I became a baseball fan in 1997. I used to listen to the radio broadcasts of the nearest minor league baseball team (90 miles away from where I grew up). I would keep score by hand until either the radio frequency changed (making it impossible to hear the play-by-play) or until I fell asleep, whichever came first. Fast-forward seventeen years to the summer of 2014, and I found myself in the role of official scorer for that same minor league club.
The Billings Mustangs play in the Pioneer League as a rookie-level affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The Mustangs’ season begins mid-June following the Rule 4 amateur draft. The roster is composed primarily of: (i) college-aged players from that year’s draft; (ii) high-school aged players drafted in previous years’ drafts who have one or two seasons of professional experience in the complex-level Arizona League; and (iii) Latin American players who have several years of prior professional experience in the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona League.
The official scorer’s job is to keep an official play-by-play record from each game and to communicate that information to Minor League Baseball. I still keep score on an old-fashioned paper scoresheet, but I supplement that with an automated scoring software (The Automated ScoreBook®), which quickly tabulates in-game totals. At the end of the game, I print out a box score and a play-by-play report, which the Mustangs front office distributes to each team so that they can use that information when preparing their reports for their parent club.
After every half-inning, I communicate the play-by-play information to a Minor League Baseball stringer in MLB Advanced Media’s office in Manhattan, who compiles and distributes the data in close to real time for fans following on the Internet.
After the game, one or both of the teams (usually through their manager, but sometimes through a pitching coach or hitting coach) may question one of my judgment calls, such as why I credited a batter with a base hit on a given batted ball rather than charging a fielder with an error. I am willing to listen to any disagreement, and it is not uncommon for me to change my mind on a judgment call. In particular, whether a pitched ball is scored a wild pitch (because it bounces just before reaching the catcher) or a passed ball (because the catcher muffed it) is sometimes difficult to determine from my vantage from the Dehler Park press box.
I watched and scored 35 regular season games from the Dehler Park press box last summer, and two postseason games. The most bizarre play came on July 29 in a game against the visiting Helena Brewers. In the bottom of the seventh, first baseman Kevin Franklin led off with a bunt single to third. Left fielder Jimmy Pickens walked. With runners on first and second, with nobody out, second baseman Alberti Chavez attempted to bunt. Helena had the wheel play on and executed it well.
The bunt went down the first base line, where the first baseman (Alan Sharkey) fielded the ball. He threw to the shortstop covering third (Luis Aviles) to force out Franklin. Aviles returned the throw back to first base, where the second baseman (Gregory Munoz) was now covering first. The throw was late, and Chavez (the batter runner) was safe. However, Munoz saw that Pickens had aggressively rounded second on the play. Munoz threw to second in time to put out Pickens, who was trying to scamper back.
But who was covering second base? The corner infielders were both charging on the bunt. The shortstop had been covering third. The second baseman had been covering first. The answer, of course, was the center fielder. The groundball double play was scored 3-6-4-8.
The 2014 season saw some talented players in Billings, but none impressed me more than right fielder Aristides Aquino.
Aquino, a twenty-year old Dominican in his fourth professional season, was the Mustangs’ everyday right fielder. Long and gangly, he evoked a young Vladimir Guerrero at the plate with his high hands and aggressive approach (4.9% walk rate compared to 8.2% for the rest of the league; 21.5% strikeout rate, compared to 19.5% for the rest of the league). Aquino consistently made hard contact, and his overall slash line (.292/.342/.577) compared very favorably to league average (.279/.348/.425). In 307 plate appearances, he tallied 16 home runs and 21 stolen bases. In right field he got good reads off the bat and had very good range. He showed off a strong arm, although the throwing motion resembled Hunter Pence more than it did Vladimir Guerrero. I also heard rumors that he was a terrific presence in the clubhouse. I enjoyed watching him play, and I hope he has a long and successful professional career.
Please keep in mind that the views expressed in this post are my own opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Billings Pioneer Baseball Club LLC. If you are wondering about a baseball-related road-trip in 2015, consider coming to Billings (which recently ranked as a top ten beer city on livability.com). Drop me a line if you’re passing through, but if you watch a game at Dehler Park, please do not heckle the official scorer.Next post: The Forgotten Pitchers: Part 2 of 2
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