I miss baseball

I realize that’s a silly thing to say when for most people, the baseball playoffs haven’t started, but AirHogs baseball ended a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still going through withdrawals. Three of our players were traded to the Atlantic League, and are all in the playoffs, so there is a chance I’ll know someone with two rings in a couple of weeks.

After that, I guess it will be time to relearn the Major Leaguers’ names and watch the MLB playoffs. It’s just not the same.

Update: Your Texas Rangers clinched tonight! They’ve won the AL West two years straight. So, there’s a local team in the playoffs. Of course, they have to win the World Series to match the AirHogs’ season.

We Are The Champions

2011 Grand Prairie AirHogsIt seems like a long time since the 2011 season started, but actually it’s only been four months. Four months and 109 games later, the Grand Prairie AirHogs are the 2011 American Association Champions.

After being down 0-2 in the championship series, they won three straight at home to defeat the St Paul Saints and win the championship. They dominated with pitching, they dominated with hitting and then they just dominated.

I told the coaches last night that I never knew a five-game series was two warm-up games and a sweep.

I’ve spent many painful years watching Metroplex teams come close, just to have it slip away (or get thrown away) in the end. Some teams (I’m looking at you, Jerry Jones) can’t even come that close very often any more. I’ve always consoled myself with the thought that even if the team wins, it really doesn’t have an effect on my life – I’m not on the team, after all.

Now that I’ve seen a championship won the hard way, you know what? My life does seem a bit better this morning.

On the way home from QTP last night, I thought “Wow. I’ve been hugged by sweating, champagne-soaked guys trying to move like Berney“, but then I realized that “I’ve actually stood on the field where a championship was won” probably sounds better.

I’ve actually stood on the field where a championship was won. This is actually the second time this year I can say this, since the fans were invited onto the field when the AirHogs clinched their division.  One of the special joys of watching minor-league baseball is that you can actually interact with the players and staff. They’re approachable. This lets their dedicated fans become involved with the team in ways that are simply not possible with major leagues. I learned a lot of baseball this season, because if I had a question, all I had to do was go ask the manager. He was at the bar after the game was over.

I wish more people would realize this, because it makes following the team much more enjoyable. Sure, it’s even more heart-breaking when someone you know and like gets traded, but that is tempered by the happiness when one of your favorite players gets called up to affiliated ball. Once you’ve met the players, they’re never that far away – most of them are on Facebook, after all.

The AirHogs did everything they could on the field this year. Next year, I’m hoping that being a championship team may bring more fans into the fold. This team deserve to play in front of a full park.

For all the talk of teamwork that floats around sports, from my perspective, the 2011 AirHogs actually were a team. I think even more than a team,  they were a family. They talked to each other. They stuck up for each other. They moved like Berney together (turn speakers off first at the office!) There was even a barber on the team (who apparently only knows how to do Mohawks.)

There was a different hero every night, sometimes multiple. German Duran hit over .500 against St Paul, including a home run last night and he was hurt. David Espinosa hit two 3-run home runs in one game. Stephen Douglas had 3 RBIs last night. In the Wichita series, John Alonso drew a walk to win a game and then hit the single against St Paul that won the first home game – the start of the comeback. Cesar Nicolas hit a 2-run single that drove a stake in the Saints hearts to finish the final game. The starting pitching the last three games (Josh Rainwater, John Brownell with a complete game and Jason Jennings last night) shut down the Saints.

This was the team that finally made me realize an obvious truth – you can’t have RBIs without people in front of you getting on base. They even helped each other’s stats.

I’ve gone to a playoff game before thinking “This one is ours.” (I’m looking at you, Dallas Desperados.) I was trying not to think that last night, just in case. The 2011 AirHogs were the team that didn’t let me down.

I never thought the AirHogs were invincible, it was just that a championship seemed inevitable. It was an interesting feeling.

When they clinched their division two weeks before anyone else, I was actually concerned that they had peaked too early, since everyone else that got into the playoffs had extra time for building momentum.

When they won in four games in Wichita while St Paul needed five games (and extra innings in most) to knock off Winnipeg, I hoped that St Paul would be tired – and I was concerned about the AirHogs having to wait in Wichita to see how far North they would travel for the championship series, instead of coming home. When they dropped the first two in St Paul, it should have been panic time, but I had learned this year that it was one game at a time. One game at a time three times in a row means rings.

So, in a season where manager Ricky VanAsselberg had three weeks to build a team after being transferred over from Shreveport, he can step back and say he’s now won back-to-back championships with two different teams – a multi-city dynasty of sorts. His team just beat the team that beat the Manager of the Year’s team. The Manager of the Year is pretty much Miss Congeniality at this point.

