition before the race

Another 75-degree wetsuit day. #Boiling

And they're off! Beth was on the right

Once, she left on the swim, I went back to the car to drop off her swim stuff and get prepared for the day ahead. Beth came out of the water 9th and left on the bike.
Coming up out of the water with wetsuit in hand thanks to the wetsuit strippers

Leaving for the 56-mile journey on the bike

I proceeded to do a 2.2 mile tempo run south to a spot about 13 miles into the bike course to see her go out and back.
My tempo to get to the bike course

Beth flying by on the bike

I snapped a picture of her going out and then had some time to kill so I cheered on the other racers, helped unload a truck with 22 lb bags of ice, and helped keep fumbled bottles from the exchange off the road.

Then, Beth came back by in 7th and it was another tempo back to the car and then transition for her to start the run. I decided to leave the phone/camera at the car because it was getting really sweaty and I didn't want to have to carry it for part two of my tempo workout - a 4.2 mile jaunt before Beth covers 5.5 miles.
The even longer trek to get to see Beth on the run course!

Beth left transition in 6th place and I hustled to meet her out near the turnaround. I was starting to get that bonking feeling, but thank goodness I had packed a gel and felt a lot better. Beth was 6th still but closing in on 5th.

She ended up closing the deal and finished the race 5th, so a good day all around!
Climbing up the final hill to a 5th place finish!

After cleaning up and getting some Little Caesar's Hot-n-Ready pizza for lunch, we made our way back over for the awards ceremony. We then met James for dinner at Amazing Joe's (and it WAS amazing!) and some frozen yogurt at BerryWinkle's.

Saturday night, I fell asleep listening to the Pirate game (though they did end up winning). Sunday, we went to the Cardinal Greenway trail and Beth did an easy spin and I did an out & back run. Great paved trail with markers every half mile.

We made our trip back towards home, but of course we got delayed by an accident that closed I-70 east of Columbus. Eventually we picked up the dog and made it to the Heights. Back at it for me this week with training and morning cross country fun runs.

All in all, a great weekend and I hope we go back to Muncie for Beth to race next year. James was such a great host and I dubbed him the "Ambassador of Muncie and Ball State" with all of his knowledge and helpfulness to us.

Oh yeah - congrats to great friends Ben and Laura on the birth of little Matthew!