If you haven’t had a chance to read our friend Erika’s excellent article at Baseball Digest titled Up Close and Personal: The Beauty of a Minor League Fan Experience, stop reading this immediately and do so now. I’ll wait.
I’ve always paid some attention to the minor league affiliates of the Cardinals, but it was generally limited to the development of some big name prospects (Allen Watson, Matt Morris, John Ericks, Rick Ankiel, Colby Rasmus and now Shelby Miller) or a rehabilitation start of a major leaguer prior to being activated with the big club. I got hooked last year, when Jaime Garcia returned from Tommy John surgery and helped the Memphis Redbirds win the their division, sweep the playoffs and earn a spot in the AAA World Series. Erika’s article convinced me to take a closer look this season and I’m glad that I did. As much as the “experts” slam our farm system, I discovered that there is a very exciting brand of baseball being played in our minor leagues – in some cases, even more exciting than the big clubs.
Did you know that most of the minor league game broadcasts are available as free audio streams ? MiLB.com provides a list of broadcasts for all of the teams, and you can find it right here. Occasionally, minor league game broadcasts are preempted by other local programming (high school football). In that case, check out the opponent’s feed and listen to what the other guys are saying about the Baby Birds.
There is also a live Game Day display, just like the major league games. It might be missing things like pitch selection and velocity, but it is a great complement to the free audio streams.
If you are an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad user, you can hear most, if not all of the broadcasts on your mobile device. There is a great application called TuneIn Radio, and I use that to listen to not only the minor league games, but also the KTRS Cardinals pregame and Sunday morning shows. And before you ask, TuneIn Radio also streams KMOX, so you are all set for the future.
If you go this route, here are the radio stations you need
Memphis – WHBQ (select first one, not Q107.5)
Springfield – KWTO_FM
St. Louis – KTRS (for pregame, postgame, Sunday chats with La Russa, Mozeliak, Luhnow)
St. Louis (2011) – KMOX
Unfortunately Quad Cities and Palm Beach stream their audio using Adobe Flash and that is not supported on the iPhone. In those cases, I’ve been pretty successful finding the opponent’s broadcast.
If you are still looking for more, you can buy an MiLB.com video subscription. It’s a fraction of the price of the major league equivalent, but you don’t get all of the games and the video feed is relatively low bandwidth. It is an amazing bargain though, especially if you want something more than the radio broadcasts.
If you haven’t had a chance to listen to Steve Selby and Charlie Lea broadcast a game, you are missing a real treat. Selby is an old school broadcaster, mixing the play by play with all sorts of other interesting and relevant content, stories – whatever pops in his head. He’s always entertaining, and keeps the game moving along, even when a pitcher is struggling to find the plate and walking in a couple of runs. Charlie Lea is the perfect complement to Selby. Lea’s smooth Tennessee accent makes everything sound happy, even when the other team is beating the goobers out of the Redbirds. Another thing to know about Lea, he was one heck of a pitcher in his day. He’s modest and you’ll never hear him talk about it, but he threw a no-hitter in 1981 (May 10 vs the San Francisco Giants) and came really close again, throwing 1-hitters in 1982 and again in 1983.
The lower level broadcasts are a lot of fun too. Names like Shelby Miller and Zack Cox become a lot more real as you listen to them develop the skills that will take them to the major leagues.
Playing like a Cardinal
There are a number of young men playing the game the way we Cardinals fans expect it to be played. Pop Warner has been doing a great job teaching fundamentals at Springfield, and it’s fun to see that continue in AAA and again in the majors. While Jon Jay may have been a surprise to some, if you had been paying any attention to the Memphis games, you knew that Jay was the real deal and played old school baseball. It also killed you when Tony La Russa failed to put in the lineup, especially when the Cardinals had been struggling at the top of the lineup. It is purely maddening that it took him until September 1 to put Jay in the leadoff spot when he had been an absolute catalyst in that spot in Memphis. The same can be said about Fernando Salas,who apparently is the new Brad Thompson.
