I think I’ve mentioned that I’m in my fifth season as a MiLB Advanced Media (BAM) datacaster, and I’m in my third season as a Baseball Information Solutions (BIS) scorer. For BAM I work roughly 30 games a year, and for BIS I work about another fifteen. That’s 45 games a year of International League/Norfolk Tides baseball, and that means I’ve seen a lot of players.
Those players can be grouped and classified in many different ways. Some of those players are notable not so much for what they do here, but what they will do in the major leagues — Matt Wieters, Jay Bruce, and Jeff Niemann fall into this group. I know I’ve seen them here, but I couldn’t tell you anything that they did here. Some players do nothing memorable either here or in the big leagues — almost by definition, I can’t give any examples of them because, well, I don’t remember them.
A few players do memorable things here and then go on to memorable big league careers. Overpowering pitchers like Cole Hamels. Pitchers with unbelievable command like Kevin Slowey and Andy Sonnanstine. Awesome athletes like Andrew McCutchen. Not to mention Denard Span, who made so many unbelievable catches in center field that to this day we’ll comment in the press box “Span would have caught it” when a ball splits a gap.
But this article salutes two members of yet another group, those who do memorable things at this level and nothing memorable in the majors. In fact, these two are memorable not for what they did at this level, but for the fact that they had/have been at this level for so long. If I hadn’t seen so many games for so many years, I wouldn’t have noticed their contributions to baseball.
If the name Jorge Velandia rings a bell at all, you probably have heard of him as a light-hitting (.189/.274/.270) utility infielder for several major league teams, mostly the Athletics. I noticed him because he always seemed to be playing for a different team when he came to Harbor Park. It turns out that Velandia had played part or all of ten consecutive seasons (so far) in the International League — 2000-2009. After the New York Mets acquired him (for Nelson Cruz, the Rangers all-star outfielder) in August 2000, he played four games for the Tides. He then spent at least part of 2001 (67 games), 2002 (115 games), and 2003 (111 games) with Norfolk. Then, apparently having reached minor-league free agency, he took a job wherever he could — 2004, Richmond; 2005, Indianapolis; 2006, Charlotte; 2007, Durham; 2008, Buffalo and Syracuse; 2009, Lehigh Valley. That’s seven different International League teams in six seasons — eight in seven if you count his last year in Norfolk. He’s cerrtainly an expert on International League home clubhouses.
On the other hand, Wes Timmons has demonstrated admirable loyalty. Timmons was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 12th round in 2002. He progressed steadily through the Braves’ farm system, getting a 5-game cup of coffee with the AAA team (then in Richmond) in 2005. In 2006, he came up to Richmond for good – and I do mean for good. Aside from ten games of injury rehab, he has played with the Braves AAA affiliate ever since, staying with them even when the team moved from Richmond to Gwinnett. He has yet to appear in a major-league game, and with every passing year that seems more unlikely. I first noticed Timmons’ staying power this year, and going back have discovered that I’ve seen him play in 16 games, with 64 plate appearances, over the past four-plus seasons.
So, here’s to you, Mr. Jorge Velandia and Mr. Wes Timmons! In your different ways, you each show us hope that we should do whatever it takes to pursue our dreams. That even though we’re tantalized by what seems to be unachievable, we should stick with it — either by moving wherever needed or by patiently waiting for our chance. Open up an ice-cold Bud Light!
Baseball games are not children’s stories. Good does not always emerge victorious; the plucky underdog, coming back from long odds, does not always triumph.
Friday and Saturday, the Buffalo Bisons played the Norfolk Tides. In any work of fiction, the Bisons would be the bad guys. Their lineup is populated with the best players outside of the major leagues; standing at the plate, players like Mike Hessman, Valentino Pascucci, and Mike Jacobs resemble defensive tackles. In contrast, Tides Matt Angle, Paco Figueroa, and Blake Davis resemble middle-schoolers. The Bisons are the Gashouse Gorillas to the Tides’ Tea Totallers.
The Bisons jumped out to a 6-0 lead after the top half of the fourth. It would have been easy for the Tides to fold, but they battled against crafty control-pitcher Tobi Stoner. When overpowering right-handed relief pitcher Bobby Parnell — he of the 96-mile-an-hour fastball — came in the seventh, it didn’t look good. But the scrappy Tides pecked away at the physically dominating Parnell, and tied the game at 6.
In any work of baseball fiction, the Tides would complete the comeback, winning the game against overpowering odds and being an inspiration to us all. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a work of fiction. Relief pitcher Mike Hinckley loaded the bases and then walked Russ Adams on a 3-2 count. Cla Meredith came in; after a strikeout, Pascucci roped a bases-clearing double off the left-center-field wall. The final score ended up 11-6.
More proof of the unfairness of baseball was presented Saturday night. The Tides’ major-league partner, the Baltimore Orioles, ordered that the Tides not start Jake Arrieta, on the off-chance that they would want him as their thirteenth pitcher. So, naturally, Andy Mitchell, on about five minutes warmup, started and gave up seven runs in two innings. Once again, the Tides refused to give up. They fought back and closed to within one run at 8-7. And once again, their valiant effort went for naught, as the Bisons-Gorillas scored four runs in the ninth inning. Had they not done so, the Tides two runs in the ninth would have been enough for a win; as it is, the Bisons won 12-9.
Somewhere, there must be an underdog who climbed back from insurmountable odds to triumph. Somewhere, a Little Engine That Could is proving that he could not merely think he can, but proves that he really can. Somewhere, a Butler beats Duke. But there is no joy in Norfolk.
2006 was the first year I served as datacaster for the Norfolk Tides. That year, the Tides were the AAA affiliate of the New York Mets, as they had been for the preceding 36 years. The Mets, to be honest, were a terrible parent team. They were arrogant, treating the Tides as if the Tides should be lucky to be affiliated with them. And the 2006 Mets were truly a terrible AAA team — the only halfway-decent prospect was Lastings Milledge; the opening-day roster included what we refer to, sarcastically, as the “Fab Four” — Todd Self, who has been the standard of batting incompetence; Julio Ramirez, legendary for losing ground to a bounding ground ball while chasing it in center field; Juan Tejeda, who is to first-base defense what Todd Self is to offense; and Cory Aldridge, whose most memorable came when he slid into home plate and yanked the ball out of the catcher’s glove, only to be caught by the umpire. After these four were released, Michael Tucker, Jacob Cruz, and Jose Offerman joined the Tides; about a decade or a decade-and-a-half late.
The Tides severed their relationship with the Mets after 2006, establishing a relationship with the Baltimore Orioles. But now it’s looking like the 2006 Tides have been cursed. It’s been only four years, yet three of the pitchers on the 2006 Tides have already passed away:
- Geremi Gonzalez, a Venezuelan ex-major leaguer who started six games for the 2006 Tides, died on May 25, 2008 after being struck by lightning.
- Jose Lima, who led the 2006 Tides in innings pitched, died on May 23 of this year of a heart attack.
- And Jeriome Robertson, who pitched 38 2/3 innings with a 7.68 ERA for the 2006 Tides, died on May 29 of this year in a motorcycle accident.
I’ll be honest — I really have no idea who would have cursed the 2006 Tides pitchers. None of the theories I can come up with make sense. But if I were Blake McGinley, Orlando Roman, or Steve Schmoll, I’d start getting worried toward the end of next May.