Last season was quite a year for the Akron RubberDucks.
The best word to describe their season would be “tumultuous.”
However, when it was all said and done the RubberDucks emerged as the Eastern League Champions of 2016 after defeating the Trenton Thunder 3-0 in a best-of-five championship series.
It seemed only right that the RubberDucks would host their first ever Hot Stove Banquet dinner on Friday night to celebrate their fifth championship in franchise history. RubberDucks Owner Ken Babby, General Manager Jim Pfander, new RubberDucks manager Mark Budzinski, RubberDucks radio announcer Jim Clark, former Indians second baseman Carlos Baerga and Indians Assistant General Manager Carter Hawkins were all in attendance and graced the audience with individual keynote speeches of their own.
Budzinski will be replacing former RubberDucks manager Dave Wallace, whom was at the helm and helped lead the RubberDucks to the Eastern League Championship. Wallace has been promoted to a special advisor role within the Cleveland Indians front office.
“Wally’s a great manager and a great person,” Budzinski shared. “What we’ll try and do is what we try to do at all our affiliate levels which is to help our players to develop into big leaguers.”
Budzinski will be coming to manage the club after spending the past two seasons as the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats manager. He will have the good fortune of inheriting several players he managed last year including the likes of slugger Bobby Bradley and speedster Greg Allen.
Hawkins was honored as well for being responsible for which players played at the Double-A Akron level and constructing the roster that was able to go all the way. Babby and Pfander recognized Hawkins by surprising him with an Akron Rubberducks Eastern League championship ring.
“Carter is rising like a meteor through the system,” Babby praised.
Hawkins gave a speech that detailed his journey through the Cleveland Indians front office which began with him working as a paid intern in 2008 and 2009 before becoming the Director of Minor League Baseball Operations. Hawkins has had a huge hand in retooling the Indians minor league system and improving the player development. His work included making some tough decisions after the 2007 season when the Indians fell to the Red Sox in the ALCS.
“Certainly there were some tough years there in the 09’s, 10’s and ‘11’s but a lot of decisions that were made in some of those years helped create some of the core that got us to the place that we were this year,” Hawkins reflected.
Former Indians second baseman Carlos Baerga expressed his excitement and pride at the Indians making it to the World Series last season and the potential for the Indians in the coming years. Baerga went as far to say that the 2016 Indians may have been a more special group than the 1995 Indians who won 100 games in the regular season and went all the way to the World Series before falling to the Atlanta Braves 4-2. The switch-hitting slugger was keen to note about the potential of having left fielder Michael Brantley coming back as well as the addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the lineup.
It was a great event for the Indians, RubberDucks and most importantly, the fans, and hopefully the kick off to another great season.