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Old 11-27-2018, 02:53 AM   #1
vrobx1
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Three Dollar Bill

"You're as useless as a three dollar bill!"

As I looked at my place on the lineup card for my first ever professional baseball game, I could once again hear Drill Sergeant Mack screamingin my face.

"James! You're as useless as a three dollar bill!"

Everybody who was a part of Third Platoon in Alpha Company at Fort Jackson in the summer of 1985 was "as useless as a three dollar bill" at one time or another. That was just what Drill Sergeant Mack like to say.

Three years later and I was just a hundred miles from Fort Jackson, beginning my career with the San Diego Padres, in their minor league system.

And I was as useless as a three dollar bill.

Because there I was.

Listed as a designated hitter.

For a National League team.

The National League doesn't have a designated hitter.

I sighed and sat down on the bench as the Charleston Rainbows took the field.

Yup.

As useless as a three dollar bill.

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Old 11-27-2018, 05:35 AM   #2
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"Now batting. The designated hitter. Number thirteen. Robert James."

Growth spurts. You never know when they will happen.

In 1975, I was eight years old when I played organized baseball for the first time. I was the shortest kid on the team. I was the scrawniest kid on the team.

Thirteen years later and I was 6'2 and 190 pounds as I strolled up to the plate for the first time as a professional.

It was July the third of the year 1988. Ronald Reagan had about six months to go in his second term in office. Dirty Diana by Michael Jackson was the most popular song in America. Coming To America was in the movie theaters.

And the Charleston Rainbows (42-32) were hosting the Myrtle Beach Blue Jays (30-44).

I was leading off the bottom of the third. We were behind 2-1. I was told to take the first pitch and I did. For a strike. I sent the next pitch into the air to left. The Myrtle Beach left fielder just drifted over a little bit and made the catch.

Well. That was anticlimactic!

Still. Not something that would have been expected from my teammates and coaches back in '75. Not only was I the smallest kid on the team. I was also afraid of the ball.

The entire season, every time I came to bat. When the pitch was thrown, I would back away from the plate. Ball. Strike. It didn't matter. I never swung at one pitch the entire year.

For some foolish reason, I went back to play again in 1976. This time, one of my close neighbors was a coach on the team and they found a way to break me of that habit.

One practice, he stood behind me as I took my bat. Preventing me from backing up. Then he told the pitcher to throw the ball right at me!

Plunk!

Plunk!

Plunk!

Five straight times I was nailed with the baseball. And each time, despite the fact that I was bawling like a baby, my neighbor picked me up and put me back in the batter's box to get hit again.

Finally, he pulled me away from home plate. "It didn't hurt that much, Bobby. Now stop crying!"

Truthfully, he was right. The idea of the ball hitting me had hurt more than the ball itself.

Despite my fly out to lead off, we put three runs on the board in the third to take a 4-2 lead.

The Blue Jays got one back in the fourth and I came to bat in the bottom of the fourth with a runner on first and one out.

Funny.

I was just talking about being hit by pitches and Scott Welish, our center fielder, had reached base after being hit by a pitch.

He would not be going any further with me up to bat as I struck out on three pitches.

Striking out was nothing new to me. Back in '76, even after I had stopped bailing out on every pitch, it was still more of a close my eyes and swing routine. Balls. Strikes. Whatever. I had gone from running from every pitch to swinging at every pitch.

Two seasons into playing and I had never gotten a single base hit.

The Blue Jays had come back and in the bottom of the sixth, the score was 4-4. I came up with the bases empty and two out. I stayed with the instructions to take the first pitch and for the third straight at bat I fell behind 0-1. The count went to 2-2 and then I watched strike three go by to end the inning.

Not how I had hoped to make a first impression.

Over the next couple of years, my neighbor worked with me on how to swing the bat. I learned how to make contact and even got a few singles before my playing days were, we thought at the time, over.

