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Road Trip Report: Gwinnett & Charlotte (Part 1)

Welcome to the first edition of Road Trip Report, my new regular feature with dispatches from the Chiefs’ road trips. I’ll be posting photos and thoughts from the league’s other cities to give folks a feel for life away from Syracuse. First up: last week’s seven-game road trip to Gwinnett and Charlotte.

Life on the road isn’t always glamorous. Case in point: last Monday morning’s travel itinerary.

Itinerary

 

7 a.m. flight = 5 a.m. bus = 4 a.m. wake-up. And all I had to do on Monday night was talk. There’s no hope of simply rolling out of bed in sweatpants and hopping on a flight, either – the Nationals have mandated sport coats and slacks for the team as a travel dress code.

Our hotel at Gwinnett (quick side note: it’s at Gwinnett, not in Gwinnett – we’re technically in Lawrenceville, GA, in Gwinnett County) is a Courtyard by Marriott, with a tremendous walking and wildlife trail (complete with random bridge) down a staircase right next to the hotel – perfect for an hour-long walk on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.

IMG_1657        IMG_1656        IMG_1658

I’m not normally a big chain-restaurant aficionado, but I make a pair of exceptions in Lawrenceville. The first: Chick-Fil-A…not even so much for the food, but for the heavenly Polynesian, Chick-Fil-A and Honey Roasted Barbecue sauces. (I tried to smuggle Polynesian sauce back from Georgia last year in my suitcase. The result was a bit stickier than I had intended.) I asked our hotel shuttle driver to take me to Chick-Fil-A in the mall, which is around a mile away. On the way there, we passed a new Chick-Fil-A. I went to the new one each of the following two days.

The second is Mimi’s Cafe, a mostly western and southern restaurant chain. I have no idea how the lunch or dinner is, but the cinnamon roll French toast is quite delectable:

Amazingly enough, this is only the third-best French toast in the league. Just wait until the Indianapolis and Pawtucket reports.

Amazingly enough, this is only the third-best French toast in the league at best. Just wait until the Indianapolis and Pawtucket reports.

Gwinnett’s Coolray Field is in its seventh year of existence this year, but it has a brand-new view behind the center and right-field walls: an apartment complex known as The Views at Coolray Field. As far as stadium backdrops go, it’s no Charlotte (more on that in a second), but it sure beats “nothing”.

XXxx

You can watch the game for free from about 40% of these apartments. And by “free”, I mean “the low, low price of an apartment, which averages about $1,500 a month in rent here at Coolray Field, but hey, there are two Chick-Fil-As right down the road, so what are you complaining about?”

After four games at Gwinnett, we hopped on a bus around 2 p.m. Thursday and headed to Charlotte – one of the jewels of the league. This was my first time making the trip to Charlotte since the Knights moved from Fort Mill, South Carolina to the actual city in which their name states they exist. Weird, right? That’s like if the New York Giants played in, oh, New Jersey. Wouldn’t make a lick of sense!

I did something Thursday that I otherwise never want to do – I went to a non-Chiefs baseball game. Some people around the game and in this profession can’t get enough of baseball. I have more than my fair share. A night off generally means watching a movie, reading a book or doing anything that has nothing to do with sports – but just hours beforehand, Baseball America‘s list of the top minor-league stadiums in the country came out, and BB&T BallPark in Charlotte was named #1. I had to see it with my own eyes, especially since I’d be solo on the air and couldn’t experience walking around the stadium in-game. So I grabbed my I.L. broadcaster pass and headed Uptown, for the spectacular sight of the park under the lights…

Night full booth view

 

Charlotte’s the league’s most hitter-friendly park – here’s a view from the short “Home Run Porch” in right field.

RF porch

 

Built in the middle of the “Uptown” area, BB&T BallPark provides a street-level view for fans walking by – including these two diehards who tell me they’re at just about every game…

Fans through gate                Fans 2                Fan 3

With all the pictures from Charlotte, we’re splitting this into two posts – the second dispatch will come later this week, while I sit and dream about the 80-degree weather south of us here in, um, a more temperate climate.

Stuff You’ll Like – May 18th

Some of us are feeling particularly inspired today, after seven games in 80-degree weather down south and a 4-3 Chiefs road trip – so, without further adieu, here’s the return of the popular to quite-popular “Stuff You’ll Like” – our daily list of links, Chiefs-related and otherwise, we think you need to know. We’ll start with an outstanding photo recently captured by our own Rick Nelson before moving onto the list…

Emmanuel Burriss

– Check out all the highlights from Syracuse’s winning road trip.

– Bud Poliquin, our greatest local ponderer, wonders aloud: what happens when people stop going to football games?

– Donna Ditota and her golden retriever, with a dog’s-eye view from last week’s Bark in the Park.

