Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers “can’t hang their heads” after season ends

“This stings a little but the guys can’t hang their heads about it,” said Hoppers manager David Berg. “It was a tremendous year. I was impressed with the way they kept grinding. You win 87 games on any level and it’s a great season.”

Hoppers “can’t hang their heads” after season ends
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

It’s the suddenness, the finality, that’s hard to take.

Friday morning you’re ready to play baseball, believing you will win that night and play again Saturday. Instead, on Friday night the season is over.

That’s the nature of the playoffs. For the Hoppers, the end came with a 6-2 loss to Hagerstown in NewBridge Bank Park. The Suns wrapped up the best-of-three series in two games to decide the Northern Division playoff winner. Hagerstown moves on the play in the South Atlantic League championship series against either Asheville or Savannah.

“This stings a little but the guys can’t hang their heads about it,” said Hoppers manager David Berg. “It was a tremendous year. I was impressed with the way they kept grinding. You win 87 games on any level and it’s a great season.”

The players will come to understand that.

“This is tough now and it leaves a bitter taste,” said Carlos Lopez. “I remember my college coach saying that at the end of the year, only one team will be happy. It’s just the game of baseball.”

From the coaching staff to the players, everyone mentioned the camaraderie of this team.

“It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever played on,” said Chad Wallach, who was promoted to Jupiter in the second half but returned for the final stretch. “We really stuck together. I enjoyed every minute.”

Austin Dean stopped to give Berg a hug and say “thanks for pushing me.” Berg answered, “you pushed yourself.”

“This was an awesome experience with a special group of guys,” Dean said. “I would go to war with these guys any day.”

Throughout the season, there wasn’t much to separate the Suns and Hoppers, who finished with identical records in both the first and second halves. In the playoffs, the first game turned when the Suns rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to win. Maybe the series turned, too.

“We win that game and it’s a whole different situation,” said J.T. Riddle.

Friday night, Hagerstown started right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, who turned in six dominant innings, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out 10. His fastball consistently hit 96 and 97 on the radar gun, his slider came in with a good break at 89 and 90 and his changeup dropped in at 79 and 80. He threw them all for strikes, never allowing the Hoppers to figure out any pattern.

A throwing error by Hoppers pitcher Chris Sadberry — the ball and field were wet from drizzle and he probably never should have thrown it — which led to an unearned run in the second inning. The Suns added another in the third when Wilmer Difo doubled, moved to third on a flyout and scored on Spencer Kieboom’s sacrifice fly.

The Hoppers were able to hold the score at 2-0 thanks to nice relief work by Esmerling de la Rosa and Jarlin Garcia. And in the seventh, with Lopez out of the game, the Suns’ bullpen cracked. Brian Anderson singled, Avery Romero walked and Mason Smith doubled them in to tie the game.

But that was it. Hagerstown regained the lead in the eighth after Tyler Kinley, on an 0-and-2 pitch, hit Difo in the ankle. Narciso Mesa sacrificed him to second and Kieboom singled to collect his second RBI. In the ninth, Kinley walked the leadoff hitter and that led to three more runs that put the game out of reach.

The Suns, determined not to give the Hoppers any hope for a third game, put in closer David Napoli with one out in the eighth and he got the final five outs for the save.

Players often hustle from the clubhouse to watch post-game fireworks, but not this time. With the game still spinning in their minds, they also had to think about making early-morning getaways to their homes. Dean prepared for a 19-hour drive to Texas. Riddle was going to Louisiana to see his father. Lopez and his parents were heading to California. Pitching coach Jeremy Powell faced a two-day drive to Phoenix. Hitting coach Frank Moore wasn’t sure where he would go — probably Indiana.

“This was a great group of guys,” said Moore, who hitters finished second in the league in batting average. “They worked hard, they wanted to learn and they didn’t take anything for granted. They never took an inning off and it showed. I was very impressed that they didn’t just sit on what they did in the first half.”

Powell’s pitchers finished second in the league in ERA.

“They might not realize it now, but this will be one of the best years of the careers,” he said. “It was great to be around them every day and watch them perform. They competed and they made each other better. The ingredients were there to win the whole thing, but sometimes you just fall short.”

Berg, who returned to the dugout after a year as the Marlins’ infield coordinator, said the bond formed with the players was what he missed the most last year.

“I said in the winter that this team would be even better than the one two years ago (that won 80 games and lost in the championship series),” he said. “I thought I might have to bite my tongue on that for awhile, but it actually worked out. This was fun.”

After 167 wins in two seasons as Hoppers manager, Berg said he didn’t know what the future held.

“I just take it year by year and wait for a phone call,” he said.

Maybe the best summation of the season came from Yefri Perez.

“If you love what you do, play 100 percent and play the game the right way, something good will happen,” he said.

And even though it didn’t end in a championship, it was a season to remember.