I Saw A No-Hitter Thanks To My Mom And Her Message

(Originally published on More Than A Fan on July 29, 2011)

My mom was born on July 27, 1949. If 2011 was any ordinary year, I would have stopped by her house this past Wednesday morning with a birthday card and flowers to wish her a happy birthday before making my way to work. Unfortunately, 2011 has been anything but an ordinary year as my mom passed away in February.

Knowing that Wednesday was going to be one of those emotional days, I had already requested the day off work. While I did not have any real plans for the day other than a cemetery visit, I knew work was the last place I wanted or needed to be.

ryan and grandpa 2I woke up and took flowers, balloons and a cup of coffee (mom always did enjoy her coffee) to the cemetery and visited for over an hour. Fighting back the tears, I got in my car and drove out of the cemetery, not sure exactly what I was going to do to keep my mind occupied for the rest of the day.

As I drove off, something kept telling me that I should go to the Indians game since they were playing at noon. At first I was not going to go but something said there would be something special about Wednesday’s game. It was like a scene straight out of Field of Dreams.

I called my grandfather, knowing how much he was struggling with the loss of my mom and also remembering all of those times as a kid that he and I sat down and watched baseball together. I told him the Indians were playing at noon and that I would be there in an hour to pick him up. He seemed excited about the idea, which made me realize it was the right thing to do.

As we made the 45-minute drive to Progressive Field, we talked about my mom and about how strange the day seemed. We talked about baseball, how it is now and how it was back in the day when he was growing up. And of course we talked about Ralph Kiner – there is no baseball conversation with my grandfather that does not somehow come back to his favorite player.

Driving to the ballpark felt like an out-of-body experience. I had yet to tell my grandfather that I had a feeling about the day’s game, a premonition that we were going to see something special. I felt like Ray Kinsella driving Terence Mann to Fenway Park, thinking there would be something amazing but just not sure what it would be.

We arrived at the stadium and I purchased two seats right behind the plate – if something special was going to happen, I wanted a good view.

We watched as the Indians inexplicably scored a run in the bottom of the first without getting a hit. Ezequiel Carrera reached on an error by shortstop Erick Aybar and stole second two pitches later. Michael Brantley flew out to short right and then Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to second, which moved Carrera to third. Carrera then scored on a wild pitch by Los Angeles Angels pitcher Ervin Santana before Travis Hafner struck out.

Turns out, that was Santana’s only mistake of the day. While Indians pitcher David Huff was working on a good game himself, his defense let him down time and time again, committing five errors. Huff did not allow a base hit until the 4th inning, which was the first hit of the day for either side.

As you know, Santana never did allow a hit. And by the 8th inning, I was fully rooting for him to pull it off.

This was my “Moonlight Graham” moment – a possible no-hitter. This was the reason that something kept urging me to take my grandfather to the game – a chance to see baseball history.

I tweeted before the 7th inning that if Santana got through the Indians hitters (Brantley-Cabrera-Hafner) in the 7th without allowing a hit, I would be cheering for him over the final two frames. 10 pitches and three outs later, I was fully behind the pitcher who started the day as the enemy.

When Santana struck out the side in the 8th (with a walk to Lonnie Chisenhall thrown in), I knew he had this thing in the bag. There was no doubt in my mind that Santana was going to throw the ninth no-hitter in Angels history and the first ever at Progressive Field since it opened in 1994.

Santana easily got the first two outs in the 9th and up stepped Brantley, who promptly took a called strike on the first pitch. As Santana was getting the signs from catcher Bobby Wilson, I took out my phone and snapped a photo just as Santana got ready to deliver. Turns out that picture ended up being of the final pitch of a no-hitter, as Brantley flied out to center and baseball history had been achieved.

I looked at my grandfather and his first reaction was to say that we had just witnessed history. With a tear in my eye, I told him he was right. I then looked up and winked at my mom to tell her we got the message – she was still looking out for us like she always had.

Happy birthday mom – and thanks for the gift!

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryanisley23@gmail.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

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Kipnis Working Out The Kinks In Akron

By Ryan Isley (Originally posted on 6/23/2010)

The top of the Cleveland Indians draft class of 2009 keeps making their way through the organization as second-round pick Jason Kipnis has been in Double-A Akron for the past two weeks, joining first-round pick Alex White.

Kipnis was drafted as an outfielder out of Arizona State but after playing at Short-Season Class-A Mahoning Valley following the draft, the Indians decided to move him to second base, a transition that has not been easy.

