Oneonta Tigers 2009 Season in Review

The Oneonta Tigers were in it until the end in 2009, and if only one part of the team had slumped down the stretch, they may well have been in the playoffs. Instead, the entire team went into a funk; a funk they couldn't shake before it was too late.

"The guys just got worn out. I mean everybody. It was very tough on them. It sure wasn't a lack of effort on their part. Even through the struggles, they played very hard, and they played good defense all year," said Manager Howard Bushong.

Amidst four rain outs in what was supposed to be their first 13 games, the O-Tigers got off to a 5-4 start with good pitching largely leading the way. The winning continued into July as the team won 18 of 31 games on the slate during the month, as both the good pitching continued, and the bats warmed up.

July was led by TigsTown's Oneonta Player of the Year John Murrian and his terrorizing month at the plate; a month where he hit an incredible .351/.402/.635 with all four of his home runs. Murrian was an offensive force for the team throughout the season, finishing with a strong .296/.356/.468 line. Coach Bushong felt there wasn't a better catcher around for a stretch of the season, and he may well have been right as Murrian hit and played top notch defense.

Also providing solid offensive production for the O-Tigers was first baseman Rawley Bishop. Bishop was another hitter carried by a torrid July (.330/.411/.575), and he finished the year with 15 doubles, five triples, and five home runs, while hitting .282 in 255 at-bats.

"I wouldn't trade him for anybody. His work ethic is fantastic, nothing bothers him, he can really pick at first, he is very smart, I just loved that kid," said Bushong.

Backing up the offense of Murrian and Bishop were intermittent contributions from the likes of Alexis Espinoza, Keith Hernandez, Carmelo Jaime, Jaime Johnson, and Michael Rockett.

Rockett came flying – no pun intended – out of the gates for the Tigers, hitting .464/.500/.643 in June and .319/.360/.440 in July to help propel the offense in support of the solid pitching. Rockett was exposed as the season went on, as he saw fewer pitches in the strike zone, with one NYPL Manager stating, "I actually yelled at my players if they threw him a strike."

Hernandez and Jaime both contributed in brief stints as reserves, but became more prominent players down the stretch for the O-Tigers.

"Jaime was supposed to be a backup for us, and he knew that role coming in, but he played very well everywhere we put him, and he truly earned the right to play everyday," stated Coach Bushong.

Hernandez was another player that went from a reserve role to earning more playing time. After bouncing around to Toledo, West Michigan, and the Gulf Coast League, Hernandez settled in with the O-Tigers and was yet another hot hitter in July (.302/.356/.434). He also surprised many by becoming a contributor on defense, despite common sentiments after signing last year, indicating he may not stick behind the dish.

Howard Bushong described his defensive role in glowing terms; "Pitchers love throwing to that guy! He can really call a game, he works well with the guys, and he's a great teammate. He's not afraid to get on someone's ass! He's a very good leader."

One player that was expected to be a force for the O-Tigers, was third baseman and third round pick Wade Gaynor. Gaynor never got things going with the bat, finishing the season with a disappointing .192/.281/.282 line, and 52 strikeouts in 234 at-bats. "He seemed to be getting it later in the season, and then he had some bumps and bruises that kept him from building on that. I tell you what though; you could never tell he was struggling. He'll do anything he can to help you. He hustles, runs hard, anything you need," said Bushong. Despite his offensive struggles, Gaynor still managed to contribute to the Tigers season, playing strong defense; "For me, he was the best defensive third baseman I saw in the league. It may not be pretty, but he makes every play. He's going to stick there," opined Bushong. The pitching staff tried to carry things down the stretch, but the long season after a spring college season was just too much for many of the young players.

TigsTown Oneonta Pitcher of the Year Clemente Mendoza and right-hander Luis Sanz were both workhorses for the Tigers this summer. Both pitchers stepped up after Adam Wilk was promoted to West Michigan, and performed very well. Mendoza finished the year with a 3.19 ERA and 5-5 record, while Sanz finished with a 3.27 ERA and five wins of his own, while leading the team in innings with 82 2/3.

As mentioned, Adam Wilk was lost to promotion after only seven starts – seven dominating starts I should say. The presence of Wilk down the stretch may have made a difference for the Oneonta club. In those seven starts, Wilk notched a 2-0 record with a 1.45 ERA and only five walks in 37 1/3 innings, while striking out 34. The loss of his domination at the top of the rotation was a real blow to the pitching staff.

"He just had great game preparation, just so, so professional. Being a lefty and able to do what he can do on the mound, I really think he's going to zip through the system," praised Bushong.

The bullpen was an area of reliable strength for much of the season for Coach Bushong and his staff; that is until the rain forced double-headers and upheaval in the relief corps.

Cory Hamilton and Mike LaLuna could both have a future out of the ‘pen, as both performed well in that role this summer. While both players were required to make starts due to injury and tightened schedules, both showed more promise in relief.

Hamilton finished the year with a strong 3.02 ERA in 17 games, giving up just one home run in 44 2/3 innings of work. His ability to keep the ball in the yard, and his solid mix of pitches could make him successful as he moves up.

LaLuna on the other hand made excellent progress after only switching to pitching full time after graduating college in 2008. Coming out of the bullpen, often looked upon to fill multiple innings in tight situations, LaLuna fanned 53 hitters in 52 2/3 innings, picking up three wins and two saves along the way.

Two relievers that stood out to Coach Bushong, particularly as the season progressed, were Latin American teammates Jose Ortega and Michael Torrealba. "Those guys were really good at the end of the year. They were huge for us," said Bushong.

He continued by saying "Those two guys have a chance, with the stuff they've got, and the mentality they bring to the mound, they have a chance."

Torrealba finished the summer with a 2.78 ERA, a 2-1 record, and two saves in 35 2/3 innings of work spanning 23 outings. He allowed only 24 hits in that time, and struck out an impressive 44. Ortega finished with a 3.97 ERA in 34 innings, and he also limited the hits allowed, giving up only 28 while striking out 32.

The season may not have ended with a playoff birth or the celebration of a final win, but the O-Tigers battled hard all summer and were contenders to the bitter end. On top of that, the learned valuable lessons as many of them received their first exposure to professional baseball; lessons that are a critical part of their development.

"This was a good learning experience for them. They were a great bunch, and I'm proud to have coached them. They were good players, they played hard, but the biggest plus for me; they were just quality people," said Bushong in closing.


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