Fight of a Dog

by Rodger M. Wood

While watching the three hard fought, close games and imbalance of talent on the two teams competing in the 2018 West Division, Rookie A  Appalachin League Playoff Series between the Elizabethton Twins and the Kingsport Mets, I kept remembering a statement Mark Twain made many moons ago, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

2018  Mets #1 Draft Pick Jared Kelenic Started in CF for Kingsport

Before the series started, Kingsport looked like a lock to win. Possibly looking ahead  to an Appy League Championship, the New York Mets had stacked their Rookie A  affiliate with five prime prospects, 2018 #1 draft pick CF Jarred Kelenic, 17-year old #8  top prospect SS Ronny Maurico, #10 top prospect 3B and DH Mark Vientos, #16 top prospect 3B Shervyan Newton and 2018 #2 Draft Pick 17 year old Texan high schooler RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson, while the Minnesota Twins placed  only #14 top prospect, 19 year old Dominican CF Gilberto Celestino, and 21st top prospect Dominican 2B Yunior Severino on the Elizabethton roster.

 Twins 21st Top Minor League Prospect Yunior Severino played 2B for Elizabethton

In Game 1 played at Kingsport August 31st, four  of the five  Twins game heroes turned out to be a 2017 30th round draft pick, 3B Alex Robles who drove in three rbi with timely 2-out hits in the 2nd and 7th innings, 2017 Draft 6th Round pick, SS Ricky De La Torre, who also drove in two runners with two outs and 2018 #7 Round Draft pick out of Virginia Military Institute, RHP Josh Winder who pitched a 6 inning 4 – hitter, one earned run, 8 K to get the win. Twins top prospect, Gilberto Celestino knocked in two runs with a 7th inning homer to help the Twins win Game 1 7-3.

 Elizabethton 3B Alex Robles Starred in Appy Series

Visiting team Kingsport came back slugging  to win the second game in 10 innings 7-6, After scoring three runs in the first inning, Kingsport did not score again until the 10th inning. The Twins tied the game 3-3 with runs in the 2nd, 4th, and 7th  innings.  In the top of the 10th inning, Mets Mark Vientos  hit a one-out, two run double and Ranfy Adon hit a 2 – run single to put Kingsport up 7-3.

Mets Mark Vientos’ Double Wins Game 2 

Elizabethton did not give up in the bottom of the tenth inning.  Gilberto Celestino cut the lead to 7-5 with a two run double, and scored on a single by Twins #4 2018 Draft pick 1B Chris Williams. On a passed ball, Williams then advanced to second, and Robles walked.  Jarred Akins grounded out for the second out and both runners advanced to second and third bases. However, Kingsport closer Nelson Leon came in to put out the fire and Kingsport won a tight no give up game 7-6 to even the three game series 1-1.

All of the marbles were on the line in Game 3 at Elizabethton, the winner taking the West Division title and going on to face the Princeton Rays in the 2018 Appalachin League Championship Series. Both teams scored a run in the second inning, Kingsport on Domingo Martinez base hit to left field scoring 3B Shervyan Newton and  Elizabethton on Yeltsin Encarnacion’s single to right to score LF Lean Marrero. CF Gilberto Celestino’s 2 – run home run in the fifth gave the Twins some breathing room 3-1, but Domingo Martinez’ double closed the gap driving in Shervyan Newton to cut the lead to 3-2. With his third hit of the day, 2B Yunior Severino doubled in a run in the seventh inning, driving in a run, and Chris Williams singled in a run in the eighth to make the score 5-2.  Late 2018 draft picks pitched in the game for the Twins, starter Andrew Calazaz (18th round) threw  4.1 IP, 1 run, 1 hit,  winning pitcher Brian Rapp, (26th Round) 3.2 IP, 4 hits, 1 ER, and Tanner Howell (35th Round) the 3-out save.

