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.