MAKIN’ TRACKS AT BG BALLPARK/Kam James’ RBI single sends Hot Rods to 2-1, walk-off victory over Winston-Salem


It’s a team with plenty of high draft picks and enough arms to make another run at a championship.

It’s a fan-friendly organization, with promotions, giveaways and a playground beyond the right-field fence.

On Tuesday nights, you can bring your dog to the park. Doubt that would work at Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field.

It’s a team that knows HOW to win championships, even though player development is the highest priority for any minor-league baseball team.

Simply put, the Bowling Green Hot Rods understand. They get it. They drew an impressive crowd of 5,213 on Wednesday afternoon at Bowling Green Ballpark, with “Education Day” meaning bus loads of kids, primarily elementary school children, were enjoying the sights and sounds on a sun-splashed day in the stands.

A field trip with called third strikes, aggressive base running, a walk-off Hot Rods victory and scores of enthusiastic kids doing the “Baby Shark” dance inside the stadium.

The Hot Rods brought the “businessman’s special” game to an unusual 11:05 a.m. starting time, drawing a crowd to rival Fireworks Fridays and the annual Fourth of July celebration. Parking was a bit of a chore. But it proved to be worth it, as Hot Rods catcher Kam James delivered a run-scoring single in the bottom of the ninth inning, sending the home team to a 2-1 victory over the Winston-Salem Dash.

Hot Rods center fielder Colton Ledbetter, one of the Tampa Bay Rays’ high draft picks wielding a bat in the minor leagues, nearly ended it while leading off the ninth.

Ledbetter, who was playing at Mississippi State University one year ago, crushed a pitch from Winston-Salem right-hander Cole Duening, sending a line drive that hit the top of the right-field fence. The ball fell to the warning track, however, and Ledbetter was able to leg out a leadoff triple that left the winning run just 90 feet from the plate.

Enter Kam James, the aforementioned Hot Rods catcher who is making the transition from third base. He’s learning how to handle a pitching staff, block balls in the dirt and keep the base runners honest. But he lashed Duening’s first pitch into left-center field for the game winning hit, and his teammates poured out of the dugout before pouring the contents of the dugout cooler over James’ head.

(At least in that direction.)

Minor-league baseball justifiably takes pride in serving as family entertainment, and the Hot Rods have their bases covered on that one. Rafael Valenzuela is in his second season as the Hot Rods manager, and he knows all about the team’s winning tradition and three league championships, including back-to-back titles in 2021 and ’22.

Valenzuela is impressed with the way James is handling his position change, and he still only has about a dozen at bats in the first two weeks of play. The Hot Rods are sporting a 7-4 record, going into Thursday evening’s home game against Winston-Salem, and they’ll have plenty of promising young talent to showcase at Bowling Green Ballpark.

“Kam is finding his way, making the transition to catcher,” Valenzuela said.

James seems to like his new teammates and surroundings, and he was appreciative of the large crowd in the house on Wednesday.

“We have an extremely talented group, but what I like best is these guys want to win,” James said. “I started the season slow, but I feel like I’m seeing the ball well as of late.

“I was confident stepping into the box there at the end. I’m glad I could get it done.”

Hot Rods starting pitcher Trevor Martin, a towering 6-foot-5, 238-pound right-hander, worked a season-high 5 2/3 innings, allowing just one run and four hits while striking out eight batters. Martin is another one of the Hot Rods’ high draft picks, a third-round choice last year from Oklahoma State.

“That’s a special arm,” Hot Rods manager Rafael Valenzuela said. “He’s as advertised. For three starts, he’s been spectacular.”

Franklin Favorite sports editor Brian Davis serves as the public-address announcer, and he stayed busy in the final two or three innings letting the schoolchildren when it was time to head for the exits. All the while, injecting zeal for the game on the field.

“Metcalfe County Elementary, your bus is ready,” Davis would say, followed by Franklin-Simpson, Allen County-Scottsville, etc. …

Looks like the Bowling Green Hot Rods are ready to make another championship run themselves.