Years ago, I saw a Winston-Salem Warthogs hat in my cousin's collection and proceeded to ask why he picked one up. He, like many around SSS, had emigrated from the South Side up into Cub country. Unavoidably, there were social obligations revolving around Cub fans and outings to their outdoor ivy-covered bar. Growing tired of catching the wrong attention during these affairs while wearing a Sox cap, he picked up the Warthogs one to act as an "undercover Sox hat" in order to pass through these events without the headaches. Shortly after I moved west, I was reminded of this method after receiving some general bitchiness and '05 sour grapes while just trying to enjoy some fish tacos. A Knights cap and Barons cap soon entered the rotation. Charlotte is never recognized and Birmingham only elicits a very rare "Boston sucks!" I can sort of understand the confusion, as the only time I've seen another Barons cap in public was in Boston last Labor Day weekend, when I spied one paired with a Big Papi jersey by some Doucheronomy waiting for the T on the way to Fenway. Last Friday, however, I was finally not out of place sporting one to a game as everybody else had one too.A work trip to Huntsville coincided with a Barons homestand, so before departure a pair of tickets were bought and the return flight booked to leave from Birmingham. Friday started with some ohmanous-looking clouds and some thunder and light rain, so there was a little bit of apprehension especially with the hour-by-hour forecast by weather.com essentially saying "You're fucked." No matter, after completely nerding out at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (home of Space Camp!), my friend and I barreled down I-65 hoping for the best, which is exactly what we got. The further south we went, the more the skies cleared as the weather system pushed northeast. By the time we checked in at our hotel, it was perfect out.
Starving, we stopped to get some BBQ near Regions Park (née Hoover Metropolitan Stadium). Here I saw some old friends:
Coupling that with some construction and rush hour traffic on the way we arrived on Southern California Time™ - missing the mini-bat giveaway and autograph session - and took our seats 3 rows behind home ($10! I <3 the minor leagues). The netting was a pain in the ass to pay attention to the game and take pictures through, so we moved over to just behind the Barons dugout along 1B and parked it there. According to a beer vendor attendance was up due to the warmer weather and Friday fireworks, but the stadium still had plenty of seats available so we caught no grief and had nobody else in our row.
Charles Leesman started off perfect through 3, with 4 of the first 6 outs being K's. The Barons hitters peppered the Mudcats for a run in each inning from the 2nd through 6th. Alden Carrithers worked a walked-in run in the second and was directly followed by Justin Greene hitting into a 4-6-3. A Brandon Short solo shot in the third would have been two had leadoff man Kenny Williams, Jr. not been called out on a bang-bang play right beforehand. Both teams traded runs in the fourth, including a bad throw to first by Leesman as Carolina bunted the leadoff single over and a very Pods-ian baserunning out by Andrew Garcia to end the inning. With Garcia on first, Justin Greene singled by hitting a rope to short that wasn't handled and headed to the outfield, driving in Tyler Kuhn from second. The throw came home, but Garcia strayed too far off the bag and was picked off, 6-2-4.
The Barons manufactured a run in the 5th, with Phegley grounding out but scoring Brandon Short. Short had singled on and was driven to third by a single by Mr. Reading Room himself, Christian Marrero. During the 6th, though, the Mudcats were able to put together enough of a rally to end Leesman's day. Quintin Berry had walked and was driven to second on 1-3 groundout. David Cook smoked the ball down the 3B line, but it was stopped from going down into the corner by a diving Kuhn. His throw to Marrero unfortunately ended up the opposite line, however, putting Cook on second and Berry on third. A 2-run single followed by a double brought in Brian Omogrosso, who struck out the next two batters to end the rally.
Garcia was able to get back on second with a double in the 6th, was driven over by a Carrithers pitcher groundout, and driven in by a Greene single. It was given back in the 7th as he couldn't find Marrero's mitt on an infield play, putting a runner on second. The runner moved when Omogrosso couldn't find Phegley's and scored on a groundout to short. Other than a Justin Greene double, everything went smoothly. Junior Kenny made a great snab (or got his call back) in the 9th on a diving play to rob a line drive single. The ballgame was ovah, Barons winnah.
I'm not sure when I'll find myself back in the area again, but I really only have good things to say about Birmingham and Regions Park (admitted SSS). The bar that sponsors the ID bracelets was a good spot to end up post-game and had some great regional beers on tap. While the park is just outside Birmingham, it didn't take long to return to the city center. It was a pretty fun experience all around. The drive for them to get families into the park was evident, with no-alcohol family sections ringing the upper part of the seating area and youth clubs and teams making up a fair portion of the attendance. The airport was easy-peasy and I even saw some players (or at least two young dudes with giant White Sox gym bags) while in the security line.