March 2012

Carolina Countdown: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Not every league has a runaway winner for “favorite road trip,” but the Carolina League does. Myrtle Beach is a tourism hot spot that happens to have a minor league baseball team. Locals and tourists alike support the Pelicans well, and the Texas Rangers are doing the same. Let’s preview the Pelicans.

Introduction: Myrtle Beach was a part of some recent shuffling in the Carolina League. The Pelicans were a Braves affiliate from their inception in 1998 until 2010, when the Rangers swooped in and plucked the Pelicans.

Ever since claiming a split of the 1999 CL title and winning it all in 2000, Myrtle Beach has been title-less. Only Wilmington has a longer championship drought entering this season.

Last season: The Pelicans came close to snapping their skid last season after winning the first-half championship in the Southern Division. However, they stumbled to last place in the second half and lost to Kinston 3-1 in the best-of-five divisional round.

Manager: The 2011 field staff for the Pelicans is back, including skipper Jason Wood. Wood has been with the Rangers’ High-A affiliate since 2009. In ’09 and ’10, he was the hitting coach when the Rangers were stationed in Bakersfield, Calif. Wood spent plenty of time in the minors after Oakland selected him in the 11th round of the 1991 MLB Draft, but he did play in 153 big league games for the Athletics, Tigers and Marlins.

Sure, the Pelicans will be loaded this season, but the CL catches a break with Jurickson Profar starting in Double-A (MiLB.com).

System: Pelicans fans should be excited about their chances this season with the Rangers’ minor league talent. Texas has the top system in minor league baseball according to Baseball America. The Pelicans’ roster came out yesterday, and six of Baseball America’s top 30 Texas farmhands will begin the season on “The Beach.” However, only two of the top 10–righty Cody Buckel (7th) and third baseman Christian Villanueva (9th)–are Pelicans right now. Superstar shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar, who was rumored to be the only “untouchable” prospect in the Rangers’ system during last year’s trade deadline, is jumping High-A and heading to Double-A Frisco, which is a huge break for the rest of the CL.

Best promotions: They certainly love promotions in Myrtle Beach. Here are a few that I especially like: “Most Interesting Night in the World” night, which very well may feature Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” (April 26); “Auto Correct Night,” which will hopefully solve some people’s iPhone texting issues (July 12); “Halloween in July” (July 28); and “Salute to the Red Solo Cup” night (August 9). Plus, we already mentioned Kenny Powers’ stop in Myrtle Beach.

Fun fact: In 2011, Myrtle Beach was part of a Rangers farm system that boasted the best overall record in the minors and qualified for the playoffs in all four full-season levels (Triple-A Round Rock, Double-A Frisco and Low-A Hickory). Unfortunately for Texas farmhands, all four clubs failed to win their first series.

I love lazy rivers, and Myrtle Beach has them!

Travel to Myrtle Beach: I’d encourage it. I went there with one of my best friends after graduating high school, and my favorite discovery was a “lazy river.” I like water, and I’m pretty good at being lazy. Great combination.

The Dash will head to Myrtle for a business trip three times this season: April 16-18, July 11-14 and July 27-29. It’s slightly more than a four-hour trip from Winston to Myrtle Beach, the southernmost organization in the Carolina League.

Pelicans in Winston-Salem: The Pelicans invade BB&T Ballpark three times during the season: May 14-17, July 4-6 and August 24-26.

Tomorrow: The Potomac Nationals, who aren’t really in Potomac. We’ll explain tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

- Brian

Carolina Countdown: Lynchburg Hillcats

Another day, another preview. Today in the “Carolina Countdown,” the Lynchburg Hillcats get a closer look.

Introduction: Ever since the Hillcats won the Carolina League in 2009, there has been plenty of change in Lynchburg. That 2009 squad was the final one affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2010, the Reds made a one-year stop in Lynchburg. A year ago, the Reds High-A squad went west to Bakersfield, Calif., while the Braves came to town. Atlanta’s High-A affiliate had been in Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans are now under the Rangers’ umbrella. In summary, the Hillcats have done some significant shuffling in recent years, but the Braves are back for year two in 2012.

Last season: Since its CL crown in ’09, Lynchburg has struggled on the field. The Hillcats have finished below .500 in each of the last four halves of the season. In 2011, Lynchburg stumbled to a 60-78 overall mark, which was worst in the Carolina League. The Hillcats finished with a league-low 31 home victories, too.