The school district I was attending did not have baseball past the sixth grade, so for three straight years, I didn't play at all.

But, in my sophomore year, Industrial High School introduced baseball as a UIL sport.

And by this time, my growth spurt had begun.

In the bottom of the seventh, Steve Hendricks hit a grand slam to put us up 8-4.

I got one more at bat in the bottom of the eighth but grounded to short.

We took the win 8-4 but I had gone 0-for-4 and struck out twice.

James! You're as useless as a three dollar bill.

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Old 11-28-2018, 01:42 AM   #3
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I had gotten one Article 15 in my two and a half years in Germany. I remember standing at attention in front of the Company Commander, having the charge read against me. Awaiting the verdict.

That was nothing compared to the agony facing me now.

Because it was the Fourth of July, the former soldier (that was me) was volunteered to do an interview with a local news station before the game.

And here I thought I was done being volunteered for things.

They even asked me if I had my Class A's and if I would wear them to the interview.

No. No. And hell no!

Not only had they been turned in, but I was a civilian now and I would not disrespect my military by dressing like that as a civilian. Especially not for some publicity stunt!

The woman interviewing me was named Jessica Slusher. She lookedto be about 30, with overly-permed blond hair and enough makeup to make Tammy Far Baker proud.

I answered her mundane questions with military politeness of "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am". Purposefully being as boring as possible.

That night, we faced the Blue Jays once again. A local church choir group sang the Star Spangled Banner. Some military big shots from both Fort Jackson and the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base were honored before the game.

In the bottom of the second, we had a 2-1 lead. I came to bat with runners at second and third and one out.

This time I had the green light to swing at the first pitch.

I lined the ball over the third baseman's head for a two run single.

My first professional hit!

I would also single to left in the sixth inning to complete a 2 for 3 day with two RBI and we held on to win 4-3.

Thankfully, the post game team wanted to interview our pitcher, Vance Tucker, and I got out of there as fast as I could.

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Old 11-28-2018, 12:19 PM   #4
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Cool story!!
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Old 11-29-2018, 11:24 PM   #5
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Growing up in South Texas, my first hero was a Cowboy.

A Dallas Cowboy.

Roger Staubach.

My mom still thinks that hero worship was why I joined the military. I did cheer for Navy over Army as a kid.

But the Army wanted me first.

Kind of like how baseball wanted me first. Even though I had wanted to be a football star.

There was just one problem.

After about the seventh or eighth time I got tackled, I decided that wasn't my goal in life anymore.

In baseball, I had only had one bad injury.

In sixth grade, I had gotten braces. One game, while playing third base, I set myself to field a routine grounder. But the ball took a weird hop and leaped off the ground and caroomed right into my mouth. The inside of my bottom lip was shredded by my braces.

Worse than that, we were 5-0 at the time and that grounder allowed two runs to score and set off a chain of events that led to our first defeat of the season.

That was even worse than having to stand in the batter's box and get hit by pitches

That was one advantage to being a designated hitter. I didn't have to field any ground balls with my face.

Just like that sixth grade team, the Charleston Rainbows had won five straight.

That was in serious jeopardy as I came to bat in the bottom of the ninth.

It was July the fifth and we trailed the Blue Jays 2-0. We had gotten a leadoff walk and then I lined a 1-1 pitch into right for my second hit of the game.

A sacrifice bunt moved us to second and third.

The Blue Jays opted not to walk Mark Verstandig, which would have loaded the bases with one out and set up the possibility of a game-ending double play ball.

Instead, he grounded a 1-1 pitch down the first base line and into right field. The lead runnerscored and I came racing around third.

The throw headed home.

I slid into home.

Their catcher went for the tag.

Safe!

And we had tied the score!

The Blue Jays would commit two errors in the tenth and we would get the winning run off the second one.

A great come from behind win!

Our sixth in a row.

And, this time, I was much more than a three dollar bill.

