I made my first trip to Springdale to see the NW Arkansas Naturals Friday night. Here's some observations:
1) The "experience"--Arvest Ballpark is great. A solid HOK smaller stadium, great seats everywhere. Good crowd, mostly responsive to the game (although there is a lot of stuff, especially for kids, to distract--kids area with bounce houss and wiffleball field, a party deck area like the K's new one, lots of open green space that people were just hanging out in). Sidewalks all around the outfield, so you can get pretty close to the field. Plenty of parking, plenty of concession spots. The home team's PA and scoreboard guys have a lot of fun with the other team--it was Harry Potter night, so all of the opposing team pictures had Potter glasses and tie photoshopped over them. They also play some of the wimpiest walk up music for their batters ("Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" "I Swear" "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"). All of the standard minor league fan contests. There was also a doggone good fireworks show after the game to boot. A perfectly pleasant way to take in the game.
2) The game--NW Arkansas wins a back and forth game over San Antonio (Padres) with a lot of power--2nd NW Ark. homer for Gordon on rehab and back-to-back HR from 3B Ed Lucas and C Vance "Crash" Wilson. Gilbert De La Vara started in the place of now-Seattle-Mariners-property Dan Cortes (how's that for timing), reliever Ben Swaggerty gets a non-deserved win, and Greg Holland gets a 2-inning save.
3) The players--here's some observations of prospecty types and the Smirk:
Gordon: couple of hits, a opposite field HR off of a soft-tossing lefty and a sharp single. Hit the ball hard on one out as well. Ran out a grounder to make a play close at first--he seemed to have decent speed on the play and did not look like he was favoring a leg due to the hip (at least not noticeably). He DHed, so I don't know about fielding (he did play 3B on Thurs. night).
Bianchi: good contact all night, had a couple of hits (single and rally starting double); made a dazzling diving stop, pick up and throw out on a sharp grounder.
David Lough: also made solid contact, but, like many others, hit the ball right at the defense. Also got a great jump on a tough play at the wall to back up Holland.
Holland: only pitcher on the night to top 90 on the radar gun, regularly threw his fastball 92-93, dialed it up to 96 at least once. The problem: the harder he threw, the better the other team hit it. He actually was more effective when he brought it down to about 88. While, coming out of college, he's older, this is only his second full season in the minors, so he's got a little time to work on better movement on his fastball at the higher speed.
Overall, I saw a lot to like: The infielders made all of the routine plays--the only error was on a tough bunt-like grounder to third that probably wouldn't have been an out anyhow. The outfielders took good paths to the ball, made some excellent plays, and didn't give up bases on plays they couldn't make--they adjusted to minimize the damage. Many of the prospect-types showed good patience working the count and getting their pitch--there was a lot of solid contact and not a lot of bad strikeouts or weak dribblers. In other words, signs that someone, somewhere in the organization comprehends "fundamentals" (Brian Poldberg--who'da thunk it?).