I had a personal trip planned back to my original home state of Nebraska to celebrate my mother’s 100th birthday, and when the latest round of heavy rain postponed Game 2 of the American Association’s North Division playoffs I was able to rearrange a few things to see the makeup.
It was one of those perfect August evenings and Haymarket Park in Lincoln always is a visual pleasure, as noticed by those who have selected it Best Playing Field in its league for all seven seasons it has been open. It would be difficult to argue with that selection, even if they broadened it to Most Beautiful and Best Maintained Stadium. It should be noted that the first five of those selections came while the Saltdogs were part of the Northern League.
The only factor—but a major one—in saying the entire evening was “perfect” was in watching the angst among the Lincoln management team. The Saltdogs put together by GM Tim Utrup and Manager Tim Johnson with help from player personnel guru Nick Belmonte had the best record in all of Independent Baseball in 2006, and they were among the best this season, especially as they won the first half of the split season.
But the perennially tough St. Paul (MN) Saints spoiled things by ousting Lincoln from the playoffs one year ago, and this Wednesday night game saw St. Paul take a 2-0 lead in still another best-of-five series. That’s tough on the fans in Lincoln, and, probably many times worse on the staff, which lives the season day by day, hour by hour.
Lincoln knows it had another wonderful season, including making more than 4,000 a night happy, but once again there probably would not be a postseason American Association championship after this loss. St. Paul made that fact official one night later by putting the finishing touches on the series back in their Minnesota digs.
Eventually, everyone within the Saltdogs organization, from Owner Jim Abel and President Charlie Meyer, will be able to take some satisfaction from what they have accomplished year in and year out in Lincoln. But it would take some time.
The gorgeous moon climbing above the leftfield fence and the satisfactions of the regular season successes could not possibly bring solace on this night.
SIDELIGHTS OF THE SERIES
It reinforced the already certified fact that St. Paul Manager George Tsamis knows how to assemble a team that will compete with the best, even if he has to do a lot of tinkering during the season.
One of the newest pieces for the Saints is first baseman Fernando Valenzuela, Jr. Picked up via Mexico with 21 games to go in the regular season, he hit a mammoth three-run homer in Game 2 and also made a nifty play on a tough bouncer, all the while wearing the No. 37 uniform his more famous father made a favorite for years at Dodger Stadium.
Lincoln made continued use in the closing weeks of a trio of escapees from the ill-fated New York State League. Catcher Joe Dempsey (.309 in 55 at bats), outfielder Ross McCoy (.302 with 12 ribbies in 96 at bats) and righthander Brian Campbell (2-3, 4.41) proved they could play in the higher ranks of the American Association.
It was good to say hello to Umpire boss Kevin Winn, who handles both the AA and the Can-Am League, and two of those he transferred from the Eastern-based league to the Midwest, veteran Steve Linton and now fulltimer Tim McCaffrey.
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