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Old 11-30-2018, 11:29 PM   #6
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A bus ride is nothing new to me. Whether it was the five miles to go to grade school or the five miles the other way to go to high school or the trips across Texas to play an away game.

Or the bus ride to Fort Jackson itself.

I am used to a bus ride.

Still, a 270 mile bus ride can make the buttocks sore.

We headed up to Asheville to take on the Tourists. They were in first place in the North Division but only had one more win than we did.

I sat the opener as we won 7-0. Todd Hansen got the complete game shutout.

The next night, our winning streak came to an end at seven games with a 14-inning loss. I was back to being a three dollar bill, going 0-for-6!

The next night, Vance Tucker was two outs shy of a complete game and we won 8-0. I went 1-for-4 and drove in a run.

We took two out of three in Asheville and then hopped on the bus and headed back home.

On the day of the second game in Asheville, some of the guys had gone out to play some golf.

I had not.

In high school, our baseball coach had strongly recommended against playing golf. "It will mess up your swing," he had said.

Unfortunately, his stance caused a few guys who might have done well to avoid baseball and play golf instead. And they made the right decision. In 1984, Industrial High School won the Texas Class AA State Championship in golf.

But not in baseball.

Still, I refused to play golf.

I didn't need anything affecting my swing in a negative way.

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Old 12-01-2018, 02:42 AM   #7
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I will always prefer the bus to the plane.

I'll fly if need be. Hell, I flew to Germany and back!

But it was the flight to Basic Training that I have never forgotten.

Everything was fine going from Houston to Dallas. We were then going to fly to Atlanta before heading to South Carolina.

That's where everything got turned upside down.

As we sat on the plane waiting to take off, a plane that was landing crashed and burst into flames.

We could see it out the window.

Needless to say, we would be hours behind schedule.

It didn't give me a fear of flying but it certainly gave me a preference of traveling by land.

After our trip to Asheville, we came back to Charleston for a three game series against the Augusta Pirates.

Who were in first place in the South Division.

Ahead of us by three games.

There were over 5,000 in attendance in the series opener, won by the Pirates 6-3.

We did not have that many people at a Class AA Texas high school football game. But those Texas football crowds had more intensity than this crowd did.

I was back in the lineup as the designated hitter for the second game of the series. I went 0 for 3 but we got a 3-2 win, as Aaron Taylor gave up just one run in eight innings.

In the rubber match, we came out on top 7-4. Todd Hansen got the complete game victory for his 11th win of the season. I got an RBI double as part our five run fourth inning.

That put us just two games behind the Pirates and one game behind the Columbia Mets.

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Old 12-02-2018, 12:29 AM   #8
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"Your left your left. Your left right left."

Singing cadence. A military tradition.

A favorite amongst the sergeants was Tiny Bubbles.

Especially when I was in Alabama for AIT. Marching down the street singing Tiny Bubbles.

"Tiny bubbles. In my wine. Makes me happy. Makes me feel fine."

But then there was Sergeant Ross. He just could not get it right. "Tiny bubbles. In my wine. Makes me happy. Full of cheer."

He always got the wine and beer parts to the song backwards.

And we made fun of him to the point where he stopped us and dropped us into pushups right on the side of the road.

"Company! Halt!"

"Half right. Face!"

"Front leaning rest position! Move!"

He could make us do pushups all day but he still couldn't get that song right.

The bus ride from Charleston to Sumter was just 105 miles. We spent part of the ride singingTiny Bubbles in military cadence style. Reginald Farmer put me up to it. And a couple times, I pulled a Sergeant Ross and mixed up the verses to a round of laughter.

And why not.

The team was 9-2 in the month of July and we were playing the last place team in the division. The Sumter Braves.

In the opener, it was all Michael Costello. Shutting the Braves out on seven hits.

But we had done nothing on offense and the game was a scoreless tie in the top of the ninth.

Carlos Baerga led off with a double. After an intentional walk, Mark Verstandig dropped a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners.

