Stockton, CA-The rain never showed up in Stockton last night and the Ports’ opening day versus the Modesto Nuts was a dry one, ensuring that no free season tickets would be given out to the 5,207 on-hand to witness Banner Island Ballpark’s first season opener.
The Ports’ front office made a risky guarantee to give away a free season ticket to every fan in attendance Thursday night if the game was called due to weather. Both team’s players might have preferred rain clouds as opposed to partly cloudy skies during the game. With the sun shining through, dusk brought an adventure with every fly ball.
Ports’ Coach Todd Steverson remarked that due to inclement weather during the week neither team had a chance to perform any on-the-field drills and hadn’t played under the lights in some time, but noted that dusk is very difficult for outfielders especially.
“This time of year, dusk is really tough right at the beginning of the game. It was cloudy and bright and the sun was going down. If you’ve ever played the outfield [in those conditions] those fly balls can completely disappear.”
The infielders for both teams had trouble on fly balls as well. Ports shortstop Cliff Pennington did well just to track a few of the balls he caught, sometimes having to change directions several times before making the catch.
Aside from being opening night, the game looked to be an exciting one as the starters for both teams are talented prospects.
Ryan Mattheus, drafted by the Rockies out of Sacramento CC, started for the Nuts and threw six strong innings. He held the Ports to three hits and one run while striking out six. He walked a batter each in the third, fifth and sixth innings.
He allowed his only run in the third inning. Centerfielder Matt Allegra walked to lead off the inning and advanced to second when second baseman Sandy Almonte’s error on a Landon Powell grounder put runners on first and second with no outs. DH Luke Appert laid down a sacrifice bunt, putting both runners in scoring position. Cliff Pennington then grounded out to second, scoring Allegra. Second baseman Gregorio Petit struck swinging on a high fastball to end the threat. Mattheus used a hard sinker/slider combo effectively all night and his slider showed some sharp break.
Ohio State alum Mike Madsen started for the Ports and pitched well, but after setting the Nuts down 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning he went into two full counts in the second. He walked a batter, but escaped unscathed. In the fourth he walked Doc Brooks with one out, but then induced a grounder by Matt Miller to Pennington that should’ve resulted in at least a force at second.
The Ports didn’t get the call at second and Miller was also safe at first as Pennington and Petit tried to turn a double-play. Justin Nelson came up and hit a deep fly to center field that bounced off the fence and went for a triple. Allegra, fighting the twilight, appeared to think the ball was a home run. Madsen was pulled after allowing a two-run homer to Miller with one out in the sixth inning. Madsen skipped low-A this year after winning the short season Northwest League ERA title with a 1.69 ERA in 80 innings pitched.
Ports Highlight of the Night: After Nelson tripled, Jose Valdez hit a fly ball to right field and Miller tried to tag-up at third. Apparently no one warned Miller and the Nuts about the cannon attached to right-fielder Richie Robnett’s left arm. His throw arrived on a line, slightly up the first base line, but catcher Landon Powell made a great catch-and-dive move and tagged Miller out at the plate, ending the inning. Robnett had a tough night at the plate, going 0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts.
He did exhibit more patience in the box, working a full count before grounding into a double play to end a threat in the sixth. As Robnett progresses, the pitch he grounded out on will be one he pulls into the gap in right field for extra bases.
Ports Strong Showing: Powell had a good night at the plate going 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI in his Stockton debut. He showed good gap power from the left side of the plate. He looks to have a good year after recovering from a torn ACL. Coach Steverson plans on him becoming a team-leader this season.
Nuts Standout: Aside from Mattheus’ impressive night on the mound, center-fielder Matt Miller played well in only his second game in high-A. He was a contender for the Southern Atlantic League Triple Crown last year at Asheville, winning the league’s MVP award, hitting .331 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs. He started the season strong going 2-for-4 with a homer, two runs and two RBIs.