Ricky said he’d rather have a ring that a title. After last night, he’s got another one. Congratulations!

 

Stayin’ Alive

The true measure of a team is how is responds when it has its back against the wall. After dropping the first two games of the five-game championship series against the St Paul Saints, the AirHogs were in a must-win situation last night.

This was the night all the pieces came together at the same time. Josh Rainwater pitched eight great innings – including four three up, three down frames. The defense backed him up (in spite of three errors), and the bats produced just enough for the win.

It took eleven innings and it wasn’t that pretty, but it was very good baseball. In the end, as John Alonso singled and David Espinosa crossed the plate, there was a very important lesson proven – the Saints aren’t invincible.

Go AirHogs!

The Dead Zone

It’s almost time for AirHogs baseball again. Since the AirHogs clinched their division series in four games, they got a day off while St Paul finished off Winnipeg. Then, they had a travel day yesterday. Tonight, they start the finals in St Paul. Two games there, three games at home with another travel day in between. So, we can watch online tonight, but we won’t see the team in person until Saturday.

It’s been a long time since the team has been home. Because of the rather unique way the playoffs were designed (based on geography, rather than seeding, with the wild card playing the winner in its division), the AirHogs started at home (two games), went to Wichita (two games, including the series winner) and then have just stayed there to see how much further north they were headed for the finals. So, this has been the first road trip all year that had travel days built-in, and it’s also the first road trip that had a day off just because the AirHogs clinched before anyone else.

100 games didn’t seem like much at the beginning of the season, but the beginning of the season now seems like it was a long time ago. This is when you realize that those 100 games (104 with the first round playoff series) were only played so the team could get to this point. Quite a prelude.

You can tell it’s almost time for the end of the baseball season in Texas, because the weather is decent. After 100-degree evenings all summer long, we should have (slightly) cooler temperatures for the finals.

So, five games to go in the season. First team to three wins gets the rings. Go AirHogs!

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

The Grand Prairie AirHogs are through to the Championship round, having defeated Wichita three games to one in the division round. Much like the end of the regular season, now they wait to see who’s next, since the other Division series has it’s fifth game later today. They’re either heading to St Paul or Winnipeg later this week, and will be back at QTP to finish the season starting on the weekend.

The Wichita series was hard-fought, with a lot of heroics and even more basic baseball. The AirHogs won the first game when Wichita walked in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth (John Alonso drew a walk to bring David Espinosa home – a walk-off walk). They won the second game  n the bottom of the ninth when David Espinosa scored on a wild pitch (with John Alonso at the plate, again). The third game had rain and power failures. The final game was all pitching.

The games were all close – the AirHogs won the first game 4-3, the second game 12-11, lost the third game 5-3 and clinched with a 2-1 victory. After the first game (where Wichita scored two runs in the top of the ninth, and the AirHogs scored three in the bottom of the frame to win), I assumed the next game would be the blowout game.  I was correct. Defensively, it was very similar – the runs just arrived in clumps on both sides with 23 total runs. The third game started with a rain delay, and then had a power failure and more rain. The final was John Brownell throwing eight amazing innings and Jon Hunton slamming the door on the Wingnuts (with the tying run on third.)

So, a series that was good for the soul and bad for the heart.

The next step is the finals round – the other divisional series will go five games, so the AirHogs can actually take a day off today and watch the game to see who will be hosting the first two games of the championship. Every game so far in the St Paul – Winnipeg series has gone to extra innings, so whoever wins may be a wee bit tired.

Random notes and statistics on the Wichita series:

  • The first team to score lost the game (thanks to Josh Hirsch for that observation.)
  • Plate discipline can never be under-rated. John Alonso won the first two games by standing still and being patient – he drew a walk to force the winning run in the first game and waited until he got a wild pitch in the second.
  • Pitchers have good nights and bad nights. Josh Dew of the Wingnuts loaded the bases in the first game and was pulled after he threw the first ball of Alonso’s walk. He threw the wild pitch the second night. He then pitched a 1-2-3 inning to close the first game in Wichita.
  • This is the time of year to peak. David Espinosa hit .643 in the series, German Duran hit .571, Alonso hit two home runs (and drew four walks), Greg Porter had 5 RBIs.
  • Starting pitching is still key – the AirHogs got eight innings out of two of their starters (Brownell and Jennings) and both of them have a 1.13 ERA.

Three wins to go.