By Joe McGehee
When his 398th career hit safely reached the outfield grass, RiverHawks’ outfielder Jason James secured sole possession of ninth place on the Frontier League’s all-time hits list. James’ line drive to left-center surpassed the 397 hits amassed by former Richmond Rooster and Boston Red Sox first baseman Morgan Burkhart.
Next up, in eighth place, is former Johnstown Johnnie Kirk Taylor with 403 hits. Though it is unlikely James will surpass the all-time record of 458 hits by Mike Breyman in Rockford’s final season in the Frontier League, it is certain James has left his mark on the Frontier League and on Rockford baseball.
It has seemed at times as if the 2009 season has turned into James’ statement about his place in RiverHawks’ history and his ranking among the Frontier League’s memorable players. Regardless of where he ranks according to the tastes and preferences of critics and fans alike, the facts remain James is a rare talent at the plate and a pure joy to watch play.
If his 40-game hitting streak earlier in the season was not proof enough, his batting average remaining on the plus side of .400 with less than a month to go in the season should pretty much wrap up the discussion about his talents with the lumber. Batting over .400—in any league—is a feat reserved for those with talent and intellect in equal serving sizes. Swinging the bat at or above this magic number into the latter stages of the season garners almost as much attention as 15-car pile-up on the expressway.
James’ position in RiverHawks’ history has been made crystal-clear through his on-field performance since his arrival in 2006. As of today, James is the franchise leader in the following career catagories: hits (398); career batting average (.347); runs batted in (RBI) (185); doubles (83); games played (279); and at-bats (1,053). Factor into all this that he is one home run shy of tying the franchise record for long balls, and it is easy see James ascending to the top of all the players to wear that angry bird or fancy “R” on their heads and chests.
Besides owning all the important offensive career records, the all-time at-bats and games played marks point more to his determination and conditioning. James has played in every game this season, his and Rockford’s last in the Frontier League. After the season James has had, it seems fitting both he and the franchise he may one day come to define are leaving the league together.
Kyle Wright (10-3, 1.99) has stood out on the mound throughout the 2009 season. He has consistently toed the rubber and given his team quality starts, and kept them in many games, which has undoubtedly done wonders toward keeping his teammates in the bullpen fresh and rested.
Wright’s last start saw him strike out the first seven Florence Freedom batters who stepped to the plate, but ultimately saw him lose his second consecutive decision after a 10-decision winning streak. On his first two trips through the Florence lineup, Wright struck out 10 of the 18 batters he faced, but his eight innings pitched and four runs allowed on seven hits were not enough to overcome a rocky eighth inning.
Even though he struck out a career-high 11 batters, a run-scoring balk, a sacrifice squeeze, and two-out, run-scoring base hit in the top of the eighth did him in. However, Wright’s next victory will tie teammate Tanner Watson for the single-season record of 11, and most any fan who has watched even a meager amount of RiverHawks’ baseball this season would be shocked if this mark were not tied in his next start.
But, the RiverHawks’ success in 2009 has not been a by-product of James’ and Wright’s performances alone. Several other players have also impacted Rockford’s success on the field this year.
As of Aug. 14, Brandon Cohen was batting .432 (16-for-37) with two home runs and 14 RBI over his last nine games. In the first inning of the same night’s game, Cohen hit what appeared to be a S.C.U.D. missile just to the right of the scoreboard at Road Ranger Stadium. It sounded like a Volkswagen Beetle being pushed out a 10th-story window on impact, and pushed the RiverHawks to an early 3-1 lead. Overall, Cohen is batting .345 with 6 home runs, 27 RBI and has a team-high slugging percentage of .611.
Brett Durand (8-5, 3.87) has performed double-duty this year, as he has started and closed games for the RiverHawks since All-Star closer John Muller was placed on the disabled list. Durand has pitched a combined 109.1 innings in his combined 18 appearances, 16 of which were as a starter.
Ross McCoy (.291, 5 home runs, 41 RBI) has performed consistently throughout the 2009 season. Originally the RiverHawks’ starting right fielder, McCoy has moved to first base to allow Rockford newcomer Derrick Walker (.314, 4 home runs, 14 RBI) to take over in the outfield. Walker and his speed have been an exciting addition to the RiverHawks’ line-up and outfield.
Others, including Robert Sabates (.295, 5 home runs, 41 RBI) and Doug Sanders (.281, 3 home runs, 41 RBI), have performed consistently as well and kept the RiverHawks five games behind West Division-leading Windy City, and four games back of the final playoff spot currently held by the River City Rascals.
All-Star closer John Muller (shoulder nerve impingement/blood infection) will not pitch again in 2009. Muller has been moved to the 60-day disabled list. He was admitted to the University of Wisconsin hospital in Madison, Wis., Aug. 7, because of the blood infection.
Outfielder Brandon Romans (strained calf) and pitchers Matt Enderle (left triceps tendinitis) and Tanner Watson (shoulder) are on the 14-day disabled list. Romans was eligible to be acivated Aug. 18, and Enderle is eligible Aug. 21. Watson’s trip to the disabled list is retroactive to Aug. 12, and he was eligible for activation Aug. 18.
From the Aug. 19-25, 2009 issue