by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's Game 4 of the Carolina Mudcats' first series of the second half, a six-game set against the chosen opponents from the Southern League's South Division that they'll play a whopping 25 times before it's all over.
Tonight the Mudcats will try to even the current series at two games apiece. There are 10 former Mudcats - along with skipper Brandon Hyde, hitting coach Theron Todd and pitching coach Reid Cornelius - on the Jacksonville Suns' squad since Carolina was affiliated with the Florida Marlins before switching to the Cincinnati Reds for this season.
One Mudcat gets some very good news early in the day. Chris Heisey (pictured) will be playing in the Major League Futures Game in St. Louis on July 12, the day before he'll probably be playing in the Southern League All-Star Game in Birmingham.
They're playing some Michael Jackson songs before and during the game. Odd that he and fellow '70s-and-later icon Farrah Fawcett die on the same day.
(Spoiler alert: The Mudcats lose 4-2 in 10.)
Anyway, I promised another Theron Todd story yesterday, and here it is.
He was involved in one of the strangest plays I have ever seen on a baseball field, and also in one of the scariest moments when he darn near killed a guy.
Todd was batting for the 1988 Durham Bulls against a visiting Salem pitcher named Scott Henion when he hit a hard line drive up the middle. And I mean right up the middle. The ball hit the middle of Henion's forehead so hard it rolled all the way into the visitors' bullpen down the left field line, and Todd did the visitors a favor by stopping at second base.
I've been fortunate enough in life never to see in person anyone die of a gunshot wound, but what happened to Henion is how it's portrayed in film. Henion hit the pitcher's mound dirt like a rag doll, with several teammates and Bulls players immediately rushing to his aid. EMTs brought out the oxygen and the long spine board and loaded the immobile pitcher into an ambulance as everyone watched in silence.
Fortunately all was well that ended well, as I spoke with Henion by phone the next day. Other than a headache everything was fine, although he couldn't remember the line drive or anything about the game or what he had eaten before he pitched.
Thus ends my reservoir of old Theron Todd stories.
Jacksonville gets on the board first in the second, as former Mudcat Lee Mitchell blasts Tom Cochran's 3-2 offering off the big scoreboard in left.
The Mudcats even it in the bottom of the frame as Jose Castro hits a one-out single to right and scores on Chris Denove's double to left.
Carolina takes the lead in the fourth when Castro rips a leadoff triple to Catfish Corner in right and scores on Sean Henry's one-out sacrifice fly to left.
But the visitors tie it again with two out in the sixth when Mike Stanton - who like Heisey is headed to the Futures Game -blasts Cochran's 2-1 pitch over the wall in left center.
Mudcats reliever Sean Watson starts his outing on a roll, striking out two with the bases loaded in the eighth and getting out of his own bases-loaded jam in the ninth. But in the 10th, Lorenzo Scott draws a two-out walk and Mitchell follows by blasting a 2-2 pitch over the wall in left. Mudcats lose second straight.
SL All-Star news
The Southern League has named manager Phil Plantier and his staff from the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx to manage and coach the North team in its All-Star Game, while manager Ever Magallanes and his Birmingham Barons staff will run the South team. Birmingham's hitting coach is Andy Tomberlin, who played in the outfield with Todd on the 1988 Durham Bulls.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats skipper David Bell: "Mitchell's having a big series, isn't he? Watson threw the ball well for us tonight and gave us a chance to win. One pitch and a guy hits a homer - up to that point he did as good job. We just didn't hit when we needed to."
Mitchell on his second two-homer game in the series: "Both the home-run pitches were fastballs. It's not too odd playing back here (for the visitors). The field here is really good and the fence is good. The weird thing for me is playing in Jacksonville where my brother (Russell) played last year."
Heisey: "I was really surprised (on the Futures selection). I was definitely not expecting it. How many 17th-rounders make it? I've played in a Florida State League All-Star Game, and Major League spring training games. But everybody will be watching this one."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats are 1 ½ games out of first in the North, while Jacksonville is half a game out in the South.
Stars of the game
1. Mitchell, for his two-homer, three RBI night.
2. Castro, for three hits including a triple with an RBI and two runs scored.
3. Winning pitcher Kasey Olenberger, who strikes out two in a perfect ninth.
Play of the game
Mitchell's two-run homer in the 10th, of course.
Carolina: Lost 2.
Jacksonville: Won 2.
Jacksonville at Mudcats, Friday, 7:15 p.m.
Christhian Martinez (right, 4-2, 1.84) vs. Dallas Buck (right, 2-2, 4.33)