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Home Run: Triad Baseball teams strikeout COVID and get ready to pitch a new season

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Home Run: Triad Baseball teams  strikeout COVID and get ready to pitch a new season

Baseball diamonds in the Triad were left empty in the Spring and Summer of 2020, but that didn’t stop local baseball teams from finding a way to contribute to their respective communities. 

Replacing draft beers and hot dogs with virtual charity auctions and community luncheons, and going from thousands of screaming fans in stands to box seats and suites that have been converted to quiet and remote workspaces, the triad’s baseball’s teams have loaded the bases and are sliding us into a new year of Minor League Baseball. 

High Point Rockers

Truist Point has seen its fair share of action despite the pause on the baseball season and plans to keep that energy into the new season. 

“The High Point Rockers are looking forward to the 2021 season, watching baseball games at Truist Point, and welcoming back our fans! As we open the season on May 28 and play our first home game on June 1, we will continue to operate under the health and safety guidelines provided by the CDC, the state of North Carolina and the City of High Point, and the Guilford County Division of Public Health,” said Steve Shutt, media relations consultant for the High Point Rockers via email. “Those guidelines are likely to change as the 2021 season progresses. Masks and social distancing will be in effect at the start of the season, and as county, state, and national recommendations change, we will adapt along with those recommendations.”

Due to pandemic, the High Point Rockers announced that they’d forgo their 2020 professional baseball season, along with their counterparts in the Atlantic League, but that didn’t mean not pursuing their commitment to the community. 

“The High Point Rockers took the Covid-19 canceled season in stride. We used all of our resources to continue to provide entertainment and opportunities for the High Point community. We continued our adult kickball league and operated our concessions as a restaurant with the Pitchin’ Kitchen open to the public for lunch and dinner. We hosted yoga, comedy shows, disc golf, blood drives, youth soccer tournaments, charity softball games, and collegiate summer league baseball games. On top of that, we hosted nearly 300 amateur baseball and softball games to keep the facility active,” Shutt said.

Working with the Guilford County Division of Health, the organization was able to open its field up for community events, games, and sporting events. 

On what would have been opening day, April 30, 2020, the stadium concessionaire partner, Spectra Food Services and Hospitality, and the team donated more than 1,200 meals to frontline workers, including medical workers and High Point police and fire department officials. 

In May, the team collected more than 8,000 food items for the Salvation Army of High Point, in conjunction with its corporate partner Old Dominion Freight Line. The food drive was a competition against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and replaced a game the teams were scheduled to play. The team also raised more than $2,500 for the United Way of Greater High Point Emergency Fund through the sales of the “Safe at Home” T-Shirts and partnered with Vann York Auto Group to provide more than 300 lunches to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater High Point. 

In June 2020, after Phase 2, Truist Point became a destination for local and regional athletic events hosting more than 60 amateur and collegiate summer baseball games for those who observed social distancing and no fans allowed rule. 

In the fall of last year, the Rockers partnered with the YWCA of High Point in a health initiative that allowed residents to walk the concourse, provided weeknight hitting clinics for local and softball baseball players, hosted a charity softball game between High Point’s Fire and Police Departments and hosted a virtual auction during October to raise funds for Wake Forest Baptist Health- High Point Medical Center’s Pink Ribbon Program. In November, the organization teamed up with The Comedy Zone and brought comedian Rob Schneider to the area, and Preacher Lawson in April. Residents were able to schedule photoshoots at the ballpark, they hosted Santa and an egg hunt Easter weekend. 

The facility was available for private events as long as social distancing guidelines were adhered to and offered space for you to “work from home” while providing a change of scenery. The Rockers mascot, Hype The Rocking Horse, was available to join company meetings, classroom, and virtual gatherings to add some excitement to zooms. 

“That High Point is a progressive and dynamic community that is supportive of local enterprise and flexible enough to adjust and handle adversity when it arises. We received strong community support from not only our fans but from other members of the community that we were able to introduce to Truist Point,” Shutt said of pandemic lessons and takeaways. “Like everybody else, we learned a great deal about keeping people safe during a pandemic. We learned to live with masks and social distancing, and we learned how to make Truist Point a safe and secure location for all who attend an event. Most of all, we showed that we are about more than just baseball.”

