The Year That Was
The baseball season is a funny thing. You spend five months in a seemingly unending stretch of daily baseball games. Then you get to the end and wonder how it passed so quickly.
Every year I get to a point in August or September where, over the course of a broadcast, I refer back to something that happened in April. Every year when that happens, I am once again struck by the fact that I am literally referring to something that occurred five months ago.
With such a lengthy season, there will inevitably be multiple peaks and valleys for every team. The River Bandits are no exception. While it would be easy to malign a sub-.500 finish (61-78) and a second consecutive season watching the playoffs unfold from afar, that simply doesn’t do justice to the season that was.
To that end, I’d like to recap some of the highlights from the 2009 season. To me, these are things that will enter my mind down the road when I reminisce about it. Oddly enough, it seems the Beloit Snappers had a lot to do with the River Bandits’ success this year…
- The most important thing that happened to the River Bandits this year came outside the white lines. The resurgence of baseball in the Quad Cities over the past two years is one of those things that will have far more of a long-lasting place in history than anything that happened on the diamond this summer. Total attendance (236,401) and average attendance (3,694) were both the highest since 1995 and among the top-five figures in franchise history. Since the ownership change following the 2007 season, attendance has increased 64 percent on a per-game basis (2,254 to 3,694) and 59 percent on an annual basis (148,773 to 236,401). Bandits baseball is back. And that’s a fact.
- On the field, there were a few other occurrences with important historical context. One was the first game of an April 15 doubleheader at Modern Woodmen Park against the Beloit Snappers. Hector Cardenas started and threw five nearly perfect innings, with the only baserunner coming on a two-out error in the third. Kevin Thomas entered to pitch the final two frames, twirling a perfect sixth before working around an error and a walk in the seventh to induce a game-ending double play. The end result? A 3-0 win and the first no-hitter achieved by Quad Cities since 2001. It was just the 10th no-hitter in franchise history, the third since 1977, and the first ever combined no-no.
- On April 22, the River Bandits beat the Snappers 4-2 and Steve Dillard managed his 413th game for Quad Cities. On June 21, the River Bandits used a six-run ninth-inning to beat the Snappers, 6-4, on the final day of the first half and earn Dillard his 211th managerial win with Quad Cities. Both were franchise records, and Dillard ended the season with 242 wins and 541 games managed in his Quad Cities career (two seasons managing an Astros affiliate in 1993-94 and two more with the Cardinals in 2008-09). He has had a tremendous impact on the history of Quad Cities baseball and is one of the true good guys in the game of baseball.
- There were also some fantastic individual efforts over the course of the season. Charlie Cutler hit .351 in 66 games and led the league in hitting for an extended period of time before being promoted to Palm Beach. Chris Swauger (.296 in 31G) also had a great early season before being promoted in May. Despite a slow start, Alex Castellanos might have been the best offensive player the River Bandits had over the course of the year, batting .270 when he went up and collecting more doubles (21) and stolen bases (21) than anybody else in a QC uniform in 2009. At the end of the season, Xavier Scruggs (.295, 7HR, 33 RBI, .527 SLG% in 34G) and Jermaine Curtis (.304, 12-2B, 12-SB, .426 OBP in 30G) also stood out as having exceptional impacts.
- On the mound, I don’t think anybody was as impressive as Casey Mulligan, who used a variety of arm angles and some pretty serious stuff to blow Midwest League hitters away to the tune of 36 strikeouts in 20 innings, a 0.45 ERA, and nine saves in as many tries. Dave Carpenter picked up where Mulligan left off, inheriting the closer’s role and going 12-for-14 in save tries with 77 punch-outs in 67.1 innings. Both were light-hitting but strong-armed catchers on Opening Day of 2008. Arquimedes Nieto also comes to mind. Barely six feet tall (if that), he used a wicked changeup to lead the team with 89 strikeouts and deliver arguably the most exciting game of the season – his near no-hitter on the Fourth of July in Cedar Rapids. That game is the only I can honestly say I got butterflies in my stomach during the action.
- Lastly, when it’s all said and done, the 2009 season may go down as a glimpse of the future. The last two weeks saw the additions of the top two picks by St. Louis in the ’09 draft. First-rounder Shelby Miller – a true phenom at just 18-years-old – has mid- to high-90’s gas with a hammer curve and a changeup that most kids his age can only dream of. Second-rounder Robert Stock, a 19-year-old catcher, is one of the brightest kids you’ll come across on a baseball diamond. Both finished the season with Quad Cities with the design of starting 2010 in the same place. Looks like Bandits fans everywhere just hit the jackpot.
While the River Bandits season has come to an end, there is still great baseball being played in the minor leagues. In addition to the Midwest League post-season, both upper level Cardinals affiliates have reached the playoffs (Memphis in the Pacific Coast League and Springfield in the Texas League). I’ll continue to blog about their results as the coming weeks unfold.
Also, feel free to shoot any questions my way. I’m more than happy to respond to your inquiries through this blog!