Coming in 2020…the Playeros de Harrisburg

The Harrisburg Senators announced on Thursday afternoon that they would be one of 92 minor league teams participating next season in the Copa de la Diversión, an initiative across Minor League Baseball aimed at engaging, embracing, and honoring Hispanic and Latinx communities.

The Senators will rebrand themselves for five games in the upcoming season as the Playeros de Harrisburg. Playeros roughly translates to beachgoers and combines the Hispanic tradition of familial bonding with the Senators’ unique home on City Island.

“We are appreciative of the Harrisburg Senators’ front office for taking the initiative to invite the greater Harrisburg Latino community to share this family pastime and celebrate the diversity and pride of the Latin American culture,” David Botero speaking on behalf of the Latino Hispanic Professional Association said.

“The Senators did their research, they invested in thought leadership, and they created a culturally relevant experience for future games. They partnered with members from the Latino Hispanic Professional Association, and we engaged in fun, creative, and out-of-the-box brainstorming sessions that prioritized the genuine Latin American experience from the lens of the families that migrated to our county.”

“We are grateful for this partnership, and we’re excited to share Copa nights with kids and families all the way from Allison Hill to all of Central Pennsylvania so they can taste, smell, feel, and hear the Latinization of baseball at our very own playa here on City Island in Harrisburg.”

The Senators will play as the Playeros on April 17, May 23, June 28, July 8, and August 8. Tickets are already available for these five dates individually and also as part of an exclusive 5-pack for all of the games.

During the 2019 season, 1.8 million fans attended almost 400 Copa de la Diversión games with a nearly 20% higher average attendance rate per game the normal. MiLB teams have also partnered with more than 200 local Hispanic/Latino organizations, donating more than $400,000 in cash and gifts-in-kind to local Hispanic philanthropies.

With a strong Latino presence on the Senators’ roster each year and Harrisburg’s vibrant Hispanic population, this is a significant first step in outreach to the community. Using the 2010 Census data, Harrisburg ranks fourth among Eastern League cities with an 18% Latinx/Hispanic rate of its population.

“We believe this is not just a one-year thing,” Senators’ team president Kevin Kulp said. “This is something that is going to be part of our seasons from now on. It’s exciting to launch something new that’s very worthwhile in our community. This is the beginning of a great run with Copa de la Diversión.”

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I’ll see you when I see you

When Bowie first baseman Preston Palmeiro rocketed Carson Teel’s pitch into the Harrisburg bullpen for a three-run homer to put the Baysox up 5-0 in the second inning, I had the feeling I’d been here before.

An unmistakable case of déjà vu washed over me.

Nine years ago, Tanner Roark took the mound on a Saturday afternoon at then Metro Bank Park with the Senators down 2-1 to Altoona in the Western Division Championship Series. Harrisburg was hoping to force a fifth and deciding game the next day.

Instead, Roark was torched for three home runs early to put Harrisburg in a 7-2 hole and end the future Major League pitcher’s outing after just 2.1 innings. The Senators would mount a comeback late but ultimately fall 10-5 to end their season.

As a spectator then, much of that day was spent realizing and relishing it was the last baseball I would watch on City Island until the next April.

Saturday was much of the same at FNB Field.

Teel played the part of Roark, although the southpaw lasted five innings. It was long enough to give up three home runs and ten hits which both tied the record for the most allowed by a Harrisburg pitcher in a single playoff game.

In the end, the scoreboard showed the Baysox rolled to a 12-5 victory eliminating the Senators. But for me, it was one last day to enjoy the 2019 season.

One last time to appreciate Luis Garcia’s infectious smile and joy for the game. One last time for me to slow-jam the floss during Dante Bichette’s walk-up song. One last time listening to Terry Byrom on the radio. And one last time sitting down with Senators manager Matt LeCroy after the game.

I’ll miss it all terribly.

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Harrisburg teetering on the brink of elimination after 7-5 loss to Bowie

With their season and playoff lives on the line, the Senators will turn to Carson Teel on Saturday afternoon. The southpaw, who was recently named Carolina League Player of the Month for August, will make his Double-A debut in the must-win situation.

