Jul 2011 29

With all the drama surrounding the Cardinals and the flurry of activity before the trade deadline, people have a tendency to overlook the River City Rascals. I’ll admit, I pretty much did the same thing while I was coaching this summer. Imagine my surprise when I checked the standings last week and the Rascals weren’t only in first place, they were decimating the competition.

Remembering the good times we had last year cheering on the Rascals (as well as the terror we inflicted on the beer vendors in the right field corner), my friends and I made plans to go to the game last night, and then they promptly bailed. Womp, womp. Unfazed, I marched on. Given the recent heat wave and the fact that some up-and-coming country musician named Kenneth Arnold Chesney was playing last night, I was somewhat worried I might be the only person in the stands. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised, as the Rascals have built a fanbase who follow them quite intently.

If you haven’t been to a Rascals game and are a baseball fan, I highly suggest you come out to T.R. Hughes Ballpark sometime soon. The ballpark is about what you’d expect from a minor-league ballpark: cozy, ad-laden walls in the outfield, and not a bad seat in the house. Tickets run from $5-11 for the regular seats, and if you pre-order, they knock a dollar off the price. For you high-rollers, there is a patio in the right-field corner called the Dog Pound Patio that’s all-inclusive for $25.

The games are played at a brisk pace (the game was over before 9:45), and the level of baseball is probably on par with low-A minor league ball. Most of these guys won’t come close to the majors, but they’re not exactly the guys you see in Sunday afternoon beer leagues, either. They typically have a legitimate baseball pedigree. Stephen Holdren, the Rascals’ best hitter, played college ball at Texas A & M; Jareck West was a 25th-round draft pick of Oakland; Chris McClendon was a starter at Kentucky; Jason Patton played at Kent State and was drafted by Tampa Bay; Chad Maddox played at Tennessee; and so on.

Neither team could get much of anything going until the bottom of the third. An error by Florence shortstop Junior Arroyo (his second of the game) let Danny Sawyer reach, and he later scored on a single through the gap into right by Patton. An inning later, Maddox lined a two-run home run over the right-center wall, and Holdren shot a towering two-run blast into center field in the fifth for his 16th home run of the season to conclude the Rascals’ scoring.

On the flip side, pitcher Wayde Kitchens surrendered a couple early hits but settled down and was filthy the rest of the way. He kept the ball low and his off-speed stuff kept Florence’s hitters off-balance. He cruised until the eighth inning when an error by third baseman Matt Serna led to an unearned run. Dustin Umberger surrendered three runs in the ninth, but closer Derrick Miramontes came in and earned his eleventh save of the season.

With the win, the Rascals improved to an astounding 45-16, a full eight games ahead of second-place Southern Illinois. Despite some occasional sloppy play, it was a pretty fun game to watch. Miramontes, a side-armer, has some nasty breaking pitches, and his 1.25 ERA and 44 K in 36 innings shows hitters aren’t getting an easy read on him. I mentioned Holdren last year as being one of the better players on the team, and he’s still pacing them Rascals this year, hitting .316 with 16 HR and 55 RBI. Patton is a solid hitter (.325, 6 HR, 34 RBI) and unleashed a couple of absolute lasers from deep right field.

Note: if you do plan on attending, you might want to bring some bug spray. Fortunately, I had some in my softball bag in my trunk, so I was largely unaffected. I noted with some humor that the people around me were swatting at bugs all night, then I remembered the only things keeping me company were the empty beer cups next to me (home games on Thursday nights feature dollar 10oz. beers until the end of the fifth inning [note, the end of the fifth; after that, prices go back up to their normal levels]), which, when I think about it, really isn’t all that dissimilar from every other night.

The Rascals have another full month of regular season baseball and, barring a complete collapse, should play into September with hopes of repeating as the Frontier League champions. The stands aren’t super packed right now, so if you’re looking for something to do and want to spend less than you would on a movie, make the trek out to T.R. Hughes. If you see a lonely Asian guy sitting in the right field bleachers, feel free to say hi.

St. Louis Pest Control Experts – Blue Chip

Sep 2010 26

Hello all, sorry I haven’t written anything in quite a bit. Life’s been a bit hectic and…yeah.

