FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's Game 3 of a key five-game series with the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx and the Mudcats are trying to string together some wins, hoping the first place Huntsville Stars get cold enough to give Carolina a chance at a first-half championship.
No chance that either the 'Cats or the Jaxx will be cold this Saturday night, because it's over 90 and sunny and everyone's wishing for wind. But seriously, folks ...
(Spoiler alert: It's an ugly one. OK, Mudcats lose 10-3. The numbers never lie.)
Anyway, I'm on the third leg of my culinary mini-tour of the park, and tonight it's a simple Jesse Jones all beef hot dog along with the omnipresent pommes frites. And it's a wiener (sorry), especially with the addition of some barbecue sauce. But from here on out, except for a rare exception, I'm going to stick with the more "exotic" - in the estimation of PA announcer Dave Slade - Italian sausage when it comes to wurst on a bun.
It's T-shirt night, with free clothes to the first 1,200 kids in the house. Now that I'm getting into a rhythm, and not limited by the space considerations of print, I'm going to try not to be remiss about mentioning promotions that might make the fans happy.
That said, there will be numerous promotions Sunday afternoon. They include the club's third annual "Pink in the Park" day with the team wearing special jerseys - to be auctioned for the benefit of the Rex Healthcare Angel Fund - to promote awareness of breast cancer. It will also be Girl Scouts "Me and My Guy" Day, in which the girls bring their dads or grandfathers or older brothers or a reasonable fascsimile to the game (registration deadline has passed, sorry), and it's "Family Fun Day" with pregame catch on the field and player autographs and post-game base running. Here's more on all that.
Tonight will be the second time I see Mudcats outfielder Logan Parker (pictured) play. And I've noticed a piece of information I didn't catch in my first outing Thursday, when I was in veritable headless chicken mode. Parker played his high school baseball at Odessa (Texas) Permian, the school whose football team was immortalized in the major motion picture "Friday Night Lights" (he didn't play football). And that gives us a weird couple of degrees of separation.
My nephew Derek Ward (no relation to Cam or Aaron) is in the movie as an uncredited extra but gets some major face time. He's "Wilson," No. 88 in the locker room scenes (Derek is now an assistant football coach at Katy Mayde Creek High outside Houston). At least he got paid decently for the summer's work, he said, and that's good. My son, John, whom unfortunately we've never been able to pick out in the money drop scene even in super slo-mo, is still waiting for his check for working as an extra in "Bull Durham."
But back to the main subject at hand ...
Gentlemen, start your engines.
West Tenn gets a very weird run in the first. Brent Johnson draws a leadoff walk and steals second. Then with one out, Mudcats recent nemesis Marshall Hubbard hits a ball that first baseman Yonder Alonzo bobbles before tossing it to pitcher Jordan Smith. Johnson keeps booking and easily scores, picking up another RBI for Hubbard.
Carolina's Chris Heisey, the Southern League's player of the month for May, responds with one out in the bottom of the frame when he blasts a 1-0 offering high over the left-field wall.
The Mudcats go up 2-1 in the fourth when Parker strokes a one-out double to left and scores on a single to right from Jose Castro.
But the top of the fifth is a disaster for the Mudcats' gloves, and could have been worse. West Tenn gets three runs on three hits, only two of which leave the infield. Yamid Haad, who played for the Durham Bulls in 2002, leads off with a double to left and takes third on Parker's error. Leury Bonilla's single scores him. The other two runs score on a passed ball and an error to Juan Francisco at third, and a double play mercifully stops the bleeding.
The sixth inning is no better for the home boys, but this time the troubles are on the mound. After Johan Limonta singles and N.C. State and Apex High alum Matt Mangini walks to send Smith to the shower, on comes Jerry Gil who has only gasoline for the fire. It's the first outing as a Mudcat for Gil, a 10th year pro who has had Tommy John surgery and didn't start pitching until last season.
Gil walks five and gives up three earned runs over 2/3 of an inning and after that it's garbage time.
"You just hope you get all of that out in one game and come back fresh tomorrow," Mudcats skipper David Bell said. "These guys have been playing so well for so long, I expect we'll pick it back up. It's one of those games that happens sometimes, but these guys are very competitive and want to win every game."
Gil's ERA is 40.50.
"He hadn't pitched in five days (since being called up from Sarasota)," Bell said. "He has been a starter and they're trying to make him into a reliever."
Heisey, who is now hitting .365, said he thinks the Mudcats can shake off the ugliness pretty quickly.
"It was just one of those games where a lot of bad things happened and it got blown open," he said. "What we need to do is try to win out and see what happens with Huntsville."
Good news for everyone who bought a ticket for Saturday's game. They're good for general admission for Monday's noon getaway contest.
What does it all mean?
Since North Division leader Huntsville lost to visiting Jacksonville 14-1, the Mudcats remain 2 ½ games out with seven to go in the half.
Stars of the game
1. Haad, who was 2-for-4 with two RBI, a pair of doubles and a run scored.
2. West Tenn starting pitcher Luis Muñoz, for his quality start with two runs allowed in six innings.
3. Heisey, who went 2-for-5 and hit his 12th homer of the season.
Play of the game
In the first inning, when Johnson scored from second on a first baseman-to-pitcher bouncer.
West Tenn leads 2-1.
Carolina: Lost 1.
West Tenn: Won 1.
West Tenn: none
West Tenn at Carolina, Sunday, 2 p.m.
Danny Christensen (left, 0-4, 4.57) vs. Dallas Buck (right, 2-1, 3.42)