“I’ve never seen him,” manager Matt LeCroy said. “All I’ve heard is he’s a competitor, and he’ll be the right guy for this spot.”

The Senators are in this predicament thanks to a 7-5 loss to the Baysox on Friday night at FNB Field.

In Harrisburg’s first playoff game on City Island since 2013, Bowie wasted little time seizing control of the pivotal Game Three. Leadoff hitter Cedric Mullins bunted to get on, and then Anderson Feliz launched a Mario Sanchez offering into the seats underneath the scoreboard.

Sanchez, winner of 10 games for the Senators this season, worked behind batters as he struggled with his command. Feliz and the rest of the Baysox lineup made him pay not only in the first inning but again in the second as well. The second baseman launched another homer, this time a three-run bomb, to stake Bowie to a 5-0 lead the Senators would never recoup.

“Tough night for Sanchie,” LeCroy said. “He’s been good all year. He couldn’t make an adjustment cutting the ball. A lot of balls were up in the zone. I just wasn’t expecting that as good as he’s been.”

Harrisburg made it compelling in the bottom of the eighth inning when David Masters drove in Ian Sagdal after the third baseman walked and designated hitter Jakson Reetz singled. Rhett Wiseman followed with a three-run homer just over the outstretched glove of right-fielder Yusnel Diaz, but that was as close as the Senators would get.

“We just didn’t get it done,” LeCroy said. “Elimination game tomorrow, so we’ll come back at them.”

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8/25: Just One Thing

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Look at the lineups between the Senators and SeaWolves. The names of baseball royalty jump off the page.

Clemens.

Gibson.

Bichette.

This game has always been about fathers and sons. It is traditionally how the game has been passed down from one generation to the next. It’s what they make movies about when grown men watching are reduced to a puddle of tears while the music crescendoes during one final game of catch.

It’s how I came to love baseball.

Even when I played in an adult baseball league long past my prime, my parents would make the hour-plus drive to watch me play. Not much changed in the thirty years between then and when I started in Little League as an 8-year-old.

Friday night and Sunday afternoon I had different company than usual on press row at FNB Field. Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens and his wife Debbie sat just to my right cheering on their son Kody who was recently promoted to the Double-A Erie SeaWolves.

Debbie lived and died during Kody’s at-bats rooting like only a mother can, while Roger was more analytical in reviewing his son’s trips to the plate. That can probably be expected from the pitcher who won 354 games and struck out 4,672 batters in his 24-year playing career.

In the end, though, they were just another set of parents who came to see their son play and root him on during his baseball journey. Every father, mother, and son can relate to that.

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8/22: Just One Thing

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Clinging to a 3-2 lead, Harrisburg Senators reliever Andrew Istler walked Cam Gibson and allowed a single to Dylan Rosa to begin the eighth inning on Thursday night.

Everyone in the ballpark was certain light-hitting, back-up catcher Jon Rosoff was going to be called on to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Istler’s first pitch, a letter-high fastball, was fouled back over the screen.

Rosoff was able to get the next offering, another high fastball, down but it was a headed right back towards Istler coming off the pitcher’s mound. Third baseman David Masters quickly retreated to the bag, and Tres Barrera made the split-second decision.

“Three…three,” the catcher called out above the din of the crowd.

Istler gathered the ball, wheeled and threw, just beating the headfirst slide from Gibson. The play was instrumental in stalling Erie’s rally in the inning as Istler induced a fly out and pop-out to end the threat.

It was a risky decision by Barrera to go after the lead runner instead of taking the safe out at first base.

“I love the play on the bunt,” manager and former catcher Matt LeCroy said. “I was always brought up that you don’t want to force anything because you still have a double-play in order. In that instance, he (Barrera) felt right about it, and it was a good play.

“It is an instinctual play, and sometimes you screw up, but in that situation, I love the aggressiveness because it allowed Istler to get a breather right there.”

