Friday, April 29, 2011

BETTER DAYS FOR CATS BUT TWINS SUFFERING

For those of us who didn’t know already, we learned in the sordid 2010 chapter of New Britain Rock Cats baseball that winning ballgames at the minor league level ranks pretty low on the importance meter.

What the Minnesota Twins took to the bank wasn’t the 44-98 debacle that reduced the Rock Cats to an Eastern League punching bag.

The silver lining that framed the cloud over New Britain Stadium included the continued development of center fielder Ben Revere, the rapid growth of right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Gibson and the sharp upward turn in the careers of multi-talented Joe Benson and sweet-swinging left-handed hitting Chris Parmelee.

The virus that left the Rock Cats as the worst Double-A team in baseball and the worst in the Eastern League in 67 years has surfaced in Minnesota. The Twins at this writing have the worst record in the American League after being torched twice in one day, at home by the Tampa Bay Rays.

So what have the Twins, a team guided by exceptionally astute and equally benevolent administrators from top to bottom, done to incur the wrath of the baseball deities? That’s a rhetorical question, Twins and Rock Cats fans. Answers are not readily available.

Let’s review the facts.

Justin Morneau, on the cusp of a brilliant career, loses half the 2010 season to a concussion that obviously included complications that only his neurologist can accurately relate. The good news is that the Canadian-born slugger is back and showing signs of regaining the prominence that has stuffed his trophy case.

Under the same heading – weird and unfortunate injuries – we have Joe Mauer, trying desperately to put what doctors say is bilateral leg weakness behind him when he gets struck down by a viral infection.

Between games of Thursday’s doubleheader from hell, he addressed the media and was quoted by Twin Cities media as saying that he thought the leg weakness would dissipate as spring training became regular season, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. His return remains in question.

General Manager Bill Smith dips into Japanese baseball and pays big cash to sign infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Nishioka sustains a broken fibula before anybody can begin to assess what kind of impact he can have.

Outfielder Delmon Young, fresh off a sensational season that quelled chatter that the Twins’ 2007 trade which dispatched former Rock Cats Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett was a bust, is on the disabled list with that trendy injury, a strained oblique muscle. DH Jim Thome and outfielder Jason Repko are day-to-day.

Carl Pavano comes down with the flu and the Twins are forced to summon former Cat Anthony Swarzak from Triple-A Rochester for a start. The next day, Swarzak is back with Rochester and former New Britain reliever Alex Burnett has returned to Minnesota.

The curse that has befallen the Twins has wreaked havoc with Rochester. According to Rochester publicity man Chuck Hinkel, the Red Wings have promoted seven players to the majors in 22 days, the most in the International League.

Shockingly, the wholesale changes have not sliced and diced the New Britain roster. Only two who started the season as Cats – utility man Toby Gardenhire and catcher Danny Lehmann – have been moved. The
Twins have little recourse other than to disrupt the Cats' flow, which is bound to occur soon.

The Rock Cats are playing winning baseball but leave us remember, the important thing is what’s happening in the big leagues, and right now the Twins are hoping that destiny soon deals them a better fate.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

BROMBERG SUFFERS BROKEN ARM

NEW BRITAIN – The New Britain Rock Cats announced Thursday that right-handed starting pitcher David Bromberg has been placed on the disabled list with a broken right forearm from being struck by a line drive in Tuesday’s game against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.


Bromberg was hurt in the sixth inning when Adeiny Hechavarria’s knocked him from the game.

The parent Minnesota Twins have not yet announced any plans to replace him on the New Britain roster.

Bromberg, 23, was 5-5 with a 3.62 ERA for the Rock Cats last year before a promotion to Triple-A Rochester in mid-July. He went 1-4 with a 3.98 ERA in nine starts for the Red Wings.

DOOLEY KNOWS CATS BEST

Nobody knows New Britain Rock Cats baseball better than West Hartford’s Jeff Dooley.

Dooley, voice of the Rock Cats on radio since 1998, builds everything in his life on a foundation of optimism, whether he’s delivering his smooth play-by-play portrayals or adding stations to his ever-growing Rock Cats Radio Network.

Life hasn’t been easy for the native of Lincoln, R.I., in recent seasons, but nothing short of death and destruction can dent the Dooley optimism. Last season, the aspirations for a winning season plummeted right from the start. The Rock Cats crash-landed in last place in the Eastern League’s Northern Division and proceeded to write new chapters of futility.

Dooley accentuates the positives in situations that would send others spiraling into the depths of despair. The Rock Cats compiled a 44-98 record (.310 winning percentage), the worst of its kind in the EL since the 1943 Utica Braves went 37-101 (.268).

But as Dooley points out, there were positives.

