Nothing minor: fifth stop, Birmingham (AA baseball)
Each stop on the "Nothing minor" series provides an inside look at one of sports' hidden gems, minor league baseball. As with our previous stops (in Gwinnett, Chattanooga, Greenville, and Greensboro), the high level of play, intimacy of the ballparks, some creative quirks, reasonable access, and the chance to connect with future stars are among the things that make it a good sports experience.
Our fifth visit stop takes us to the "Magic City" of Birmingham, AL, the home of the Birmingham Barons. With the Negro Leagues Museum (a must visit) within a short walking distance of the ballpark (Regions Field), the AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox (yes, the same AA team that Michael Jordan once played for) is hitting their stride during the second half of the season, as they are a mere 1/2 game out of first place (for the second half standings).
Their opponents, the Tennessee Smokies, are more than just a division rival.
They happen to be the AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
July 21, 2019: Tennessee Smokies vs Birmingham Barons (pre-game)
The Barons' Ti'Quan Forbes (third baseman) takes time out from his pre-game routine to speak with us.
He simply has a different energy full of confidence and perspective.
"It's getting late in the season; (I just) keep on working, playing hard, and having fun with my teammates", he notes (which is a common thread from a number of the players we've interviewed). He makes sure to remain focused and making sure to keep things together, including keeping a positive vibe and energy.
"If you're going to do this, you have to do it for the long haul. Baseball's tough; keep grinding and take it one day at a time. Continue to work, go after it. If you dream about it, chase your dream", he advises.
(View the FULL pre-game interview below):
July 21, 2019: Tennessee Smokies vs Birmingham Barons (In-Game)
The 4pm (CST) afternoon game is the final game of the 3-game series.
Birmingham gets an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 3rd inning thanks to a double by second-baseman Nick Madrigal (who goes 2 for 4) who eventually scores on a wild pitch by Smokies' starter Erick Leal (4.2 innings, 6 earned runs).
Then the 4th inning comes.
Tennessee responds as Charcer Burks' RBI double ties the game at 1, and after a series of walks by starter Tanner Banks (3.1 innings, 6 earned runs) loads the bases, Christian Donahue's ground rule double scores 2 runners, putting the Smokies up 3-1. Right-fielder Roberto Caro's single drives in 2 more runners, pushing the lead to 5-1, and Nico Hoerner's sacrifice fly pushes the lead to 6-1.
Down by 5 going into the bottom half of the 4th inning, Birmingham shows tremendous patience and resolve. A home-run by third baseman Damek Tomscha (who goes 4 for 5 with 4 runs batted in) cuts the deficit to 6-2. Later in the inning, a 2-run home-run by catcher Alfredo Gonzalez makes it a 6-4 game.
The Barons continue to chip away and get back into the game. In the bottom of the 5th inning, a wild pitch by Leal leads to right-fielder Blake Rutherford scoring to make it a 6-5 game. Tomscha adds another key run scoring hit to tie the game at 6.
The Barons' bullpen (no runs allowed in 5.2 innings pitched, including a scoreless inning by winning pitcher Vince Arobio) shuts down the Tennessee offense. Timely moves by manager Omar Vizquel and a focused mindset keeps the team's spirits and energy high, setting the stage for their comeback.
In the bottom of the 9th inning, a double by Gavin Sheets (1st baseman) followed by Ti'Quan Forbes getting hit by a pitch for the 2nd time in the game puts runners on first and second base. A scorching drive (single) to left-field by Tomscha leads to the game winning and walk-off 7-6 victory by the Barons, including a well-deserved celebration at 2nd base.
After their series ending win, now it's time for the team to gear up for the next challenge, a critical 5-game series against the Chattanooga Lookouts.
July 21, 2019: Tennessee Smokies vs Birmingham Barons (post-game)
Damek Tomscha's efforts (again, going 4 for 5 with a home-run and 4 runs batted in, including the walk-off/game-winner) results in named player of the game. He walks through his in-game approach which leads to success at the plate.
"I got here pretty early to work on a few things with my swing, as well as getting comfortable with my swing. I feel like I did a pretty good job today staying with my approach".
He notes, "This team has a bunch of high energy guys; there's no quit (in this team). We were able to get a couple of runs in the next inning (after the 6-run inning by the Smokies) to keep the game in striking distance. Our pitchers (bullpen) did a great job as well", as he explains the mindset of the team, especially after being behind by a 6-1 margin.
His focused approach and mindset clearly play a key part of his performance at the plate and field, as well as the team's approach in competing until the very end.
(View the FULL post-game interview below):
Quick notes (photos are by the author, Andrew Snorton): To keep track of the team's schedule, tickets, and related items, please visit the website for the Birmingham Barons (click HERE to visit). You may visit their social media as well on Facebook (Birmingham Barons) and Instagram/YouTube (@bhambarons). To learn more about the Negro Leagues Museum that is within a block of the stadium (Regions Field), click HERE.