Arizona Fall League: Good Baseball, Good Friends

Last month I made my annual trek to the Arizona Fall League for a much-needed dose of good baseball and good friends. Each year, SABR’s Flame Delhi Chapter hosts a conference that has become a must for me.

Baseball Prospectus subscribers can read about my experience at the 2012 conference here and here. For everyone else, a quick summary: It was awesome.

This year’s event? Same story. Organizer Rodney Johnson, the Diamondbacks’ official scorer, puts on a great show. He knows everyone in town and gets many of them to participate.

Guests included legendary baseball executive and AFL founder Roland Hemond; retired big-leaguers Ron Davis, Lou Klimchock, and Ken Phelps; former Padres first-round pick Dave Hilton; and former Padres Cy Young Award winner Mark Davis.

Beyond famous people, the conference was filled with folks who can watch and talk baseball all day. It’s my kind of place.

* * *

After checking into the hotel and reacquainting myself with friends from last year, we headed over to Mesa HoHoKam Stadium to watch the Solar Sox host the Scottsdale Scorpions. No Padres prospects played in this game, although it did feature a few kids with San Diego ties.

Scottsdale had SDSU alum Corey Vaughn (son of former Padres slugger Greg Vaughn), while the home team had USD alum Kris Bryant. Woe, Doctor! and I saw Bryant play at Fowler Park’s Opening Night back in February. He didn’t do much then, and he didn’t do much when I saw him in the AFL, which is bizarre because the second pick overall (Cubs) in last year’s draft is a stud who destroyed pitchers at every level whenever I wasn’t watching.

Bryant went 1-for-4 with a walk. He worked counts except for the seventh-inning single, which came on the first pitch and went about five feet in front of home plate with serious English that kept the Scottsdale catcher from making a play.

The guy who impressed me most in this game was Bryant’s Solar Sox teammate Addison Russell, a shortstop in the Oakland A’s organization. From my notes:

Tough at-bats – 24 pitches in 5 PA, made pitcher work. Smooth in field, couple of nice diving plays and a few near-misses. Nothing spectacular, just knows what he’s doing.

FanGraphs’ Eno Sarris chatted with Russell at the AFL and confirmed my impression.

After the game, Mrs. Ducksnorts and I enjoyed pizza and beer at Papago Brewing. We discovered this place last year and agreed it was not to be missed. The Flammekuek Belgian Pizza with sour cream, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and bacon sounds weird but is delicious.

Beer? They make several of their own, all tasty. My favorite is Coconut Joe, while Mrs. D prefers the Orange Blossom Ale. But you can’t go wrong, and even if you don’t want to try one of theirs, they have plenty more taps and bottles to choose from. It’s a mile from our hotel and they do growler fills.

After a brief rest, I headed to the evening’s event, dinner at Don and Charlie’s. The food is good, but it plays second fiddle to the ridiculous amount of memorabilia lining the walls. I sat with local guy Brian who has driven me all over town each of the past two conferences, Drew from Edmonton who charts defense for a living and is as baffled as we all are at Alexi Amarista’s center field routes, Morty who still laments the Braves’ departure from Boston 60 years ago, and former San Diegans Jacob and Tracy.

Jacob works for SABR and took photos of the dinner. He, Tracy, and I complained about Bob Filner, the Union-Tribune‘s irksome lack of competition, and other local concerns.

It wasn’t all negative. We talked about the new San Diego Library, whose opening Jacob attended. Thanks to SABR, it boasts “the biggest baseball library west of Cooperstown.” I love it, but I can’t be objective because three of my books are in it.

We also talked about the El Paso Chihuahuas, the Padres new Triple-A affiliate with the polarizing nickname. Me? I like my minor leagues to be on the silly side. Others don’t, with one group even petitioning the owners for a name change.

Pughuahuas, anyone?

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  • I need to make it out to the AFL in 2014. Just couldn’t pull it together this year.