As I write this, the Greensboro Grasshoppers sit squarely in the middle of the South Atlantic League standings with a 14-15 record and a two-win streak. That’s fine; it’s early yet in the season, and baseball can be cyclical.
No matter what, I feel I’m bringing them some good luck.
Believe it or not, I had never been to a Hoppers game before this season, even though I grew up here. Despite low ticket prices, attractive weekday specials and my admiration for baseball, something always got in the way: school, work, summer-long convalescence from surgeries, simple forgetfulness.
This season, I wanted to start giving the Hoppers the attention they’ve deserved from me all along.
I’m making good on that promise; I’ve already attended three games.
Greensboro College invited me to the home opener on April 16, but it wasn’t the best night for baseball. Chilly rain delayed the game for about half an hour. Thankfully, I was shielded from the elements in a box above the third baseline. A free dinner of barbeque, chicken tenders and sweet tea, plus meeting state Rep. Jon Hardister, made the wait worth it.
It’s no real surprise that many Hoppers supporters are fans of convenience. They come out with friends on Thirsty Thursdays for cheap beer and fair weather.
Not many Hoppers faithful appeared that night. It depressed me slightly to think of the players, some making their professional debut, looking into the sparsely populated stadium.
They were also up against the top team in the division: the Delmarva Shorebirds.
Based in Salisbury, Md., the Shorebirds had hosted the Hoppers in a four-game series the week prior and trounced them in three.
It wasn’t looking too great for the Hoppers at home. They made silly defensive mistakes, and their batting wasn’t splendid.
For example, first baseman Arturo Rodriguez — who I dubbed “Mr. 500” for his otherworldly .500 batting average at the time — was thrown out, walked and hit a double. No longer Mr. 500, I suppose we can call him “Our A-Rod;” his average remains a respectable .333, and he’s slammed three homers and five doubles this season.
Late in the game, the Hoppers rallied and clinched two RBIs in the bottom of the ninth, making the final score 5-4.
I came up with a nickname for another player that night: outfielder John Norwood. To me, he’s “Peapack Jack,” due to his hometown of Peapack, NJ. He doesn’t have striking offensive stats — aside from leading the team with eight stolen bases — but he’s got a great arm.
Two days after the opener, I went to what wound up being the final game of a home stand against the Shorebirds, sitting out on Natty’s Hill behind left field, right behind Peapack Jack.
Norwood had a tremendous game despite never reaching base; no chance to see his blazing steals.
He dominated defensively.
In the top of the fifth, Peapack first snatched Delmarva shortstop Jared Breen’s fly ball. He couldn’t scoop the midfield double hit by catcher Jonah Heim, but he nabbed another flyout on outfielder Jay Gonzalez.
His shining moment came with the next at-bat. Second baseman Ronarsy Ledesma smacked a line-drive into left field for a single, and Heim decided to gun for home. Peapack launched a damn laser beam from deep to Greensboro catcher Rodrigo Vigil to throw Heim out. It was a thrilling, glorious stop.
Greensboro wound up sweeping the three-game home stand against the dethroned Shorebirds; the next day’s game was called for rain.
The third game I attended was against the West Virginia Power on May 4.
“More like the West Virginia Kenny Powers,” a pink-haired woman in the ticket line joked, referencing Danny McBride’s character from the baseball comedy series filmed in North Carolina, “Eastbound and Down.”
The Power were no laughing matter, though. They had a 14-10 record to the Hoppers’ 12-12, and while Greensboro had beaten them in the first two games of the series, the Power busted them 4-2 the night before.
By that time, lefty designated hitter KJ Woods had become the Grasshoppers’ batting hero. That night against the Power, he was walked and hit two singles, and you could feel his disappointment after Rodriguez was thrown out at home to end the fourth inning.
Still, a .392 batting average and .962 on-base plus slugging ain’t nothing to be upset about.
Shortstop Justin Twine produced for the Hoppers that night. Remarkably, he reached base on each of his four at-bats and scored on three RBIs by Norwood, Woods and Rodriguez in the first, third and fourth innings, respectively.
If Twine’s impressive offense serves as any indication, the Hoppers surged the Power, 7-3.
I need to keep showing up to games; the Hoppers won each I’ve attended. I hope I can maintain that streak.
On Thursday, the Shorebirds are coming back to finally make up the April 19 rainout in a double-header.
The Hoppers might need my support.
The Delmarva Shorebirds @ Greensboro Grasshoppers double-header starts at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at NewBridge Bank Park. For more information, visit milb.com.