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Suns, Hawks learn lessons in exhibition game

April 06, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

It wasn't a matter of winning.

It wasn't a matter of losing.

It was definitely listed under the category of how you played the game.

Tuesday's exhibition pitting the Hagerstown Suns against Hagerstown Community College at Municipal Stadium wouldn't have been a primetime event on ESPN or CSN. It was probably more suited for the Discovery Channel.

That's because the game was a total learning experience for the Suns, the professional Single-A affiliate of the New York Mets, and HCC, a junior college program trying to groom players aspiring to bigger things in baseball.

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"There was a different pace in the game," HCC coach Scott Jennings said. "We were overmatched. We were a step slower than they were in reality. It was a great experience for our guys. They were looking forward to this."

It was more than a day at the park for HCC. Final score aside (Suns 15-1 before 853 fans), it was a chance to see what it's like to play against professional players. Everything was a step quicker, a few mph faster and a lot more polished than in most games the Hawks play in their season.

"It was all about making adjustments," said HCC catcher Nathan Himes, a Boonsboro graduate. "They were better. They are all draft picks."

Meanwhile, it was a final dress rehearsal for the Suns, who will be opening their 25th anniversary season at home against the West Virginia Power on Thursday. It was a chance to get a feel for their new home while trying to polish up some fundamentals.

"I thought this was a good game to play," Suns manager Gene Richards said. "It gave us a game and it allowed for us to perform on the field cold turkey. We hit the ball, executed and were able to put some plays on."

The Suns took any drama out of the game early by scoring five runs in the first inning, keyed by two-run singles by first baseman Mike Carp and outfielder Jesus Gamero. Hagerstown scored in six of the seven innings it batted while keeping HCC off the board until the eighth inning.

"If you watch games when major league teams face minor league teams, usually the major leaguers get beat," Richards said. "They hold back or don't go and play all out. Our guys had the energy. They wanted to go out and prove that they weren't going to let them beat them. They didn't even want to give them a chance."

The game was scheduled for seven innings, but expanded to nine earlier Tuesday afternoon. Both teams waved the rule which would have had HCC pitchers throwing to the Hawks' lineup in front of the Suns defense and vice versa.

"We talked about that, but I'm glad we didn't do it," Jennings said. "They wanted to work on some things they couldn't have if our pitchers were pitching, and our guys wanted to see what it was like to face their pitchers."

Eight Suns pitchers allowed three hits and waked three while striking out 13. HCC threatened to get on the board in the first inning when Lowell Coats led off with a walk, took second on a throwing error before trying to score on Drew Counselman's single to center. Center fielder Ambiorix Concepcion scooped up the hit and fired to home plate, well before Coates to gun down the run.

But HCC adjusted to earn some highlights and learn some lessons along the way. The Hawks' pitching gave up 20 hits - including home runs to Carp, Wilson Batista and Corey Coles - and two walks, but recorded 10 strikeouts.

"I thought our pitchers didn't do a bad job," Jennings said. "We had a good many strikeouts. We gave up a lot of runs after two were out. We didn't have the out pitches."

Jeremy McAfee, a South Hagerstown graduate, struck out the Suns in order in the fifth - the only inning Hagerstown didn't score.

"It was exciting facing those guys," McAfee said. "I learned a lot. I learned I can do well if I can keep the ball down. I never preached that before. But today, I kept the ball down and I was making pitches. I'm definitely going to use the same idea later this week when I pitch again."

Himes earned his highlight in the second inning when he tagged Dante Brinkley and Batista out on consecutive plays at the plate, keeping the score at 6-0 after two innings.

"With the first one, the ball got there early, but I couldn't remember the rules," he said. "I didn't know if we were going to have a collision or if he was going to slide. I got ready for both."

And second baseman Marty Kaetzel got the biggest prize of all, an eighth-inning double off Hagerstown reliever Carlos Muniz to drive in HCC's only run.

"We are used to seeing guys throw 85-86 mph, and they are throwing 95," the Boonsboro graduate said. "It's different. It came a lot quicker. It was exciting ... it was amazing."

When it was over, HCC president Guy Alterri came onto the field to congratulate his team. Even the educator in him didn't miss the fact that the game was a learning experience.

"This was exciting. We thank the Mets and we'd love to do it again," he said. "We're proud of them. They did well."

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