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Mudville: October 1, 2022 1:44 pm PDT
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Silver Sluggers / New Rules

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The experienced fans here at beautiful Clover Park are known as Silver Sluggers. One such Silver Slugger was sitting two rows in front of me on the aisle behind home plate on Tuesday night.

He bellowed to the Mets batter, “Hey Stanley, why don’t you hit one right out there to your picture.’’

Everyone in the section heard his good-natured request.

The picture the Silver Slugger was referring to was a huge photo on the scoreboard of outfielder Stanley Consuegra. The St. Lucie Mets were down a run to the Reds Low-A affiliate the Daytona Tortugas and it was the bottom of the ninth inning.

Wouldn’t you know it, on the next pitch Stanley Consuegra lined a shot deep over the left field fence just to the right of his scoreboard picture.

Everyone who heard the comment had the same cheerful reaction as did the Silver Slugger, who celebrated with high fives and laughs all around.

I tell you this story not only because it was pretty amazin’ but because it gives you another example that you never know what you might see when you go to a ballgame.

Photo: Kevin Kernan

Here at BallNine we love baseball. But it is a tough love; we are not hesitant to criticize baseball for some of the incredibly dumb non-baseball things that are becoming imbedded in the game, but we also appreciate the game for its magic moments and that appreciation is not only on the major league level – but on every level of baseball.

At Baseball or Bust I will give a breakdown of ballparks I visit this season. This is the first in a series I call My Baseball Summer.

This is a celebration of the game with some criticism of the game … in the hopes that faults are corrected.

I know you are saying, “Hey, it’s not summer yet’’ especially for those locked in the chilly temperatures up north, but for me, this is the start of summer. The game time temperature listed on Stanley Consuegra’s scoreboard was 80 degrees Tuesday evening at first pitch and 77° by the final pitch of the 10th inning, with a gentle breeze blowing in my direction.

It was perfect baseball weather.

My Baseball Summer will not include major league parks. I have visited them all except for the new Rangers ballpark and many major league parks in which I once sat in the press box are no longer in existence. At some point I will give a rating of all the major league parks… but not now.

“Essentially, I call all this the AHS System, not the ABS System. What does AHS stand for? C’mon it’s simple: The Angel Hernandez System.”

My Baseball Summer is about simply going to a ballpark and enjoying the game, no matter what level of baseball. We all need a little more of that in our lives with the daily bombardment of absurdities coming our way like the spiking food and gas prices. In my neighborhood, gas went up 21 cents from Monday morning to Monday afternoon. Of course, I filled up both of my vehicles on Monday afternoon. Shame on me for not realizing they can’t wait to stick it to you.

Sometimes, I will mention the ballpark food, sometimes I won’t. It all depends.

On this Tuesday afternoon I raced over to Mario’s in Stuart for an early dinner about 35 minutes from the ballpark, but it was worth it for the scrumptious chicken parmigiana, salad, dessert and espresso I enjoyed. I was locked and loaded and did not need any ballpark hot dogs.

I did happen to notice that they were selling something called the Voodoo Bucket for $16 at Clover Park. I inquired and it is a bucket that includes five different rums. Considering a bottle of beer was $8.50 that seemed like a good deal. I was still stuffed from Mario’s so it was only baseball on my menu.

The good people at the St. Lucie Mets run a top notch organization and a spotlessly clean ballpark. There is adult, senior, youth and military pricing and the best seat in the house will cost only $14 and $9 for regular general admission, just a bit more than a gallon of gas, and there are all kinds of promotions.

The Chicken Parm at Mario's. (Photo: Kevin Kernan)

I happened to run into Paul Taglieri, the Mets executive director of Florida operations and St. Lucie GM Traer Van Allen as I entered the ballpark. As we climbed the steps into the seating area Van Allen seamlessly scooped up a piece of litter.

They keep this place tidy and friendly and that goes a long way in my book.

You also can watch minor league baseball on MiLB.TV these days, similar to MLB.TV but about a third of the price and St. Lucie Mets broadcaster Adam MacDonald does a terrific job. He’s not only a wonderful baseball voice but knows the game inside and out, he offers tabulations of the Hawk-Eye system that is in practically every minor league ballpark. This is solid information if you know what you are looking at but teams still need to use the human element as well, that means scouts at the ballpark.

On this night I only saw two or three scouts. Teams that have cut back on scouts‘ eyes in the ballpark are missing out – and will eventually pay the price.

Big and little things are noticed by scouts, not just numbers.

For example, one scout noticed one of the Mets infielders let a ball get away from him during warmups between innings and did not bother to retrieve it, leaving the job to another infielder. The scout noted to me that is not a good sign. Sure enough, a couple innings later that infielder made an error when he did not bother to set his feet making the throw.

That’s Scouts-Eye on the field as well as Hawk-Eye.

Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, FL. (Photo: Kevin Kernan)

It is obvious to everyone the difference Buck Showalter has made holding Mets players accountable for their actions. I would advise everyone in the Mets organization to start playing and practicing, and that even means during warmups, as if Buck Showalter is in that dugout watching you. Because in a way, he is watching you.

Just my friendly tip for players from someone who has been doing this for 48 years.

