Life in the Minors
Struggling Otters can’t seem to catch a break with season winding down
When it rains, it pours.
In a season that has been as frustrating as any I've ever been a part of, countless downpours of bad breaks have left us unable to shake the storm clouds for very long. I can't recall another season in which I've seen so many bloop hits fall in for the other team, and so many of our hard-hit line drives get caught on diving plays in the gap.
But in baseball, the law of averages should always prevail. After all, that is why we play long seasons in baseball. In the end, the slumps and streaks should even themselves out, and the best teams should come out on top.
Through our first 66 games, the odds have not quite yet caught up with us, as our talented ballclub is six games under the .500 mark. We're hoping that if we can weather the storm a little bit longer, we can get to sunnier skies and play some good baseball over the final 30 games of the season.
In our series opener against the league-leading Kalamazoo Kings two nights ago, Mother Nature put a damper on our hopes just as we were making our move late in the game.
The weather report we received from our general manager Liam Miller before batting practice on Wednesday called for evening showers, and the probability of thunderstorms late in the night. Knowing we have no control over the weather, we just went about our business preparing for the game.
With our newly acquired southpaw Kai Tuomi going on the mound for us, we felt pretty good about our chances against the Kings. The game got off to a rough start for us, as Kalamazoo plated three runs over the first two innings to take the early lead.
But as we often do, we settled down and took control of the tempo of the game through the middle innings, as Kai held Kalamazoo scoreless and nearly hitless over the next four innings as we closed the deficit to one run, trailing 3-2 after seven innings after a run-scoring double by our third baseman Alex Fonseca.
As is the case in the Midwest so often, we could see the bad weather coming a mile away. By the fifth inning, the temperature had cooled off considerably, and then the rain began to fall, first one drop at a time, then in pairs, and then in a soft, steady shower.
We marched our hard-throwing right-hander Nick Utley out for the top of the eighth and he rewarded us with a quick, scoreless inning. Just as our luck would have it, with the momentum finally ours, the big stuff rolled in. Although it was still just drizzling at that point, lightning strikes began, and the umpires rightfully pulled both clubs off the field.
Our manager, Jason Verdugo, hitting coach Bobby Bell, first base coach Todd Baker and myself retreated to our office here at home at Bosse Field, hoping to hear some good news from our GM about returning to the field.
That message never came, but the heavy rains did, drenching our tarped field and washing away our chances of a comeback win against the Kings. It was frustrating, but fitting for a season that has gone as ours has so far.
Our players, as they have all year, made the best of the situation.
We acquired Billy Phillips in a trade with my former club, the Gary RailCats of the Northern League in a five-player deal just before our all-star break. Billy pitched for me last season with the Windy City Thunderbolts and did a great job in our starting rotation, going 9-5 while finishing in the top 10 in the Frontier League in ERA (3.09).
Since he joined us in early July, Billy has been outstanding in the top spot of our rotation, with four consecutive quality starts. The other benefits of having Billy on our ballclub have been his extensive movie collection and his sense of humor.
After we signed Billy, I told Jason and Bobby that we would not have to worry about having a good movie selection on our bus trips the rest of the year. Billy provided every movie for our trips last season in the Windy City. This year he has not disappointed, brining two supersized DVD binders on every trip.
During our rain-delay against the Kings on Wednesday, Billy showcased his off-the-wall sense of humor when he made his way onto the field as "Upside down man." During the intermission, Billy went into the clubhouse and flipped his uniform upside down, putting his pants on his upper body and his jersey on his legs. He finished the look by putting his shoes on his hands, giving fans the impression that he was walking around on his hands.
Our assistant GM Casie Williams told me after the game that she thought he was really walking and jumping around on his hands, until, upon further examination she realized there was a large tumor in Billy's pants. Of course, it was his head.
Tonight we open our series against the Traverse City Beach Bums and their ace Davis Nathanson, who currently leads the league in ERA. With Billy going for us, we feel pretty good about it.
We know that rain or shine, he will give us something to smile about.