– The Lost Laughs of David Letterman (who’s beginning his final week at CBS.)

– …and while you’re at it, Norm Macdonald’s final standup set and teary goodbye to the show.

– A survivor of Amtrak train 188 writes a brave, gripping account of her ordeal.

– Finally, the first look at my most anticipated film of the year, steve jobs.

“Artists lead. And hacks ask for a show of hands.”

Catch you tonight at 6:50 on The Score 1260 or thescore1260.com.

KB

Why Chiefs fans should be excited about the return of Michael Taylor

Denard Span is back from his stint on the disabled list to open the season, which means his replacement, Michael Taylor is headed back to Syracuse to contribute to the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Taylor filled in at center field for Span over the first twelve games of the MLB regular season. He spent most of last season in Double-A Harrisburg but did appear at the Triple-A level for 12 games last season for Syracuse. Here are five reasons why Chiefs fans should be excited to see the future major leaguer in action in a Syracuse uniform.

1. He’s fast

Michael Taylor returns to the Syracuse Chiefs in 2015. Photo by Gary Walts.

Michael Taylor returns to the Syracuse Chiefs in 2015. Photo by Gary Walts.

Speed is a necessity to be a successful outfielder in professional baseball. Taylor certainly has that attribute. The 32nd-ranked prospect by Baseball America stole 51 bags in 133 games at Single-A Potomac in 2013. He followed that up with 37 total stolen bases between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in 2014.

2. He’s a power performer

In 2014, Taylor slugged 23 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A. In 98 games with Double-A Harrisburg, Taylor owned a .539 slugging percentage. In 441 at bats, Taylor had 41 extra base hits, including 17 doubles, 2 triples and 22 home runs.

3. He gets on base

Taylor is a guy that you want at the top of your lineup because he gets on base at a consistent tick. Since 2010, Taylor has failed to finish a season with an on base percentage under .300. His highest on base percentage came with Double-A Harrisburg last season with an OBP of .396 before being called up to Syracuse.

4. He’s a versatile fielder

The 24-year old centerfielder has committed only 44 errors in his five-year career in professional baseball. However, not all of those seasons have been in the outfield. In his first season of professional baseball for the Gulf Coast Nationals, Michael Taylor was a shortstop. He struggled mightily as he committed 13 errors in 19 games. But after moving to the outfield in 2011, Taylor has tightened up his defense. He has averaged just five errors over the past four seasons.

5. He can flat out play

In his first 12 games with the Washington Nationals to open up 2015, he hit .271 with two home runs, six extra base hits and eight RBI’s out of the leadoff spot. Even Taylor’s replacement in the majors, Denard Span, has praised the centerfielder for his ability. “He can play, man,” Span said earlier in the season. “I’ve watched him for the last two spring trainings and watched him go about his business during drills and pregame stuff. Mentally, he has a real good head on his shoulders and he’s going to be real good.”

Roster Report: April 17

Eric Gallanty writing to you today, what an opening day in Syracuse it was. Personally, it was my first Chiefs game, and what an amazing way to start. The crowd was awesome and the Chiefs offense answered the call, with 10 runs and 13 hits in a 10-2 win over the RailRiders. We’ll do it again tonight at 6:05 at NBT Bank Stadium. In case you missed it over the first week of the year, here are some roster updates the Chiefs have made so far.

Rafael Martin called up by Washington:

The Chiefs dominant closer a year ago, Martin was added to Washington’s bullpen and what a MLB debut he had. The right hander struck out five consecutive Red Sox on Sunday, the first Nationals pitcher to achieve that feat in his ML debut since Steven Strasburg in 2010. The Chiefs back-end of the bullpen is still in good hands though with former Major League all-star Evan Meek.

Matt den Dekker optioned to Syracuse:

Acquired in a trade from the Mets on March 30th, den Dekker comes to Syracuse after a week in Washington filling the void of the injured Jason Werth. It’s been a great start for den Dekker in his first three games with the Chiefs, picking up four hits and four RBIs.

Felipe Rivero to Washington, Taylor Jordan back to Syracuse

The Nats recalled Jordan before his scheduled start Wednesday after Craig Stammen was placed on the disabled list. Washington designated left-handed pitcher Xavier Cedeno for assignment a few days before, which left the big club short a southpaw in the bullpen. Enter Rivero, who will swap places with Jordan and act as Cedeno’s replacement, with Martin holding Stammen’s spot for now. Jordan is expected to arrive back in Syracuse in the next day or two.

Five New Chiefs to Know in 2015

Opening Day for the Syracuse Chiefs takes place tomorrow on the road against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. In order to get Chiefs fans into the baseball spirit, we decided to take a look at five new additions to Syracuse in 2015 to help you get to know your Chiefs before the season begins. Today’s five players to know is written by broadcast intern Andrew Grella.

1. Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Credit: Washington Post

– Gwynn has spent parts of eight seasons in the Major Leagues with four different teams in his career. He has played for the Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Philadelphia Phillies.

–  The 32-year-old center fielder is a career .238 hitter with a .309 on-base-percentage in 685 Major League games. Once Gwynn reaches base, he wreaks havoc on the base paths. In 2011 for the Dodgers, Gwynn swiped 22 bags and has 80 total career steals.

– Tony Gwynn Jr. is the son of the late and great Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

2. Dan Butler

– Butler was the catcher for the Pawtucket Red Sox since 2011 until he was acquired by the Nationals for Danny Rosenbaum in January of 2015.

– Butler made his major league debut on August 10th, 2014. He was pulled from Pawtucket’s August 1st game against the Chiefs because he was called up to the Majors that day.

– Butler was named the team MVP in 2013 for the Pawtucket Red Sox. In that season, he hit .262 with 14 homers and 45 runs batted in.

3. Rich Hill

– Rich Hill brings a ton of experience to the Chiefs pitching staff. The veteran left-hander has played for six major league teams over parts of 10 seasons in the Majors.

– In 2007 with the Cubs, Hill ranked fifth in the National League with 183 strikeouts and batting average against which was just .235 against the left-hander.

– Hill pitched in 14 games for the New York Yankees last season but only accumulated a total of 5 innings. Expect a heavier workload for the 35-year old this year for Syracuse.

4. Kila Ka’aihue

Credit: MLB.com

– Kila Ka’aihue is a native of Kailua, Hawaii but will be braving the cooler temperature of Syracuse, N.Y to open up the 2015 season.

– Ka’aihue led the Pacific Coast League in home runs in 2013 before he was sold to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He spent two seasons in Japan. In 2014, Ka’aihue hit .257 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs

– Ka’aihue is notorious for his power. He made his Major League Debut in 2008 and hit his first home run that year off of Gavin Floyd. Ka’aihue has also homered off of Nationals starters Gio Gonzalez and Max Scherzer.

5. Evan Meek

– Evan Meek was an all star in 2010 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Before the All Star Break, he led all National League relievers with a 0.98 ERA.

– Meek pitched very well in Triple-A last year for the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles the Norfolk Tides. In 39 appearances, the right hander posted a sub two ERA and notched 37 strikeouts.

– Meek was the pitcher who served up Derek Jeter’s walk off single in Jeter’s final at bat at Yankee Stadium in 2014.

Spring Training Update: April 2nd

Some more updates from Nationals training camp as the 25-man roster is almost set down in Jupiter, Florida…this update is brought to you by braodcast intern Andrew Grella.

Nationals Reassign Rafael Martin and Ian Stewart to Minor Leagues

The Nationals announced their latest roster moves after yesterday’s game against the Miami Marlins. Rafael Martin and Ian Stewart have been reassigned to minor league camp and will start the season with Triple-A Syracuse. Washington manager Matt Williams said that both Stewart and Martin can help the big league club later in the season but will start this year in the minors. That’s good news for the Chiefs. Rafael Martin was dominant for Syracuse in 2014. The 30-year old posted a 0.80 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 33 innings in Triple-A last season. In just over six innings of work this spring, Martin allowed six hits and only one earned run while holding opposing batters to a .250 BAA. As for Ian Stewart, he hit .279 in 43 at bats this spring with two doubles and three home runs. Stewart fell short of obtaining the final bench spot for the Nationals to open up 2015.

Nationals Roster Down to 27 with Two Cuts Remaining

With the final 25-man roster due on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals are down to 27 with four days left to cut two more players. Washington will have to cut one pitcher and one position player. The battles will be for the final spot on the bench and for the final spot in the bullpen. For that final spot in the pen, two left handers will be battling to be the second left handed relief pitcher on the roster. The battle appears to be between Xavier Cedeno and Rich Hill. Hill has had better numbers than Cedeno so far this Spring, however if the Nationals choose Hill, Cedeno will have to clear waivers and it is unknown whether he will return to Washington or be traded. So if the Nats would like to keep both lefties, it may be easier to send Hill down first and call him up later. For the bench spot, the battle seems to be between Mike Carp and Clint Robinson. Both players are first basemen who can play a corner outfield position and both hit from the left side of the plate. Carp has more experience than Robinson, but Robinson has had a better spring training so that battle will continue over the final four days for that final roster spot.

What this means for the Chiefs? 

1. The Chiefs get a solid reliever in Rafael Martin returning to the roster to start 2015. He may not be down in Triple-A for long but will be a solid addition to the back of the bullpen to help Syracuse win some games to start the season.

