Are nights out with Fido and dollar beers not enough to get you out to Whitaker Bank Ballpark this season (perhap because you’re a dog-despising teetotaler)? Look no further for guidance; here are five reasons to get you ready as the Lexington Legends begin their 17th season.
1. Talented bullpen
Thirteen of the Legends’ 25 players are pitchers, three of whom spent time in Lexington last season — Gerson Garabito, Julio Pinto and Nolan Watson. That threesome combined for 53 of the Legends’ starts in 2016. Watson, a 2015 first-round pick who’s ranked as the 16th best prospect in the Royals organization, accounted for 24 of those starts. Garabito’s ranked 29th in the organization.
Garrett Davila, the Royals’ 18th-ranked prospect, headlines a trio of southpaws on the opening-day roster. He went 7-0 with a 2.77 ERA in 12 starts last season for the rookie-level Burlington Royals, giving up only two home runs and striking out 55 batters. Vance Tatum, a former Mississippi State standout who pitched a complete game in a win over UK in March 2015, and Andre Davis are the other lefties in the pen.
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Davis, the tallest Legend at 6-foot-6, began his baseball career as a position player with only spot assignments on the mound as needed in high school.
“I didn’t really get into pitching until my senior year of college,” Davis said. “ … I’d thrown in high school out of necessity, but I was always just a better hitter. Then one year I became better at pitching all of a sudden. It was a strange transition but it was fun.”
2. Family feeling
There’s a sense of community surrounding the Legends internally. That’s in part because 12 players on the opening-day roster finished their seasons together last year in Burlington with Scott Thorman, who’s now the Legends skipper after two seasons in North Carolina. Eight members of the pitching staff were in Burlington last year.
“It just makes it a little bit easier going into a full season knowing that you have people that you’re comfortable with and you don’t have to make new relationships right away,” Davis said. “It’s just gonna be easier to get into baseball.”
3. Powerful prospects
Seven of Kansas City’s top 30 prospects will start the year in Lexington. Newcomers Khalil Lee (outfielder, 14th), Meibrys Viloria (catcher, 15th) and Ricky Aracena (shortstop, 28th) are with the Legends. Marten Gasparini, one of the most highly-thought-of European prospects stateside and ranked 20th among Royals prospects, played at shortstop last year but will move to the outfield.
After a quiet couple of years to start his pro career, Viloria exploded last season. He drove in 55 runs for Idaho Falls en route to MVP honors in the 70-game Pioneer League. Viloria, who’s 20 years old, also led the league with 33 throw-outs on steal attempts. His .376 batting average over 58 games was the high mark among all Royals minor-leaguers in 2016.
Lee, a third-round selection in last summer’s draft, was named Gatorade Player of the Year in Virginia last season. He led the Arizona League in total bases (88) and runs (43) and was second in walks and on-base percentage.
“For me it’s just the same game, different setting,” Lee said of the jump from rookie ball. “I’m just gonna keep playing the way I have been playing and hopefully things will work out.”
4. Hatfields vs. McCoys
Each series between Lexington and border rival West Virginia Power this season will have a “Hatfields vs. McCoy” spin on it in honor of the infamous feud between the two warring clans. Besides donning special jerseys during one night of each series, the teams will battle for the most fitting of trophies — a small golden pig. The overall series winner at the end of the season will receive an even larger golden pig.
Legends President and CEO Andy Shea said there also will be a charity component tied to Appalachia.
“It’s something we’re very proud about,” Shea said. “We’re called the Lexington Legends, but we are central Kentucky, eastern Kentucky and southeastern Kentucky. It is the definition of an infamous story, and whether you know it a lot or know it a little, a lot of people have heard of it. So us being able to rename ourselves that, with the feud and with the rivalry that we already have with the West Virginia Power, it’ll be a lot of fun.”
5. Other promotions
Half the fun of minor-league baseball games are the promotions, and the Legends have them in spades this season at home.
▪ Three dates, including the home opener against West Virginia next Thursday, will feature “Mega-Blast” fireworks shows, each promising to be the biggest in ballpark history. July 4 will look to outdo the first night while Aug. 19 will try to upend the Independence Day celebration.
▪ In addition to “Bark in the Park” nights, which have become a Thursday staple over the last couple of years, the club will offer a “Pig at the Park” night for pet pigs on Sunday, April 30 and “Meow on the Mound” night for cats on Friday, May 26.
▪ Thursdays double as $1 nights for beer and Pepsi products. Beginning this season, hot dogs, popcorn, Pepsi products and ice cream sandwiches will sell for $1 on Tuesdays.
▪ The club will host nights celebrating Harry Potter (May 12), superheroes (May 22) and Star Wars (July 7) during the summer. A military appreciation night is scheduled for July 8. Former Legend and 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist will be honored with a t-shirt giveaway on April 24.
▪ A Kenneth Faried bobblehead night is set for July 21 to honor the former Morehead State basketball star. Three bobblehead nights are in the works to recognize University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, the designs of which are expected to be revealed in the coming weeks.
“We really wanted to, by all means, have his standard looks that we probably can all look at and think about him on the sidelines,” Shea said. “That said, we wanted to have a little minor-league-baseball fun with it as well.”
Season opener: Thursday at Charleston (S.C.), 7:05 p.m.
Home opener: Thursday, April 13 vs. West Virginia, 7:05 p.m.