Twins Chris William Drove In 3 Critical RBI

Neither team gave up in this series, The first game was a 2-1 game until the top of the sixth when the Twins scored a run. In the second game, down 7- 3 in the tenth, Elizabethton  fought back to score 3 runs in the bottom of the tenth and had runners on second and third when stopper Nelson Leon got the third out. In the championship game, the score was tied 1-1 until Elizabethan scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Twins prospects, Yunior Severino (14 AB, 4 RS, 6 H, 1 RBI)  and Gilberto Celestino (13 AB, 4 RS, 5 H, 5 RBI, 2 HR) starred at the plate in this series but so did lesser prospects Chris Williams (9 AB, 3 RS, 3 H, 3 RBI, 4 BB), Alex Robles (12 AB, 1 RS, 4 H, 4 RBI), Ricky DeLaTorre (10 AB, 1 RS, 4 Hits, and 2 RBI), and RHP Josh Winder with a 4 -hitter, 1 run  in Game 1. They were the game winners, the spark that got Elizabethton the tough wins.

Top Twin Prospect Gilberto Celestino Homered Twice

With the exception of DH and 3B Mark Vientos (12 AB, 3 RS, 4 H, 1 HR, 4 RBI, Kingsports stars did not get many timely hits.

You cannot measure heart or desire in a baseball player, but sitting next to the Elizabethan Twins’ dugout this series, I could feel the adrenalin flowing, see the desire, and the determination on the Elizabethton  players’ faces, and hear the encouragement  the manager, coaches, and players gave each other.  The chatter never ceased, It got me pumped up and enthusiastic about their chances to overcome the odds to win.

The Elizabethton players did more of the little things necessary to win games. They hit in the clutch, they ran the bases with abandon, they stayed down low on hard hit ground balls, and their pitchers consistently threw strikes when it counted. You could tell Elizabethton players  wanted to win by the way they played. The other team had more premium players, but the low budgeted Twins had the edge in heart. Old Mark Twain was never more right than when he predicted that the size of the fight in the dog would determine the winner of  the game..

With lots of heart the Elizabethan Twins went onto beat Princeton in the League Championship series 2 games to none.

Truly A Field of Dreams

Fifty-eight ball players, just out of high school and college got their chance of a lifetime to play on a  “field of dreams”  in the 2018 New York Penn League All Star Game at Medlar Field at Labrano Park, State College PA August 14th.  Two days of fun festivities, autograph sessions, media interviews, old time picnics, and baseball in an idyllic 5,570 capacity ballpark nestled at the foot of a majestic mountain in a central Pennsylvania valley could not help but jumpstart the participants’ imaginary thoughts about the importance of this life defining event
The lower the level of baseball, the purer the game becomes and the lesser a mighty dollar drives the game. The NY/PA League is usually the first or second stop for college or high school youngsters drafted by major league teams the preceding June. The North squad in this game was composed of players playing their first professional season baseball in picturesque hamlets in Auburn NY, Batavia NY, Norwich CT, Hudson Valley NY,  Troy NY, Burlington VT, and Lowell MA, the South in Aberdeen MD, Brooklyn NY (maybe not idyllic), Mahoning Valley Ohio, Morgantown WV, Williamsport, PA, and State College PA, Thirteen (13) major league teams drafted these young players with hopes they would realize the athletic potential that scouts had told them could carry them to the major-leagues. The Washington Nationals, Florida Marlins, Detroit Tigers, Tampa Rays, Houston Astros, Oakland A’s, and Boston Red Sox, placed players on the North squad, and the Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals on the South squad.
Starting South SS, Tyler Freeman Fires the Ball to 1B
Prospect Watch rated only six (6) of these young players, Tyler Freeman (Indians), Delvin Perez (Cardinals), Travis Swaggerty (Pirates), Tyler Frank (Rays), Jeremy Pena (Astros), and Alex McKenna (Astros) in their major league teams’ top 30 prospects, and only one Travis Swaggerty (Pirates) made the  list of the top 100 prospects (84th) in minor league baseball. The other 47 ballplayers still had to earn their fame and fortune. Much  of a parent major league team’s interest and developmental resources is expended on their 1st  through 5th Round draft picks. Three First Round and Compensatory First Round Picks (Travis Swaggerty – Pirates, Tyler Freeman – Indians, and Delvin Perez – Cardinals), two Second Rounder (Tyler Frank – Rays, Chris Betts -Rays), one Third Rounder, (Carlos Cortes – Mets), two Fourth Rounders, (Sean Reynolds – Marlins, and and Alex McKenna – Astros), and one Fifth Rounders (Nick Dunn – Cardinals) played in this game. The remaining 48 players on the North and South rosters were either drafted in the 7th through 32nd rounds (31 players) or signed out of Venezuela (8 players) or the Dominican Republic (7 players) and  would have to stimulate greater interest from their parent clubs with a good all star performance.

