I write this between periods of dozing on our way home from Appleton, Wisconsin. We just wrapped up an eight-game road trip, and are coming home to play the last regular season series against Clinton (Texas Rangers affiliate) beginning Friday.
While this was not the first two-city and weeklong road trip we made this season, it feels like it was the longest, and the team is finally happy to be returning home. More importantly, we were able to clinch the wild card playoff spot Wednesday night with a 3-2 win. Aside from player development, the goal every year for a team is to make the playoffs. Emphasis for the first half of the season is generally put on player development, but there is a transformation in the second half atmosphere that puts winning at a higher level.
After clinching the playoff berth, there was an incredible celebratory mood in the clubhouse. A major goal of ours had finally been achieved. Our hitting coach joked that this team might have taken the longest road possible to get to this point, but no one can take away from what we were able to accomplish. There is validity in this statement, especially after our solid 14-11 start in April led into a woeful 7-21 May. While pitching was strong during that time, the bats were as cold as the weather was when we rolled into Cedar Rapids at the beginning of April, with the team last in the league in batting. However, the team kept grinding throughout the dismal times, and this, combined with the renewed optimism that comes with the start of the second half enabled us to put ourselves in the playoffs.
This playoff berth is a testament to all of the effort the players and staff have put in throughout the season. While adversity struck at inopportune times, the team came together and persevered. We had to absorb the losses of players leaving from promotion, but this only improved the team collectively as everyone else stepped up their game to make up for their departures. We had to deal with the emotional strains of seeing friends let go, but again, this brought the team together further and the attitude of “playing for each other” became prevalent.
In the end, this is the epitome of baseball. It is a team sport made up of individual efforts, and it requires that these individual efforts be selfless and have a team-first priority, not me-first. Once August rolls around, a player has an idea of where his statistics are going to finish for the season, and this is where “playing for each other” becomes most important. While performing one’s role is stressed throughout the season, its importance is highlighted in big games during a playoff run. Putting the team first and moving a runner over wins championships, while trying to drive a run in by yourself only precludes you from the opportunity.
While this may not been the banner season that is remembered for decades to come, for the players on this team, it is a season that will evoke success, regardless of how the playoffs conclude. Yes, we are hungry to win the Midwest League Championship and that is now our goal, but the year will not be a failure if we do not finish with the hardware. We will be using this final regular season series with Clinton to gear up for the post-season. As we finally pull into the stadium about four and a half hours after departing Appleton, I will conclude with a quote we heard earlier this season: “You are never as bad as you think you are, and you are never as good as you think you are.” Despite this modest approach, right now, we think we are damn good.