GSO Grasshoppers thrive on the field

Dissosteira carolina, the genus and species of the Carolina grasshopper.

Despite being a minor agricultural nuisance, the name does not quite elicit fear in the animal kingdom. Carolina grasshoppers largely subsist on a vegetarian diet of grasses and forbs. They also have many predators, from birds, bats and spiders to other insects like wasps and mantises.

The Greensboro Grasshoppers, however, have turned the unremarkable reputation of the creature on its head since the beginning of their season. Through their first 11 games under new manager Todd Pratt, a former MLB catcher, the team has had a 7-4 record, a dramatic reversal from last seasons’ 4-7 start.

Under different names, Greensboro has had Single-A minor league baseball club since 1979. The Grasshoppers are affiliated with the Miami Marlins and compete in the South Atlantic League. While the SAL is three tiers below the MLB, players in the Gate City can still wow the crowd and make a splash.

In 2008, Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton played 125 games with the Grasshoppers. That season, he hit 39 home runs, batting .293 in 468 plate appearances.

The slugger made it to the MLB two years later. In 2014, Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million contract with the Marlins, the largest professional sports contract in history.

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died in an impaired boating crash last September, also played in Greensboro. In his 14 starts on the mound in 2012, Fernandez had a 7-0 win-loss record and an ERA of 1.59.

So far in the season, two Grasshoppers pitchers have shown flashes of their mettle.

In two starts and 13 innings, pitcher Michael King has thrown 18 strikeouts, maintaining a 0.00 ERA. Meanwhile, pitcher Marcus Crescentini has earned three saves, only surrendering two hits and one run.

On offense, smart base runners and batters lead the Grasshoppers.

Shortstop Garvis Lara and outfielders Aaron Knapp and Corey Bird have stolen a combined 17 bases. In his first 36 at bats, Knapp has also led the team in hits and walks, with 10 and 12 respectively.

As a team, the Grasshoppers are worryingly batting .214, the second lowest average in the SAL above the 3-8 Augusta GreenJackets. Going forward, this may be a problem for the club.

But for more casual baseball fans, the statistical strengths and weaknesses of the Grasshoppers team could not be less important. For them, baseball games are about spending time with friends and having fun.

Sophomore Matt Rice and his friends attended a Grasshoppers game on April 10 where they played the Delmarva Shorebirds. He praised the ballpark, First National Bank Field, and the “Money Off Monday” promotion.

“It was actually really nice,” said Rice. “When I got there, I was fairly surprised that there was some open seating and some tables where you can go sit and watch the game with a great view of the plate. On top of that, the outfield seating was great with free rein if you didn’t want to sit in your seat.”

Rice, who is from Connecticut, felt the outing stacked up to New Britain Rock Cats games he attended in the past.

“That was my first Grasshoppers game,” said Rice. “And it was definitely a great experience.”

Non-fans of baseball might take pleasure in watching the unique members of the Grasshoppers organization.

“It was lit,” said senior Molly Anne Marcotte. “The dog was the best part.”

Master Yogi Berra and Miss Lou Lou Gehrig, two black Labrador retrievers, work for the club as ball and bat dogs. Along with now-retired bat and ball dog Miss Babe Ruth, the canines are celebrated four-legged members of the team.

According to the Grasshoppers, Ruth gave more than 3,500 baseballs to umpires and fetched nearly 4,600 bats in her nine-year, 649-game career. She now serves as special assistant to Donald Moore, Grasshoppers president and general manager, and has her own email address.

Berra is notable in his own right. In 2009, after “relieving himself” on the field, he became the first dog to ever be ejected from a professional baseball game.

Amid final projects, papers and exams, students may be looking to kick back and eat some peanuts and crackerjacks in the stands. Luckily, between April 20 and May 21, the Grasshoppers will have four homestands against the GreenJackets, the Lexington Legends, the Rome Braves and the Shorebirds.

Tickets range from $7 to $11 and promotion details are available on the team’s website.

Whether you enjoy watching tomorrow’s potential stars or just want to sit back at a ballgame, the Grasshoppers are a team you cannot miss.