Richmond Braves Win the International League Championship!
Karen and I were in the house tonight as the Richmond Braves won their fifth Governors' Cup International League Championship.
Trailing the Durham Bulls 2 games to 1 in the championship series, the R-Braves had game 4 rained out on Friday night, necessitating a double-header scheduled for today. Game 4 began at 3:00; if Richmond won, game 5 would follow at 7:00. I had rehearsal for Richard II from 10:00-5:00, but Grant Mudge sent me a couple text messages from the stadium to keep me posted. Good thing, too; the game was pre-empted on the radio by both the Virginia Tech game and the Hokie postgame show. I can understand losing a previously-unsceduled R-Braves game for a Hokies game, but the postgame show? Anyway...
Grant's last message was 1-1 in the bottom of the 6th. By the time I got to the Diamond, it was the top of the 8th, 4-1 Braves. Grant was sitting with the Thrifts in row G of section 108 (boxes between home and first), and there were open seats with them, so we joined them. It was cooling off, so I called Karen and told her to bring something long-sleeved for herself and for Grant, who was wearing shorts.
Final score of game 4: 6-2 Braves. Karen arrived and game 5 commenced.
If game 4 ended well, game 5 started downright brilliantly, with the Braves scoring 4 runs in the bottom of the 1st and never looking back. Outfielder Doug Clark hit a three-run home run off the right field foul pole, followed on the next pitch by Carlos Mendez's dinger over the left field fence. The rest of the game seemed to feature a succession of Durham hitters swinging their arms out of their sockets, as if trying to hit a 5-run homer. What started as heart looked more like desperation with each inning.
Sitting six rows from the plate gave loudmouths like Grant, Karen and I some wonderful opportunities to make fun of the names of Bulls hitters. Hey, they're on the road; I feel no guilt. It was easy to make fun of Evan Longoria, calling him "Eva" (as if he's never heard that before) and asking him how his husband Tony Parker is. E. Johnson inspired me to chant "E. Jooohhn-son!"
But we really seemed to get into the head of Jason Pridie (pronounced "pretty") by singing "I feel Pridie! Oh so Pridie!" every time he came to bat. Poor Pridie boy went 0-for-5 tonight, striking out the first three times we sang his song. And they were bad strikeouts, swinging wildly from way behind in the count. I really think we pissed him off. I feel kind of bad about that. Initially, we were just singing it at the beginning of his at-bat, but he came to the plate with two outs in the 9th, and by then we had our entire section singing with us: "I FEEL PRIDIE! OH SO PRIDIE!" Before each. And. Every. Pitch. This resulted in a game-ending fly ball to deep right. Braves win. Jason's Pridie.
This is the second time I've been in the stadium for a minor-league championship, and there is nothing like it. This joins the 1999 Arena Cup (go Albany Firebirds!) among the greatest sports experiences of my life. Seriously, I'd take this above watching a Phillies, Red Sox, or Redskins championship on TV any day. There's just nothing like being there.
I'll post the T-D article tomorrow. Until then, I want to share the sheer joy of tonight's experience as best I can. So enjoy some pictures.
Eva(n) Longoria: Swing and a miss in game 4.
The Governors' Cup: on display in front of the stadium, awaiting a new home.
One of many Braves runs scored early in game 5.
The scoreboard: happy if you're a Braves fan, sad if you're one of the scores of Durham fans who drove up from North Carolina today only to sit behind the visitors' dugout and watch a crushing double-header sweep. Give them credit: driving three hours to root on a minor-league team is being a real fan. I complimented a group of Durham fans in a beer line.
The R-Braves enlist the help of Governor Tim Kaine to lift the heavy Governors' Cup. Kaine--a friend of Richmond Shakespeare and a genuinely good guy in my experience--showed up midway through the second game. His kids were there all day, including a boy wearing a "KAINE" #1 Braves jersey. God bless the Kaine family, friends of both sports and the arts.
So the Braves win their first IL championship since the magical 1994 team, which featured such obscure players as Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez, and future Chipper Jones. Is there a major-league future ahead for Doug Clark, Carlos Mendez, and winning pitcher Kevin Barry? Could be. For now, I'm just thrilled to have been there when they won their minor-league title.
Next up: a one-game king-of-the-hill game Tuesday night in Oklahoma City against Pacific Coast League champion Sacramento. I'll have to settle for ESPN.
I feel Pridie. Oh so Pridie.