On Friday night, my Nissan Altima and I made the five-hour trek from Knoxville, TN down to Montgomery, AL to watch the Tampa Bay Rays scrimmage the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits on Saturday. Living in Tennessee, it is hard to get to Rays’ games with regularity, so I had to jump at the chance to see the Rays somewhat close to home. What an experience it was.
I arrived at the gates about 30 minutes before they opened, and to my surprise I was not even close to being in the front of the line. There were countless fans that came out in their Rays and Biscuits gear, and the vibe was great from the minute that I got there. We got in the gates and I quickly went down to front row on the first base line, which is the best place to watch batting practice, and also where the Rays would be signing autographs. In the past, I have generally gone to home events for the Rays, but because they were the away team this time, I was able to see them take BP (home teams usually take BP before the gates open). Of their hitters, I was most impressed with Wil Myers and Sean Rodriguez. Myers did a great job hitting the ball hard on a line, and Rodriguez impressed me with his bat speed and how far he was consistently hitting the ball. Many players signed autographs after BP (I scored one from Wil Myers). The starters then did their final stretching and throwing, and then the game began.
With my strawberry covered biscuits in hand, I got to my front row seats just to the left of home plate. It was a field day for me, as I got the chance to see 2014 players and future big league staples alike. Generally when you go to a game, you will find yourself cheering for a team, or at least an individual player, to succeed. But today, I wanted everyone to succeed, which is obviously impossible. I’ve never seen a scrimmage like this in person, and it was definitely hard for me to figure out who I was going to be rooting for. It was a weird feeling, and something I have never gone though before. It ended up turning out great because I got to kill two birds with one stone by seeing both Rays’ and Biscuits’ players play in the same game.
Minor league catcher Justin O’Conner was the most impressive player to me. Starting for the big league squad because the Rays did not want tire Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina, O’Conner did a bit of everything. He looked great defensively, throwing out two potential base runners with a plus arm, and also framed pitches nicely. He hit the ball hard in his first two at-bats, and his swing looks much more mechanically sound then when I saw him in Low-A Bowling Green last season. I was also encouraged with what I saw from Richie Shaffer. He had a flaw in his swing heading into the offseason due to getting too wide thanks to an over-exaggerated leg kick. But, he has shortened his stride and his swing looked great, an encouraging sign going forward. The game itself did not mean a whole lot, but for the most part I was impressed with both the big league and minor league squads.
After the game I stuck around to take pictures and soak in as much of the atmosphere as I could. To my surprise, I got to meet Biscuits’ player Taylor Motter. I had a few minute conversation with him that I thoroughly enjoyed, mainly about his experiences in the game and in the Rays’ organization as a whole. Taylor is a great guy, and it was a nice way to end a great day at Riverwalk Stadium.
Overall, this was one of the best baseball experiences that I have ever had, and that is coming from a guy who has been to a World Series, an All-Star Game, and countless games at Wrigley Field. It was definitely different seeing the Rays play against their own prospects. I had a great time, and I would recommend that you take advantage if you ever get the chance to see a similar type of game.