from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at www.gsohoppers.com…..(Jordan Stowe with photos from tonight’s game forthcoming…..)
Players scatter with memories, relationships
A championship series, someone said last year, is never over until the last pitch of the last game.
Ultimately, that end came for the Hoppers Friday night. When Wilfredo Gimenez grounded out in the bottom of the ninth, the Asheville Tourists erupted from their dugout, began dancing happily on the field and spraying champagne as soon as the bottles were wheeled out.
The Hoppers did not stay and watch the celebration in their own house.
Instead, they slapped some high fives with faithful fans on the way down the tunnel, signed a few autographs, called out their thanks to some folks in the stands and headed into the locker room for the final time in the 2012 South Atlantic League season.
An excellent year came up short because they ran into the league’s hottest team. After the Hoppers opened the championship series with a 6-3 win, the Tourists came back to win three straight by scores of 10-3, 9-0 and 10-4. Asheville’s title was no accident.
“We ran into a great team,” said manager David Berg. “They can swing the bats up and down the lineup and they can pitch. I thanked the guys for their effort this season. We won 80 games in the season, 83 overall, we had a combined no-hitter, we hit two grand slams in one game, we put a lot of guys on the all-star team. It was a great year for everybody, it really was.”
The 2011 team had won the SAL championship and celebrated on the home field of Savannah. This club, with just three holdovers, could not quite match that feat. Falling short of a title, the players reluctantly accepted their fate.
“You play as hard as you can and the results are the results,” said Austin Barnes, who had a home run among his three hits Friday. “Right now it doesn’t feel too good. We had a pretty close team this year and it was fun playing with them.”
Ryan Goetz, who had two hits and scored twice in the last game, said “we can’t get down on ourselves. This will hurt for a little while and then we’ll be fine.”
Josh Adams figured it might take a few weeks to get over.
“Eventually we’ll be able to remember this for the rest of our lives, the laughs we had in the summer we spent together,” he said.
Aaron Senne echoed a similar sentiment.
“We build a lot of great memories and relationships,” he said. “We’ll take the positives and build on them.”
Brent Keys added that “this was a good group that played well together. There are a lot of positives we can take from the success we had as a team.”
Gimenez, who celebrated in Savannah in 2011, made the last out of the season in 2012.
“That’s baseball,” he said, managing a smile.
Pitching coach Blake McGinley had some tremendous talent to work with this season, including first-half aces Jose Fernandez and Adam Conley, promoted to Jupiter at mid-season.
“This was a good group that competed,” he said. “There was never a day I didn’t want to go to the field. They gave 100 percent and made it a fun season. We had some good arms and I’m thankful for them.”
Hitting coach Frank Moore had some things to be proud of, including the league batting champion in Keys.
“The big thing for me was to see where they started and where they finished,” Moore said. “They showed they could make the adjustments where they needed to and it was good to see that. It was a good group of guys and they fought hard every game.”
The ending of any minor league season is abrupt, punctuated by the finality of it all. Saturday morning players will scatter all over the country, some out of the country, and let their bodies rest and heal. Spring training will be here before they know it.
Barnes is heading to a mini-camp that starts Sunday. Senne is going back to school at Missouri, where he plans to catch up with a ton of work and graduate in December with a double major in finance and real estate. Keys will get some rest in California as will Goetz, who wants to take some time and just sit on the beach.
And Berg will adjust to a period of time without baseball.
“I’ll go home and car pool (to school) with the kids,” he said. “I’ve already got my itinerary in front of me. I’ll be home by 2 o’clock (Saturday). You do this every day for six-plus months and it will take a few days for it to sink in.”