By Matt Fulks
This is a hard business, professional sports. Specifically, in this case, baseball. From a fan’s perspective – and in most cases, the perspective of the guys on the field – success is measured only by whether the team won a championship or, at the very least, reached post-season play.
If that’s the definition of success, then the 2012 season for the Kansas City T-Bones won’t be remembered as successful.
In pretty much every other way, however, it was wildly successful; a perfect 10th anniversary season.
On the field, the 2012 T-Bones featured a first-year manager with a coaching staff that included only one person with independent baseball experience – and that was as a player not as a coach.
The opening day roster featured only five players from 2011. By season’s end, the roster included only eight players from the opening day 23 and two from 2011. Additionally, the top two pitchers were converted relievers, including one rookie.
In spite of all of that, the 2012 T-Bones finished with one of the best regular-season records in franchise history, 51-49, and were in contention for post-season play until the last week of the season.
First-year manager Kenny Hook and his coaching staff of Bill Sobbe, Frank White and pitching coach Andy Shipman, who was a T-Bones player a year ago, saw the club start off slowly, winning just two of their first seven games, all at home, the T-Bones went to Texas for their first road trip and won five-out-of-six games. From that point on, with Hook and his staff getting to know the players and putting players in key positions, Kansas City became a contender for the postseason.
Right off the bat – or the mound, so to speak – the club was ignited by one of its pitchers from 2011, Brian Grening, whom Hook and Shipman converted to a starter before the season began. Grening was one of the most dependable and dominant pitchers on the staff, and one of the reasons the T-Bones ended the season with the second-best earned run average in the American Association at 4.03.
Grening ended the season with a 10-5 record, 3.69 ERA and tied for the league lead with 113 strikeouts. In fact, in his last start, Sept. 2 against Sioux City, Grening set the league season high for strikeouts in a game with 13.
The other converted reliever, Liberty, Mo., native and rookie Lucas Irvine, joined the rotation after the T-Bones traded Nick Singleton at the end of June. Irvine went 4-2 with a 2.59 ERA and 107 strikeouts.
Returning starter Devin Anderson and newcomer Shaun Garceau were among the league’s top-10 in pitching. Anderson posted a 7-6 record and 3.37 ERA. Garceau, who didn’t allow an earned run in his first two starts, ended 2012 with a 9-6 record and 3.50 ERA.
At the plate, although slugger Kala Ka’aihue surprised everyone by announcing his retirement in mid-June, the T-Bones offense had some highlights, too. The hot bat throughout the season was outfielder Brandon Jones.
Jones, a former big-league player with the Atlanta Braves, batted .326 with 14 home runs, 73 RBIs and 28 doubles. He finished fourth in the league with 206 total bases, and fourth in the league with 46 extra-base hits. The last time Jones’ batting average was below .300 was June 15, when it was .295.
Another familiar face in 2012 and key bat – although he didn’t join the club until the end of May – was Ray Sadler. A year after producing 100 RBIs, Sadler ended the season with 63 RBIs in 85 games, but he had 96 hits and 16 home runs. One highlight of the season was on July 11, when Sadler hit his 200th professional home run.
An offensive mention of the T-Bones in 2012 wouldn’t be complete without outfielder Justin Bass, who hit as well as anyone in the last month of the season. The 23-year-old Bass had 116 hits, 21 stolen bases and a .301 average. During the last month, he had 15 multi-hit games, including two four-hit contests. His batting average climbed 28 points in the last four weeks.
Then there was Devin Goodwin, who finished in a tie for second in the league with 18 home runs. During the final week of the season, Goodwin had two two-home-run games.
All of that was just on the field.
For a professional sports franchise to be successful, it has to have some “wins” off the field, too. The T-Bones did in 2012.
Once again, the T-Bones had one of the top attendance marks in the American Association. In 50 home games, the T-Bones had 260,620 fans at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, an average of 5,212 per game. That put them at second in the league and one of only two teams with an average of more than 5,000 fans. On Tuesday night, June 12, a crowd of 10,202 saw the T-Bones beat the Newark Bears, 8-1.
The consistently strong attendance helped the T-Bones secure stadium naming rights. The T-Bones and CommunityAmerica Credit Union announced in August that they’d reached a long-term deal for the club’s home to continue to be known as CommunityAmerica Ballpark, the stadium’s name since the T-Bones began playing in Kansas City 10 seasons ago.
Besides the product on the field, fans showed up en masse in 2012 for the various promotions. Whether it was hat night or jersey night, or autograph night – which included Frank White, Willie Wilson, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, former Kansas City A’s players and Dennis Haskins (aka Mr. Belding on “Saved by the Bell”), among others – or Facebook Winning Wednesdays, there was a promotion for every fan.
Yes, professional sports is a hard business, particularly when so many people measure success solely by whether a club wins the championship. But in every other aspect, the 2012 season was successful on and off the field for the Kansas City T-Bones.