So I got to see a no-hitter live and in person today at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, where the Bulls, long one of the minors' winningest franchises, took on the Indianapolis Indians, AAA scions of the perennially punchless punchlines, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Needless to say, it was the Bulls that got no-hit, sending them to their 13th consecutive loss. Pirates prospect Sterling Marte bounced a homer off the sports bar behind the left field wall for the only run the Indians needed (they scored 2), and three pitchers zeroed out the hometown nine. The starter, Justin Wilson, got lifted after 107 pitches and a Leslie Anderson line drive off his right kidney, and two relievers closed it out. That was about as close as the Bulls got to a hit, really - there were a couple of close plays at first and a few nice catches, but really, around the third inning was when people realized that today could be special in all the wrong ways.
Friday night, at a game I also attended, the Bulls got thumped, 13-2. Ballyhooed pitching prospect Alex Torres got lit up like John Cerutti, getting pulled in the second. Saturday, another prospect, Chris Archer, threw a 3-hitter and still lost, 2-0. Bad teams lose in lots of different ways. They get clobbered. They get shut out. They fail to support their pitchers. They find ways to lose.
This year, the Bulls have the look of a bad team. This is not necessarily a surprise; they've sent a ton of talent up the ladder to Tampa over the last few years. As a Bulls fan, I've had the pleasure of watching Price, Longoria, Jennings, Upton, Joyce, Hellickson, Moore and many others come through town, and a pipeline like that generally doesn't keep flowing that well forever. And in the past, the Bulls generally peppered their roster with solid AAAA guys, hitters like Chris Richard and Russ Canzler and Dan Johnson, guys who could hammer a minor league fastball and provide a steady foundation the prospects could rally around.
This year, those guys are gone, Canzler to Cleveland and Johnson to Charlotte and Ruggiano to, well, I actually don't know where Justin Ruggiano is these days. The prospects, at least the hitting ones, are gone, too. Brandon Guyer's a solid bat, and Tim Beckham's rebounded from an awful first season after being drafted first overall to be a decent possibility, but there's no one except the pitchers to dream on. And when the pitchers aren't right (and even sometimes when they are), that means the Bulls, more often than not, are going to take it on the chin.
There are a lot of reasons to go to a minor league game. First and foremost, it's fun. The seats are always good, the tickets are cheap, and there's always the thrill of "I saw him when" prospect-hunting. Going and expecting win-at-all-costs, like the majors, however, is a mistake. Minor league teams are there to develop at least as much as they are to win. Sometimes, that means they're loaded. Sometimes that means they're outgunned. The trick is to enjoy what you've got, whatever it is.
And in the meantime, I got to see a no-hitter.