I came to bat with runners at second and third with one out. I already had two hits in the game but I was told to not worry about getting a hit. Just put the ball into the outfield.

The very first pitch.

CRACK!

Uh oh. This one is deep.

Between center and right.

Could it be?

Not quite enough to get out of the park but it was deep enough to not only score Baerga from third but also move Shawn Abner from second to third.

It was a game-winning RBI on a sacrifice fly as we won 1-0.

Thankfully, the radio station wanted to talk to Costello about his complete game shutout and I got to sneak away.

I went 0-for-2 with a walk the next night. The Braves scored four in the bottom of the ninth to beat us 6-4.

In the rubber game, I went 1-for-4 with a pair of ribbies as we again lost 6-4.

We lost two out of three to the last place team in the division.

Of course we did.

Isn't that how it always happens?

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Old 12-02-2018, 04:55 AM   #9
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Since joining the Charleston Rainbows, I had played in ten games.

And not one inning of defense.

Maybe they saw film of me when I was in third grade, standing in the outfield staring up at the lights and watching the bugs fly around.

It was a safe place to put players like me. Nobody at that age was likely to hit the ball that far.

So I spent a lot of time standing around alone with my imagination and watching the bugs fly around.

We returned home for a series against the Greensboro Hornets. We were 50-36, three games out of first. The Hornets were 38-47.

A rainout on the sixteenth set up a day night double header the next day.

The first game was all offense. I had three hits. There was a total of 24 hits in all.

And our losing streak reached three.

Hornets 7 Rainbows 4.

The streak ended in the bottom of the tenth in the second game when Craig Wiley hit a walk off home run and we won 2-1.

I had two more hits in that game for a total of five on the day. But only one of them, a double in the second game, had gone for extra bases.

I went 1-for-3 in the final game of the series, a 7-3 loss.

Overall against the Hornets, I had gone 6-for-10 a walk, two doubles, two runs batted in and two runs scored while striking out only once.

But, again, we had lost two outof three.

And four of our last five.

We had fallen back to four games out.

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Old 12-03-2018, 12:45 AM   #10
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Got a letter from a high school classmate of mine. Now heading into his senior year at the University of Texas.

The guy was all into that marching band stuff. He plays trombone for the UT Marching Band now.

He had seen Bull Durham and was curious if the female fans of minor league baseball teams were like they had been portrayed in the movie.

Really, I had not been with the Rainbows long enough to get a Susan Sarandon's attention.

I had much better women stories from my time in Germany.

I had a particular club in Germany that I was a very popular guy at.

Germany was a very fascinating place to be as a GI. There were quite a few Germans who did not want GIs in the country. More than one business refused to serve the American soldier.

However, there were just as many Germans who welcomed us there. And quite a few of the females who were very welcoming.

One particular weekend, I found myself just a bit in over my head.

This particular club, we liked to open it and close it. We would be there from 6 pm til 2 am. This one Friday night, I was talking to this one girl and she left around 8. But she said she would be back on Saturday night. An hour later, I was with a different girl. She left around 11. She said she would be back on Saturday night.

By closing time, I was getting involved with this third girl. She said she would be back the next night.

It just so happened the next day we went out to qualify on the rifle range. So, we ended up being about two hours later than normal getting to our favorite place.

Now, I am figuring at least one of those girls would not be there. And I would be able to play it off with two of them there

I walked in and said hi to people I knew. Then, I took a walk through the club.

Behind the DJ booth was a pizza area. Sitting at a table, sharing a pizza. All. Three. Girls.

Oh, come on! You have got to be kidding me.

They all saw me and waved. Then looked at each other kind of weird.

About face!

Double time! March!

There are two SAL teams in Charleston. Us. And the Wheelers.

The difference, however, is that we are in Charleston, South Carolina and they are in Charleston, West Virginia.

For this series, both teams were in West Virginia. The Wheelers had overtaken the Tourists by a half game for first place in the North at 51-37. We were 51-38.