Despite getting hit in the face with a line drive during spring training, Luis Salazar managed the Hillcats last season (NBC Sports).

Manager: Luis Salazar almost lost his life on March 9, 2011. During a spring training game, a Brian McCann foul ball hit Salazar while he was standing in the Braves’ dugout. Salazar remained unconscious for 14 minutes, but he did not suffer any brain damage and went on to manage the Hillcats last season. MILB.com did a great feature on the courageous skipper, who is now preparing for his second season as Lynchburg’s boss.

System: The Braves have a reputation of solid production within their minor league system. A consistent and significant influx of young players was the main catalyst behind Atlanta’s incredible run of 11 straight National League Eastern Division titles from 1995-2005. This year, Baseball America ranks the Braves as the 15th best minor league system in baseball. According to this article from Baseball America, the Braves have focused their drafting efforts on college prospects who can work through the minor leagues quickly. As a result, you can expect many prospects to suit up for the Hillcats this season and beyond.

Would you walk under a ladder on Friday the 13th? In Lynchburg, you'll have the chance.

Best promotion: The Hillcats may lead the league in promotions, but my favorite is “Superstitions Night” on Friday, July 13th. It appears that the organization will let people walk under a ladder and spill some salt, among other “bad luck” actions. I’m a little superstitious, so I’m glad I won’t be in town that night. Maybe the Hillcats will wear black and really test the validity of superstition?

Fun fact: With the exception of the Winston-Salem franchise, Lynchburg’s organization is the oldest one in the Carolina League. Lynchburg joined the CL in 1966. In more than 70 years of baseball in Lynchburg, the Hill Climbers, Shoemakers, Grays, Senators, Cardinals, White Sox, Twins, Rangers, Mets, Red Sox and Hillcats have taken the field.

Travel to Lynchburg: The Dash will travel two and a half hours north for their three trips to Lynchburg this season. This is one of Winston-Salem’s shortest trips of the season–approximately 140 miles.

Hillcats in Winston-Salem: The Hillcats visit BB&T Ballpark three times this season: May 18-20, July 7-9 and August 28-31.

Tomorrow: The Myrtle Beach Pelicans, which unsurprisingly is the favorite stop for many players, coaches and broadcasters in the CL.

Relive the White Sox Game

One year ago today, BB&T Ballpark hosted a memorable exhibition. The Dash bested their parent club–the Chicago White Sox–on March 30, 2011 by a score of 3-0. Courtesy of Steve Orcutt, here are some photos from that fun day.

Former White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen chats with the media prior to the game.

Adam Dunn takes some batting practice in advance of first pitch.

The White Sox and the Dash line up for the National Anthem at BB&T Ballpark.

Paul Konerko digs in at BB&T Ballpark.

A.J. Pierzynski is enjoying his time in Winston-Salem.

The Dash celebrate a victory over the big leaguers 3-0.

- Brian

Carolina Countdown: Frederick Keys

It’s day two of our seven-day “Carolina Countdown.” Yesterday, we took a look at the newest member of the Carolina League–the fittingly-named Carolina Mudcats. Last year’s CL champions are on the docket today. You’re up, Frederick Keys.

CAROLINA COUNTDOWN: Frederick Keys

Introduction: Everyone is looking up at the Keys as we approach the 2012 season. Frederick won the Northern Division’s first-half title, tied for the second-half crown and claimed the CL championship after series wins over Potomac and Kinston. If you are searching for a “dominant” team in this league over the last few years, Frederick is your team. The Keys have won three league titles since 2005.

Last season: The Keys were consistently solid all year. Frederick followed up a league-best 41-28 first-half record with a 39-31 showing in the second half. This adds up to an 80-59 record, good for a .576 winning percentage.

Yes, that's the city's name. And it used to be a minor league town, too.

Manager: The winningest skipper in Frederick history is back for his third season. Orlando Gomez, who boasts a 152-127 record with the Keys, will lead the charge for another Mills Cup. Gomez certainly has plenty of managerial experience. The Puerto Rico native enters his 17th season as a skipper here in 2012. In late August of ’11, Gomez earned his 1000th victory. He has been across the country during his time as a skipper, with stops in such places as Everett, Wash., Bluefield, W.Va., Tulsa, Okla., and (my favorite) Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. Yes, the city’s name is Medicine Hat.

System: According to Baseball America, the Orioles’ system is 21st in baseball, but there are some highly-touted farmhands to discuss. Superstar prospect Manny Machado spent some time in Frederick last season, and reports say that he will either return to the Keys or head to Double-A to start 2012. One name to keep an eye on is Dylan Bundy, who was the O’s first-round selection (fourth overall) in last year’s draft. It seems likely that Bundy will be in Frederick at some point this season.

Another day, another awesome character from more than a decade ago featured in a Carolina League team's promotion schedule.

Best promotion: The Keys have some great promotions this season, but two jump out to me as the co-winners. Disney Day is April 29, and it features Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, one of my favorite movies as a kid. Also, “6 Months Til the End of the World” night is July 21, which is playing off the Mayans’ prediction that the world will end December 21, 2012.

Fun fact: The Keys are trying to become the Carolina League’s first “true” repeat champions since Winston-Salem pulled off the feat in 1986. Myrtle Beach and Wilmington split the 1999 CL crown because Hurricane Floyd interrupted the championship series, so these two clubs split the championship. If you include that, then both of those teams won back-to-back titles because of it (Wilmington won the league in 1998; Myrtle Beach won it all in 2000).

Travel to Frederick: From BB&T Ballpark to Harry Grove Stadium, it is right around a six-hour trip (330ish miles). That’s good for the second-longest trip for the Dash during the season.

Keys in Winston-Salem: The Keys do not make their first trip to BB&T Ballpark until May 28-31. Winston-Salem and Frederick once again lock horns in our neck of the woods (er, mountains) June 28-30 and July 20-22.

Tomorrow: The Lynchburg Hillcats, who have a very brave manager. We’ll get into that and more in 24 hours!

- Brian

Carolina Countdown: Carolina Mudcats

First off, thanks to everyone for their efforts yesterday. Unfortunately, Bolt could not slay the defending Mascot Madness champion–Webster University’s Gorlok. Still, Bolt is incredibly thankful for all of your support.

Believe it or not, the 2012 Carolina League season begins in nine days. To get you set for the action, we are debuting a new feature in advance of the season. It’s the “Carolina Countdown,” and it will preview all seven Carolina League opponents for the Dash this season.

To kick things off, we will begin with the newest entrant into the CL: the Carolina Mudcats.

CAROLINA COUNTDOWN: Carolina Mudcats

Introduction: After 21 years in the Double-A Southern League, the Mudcats are at the Advanced-A level here in the Carolina League. During the shuffle this past offseason, the Mudcats replaced the Kinston Indians as Cleveland’s Carolina League affiliate. The Mudcats had been Cincinnati’s Double-A stop, but now the Reds have the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

Last season: The Mudcats didn’t wrap up their Southern League run in style. Carolina stumbled to a 53-86 overall mark, which was the worst in the SL’s Southern Division. However, this record is completely irrelevant because of the affiliation switch.

New Carolina skipper Edwin Rodriguez managed the Florida Marlins for almost one calendar year (AP).

Manager: Edwin Rodriguez enters his first season with the Indians’ system. His name may sound familiar to big baseball fans, because he was the manager of the Florida Marlins for 360 days. Rodriguez replaced Fredi Gonzalez June 23, 2010, and resigned June 18, 2011. Rodriguez’s resignation began the process that ultimately led to Ozzie Guillen’s job with the new-look Miami Marlins.

System: The Indians’ system took a hit last year when the organization shipped its top two pitching prospects–Drew Pomeranz and Alex White–to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez. That trade, plus the promotion of top hitting prospects Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall to the big leagues, has helped to water down the Tribe’s system.

However, if there is a glimmer of hope, it is in the lower level of the minor leagues. Per Tony Lastoria of Indians Prospect Insider, top prospect Francisco Lindor should join Luigi Rodriguez (fifth-best Indians prospect according to Baseball America) and Tony Wolters (seventh) in Low-A Lake County. This trio could make it up to Carolina by season’s end.

Scooby Doo will spend a weekend in Zebulon this year.

Best promotion: From June 8-10, Scooby Doo will be at Five County Stadium to hang out with Mudcats fans. Unfortunately, the Pelicans are coming to town that weekend, so I won’t be able to hang out with Scooby.

Fun fact: From short season to the big leagues, there are six teams in the Indians’ farm system, and all but Carolina are in the state of Ohio. Triple-A Columbus is a two-hour drive south of Cleveland. Double-A Akron is less than an hour away from Progressive Field. Low-A Lake County is about the same. And short-season Mahoning Valley is near the Pennsylvania border, but it is still less than a two-hour trip to C-town.