Center fielder Ben Revere, a Rock Cats most of the season, wound up with the parent Minnesota Twins in the midst of a torrid American League Central Division pennant race.

Right-handed pitcher Kyle Gibson showed why he looms as a future big league starter, perhaps even before 2011 plays out, by going 7-5 with a 3.68 ERA in 16 Double-A starts.

Outfielder Joe Benson, good enough at football to warrant a scholarship offer from Purdue after his high school days, displayed his multiple talents while leading the team with 23 home runs and uncorking laser-like throws to nail unsuspecting baserunners.

Revere and Gibson have advanced to Triple-A, but Benson returns to New Britain with the hopes of improving the rawest aspect of his game. So does sweet-swinging left-handed first baseman Chris Parmelee, and Dooley likes repeaters.

“I think the game slows down for them the second year in the league,” he said.

“[Current Twins outfielder and former Rock Cats MVP] Michael Cuddyer is a good example. He struggled in 2000 then comes back in 2001 and I think he was the best player in the league.

“No question Benson and Parmelee were overmatched last year. They had to go back to A-ball to figure things out. But Benson ends up winning the Twins’ minor league player of year award. I think they have bright futures.”

Benson struck out 136 times in 459 at-bats and was vulnerable against right-handed pitching. Given his strong arm, ability to hit for power and deceptively fast footspeed, he possesses the kind of raw ability that makes scouts swoon.

But in order for the Rock Cats to re-establish their EL credibility, pitchers and players will have to improve and emerge in number. Dooley cites a change in the Twins’ philosophy as the primary reason for optimism.

The Twins habitually have the youngest team in the EL while others are known to stack their teams with veterans. The Twins altered that approach, presumably to help their high-level minor league clubs compete, and perhaps find a diamond in the rough.

“There are some veteran guys,” Dooley said. “There’s some leadership, but with that being said, we have to take a look at the other teams in the league. Until you see whether the league is up or down, it’s hard to judge.

“It’s a great league and it was definitely very good last year. One of the scouts said the pitching was the best it had been in 15 years. Still, there’s no excuse for losing 98 games, but it’s tough to compete when you have young kids.”

Shortstop Estarlin de los Santos, touted as a prospect heading into 2010, had a horrible showing (.177 batting average, 22 errors in 64 games). He’s been replaced by Michael Hollimon, who has some major league experience with the Detroit Tigers.

Infielder Ray Chang, a Red Sox farmhand last year, was an opening night starter and he cracked three hits.

Pitching, as always, is the key, and New Britain’s 5.17 ERA and staggering WHIP (walks and hits to inning pitched ratio) of 1.57 leave no wonder why the team failed so badly.

Right-hander David Bromberg, Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, earned passage to Triple-A last year after going 5-5 with a 3.62 in 17 Double-A starts, but returns to the EL for further seasoning.

He and Deolis Guerra, the last remaining Twins asset from the Johan Santana trade to the Mets prior to the 2008 season, are the lone 40-man roster hurlers and loom as manager Jeff Smith’s top starters.

“Guerra struggled his last 10 or 12 starts last year, but they say he’s keeping his fastball low and throwing his curve for strikes,” Dooley said. “[Pitching coach Stu Cliburn] said he’s never seen him look so good in spring training. The Twins still have a lot of stock in him.”

Also of interest is left-hander Spencer Steedley, an effective reliever until injury incapacitated him from the beginning of May on.

One thing’s for sure – win or lose, the Rock Cats are well received by area fans. They break their season attendance record every year, so while Dooley may lead the league in optimism, there are a lot of central Connecticut fans in the first division.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

MY GOLD KEY DINNER SPEECH

I have been asked to post the speech I made at the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance's 70th annual Gold Key Dinner held April 17, 2011, at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.  Thank you to those who have asked.  It was important to me to pay tribute to our mission rather than focus on myself.  I'd like to think that weaving in some family and a bit of American history refelects my ideals. Here goes:

One of the first rules dictated by the august body of sports writers who run this dinner is KEEP YOUR SPEECH SHORT. They waggle their finger at you and say, “Five minutes … tops.”

It’s a good rule. If anybody’s going to run long, let it be the other people on this dais, those who have done so much to enrich Connecticut’s sports landscape.

And besides, who says you have to be long to be effective? Seven score and eight years ago, President Lincoln needed just short of 270 words to articulate the most famous speech in American history, honoring the Civil War dead at Gettysburg, Pa.

This one surely isn’t going to change the world the way that one did, but I hope it has some effect in our little corner of it.
The Art McGinley Award is presented for meritorious service to the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance. Why should I or any other state sports journalist put time and effort into this organization?

As the late, great Bo Kolinsky impressed upon me in a way that only he could, the mission of the Alliance is indeed a worthy one. Our mission is to perpetuate our craft by raising money to help the next generation of sports journalists defray their college expenses.

