Sunday, May 4, 2008


Something special is brewing at New Britain Stadium.

What's happening on the field is baseball worth watching. What's happening in the grandstands and on the promotional front is nothing new, but represents an evolving center of entertainment.

On the field, the New Britain Rock Cats are balanced, motivated, mature and confident.

The offense has been magnificent. Luke Hughes and Dustin Martin set the tone at the top of the lineup. Brock Peterson has been a solid run producer. Double-A veterans Matt Moses and David Winfree are warming up.

Trevor Plouffe continues to develop into the prospect the Minnesota Twins thought he was when they drafted him in the first round directly out of high school. Catcher Drew Butera provides the defense with a tenacious catch-and-throw guy, and Jeff Christy has supplied solid play behind him.

Pitching, of course, is key.

The bullpen has been nothing short of excellent. Over the last week, whoever has had his number called by manager Bobby Cuellar has responded brilliantly. Between the end of the road series at Binghamton and the start of the home set with New Hampshire, the relievers strung together 17 2/3 consecutive scoreless frames.

Veteran Ben Julianel has done most of the closing, but Kyle Aselton and Armando Gabino have taken turns finishing games. Cuellar has ample set-up men from both sides ranging from former Cincinnati Reds All-Star Danny Graves and Zach Ward from the right side, and Jay Sawatski and Jason Miller on the left.

The back end of the rotation has been inconsistent. Jay Rainville had his best start of the season Saturday. Oswaldo Sosa started well Sunday but the New Hampshire hitters caught up with him the second time through the lineup.

The front end features Anthony Swarzak, Ryan Mullins and Yohan Pino, who is among the EL leaders in ERA.

Off the field, I've seen so many happy youngsters roaming a well-populated stadium concourse. While that may be nothing unusual in July and August, it was surely worth noting that the unseasonably comfortable April weather convinced fans that summer had come early. Even on Friday and Saturday, when the weather was much more New England-like, many more than your average handful withstood the elements.

Can the Rock Cats win an Eastern League title? That's a loaded question in May because personnel changes are part of the Double-A landscape. Unless injuries in the majors or Triple-A dictate otherwise, the Twins generally wait until June before they make any wholesale changes.

However, the Fort Myers Miracle, where future Rock Cats play, have a nice mix of talent waging battle in the Florida State League. Should some key Rock Cats get tickets for Triple-A Rochester or even Minnesota, the talent below is substantial.

You can't predict EL titles in May or June but I have one prediction that will not fall short. New Britain Stadium is a great place to spend some time. If you haven't been there, you've missed too much already.

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