10/06/2005 4:28 PM - In many ways, the 2005 Kansas City T-Bones season mirrored their 2004 campaign. The T-Bones were one of the hottest teams in the league in the second half of 2004, heading to the playoffs for the first time in their history; in 2005, the first half of the season was the better of the two. One thing that has been consistent in the last three seasons, however, is the strong fan base the T-Bones have established. 2005 saw the T-Bones increase their attendance by almost 10%, to 5,555 per game.
The second to last game of the season smashed the previous attendance record, set a shade over a year before. On August 27, the T-Bones packed 9,013 into CommunityAmerica Ballpark to watch the team eke out a 3-1 win over Sioux Falls. All told, the T-Bones enjoyed five of their top ten crowds of all time this season, entertaining a team-record 244,414 fans. The average attendance figure was good for third in the Northern League and fourth in all of independent baseball.
The month of July was integral to the teams success. The club averaged 6,197 fans per game as the weather heated up, with seven of thirteen crowds in excess of 6,000. As well, the team didnt have a crowd below 4,000 after June 7.
As successful as the season was in the stands, it could have been even better. The T-Bones had four games postponed as a result of inclement weather, including a Friday and Saturday night against St. Paul in August and a Thursday matinee against the Saints to close June.
That June 30 game was a crucial one for the T-Bones. Eventual sixteen-game winner Greg Bicknell, on his way to the league record for wins, was to oppose Saint righty Mike Meyer. Over 7,000 tickets had been purchased for the game, and a great number of children from local camps were on hand to bring home a win. The weather would not cooperate, however, and in the final accounting of the first half of the season, the T-Bones were ½ game behind St. Paul.
There were other factors in the first-half finish, however. On July 8, the T-Bones headed to Gary ½ game behind the Saints with three to play. Kansas City led 7-4 going into the bottom of the ninth, but the future league champion RailCats scored three to tie the game. A Kirk Gibson-esque Ray Brown homered in the tenth inning to give the T-Bones an 8-7 lead in the game, but Gary again clawed back, scoring two in the bottom of the inning for the win. The next night, Gary scored twice in their final two at-bats to eliminate the T-Bones from the division race.
For Kansas City, the pitching was a strength of the club all season long. Led by Greg Bicknell and his league-best sixteen wins, the T-Bones finished third in the Northern League in earned run average with a respectable 4.05 mark. Despite spending a portion of the season in the bullpen, third-year T-Bone Jonathan Krysa led the Northern League in strikeouts, capping his season with a franchise-record 13 Ks in a 2-0 loss at Calgary in the second to last game of the season. Righthander Jon McDonald was selected as a Northern League all-star and finished with a 2.76 ERA, and David Viane, who had never started a professional game until June, acquitted himself well in the rotation.
The goal of independent baseball is twofold: to win and to give players a chance to get closer to the major leagues. In 2004, the T-Bones didnt have a player signed, but cruised through the second half of the season on their way to the playoffs. The playoffs werent in the cards in 2005, but three players were signed by organizations.
The best-known T-Bone in franchise history, Eddie Pearson, moved to Potros de Tijuana in the Mexican League. Pearson hit .266 in the equivalent of Triple-A, homering four times in 27 games. Within days of losing Pearson, closer Derek Forbes signed with the Baltimore Orioles. Forbes, who had recorded a 1.32 ERA with seven saves, didnt miss a beat with the Class A Delmarva Shorebirds. The righthander out of Scottsdale, Arizona posted a 2.41 ERA in sixteen games. Later in the season, fireballing righty Caleb Balbuena was signed by the Colorado Rockies and went 2-0 with a 2.65 ERA in 12 relief appearances for Class A Modesto.
The T-Bones lost Forbes and Pearson in the stretch run of the first half of the season. Expecting a team to replace both one of the most feared hitters in the league (ESPNs Jay Crawford compared Pearson to Babe Ruth) who was a quiet leader in the clubhouse, as well as a proven closer, may have been too much. But the T-Bones certainly tried, bringing Triple-A veteran Greg Jacobs into the heart of their order. Jacobs finished the season fourth in the league in batting average while slamming ten home runs; on defense, he became known for his rifle left arm and penchant for slamming his body into walls in pursuit of fly balls.
Speaking of ESPN, the T-Bones found their way onto ESPN on three occasions. The first was when Crawford made an appearance on the mound for the St. Paul Saints against the T-Bones. Infielder Mike Brown doubled against Crawford and was the post-game interview subject of the Cold Pizza host. The T-Bones were also featured in a number of media outlets when they announced they would play the first two innings of their July 16 game against Schaumburg on a Microsoft X-Box. While the promotion, initially approved by the league, was later disallowed, the final two innings of the game were replayed on an X-Box.
The way it turned out, the July 16 game was one of the biggest on-field highlights for the T-Bones. Kansas City trailed Schaumburg early in the game, 7-1, and faced a 7-4 deficit in the sixth inning when Cody Nowlin pinch-hit for Sean Flynn with the bases loaded. Nowlins pinch-hit grand slam made a winner of Joe Goodmann, who chipped in with 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Krysa.
Coming into the 2005 season, it appeared as if it would be the Big Four for the T-Bones and a supporting cast. Early on, it became apparent that, while the T-Bones would rely on Pearson, Bicknell, Ray Brown and Rick Prieto, there would be some new faces adding something to the mix.
The first rookie to make his presence known was third baseman Brandon Jones. Jones appeared out of nowhere in open tryouts and immediately impressed with his arm and his power; with the T-Bones needing a third baseman, Jones was signed to a contract. In his second pro game, the lanky native of Crossett, Ark., homered twice. Jones homered eleven more times in his first pro season to lead the team with thirteen.
Not long after Jones appeared on the scene, a quiet pitcher from Temple, GA, showed up. Chad Sosebee, who won twelve games while being named the Frontier Leagues Pitcher of the Year in 2004, was slated for bullpen work. Sosebee quickly showed the T-Bones brass he could play a number of other positions, and he started the season in right field. The athletic Sosebee spelled Jones at third base before spending the remainder of his season at shortstop, where he quickly became one of the best on defense in the league.
When Jones left to tend to a family emergency in Arkansas and Sosebee moved to the infield, the T-Bones had a hole to fill in the outfield. Enter Kansas City, Kan., native Eric Vega. Vega had been cut from tryouts twice, but remained with the team through spring training in 2005. When the opportunity came, Vega didnt let it pass him by, showing speed on the bases (20 of 23 SB) and hitting a solid .255.
Of course, Ray Brown and Prieto still made their presence known. In spite of being held back by nagging leg injuries, Prieto still batted a robust .333 and ended the season as the franchises career leader in games played and hits. Coming off a 2004 season in which he was in the top ten in the league in nearly every major offensive category, Brown enjoyed another above-average season. The veteran hit .305 while driving in a team-high 61 runs.
For a baseball team, success is usually measured by wins and losses. For the 2005 T-Bones, it wasnt a winning season on the field. However, the environment provided by the nightly capacity crowds made it a summer that many of the T-Bones wont ever forget. The T-Bones organization would like to thank their fans for a tremendous season, and look forward to an all-star summer in 2006!