Ross Adolph Hits a 2- run Triple in bottom of 1st

The mighty feats of the all star game started in the bottom of the first inning when the Mets 12th Round draft pick out the University of Toledo, and  South #3 hitter, Ross Adolph blasted a 2-run triple over the out stretched glove of  centerfielder Eric De La Rosa.  “I was just trying to make sure I was’t going to miss my pitch,” said Adolph. “He had walked the batter before, so I was assuming no one wants to walk two guys in a row in an all star game so I figured he would throw me a fast ball in a 3-2 count. I just relaxed, made sure I didn’t miss and just got the job done.” The next South batter and cleanup hitter, Edwin Rodriquez brought Adolph in with a sacrifice fly to deep right center-field to give the South a 3-0 lead.  In the top of the 2nd, North 2B and Washington Nationals prospect,  Kyle Marinconz doubled in Boston baserunner Korby Batesole  to make the score 3-1.   Not all of the excitement, however, came  from the batters, as Mahoning Valley RHP Luis Santos threw a 100 mph fast ball to Sean Reynolds in the top of the 3rd.  After the pitch, Santos pointed to the right field wall where the speed was registered before striking Reynolds out with a much slower slider to end the inning.

Indians RHP Prospect Luis Santos Throws a 100 mph Fastball

Adolph did his deed again in the bottom of the 3rd inning with a solo homer over the right field fence to make the score 4-1. “I was feeling pretty good after the first at bat and told myself I was going to take a good hack at the first pitch I saw over the plate.” Pirates 2018 #1 draft pick (10th overall) out of South Alabama  and CF, Travis Swaggerty added to the South’s lead in the bottom of the 4th with a 2-run single to make the score 6-1.

Travis Swaggerty Singles in 4th to drive in 2-runs

North pitchers, Tigers Yaya Chentouf, Nationals David Smith, A’s Slater Lee, Astros Austin Hansen and Marlins Manuel Rodriquez shut the South hitters down the 5th – 8th innings.Four  players, Eric De La Rosa ( Connecticut Tigers), Travis Swaggerty, Willy Yahn (Aberdeen Iron Birds), and Ross Adolph got two hits, 14 of 17 pitchers threw a shutout inning, 4 pitchers struck out two batters in their IP, and 8 one hitter.Only three players made errors and one combo, West Virginia Pirates Mike Gretzler and Aberdeen Iron Birds 1B JC Escarra executed a a double play.Three players got extra base hits, Orioles Willy Yahn a triple and double, Red Sox Korby Batesole a double, and Ross Adolph a triple and homers.
While the South won the game on the field, a 12th round draft pick, Ross Adolph drove in 3 runs with a 3B and HR, and won the game’s  Bush MVP  Award. A  23 year old Dominican pitcher threw a 100 mph fast ball. The other 56 players on the field had the thrill of playing in their first professional all star game before  3, 570 fans who acted like  they walked on water. Apart from  the game, they had the thrill of signing an autograph for an excited 10-year old boy who waited in 20-deep lines just to talk to them. Young smiling ladies they’d never see again asked them to have a selfie taken with them. Down – to earth folks with old time values showed them the way to fame and fortune.   
Baseball can be cruel. The laurels go to the fittest, and the lesser skilled ball players fall quickly by the way side. Young ball players  realize this and in some cases strive just to  have the experience of playing professional baseball.
 
To be in  this game environment at State College, and be a celebrity all star professional baseball player was  an experience they’ll never forget.The 2018 New York/ Penn All Star Game was for these young players truly a game played on a field of dreams.