First roadie of the year for me, believe it or not. Memorial Day weekend was my first chance to get out there and I made it to Bakersfield for a noon Cal League tilt between the Blaze and the High Desert Mavericks. The Blaze came into the game at the bottom of the North division but the Mavericks were closing in on the slumping Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and looking for their third straight win.
The pitching matchup featured righty Dan Altavilla for the homestanding Blaze against lefty Luis Parra of the Mavs. Altavilla entered the season as the Mariners’ #19 organizational prospect, per Baseball America and #18 in MLB.com’s rankings.
Altavilla started strong, setting down the first six HD batters with three K’s. In the bottom of the first, Blaze 2B Tim Lopes put the home team ahead with a solo homer and it stayed 1-0 until the fourth inning.
HD Mavs’ Ryan Cordell. Photo: Steve Cumming/CalLeagueHeat.com
That’s when the Texas Rangers’ #11/12 prospect Ryan Cordell led off with a triple and came home on a Royce Bolinger single to tie the score. After the quick first two innings, Altavilla wobbled a bit, walking the first two hitters in the third before stranding both runners, then allowing the fourth-inning triple to Cordell followed by an HBP and the single to Bolinger. But he was able to limit the damage and the low-scoring game continued into the seventh.
Altavilla was tossing a gem, having surrendered just the one run on two hits with two walks and six strikeouts and he came out strong for the seventh frame. The first two batters both grounded out to second base and, nearing 100 pitches, Altavilla faced 2B Edwin Garcia. A long, eight-pitch at bat ended with Garcia breaking the tie with a homer, 2-1 Mavs. It was the last batter for Altavilla.
It looked like the Blaze evened the score in the bottom of the seventh when LF Burt Reynolds singled, stole second and then came around, two outs later, on a Martin Peguero single to center. Cordell launched a perfect throw to the plate and Reynolds appeared to get in just ahead of C Alex Burg’s tag, but homeplate umpire Adrian Gonzalez signaled the third out to end the inning.
The Blaze got the job done the next inning on an Ian Miller double, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly to tie it at 2. After nine it was still tied, so to extras they went.
The Mavericks played small-ball in the top of the 10th, scoring on a single, a wild pitch and two sacrifices. The Blaze answered in the bottom of the inning with C Carlton Tanabe’s first homer of the season.
But High Desert scored again in the top of the 11th with a two-out rally and they kept the home team off the board in the bottom of the frame to seal the win.
The victory for the Mavericks, combined with another Rancho Cucamonga loss in San Jose, pulled High Desert to within a game of first place.
The low-scoring pitcher’s duel was great to watch, with more tension inning-to-inning than most Cal League games. Every AB was crucial from the very beginning and both sides had run-ins with the umpiring crew. HD pitching coach Steve Mintz was tossed in the first inning after arguing that homeplate umpire Gonzalez’ strike zone to the first two hitters looked to be quite large. And Lopes was ejected after a called third strike in the bottom of the 10th.
The announced crowd of 452 didn’t look to be that big and I have to think a town the size of Bakersfield should do better for a Sunday day game, even if it is a holiday weekend. Sam Lynn Ballpark is famously outdated, yeah, yeah, I know. But this is good baseball at the advanced A-level, not rookie ball, short-season, etc. The staff at Sam Lynn is perfect in the hospitality department and on this warm, sunny day, it was nice to see the shaded picnic table area down the left field line. All of the other seats are in direct sunlight and for a day game, that can be rough.
Photo: Steve Cummings/CalLeagueHeat.com
I love Sam Lynn Ballpark, though I know it’s tough on the business of the team. The sight lines are unique, to say the least with the dugouts way up the lines. The clubs send several batters to the on-deck circle and if you sit nearby, in the seats that are below field-level, you can get some great insight as they converse about the pitching they’re facing.
All that makes for a great day at the yard. Last time I made it to Bako was 4th of July last year. The place was packed. The locals are clearly aware of the team and baseball goes way, way back in this very park. The average attendance this year, per the Cal League webpage, is 839 per game. That makes the Blaze the only team in the league drawing less than 1,300. There are 3,500 permanent seats, per Wikipedia. That’s not good enough for a community of almost 350,000.
But I’ll be back, you can be sure of that.