"The kid from Stockton…has done it for the A's!"
-Ken Korach, Oakland A's Radio Play-By-Play
Before we get into this edition of Bayrouty's Buzz as far as the Cal League and Stockton Ports are concerned, let's talk about Dallas Braden's perfecto on Mother's Day. There are SO many thoughts that come to mind.
First, let's discuss how GREAT things happen to great people. Dallas played for the Ports in 2005, the year before I arrived in Stockton. He made appearances with the Ports in 2006 which is where I first met him. In the years that followed, I've run into Dallas off and on as he's thrown bullpen sessions at Banner Island Ballpark, stopped by to visit here and there and made appearances to help out with Ports' community initiatives.
Last year, I had the privilege to have lunch with him and a small group of people in Stockton as he was in town visiting local schools—just the tip of the iceberg in regards to what he does for the Stockton community. It was the first time I actually got to have a sit-down conversation with him, and he was telling me how he recently bought a house near Victory Park in Stockton and how he adopted a Great Dane. All this while having lunch at The Graduate, a local dive where you can the best heart-clogging Turkey-Bacon sandwich you've had in your life and, if you choose, a 24 oz. draft beer of your choice for about $10 bucks total.
This is Dallas Braden in a nutshell. A guy who could live anywhere he wants and dine in the finest of establishments, choosing to live in a modest area of the town where he grew up and kick it at "The Grad." To see a guy that is so down-to-earth and genuine join baseball immortals is both surreal and special.
Now let's talk about the actual moment. For me, it was pretty special to watch for a few different reasons. First, Landon Powell caught the game and Cliff Pennington and Daric Barton combined to make the final put-out—all former Stockton Ports. When you travel with these guys in the minors and see the work they put in and the grind they go through on a daily basis to get better, it's pretty awesome when you get to watch them share in a moment like that.
Perhaps appropriately, I haven't been able to get the song "Young Forever" by Jay-Z and Mr. Hudson out of my head all day. Literally, from the time I woke up it's been in my head. Not sure why. When I got back to the hotel after our Mother's Day doubleheader in Bakersfield I finally had a chance to watch clips of the final out being made. That song, for some reason, just seemed like the perfect backdrop to that moment. Guys who I knew as scrappy minor leaguers, turned polished big leaguers, turned little kids jumping around in an ethereal moment that dwarfs reality and sends baseball to a place where football, basketball and hockey cannot follow.
In that moment was found the joy that is the essence of what makes baseball still America's Pastime, despite the NFL's ownage of the sports marketplace. Think about this. Dallas Braden throws just the 19th perfect game in MLB HISTORY!!! 19 times…that's it!!! Think about all the guys who DIDN'T accomplish that feat: Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Warren Spahn, Lefty Grove, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez…to name a few. A 24th round draft pick from Stockton finds himself in a place where some of the all-time greats never tread.
Finally, as a broadcaster, the radio call from A's broadcaster Ken Korach was particularly moving because of the subtleties of the call. Please allow me to explain.
Korach, ever the pro (and by the way, one of the most underrated play-by-play men in all of baseball), began the call by giving the 3-1 count and talking about who was on deck. Ken, I'm quite positive, had intense butterflies if only because he found himself on the brink of a historic call. Believe me, he wasn't nervous for the call. There are just some moments where, as a broadcaster, you're overcome by the gravity of the situation. You'd never be able to tell that, however, by listening to Ken set up the final pitch because he's so good.
Where you CAN tell is the crack of the bat. There is a relief in Ken's voice as Gabe Kapler grounded the ball to short, and an instant shot of excitement that he'd been trying to hold back until that very moment. Ken, of course, was rooting for Dallas. That's where, as a broadcaster, you become as much a little kid as those players on the field.
Being from the Boston area, I'm a huge New England Patriots fan. In the week leading up to Super Bowl XLII, there was a feature story done on long-time Patriots broadcasters Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti ("The Legends" as they're called back home). When asked about his call of Adam Vinatieri's game-winning kick in Super Bowl XXXVI that brought New England their first title, Gil admitted that during the call, there were tears streaming down his face as he let everybody know that "The Patriots…are Super…Bowl…Champions!" He said that during that moment, he thought about all the franchise had endured to reach that point. Genuine emotion. It always makes for the most enduring moments in sports broadcasting.
