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#8 St. Paul

Howdy, T-Bones faithful! It has been a while! It has been a busy hot stove season, and now it is time to play catch up on those top 110 moments from last season to get you in the mood for 2018! Well, by now the weather has changed enough that I am sure, like me, the sun on your face tells you it is time to bring on T-Bones Baseball.

Remember this list includes the moments that stood out to me and is a matter of opinion from my seat. I am willing to bet your list may be totally different from mine, or you might agree. Regardless, hopefully it will jog your memory, and, most of all, get you ready for the great 2018 season ahead.

I tried to avoid crushing losses (except when memorable) as they are parts of the twists and turns of a season. If someone was to ask me about the past season, these moments would have been what I would include if I were forced to write a book on the topic.

#8 St. Paul – Full throttle

The T-Bones won on opening night against Lincoln then went on to finish the opening homestand 1-5. There was so much early excitement, but it was quickly starting to fade with the tough home start. The team took an off day on May 25th before a 10-day road trip that might be the ultimate test or “sink or swim” opportunity. 

St. Paul, Gary SouthShore and Sioux Falls were the ports of call for the T-Bones long trip. St. Paul was the favorite to unseat Winnipeg as league champs, and they coming off a 2016 where they did everything but win it all. They were poised in 17 to do just that—win it all. Nothing short of that seemed to be in the plans for the Saints and their fans. Funny how those plans sometimes have other ideas of their own.

Brett Wiley was the lone hold over from 2016 when the team broke camp for the opeing week of the season. He would remain the lone holdover for just one week. During the off day, the T-Bones worked a trade, sending Wiley to Fargo and opening up a chance to sign new free agent and former Big Leaguer, Zach Walters.  The team hit the road to the Twins Cities around 5am on that Friday morning for the 10-day grind.

Walters joined the club on that Friday the 26th of May by flying into St. Paul and was with the team at CHS Park for the series-opener batting practice session. I recall watching him take his cuts and telling myself “that is what a big-league bat sounds like.” It has a certain sound that is just slightly different, and he had it in the pop of his lumber. I believe I even said that to Joe Calfapietra, but it was an impressive display of hitting as the gates were opening and fans were trickling into the park. He had three balls pepper the right field wall and another half dozen leave the yard. We also heard that pop to all areas of the field, with thuds to left, liners to center,  and another four or five hitting the outfield concourse above the field.

But two things stood out to me as I was watching there, leaning against the cage.  First, Walters was smiling and happy to be there, and two, the other bats seemed to be leaving the park as well. Slugger Kevin Keyes was well known for impressive batting practice sessions, but the one he put on that day was as impressive as the one Walters put on display. A bang here, a boom there, and wow!— over and over.

But it was not just Keyes. Marcus Lemon, Christian Correa and Joe Jackson all had impressive “BP” sessions. It was fireworks without the lights—the smack and thud of bats hitting ball and ball hitting wall or concrete. Even the club’s foul balls were loud shots. It was a sign of good things to come.

That was the backdrop for the series opener on a crisp but sunny Friday evening in downtown St. Paul. The T-Bones came into the series losers of five straight and one of those famous Saints crowds of 8,000 awaited the visitors who hoped for a weekend series win for the home side.

Now think back to batting practice: It seems like it rarely is a sign of things to come, but this night was different.  I wrote that night in the post game edition for the website,”Kevin Keyes was the headline act as he drove in six runs with a pair of long balls for Kansas City. Keyes launched his first in the top of the first to give the T-Bones a lead off of Saints starter John Straka (1-1).”

That lead lasted an inning as the Saints had the crowd in a frenzy on a Danny Oh homer off T-Bones starter Gabe Perez to tie it up, and then the Saints would manufacture one more to take the lead, 2-1. They would get an unearned run to make it a 3-1 lead, but Perez would settle in and give the club 5.1 pitching into the sixth with eight strike outs and shutting down the Saints bats.

Straka was not so lucky. If he saw batting practice (there were a good number of Saints who did see it) then he might have seen this coming.  I wrote in the story lead, “The Kansas City T-Bones set an early season high in runs scored, home runs and extra base hits as they doubled up the St. Paul Saints Friday night at CHS Field in St. Paul by a score of 10-5.”

