The front office of the Binghamton Rumble Ponies kicked off its inaugural season of baseball in Binghamton with a Meet the Rumble Ponies dinner that was held at the Holiday Inn in downtown Binghamton on April 4th. Attendees got to hear about plans for the upcoming season from owner John Hughes while also chatting with the players and getting autographs. Tim Heiman, the veteran play-by-play man for Binghamton’s Double-A franchise, did an excellent job serving as master of ceremonies for the event, which ran from approximately 5:30 to 9:30.
One of the most animated players during the autograph signing session was L.J. Mazzilli, who first played for Binghamton during its 2014 championship postseason. He entertained attendees with some expert bottle flipping as he took periodic breaks from signing autographs.
Also on hand was Rowdy, the friendly bronco who serves as a mascot for the Rumble Ponies. One of the highlights of the dinner was the announcement of the winning selection for his moniker; the fans voted to name the mascot during offseason online balloting. There was a rumor spreading during the dinner that Rowdy is a cousin of Casper the Friendly Ghost, but this reporter could not verify that speculation. Rowdy showed no inclination to rumble during the night, instead showing a friendly mien for all fans.
The Rumble Ponies open the season on the road against New Hampshire and Portland, so when the team returns to Binghamton for opening night on April 13th, the players might very well feel as if they are playing in the tropics! Returning players for the Rumble Ponies this season include Alberto Baldonado, Casey Delgado, Mickey Jannis, Luis Mateo, Tim Peterson, Tyler Pill, Kyle Regnault, Kelly Sechrist, Colton Plaia, L.J. Mazzilli, Jeff McNeil, Matt Oberste, and Champ Stuart. Highly rated prospects that are new to Double-A include closer Corey Taylor, lefty starter P.J. Conlon, catcher Tomas Nido, shortstop Luis Guillorme and third baseman David Thompson. The one player who has major league experience is right handed pitcher Cory Burns, 29, who last year played independent ball at Lancaster.
Intriguing story lines/questions for this year’s team include:
1. Will Champ Stuart cut down on his strikeouts and increase his batting average to establish himself as a prospect? Stuart is an outstanding defender in center and has great speed.
2. How long before highly regarded righty starter Chris Flexen joins the team? He is currently rehabbing from a minor injury
3. Will Corey Taylor continue his dominance as a closer at the Double-A level? If he performs as he did at St. Lucie last season, Taylor will dramatically move up the organizational prospect list. He is a hard-throwing right hander who just might remind Binghamton fans of Jeurys Familia.
4. Will Tomas Nido continue to excel at the plate at Double-A? He is an outstanding defensive catcher who won the batting championship in the Florida State League last year.
5. Will Cory Burns revitalize his career with the Rumble Ponies? In 2013 he pitched to a 3.18 E.R.A. for the Texas Rangers in 11 games. Last year he pitched for Lancaster Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League. (Remember, Josh Smoker rekindled his career with a stint in Binghamton in 2015. Today he is pitching at Citi Field!)
Matt Oberste, left, and Tyler Pill provide veteran leadership for the Rumble Ponies in 2017.
Promotional nights in Binghamton this season include an appearance by Darryl Strawberry (July 2nd), four Bark in the Park nights, and numerous giveaway nights. For information on these promotions, go to http://www.milb.com/promotions/index.jsp?sid=t505.