Getting back to Hawk-Eye. Mets centerfielder Alex Ramirez made a remarkable catch on an absolute rocket hit by Tortugas right-fielder Austin Hendrick. How hard was the ball hit? Turns out it was 107 miles per hour and while a hard out is still an out, it was an impressive swing and an athletic play in centerfield. In fact, Hendrick was so shocked the catch was made, he was thinking triple and was rounding first hard and saw the sprinting, turning catch right front of him, he then stood in total disbelief. Hendrick is an impressive hitter. A first round pick, 12th overall in 2020 – and God knows the Reds could use the help – Hendrick wears No. 7, is a lefty hitter so there is a little Trot Nixon to his swing.

Again, these are little things that scouts notice but if you go to a minor league game you can make your own comps as well.

Last year I was one of the first writers to check out the automated balls and strikes system that neutered the home plate umpire and I reported on that in an A-ball game, noting scouts and coaches had told me that about 25-30 pitches a game were missed by the robo ump. The real umpires are back to calling their own games here and much more.

If you as a pitcher or hitter don’t move along quickly enough, the clock will be noted – and you will be given an automatic ball against the pitcher if he takes too long or a strike against the hitter if he takes too long to get set in the box. The clock is set at 14 seconds with no one on base and 18 seconds with a baserunner. As a fan, you get something else to watch. On this night a ball was called on one of the pitchers and also a strike on one of the hitters because they were not set at the proper time, so the hitter actually struck out without that third strike being thrown.

Clover Park. (Photo Courtesy of the St. Lucie Mets)

I’m all for moving the games along. Essentially because this game went 10 innings you had the Manfred Ghost Runner, but you also had the Manfred Ghost Strike and the Manfred Ghost Ball. I got to experience it all as a fan as did the other 1,487 fans (official attendance) in Clover Park. For those fans paying attention there were questions asked like:

“What happened there?’’

“How did he strike out?’’

Get used to it folks – and both the pitchers and hitters need to figure it out as well. Even though the game went 10 innings it was over in 2:38. The games move along quicker but they have also shortened the gap between innings and that helps tremendously. In the majors that gap is used for commercials so there will not be the same benefit unless MLB decides it wants less advertising: No chance.

This was a Tuesday game; evidently they tell me the weekend games go up a notch when it comes to new rules. Those are the games where challenges are allowed. The pitcher, catcher or the hitter can challenge the ball-strike call made by the umpire by merely tapping the helmet or cap. Then the umpire inquires from above from the all-knowing robo ump and the call is made.

No, I am not making this up.

The automated ball-strike challenge system is being used in the Low-A Southeast this season. Other minor leagues are getting familiar with the ABS system, and I would assume will switch to this system in the future.

ABS uses multiple cameras to track the ball crossing the plate. The strike zone was tweaked midway through last year to make it wider and shorter. When I saw it there were lots of misses by the ABS but that was early in the year.

Tom Seaver watches over Clover Park. (Photo: Kevin Kernan)

The challenges add a whole new game to the game in a way.

For example, I am told that in a recent game the catcher was crossed up, the catcher boxed the pitch and the umpire called the pitch a ball. The pitcher immediately tapped out and the umpire went to challenge review and was quickly told the pitch indeed was a strike. Each team gets three challenges a game. If you are correct on your challenge as a pitcher, catcher or hitter, your team keeps that challenge so you still have three. If you are wrong three times, no more challenges.

Again, you learn this by going to the ballpark and seeing how it works in real time.

So do you have all that? There will be a quiz later in the year and I am curious to see how my friend and former major leaguer Jeff Frye reacts to this. I do like the idea of a pitcher, catcher or batter having the chance to argue his case. I miss arguments with umpires as do all baseball fans.

Essentially, I call all this the AHS System, not the ABS System. What does AHS stand for? C’mon it’s simple: The Angel Hernandez System.

A final word on a program that I think is great: The Silver Sluggers. This was the first time I saw it in person – the ballpark and other teams do it as well. As I came up to the ticket windows, I was surprised by the number of older fans standing there. I know it’s Florida, but this was really noticeable. Turns out that because it was a Tuesday, it was a Silver Sluggers game. If you become a Silver Slugger for the one-time price of $30 per person you get free admission on Tuesday nights and a free hot dog at those games plus a T-shirt – and there are other perks as well throughout the season.

Members of the Silver Sluggers at Clover Park, Port St. Lucie, FL. (Photo courtesy of the St. Lucie Mets)

The best part is you qualify at 55 years or older. You don’t have to be that Silver to be a Silver Slugger.

As someone explained to me: “It’s a reverse Kid’s Club.’’

All teams have Kid’s Club and if you think about it, this makes perfect sense. The Silver Sluggers I saw at Clover Park were having a wonderful time. I did notice that there was direct advertising as well. The first advertisement I saw that popped up on the big screen out where Consuegra’s called shot home run by that Silver Slugger fan landed was an advertisement for joint replacement.

Even if you are a Silver Slugger who might need a new knee or new hip, when you come to Clover Park on Tuesday nights, you’re a kid at heart.

That’s really what going to any baseball game is all about.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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