From around St. Louis sports:

Cardinals

The Cardinals have all but been eliminated from the post-season. As we sit here, the magic number for elimination is two, meaning any combination of Cardinals losses/Reds Wins equaling two will eliminate them. I am, however, happy to say that I finally got to go to a Cardinals game that resulted in a victory, as I went last Friday when the Cardinals defeated the Padres 14-4.

Backup catcher Jason LaRue was forced to retire as a result of the concussion he received in the melee in Cincinnati. Johnny Cueto was last seen running in terror screaming like a small child. As he should, as nothing can escape the wrath of the mustache.

It hears your footsteps, Cueto.

Missouri Football

The Tigers are off to a 4-0 start, although they had quite a bit of a scare against San Diego State. Blaine Gabbert has gotten off to a solid if unspectacular start, completing 68.2% of his passes for 1039 yards, 5TD and 3INT. At tailback, with the dismissal of Derrick Washington , Henry Josey (26 carries for 212 yards and 4TD), De’Vion Moore (31 carries for 183 yards and 3TD), and Kendial Lawrence (16 carries for 112 yards and 1TD) have handled the bulk of the carries. Aldon Smith has picked up right where he left off last year, gathering three sacks in three games before injuring his leg.

The real breakout of the year, however, has been receiver T.J. Moe. Moe doesn’t have the breakout speed of past receivers like Jeremy Maclin or Danario Alexander, but he has terrific hands, a huge vertical, and has become one of the nations leading receivers, with 37 catches for 394 yards and two touchdowns.

I will be covering the Rams in a separate post, as there’s too much for me to write about. I simply wanted to put up a quick post about the Cardinals and Tigers.

Finally, a big congratulations to the River City Rascals for winning the Frontier League Title. After falling behind two games to none to the Southern Illinois Miners, the Rascals swept the next three games and defeated the Traverse City Beach Bums in the finals 3 games to 1. Stephen Holdren earned a spot on the All Frontier League team for his campaign after hitting .305 with 16 HR and 72 RBI. I think it was due to my excellent coverage and report on the Rascals games that they were able to win the title.

Aug 2010 20

I’m not sure whether to be amused or unsettled by the fact that the vendors in the Beer Garden of T.R. Hughes now recognize my friends and I on the spot.

After the entertaining double-header and dollar beer last week, it took little convincing for me to get Jackie and Elizabeth to come to the game with me against Oakland County this week. Apparently they had so much fun they managed to convince others to join us. Armed with cash, the three of us, along with Tara, Megan, Joe, and Amber headed west to the ol’ ballpark.

Five girls, two guys. Countless dollar beers. One annoying horn. Oh, my.

We found a nice little perch in right field and settled into our seats. There was a noticeably larger crowd this week. Unfortunately, the Rascals hit a little bump in the road last night. Starting pitcher Tony Marsala, who threw seven innings of shutout ball his last start, got roughed up for seven earned runs in 2.2 innings. Relievers Eric Berkowitz, Nick Phillips, and Keli’i Zablan did their best to staunch the bleeding, combining for 6.1 innings of one-run ball, but the offense never really got going and the Rascals dropped the game 8-1.

I don't really remember what inning this was taken, or what's going on in the game. Did I mention the dollar beers?

Most of the Rascals seemed to struggle at the plate and on the field. Doug Sanders did have two hits and drove in the lone run for the Rascals after Caleb Curry (who also had two hits) singled and advanced to third on a wild pitch. But the Rascals managed just five hits against the Cruisers’ pitching staff. Even the mighty Stephen Holdren, whose picture is in the dictionary next to the entry for “manly men manlier than you,” had an 0-fer and made an error in the field.

On the mound, Marsala never seemed to look comfortable on the mound. He didn’t surrender an extra base hit, but he did give up seven hits and hit a batter. Zablan was one of the few bright spots, pitching three innings and surrendering just one unearned run in his Rascals debut.

With roughly two and a half weeks left in the season, the Rascals find themselves 9.5 games out of first, but in second by 3.5. Since the top two teams from each division advance, they simply need to avoid a collapse and they’ll make another post-season run.

Despite the loss, the game was still enjoyable. The weather was a bit warm, but as the sun set, the temperatures dropped to an Arctic-like mid-80’s. By the fourth or fifth inning, I’d even managed to drown out the sound of the horn. As it was the first Rascals game for many of my friends, we managed to have a good time, and Amber and I even managed to sneak away and get another epic snowcone. Blue raspberry should be made our national snowcone flavor. Amber seemed to enjoy the snowcone as well, but she didn’t appreciate me ambushing her with a picture.

