Gold Sox' season full of surprises
Tuesday, August 9, 2005 - Surprises marked the 2005 Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox summer collegiate woodbat season.
A starting pitching staff that was assumed to be average at best, turned heads by displaying dominant outings night after night.
Third-year first baseman A.J. Valentine shocked many by becoming the club's main run-producing weapon after red shirting at Cal State Stanislaus in a difficult spring.
And the announcement of former major league baseball president and general manager Peter Bavasi as the team's co-managing partner with his brother, Bob, was certainly a surprise. Sadly, it came due to the sudden death of co-owner Don McCullough in late April.
The organization also dropped from the California Coastal League to join the newly formed Horizon Air Summer Series, finishing second in the McCullough Division, two games behind the Solano Thunderbirds.
Overall, the Gold Sox showed improvement in the win/loss column and in attendance figures with a 38-14 record and .730 winning percentage, up eight points from last season's mark of .722. The club drew an average reported crowd of 1,032 per game, up from 910 last season.
“Artistically, the club played very well on the field and we are very proud of the fellas, Brad and his coaching staff. It was just a fun ball club to watch play, and they played their hearts out all season,” Bavasi said. “Attendance was up over last season, and it translates to nearly 10 percent of Marysville's total population ... When you can draw 10 percent of the local population to ball games, that's quite a feet and we will continue to build on that for next year.”
Those 1,000-plus fans were certainly a catalyst in the club's success at All Seasons RV Stadium.
The Gold Sox were 37-7 at home and 1-7 when away from Marysville, their worst road record in three seasons. They lost six Summer Series games on the road - three at Solano, two at Salinas and one at Oakland - and just four at home, two of those to Salinas.
Solano and Yuba-Sutter had identical 29-4 Summer Series home records, but the Thunderbirds won two more games on the road than the Gold Sox, which figured to be the deciding number in crowning the McCullough Division champion.
“I think the Summer Series came down to, (Solano) beat Salinas and we didn't beat Salinas,” Peek said. “That's where the difference came.”
The Gold Sox dropped four of five to Salinas on the season, while the Thunderbirds won four of six.
“This ‘on the road' stuff gets a little bit old,” Peek said. “I must be the only guy that doesn't bring it up, but everybody else seems to be infiltrated with it throughout the team, organization and everyone else. I think if people quit talking about it, it wouldn't be such a big deal.
“It's a good experience to get on the road a little bit, but you can't schedule a 50-game season and go 49-1. These guys need competition and experience in competitive situations.”
Regular starting pitchers Tyler Pearson, Kyle Hill and Matt Huff weren't slated to be the type of pitchers who could dominate opposing lineups with a variety of overwhelming pitches.
However, the threesome did just that, combining for a 22-5 record and a 6.77 earned run average.
Pearson (7-3, 2.30) was the team's ace and pitched a complete-game two-hitter in a 2-0 victory over Solano. The Northern Colorado junior fanned a team-high 72 and walked 21.
Hill (7-0, 3.22) was the only undefeated starting pitcher and used a good balance of pitches to stop opposing hitters.
“I wasn't sure exactly how good (Pearson) was. I knew he really finished well at Northern Colorado, but he was a much more dominant pitcher than I could ever imagine,” Peek said. “Kyle Hill, I think, was as good as advertised. We knew he wasn't an overpowering guy but a guy that throws strikes and doesn't walk many guys.
Huff became the biggest surprise of all. The sophomore, who was slated for relief and had control problems at Regis University, set a Gold Sox record for wins in a season with an 8-2 mark and 1.25 ERA. He struck out 63 and walked 26.
“Here's a guy that didn't have any wins in his collegiate season,” Peek said. “He started applying some things, got better and turned close to a dominant pitcher by the end of the season.”
A three-run lead in the ninth inning was surely safe with Jason Peters closing games.
The Stanislaus senior had a team-leading 11 saves and a jaw-dropping .30 ERA. He walked just six in 30 innings pitched, while striking out 30.
“Coming into the season, I wasn't sure what role he would play,” Peek said. “We had like three guys that could close with Jake McKinley, Steve Alverson or Peters, and it just evolved that way where he got the chances early and did the job. He doesn't walk anybody, and when he comes into the game, you feel pretty comfortable. He just did a phenomenal job and was just lights out for us when he came in.”
The 6-foot-4 McKinley was solid in short relief, finishing 2-2 with a 2.52 ERA and three saves. Returning player Wes Porter struggled in the early part of the season but returned to form in the second half, improving to 2-2 with a 1.90 ERA.
“I thought our bullpen was outstanding this year,” Peek said. “We were bringing some good arms out of the bullpen, and then you throw in a guy like Wes Porter that can swing both ways.”
Valentine went on a absolute tear through the summer, breaking a team record for hits in a season with 71 and a club-best .348 batting average.
He was slated to play at Chico State last spring before the Wildcats released him. He scrambled to find a new school and landed at Stanislaus.
There was nothing rusty about his swing or crafty glove hand, setting all speculation aside. He drove in 44 runs, hit 17 doubles and finished with four home runs, all team highs.
“A.J. was probably the biggest key to our offensive success, no doubt about it,” Peek said. “He started off hot and was hungry having not played ... We needed him to be an RBI-producing guy. If he had been the same hitter as last year, we would have been in a world of hurt.”
Valentine hit .269 in 2004 with 26 RBIs.
A solid infield of second baseman Cole Koester, shortstop Jesse Rodgers, third baseman Doug Thennis and Valentine provided the pitching staff with plenty of help.
“Our team defense was a lot better, especially our infield,” Peek said. “We had 14 less errors than last year, and I thought that was a big part of our success.”
Peek wasn't sure if he would be back with the team next season, but Bavasi was hopeful the skipper would return.
“I certainly hope so,” Bavasi said. “Brad is an enormous part of the success of this franchise, and he knows how I feel about his terrific work. I just hope his calendar isn't filled with too many other important events, like his family business that he helps run, that he won't be available for next year. We are certainly counting on him, and he has a standing and open invitation.”
Appeal-Democrat reporter Justin Miller can be reached at 749-4796. You may e-mail him at email@example.com