Champions

The ValleyCats are champions of the first time in New York-Penn League history. Let me say that again so we all understand what just happened. The Tri-City ValleyCats are the 2010 champs!

Wait a minute. I need to slow down here so this can fully resonate. At one point in July the ValleyCats were 9.5 games out of first. Fast-forward a few months and the ‘Cats just swept the best team, statistically, in the entire league in front of their home crowd. Did that really just happen?

Oh yes it did. And how sweet it is.

After waiting a few days due to the rain, the ‘Cats took the field on Tuesday night with one thing on their mind: We are not coming back here tomorrow night. We will finish this tonight. This slogan came down from Coach Jim Pankovits and each player took that mindset and showed it on the field. The ValleyCats dominated the Cyclones, and I say that with conviction.

It was ace vs. ace in game two as Carlos Quevedo took the hill against Yohan Almonte, a rematch of a game back on July 19 (a game the ‘Cats won 7-4). Quevedo got the best of the Cyclones then and he did again on Tuesday night. Carlos was magnificent and stifled everyone in the Brooklyn offense not named Darrell Ceciliani (7.0 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K).

“This is the biggest win of my career, my life,” Quevedo said. “I’m going home to Venezuela and give this gift to my mom.”

The offense, led by Kik&eacute Hernandez, exploded for 11 hits and five runs as the ‘Cats flexed their muscle to become champions for the first time in team history.

I’ll admit, seeing the ValleyCats raise the trophy was the highlight of my night, but there was something else I relished just as much as the win.

Much of the Brooklyn media members and Cyclones staff did not give the ValleyCats much of a chance to win this game. And why would they? Brooklyn had been the best team all year. They have the MVP on their team (Ceciliani) and the two top ERA leaders (Almonte and Angel Cuan). And on top of all of that they are unbeatable at home (30-8 in the regular season at MCU Park). The ValleyCats on the other hand barely made the playoffs and Brooklyn handled the ‘Cats in the regular season (Tri-City was 2-4 against the McNamara Division Champions). Like I said on the air it was a true David vs. Goliath match up.

Here’s the thing though: This was a short series. Any team can win a best-of-three. You see this happen all the time in baseball, which is why I didn’t really understand the cockiness. Nevermind the Cyclones were already down 1-0.

So when the ValleyCats jumped out to a 3-1 lead, and with Quevedo pitching the way he was, I knew that Tri-City had a great chance to take home the trophy.

Then came the hit that broke the camel’s back.

With two outs in the seventh inning, Adam Bailey hit a rocket to right-center field off of Angel Cuan (a ball hit so hard that if he pulled it to right field it would have landed a few rows back in the bleachers). Two runs came around to score as the ValleyCats took a 5-1 lead, a lead that the bullpen could easily hold. As Bailey trotted into second base you could see the Brooklyn media wave the white flag. Heads dropped and shoulders sunk because they knew that the Cyclones were going to go home empty handed.

Jorge De Leon came in and pitched a perfect eighth, and the ‘Cats were three outs away from pulling off what people would have deemed impossible two months ago. Mike Ness entered in the ninth inning and had to face some of the most dangerous hitters in the NYPL this season. Ness, who picked up the save in the 1-0 pitchers duel to beat Batavia, saw this as a challenge and did not disappoint. He induced a 5-4-3 double play to end the game as the masses mobbed him on the hill in celebration.

It was a truly magical season with ups and downs. The ValleyCats looked “anemic” back in June, but through grit and hard work Tri-City persevered and have now won the NYPL’s greatest prize, something that Ben Zobrist and Hunter Pence could not do. After watching this team grow as a unit and finally come out on top, I only have one thing to say:
Congratulations. You all earned it.

Make sure you stay tuned as Kevin and I dish out awards for this ValleyCats team, including who we think is the most MLB-ready prospect on the team.

Evan Valenti

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