Homestand and old friend bolster spirits


POSTED: Sunday, June 07, 2009

We all know the saying, “;when it rains it pours.”;

For the Southern Illinois Miners, the past week has been all blue skies and light tradewinds. After opening the season with six games on the road and a pair of 10-hour bus rides in between, we finally played our home opener this past weekend.

Things went well for us at home. We won five of six games over the Traverse City Beach Bums and Kalamazoo Kings. We pitched well, made all the key plays on the field and hit when we had the chance to drive in runs.

Add to that the fact that we were able to sleep in our own beds and get into a routine, and I have to say that it was a great week for us.

We opened the homestand by sweeping three straight from Kalamazoo, a dangerous offensive ballclub that has been one of the best in the Frontier League year in and year out.

We took the opener from Traverse City, 8-1, behind another stellar pitching performance from our ace, Ryan Bird, who allowed one run in five-plus innings to notch his third consecutive quality start for us.

The second game of the series didn't go as well. We stranded 15 runners on base and dropped our only game of the home stand, 4-2. But things were still going pretty well.

We got some great news just before the game. We finalized a trade to bring in Justin Randall from the Evansville Otters. We became very close last season as members of the Otters. Justin earned the respect of our coaching staff for two simple reasons: he was a great kid, and an equally talented player.

As a true rookie out of Sarnia, Ontario, Justin led the league in batting average at the all-star break to earn a spot in the Frontier League's annual midseason all-star game in Michigan. Throughout the better part of our season, he was the consistent bat we could count on in the top of our order, posting a .323 average with the Otters.

Justin was a coach's player, first to the ballpark every day. He occupied the seat on the bus directly behind me, and we often sent each other funny text messages about being from Canada and Hawaii.

I spent a lot of time with the kid away from the field as well, as he stayed with John and Brenda Brazelton, my old host family from my playing days with the Otters a decade before. I hung out at John and Brenda's quite often last season, on nights when they invited me to dinner after an early game, and on my laundry days.

Throughout the offseason, we stayed in touch, talking and texting often to see how each other was doing. Justin returned to his alma mater, Ashland University as a grad assistant coach this offseason, and he gave me frequent updates about their season.

So when Justin pulled up to my apartment in his white Jeep in Marion, Ill., this past Thursday, we were both pretty excited to be on the same side again. We hung out a bit when we opened our season on the road in Evansville, but now we were on the same team.

Having Justin adds a ton of depth to our ballclub. His uncanny ability to gauge the strike zone and find a way on base will make us a better offensive ballclub. I think his character and work ethic will fortify an already strong clubhouse.

As we made our way out of Marion toward Kalamazoo late last night, I dozed off for a second as our movie blared on the bus. I woke up to a text message from the seat behind me. I laughed, he laughed, it was just like old times.

Brendan Sagara, who played baseball for Leilehua and UH-Hilo, is pitching coach for the Southern Illinois Miners.