"Thanks, Steve," said Amber.

You’re welcome. I still don’t understand Jackie and Liz’s obsessions with the plastic lightsabers.

Liz: Steve, buy me a lightsaber!

me: I have $4 left in cash, and that’s all going to beer.

random man: Good answer!

What can I say, I’m a man with priorities.

Aug 2010 13

Whoever thought up Thirsty Thursdays for the Rascals Thursday home games ($1 for a 10oz. beer) is a genius.

Whoever thought the Rascals should play a doubleheader on Thursday with free admission, thus clearing up more money for beer…well, that’s just silly.

Taking in my second trip to T.R. Hughes Ballpark this summer, I managed to wrangle in two of my lovely friends from Zeta Tau Alpha, Jackie and Elizabeth, because without dollar beers, I doubt they’d be seen in public with me.

As we settled into our seats on the first base side (I had to sit closest to home so as to prevent an Astros-like incident), I knew it’d be a boisterous night when the girls finished their first two beers after the first half inning.

Jackie: Do the Rascals have any cheers?

Liz: R-A-S…how do you spell Rascals?

Jackie: …how DO you spell Rascals?

me: [whimpers]

The first game was an offensive feast. The Rascals got to Oakland County’s starter Bernard Robert early, tagging him for eight earned runs in two-plus innings. Michael Stephens was the only starter not to get a hit in the game, but he managed to drive in a run. Stephen Holdren crushed two home runs over the Bud Monster in right field, and first baseman Scott Robinson added a solo shot to center field. Zack Sterner went the distance for the Rascals, allowing four runs as the Rascals won 14-4.

Much of the game was spent shuffling back and forth between the beer garden and shaking my head dismally as Jackie and Liz purchased a horn and attempted to figure out how to work it properly. Once they did, I was looking forward to the big bottle of Tylenol in my car.

Our seats before the horn was purchased. Pretty sure this guy and his son couldn't get away from us fast enough after.

The trip was another remarkably pleasant experience, aside from a minor incident with two guys behind us who decided to antagonize my fraternity. A few choice words and a nice friendly glare and they went to get beer and never returned from their seats. The weather was warm in the beginning, but the rain had taken the edge off the heat, and as the night progressed, it became more pleasant. The stands were surprisingly empty; considering there was no Cardinals game and the weather was better than it’s been in recent days, I expected more people.

I got the chance to talk to Holdren after the game and asked him about the bombs he cranked. “Well, I knew we were playing a double-header so it would be a short game (in the Frontier League, double-header games last seven innings), so I knew I had to get my hits in early,” he cracked. He went on to explain that he knew the catcher was setting him up inside, so he was able to make the adjustment and pulled the ball. On the season, he’s now hitting .310 with 14 HR and 56 RBI in 74 games.

We didn’t stick around for the second game, but they won that one as well, 1-0. Gary Moran pitched seven shutout innings, striking out eight. The Rascals managed just one hit the second game but made the most of it when Chris McClendon stole third and scored easily on the errant throw by catcher Dan Killian. The Rascals are still 8.5 games out of first, but are 3.5 ahead of the third place team, the Gateway Grizzlies. Since the top two teams in each division make the playoffs, they just need to hold off the Grizzlies until the end of the season to earn a trip to the post-season.

If you haven’t had the chance to go to a game, I strongly urge you to do so. The Rascals have 12 home games remaining, and they’re definitely a good time. I didn’t get a chance to get an epic snow cone this game, but I think we’ll probably go again next week.

Just don’t bring two girls with you if you expect to watch the game in peace.

Liz: Steve, buy me a lightsaber.

me: You don’t need a lightsaber.

Liz: I WANT ONE.

me: [sigh]

Jul 2010 29

In my quest to become the best sportswriter in the history of ReviewSTL.com, narrowly beating out the empty chair that held the title before me, I told the bosses I would write about whatever they needed me to. When they told me they could get me a media pass to check out the River City Rascals whenever I wanted, I figured I’d take in a few games and promptly forgot due to my short-term memory and crippling alcohol dependency. Finally, I picked a date to go and invited all my friends to go with me. Fortunately, both of them did. I picked up my buddy Ryan and met Andrew out at the ballpark. T.R. Hughes Ballpark is off 70 and T.R. Hughes Boulevard, maybe 10-12 minutes off 270. Parking is free. I picked up my media pass which was saved for me under my alias of Han Solo from Will Call and we headed inside.

