By Joe McGehee
With a 10-4 loss to the playoff-bound Windy City ThunderBolts Sunday, Sept. 6, the Rockford RiverHawks finished the 2009 season with a record of 44-50, missing the playoffs in their final Frontier League season.
The highlights in 2009 were few and far between, but the brightest had to be the play of OF Jason James, who won his first Frontier League batting title after finishing second two years in a row. James finished the season at .374, which set the new single-season record for batting average in RiverHawks’ history. James beat out former RiverHawk Olmo Rosario, who hit .373 in 2005.
A quick glance back at James’ 2009 season shows he spent much of the season re-writing the record books for both the RiverHawks and the Frontier League. His 40-game hitting streak earlier in the season, which set the new standard for Frontier League play, was perhaps his most shining accomplishment of 2009, but was in no way his lone highlight.
Not only did James lead the team in batting average, he also was the team leader in home runs (14), hits (129), at-bats (345), runs (60), doubles (26), base-on-balls (49) and on-base percentage (.455).
His assault on the RiverHawks’ record book resulted in his name being atop virtually all the important career offensive categories, including: hits, home runs, runs batted in (RBI), career batting average, doubles and games played.
Brandon Cohen came alive at the plate near the middle of the season. The slugging first baseman and designated hitter finished with a .310 batting average, 7 home runs and and 30 RBI. Doug Sanders finished 2009 as the team leader in RBI with 49, while primarily batting in the second slot in the Rockford batting order.
After joining the team in early August, OF Derek Walker added speed and excitement to a RiverHawks’ lineup that needed both. He finished the season batting .297 and a slugging percentage of .466. His gap-to-gap speed in the outfield cut off many sure doubles, and his strong throwing arm held many runners in place and kept them from advancing.
Kyle Wright provided much of Rockford’s pitching highlights in 2009. Wright finished with a record of 10-6 and an earned run average (ERA) of 2.24. But, after a slow start, Brett Durand finished with an identical 10-6 record and a very respectable 3.81 ERA. With Wright and Durand accounting for nearly half of the team’s win total, it is easy to see the pair clearly separated themselves from the rest of the RiverHawks’ pitching staff.
Now that 2009 is only a memory, the task of preparing for the upcoming 2010 season is all that remains. While the Kalamazoo Kings, Lake Erie Crushers, River City Rascals and Windy City ThunderBolts prepare for post-season play, the Rockford RiverHawks prepare for their first season in the Northern League in 2010.
Personal reflections on the 2009 season
Writing this column allowed me the opportunity to become very familiar with Road Ranger Stadium and the RiverHawks’ staff. It also gave me a fine opportunity to spend the summer in the stands and press box, where I was treated graciously by not just the staff, but fans alike.
As I roamed the stands, I encountered friendly fans always willing to talk baseball, and staff that were more than willing to assist me with any need that arose. So, it is only fitting that in this final column of 2009, I extend a sincere thank you to the RiverHawks organization and the many fans I encountered under the lights of Road Ranger Stadium over the summer.
In particular, a special thanks goes out to Andy, Road Ranger Stadium’s lone, roving beer vendor. This gentleman quenched the thirst of the entire crowd, and always had time to throw up a hand and greet me with a knowing smile. There are not too many things more friendly than being greeted with a personalized hello from the stadium’s beer vendor as soon as you enter the gates. Plus, he has great sideburns. This led to many graduate-level discussions on the concourses (where we both spent a large chunk of our summer) about the fading art of the mutton chop.
From the September 9-15, 2009 issue