Firsts mark Gold Sox's stellar season
August 8, 2006 - Fans who didn't get a chance to watch the Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox at All Seasons RV Stadium this summer missed one outstanding baseball team.
In its fourth year of existence, the collegiate summer wood bat team certainly looked like a well-polished senior class, even though several sophomores and juniors marked the roster.
“I started thinking last week that we had a well-rounded team with a lot of abilities,” Gold Sox manager Brad Peek said. “We had guys that could hit for power and steal bases, and a lot of guys in the lineup that could do those things. And the pitching was solid from Day 1 until the end.”
The Gold Sox had two first-time accomplishments. They won the Horizon Air Summer Series McCullough Division championship, its first title of any kind, and broke the team record for victories, winning 41 games and dropping just nine - four on the road.
“We were pretty dominating at times,” Peek said. “We had like six guys hit .300. It was pretty special. It will be pretty hard to match again.”
Peek said the way his team played against a tougher schedule this season was a tribute to the incredible athletes he had.
The Gold Sox swept the well-respected Santa Maria Indians in a three-game series and the Engelken Division champion San Diego Stars in a three-game set. Peek's club also split a two-game series with the Humboldt Crabs, the oldest collegiate summer league team on the West Coast.
Yuba City High and Yuba College product Ryan Zaft led an outstanding pitching staff that recorded an ERA of 1.78, a team record.
Zaft was a fill-in player during the first week of the season but latched on for good after impressing Peek. He became the Gold Sox's most effective starting pitcher, earning a 7-1, recording a jaw-dropping 0.42 ERA in 64.2 innings and was named the team's Most Outstanding Pitcher.
“The whole season was a blast,” said Zaft, who admitted never watching a Gold Sox game before joining the team. “I felt comfortable out there and gained more confidence.”
Yuba City product Alberto Rolon returned for a second season, pitching well in a starting roll early and finishing as the team's top closer. He was 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA with a team-leading nine saves in 51.2 innings.
Returner Tyler Pearson became the second pitcher in collegiate Gold Sox history to notch eight wins, reaching that mark on the final night of the season.
Starter Given Kutz was dominant early on and finished at 6-1 with a 1.45 ERA.
“I give tremendous credit to the guys and (pitching) coach (Jack) Johnson for giving these guys some philosophy,” Peek said.
Peek had players at any spot in the lineup that could produce hits or runs nightly, making this team one of strongest in his four years as manager.
Doug Thennis, who will attend Texas Tech this fall, led the offensive charge, jumping out to a hot start and then staying there to produce a .368 average, 36 RBIs and a team-leading five home runs and 16 doubles.
“He's a great hitter and still on the upswing,” Peek said. “He'll get better, and I hope he goes to Texas Tech and tears it up. Maybe he'll get drafted next year, but maybe he'll be back here next summer.”
Gold Sox fans said farewell to fan-favorite first baseman A.J. Valentine, and he gave them a final summer to remember, hitting .316 and driving in a team-leading 41 runs. He added 14 doubles, four home runs and two triples.
Yuba City and Yuba College product Matt Suleski fought an up-hill battle with his swing for much of the summer after struggling at the University of Nevada in the spring. Suleski was hitting just .192 on June 15, a night he hit the Gold Sox's only grand slam of the season.
But after becoming an everyday player late in the season, Suleski found a groove and finished strong, hitting .310 with 27 RBIs, six doubles, two home runs and a triple.
Peek said he was unsure if he would be back for a fifth season.
“I need a little time to relax and kick back,” he said.