The team didn’t forget about baseball, retaining its manager and many of its previous players, including outfielder Quincy Latimore, Infielders Giovanny Alfonzo and Michael Russell, Reliever Kyle Halbohn, and Starter Craig Stem. 

It has also picked up some players to add to its already top-tier roster. This includes first-baseman Logan Morrison, Pitchers Chris Nunn and Huascar Brazoban, Center Fielder Juan Perez, and the ever-versatile Michael Martinez. 

“Fans of the High Point Rockers will continue to see an exciting product on the baseball field as well as many of the same outstanding amenities that we offered when Truist Point opened in 2019. We will continue to operate under the guidelines set by the CDC and the state of North Carolina to ensure the safety of all of our patrons. As those guidelines change, we will change with them and hope that before long, we can welcome back all of our fans who are so eager to get out and watch professional baseball in High Point,” Shutt said. “We will continue to seek out the type of family-friendly entertainment and events that will fulfill our mission of bringing value to the High Point community.”

For more information about the High Point Rockers, visit their website at www.highpointrockers.com.  

Greensboro Grasshoppers

The new season will bring a lot of first for the Greensboro Grasshoppers this 2021 baseball season.

Opening Day for the Hoppers was Tuesday, May 4, at First National Bank Field against the Hickory Crawdads.

This year’s 2021 schedule is a 120-game season slated to run through September 19 and includes a game against the Winston-Salem Dash for the first time since 1968.

“We are happy to announce our schedule and look forward to many great games this season. I hope our fans are as eager to return to First National Bank Field as we are,” said Grasshoppers President and General Manager Donald Moore in an earlier press release.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the Hoppers would see a new administrative team to lead them, starting with Kieran Mattison as the new manager for 2021. In his fifth season as a manager with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the parent team of the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Mattison is no stranger to the position. He spent the 2019 season with Bristol and led the club to a 34-33 record, with a postseason berth for the first time since 2002. He led the West Virginia Black Bears to a 32-44 record in 2018 and guided the DSL Pirates to a 36-34 mark in 2017.

He’s also no stranger to North Carolina, serving as the former right-handed pitcher when he attended East Carolina University before being signed by Kansas City as an undrafted free agent in 2002. He would continue pitching in the minors for various teams and independent leagues, including Cleveland and Los Angeles through 2010.  

Athletic Trainer Victor Silva, Development Coach Blake Butler, Hitting Coach Ruben Gotay, and Pitching Coach Matt Ford will join Mattison in crafting an all-star team.  

In his third year season as an athletic trainer with the organization, Silva spent 2019 with the Dominican Summer League Pirates team.

Butler, a Greensboro native who joined in 2020, will carry out his duties as a development coach in full for the 2021 season. The 2013 Southeast Guilford High graduate went on to play for the College of Charleston before being selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 15th round of the First-Year Player Draft. In 2005, he made his professional debut with the Arizona League Reds and spent the 2016-17 seasons playing with Daytona in the Florida State League.

This will be Gotay’s first year with the Hoppers and first full season with the Pirates organization from the Phillies organization.

He has played professionally for 17 years (2001-2017), with some of that time spent with some of the biggest teams in Major League baseball, including with the Royals (2004-05), Mets (2007), and Braves (2008). He compiled a .255 batting average, 12 homers, and 77 RBI in 316 big league games as a former infielder.

In his eighth season with the Pirates organization but the first year with the Hoppers, Ford spent the 2019 season as the Rehab Pitching Coach and previous two years as Pitching Coach with Bradenton after serving in the same capacity with the West Virginia Power in 2016. Ford was Toronto’s third-round selection in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft and made his professional debut with Medicine Hat in the Pioneer League that summer. As a former left-handed pitcher, he posted a 2.37 ERA with Dunedin in 2002 and was selected by Milwaukee in the Rule 5 Draft in December 2002. Ford made his Major League debut with the Brewers on April 2, 2003, and pitched a scoreless inning of relief.

For more information, visit the page at www.gsohoppers.com.

Winston-Salem Dash

Last year’s pivot didn’t stop the Winston-Salem Dash from interacting with its fan base. In addition to the Dash’s 70-game regular-season schedule, the facility annually hosts over 200 events, including movie nights, weddings, and proms, truly making it an entertainment destination for the entire community. 

