I was late. St. Louis is not that close to Davenport, and although ten minutes had been shaved off the ETA by the time I pulled in to Modern Woodmen's Park(ing lot), the River Bandits' BP had already concluded. Nevertheless, my interview was still a possibility. I met the media relations director, and he led me underground to the clubhouse, where I wished Michael Feliz good luck while A.J. Reed was summoned. We talked for six minutes (more on that tomorrow), then it was time for his team meeting while I was brought up to the press box.
For those of you who have never been in a press box before (until Sunday, myself included) I'll describe it to you. There are five rooms in it, one for all the screens and stuff around the stadium, one for the P.A., one for the visiting team's announcer, one for the River Bandits' broadcaster, and one for the assorted media. I honestly have no idea if this is what they all look like, but this one was pretty nice and came with a fridge and pregame pizza delivery. I watched the Snappers take BP from up there, and Matt Chapman (the A's 1st-round pick) showed off some opposite-field power. Also worth noting: Phil Puhl, the backup catcher, made two great behind-the-back grabs in right field, including one where he reached over the bullpen to snare it.
After BP, I took my first tour of the stadium. The park isn't as big as I had heard, but it was one of the nicest ballparks I'd ever been to (including major league parks). Vendors line the walkway behind the infield seats. The ferris wheel in left field is massive, and its psychedelic colors distracted me more than once during the game. There is a miniature cornfield in foul territory that is actually really cool and pays homage to corn being the export Iowa is most widely known for. (Or maybe Field of Dreams, but many sources tell me Iowans are fiercely proud of their agriculture.)
When the game started, I was back in the press box, watching Michael Feliz pitched. I was surprised at his velocity, as his fastball was at 91-92. I'd heard it was faster than that, but one of our writers suggested it was due to fatigue, which makes sense considering his workload. Either way, he was definitely effective, also showcasing a slider frequently around 86. Over the course of the game, he never really blew me away, but looked comfortable on the mound and had a smooth, repeatable delivery. He also got an impressive strikeout on a 72-MPH pitch that I can only assume is a curveball, which I had heard was below average. The pitch started out in the zone (and drew a swing) but fell down to the outside corner.
I made my way down to the seats for the bottom of the first, and in a stroke of luck sat down in the front row seat closest to the dugout, where I had quite a nice view. Some observations from throughout the game:
- Marc Wik ran slowly on a grounder I thought he had a chance on, but I later heard he tweaked something Friday night, and was pulled immediately after.
- James Ramsay is FAST. He came around to score from first on a Chase McDonald single (that was turned into a double when the left fielder bobbled it).
- Chase McDonald is a big guy. It was really funny seeing him hustle from first to home on A.J. Reed's triple in the third.
- A.J. Reed really impressed me in his first at-bat. His bat hitting the ball made such a loud sound I looked up, expecting to see it rocketing towards the outfield fence, before looking down and seeing it smoke past the third baseman for a single. In the third, his triple bounced once in fair territory before going into foul territory and ricocheting off the right field wall to get past the outfielder.
- J.D. Davis' defense at third was a mixed bag. He made a nice play getting to a foul ball, but another ball bounced off his glove for an error.
- Bobby Boyd was a little overeager in his debut. He had two singles, but was picked off once and caught trying to stretch the other into a double, both inning-ending.
- Chris Lee does something weird with his foot. When he lands, his foot starts out facing towards the batter but then turns ninety degrees towards the third-base side.
Around the fourth inning, I made my way back to the press box. A few minutes later a Quad Cities newspaperman came with his son into the box and sat down next to me. It turned out he'd been covering the team for 30 years and provided a wealth of information. Some of the more interesting things he mentioned:
- Rio Ruiz has a really sweet swing.
- Chase McDonald's wrists are super quick, but he has below-average pitch recognition.
- Brett Phillips has the best pitch recognition of anyone on the team this past year.
- James Ramsay is a plus defender with a plus arm and plus speed, but doesn't have a good hit tool.
- Thomas Lindauer and Carlos Correa are both superb shortstops.
- When Alexander Melendez came up for a couple nights, he was overmatched (he is 19, after all).
- Michael Feliz can be a major leaguer if he just makes sure to follow through and not try to aim his pitches.
- Reggie Sanders (???) was the best player he ever saw play for Quad Cities, and Willie Mays Aikens (again, ???) was the only person he's seen hit a ball into the river. (I'm sorry if I'm showing my relative lack of age over here)
Overall, the game was a great experience, and if anyone is in the area, going to a game should be number one on their to-do list. The ushers were all nice and helpful, the media guys were knowledgeable, and the fan experience was top-notch. If any of you down in the comments section have visited the ballpark before, feel free to share your experiences below.