The Catch was on the road again on Friday to watch the Jumbo Shrimp take on the Gwinnett Stripers in our very first visit to Coolray Field. What we witnessed was just about the best Jumbo Shrimp game we’ve seen all season: fantastic pitching, great hitting, and solid defense, all of which combined to shut out the Stripers 5-0.
For those of you who haven’t been to Coolray Field, let me just tell you: It’s a chore to get there. You might think that it’s close to Atlanta, and you’d be kind of right. It’s in the vicinity. But the journey from Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on a Friday evening – in traffic – took the same amount of time it would take to drive from Jacksonville to Savannah. Which is to say: it wasn’t the easiest journey. After an hour and fifty-five minutes in the rental car – I thankfully avoided the chaos at the ATL rental center – I arrived. (By the way folks, travel is back and it’s a mess. Be forewarned.)
Lawrenceville, Georgia, the home of Coolray Field, is what I would term an “exurb.” It is a bedroom community way outside the city, full of brand new shops and restaurants of all kinds designed to lure well-to-do folks away from the city proper. The folks at the park seemed friendly and were very supportive to learn that The Catch had traveled to their little burg. Whether it is the ideal spot for a Triple-A baseball team, I would certainly question. Yeah, it’s easy for the Braves to call their players up and send them down, and to get some rehab for guys coming off of the DL, but the crowd had all of the passion and enthusiasm of a kids tee-ball game.
As for the park itself, it’s a very nice park. Big, wide open, and very good sightlines from pretty much every location. It has actually been used as a location/backdrop in the Brockmire tv series (which I highly recommend). It also has what I deem as essential in all new parks now: it’s very own taproom, courtesy of Slow Pour Brewing Company. And, it it is surrounded by apartments/condos which apparently run $3,000 a month. Certainly pads the bank account of the team and makes up for the lack of actual fans in the stands.
Now to the game itself. First off, I cannot say enough about Braxton Garrett’s performance on Friday evening. He had everything working early, and even when his stuff slipped a bit in the bottom of the 5th, he was able to change speeds just enough to keep the Stripers lineup on their heels. Garrett picked up his 3rd win of the season, giving up just two hits on the night while striking out five and walking two. Preston Guilmet was impressive in relief, as was Alexander Guillen.
I happened to run into a childhood friend of Garrett’s in the stadium concourse – it was pretty easy to suss out who was supporting the Shrimp – and he relayed that Garrett’s is just what you think he might be: the best athlete, best scholar, and best all-around guy that anyone from his part of Alabama has ever known. They cannot wait to see him stick with a big league club. I tend to agree.
At the plate, the Shrimp were equally great. They knocked out 12 hits on the night and only struck out five times. In this day and age of the three true outcomes in baseball, that’s a fantastic number. All of the starters but one had base hits, even Garrett since, apparently, the pitchers bat when two NL-affiliated clubs face each other in the
International League Triple-A East. (In this case, the Marlins and Braves). The Shrimp were led by Lewin Diaz who homered and singled on the night. Jesus Sanchez was 2-for-4 with a walk and briefly took his average above the magic .400 line. Sanchez seemed to be channeling his inner-Juan Soto with his movement and gyrations at the plate. I thought it displayed fantastic confidence at the plate, which I love to see.
The Jumbo Shrimp have won three of the first four of the series against Gwinnett. The sides play again tonight at 6:05 pm. Let’s hope they can keep the momentum going.
Your Friday night/Saturday afternoon musical interlude: