My father and I just got back from Lakeland yesterday after watching the Flying Tigers play three games versus the Clearwater Threshers of the Phillies organization. The Tigers did not play well and they were swept 11-3, 8-1 and 7-1 but we did see some positives and had a great time at Joker Marchant Stadium. We escaped the rain and cold of the northeast and enjoyed three days of temperatures in the high 80s with low humidity. The weather could not have been better.
I had been to Lakeland several times in the past for spring training and I loved it. This year, I decided to go during the regular season instead and it turned out to be a good choice. With the tourists gone for the most part, Lakeland had a very quiet and relaxed pace. The ballpark experience was more intimate with only a few hundred fans, mostly local people who attend the games regularly. Joker Marchant Stadium seemed like a very close-knit community. I'm sure the club is not happy with the low attendance but it suited me fine. I met a few friends from Motownsports for the first time and all of them were very friendly and knowledgeable about the Lakeland team and organization.
The best part was probably the stadium experience but I also enjoyed the games even though the Flying Tigers were completely outplayed. I was really disappointed when Cameron Maybin missed the first two games with a back problem but luckily I did get to see him in one game. It's hard to say much about him, based on one game, that has not been said yet. He is a good athlete who is very fast, has patience and hits the ball hard. He also looked really bad on a couple of swings but he's an exciting work in process. He did not have any difficult plays in the outfield so I can't really comment on his defense.
I also got to see Andrew Miller but it was not his night. The tall gangly left-hander threw hard and showed his sharp breaking slider but he had a rough game giving up 7 earned runs on 10 hits and 4 walks in 4 2/3 innings. Some of it was poor fielding support but his control was not good and they hit several balls hard. He looked raw and in need of more minor league seasoning.
One player who was a pleasant surprise was Wilken Ramirez. I've heard some scouts rave about him but his stats had been pretty bad in the past. He's a big strong guy with surprising speed for a guy that size. He may lack patience but he was making good hard contact all 3 nights. He went 4 for 11, stole 2 bases and looked comfortable in the outfield. I'm no scout but I came away understanding why the scouts like him. His stats are better this year. Hopefully, he continues to develop.
Burke Badenhop gave up a 3 run homerun in the first inning of game 3 but settled down after that. He's not a hard thrower but I was impressed with his control.
Sendy Vazquez pitched his last game before serving a 50 game suspension which he received when he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. He threw very hard but did not seem to have much else to offer. He was clocked at 98 MPH but I was told that the scoreboard radar reading might have been a little fast.
Ovandy Suero is not a highly regarded prospect but his speed was amazing. He is one of the fastest players I've seen in a while. He beat out two infield hits and had a hustle double. He also looked decent in center field in place of Maybin.
On the final night, they turned off all the lights after the game and gave the fans a pretty impressive fireworls display. It was a fitting end to a great summer weekend.