By Joe McGehee
With their 2009 playoff hopes dashed, the Rockford RiverHawks will finish out their last season in the Frontier League as spoilers, trying to bury the playoff hopes of the teams still in contention. By splitting a doubleheader with the Southern Illinois Miners Saturday, Aug. 29, the RiverHawks were eliminated from the 2009 playoff chase, leaving them with the chance to make things much tighter in the West Division with just a week remaining in the season.
This column has been used to cover the RiverHawks since the season started in May, but a quick glance through previous versions shows one player, Jason James, dominated much of the space. James homered in both games of a Sunday, Aug. 30, doubleheader to push his all-time franchise home run record to 34, putting a cherry atop his season spent rewriting not only the RiverHawks’ record book, but the Frontier League record book as well.
Watching James go about his business under the bright lights of Road Ranger Stadium was a pleasure. No coaches, fans nor even casual observers could ever question his effort or desire to win. He went out every day and gave an admirable effort, which topped the performance and output of many players throughout the league.
As of press time, James was hitting a blistering .388 with 14 home runs and 44 runs batted in.
Kyle Wright has proven to be James’ counterpart on the Rockford pitching staff. His 10 wins versus only five losses paint one picture, but his seven complete games and microscopic 2.16 earned run average (ERA) paints quite another. Wright has been as dominant on the mound as James has been at the plate, and one has to wonder when these players will be scooped up by interested Major League Baseball scouts.
If James wins the batting title and Wright wins the ERA crown, it will be the first time since 2001 that the Frontier League saw one team have the most consistent hitter and dominant pitcher on the same roster.
And that, as they say, is that in regard to highlights for the RiverHawks’ last season in the Frontier League. The team that entered the 2009 All-Star break as the league’s hottest team quickly faded into the darkness of poor play and poorer results as the second half of the season wore on. The fact that Rockford has only won three series in the second half speaks volumes about the team’s struggles since the All-Star game was held at Road Ranger Stadium.
How did the RiverHawks, who went into the 2009 All-Star break as the hottest team in the league, end up as non-factors in the 2009 playoff picture with a week left in the season? That question potentially has many answers, and none of them is comforting.
Some fans may call it a lack of effort. Others may define the team’s second-half slump as bad luck, but the fact remains the RiverHawks fell short in the season’s final two months, and now run the risk of closing a season with a losing record for the first time in team history.
Despite the fact the RiverHawks will end their Frontier League history with a winning record, regardless of the outcomes of the remaining games on the 2009 schedule, Rockford will limp out of 2009 with the hopes of being reborn in the Northern League in 2010.
Spoiling the playoff hopes of other teams near season’s end brings little motivation to a team that failed to capitalize on its momentum going into the season’s stretch run, and this could reflect itself in the team’s results for the rest of the season.
From the September 2-8, 2009 issue