to continue streak
The late August home stretch of the Frontier League season has provided me with much excitement and many happy memories over the past few years.
During my three previous seasons in the Midwest, I have been fortunate enough to take home three division pennants, one as a relief pitcher with the Evansville Otters in 1999, and two as pitching coach with the Dubois County Dragons in 2001 and 2002.
Needless to say, I have enjoyed the league's pennant races, thanks largely to the fact that we always finished on top. In '99 we inched away with the West Division crown, eventually falling to the Chillicothe Paints in the league semifinals.
In 2001 we pulled away late from the Springfield Capitals and River City Rascals to earn our spot in the postseason. Last year, we fielded a very talented ball club, and became the first team in the Frontier League to clinch a division title, setting a new West Division record with a 52-32 record. Unfortunately, we fell in the semifinals to the eventual league champion on both occassions.
Being in the heat of the race late in the summer makes the other 11 months of the year worth the while. All the physical preparations by our players and all of the organizational and strategic efforts of the coaches during the offseason and early season seem a little easier to bear, knowing that we would have a chance to play for a championship ring in September.
Knowing that each win and loss, each ball and strike, has so much meaning, intensifies the level of play and gets the heart rate up for sure.
This year has provided all of us involved with the Kenosha Mammoths with a different challenge.
After falling into the basement early on, we battled and fought our way back into familiar surroundings, entering the all-star break tied for first place in our division with the Gateway Grizzlies.
Over the break, we all felt like we were finally back in position to make our customary second half sprint to the finish. So when we opened the second half 5-3, we were a little disappointed, but not worried.
When we hit the skids with a four-game losing streak, we found a way to rip off three straight wins to stop our slide.
As late as Aug. 3, we were still in second place, six games over .500 at 34-28. But then things got tough, and then they got ugly. A 2-4 road trip followed by a 1-5 homestand gave us much concern. Then came four more losses to give us a nine-game slide.
By the time we won again, we had dropped from second to third and then into fourth and then fifth place.
For the first time in my four-year Frontier League experience, I was on a club that was looking up at a bunch of teams entering the home stretch. Instead of counting down to a magic number to clinch a division crown, we were looking to get hot again and play our way back into contention at all.
With the rigors of a 90-game short-season schedule, one can always expect streaks. Winning streaks, losing streaks, hitting streaks, hitting slumps. But this slide came at a very bad time, with just a handful of games remaining to catch up to the division-leading Grizzlies.
Through it all, we have plugged along, weathering a storm we hoped was on the verge of ending, from the second consecutive loss to the ninth.
And finally, it has. Winning four of our last six has injected some fun and energy back into the clubhouse. Although it would require a minor league miracle for the Mammoths to return to contention, we still have a mathematical chance.
With nine games left and a six-game deficit looming, it is possible, although not probable, that we could squeeze into the playoffs. Maybe we don't lose, and maybe the Grizzlies don't win. If we go 8-1 and Gateway goes 1-8, and everybody else above us loses, we would take the division.
While some would say it's time to pack it in, I say why not win the last nine games and see where the chips fall. While all we may have right now are "maybes" and "ifs," those are the reasons we all show up at the park everyday, the same reasons we all get out of bed everyday.
If the magic begins tomorrow, maybe we have a shot.
Brendan Sagara, a former University of Hawaii-Hilo pitcher, is in his first season as pitching coach with the Kenosha (Wis.) Mammoths