Vacation started Monday morning. This meant the day was going to be fun regardless, but it outstripped my expectations, even though the Kane County Cougars wound up losing.
After getting precious little sleep, my dad and I headed in to Elgin, where we had both been comped some gambling money and a free dinner. This is similar to asking a Kardashian if she wants more unwarranted attention. (Why, yes.) As I have no information once I leave my house, I was checking the scroll on ESPN until 4 p.m., on the off chance there would be any transaction news. Their scroll was committed to Jaromir Jagr's new contract, and a few college kids from Columbus, Ohio being ensnarled in legal difficulties. We had dinner, and headed to the park.
If you live in the USA, you are probably somewhere near an affiliated baseball venue. While I consider Beloit my "home park", this was my second trip to the one in Geneva. The last time here, I watched Hak-Ju Lee short-hop the wall on a triple. Tonight I was going to see Albert Almora play. 45 minutes before first pitch. $24 later, my dad and I were sitting in the second row with a perfect view of the third-base line. Kane County hitters were taking practice swings for us, almost like they had asked us where would be the perfect place to stand. Take in a minor league game soon.
Shortly after jotting down the lineups, a guy around my age showed up to sit next to us. Decked out in Cubs attire, I was happy to notice he was wearing headphones. "You might even be able to tell me if Garza gets traded." "He did already."
We were chit-chatting the rest of the night. Whether it was C.J. Edwards video-game numbers in the minor leagues, Cubs bullpen collapses of the past, or Roberto Clemente sagas, we were babbling the rest of the night until he cut out a bit early. So, yeah, the day kept getting better.
As for the game, don't be fooled by what you read in the box score. The Cougars hit rather well on Monday night. They didn't have any seeing-eye base hits. Getting one of those in any of a various number of different points flips the game entirely. But then, winning the game at the lower levels is less important than getting better, having some nice swings, and staying healthy. As usual, Monday was another fun and educational trip to the park.
Juan Paniagua was the starting pitcher. It took about until the fifth inning, when Panigua was long gone, to realize the numbers on the stadium radar gun were a series of seemingly random numbers, some of which may have loose correlation with pitch velocity. Paniagua will be fine. He is about in March as far as his pitching conditioning. I didn't see anything in the high 90's, but his velocity will probably be there when needed. Which isn't now. His control/command on his fastball was a bit off, which happens in March. But his breaking stuff tended to be very solid. He had a few swing-and-miss curves, and a slider on the black to fan a hitter as well. Starter? Reliever? Far too early to tell. I hope getting through customs is easier the next few years, as he will be fun to monitor.
Paniagua showed a good pickoff move, which twice caught first baseman Dan Vogelbach a bit off guard. The first-inning error lead to a run.
The most memorable play was when a runner was on second in the first inning for Lansing. The hitter smacked a fairly solid single to center. Almora quickly retrieved it, threw it to third, and almost got the runner advancing. To third. From second. Almora didn't have a chance to run one down in the alley, but this kid figures to have a number of memorable plays in his career. I almost got to see an 8-5 assist to get a runner moving up a base on a single.
For the offense, Reggie Golden's two-run homer was the scoring. In a weaker system, Golden would be a very intriguing prospect. He's a decent defender, has power, but has a bit of a chase-at-breaking balls problem. It's nice seeing the line-up legitimate 1-9 at the Low-A level. That all of their well-struck liners found Lansing gloves was unfortunate, but by no stretch depressing. After all, this is minor league ball. Albert Almora's line of 0-4 was very misleading. The Lansing shortstop, Jorge Flores, made two very solid plays defensively on Almora. One of them, had Flores not executed it, might have required a hospital stay to recover. Only in the ninth was Almora's contact not from the Tom Emanski school of good contact.
With Tuesday an off day, there was a procession of relievers that would have made Tony LaRussa smile. The radar gun had "my boy" Sheldon McDonald in the high-80's. If he has velocity in that range, along with his still extant off-speed stuff, he may be more than a trifle. Either way, I enjoy watching him throw off-speed stuff. McDonald fanned four in an inning-and-two-thirds.
Dan Vogelbach was called out on a third strike in the third inning. The bases were loaded in a 3-2 game, with the Lansing starter on the ropes. The count was 2-2, so if the pitch was called a ball, the count is full. It was outside, but Vogelbach was rung up anyway. And he almost got tossed. And kept noting it for the rest of the game. Kane County's manager got tossed later. He argued one of those fair/foul calls on a bouncer down the line. I had the perfect angle for it, but after having such a fun day with so little sleep, my mental rewind is so off, I still don't know if the ump got the call correct.
The fans thought he missed it. They were pleasant driving out of the lot despite the 5-2 loss. Minor league games. So good, I think I'll try again on Wednesday night. And maybe Friday, as well.
And, yes, I'm still upset that Bristol had Garza listed as the Cubs starter when Rusin was flying to the desert.