“It is a work in progress now still,” Kipnis said. “There are still some ground balls that scare the crap out of me, I am not going to lie about that and as soon as one gets hit hard at me I might have the yips or I might question it but I just have to keep my feet moving and stay down on the ball.”

So far this season Kipnis has committed 11 errors in 63 games between Class-A Kinston and Double-A Akron.

While his defense leaves much room for improvement, it is his offense that has Kipnis moving up the organizational ladder.

After hitting .306 with Short-Season Class-A Mahoning Valley last season, Kipnis started this year with Class-A Kinston, where hit .300 with six home runs and 31 runs batted in while playing in 54 games before being called up to Double-A Akron on June 10th.

“I came up here with the glass completely empty and ready to soak up a lot of stuff,” Kipnis said. “There are a lot of guys who can teach you a bunch of things.”

Through his first 11 games for the Aeros, Kipnis is hitting .333 with three home runs and seven runs batted in and started his stint in Double-A with an eight-game hitting streak.

“I am just kind of riding the wave right now,” Kipnis said. “It’s really just been putting my head down and playing. I have been fortunate enough to come on a hot streak.”

Kipnis had to adjust quickly from playing in college to playing in the pros and the biggest adjustment is going from using a metal bat to a wooden one which changes the way pitchers work.

“What I have really concentrated on this year is being fastball efficient,” Kipnis said. “Up here, it’s a smaller strike zone so they are going to try to get ahead with fastballs. You are not going to see your college metal bat curveballs and changeups galore which is all they throw (in college).”

While transitioning through the minors may be tough, it is not unlike the one Kipnis faced in college.

After playing one season at the University of Kentucky, Kipnis transferred to Arizona State to play for head coach Pat Murphy, whom Kipnis calls a big influence on his baseball career.

“Coming from Kentucky, I was still very immature as a person, as a baseball player, everything,” Kipnis said. “(Murphy) really kind of sat me down, taught me the ways about the game, just completely changed my outlook on how to go about the game, how to handle my business in life, how to handle my schoolwork,  handle everything.”

When the San Diego Padres made Kipnis their fourth-round selection in the 2008 draft, it was Murphy who gave him the advice he remembers to this day.

“He was like when you are ready to leave and you are ready to move to the next level you will know,” Kipnis said. “Whether it is college, high or low (Class)- A, Double-A, you will know when you are ready to go on.”

With those words ringing in his head, Kipnis knew what he had to do, returning to Arizona State for one more season, where he hit .384 with 16 home runs and 71 runs batted in for the Sun Devils en route to becoming the Pac-10 player of the year.

“It was a risk,” Kipnis admits. “I looked at my first year at ASU and I looked at how much I matured over that season in just one full season with them and what another year with (Murphy) could do for me. I sat down and thought about it and I still had a lot to learn so I wasn’t ready to move up yet so I gave it a shot and got lucky with it.”

It was during that final season at Arizona State that Kipnis and faced White in the College World Series, a game that White pitched for North Carolina but Arizona State won 6-2.

“We still jaw back and forth now and then,” Kipnis joked. “I got a hit off him in my first at-bat and that is all I needed was one. He struck me out later, so I will give him credit for that. He pitched lights out in Omaha but we were lucky enough to come up with the win in extra innings so I got that on him.”

With the two teammates having so much success so early, the obvious thing everyone wants to know is when Kipnis and White will be playing for the Indians.

“It is something you try not to think about too much,” Kipnis said. “You start to realize how far away you are but how close you are at the same time and the only way you can get there is by not thinking about it, by putting your head down and playing the game.”

As for White, Kipnis is impressed with what he has seen from his one-time foe turned teammate.

“(Alex) has pitched tremendously,” Kipnis said. “He might have had a bad outing but he has rebounded in the next one. It wouldn’t be too long I am sure before we’re going to see him (in Cleveland).”

With the rate Kipnis is going, it would not come as a surprise if he were on the move again soon as well.

He has been so good in his first two weeks with the Aeros that the only negative so far is that he did not win the team’s pool for last weekend’s U.S. Open.

“We drew (golfers) out of a hat,” Kipnis said. “I got Retief Goosen, (Nick) Watney and (Jason) Gore who I think all finished at like plus-14. It didn’t bode well for me.”

Thankfully for the Indians, they were more successful in pulling names in the beginning of the 2009 draft than Kipnis was for the U.S. Open.

Follow me on Twitter: @isley23