The downside of visiting Memphis this week for the Norfolk Tides is that it’s far, though travel arrangements will make it palatable.
The upside is that the Tides, at last, will face a new opponent.
In nearly 60 games spanning more than two months, Norfolk has faced just four teams as a result of a schedule overhauled when Major League Baseball assumed control of the minors.
The Tides have played only Jacksonville, Charlotte, Gwinnett and Durham, including Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Bulls. That was the final game in a series in which Durham won four of five.
When Norfolk (24-32) visits the Redbirds, a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate, for six games beginning Tuesday, it will mark the club’s first time facing Memphis since 1976.
It will also bring some long-awaited variety.
“It’ll be a nice change,” Tides manager Gary Kendall said. “Seeing the same thing and same guys, they get to know your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe we can get on a team that doesn’t know us as well and we don’t know them as well. And hopefully in six days, we’ve got more information.”
At least Kendall and his players won’t spend Monday’s scheduled off day on a bus. Instead, the team will spend it flying commercial to Memphis in staggered groups.
But after taking every previous trip this season by bus, they’ll all eventually get to AutoZone Park in downtown Memphis to find entirely different pitching staffs and lineups to figure out.
“Some fresh faces,” said infielder Mason McCoy. “I think we’re all pretty excited about that. Some different arms. We’re also not driving, which is nice. That’ll be a breath of fresh air, not having to go on a 14-hour bus ride.”
In taking over the game’s player development system, MLB effectively dissolved the 137-year-old International League and other historic circuits before the season. The Tides now play in the Southeast Division of Triple-A East.
The reconstruction put Memphis and Norfolk in the same division, along with Jacksonville, Charlotte, Gwinnett, Durham and Nashville. The Redbirds, then playing as the Memphis Blues, spent the mid-1970s in the IL.
Memphis (23-36) features former Tides and Baltimore Orioles left-hander T.J. McFarland, as well as former University of Virginia and Great Bridge High right-hander Connor Jones.
Norfolk second baseman Jahmai Jones welcomes the novelty of a new opponent, to a point. He also looks forward to next week, when the Tides leave Memphis and resume the familiarity at Gwinnett, about a 35-minute drive from his hometown of Roswell, Georgia.
“It’ll be fun to play a different organization,” he said. “But at the end of the day, baseball is baseball. Regardless if we’re playing 100 times a season or once a season, it’s still myself versus the pitcher when I step in the box and then our team versus their team at the end of the day. So it’ll be fun either way. I’m looking forward to it.”
David Hall, firstname.lastname@example.org