ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — This season will be a year of many firsts for the Rochester Red Wings.
This will be the first year they will play at “Innovative Field”. Their current home ballpark was known as Frontier Field since the Wings started playing there in 1997. Innovative Solutions took over the naming rights this fall.
This will be the first time the Wings open their season in March. Their home opener is scheduled for Friday, March 31st, a date which currently has a forecasted high temperature of 52 degrees. The Wings will conclude their three-game homestand on Sunday when temperatures might not get above 45.
Being from Minnesota, Red Wings pitcher Jake Irvin is used to the cold weather and is telling his teammates to dress warm.
“It is something that we have to embrace and especially as a pitcher guy with the ball in your hand, we control the game at all times,” said Irvin. “So being able to set the tone, pitch to our advantages when it is that cold, and just remember that everybody’s dealing with the same conditions. You can make a lot of good things happen in this weather.”
And this will also be the first year that Triple-A baseball uses “robot umps” league-wide. Starting April 24th, a camera system known as Automatic Balls and Strikes will be used to either help or fully call the games.
On Monday through Thursday games, ABS will solely be responsible for calling balls and strikes. On Friday through Sunday games, umpires will be behind home plate to call the game, but each team will be able to challenge three calls during the game. Only batters, pitchers, and catchers can challenge calls.
“This will be a first for us. I’ve heard some good things and some bad things,” said Red Wings manager Matt LeCroy. “I’m an old-school guy, but I’m all about some change, so hopefully it’ll go well and we won’t have any issues.”
“What we do as pitchers is all about consistency,” said Irvin. “So having something that’s consistent from a strike and ball perspective, it helps ease the mental side a little bit. There are only positives that we can take away from something like that. So hopefully, it’s really good for the game.”
The changes mean that pitch framing will be less important, certainly from Monday through Thursday when it’s irrelevant.
“Being able to trick an umpire is part of the game that’s going to go away,” said Irvin. “There are benefits to it. But at the same time, there are things that might feel a little different than what we’ve done our whole careers in terms of trying to make pitches that we know are balls look like strikes.”
The other big change? You can’t argue with a robot.
“That’s the problem. That’s the one thing we could argue about was balls and strikes,” said LeCroy with a smile. “Every now and then you need to get thrown out to get the guys going. And now really what we have is something happens on the bases.”
Last year the Wings showed some promise, especially early on, but their season is best remembered for their infamous 19-game losing streak. This year, LeCroy sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
“Our bullpen is going to be a strength out of the gate. We’ve got some power arms,” said LeCroy. “Last year, I thought we had a little bit more speed. But we’ve got Darren Baker here that that ended up having a great spring and made our triple-A club, which is good for us.”
“We’ve got some dynamic guys, Jake Alu, he’s on the injured list, but he’ll come back and play. He had a great year last year at the end of the year,” LeCroy added. “Matt Adams played in the big leagues for a while. He’ll be a great veteran guy to have here.”
“We’ve got a good mix and hopefully, we can gel together like we did last year. Our team last year to begin in the first two and a half months was probably one of the best teams that I ever managed and they were great people. And I feel the same way about this club. We’ve got a great mix of players from all different types of backgrounds and hopefully, they’ll come together and we can win this thing,” said LeCroy.
The one thing you won’t see on this Red Wings roster is hot-shot prospects, at least not yet.
According to MLB.com’s prospect rankings, of the Nationals’ top 17 prospects, just one is expected to be on the Red Wings’ opening-day roster. However, the farm system is stocked thanks to the Juan Soto trade, and some of those pieces could call the Flower City home soon.
“We got some really good players in return that really built up our farm system,” said LeCroy. “Hopefully, some of these guys have a chance to reach this level. They have to have a consistent start to the season. But I don’t see a reason why we won’t see some of the guys that we got in that trade here at some point. It would be good for Rochester, but would also be good for our organization.”
A player the Wings are hoping to revitalize is Jeter Downs. He was claimed by the Nationals in the offseason and was one of the key pieces that Boston acquired in the Mookie Betts trade. He was one of the team’s top prospects but hasn’t lived up to his potential yet. He made his major-league debut with the Red Sox in 2022 but hit just .154 in 14 games played.
“I just try to go out and do what I do, what I need to do on the field and take care of my job,” said Downs. “Whatever happens is going to it’s going to happen. I believe everything happens for a reason. And if you do things the right way, you’ll get rewarded.”
First pitch at Innovative Field is set for 4:05 p.m. on Friday, March 31st. The first 1,000 fans will receive a Red Wings toboggan hat to help with the cold weather.