Waterfront Park an issue for Romine
The Thunder hit the road for the 19th time since June 18 Monday with their first trip to expansion Richmond, Va.
Normally, a six-hour bus road in the middle of July is not real high on anyone’s itinerary.
For Thunder catcher and top prospect Austin Romine, breathing diesel fumes, fast food and getting to Virginia will be a welcome respite considering his startling struggles at Waterfront Park.
Considered one of the best hitting prospects in Double-A, Romine went 1-for-4 during Saturday’s thrilling 4-3 win over Reading, but he is hitting just .205 at home, compared to .352 on the road.
“I hate hitting here,’’ Romine said. “I literally can not see the ball. I don’t know whether it’s the lights, the (advertising) signs or whether it’s in my head. On the road, I can see the word “Rawlings’’ on the baseball. But I am just not comfortable in this ballpark.’’
Romine may be the most vocal, but he is not the only one that has an issue with the so-called batter’s eye in Trenton _ the backdrop in center field that was expanded following the 2007 season.
Hitting coach Frank Menechino, outfielder Austin Krum and first baseman Marcos Vechionacci all voiced their concerns with the situation, which for left-handed hitters appears to be one particular sign with white lettering which, ironically enough, markets itself as the official eye doctor of the Thunder.
Menechino and his hitters contend the white of the baseball gets lost in the white lettering of the sign when coming out of the hand of a right-handed pitcher. The dilemma is especially problematic when the sun is still out.
Manager Tony Franklin said he has expressed his concern to both the Yankees and the Thunder front office since first arriving in 2007.
“We’ve talked to everyone and it has been an issue for four years,’’ Franklin said. “It’s in their hands and we’ve been told they are taking everything under advisement. Hitters don’t seem to be able to see the ball as well as they should, or as well as they’d like to. They did increase the size of it (in 2008) by taking down some signage and, I don’t know, maybe it needs to be enlarged a little more.’’
The Thunder are hitting nine points higher (.268) with 14 more home runs on the road than at home (.259).
Waterfront Park has long been known as pitcher-friendly, with the 2010 “Baseball Prospectus’’ referring to the Thunder’s 17-year-old stadium as “run retardant’’ and one of the five toughest parks to hit in.
Although it is difficult to make a case for the switch-hitting Vechionacci, who can credit much of the success for his career year to a .327 batting average at home, compared to a .277 mark on the road, Romine is a different story altogether.
In 2008 at Low-A Charleston, Romine hit .322 at home and .282 on the road.
At High-A Tampa last season, Romine finished with a .306 mark at George M. Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field) compared to just .242 on the road.
“I am not out here making excuses, but the numbers don’t lie,’’ Romine said. “It started right away and at this point it’s gotten into my head a little bit. I’ll go from being locked in on the road to coming home and being out in front of pitches I would normally hit eight out of 10 times. I still have to hit the ball but I am not going to lie _ I can’t see it.’’
Thunder general manager Will Smith said last night the issue was mentioned to him in passing earlier this year, but no one has made any specific demands to adjust the parameters of the backdrop.
“We may need to discuss it again,’’ Smith said. “I know I didn’t hear about this at all last year and we have not changed a thing out there. All the signage is the same. I have not investigated what we could do because I was waiting to hear more about it … and I never did. But I will talk to Tony (Franklin).’’