Travel to Carolina: This is a pretty easy trip for the team and for Dash fans. Head east on I-40 and you’re there in a little more than two hours. It’s a 131-mile journey to Zebulon, which is the Dash’s second-shortest trip in the Carolina League.

Mudcats in Winston-Salem: These two clubs will share Opening Day April 6 in Zebulon. One week later, the Mudcats make their first ever CL road trip April 13-15 here at BB&T Ballpark. The Mudcats also invade Winston May 25-27 and July 23-26.

Tomorrow: The Frederick Keys, who won last season’s Mills Cup.

- Brian

Round Two Is Here

Everyone in Winston-Salem loves Bolt. Last week, we asked you to help Bolt defeat the University of Arizona’s mascot in a voting contest held by an Arizona-based radio station.

You crushed poor Wilbur. It was dominant.

Today, it’s round two, and a trip to the Final Four is on the line. The assignment is not any easier. In fact, this may be more of a challenge, because Bolt’s opponent is the defending “Mascot Madness” champion–Webster University’s Gorlok.

We celebrated the victory over Wilbur last week. We previewed this huge matchup yesterday. Now, it’s put up or shut up time.

VOTE FOR BOLT HERE!

- Brian

Tale of the Tape: Bolt vs. Gorlok

I hope you all had a great weekend. I apologize for being a little late with this post, but it is time for a mascot breakdown. After pummeling Wilbur from the University of Arizona in round one, everyone’s favorite mascot Bolt is back in Mascot Madness action tomorrow against the Gorlok from Webster University. This is the matchup of the tournament so far, and here’s why:

TALE OF THE TAPE

Height
Bolt: Larger than life
Gorlok: 300 picas

Weight
Bolt: Just a minute
Gorlok: two-dimensional items have little weight

Species
Bolt: Bleacher Creature (Bleacherus creaturus)
Gorlok: It has the paws of a speeding cheetah, the horns of a fierce buffalo, and the face of a dependable Saint Bernard.

Claim to fame in Mascot Madness
Bolt: Crushed fan favorite Wilbur
Gorlok: Defending champion

World Records
Bolt: Most belly shakes in one minute (423) and most high-fours in a single game (3,202,009).
Gorlok: None on record

Unfortunate Distinction
Bolt: 210-game losing streak in Musical Chairs
Gorlok: One of only two mascots to lack an in-action shot in the competition.

Year of Birth
Bolt: 2009
Gorlok: 1988

Final pitch to voters
Bolt: I provide our fans with high-voltage entertainment, and, just like the dash in the city’s name links two proud communities, I bring people together through the greatest gift of all: laughter.
Gorlok: He embodies the highest standards of speed, agility, and stamina in an atmosphere of fairness and good conduct.

Special thanks to Webster University’s website for some of the information above.

So there you have it. Bolt versus Gorlok for a trip to Mascot Madness’ Final Four. We’ll have the link available on the blog early tomorrow morning. Thanks for voting!

- Brian

14 Days

Enjoy the last few baseball-less Fridays while you can. After March 23 and March 30, Fridays will be packed with baseball (and, in most spots, including BB&T Ballpark, fireworks).

Stay tuned to the blog tomorrow for a “Tale of the Tape” featuring Dash mascot Bolt and Gorlok, Bolt’s second-round matchup in Mascot Madness.

Just a few Friday notes for you today.

DASH DOTS:

  • ESPN’s Baseball Tonight made its way to Camelback Ranch for its annual stop at White Sox spring training. Be sure to check out new Chicago skipper Robin Ventura’s interview here. Included in this interview is Ventura’s take on Adam Dunn, big offseason surprise, and important roster secret.
  • Ventura is replacing Ozzie Guillen, who is the new manager of the new-look Miami Marlins. In this feature from the New York Times, Guillen said, “I swear to God, the only way I root for the White Sox is because Robin is the manager, that’s it. If Robin wasn’t the manager, I don’t. But I really root for the White Sox because the manager’s my friend.” Guillen did not exactly exit the Sox’s organization on great terms, so it’s nice to see a positive connection remain between a man and an organization that benefited a lot from one another.
  • Completely switching gears, have you seen the pictures of the Marlins’ new stadium? Forget the full view of it. Here are two shots, courtesy of Zimbio, that will boggle your mind.

The backstop is an aquarium, which seems to be the best seat in the house.