We do so by honoring these folks who sit next to me. A win-win situation. MONEY GOES TO THE KIDS; AWARDS GO TO THE DESERVING, and the gracious people of the Alliance who donate their time to make this happen recognize that their selfless acts have a way of filling their hearts when this day comes to an end.

Art McGinley and the other Founding Fathers of the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance had some of these things in mind. Bo Kolinsky enabled their vision to evolve into something more contemporary, and since he passed in 2003, it has continued to evolve.

To today’s honorees, I thank you for a lifetime of dedication to sports in our state, and for helping steer the Gold Key Dinner toward what I pray will be a vibrant future.

To those here to honor me in particular, I am humbled by your presence. And by the way today is my mother-in-law’s birthday. God bless you, Fayna. I don’t think you want all these folks knowing how old you are, but leave us to say that next year will be a milestone in your blessed life.

To the men of the Alliance, thank you so much for selecting me to receive this honor. I will cherish it forever.

And to Abe Lincoln who steered this nation through a most difficult test that began exactly 150 years and 5 days ago, every person owes you a great debt that can never be repaid.

Monday, April 18, 2011

TWINS SEND EX-CAT MANSHIP TO TRIPLE-A

The Minnesota Twins announced after Sunday's game that they will recall right-handed pitcher Jim Hoey
from Triple-A Rochester. Hoey will join the team in Baltimore and will be available for tomorrow night's game with the Orioles.

In four relief appearances for the Red Wings this season, Hoey has posted a 2.70 ERA (6.2 ip, 2 er) with eight strikeouts. Hoey, who will wear number 37, was acquired by the Twins from the Orioles this offseason and will be looking to make his Twins debut.
To make room for Hoey on the 25-man roster, the Twins have optioned right-handed pitcher Jeff Manship to Triple-A Rochester. Manship made five relief appearances for the Twins allowing three runs in 3.1 innings pitched.

Friday, April 15, 2011

ROCK CATS' LEHMANN PROMOTED TO AAA

New Britain Rock Cats catcher Danny Lehmann has been promoted to the Triple-A International League in the wake of the injury that put Joe Mauer on the Minnesota Twins’ 15-day disabled list with bilateral leg weakness.


The Twins promoted catcher Steve Holm and tabbed Lehmann to replace him on the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings’ roster. Holm played in 95 games for the defunct Norwich/Connecticut franchise in 2005 and 2007.

The move leaves the Rock Cats with just one able-bodied catcher – Allan de San Miguel. Dan Rohlfing is en route from Class A Fort Myers. Jair Fernandez (hamate bone injury) remains on New Britain’s disabled list.

Rohlfing, Minnesota’s 14th-round pick in the 2007 draft, is hitting .182 (2-for-11) in three games at Fort Myers. The St. Louis native hit .242 with a homer and 13 RBI in 41 games with the Miracle last year.

Lehmann, 25, a non-roster invitee to big league spring training, was hitting .462 (6-for-13) in four games with the Rock Cats.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

BENSON LEADS CATS TO 5TH STRAIGHT

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – New Britain Rock Cats center fielder Joe Benson is sending an early message that graduation day from Double-A may well be drawing near.
Benson, a good enough football player in high school to get a Big 10 scholarship offer, has all the tools, but some of them were a little raw last year.

Benson showed the Portland Sea Dogs the value of a year’s experience Thursday by ripping two doubles and driving in three runs in leading the Rock Cats to a 6-2 win in their home opener before 6,684 at New Britain Stadium.

The Rock Cats (6-2), atop the Eastern League’s Northern Division after finishing last in 2010, have won five straight.
Benson was the Minnesota Twins’ minor league player of the year last season but high strikeout numbers ushered him back to the Eastern League for a second season. His other numbers are catching scouts’ eyes thus far in 2011 – a .406 batting average, nine RBI and five extra-base hits in eight games.

“He plays above the speed of this level from what we saw tonight,” Portland manager Kevin Boles said. “The two throws he made from center field, he’s got a great arm. He’s a plus runner, plus bat speed with power potential. There’s a lot to like about this kid. He’s a superior athlete and a gamer as well.”

Portland starter Brock Huntzinger retired the first two hitters of the game without incident when his fortune changed with one swing of the bat.

Ray Chang, who spent 2010 with the Sea Dogs, turned on the first pitch and drove it over the left field wall for his first home run of the season. Huntzinger walked Chris Parmelee and Benson drilled a long RBI double to right center giving New Britain an early 2-0 lead.

“As a hitter you only get a few times when you see the ball that well and get to barrel up balls and take advantage of pitches,” said Benson, who spurned a chance to play football at Purdue to sign with the Twins in 2006. “I definitely feel more comfortable back this year. Working at the end of last year I got a lot of my confidence back.”

