History in the Making

by Evan Valenti (@EvanValenti)

I wrote about a month ago how this year’s team might be the greatest in ValleyCat history. The other two teams that even come close to comparing to this squad are the 2004 ‘Cats and the 2010 version, and each for different reasons.

The 2004 team was stacked with Major League talent (well, stacked in terms of that type of talent on a Short-Season A team). The two most successful Tri-City alums, Ben Zobrist and Hunter Pence, went on to be Major League All-Stars for both the American and National Leagues. Zobrist has cemented himself as one of the most versatile players in the Majors today. He’s the new Mark DeRosa, but better than DeRosa ever was. Pence, even though he has played for a handful of teams in the past couple of teams, is still one of the most productive and hardest working corner outfielders in the game.

Oh, I almost forgot…that team also won 50 games that season!

In terms of historical records, the ’04 team ranks first in ‘Cats history in the following categories: runs scored (425), home runs (63), on-base percentage (.352), slugging (.400),  on-base plus slugging (.752), and total strikeouts by a pitching staff (667).

But that “super-team” failed to bring home the gold. They lost in the New York-Penn League championship, a colossal failure.

The 2010 team has not produced any Major League talent… yet. They had a great clubhouse, some decent prospects (Austin Wates, Ben Orloff, Kike Hernandez, Bobby Doran, Jake Buchanan), but they were more of a team that caught fire at the right time.

Tri-City that year went 17-11 in August, 3-2 in September, and 4-1 in the playoffs. How did they do it? Pitching, what else. In July the ‘Cats posted a 14-14 record, but that was thanks to a .267 average as a team. The pitching staff gave up an average of 5.2 runs per game (that’s with unearned runs factored in). That kind of production simply is not going to win you too many ball games. But the pitchers kicked it up a notch when the calendar turned to August. They propelled the team the rest of the way, sporting a 2.56 ERA in August (down almost two full runs from the previous month) and giving them a chance to win the division.

They did that and much more, as they went on to capture the first, and only, NYPL Championship in franchise history.

Where does this year’s team fit in?

Well, they just captured the 50-win mark with a handful of games to go. It’s safe to say that they will take that record shortly (knock on wood).

In terms of offensive numbers, the 2012 ‘Cats are either close to, tied with, or have already broken numerous offensive and pitching records (they have a new season-high in stolen bases).

They were the first team to win their respective division, which is impressive two-fold. One, Hudson Valley has been elite all season and Auburn is just now starting to fall apart. Two, the ValleyCats were so good against their division this year the three other teams spent the majority of the season behind by double digits in the loss column.

The ValleyCats have a couple of potential elite prospects playing for them currently (plus two that have already been called up). Outfielder Preston Tucker, catcher Tyler Heineman, former outfielder Andrew Aplin, pitchers Aaron West, Vincent Velasquez, Brady Rodgers, Travis Ballew, and Kenny Long have all drawn rave reviews from scouts one way or another.

But let’s not kid ourselves here. This season could totally be wiped out if Tri-City falters at all during the playoffs. Anything short of a championship will be considered a failure.

This team has been a joy to watch and a pleasure to cover for the three-plus months they have been playing. Previous results indicate that this team should be the favorite to win the whole thing. But there’s a reason why the games are played on the field and not on paper. Tri-City has a few more hurdles to jump and a steep mountain to climb if they want to finish this season the way they started it.

7 Comments

I don’t think the 2004 ValleyCat team was a colossal failure. Zobrist won the NYPL batting championship and #21 Mario Garza the HR crown with 15 dingers, still the all-time ValleyCat season record. Losing a best of three series is discouraging. A colossal failure is the 2004 NY Yankees.

I agree with Jim; losing a best of three is discouraging, but not total failure. Any team can have a bad couple of games and that is all it takes. I sure hope the Cats can go all the way through to win the Championship because they deserve it, but if not, it was a great season. I’m not sure home field advantage would be a plus for this team, as they play better on the road. go Cats!

“Colossal” is a bit strong, don’t you think? I’m also inclined to say that they won’t be considered failures if they don’t win the championship. They’ve lost two series this year (swept by the Spikes where they were completely listless, and against the Yankees where the bats took too long to come to life), but a best of three format is ridiculously risky. It demeans nothing they’ve accomplished if they can’t pull through the playoffs.

They’re a damn special team, and I get the feeling there’s at least five guys that are going to play at the major league level out of this group, and that’s the ultimate goal. They’re here to learn, and learn they have.

You all have valid points. But if you poll the clubhouse the players will say the same thing. They want to win a championship. Look at how many statistical categories they lead in right now. They have dominated the entire season. Yes, ultimately each individual goal is to improve and make the major leagues. But that’s not what they are focused on right now. They are focused on the team and how the team does. That’s what is simply so amazing about these guys. In a league where you can be selfish and focus solely on yourself (and have that type of attitude be completely acceptable), these guys really have put that all aside and invested in the team.

Entirely fair, but falling short of a goal doesn’t necessarily mean that everything that happened to that point was a wash. They still have racked up a ton of team achievements, and I don’t think that this championship is needed to validate it by any means. Maybe I’m just trying to rationalize the off-chance that they can’t pull through (which I have every confidence that they will).

Well, glad to hear they are motivated! From a fan’s perspective, though, while I’ll be disappointed if they don’t win the trophy, I really enjoyed the season and look forward to seeing several players reach the bigs soon. Also loved watching Stubby manage!

This year was great however if we don’t get to hang a banner in time the season will fade away. We will remember Aplin when he is in the majors, but this year it was the team. From Sclafani’s speed to Kings home run that limeup is full of baseball character. It will be a disaster if THEY don’t get to hang a banner.

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