As I noted last year, Pioneer Park is simply beautiful. Located on the campus of Tusculum College, the park is first class all the way. One of my favorite things about the park are the concourse banners commemorating the MLB debut of players who have gone through Greeneville. Here you see the banners for Sammy Gervacio, Jose Altuve, Brandon Barnes and, if you look closely, the last one is for Izzy Hinojosa, the groundskeeper who made his Houston debut last September.
Josh Bonifay runs a tight ship in his first year as Manager. Everything is organized and everyone seems to know what is expected of them. There is virtually no wasted time or effort. Most of these players are only starting their careers and need that structure. With that said, the players also seemed relaxed and loose during practices. I liked the field dynamic that I was seeing.
One player who impressed me both on and off the field was Gonzalo Sanudo, the right-handed pitcher from Tabasco, Mexico, who came to the Astros in the Mike Kvasnicka trade. His command was impeccable the night I saw him and he easily worked around two hits over his two innings as he struck out six. And the sound his fastball made when he hit the catcher's glove was music to my ears. Off the field, he is a character with personality plus. His reaction as Kevin Ferguson came into the dugout before the game wearing a bright orange cap (on a day when the uniform called for dark caps) was priceless.
I was also very impressed by Jandel Gustave's and Chris Lee's work on the mound, and I loved watching Juan Santana, a Dominican infielder who won't turn 19 until later this week, who plays with joyful abandon. Santana's easy smile has earned him the nickname Smiley, according to Bonifay. I think it's appropriate that he currently wears Jose Altuve's number 27 because he is destined to be a fan favorite much like Altuve.
Now for a few VERY random observations. Chase McDonald is HUGE. Could there be a better cheer for someone named Parker Hipp than Hip Hip Hooray? Brett Phillips is another larger than life personality, very funny and charismatic. Here he does a deadpan imitation of Hitting Coach Cesar Cedeno.
And finally, I loved watching Tanner Mathis' great range playing centerfield and I enjoyed talking with him about our mutual college experiences in Mississippi, but the best thing about Mathis is his walk-up ritual. The toe dig, bootie wiggle, side kick and bat toe tap is repeated throughout every game. I particularly enjoyed one ardent female fan who "Wooooo'd" for every bootie wiggle. Highly entertaining.
I would like to thank Josh Bonifay for his time and generosity. I really enjoyed talking with him about his team. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious. And having met his lovely wife Tiffany as well, I can only say this. He done good!
Let me leave you with one of my favorite images from the weekend -- Angel Ibanez engaging in a deep discussion with one of his fans.