I sat the series opener. The Wheelers got a walk off run and won 8-7.

On the 21st, I was back in the lineup at DH. I went 1-for-4 but also struck out twice. But Brian Wood shut the Wheelers out until the ninth inning and we won 2-1.

I sat again in the rubber game. We scored a run in the eighth to break a 1-1 tie and then put the game away with a three run ninth.

5-1 was the final.

We had needed that last win to bounce back after losing the two previous series.

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Old 12-03-2018, 05:54 AM   #11
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Hold on to the night. Hold on to the memories.

I can't say that I am a big Richard Marx fan. I'm just not into that teeny bop pop stuff.

I sound like a Grumpy Old SOB at 21. But it just doesn't get my blood flowing good before a baseball game. Where is some good loud guitar? Ratt or Scorpions or, hell, even some Bon Jovi.

Just not one of those hair ballads!

Anything but that.

Home. Away. Home. Away. Home. Away.

We were back home for three against the 37-55 Spartanburg Phillies.

The opener was rained out. South Carolina weather. I didn't remember having rain outs in 1985 in Basic Training.

So, on Saturday, we had another day night double header. We went twelve in the opener with Dave Staton hitting a walk off homer to get us the 5-3 win. I went 0-for-4 with a walk. Struck out three times.

We got a walk off win in thirteen innings in the second game. Tim McWilliam's RBI single gave us the 6-5 victory. I went 1-for-5 with an RBI single and scored a run. I also struck out two more times for a total of five times on the day.

On Sunday, we completed the sweep with an 8-3 win. Steve Hendricks hit another grand slam. I was 1-for-3 with an RBI.

And we had moved to within a single game of first place in the South.

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Old 12-04-2018, 12:41 AM   #12
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Another bus ride.

115 miles down the road to Columbia, South Carolina, to face the Columbia Mets.

The Mets were 57-38 and we were 56-39.

Oh, and all that was at stake was first place in the division.

On the way to Columbia, the manager called me up to the front of the bus

"I am going to sit you the first game," he said. "There is a good chance you are headed to San Diego on September first and I need a solid team chemistry in case we make the playoffs."

He was probably right about my call up. I had been given a major league contract to go along with my signing bonus.

Nobody wants to sit and not play but the manager was looking out for the team as a whole.

We blew a 7-2 lead before winning 10-8 in ten innings to extend our win streak to six games.

On Wednesday, first place was truly on the line as we faced off in the second game of the series in Columbia against the Mets.

Again, I sat and watched as the score was tied 1-1 after seven innings.

A 7-run eighth brought our winning streak to an ugly conclusion.

Mets 8 Rainbows 1.

In the rubber match, I was finally back in the lineup.

Win and we would be tied for first.

Lose and we would be two games back.

We exploded with a five run first inning and never looked back. I went 2 for 5 with a double and scored a run while striking out twice.

The final was 10-4 putting us in a first place tie with the Columbia Mets at 58-40 with 45 games left to play.

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Old 12-04-2018, 03:18 AM   #13
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Frankfurt. Fulda. Manheim. Wildflecken.

These were just some of the locations of military bases occupied by Americans in the 1980s. I had been stationed at Wildflecken.

One thing we had was a military baseball league. Each of the bases formed a team and we competed against each other.

It was normal for Frankfurt to win the league. And for Wildflecken to finish in last.

But it was not normal for the league MVP to be on the last place team.

But that is what happened in 1987 when I hit .559 with 11 home runs and 41 RBI in just 24 games.

A performance that attracted the attention of the San Diego Padres who drafted me with the second pick in the 1988 Amateur Draft.

They also gave me a bonus of $1,064,100 and a three year major league contract.

The first thing I did was retired my parents. They had owned a cafe but the oil industry had hit the skids and lack of business had caused them to close the doors.