As the “experts” share their analysis and predictions for the future, you would know that Tyler Greene has a bat that is worthy of some attention. You would know that Daniel Descalso has developed into a very solid second baseman and might be a good addition to the 2011 roster. You would also be thrilled with the comeback of Josh Kinney, finally putting the injuries behind him and turning in an amazing season. You would also know that Lance Lynn is developing into the type of pitcher that might be a nice addition to the rotation in a year or two.
As frustrating as the St. Louis Cardinals have been in 2010, the Memphis Redbirds have been the exact opposite. They never give up, no matter what lead the other team has. They score runs in multiple innings, not relying on a freak hit to get a lead and then putting pressure on the pitching staff to keep it. Here are a couple of examples.
This is my favorite. This is the last home game of the season and the Redbirds are one game out of first place. The final four games are with the Iowa Cubs, the team ahead of them in the standings. The Redbirds have been on a tear, winning 12 of their last 15 games. The night before, Memphis had dominated the New Orleans Zephyrs while it appeared that the Iowa Cubs were going to lose at Albuquerque, putting them in a tie for first place. The Cubs score 9 runs in the top of the 9th and win, so the Redbirds found themselves still one game out at the start of this game.
The Zephys starter, Brian Lawrence, kept the Redbirds scoreless for 7 innings. PJ Walters had been nearly as good for Memphis, striking out 10 while allowing just 2 runs over 5 1/3 innings. Chuckie Fick was a magician, entering the game with the bases loaded and throws one pitch to induce an inning ending double play. He and Rich Rundles combine for 2 2/3 scoreless innings, setting up an exciting conclusion to this game.
The game changes when the Zephyrs change pitchers to begin the bottom of the 8th inning. Adron Chambers leads off with grounder to short. Chamber’s speed put pressure on the defender and he committed an error. Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso follow with singles, scoring Chambers. The Zephyrs pitcher tries one of those fake to one base and then look to the other and commits a balk, scoring Greene from third. The score is now tied, 2-2. Descalso moves up to second on the play. The pitcher is obviously rattled and throws a pitch to the backstop, allowing Descalso to reach third base. Allen Craig hits a fly ball to the warning track, easily scoring Descalso. The Redbirds now lead, 3-2.
Josh Kinney comes in and shuts down the demoralized Zyphers in the 9th, 1-2-3.
Memphis wins their 80th game, the most in franchise history. They also have put pressure on the Iowa Cubs, prior to their 4 game series in Des Moines.
While the big club is struggling, the Memphis team is playing some exciting baseball and look poised to make the postseason.
Evan MacLane had been good early, but faltered in the 4th inning. The Redbirds managed to tie the game at 3 in the sixth inning. Round Rock got to MacLane and Oneli Perez, building a 6-3 lead as the Redbirds took their final at bats. A Mark Hamilton double, Mark Shorey single and a two out walk to Ruben Gotay put the tying runs on base. Allen Craig hits a three run walk-off home run and Memphis wins, 7-6.
Give the Baby Birds a chance
Unfortunately, there aren’t going to be any more off-days in the 2010 season, but there will be a few day games. The AAA season will also be coming to an end in a few days, unless the Redbirds beat the Cubs and progress into the playoffs. Some of the lower level teams are already in postseason. If the big club is getting you down and you would like to hear some “Play like a Cardinal” baseball, check out some of these minor league broadcasts.
Next year, when there’s an off-day, afternoon game or west coast road trip, give the Springfield Cardinals or Memphis Redbirds a chance. Tune in Batavia or Quad Cities and learn something about the Cardinals you will be rooting for in three or four years. You might find yourself hooked on some old school baseball too. You might even find yourself shouting, “Viva el Baby Birdos”
Oh, if you want to learn more about some of these Baby Birds, check out the I-70 Baseball project. Justin Hulsey provides a regular farm report that highlights some young players that you should get to know.