The first Columbus Catfish game as an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays turned out to be a treat. A four-run first inning was more than enough, as the Catfish polished off the Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox), 6-1.
The Catfish showed speed early on, with CF Desmond Jennings singling to lead off the bottom of the first. He stole second, reached third on a single by 3B Cesar Suarez, then scored on C Nevin Ashley's two-out single, to give Columbus an early 1-0 lead.
The Catfish also showed power, when, after LF Ryan Royster singled to move Ashley to second, RF Quinn Stewart hit a towering shot to the flag pole in right-center, making it 4-0.
The Catfish stretched it to 6-0 in the 6th. "The Mighty Quinn" (okay, he's not really called that; I'm just trying to start something) Stewart singled to left, stole second, then scored when 1B Matthew Fields hit one out over the right field wall.
Good pitching also was evident. Starter Wade Townsend pitched 5 innings, plus faced 2 batters in the 6th, allowing 2 hits, walking one, hitting one, and striking out 6 before being lifted for home-town hero Brian Baker.
"B.B." (it's okay, his mama sat behind us and was calling him that) threw just nine pitches to get out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam, by striking out one batter, then being assisted by an inning-ending double play of SS Jairo De La Rosa to 2B Brett Grandstrand to 1B Matthew Fields, shutting down the first serious threat by Kannapolis.
RHP Ryan Reid pitched the final 3 innings, scattering 4 hits and allowing one run, to pick up the save.
1,191 fans braved the unseasonably cold weather to watch this new incarnation of the Catfish (they were a Dodgers affiliate prior to this season) ... and a local high school and college player ... open the season. Baker played his high school ball at Columbus High School, then starred for the Columbus State University baseball team, before being drafted by Tampa Bay in 2005.
Friday night, the series continues with Kannapolis.
Oh, and the win gives the Catfish the early lead in the division. And with only 69 games left in the first half, their magic number is down to 70. Heh.