Portland third baseman Will Middlebrooks (2-for-4) answered with a solo homer off New Britain starter Bobby Lanigan in the second, but Huntzinger’s first-inning struggle was a harbinger of things to come.

In the third inning, the Rock Cats rapped four solid hits and the Sea Dogs (3-4) made two miscues, one physical and one mental. Four runs scored and Huntzinger’s night ended prematurely.

Consecutive doubles by Parmelee and Benson were the key blows. Evan Bigley added an RBI single. Bigley took second on an errant throw by right fielder Chih-Hsuen Chiang and scored when Mark Dolenc tapped a two-out grounder to first and Huntzinger was late covering.

Portland’s bullpen held New Britain without a baserunner the rest of the way. Veteran right-hander Eammon Portice retired all 10 batters he faced. Seth Garrison set down the next six.

“Our bullpen kept us in the ballgame and that’s something that Portice and Garrison have done,” Boles said. “They’ve started out strong and we really like out bullpen. I’m very comfortable with the arms coming out of the pen.”

Lanigan (1-1) allowed just one earned run on five hits and two walks while striking out four in six innings. Cole DeVries earned the save with three innings of one-hit relief.

The teams hook up today at 12:05 p.m. with right-hander Stolmy Pimentel taking the hill for Portland against New Britain right-hander Steve Hirschfeld.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ROCK CATS TAKE TWO IN HARRISBURG

Unfortunately for the Harrisburg Senators, two for Tuesday took on a different meaning for them as they were swept in two games by the New Britain Rock Cats. The Rock Cats took game one, the completion of the suspended game 3-1 and then took game two 8-1.

Game one started on Tuesday night, but was suspended in the top of the 2nd inning. When the game resumed, RH Brad Peacock was on the mound for Harrisburg and RH David Bromberg for New Britain. The Rock Cats plated two runs in the fifth, then tacked on another in the seventh to take a 3-0 lead into the last of the ninth. The Senators put the first two men on base, but couldn’t come up with much needed hits though they scored a run on a wild pitch and passed ball.

Steve Singleton and Evan Bigley paced a 13-hit New Britain attack with three hits each. Ray Chang had a single, double and two RBI. Bromberg earned the win with six shutout innings. Jake Stevens earned the save, his first.

In game two, New Britain broke the game open in the third inning with five runs off of spot starter Jimmy Barthmaier.

Singleton hit his first homer of the year and a double. Chris Parmelee had two doubles and three RBI. Spot starter Santos Arias pitched 3 2/3 innings of one-hit shutout ball. Brett Jacobson earned the win and former UConn hurler Mike Tarsi finished by striking out the side.

The Sens scored their two runs on a two-run single by Buck Coats in the sixth.

With the doubleheader loss the Sens are now 2-3 on the season while the Rock Cats improve to 4-2.

The final game of the series and opening homestand is Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. Harrisburg sends RH Brad Meyers to the mound against RH Deolis Guerra for New Britain.

Monday, April 11, 2011

ROCK CATS GAME SUSPENDED MONDAY

Harrisburg and New Britain Suspended Due to Wet Grounds



(Courtesy of Terry Byrom, Harrisburg Senators broadcaster)

On Monday night at Metro Bank Park, the game between the Harrisburg Senators and New Britain Rock Cats was suspended with one-out and runner on first base in the top of the second inning. The game will continue on Tuesday, April 12 at 5:00 p.m. and be played to a nine-inning conclusion. The regularly scheduled game will be seven-innings and start approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of the suspended game.

The probable pitchers for the regularly scheduled game on Tuesday, game two, are RH Brad Peacock for the Senators against RH David Bromberg for the New Britain Rock Cats.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

SIZZLING BENSON LEADS ROCK CATS TO WIN

Joe Benson is making a case that he’s made the right offseason adjustments and is ready to graduate from Double-A.

Benson slammed a homer and double to drive in three runs in support of shutout hurling Sunday to give the New Britain Rock Cats a 4-0 win over the Richmond Flying Squirrels and a draw in the first series of the year.

Benson deposited the second pitch from Richmond starter Clayton Tanner for a leadoff homer in the second inning -- his first of the season -- to get the Rock Cats (2-2) started. His two-bagger came at an opportune time – with Ray Chang and Chris Parmelee on the corners in the fourth inning – for two RBI and a 3-0 lead.

Benson is batting .471 (8-for-17) with five RBI.

Steve Hirschfeld (1-0) limited the Squirrels to just one hit – a second-inning single by Roger Kieschnick – in his five-inning stint. He didn’t walk any while striking out three. He retired the final 11 he faced before the early season pitch count caught up with him.