Dad remained with the Lolita Volunteer Fire Department and Mom spent her time working with the Lolita Baptist Church.

To each his own when it comes to that.

Our next opponent was the Gastonia Rangers.

I was a small minority of one who cared about the Texas Rangers growing up. Anyone who watched baseball in Lolita cheered for the Astros.

The Rangers were as irrelevant to us as they were to the rest of baseball fans in America.

Even in their own market, they were behind the Dallas Cowboys (obviously) and now the Dallas Mavericks, who had just gone to the Western Conference Finals and taken the Lakers to seven games.

The Gastonia Rangers were based out of Gastonia, North Carolina and had an 18 year old phenom from Puerto Rico named Juan Gonzalez. He had earlier in the season gone on a 23 game hitting streak.

We were back home for this series. I sat the opener and we won 6-5. But I was back in my role as designated hitter the next day.

We didn't get our first hit of the game until the fourth inning. By that time we were down 3-0.

But, in the bottom of the fifth, Jim Tatum tied the game with a threerun homer.

In the bottom of the sixth, Mike Basso gave us the lead with an RBI double.

The Rangers got a run in the top of the eighth to tie the game and another run in the top of the ninth to regain the lead.

I went 1 for 4 and scored a run as we lost 5-4.

The next day, Sunday, the loudspeaker played Roll With It by Steve Winwood during warmups.

We were up 1-0 in the bottom of the second when I came up to bat. Runners were on the corners with one out. Scot Welish was caught stealing second and then I grounded out to third to end the inning.

Of course, the Rangers then got a run in the top of the third to tie the game.

Blown chances like that always come back to haunt you.

With the score still 1-1, I drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the fifth. Only to have Tom Levasseur ground into the 5-4-3.

The Rangers got a pair in the seventh to go up 3-1.

I flew out in the bottom of the seventh for the second out.

It was still 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth but we had a runner on first with one out as I came to bat again.

And I stood there and watched strike three go by.

And we lost 3-1.





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Old 12-05-2018, 01:26 AM   #14
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The South Atlantic League has teams located as far south as Georgia. The Savannah Cardinals were 50-51 when we visited there to begin the month of August.

In the opener, the Cardinals got a pair of runs in the seventh to break a 2-2 tie.

But, as we trailed 5-3, I came to bat with a runner on third and two out in the top of the ninth.

I was already 1 for 3 with an RBI double.

And on a full count pitch, I swung!

And missed.

It was the second time I had struck out in the game.

I wasn't in the lineup the next night. Tim McWilliam was the designated hitter instead and he went 4 for 4 with a double and three runs batted in and we won 6-1.

It was not a happy trend for me. We would lose when I was in the lineup and win when I was not.

In the rubber game, I went 3 for 4 with a double but it was all three dollar bill stuff. But, Todd Hansen pitched a complete game and held the Cardinals to three hits as we won 4-1.

We were 61-43 and still tied for first with the Columbia Mets.

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Old 12-07-2018, 01:28 AM   #15
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They say that any publicity is good publicity.

Such was the case of the movie controversy of the year. The Last Temptation of Christ.

As I watched the news reports on the clergy protesting the movie and the people lined up to see it, I wondered how much the two went hand in hand?

Did they know just how much free publicity they were giving this movie that had offended them so badly?

We returned home for a series against the Fayetteville Generals. The Generals were 41-61. A team we needed to take advantage of in our chase for the division title.

We got seven runs in the bottom of the eighth to rally for a 9-4 win. I had an RBI single and scored a run in the inning. For the game, I went 3 for 4.

I sat the next day as we lost 4-2.

In the series finale, we got three runs in the bottom of the third to take a 3-0 lead. I got a single in the bottom of the fourth as we added another run to make it 4-0. We got two more in the fifth to make it 6-0.

And we just kept scoring.

The final score was 8-0. We out hit the Generals 16-4. I went 1 for 4 and reached on an error.

And we held a one game lead in the division.

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