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June 9, 2014

This is Not Your Father's Baseball Road Trip

Day 13: Winston-Salem, Durham, and Home

by Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman

Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman, the proprietors of Cespedes Family Barbecue, are taking a baseball road trip and chronicling their travels at Baseball Prospectus. You can find the series introduction and itinerary here.

Day One: Lynchburg
Day Two: Asheville and Hickory
Day Three: Huntsville
Day Four: LSU
Days Five and Six: Houston
On the seventh day, they rested
Day Eight: Dallas
Day Nine: Frisco
Day 10: Little Rock
Day 11: Huntsville (return trip)
Day 12: Hickory (return trip)

Started in: Hickory, NC
Today’s Mileage: 418
Total Mileage: 3,660

Intro, by Jake Mintz
The last morning of our trip was a simple one. We woke up relatively late, said goodbye to our last Red Roof Inn, and packed up the car for the last time. Our hour-long drive was fairly mundane as the excitement that rattled through our Toyota Highlander a week ago seemed worlds away. Even the ticket vendor at BB&T Park in Winston-Salem appeared tired and worn down. While the concept of a five-hour drive after the game felt daunting, the on-field talent for Winston-Salem kept our souls motivated. Tim Anderson, Courtney Hawkins, and the rest of the Dash were going to give us a show.

Winston-Salem/Carolina Game Notes, by Jordan Shusterman
(Note: we left during the rain delay in the top of the fourth inning to go see the Durham Bulls and the Norfolk Tides.)

  • Right-hander Adam Plutko, whom the Indians selected in the 11th round of last year’s draft, started the game for Carolina. For a guy who was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2013 College World Series, Plutko’s pitch repertoire doesn’t stand out. His fastball sits around 88-90, and he doesn’t show any above-average off-speed stuff. In his three years at UCLA, Plutko had a 2.25 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP in 351.1 innings despite striking out fewer than seven batters per nine innings. His success in college can largely be attributed to his ability to throw a lot of strikes, but that approach doesn’t work quite as well in pro ball. Even in the low minors, hitters can crush fastballs in the zone, and that’s exactly what happened to Plutko in yesterday’s game; he allowed four runs (two home runs) in three innings of work.

  • Tyler Danish, Chicago’s 2013 second-round pick, started for Winston-Salem. Danish, the no. 5 White Sox prospect coming into the year, was effective through his first three innings before falling apart in the fourth. Danish’s sinking fastball was only 87-89 MPH, but hitters struggled to square it up. His go-to pitch, a low- to mid-70s slider, had a ton of movement and induced a lot of ugly swings from Carolina hitters.

  • We saw two at-bats from no. 2 White Sox prospect Tim Anderson before the rain came. He led off the bottom of the first with a deep fly ball off the center field wall for a double. That swing impressed us plenty, but it paled in comparison to the swing he put on a high fastball from Plutko in the bottom of the third, when Anderson crushed his fourth dinger of the year 400-plus feet to left field. His exciting day at the plate almost made us forget how sloppy he looked at shortstop. Almost.

  • Just as the rain started coming down a bit harder, Winston-Salem brought in gigantic Dominican lefty Jefferson Olacio to relieve Danish. Olacio was born in January of 1994 and is listed at a comical 6’7”, 270 lbs. I saw Olacio last year when he was in Low-A Kannapolis, and his pants did not fit him. His pants still do not fit him. I understand that the White Sox aren’t used to providing such large humans with proper-fitting gear, but I’m starting to believe that his tiny pants are hampering his ability to perform on the mound. Olacio failed to record an out, allowing a hit, back-to-back home runs, and a walk before being relieved by the rain delay. I know the White Sox have been spending more in the international market lately, so maybe they can find some pants in the Dominican that fit Jefferson a little better. Sign those pants to a long-term deal.

National Anthem: The old-lady choir in matching blue shirts was on pace to shatter all National Anthem speed records as they reached the “Oh say does that star-spangled…” verse with only 40 seconds elapsed. While they started shockingly fast, they finished remarkably slow, as it took them a record 17 seconds to sing “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Purchases: I bought a white Dash hat and a pair of purple plaid boxers for my sister. Jordan bought a shirt that had both colors and designs on it. We are indeed true mavens of style.

