Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Look At The Pelicans

This past weekend, my wife and I flew down to to the Carolinas to attend the wedding of her best friend.  It was a fun and chaotic weekend, filled with beach houses, last minute chores, plenty of spirits, and excellent company, capped off with an absolutely beautiful ceremony and reception.  But, as busy as our schedules were with these festivities, the wife and I were still able to sneak away and do some of the touristy stuff that we so desired.  We traveled to Wilmington, NC to tour the decommissioned U.S.S. North Carolina battleship, sampled several delightful eateries in the nearby area, and took a long, nighttime stroll on the Atlantic coastline.  All in all, it was a extremely busy, but super fun weekend.  While I may have missed the first three games of the Cubs/Nats playoff series, it was more than worth our while.

However, seeing as we flew Spirit, things were a little haywire when we arrived in Myrtle Beach, SC to catch our flight back to the Windy City.  Due to some staffing issues, our flight was delayed a couple of hours and we suddenly had some extra time on our hands to spend in the Wisconsin Dells of the south.  What to do?

Look at the Pelicans, of course!

Tony Montana might looking at actual pelicans; but, that's okay because we weren't aiming to see real pelicans either (nor flamingos, for that matter).  Rather, we hopped in a Lyft and drove down the road a piece to visit the home stadium of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans - aka the High-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.  In fact, this sign was hanging in the baggage claim area:

Furthermore, all of the columns in the area were mocked up to look like the ivy-covered Wrigley wall.   This tourist trap is obviously very proud of their cash cow connection to the 2016 World Series Champs.  As they should be!

Anyway, even though minor league baseball season concluded over a month ago, I was thrilled to discover that the Pelicans team store remains open year-round and I was still in need of some souvenirs - looks liek I'd be getting my Cubs fix on the weekend after all!  As Jose Quintana and crew were prepping for their Game 3 showdown with Max Scherzer, we took a quick, ten minute ride down the road to stand at the threshold of the clunkily-named TicketReturn.Com Field,

That might actually be worse than Guaranteed Rate Field - although, at least they save it with the "Pelicans Ballpark" subtitle.

At any rate, set back a few miles from the main strips and surrounded by some lovely palm trees and shrubbery, Pelicans Ballpark is a relatively new stadium, having opened in 2011, which was purposely designed to resemble the ballparks of old. 

Before making any  purchases at the pro shop, I was quickly informed by an employee that the entire complex was still open to the public, excluding the playing surface, of course.  According to my wife, at that moment, the smile on my face stretched to about the length of the airstrips we had just left.    Outside of the skeleton crew on staff to maintain the place during the off-season, my wife and I were the only souls at the park and so, we immediately set off on a private, unguided tour of the stadium.

In the midst of our exploration, I managed to snap a few pictures before the rains came; here's the view from just under the broadcasters' booth:

Then, there was my favorite characteristic of the whole complex - a wall emblazoned with all the names of every Pelican player to make the ultimate ascent to the Big Leagues:

The wall is littered with the names of current and former Cubbies - here's a sampling of some of the bigger names who once called Myrtle Beach and Chicago home:

Ironically,  two of these men played for the Pelicans before they became affiliated with the Second City franchise.  In the past, Myrtle Beach has had a working agreement with the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers, the organizations with which both Heyward and Hendricks were originally drafted and developed by.  Funny how that works out, isn't it?

Moving on, here's a panorama from the left field-corner open area, set up to resemble a beach:

I tell you, it took me every ounce of self control and every strand of moral fiber in my body not to hop that tiny fence.  However, since our recently married friend lives in the nearby and we'll likely being coming back to the area at some point, I'd like to be able to attend an actual game next time.  It'd be hard to do that if I got banned from the premises!

In the above snapshot, you might notice that there is a batting cage just beyond the sandy, open area along the left field fence, so that minor league prospects can work on their batting stroke.   It was here that I was able to snag a surprise treasure:

It's a little worse for wear, but that's a bonafide, game-used or BP-used Carolina League baseball that I found nestled just outside of the netting.  It must have been left behind at the last batting practice session; so, I took the liberty of rescuing it from abandonment and taking it to a loving home.  It makes for a nifty, piece-of-the-park-type souvenir.

