Life in the Minors Chapter 12: Reflections
For the fourteenth consecutive year, WFUV talks to the members of the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees in the New York Single-A Penn League about the trials and tribulations of being minor league ballplayers. The long bus rides, the low pay, 76 games in 80 days. This is a look into Life in the Minors: How the Other Half Lives.
This week, Brendan Bowers and Drew Casey take a look back at the 2014 season for the Baby Bombers and the Mini Mets.
The Staten Island Yankees with Brendan Bowers:
This wild journey for the players of the Staten Island Yankees came to a close this past Monday with a 3-1 loss to the Brooklyn Cyclones. This season we saw players’ first impressions of Staten Island, and these minor leaguers adjust to professional baseball and life on the road. We also witnessed some of the players in the All-Star game. With all that, on top of playing 76 games in 80 days, the players were visibly exhausted during their last few games. As the season ended, players and coaches reflected on their time here in Staten Island, and how they think they performed this season.
Yankee second baseman Ty McFarland’s 2014 baseball journey began in Harrisonburg, VA, where he was a senior on the James Madison University baseball team. McFarland was drafted in the 10th round of this year’s draft and was on the Staten Island roster since opening day. He was selected to the All Star Game, where he was the starting second baseman. McFarland stated that he never wants to be satisfied with his performance, and there is always something at which he can improve. The season McFarland just had would satisfy most, as he batted .278 with 17 doubles, 5 home runs and 40 RBIs.
Another player who had a very similar journey to that of McFarland was Connor Spencer, the Yankee’s first baseman. Spencer started the 2014 season as a junior at UC Irvine, in Irvine, CA and was drafted in the 8th round of this year’s draft. Spencer made his first Staten Island appearance on June 26th, and was a constant presence in the lineup from that point. Spencer was also chosen to play in the All Star Game and was the starting first baseman. Spencer said he feels like he has played well this year, but not as well as he would have liked. Spencer must have sky-high aspirations, as he batted .364 this year with 72 hits, giving him the title of League Batting Champion.
Staten Island Manager Mario Garza managed his team well this year. Garza reminded us that the key thing at this level is developing players, and winning comes second. He said if he had to grade this season, he would give it a B because they were in the playoff hunt until the last few days of the year. The team also saw several players promoted to higher levels, as well as several players who performed well at the plate all year long, such as Connor Spencer, the league batting champ, and Isaias Tejeda, who led the team in doubles. Garza will get a taste of the Big Leagues this week as he travels to the Bronx to help coach the Yankees for the remainder of the season.
The Staten Island Yankees finished their season with a record of 37-38, putting them 4.5 games behind the Wild Card winning Connecticut Tigers. Although the players were disappointed that they did not make the playoffs, as you can see, there were several reasons why they should walk away with their heads held high. After all, this level of baseball is about improving your skills. Keep an eye on that dugout in the Bronx, because one day more than one of these players just might be stepping out of it, ready to become the next household name.
The Brooklyn Cyclones with Drew Casey:
With a two game lead in the wild card with four games remaining, it seemed like the Brooklyn Cyclones would qualify for the playoffs. However, the team went 2-2 in the final four and the chasing Connecticut Tigers did not lose a game, going 4-0. Connecticut and Brooklyn ended the year with an identical record of 42-34, but Connecticut owned the head-to-head tiebreaker after taking four of six from Brooklyn earlier in the season. Despite not making the playoffs, the Mini Mets still had a very solid year and many players thoroughly enjoyed their time on Coney Island this summer.
Cyclones closer Shane Bay was one of those players. Last season was struggle for him on Coney Island due to an elbow injury, so this season was about coming back strong. He did just that, leading the Mini Mets in saves with 15. The Oklahoma native also ended the season with an ERA under two.
Another member of the Cyclones pitching staff, Gaither Bumgardener, had such a blast in Brooklyn this summer. Appearing in 12 games, the 2013 23rd round draft pick allowed only 8 runs in over 31 innings of work. Opponents could only muster a .180 average at the plate.
Mike Hepple, a Mini Mets reliever, shared his teammates' sentiments as well, but with two games remaining in the season, he was strictly concerned with making the playoffs. Unfortunately for him, the team did not make the postseason, but fortunately he had a very solid season. In over 23 innings of work Hepple only allowed 22 hits and five earned runs.
Overall, the playoffs would have made for an even better year. But I have to say, I had a blast on Coney Island this summer. Going to the ballpark once or twice a week allowed me to get a taste of what it's all about for these players. By no means is it an easy job. I wish them the best and hope to see them take the field in the big leagues one day. The Cyclones, especially Tom Gamboa, were not only impressive on the field, but were flat out great people. I enjoyed my conversations with many of them and thank them for all their time. Finally, for a minor league club, the operation was truly major league. I know I will back to sit for a game as a fan in the future.