As the final out was recorded on Mother's Day, Korach poured out genuine emotion. "A perfect gaaaame!" were Ken's first words. "Dallas Braden has thrown a perfect game!" It wasn't so much what he said that made the call special; it was how he said it. You can hear a catch in his voice at the end of each statement. That catch in his voice was the moment in real time. The excitement, exuberance, emotion, exhilaration, and perhaps, disbelief…it's all there…it's the ethos of Ken's call that makes it special. And, if you listen closely, you can see in your head Ken's smile of disbelief as the words come out of his mouth. Great stuff!
Oh, and if you watched the embrace between Dallas and his grandmother and didn't get a little choked up, it might be time to visit the Wizard of Oz and ask for a new heart.
I apologize for going off on a bit of a tangent. I just felt the need to write about that moment. Let's get back to some Cal-League chat! I'm writing to you tonight from one of my new favorite spots in the league (who would've thought!)…the Four Points Sheraton in Bakersfield. That's right! We're back in town after just a couple weeks absence. Today [Sunday] was a rough day for the Ports as they dropped both games of a twin-bill. Despite the team's 13-18 record and last place standing as of May 10th, there have been some very positive trends and great bright spots.
Let's start with an obvious one in Grant Green. Green, being a highly touted prospect and last year's first-round pick for the A's, was expected to produce right off the bat as he transitioned to pro ball. This isn't always the norm for first rounders. Cliff Pennington (the A's 2005 first round pick), for example, never really got it together in 2006, albeit due to a bad hamstring injury. Sometimes you'll find that big prospects, especially in their first year or so of pro-ball, really put a great deal of pressure on themselves to succeed. As a result of their pressing, they might go through sustained slumps or growing pains. Green has been absolutely solid, however, batting .291 while leading the Cal League in at-bats. He's showing a great approach at the plate, and aside from a few rough games defensively, is transitioning nicely in his first full season as a pro.
Stephen Parker is another guy who's impressed in the early going. Parker is batting .283 with terrific power numbers (a team-leading six HRs and 18 RBI). Joining him is Tyler Ladendorf who the A's acquired in the Orlando Cabrera trade with the Minnesota Twins last July. Ladendorf has had a couple stints in Triple-A Sacramento but has spent most of his time in Stockton, compiling a team-leading .329 batting average. Keep an eye on Michael Spina as well. He's batting just .228 right now, but is the type of hitter that can get hot in a hurry once certain elements of his swing start coming together.
Offensively, the Ports are very patient at the plate and are showing a knack for grinding out at-bats. The Ports are last in the league in team batting average (.248), but are leading the Cal League in walks with 157 (the next closest team, Lake Elsinore, has 111 as of May 10th).
Pitching-wise, some dap is in order for lefty Anvioris Ramirez. After dropping his first five outings of the year, Ramirez took the hill for the sixth time on Saturday night and had a terrific start. The southpaw, who was giving up all kinds of hits in losing his first five games, showed tremendous resiliency in his most recent start. Ramirez gave up a run right off the bat in the bottom of the first, but bore down and did not allow another run over his next five innings. He also pitched around two big errors made in the early going and left the game after six innings with a chance to win (he would go on to receive a no-decision as the Ports took home a 5-4 win in 10 innings).
Shawn Haviland (2-0, 2.51 ERA) and Justin Murray (2-2, 2.90 ERA) have been the two most consistent starters for the Ports. Both have shown the ability to work within themselves and throw quality strikes, which has helped them keep their ERA under 3.00 through their first six appearances.
As far as the bullpen goes, two words…Paul Smyth. Smyth is 1-1 with a dynamite 1.27 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 21.1 innings pitched. According to some Bakersfield Blaze hitters, Smyth has some of the best stuff they've seen to this point in the league. Keep an eye out for him!
Travel-wise, this is a pretty brutal stretch for Stockton. We're playing five games in four days (because of the doubleheader) this weekend in Bakersfield. We head back up north (about 270 miles or so) to Stockton following the game on Monday night for three at home against Modesto Tuesday-Thursday. Then, on Friday, we head all the way back down to Southern California for a seven-game trip (four in High Desert and three in Lake Elsinore).
I know that road trips longer than seven or eight games aren't really the norm at this level, but it almost makes sense to me to just go straight from Bakersfield to High Desert (a little over an hour's drive), and then continue down farther south to Lake Elsinore. Instead, we're going up for a short three-game homestand, then all the way back down. A tough travel week to say the least, but it will be great to see more team's down in the South Division.
As always, please feel free to e-mail any questions or comments you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org and if you'd like to follow our radio broadcasts, you can tune in by clicking the "Gameday Audio" link on the front page of the Ports website at www.stocktonports.com.
It's been great catching up with everyone as always. Happy Mother's Day! And thanks again, Dallas, for reppin' the 209 so well…Zack