Speaking of souvenirs, it was at this point that the skies began to open up and decided to loop back to the team store.  I wish I snapped a picture of the retail area, but trust me when I say that the place immaculate and jam-packed with just about any bit of Pelicans or Cubs merchandise that you could dream up.  Heck, there was even Pelican-branded wine, courtesy of the locally-based Duplin Winery, which I totally would have took home with me if I weren't about to board a plane.  In the end, seeing as I already had my bonus baseball, I didn't feel compelled to open my wallet for much else.  Of course, I this is a baseball card blog and I am a trading card nut; so, I suppose that you might be able to guess what the one, minor purchase I made ended up being:

Yeaaaaaaa, I just couldn't help but pick up a cello pack of the 2017 Myrtle Beach Pelicans team set, printed by minor league mavens, Choice.  Who knows, maybe in a few years, some of these cards of baby Cubs will be of great use to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection?  

Shall we take a look and see who the Pelicans employed in 2017?  Yes, we shall:

Here's the only player in the set who's reached the Majors - not such a surprise, seeing as not many men shoot all the way up from A-ball to the Bigs in just one season.  Dillon Maples is a late bloomer who finally clicked in '17 and, on the strength of his breaking ball, earned a September call-up.  He likely has a strong shot at securing a regular bullpen spot in '18, as well.

As for the cards themselves, they were clearly designed with autographs in mind - I obviously missed the boat on that.  As such, the signature box can be a bit distracting and detrimental to the design without a John Hancock; but it still looks nice overall.  All in all, with glossy, thin card-stock and a large checklist, it's your standard minor league, team issued set.

The backs offer a brief write-up and a couple of years of stats for each player - nothing exciting here, just the basic facts, ma'am.

Meanwhile, here are some exciting names to look out for - top prospects who may very well join Happ, Hendricks, Heyward, and Maples on that alumni wall:

Much has been made of the Cubs' inability to develop pitchers; but, at Myrtle Beach, the potential is there.  Thomas Hatch was their first selection in the 2016 draft, had a successful debut in pro baseball this season and could move quickly.  Adbert Alzolay broke out with an arsenal fit for the middle of the starting rotation.  Oscar De La Cruz continues to battle health issues, but has long dazzled prospectors with his ability to miss bats.  All three were ranked as top 10 Cubs prospects by Baseball America during their most recent, mid-season roundup.

Maybe these guys will prove that Theo and Co. CAN develop arms.

And on the other side of the ball...

The pickins are a lot more slim.  Eddy Julio Martinez was a marquee international free agent signing  in 2015; however, his quick and compact power stroke has yet to translate to the States.  At age 22, there's still time for him; however, that window is getting a little smaller.  Carlos Sepulveda is a middle infielder with a plus glove and a minus bat.  He could eventually develop into a Big League utility man; but, that appears to be his ceiling.

Like I said, Myrtle is not teeming with positional prospects.

Here's three-fifths of the package given up by the Cubs in the Jose Quintana trade (who just so happened to be on the bump for the Big League team that afternoon).  Eloy Jimenez looks like he's going to be a good player in the near future for the Southsiders; however, with the way that Q has been dealing lately and his super team-friendly contract, this deal has the potential to be mutually beneficial for a while.

Another pair of intriguing arms.  Pedro Arajuo is currently pitching for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League and Ryan Kellogg was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 amateur draft.  Although, if I'm being honest, I mostly wanted to show off the ladder because of the lovely palm tree background found in his picture.  You don't get that in Chicago!

To wrap things up, one of the things we card bloggers love about minor league sets is that everyone gets involved.  While Topps barely acknowledges all nine starters on any given team, Choice has given cards to almost all players, plus...




...and ball-return dogs... yup, you read that right.  That's a thing!

Deuce the Yellow Lab delivers new baseballs to the umpires, collects stray bats, and does a victory lap each time the Pelicans come out on top - America's pastime can be so adorable.  Also, I'd be curious to see how this card would look "signed."  Just another reason to love minor league baseball.

Another thing to love about minor league baseball, besides the cute dog mascots and expansive card sets?  The fact that you can spontaneously decide to visit a local, MiLB stadium on Columbus Day, a month after the season's end, and get nearly access to nearly the entire complex and pro shop with help from who my wife described as "literally the nicest guy ever"... try that at Wrigley or Fenway or Camden or what have you one of these days and see what happens.  All in all, the experience was the perfect capstone on an already stellar weekend trip.

We've established that Tony Montana is not able to recognize pelicans, but I can recognize a first-class organization when I see one... and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are just that.

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