While the organization has a history of being embedded in the community, last year’s pandemic forced them to take it up a notch. 

“We very quickly pivoted to taking our game days out into the community,” said Winston-Salem Dash President C.J. Johnson. “Financially, it was a challenge, but I’m grateful for the community that we have and the tremendous support that we saw from our staff, community, and fans. I’m excited to get back to providing fun for our community again.” 

Fun that Johnson and the Dash have kept going all along during last year’s closure. 

Partnering with Truist and Wake Forest Baptist Health, the organization took one of it’s most popular in-game promotions, the “Free T-Shirt Toss” to a local neighborhood and delivered free ice cream to neighborhoods with the help of their mascot Bolt. T-Shirts were wrapped with information from Wake Forest Baptist Health regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and residents could nominate their neighborhoods via social media contests. Winners were notified so they could tell their neighbors to be ready for the promised goodies. During the holidays, the Dash provided children from nearly 100 families with gifts and assisted with the present distribution.

They also rented out suites at the stadium for office space, which included parking, wifi, coffee, water, and a Dash mask. The Dash mascot, Bolt, could also be scheduled to “crash” Zoom meetings. 

From a socially distanced recreational standpoint, the Winston-Salem Dash partnered with “Hek Yeh Putter Party” with Innova Discs to host Dash Disc Golf. “Hek Yeh Putter Party” is a premier disc golf/baseball stadium experience and competition designed for first-time and experienced players. Each night included 10 raffle prizes, cash prizes for the top 20 percent of the field, and a Gold Record Trophy for the best score.

The Winston-Salem Dash 2021 season began on Tuesday, May 4, at home against the Rome Braves.

“I’m extremely excited about tonight’s opening night, and we can’t wait to get back to opening the gates and letting everyone come out,” Johnson said just hours before the game began. 

As the Dash prepares for the upcoming season, the organization has added two new hires to their staff within the last year. Conor Clingen will be the Dash’s Broadcast and Media Relations Coordinator, and Amanda Weaver has been hired as the club’s Social Media and Marketing Coordinator.

An alumnus of the University of Notre Dame, Clingen will serve as the team’s lead broadcaster for the upcoming season. Last season, Clingen was Dash’s Broadcast and Media Relations Assistant. Weaver joins the Dash after working in Round Rock, Texas, serving as a Chiropractic and Marketing assistant for Impact Family Chiropractic, where she was head of all community marketing programs and activities. Along with these hires, the Dash announced that Taylor Hodges will now serve as a Business Development Representative after joining the team as a Ticket Sales and Services Representative.

Returning Manager, Ryan Newman, will lead the team, assisted by Pitching Coach Danny Farquhar, Hitting Coach Charlie Poe, Athletic Trainer Carson Wooten, and Performance Coach Geroge Timke will join him in the dugout. 

Newman’s return marks the third time in Dash history (2009-present) in which a manager has returned for another season with Winston-Salem. In 2013, Newman led the Dash to a 71-69 overall record.

A veteran of the big leagues for eight seasons, Farquhar will be in his first year as a pitching coach. After retiring in 2019, Farquhar joined the White Sox as a Minor League pitching coordinator. For the fifth time in the last six years, Poe will serve as Winston-Salem’s hitting coach. Last season, Poe was the hitting coach for Birmingham, where he worked with superstar prospects, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal. 

Wooten joins the Dash staff for the first time. He served as the athletic trainer for Great Falls during the 2019 season. Timke returns to the Dash for his fifth consecutive year. During his first season with Winston-Salem in 2016, Timke earned the Carolina League’s Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year award, as announced by the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCC).

Johnson said that his organization plans to carry on with safe and fun events throughout the year. 

“Starting out, we will be at 50 percent capacity or less and will have 6 feet spacing seating so families and fans can know that they can come out and be safe,” he said. “All fans will be wearing masks except when they are eating and drinking.”

For more information, visit www.milb.com/winston-salem.

Overall, it would seem that it’s time to play ball in the Triad!

Chanel Davis is the current editor of YES! Weekly and graduated from N.C. A&T S.U. in 2011 with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications. She’s worked at daily and weekly newspapers in the Triad region.

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