Three southpaws finished Richmond (2-2) off. Jake Stevens followed with two innings of one-hit ball. Spencer Steedley pitched 2/3 of an inning before Tyler Robertson earned his first save by notching the last four outs.

Chang and Parmelee had two hits each. The middle of the New Britain order went 6-for-12 with four extra-base hits, scored all four runs and drove in three.

The Rock Cats travel to Harrisburg for 7 p.m. games Monday through Wednesday before opening the home portion of their 2011 campaign with a four-game weekend set against the Portland Sea Dogs, the Boston Red Sox' Double-A Eastern League affiliates.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

HARD LUCK, QUIET BATS DOOM ROCK CATS

Two Richmond pitchers pitched four-hit shutout ball over eight innings Saturday night to lead the Flying Squirrels to a 6-2 win over the New Britain Rock Cats before 6,093 at The Diamond.

Starter Justin Fitzgerald (1-0) yielded two hits over five innings in his Double-A debut. David Quinowski extended the Rock Cats’ misery for another two innings before the visitors struck for two runs in the ninth inning.

New Britain starter Bobby Lanigan (0-1) allowed just one run on six hits over 5 1/3 innings. The Flying Squirrels made former UConn pitcher Mike Tarsi’s first appearance a hard-luck nightmare by reaching him for three runs in the seventh.

Tarsi replaced Lanigan with runners at first and second with one out in the sixth but pitched out of the jam. A walk to Roger Kieschnick, a balk, and infield hits by Mike McBryde and Johnny Monell produced a run and brought on Brett Jacobson in relief.

Danny Lehmann’s passed ball and a squeeze bunt by Justin Christian gave Richmond (2-1) a 4-0 lead.

The Squirrels tacked on two runs in the eighth against Santos Arias.

Joe Benson had three hits for New Britain (1-2) to raise his batting average to .462. Evan Bigley and Marc Dolenc had RBI singles in the ninth.

Richmond is slated to start left-hander Clayton Tanner against New Britain righty Steven Hirshfeld in the series finale Sunday.

ONE EX-CAT ON DL; ANOTHER GETS BIG LEAGUE CALL

The Minnesota Twins announced Saturday that former New Britain Rock Cats right-hander Kevin Slowey has been place on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain. They have recalled ex-New Britain reliever Alex Burnett from Triple-A Rochester to take his place.

Slowey, who lost the fifth spot in the Twins rotation to Scott Baker out of spring training, was 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 3 2/3 innings this season. He allowed a hit, didn't walk anybody and struck out three.

Slowey,26, had nine starts for the Rock Cats in 2006, compiling a 4-3 record and 3.19 ERA after starting the season in high Class A.

Burnett, 23, made one bullpen appearance in Triple-A and retired the only hitter he faced.  In 2009 in New Britain, he was 1-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 40 games, all in relief. He converted nine of his 10 save opportunities.

Burnett appeared in 41 games for the Twins last year. He was 2-2 with a 5.29 ERA.

Friday, April 8, 2011

CATS' GARDENHIRE PROMOTED

Infielder Toby Gardenhire will be promoted to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings from New Britain on Saturday. Gardenhire, who was on the Rock Cats' disabled list will take the place of infielder Luke Hughes who was promoted to Minnesota.

GUERRA, DEVRIES PITCH ROCK CATS TO 1ST WIN

What took the 2010 New Britain Rock Cats eight games to accomplish they’ve achieved in their second game of 2011.

The Rock Cats erased the zero in their win column Friday night, riding strong pitching performances by starter Deolis Guerra and Cole DeVries to a 7-1 triumph over the Richmond Flying Squirrels before 5,638 at The Diamond.

Guerra (1-0) allowed three hits in five shutout innings. DeVries, a right-hander who was 8-19 with a 5.16 over the last two years with the Rock Cats, spun three hitless frames while fanning five. Nate Robertson finished up, yielding the lone Richmond tally in the ninth inning.

The Rock Cats (1-1), losers of their first seven games en route to a 44-98 record last year, were stymied by Richmond starter Eric Surkamp over the first four frames, gathering just three hits while striking out 10 times. But they scored twice against Ronnie Ray (0-1) to grab the lead in the fifth, and added two in the eighth and three in the ninth to win going away.

Chris Parmelee had three hits to lead a 13-hit New Britain attack. Michael Hollimon’s two-run homer in the fifth was the Rock Cats’ first round-tripper of the year. Evan Bigley had two hits and drove in a pair of runs.

Yangervis Solarte, Joe Benson and Deibinson Romero also had two safeties each.

Joe Koshansky knocked in the lone run for Richmond (1-1).