I had to skin a 9-year old for this.

I had the option of sitting in the press box, but since this was my first Rascals game, I thought I’d sit out with the heathens of the proletariat in the box seats. We settled down in section 105 behind the visitors’ dugout. T.R. Hughes is pretty much what you’d expect an independent minor league ballpark to look like. It’s pretty cozy; the foul territory looked absolutely tiny, and there’s not much of a backstop to protect from foul balls. Still, it’s nicely maintained and from what I could tell, there really isn’t a bad seat in the stadium.

The Bud Monster. It looks bigger in person. Sadly, that's not the first time I've ever had to say that.

The fences in the stadium are pretty short as well. Left field is 320 feet down the line, dead center is 398. Right field is especially short, 299, but it houses a larger wall that Ryan dubbed the Bud Monster. After getting some food, we settled into our seats. The food isn’t super cheap, but it’s not the exorbitant prices you’ll find at  Busch Stadium, either. Two hot dogs and two medium sodas cost me $11. I’m fairly certain to get that at a Cardinals game, I must donate one of my kidneys and a little plasma just to put down a down payment. The Rascals have been playing some ridiculously good baseball recently, going 16-5 before the game last night to earn a 36-24 record overall. They’d done work to gain some ground on the Southern Illinois Miners, who sat in first place with a 44-16 record. So we figured we’d see a pretty decent game. The rosters of the teams in this league are full of former college and high school standouts from all over the country. The level of play probably is on par with Class A ball, so it’s mostly guys who won’t sniff the majors, but there have been some players who have gone on to the majors, including a few for the Cardinals (Jason Simontacchi, Matt Duff, Josh Kinney).

The game was pretty cleanly played. The Rascals scored in the bottom of the first when Chad Maddox singled to drive in Caleb Curry. The Miners tied it in the top of the third when Joey Metropoulos singled and drove in Kent Gerst. But the Rascals put the game away in the bottom of the sixth with a sacrifice fly by Doug Sanders and scored an insurance run in the eighth on a sac fly by Caleb Curry. The final score ended up being 3-1 River City, putting the Rascals seven games behind the Miners.

Miramontes working against...some guy. I need new contacts.

There were a few notable players that my friends and I saw that have obvious potential to be picked up by a major league organization. The Miners’ catcher, Brendan Akashian, has a strong throwing arm and decent pop time (time it takes to go from the squat position to throwing the ball to second base). Another of the Miners has a pretty good potty mouth. Had he made it into the game instead of sitting on the bench, there’s a chance he’d fit in well in the majors. The Rascals’ relief pitcher Derrick Miramontes threw 2.1 innings and was pretty good. He throws a sidearm, which is tough enough to hit, but he also has some velocity and decent break on his pitches. By far our favorite player, though, was the Rascals right fielder, Stephen Holdren. He’s the Rascals’ most dangerous offensive threat, with 10 HR and 48 RBI in 60 games. He also has an absolute gun for an arm. Twice he threw to third base to prevent a runner from advancing, and each time it arrived on the fly.

The play of the game, though, was the throw he made on a single in the top of the seventh to nail Will Block at home. The throw was easily 270 feet and it arrived on the fly way ahead of the runner. It prevented the Miners from tying the game and drew the largest reaction from the crowd all night, other than the promotion during which the Rascals mascot knocked down a little boy in a footrace. The kid got a free pizza and a free emotionally traumatizing experience that he’ll remember in therapy years down the road.

All in all, it was a pretty fun experience. The Rascals do their best to entertain the crowd by offering promotions and contests between every inning, including the aforementioned footrace. The Quiktrip hotdog/taquito/chef race was amusing, and the food was decent. If you get a chance, get one of the shaved ice snowcones they sell along the third base stands. For $3.75 it’s well worth it.

The Rascals run promotions most home games, and it’s a fun (and relatively cheap) way to spend an evening. Just be sure to bring some bug spray and you’ll be set, as by the end of the night, we were fighting off more bugs than Starship Troopers. I’ll definitely be going back, if only to try the deep-fried Oreos. Because apparently plain Oreos are a little TOO nutritious.

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