Apparently, this thing will pop up when a home run is hit, a la the Mets’ Apple. If that isn’t the most distracting oval-shaped thing you’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is. OK, time for a few more Dots.

  • Next week, we will start a series on the seven other teams in the Carolina League. We will break it all down, including the team’s coaching staff, possible players, and a few quirky things, too.
  • We are also working on some special features for the All-Star Game, which is in less than three months. We can’t wait to introduce all of those things to you.
  • The Kannapolis Intimidators, the White Sox’s South Atlantic League affiliate, have restarted their blog. Check it out here, with much of the content to come from team broadcaster Josh Feldman.
  • Go OHIO. Sorry, UNC fans.

We’re back tomorrow with a “Tale of the Tape” for Bolt and Gorlok. Talk to you then.

Another Small Step

Like many baseball fans, I am thrilled when spring training begins. It is the first signal that baseball is almost back.

After a few weeks of “best shape of his life” stories and exhibition games that can end in ties, though, I’m ready for the real season to get going. These final 15 days before the season opener at Carolina, and these 22 days leading up to Opening Day at BB&T Ballpark, will be gone eventually, but they will take a little while.

One great event that helps kick off the real season is the Dash’s annual Coaches’ Luncheon. This year’s event takes place Wednesday, April 2, and tickets are only $10 each. You will get a delicious lunch, hear from new Dash skipper Tommy Thompson and learn about the 2012 roster. For more information or to learn about how you can secure your tickets, please click this link.

Here are a few notes this Thursday.

DASH DOTS:

  • Once again, thanks to those who voted for Bolt in the Mascot Madness tournament. Bolt will face off with Webster University’s Gorlok next Tuesday in the “Elite Eight.” We will have a tale of the tape at some point this weekend for the matchup.

The White Sox pace the AL Central--in franchise value.

  • Forbes Magazine published a list ranking each MLB franchise’s current value, and the White Sox placed tenth. The Sox are worth $600 million, which is a 14 percent increase from last year. For what it’s worth, the White Sox rank ahead of all other American League Central organizations. The Twins are second in the A.L. Central in 14th, followed by Detroit (17th), Cleveland (26th) and Kansas City (27th).
  • If you only read one thing today (other than the Dash Board, of course), check out this Q&A with White Sox southpaw Will Ohman from Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com. The final question is the best, as Ohman had to go on a treasure hunt of sorts–for his car’s tires!
  • Today marks the beginning of the NCAA Tournament’s fourth round. MLB.com did a bracket challenge with one representative from each team. Chicago’s Matt Thornton is 23rd, and while he still has his champion alive (Kentucky), Florida State’s loss to Cincinnati last weekend hurt him. He had FSU playing for the title in New Orleans.

Justin Upton is confident on the field and in a bracket pool (Phoenix New Times).

  • Arizona’s Justin Upton leads the way with 50 points, and he correctly predicted 13 of the 16 teams left standing, missing only Cincinnati, Ohio and Xavier. That’s very impressive.
  • I’m excited to head out to the St. John’s Lutheran School Annual Red and White event, honoring athletes from 4th to 8th grade. Former UNC basketball player Michael Copeland and I will be speaking to the group of around 50 athletes this evening.
  • Smack talk has officially begun around the office in advance of UNC’s battle with Ohio in the Sweet 16. Box office czar Zack Matthews and I are proud Green and White supporters, but we are outnumbered by more than a handful of Tar Heel fans. Tip time is in 29 hours. I can’t wait.

Enjoy the rest of your day. We’ll talk again tomorrow.

- Brian

Bolt Delivers Season Tickets

Bolt doesn’t let success get to his head. Hours after officially advancing in Mascot Madness, Bolt went around town delivering some season tickets to Dash fans. Here are a few of the moments, which were captured by our own Nikki Caldwell.

Bolt finds a couple of Dash season ticket holders, along with some excited dogs, at Wholepet.

A friendly group of people from Mullen Advertising poses with Bolt after receiving season tickets.

Dash fan Marcia chose the right shirt to wear today, because her friend Bolt paid her a nice visit.

Our buddies from the Piedmont Federal Savings Bank also had the chance to hang out with Bolt and get their tickets for 2012.

Thanks again to everyone who greeted Bolt this afternoon. All Dash fans should be receiving their season tickets soon. Opening Day at BB&T Ballpark, believe it or not, is three weeks from Friday!

- Brian

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