ROCK CATS HISTORY LESSON

(Rock Cats notes, courtesy of broadcaster extraordinaire Jeff Dooley)

The New Britain Rock Cats are the longest tenured professional franchise in Connecticut history.  The team was affiliated with the Boston Red Sox when it moved from venerable but antiquated Muzzy Field in Bristol prior to the 1983 season.  This year marks the 29th season of operation in the state. ....

Of the teams entering Eastern League play in 2011, the New Britain franchise ranks second in longevity.  Only the Reading Phillies (1967) have been EL members longer than the Red Sox/Rock Cats. ...

This season marks the 17th that the New Britain franchise has been affiliated with the Minnesota Twins.  The Red Sox' tenure in Willow Brook Park was terminated by the late Joe Buzas after the 1994 season because the Sox wanted their Double-A franchise moved to Springfield. ...

New Britain is now 9-20 in season openers after dropping a 6-4 decision to the Richmond Flying Squirrels on Thursday, April 7.  The franchise has posted a 4-11 mark in road lidlifters and has been on the short end in five of the last six seasons. ...

Seven of the last eight openers have come against the Double-A affiliates of the Toronto Blue Jays, six against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and the 2003 opener against the defunct New Haven Ravens. ...

The Rock Cats' roster features 20 who played for last year's club and seven who did not.  The roster includes 12 pitchers, three catchers, nine infielders and three outfielders.  The Rock Cats' top prospects, as assessed by Baseball America, are: OF Joe Benson (#4); RHP Liam Hendricks (#6); RHP Dave Bromberg (#13); 1B Chris Parmelee (#18).  Bromberg, Parmelee, Benson and RHP Deolis Guerra are on the Minnesota Twins' 40-man roster. ...

The season marks a homecoming of sorts for RHP Mike Tarsi.  Tarsi, from Danbury, pitched for the University of Connecticut.  He is the first state player on the team since Plainville's T.R. Marcinczyk in 2001.  Jeff Bagwell (Killingworth; University of Hartford) and Mo Vaughn (Norwalk) played for the New Britain Red Sox. ...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

ROCK CATS BLOW 4-RUN LEAD IN LOSS TO RICHMOND

(Report courtesy of the Richmond Flying Squirrels)


The New Britain Rock Cats’ bullpen squandered a four-run lead Thursday night, enabling the Richmond Flying Squirrels to gain a 6-4 win in the Eastern League opener before a capacity crowd of 9,560 at The Diamond.

The Rock Cats reached Squirrels starter Daryl Maday for four runs in the third inning.

Mark Dolenc ignited the rally by beating out an infield hit. Catcher Danny Lehmann followed with a double that plated the game’s first run.

Maday walked Michael Hollimon. Yangervis Solarte moved the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt and former Red Sox farmhand Ray Chang drove them home with a double. A double by Joe Benson gave Rock Cats starter David Bromberg a 4-0 lead.

The Squirrels answered with three runs off Bromberg in the fourth inning. Mike McBryde worked a one-out walk and scored on a double by Johnny Monell. Jose Flores split the left-field gap with a double and Justin Christian delivered him with a single.

Bromberg allowed three runs on six hits in four innings of work.

Richmond pieced together the game-winning rally against left-hander Spencer Steedley in the eighth inning.

Monell rapped an RBI double and Flores reached when Lehmann uncorked a wild throw to third on his sacrifice bunt. Monell scored the game-winning tally. Charlie Culberson added some insurance with an RBI single.

Right-hander Osiris Matos earned the win in relief by retiring the Rock Cats last batter in the eighth. Jason Stoffel closed the game with a perfect ninth inning.

The Rock Cats are expected to start right-hander Deolis Guerra in the second game of the series Friday night. Richmond counters with lefty Eric Surkamp.

EX-ROCK CAT HUGHES RETURNS TO MAJORS

(Courtesy of Twins communications director Mike Herman and Rochester Red Wings publicist Chuck Hinkel)

Former New Britain Rock Cats star Luke Hughes is getting another shot at some major league playing time.


Hughes was recalled from Triple-A Rochester after the Twins placed infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Nishioka, imported from Japan after winning a batting title in his homeland last season, was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured left fibula sustained when trying to turn a double play against the Yankees in New York Thursday afternoon.

Hughes, 26, from Perth, Australia, showed New Britain fans that he was a legitimate prospect in 2008. After spending the entire 2007 season with the Rock Cats as a utility player, he emerged the next year by hitting safely in 29 of his first 32 games.

He was named Eastern League Player of the Week April 26 to May 1 when he hit .406 with six homers and 10 RBI. He was rewarded with a promotion to Triple-A July 31 after starting at third base in the Futures Game.

An oblique injury set him back in 2009. He spent most of June on the disabled list and was sent back to New Britain for the remainder of the season.