The 5-foot-11 reliever faced more adversity in the ninth inning as well. Erie put runners on second and third with one out, but Istler worked out of the jam to secure a critical opening-game victory in Harrisburg’s series with the SeaWolves.

“This was a big win for us,” LeCroy said. “The guys understand what they are playing for. I think they want to show them that we’re not going to be a pushover because we’re already in the playoffs.”

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8/15: Just One Thing

 

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Does “batting around” mean nine or 10 batters come to the plate?

It’s a question that has stumped the baseball intelligentsia about as much as “is a hot dog a sandwich?” has perplexed the rest of the general public.

Senators broadcaster Terry Byrom and I had a spirited conversation on press row tonight discussing that. For the record, he’s all in the camp of nine. Me? Honestly, I’m not sure where I fall on it, but I like to take the opposing viewpoint just to be difficult. (Note: that actually explains a lot about my life)

Anyway, assume Byrom is correct, and it only takes nine batters to bat around the order. How often does it happen? No hard numbers, but I’d say that before Thursday night’s game the Senators have done it about five to eight times total this year. That’s enough times that fireworks and confetti don’t shoot off when it occurs, but still rare enough out of 1000+ innings played so far this season to sit up and take notice.

So what the Senators did Thursday night was pretty remarkable.

In back-to-back innings (the second and third), the Senators batted around sending nine men to the plate in each frame. Both innings began with Ian Sagdal reaching base safely and ended with Michael Taylor striking out.

In those innings:

  • David Masters had two doubles, drove in two runs, and scored two
  • Pitcher Tyler Mapes had a pair of singles driving in two, and scored two
  • Nick Banks also had a pair of singles, scored a pair, and drove in one
  • Tres Barrera and Andrew Stevenson each scored twice
  • And three different baserunners scored on wild pitches…and if it wasn’t for a fortuitous bounce, that number would have been four!!
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8/14: Just One Thing

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

A night after the Curve and Senators exploded for 23 runs on 33 hits, the two teams combined for zero runs through Wednesday night’s first nine frames. Onto the tenth, we went, and with it, Altoona’s Chris Sharpe was placed on second base to start the top half of the inning.

It’s a rule that has been in place since the beginning of the 2018 season for the minor leagues. Although previously used in international competition, purists decried the implementation of the rule last year amid a flurry of changes Major League Baseball made as part of their initiative to speed up the pace of play.

Count Harrisburg manager Matt LeCroy as someone who isn’t a fan after almost two full seasons of playing under the new rules.

“I don’t like it to be honest,” LeCroy said. “I like the old way. I think there are other ways to change it maybe, but I’d rather it just be the way it was.”

Trust me. I understand that way of thinking. But observationally I also think it has actually shortened the games.

Wednesday’s game was Harrisburg’s 11th extra-inning affair this season. Eight times a winner has been decided after only one extra frame, and the most they’ve had to play is 12 way back in mid-April.

Looking at complete minor league data comparing the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the results tell a similar story.

In 2018, games ended after only one extra inning 73 percent of the time. That’s an increase of 24 percent over 2017’s numbers. An average of 15 minutes per game was saved per contest that went into extras.

But why should I care about the time? I don’t. The more baseball, the better. But another argument can be made that its best outcome is preserving the young arms on any staff.

After the rule change, only 18 games across the entire minor leagues went more than three extra innings. Compare that to 2017 when a whopping 162 games went longer than that. Would you believe the longest game in 2017 went an extra 12 innings? Whereas the max a game went in 2018 was six extra frames.

For all the talk about the minor leagues being developmental, I don’t see any upside to a pitching staff having to man an extra 12 innings. That will easily wreck a bullpen for the next two weeks.

I got the uproar when this was announced. Old schoolers want to protect the sanctity of the game as it was and always has been. But there have always been tweaks to the rules of the game whether it’s something big like the designated hitter, or something much smaller like the mound height.

I’ve come around on the rule…until they try to enact it at the Major League level and then we’re back to rioting in the streets.

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