In the second time through the lineup, the T-Bones took off. Joe Jackson had an RBI single in the fourth to make it 4-3 Kansas City, but it was a pair of crooked number innings in the fifth and sixth that put it all away.  Newly acquired baseman Zach Walters led off the top of the fifth with a solo blast, hitting the right field foul pole off of Straka. The ball was as hard hit as that park had seen, one press box observer told me. Eddie Newton and Leo Rojas added an RBI each on a sac fly by Newton and a single for Rojas to make the score 7-3.

St. Paul added a single run in the sixth, seventh and eighth off the pen, but the T-Bones were not (well) done yet. Keyes hit his second homer of the game in the top of the eighth—another three-run effort off Corey Williams, and the final score was 10-5 for Kansas City, ending a five-game losing streak. The offense, with the flip of a switch off of Walters and his effect on the lineup card, took off from there. The next night the Saints would even the series with a 10-3 win. It was a six run third that ended any chance that a Marcus Lemon long ball three innings later could help make it two in a row. The Lemon blast landed on the top of the building behind the ballpark in right field that housed the station with commuter trains to Minneapolis, but it was not enough.

The T-Bones short winning streak was done, but the club came into the Sunday late afternoon affair with a chance to win their first series of the season.  The club was given the task of beating Saints ace Mark Hamburger.  The team would use a crooked three run inning and solid relief work to win it 5-2 to win their first series of the year.

The T-Bones took the lead in the second with a RBI double from Joe Jackson and a fielder's choice ground out to second from Daniel Rockett to take an early 2-0 lead. Zach Walters hit a three-run home run to right to make the score 5-0, and for the second night in three, he helped his new club get a “W”. St. Paul got back-to-back solo homers from Nate Hanson and Brady Shoemaker in the bottom of the third off T-Bones starter Jeff Walters to cut the lead to 5-2, but it was the pen that sealed the deal.

It was a highwire act that helped give Kansas City the series win, From the game story I wrote, “The Saints would load the bases in the fifth and chase Walters from the game. Kamakani Usui entered the game and forced Jacob Caldwell to bounce a ball back to Usui who threw home for the force out, and Leo Rojas threw on to first for the double play.

In the home half of the sixth the Saints loaded the bases with one out. Usui, again induced a double play by getting Nate Hanson to line to first and Chase McDonald doubled up Breland Almadova to dodge the threat.”

“Myles Smith and Cody Winiarski each worked a scoreless inning to keep the game 5-2 into the ninth. Grant Sides worked a 1-2-3 ninth for the save. Usui (1-0) got the win for Kansas City with Mark Hamburger (2-1) getting the loss for St. Paul. Kansas City matched a season high 12 strike outs as a pitching staff in the win.”

Kansas City could have gone into St. Paul and cratered and nobody would have blamed them. The Saints had a clear home advantage only a few clubs enjoy, and they were, at the time, considered the best club in the league. Kansas City would leave St. Paul at 3-6 and winners of a series, but the team saw first hand the Zach Walters effect on the club and understood that the team would have the best bullpen in the American Association—a weapon no other club had.

It also gave the T-Bones confidence that the engine was starting to rumble just a bit—the same sound, full throttle, a jet engine makes just before takeoff. And that take off took place the next day when Scott Carroll shut down Gary SouthShore in Chicagoland in a 10-4 win. The T-Bones would go on to win three of four in Gary and another two of three at Sioux Falls.  The bats with Kevin Keyes and Zach Walters leading the way outscored Gary 29-11 in four games. The team would win five straight series and find the .500 mark after winning three straight in Indiana. The team dropped the final game with the RailCats, but that series in St. Paul started the club’s engines down the runway to flying to the second best record in franchise history.  After a 2-0 shutout of Sioux Falls at the cage, the team was at 7-7 and never dropped below .500 the rest of the way. Full throttle ahead indeed!

#9: One crazy night on the lake!

 

#10:  Opening Night: “How did we get that in?”



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