Hughes received his first big league chance at the end of last April and went 2-for-7 (.286) in two games against Detroit, including a homer off Max Scherzer in his first major league at-bat.

He was returned to Rochester, but played in just eight games before suffering a sports hernia that ended his season.

Hughes played 218 games in a Rock Cats uniform. He hit .319 with 15 homers and 40 RBI in 70 games in his breakout 2008 campaign. In 2007, he batted .283 with nine homers and 43 RBI filling in at first, second, third and the outfield.

Nishioka played seven seasons for the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League before giving American baseball a shot. He played in all six games with the Twins this season hitting .208 (5-for-24), with a double, two RBI and a stolen base.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

SPRING -- WHEN AN OLD MAN'S PASSION TURNS TO BASEBALL

My heartbeat seems to have slowed a bit.

I feel tears forming in the corners of my eyes more than ever before and on those rare days in late March when I can feel the warmth of the sun, it’s like getting a passionate embrace from dear Mother Nature.

Spring fever is nothing new. It’s afflicted people of these New England climes for generations dating back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But this is different. It’s a strain of spring fever to be sure but with a touch of another more recently diagnosed malady called Baseball Fever.

In my case, it’s rather acute. For the first time in 12 years, I’m waking up at home the last week of March instead of in Fort Myers, Fla., near the training grounds of the Minnesota Twins and their Double-A affiliates, the New Britain Rock Cats.

I miss the perfect mornings when the bronzed young men jog out to the pristine minor league complex adjacent to majestic Hammond Stadium, the beautiful facility that houses major league camp and the Twins’ Class A team, the Fort Myers Miracle. How perfect that name. There is something miraculous about Southwest Florida. In some ways it does seem like it’s a little closer to heaven.

Four diamonds fan out from a three-story tower where the Twins’ administrative hierarchy can oversee everything that happens.

On one field, the Rock Cats-to-be work out and play an early afternoon game against similar competition that trains in the region. The Red Sox are right across town. The Orioles aren’t far away nor are the Pirates.

On another field, you have the Triple-A team, composed largely of players whose big league dreams have been temporarily – or permanently – derailed. I remember one spring when my dear friend and former Rock Cats manager Stan Cliburn had to lecture a young Triple-A outfielder dismayed by the trauma of being optioned to the minors.

Cliburn’s discourse was poignant and brilliantly mixed with equal parts of human compassion, baseball reality and the charm of the southern gentleman that characterizes the native of Jackson, Miss. Ex-Rock Cat Denard Span is now a Twins staple as leadoff hitter/centerfielder.

The third field features the newest professionals, bound for the lowest echelons of minor league baseball, where glory and attendance are rare commodities and dues must be paid.

The fourth diamond has no outfield – a perfectly manicured infield with a fence five feet beyond the skin portion. I’ve often talked to Hall of Famer Paul Molitor there after watching him bang grounders at infield hopefuls, stressing the fundamentals that made him one of the greatest players of his time whom few around here know about because he never played in New York or Boston.

Atop the tower, you’d find the inimitable Jim Rantz, the Twins minor league director who has been with the franchise since it moved to the Twin Cities from Washington, D.C., in 1961 and he was a pitching prospect.

Few people live to have the unique pleasure of witnessing the tributes that have rightfully been bestowed on Mr. Rantz. Since 2002, the Jim Rantz Award has gone to the top minor league pitcher in the system. All nine recipients have pitched for New Britain, including the most recent honoree Kyle Gibson, the rangy right-hander who surely will be the object of fantasy baseball devotees before long.

Mr. Rantz is benevolent, kind and a frequent visitor to New Britain Stadium.

One time about 10 years ago, I tossed my computer bag in the back of my minivan as a headed to the stadium. As I was driving, I heard a voice. I was able to distinguish it as the soft, thoughtful tone of Mr. Rantz.

Divine intervention? It very well could have been, but in this case, my computer bag had landed in such a way that set off my tape recorder.

The Rock Cats manager is Jeff Smith. Talk about kindness and benevolence, I know Jeff didn’t invent the traits but he ranks among the finest baseball gentlemen I’ve ever met.

As a player in New Britain for parts of six seasons, Smitty did everything he could to endear himself to the people of the region. He visited hospitals and read to children. He took the time to encourage the elderly in nursing homes. He was a regular at Klingberg Family Center, the stately facility on the hill in the center of New Britain that does wonderful things for youngsters in need.

As manager, Smith and the Twins expect no less of the players, and they respond with selflessness. Many a central Connecticut native will recall spending time with the likes of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, the heart of the Twins’ batting order these days.

Springtime in Fort Myers was always my time to reminisce with them and others who I befriended in my 30 years around the world’s most exquisite game. I knew I would miss that and I knew the most difficult moments would come as opening day grew close.

