Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chat with Mr. October helps Dan Black lead Knights to fifth-straight win

Dan Black was just another awestruck fan on Friday when he walked across the BB&T BallPark infield in the direction of Reggie Jackson, fresh baseball and pen in hand.

“(Jackson) kind of looked at me like, ‘Why are you coming over here kid?’” joked Black upon his return to the Knights dugout. “But he still signed my ball!”

On Saturday, Black again found himself face-to-face with the New York Yankees Hall of Famer turned special assistant, who was in town working with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

This time, however, their meeting came in the batting cage with Black receiving advice and stories in lieu of autographs.

“It was neat,” said Black, who added that White Sox special assistant Jim Thome was also present. “I got to sit in on a conversation with a couple of Hall of Famers about hitting, about the eras in which they played in, hear about a whole bunch of different guys, and soak up a good baseball moment for my personal life.”

Black went on to make what would have already been a good day even better by finishing 2-for-3 with a home run, two runs knocked in and two runs scored in a 7-0 Knights victory over the RailRiders in front of 9,665 at BB&T BallPark.

The win was the fifth in a row for the Knights (43-58), who will conclude their four-game set with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday.

Black’s big night came in support of Andre Rienzo (1-2), who shutout the RailRiders for five innings, while striking out six and surrendering only one hit.

The start was Rienzo’s first since being reassigned to Charlotte by the Chicago White Sox on June 13. The native of Brazil went 4-5 with a 5.87 ERA in 11 starts in the Majors.

In Black’s first trip to the plate in Saturday's win he laced a single back up the middle.

On attempt No. 2, Black deposited a 2-1 fastball into the bleacher seats for a two-run home run to put the Knights on top 4-0 in the fourth inning. The home run was his sixth of the season in Class AAA play.

The game was Black’s first with the Knights since he suffered a rib injury that led to a strained oblique during a three-home-run seven-RBI game in Columbus back on May 29.

“That was a rough couple of months,” said Black. “I took a few weeks off to just rehab it and get everything healthy and now that I’m back everything seems to be going well. It’s nice to not be worried about how my body is going to feel day-to-day.”  

Andy Wilkins (2-for-4) and Josh Phegley (2-for-4) also turned in multi-hit games for the Knights, who touched up Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitching for eight hits on the night.

The five-game winning streak is the Knights longest since they put together an eight-game set back in August of 2012, but it was the sit down with Mr. October that will stay with Black long after the specifics of Saturday’s game are forgotten.  

“It was just really cool to see a Hall of Famer come around some Minor League guys and treat them with respect,” said Black. “He knows the struggles that we’ve gone through. I just really like those moments where you can just sit down with those guys and talk to them candidly.”

Notes: With Saturday’s attendance of 9,665, the Knights have now drawn over 500,000 fans (501,262) to BB&T BallPark this season. They’ve averaged a MiLB-best 9,640 fans per game through 52 home openings this season.