Hoppers Return to W’ville

The Greensboro Grasshoppers returned to Winnersville on Thursday night at First Horizon Park. They took out the Greenville, SC Drive for the first time in 3 games at home and with the 5-2 victory and the Hoppers have some life headed into the final game with Greenville toinght at FHP.

Thursday night the Hoppers faced a knuckleball pitcher and to be honest with you, I haven’t seen anything like that ever before. The Boston Red Sox farmhand was John Barnes a former outfielder with the Minnesota Twins at one time in his career and now Barnes has made the conversion from the OF to the mound and things will never be the same at FHP. Barnes spent last season as an OF with the Richmond Braves of the AAA International League and now the 30 year old has come full circle and is back in low Class A ball with the Drive. Barnes made it as high as the major league level with the Twins and now he is trying to resurrect his career with the Bo Sox.

You have to give some credit to Barnes because throwing the knuckler is not an easy task and catching it as almost as intresting. Hitting the knuckleball requires patience and that’s exactly what Brandon Hyde was preaching to his Hoppers on Thursday night when his boys faced off with Barnes. The Red Sox already have Tim Wakefield throwing the knuckler and now the old man, Barnes, at 30, is trying to join Wakefield(a former Carolina Mudcat when he was with the Pittsburg Pirates and in Zebulon on rehab assingment) at Fenway Park and see if he(Barnes) can extend his baseball life 10-15 more years just like Timmy did.

The Hoppers were able to get to Barnes(now 0-3) early, with 1 run in the 1st and 3 more in the 2nd to take the 4-0 lead after two complete innings. Trent D’Antonio was back in the lineup after his injury and with TD at the top of the batting order Greensboro was off and running early as the Aussie D’Antonio walked and scored during his first two plate appearances. TD also nearly knocked out the Greenville 3rd baseman Tony Granadillo on a tag attempt by TG on TD that took place between 2nd and 3rd base. TD really jacked TG’s jaw and TG went down for the count. With the walks, a hit batter, a couple of wild pitches by Barnes, and a hit here and there, TD and the Hoppers were on their way to W’ville. John Fulton collected two hits on the night and although the Hoppers were outhit 9-6 by the Drive the night was excellent with the Home Team getting the win.

Matt Mercurio was the hitting star for Greenville going 4-5 with 2 singles, a double, and a homer. Chris Turner had 2 hits for the Drive but the Hoppers’ pitchers did everything they had to do in order to nail down the win. RHP Ryan Tucker got the win his 3rd and Blake Jones grabbed the save, #14 for Jones the young man from Clinton, Mississippi. Tucker struck out 7 Drive batters and Bradley Stone, a newcomer to the Hoppers pitching staff went 2 and 2 thirds in middle relief, before he gave way to Travis “Tadpole” Talbott who only faced one Greenville hitter, but he got the Drive batter to ground out to end the 8th inning.

Greenville is a tough bunch and the GBGH club was fortunate to take a win from the Drive on Thursday. The Greenville team is in town for one more night and the Hoppers will send one of the aces of their pitching staff to hill to try for a split of the series with the Drive. Aaron Thompson gets the call and this will be first time we have seen Aaron since back after the SAL All-Star game where AT was the MOP(Most Outstanding Pitcher) and he got the win for the Northern Division. Thompson is 6-4 on the year and he will be opposed by Michael Rozier, 4-3 for the Drive squad.

There will again be fireworks after the game Friday, and it should make for a good opener to a fun weekend at First Horizon Park with the Hickory Crawdads in town for games on Saturday and Sunday.