When it comes to the milk of human kindness, the Twins are the cream of the crop. That’s one reason why Rock Cats owner/general manager/president/patron saint Bill Dowling relishes a partnership that does not include the Red Sox, the team he rooted for passionately growing up in Holyoke, Mass., or the Yankees, for whom he worked as general counsel.

Spring training has come and gone, and I’ve missed it dearly. I take solace in the fact that nothing will keep me from frequenting my perch in the New Britain Stadium press box just as often as I can as the 2011 season plays out.

Friday, April 1, 2011

2011 ROCK CATS ROSTER SET

(Rock Cats press release)

New Britain, CT – The Opening Day edition of the 2011 New Britain Rock Cats has been assembled in Florida and on Monday morning, the group will be arriving at their summer home in Connecticut.

Returning manager Jeff Smith and his players – 20 returnees and seven promising rookies - are ready to begin the franchise’s 39th consecutive season of professional baseball in the Nutmeg State. The Eastern League club will open their new baseball season at 7:05 p.m. next Thursday night (4/7) in Richmond, Virginia. The home opener is slated for Thursday, April 14, at 6:05 p.m.

The Rock Cats’ 2011 Opening Day roster contains a veteran presence that had been missing in recent years, when the New Britain team was consistently among the youngest in the historic baseball circuit. Indeed, of the 27 players starting the new campaign in the Hardware City, 20 are returnees who have previously performed in a New Britain uniform.

One returnee, 23-year-old 1B Chris Parmelee, was Minnesota’s top draft pick in 2006 while another, 23-year-old slugging OF Joe Benson, was named Minnesota’s 2010 Minor League Player of the Year. Baseball America ranks Benson the #4 Prospect in the entire Twins system and the sweet-swinging Parmelee, #18.

Other top prospects en route to Connecticut include three highly-regarded right-handed pitchers: 22-year-Liam Hendriks (ranked #6 by BA), 23-year-old David Bromberg (#13), and 23-year-old Bobby Lanigan (#31). Joining them will be a rookie and the pride of Danbury High and the University of Connecticut - 6’8” lefthander Michael Tarsi. The Twins selected Tarsi out of Storrs in the 2007 draft and he’ll soon be making his Double-A debut.

Other key returnees to the Rock Cats include 21-year-old RHP Deolis Guerra – a 2010 EL All-Star – and 23-year-old LHP Tyler Robertson, who led the 2010 club in starts (27), innings (144.2) and strikeouts (91). While Guerra is penciled in as a starter, the 6’6 Robertson likely will be working out of the bullpen.

Additional players include veteran catchers Danny Lehmann, Jair Fernandez and Allan de san Miguel. Fernandez will start the year on the disabled list.

In addition to Parmelee, five infielders who previously performed in Rock Cats uniforms will also be back in 2011. They are Chris Cates, Estarlin de los Santos, the versatile Toby Gardenhire, Yangervis Solarte and Steve Singleton. Both de los Santos and Gardenhire – the winner of the Rock Cats 2008 10th Player Award – will start the new season on the DL.

Coming to New Britain for the first time are four veteran players who were acquired by Minnesota after they had performed in other organizations. This group includes RHP Brett Jacobson, a 6’6 reliever acquired via trade with Baltimore,

LHP Jake Stevens, a bullpen specialist was signed away from San Francisco. Infielders Ray Chang, a 2010 EL All-Star with Portland who signed as a free agent, and Mike Hollimon, a middle infielder who has MLB time with Detroit, give the Rock Cats veterans they generally lack.

Along with Tarsi, another rookie who will be debuting in New Britain this season is infielder Deibinson Romero, a highly touted prospect who is now healthy after suffering a series of leg injuries.

The complete 2011 Opening Day roster:

PITCHERS (12): RHP Santos Arias, RHP David Bromberg, RHP Cole Devries, RHP Deolis Guerra, RHP Liam Hendriks, RHP Steve Hirschfeld, RHP Brett Jacobson, RHP Bobby Lanigan, LHP Tyler Robertson, LHP Spencer Steedley, LHP Jake Stevens, LHP Michael Tarsi.


CATCHERS (3): Allan de san Miguel, Jair Fernandez (DL), Danny Lehmann.


INFIELDERS (9): Chris Cates, Ray Chang, Estarlin de los Santos (DL), Toby Gardenhire (DL), Mike Hollimon, Chris Parmelee, Deibinson Romero, Steve Singleton, Yangervis Solarte.
OUTFIELDERS (3): Joe Benson, Evan Bigley, and Mark Dolenc.

The 24-year-old Bigley was impressive as a late-season call-up last year, batting .336 with nine doubles, four homers and 15 RBI in just 27 games. The versatile Dolenc contributed in several different ways and won the Rock Cats 2010 10th Player Award.