Nothing minor: sixth stop - a return to Gwinnett (AAA baseball), the trade deadline edition
Wednesday, July 31st, is a key day of the week. For some, it's a reminder of the week being halfway over or something else. However, for professional baseball players on all levels (Major League Baseball, AAA, AA, A, Instructional League, or Rookie League), this date means one thing.
It's the official trade deadline.
Since I covered the Louisville vs Gwinnett game at the start of this series (click HERE to view the article), players such as (but not limited to) Adam Duvall (now playing with the Atlanta Braves), Koby Allard (who is traded to the Texas Rangers and assigned to their AAA affiliate in Nashville in the trade for relief pitcher Chris Martin, who is with the Atlanta Braves), and our pre-game interviewee, Travis Demeritte (who is now with the Detroit Tigers as part of the trade for closer Shane Greene), are in different spaces and places. Even with the roster moves, there's still games to be played, and with the Stripers currently in 1st place, they are still keeping their focus on making the postseason.
And that's just part of the game, not just on the Major League Baseball level, but all levels.
And that's nothing minor.
July 31, 2019: Norfolk Tides vs. Gwinnett Stripers (Pre-game)
Before their game against the AAA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, I'm able to catch up with a player whose season includes time with both the Stripers and the Braves, Touki Toussaint. The pitcher shares some insight on his growth as well as things on the immediate future.
"My fastball command; just being able to slow the game down more and more (are helping me improve). My delivery (is something else I'm working on); if I'm struggling, I know what I can go back to. You definitely need fastball command", he notes.
Consistency is ultra-important. Toussaint emphasizes, "You have to be consistent; consistency is key. If you are a bullpen guy, for 8 out of 10 games, you better be on your "A-game"; if you're a starter, and if you have 35 starts, you need to have (at least) 25 to 30 good starts and maybe 5 all-right ones".
For younger players and viewers, he advises, "Be yourself. Be your consistent self".
(View the FULL pre-game interview below)
July 31, 2019: Norfolk Tides vs Gwinnett Stripers - an umpire's perspective
As an added feature, I'm fortunate to connect with Chris Jones. He's not only a former umpire (11 years of experience), but is an umpire supervisor (AAA coordinator).
Now, not too many people pay attention to this part of the game unless it's a missed or game-changing call. However, this is a key part of the game, and within this area, there's engagement opportunities.
The Denver-based (and fellow Illinois native) is in this role since 2005. He focuses on coverage, observation, and instruction of umpires among other roles and responsibilities.
"To see someone from the cradle to the commencement (is exciting for me); as part of their development, we take them down to the Arizona Fall League and keep a tab on their development or lack thereof (if they should continue or look at Plan B)", he shares.
One thing to keep in mind is the small turnover of umpires at the Major League Level.
"Our average career span (for the Major Leagues) is 27 years; when the turnover is slim, it's tough. But we keep them in the system (as a call-up). Chad Woodson (is one of the call-ups) who got hired in July at the Major League Level. He was at it for 15 years as a minor league umpire", he adds.
As for those considering the career path of an umpire, Jones advises, "It takes a different mindset; you have to be thick-skinned, and your name's not going to be on the highlights unless it's perceived you've made a mistake. We teach this (among other content) at umpire school and camps".
An area of growth is the fact there are scholarship opportunities to attend umpire school/camps; he recalls these are a recent development (as he had to save for 2 years to attend).
Essentially, there's a parallel experience for players and umpires.
(View and listen to the FULL interview below)
July 31, 2019: Norfolk Tides vs Gwinnett Stripers (In-Game)
Gwinnett starter Kyle Wright (7 innings pitched, allowing 1 run on 4 hits, while striking out 8) and Norfolk stater Keegan Aiken match each other early on, as the game is scoreless the first 3 innings.
In the bottom of the 4th inning, Gwinnett takes a 1-0 on a rocket shot by Alex Jackson (1 for 4) as his solo home-run gives Gwinnett the lead. In the bottom of the 5th, the Stripers are able to chase Aiken (4 IP, 3 earned runs) with back to back walks (by Connor Lien and Luis Marte). When reliever Josh Lucas enters, he's promptly greeted by Andres Blanco; the Gwinnett second-baseman's 3-run home-run pushes the Gwinnett lead to 4-0.
In the top of the 6th, an RBI single by Mason Williams makes it a 4-1 game.
Other than the 2 home-runs, both teams combined allow 10 hits (5 apiece for Norfolk and Gwinnett) as timely hitting is the difference in this game.
Another win for Gwinnett as they push towards the post-season.
July 31, 2019: Norfolk Tides vs Gwinnett Stripers (Post-game)
Player of the game Andres Blanco spends a few moments to speak and reflect on the game, and even some big picture items (the individual and collective season). His 3-run home-run (he goes 1 for 4 with the home-run and 3 runs batted in) are a difference in a game where both teams collect 5 hits apiece.
He notes the work put in given the pre-game and in-game scouting helps, including his home-run at bat. He states, "He was making pretty good pitches; I knew after he set me up on a couple of pitches, he was going to go away. My thoughts were right there, and I made a pretty good swing".
As one of the older players on the team, one area of his game he's feeling solid about is leadership. He overall preparation and reaction to the highs and lows are things he knows players (and others) are paying attention to. Leaving something positive for others to build on is part of what he focuses on, and essentially, keep going and driving towards the post-season and beyond.
"I have improved this year; I want to do my best every single day, even if it goes wrong, it doesn't matter. Something good is going to happen. It (this mindset) hasn't always happened (in my 19-year career), but now, I'm proud of myself and where I am (and a career best 15 home-runs). I'm having a good time, having fun, and when put in a position to be a hero (and make a positive difference), here I am", he shares.
Based on this season, his individual growth and perspective blend with the larger team.
And their goal of making the post-season and winning a championship is still in sight.
Notes: make sure check out the team schedule by visiting their website (click HERE), as well as their social media (Facebook: Gwinnett Stripers and @gostripers on Instagram and Twitter). Photo credits to EmoryRose Photography (the photos with me and Touki Toussaint, Chris Jones, and Andres Blanco). All other photos are done by the author/writer (Andrew Snorton).