Mascot Creepiness: We didn’t get a picture with it, but Winston-Salem’s mascot, Bolt, looked like Elmo and Grover sat down and decided to start a family. Red and blue and purple everywhere.

Durham Game Notes, by Jake Mintz
Rain is an unavoidable part of the road trip experience. Like many other things that you encounter on the road, weather is completely out of your control. In the fifth inning of the game in Winston-Salem, the sky started to leak, the tarp was brought out, and the game went into an extended delay. After about a half hour of waiting, we began to get antsy, so we looked up whether there were any other games scheduled nearby. Fortunately, Durham had a home game about an hour and a half away so we thanked the people in Winston-Salem and drove east for an extra game of baseball.

  • We wrote about this when we watched a game in Round Rock earlier this week, but Triple-A baseball is hilarious. It’s like looking through a middle school yearbook accompanied by updates on all of your former classmates. “Oh my god, that’s him. I guess this is where he ended up.” Any game that includes once semi-relevant names like Cord Phelps, Wilson Betemit, and Xavier Paul is a game I can get behind.

  • Durham Bulls Athletic Park has a charm to it that is really difficult to explain. The enormous “blue monster” in left has an appropriately large video board attached to it. Food options are off the hizzie, as everywhere you turn there’s another intriguing snack to try. The Rays should make Durham switch with them. Tampa Bay Bulls has a nice ring to it.

  • Batting in the clean-up spot was none other than former future all-star Wet Bra-less Brett Wallace. Wallace’s legs are the opposite of Lewis Brinson’s—thick, short, and unappealing. The years of hitting .280 in Triple-A seem to be aging the heroic first baseman, as there’s a small bald spot creeping its way across Wallace’s head. I hope Wallace and his mammoth legs get called up and hit 23 bombs for the Orioles in August.

  • Nate Karns pitched for the Rays. Nate Karns was traded to the Rays last offseason for Jose Lobaton. Nate Karns used to have a mustache that made him look like The Comedian from Watchmen.

National Anthem: We showed up late so we didn’t get an anthem time for our last game.

Purchases: Jordan bought a USA baseball shirt because he loves America. I bought a Wil Myers Durham Bulls shirsey even though Myers played in Durham for less than a half a season. Go marketing!

Mascot: Durham’s Wool-E-Bull was both impressively un-creepy and unique at the same time. If they came up with a better name, this could be a 6+ mascot down the road.

Happy Count: 12
Mup Count: 8
Life Goes On Count: 32
Fast Food Stops: 12

What’s Next, by Jake Mintz
Sadly, nothing as exciting as the past two weeks. I start work this morning as a coach at a youth baseball camp, and Jordan goes back to doing Jordan things before eventually joining me at said youth baseball camp. We look forward to getting more opportunities down the road in this gigantic baseball world, and we feel very fortunate that we have been able to do so much considering we’re both younger than Jurickson Profar. Thanks especially to Jason Parks, who initially approached us with the idea. We hope we represented the site as best we could.

Driving around America watching baseball makes you realize that baseball is essentially the same wherever you go. There are always four bases, and there are always people trying to touch the fourth one. There are always dingers and bat-flips. There are always silly uniforms and hard-working dudes who wear them. Baseball itself is the same all around the country, but the experiences you have interacting with the game change dramatically from place to place.

Throughout our trip we’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with some superb people. At every step along the way, there was always someone with a friendly smile willing to listen to us blabber on about Barry Bonds or Kelly Clarkson or Whataburger. From Nicole in Huntsville to TepidP out in Frisco, the people we met along the way made our trip as enjoyable as could be.

The best part about our journey was that we always knew there was another game down the road for us in another city. Unknown experiences laid in wait for our inevitable arrival. Technically, there is no game for us tomorrow, but there’s always another one somewhere. There is nothing we love more than to be at a baseball field with a Dr. Pepper in one hand and a phone in the other, and we hope we did a good job of conveying that feeling to you. Watch baseball, smash dingers, and stay goofy; this is the CFBBQ signing off.

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