2. Ian Stewart looks to have regained some of his power that he was touted for when he was younger. The 29-year-old is looking to have a resurgent year for the Chiefs after bouncing around several teams over the past few seasons. He is a legitimate power threat in the Syracuse lineup for 2015.

3. Mike Carp or Clint Robinson would both provide an offensive spark for the Chiefs. Carp was a major contributor off the bench for the 2013 World Champion Boston Red Sox but has struggled offensively since last year. He only hit .189 this spring and may be sent down to get his swing back. As for Robinson, he has not played in the Major Leagues up to this point in his career, so we will see whether they want to see more from him in the minors or give him a shot to start the season.

4. The battle between the relief pitchers may come down more on contractual obligations than to skill of each of the left handers. Rich Hill can start out in the minors and has an option to opt out if he is not promoted by June 1st. Meanwhile, Xavier Cedeno will have to go through waivers if he does not start 2015 with the new club. Chiefs fans won’t want to miss Hill who has pitched very well in the Spring. When his curveball is biting, it is one of the nastiest benders in the majors.

Spring Training Update: April 1st

Eric Gallanty here with today’s spring training update. I’m the newest member of the Chiefs radio booth, and can’t wait to work with Kevin and get rolling with the season.

Kevin Frandsen Released

Washington granted Frandsen his unconditional release this morning. Despite injuries around the diamond, the utility man found himself as at least the third option at multiple different infield positions. And after the Nationals signed Reed Johnson and traded for Matt den Dekker this week, the outfield in Washington is now a bit crowded as well. Frandsen spent all of 2014 with the big club, playing in 105 games with a .229 average. With Frandsen’s departure, Washington must get to 25 with a potential Chief, at least until some of the injured starters return.

OF Tony Gwynn Jr. Sent to Minor League Camp

The Chiefs are getting one of the most productive hitters in the Nationals camp this spring. Gwynn flourished in Viera, hitting .341 in spring training, holding a .420 on-base percentage. Gwynn hit .152 in 80 games with the Phillies last season, yet his spring success nearly landed him a spot on the opening day roster. But after the additions of Johnson and den Dekker, Gwynn was re-assigned to minor league camp. If his bat stays hot, Washington may come calling again.

Spring Training Update: March 31st

Lots to dig into from the past couple of days. Here’s today’s update, with some writing assistance from one of our 2015 broadcast interns, Andrew Grella…

C Sandy Leon traded to Red Sox

Leon, one of the Chiefs’ main catchers last year, was sent to Boston on Monday in exchange for cash. Last season, Leon hit .229 with five home runs in 51 games for the Chiefs. He’s mainly known for his defense behind the plate, having thrown out 17 of 29 base-stealers last year between Syracuse and Washington. Leon’s departure comes as little surprise – the 26-year-old was out of options and would have had to clear waivers to return to Syracuse.

OF Matt den Dekker acquired from Mets

Credit: UPI

On Sunday, Nationals G.M. Mike Rizzo expressed his satisfaction with the team’s depth. On Monday, he traded a catcher for cash, a reliever for an outfielder and signed another outfielder. (More on that in a bit.) The key move of the day was trading left-hander Jerry Blevins, a mainstay in last year’s bullpen, for den Dekker, a 27-year-old outfielder who’s bounced between Triple-A and the major leagues each of the last two years. In 80 big-league games, he’s hit .238 with a .325 on-base percentage and 57 strikeouts. Last year in Las Vegas, however, he posted a .334/.407/.540 slash line in 93 games. (Grain of salt alert: Las Vegas is a hitter-friendly park in a notoriously hitter-friendly league. Still. Pretty darn good.) Expect him to start on the Nationals’ bench, with a move to Syracuse potentially corresponding once Washington’s lineup returns to full health.

OF Reed Johnson signed to a minor-league deal

Credit: Tireball.com

Johnson, who enters 2015 at 38 (!) years old, was released by the Marlins yesterday morning and signed by the Nationals in the afternoon. He posted just a .266 on-base percentage last year with Miami, but did rank second in the major leagues in pinch-hits. The guess here is Johnson either makes the big-league team or moves on. His last stint as a full-time minor leaguer? 2003 – with the Syracuse Chiefs.

What does this all mean for the Chiefs?

1. Syracuse likely won’t have left-hander Xavier Cedeno (also out of options). Blevins’ departure opens a spot in the Nationals’ bullpen for a southpaw, and Cedeno may be it.

2. Dan Butler and Steven Lerud, almost definitely, will be your starting catching tandem on Opening Day.

3. Syracuse’s outfield just got stronger. While we don’t yet know who’ll be in the Chiefs’ outfield, the acquisitions of den Dekker and Johnson bolster the Nationals’ outfield depth. With those two, Clint Robinson, Tony Gwynn, Jr. and others still in major-league camp, expect Syracuse to have a strong outfield group to begin the year.

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