SPRING VALLEY, WI - As titled, what the heck took so long?
That is an appropriate question to ask, given that the 2017 season ended 52 days ago. For some of us, it feels like 520 days ago. In a season of ups and downs, and ultimately falling short of the goals that were set prior to the 2017 season, it makes the off-season feel that much longer and torturous. Not for all - some enjoy the long winter break, and the time away from the baseball field. However, for some of us, it is like depriving one of food and water. Yes, it is that bad.
Anyway, as mentioned above, the 2017 season was one that did not see the Hawks reach the WBA playoffs for the second consecutive season. Many have asked, "how does an 8-8 record in your league not get you in the playoffs?" Well, that could be for a few different reasons, but that is neither here nor there. The fact is, the Hawks did not do enough to warrant a spot in the 32 field. In reality, that's easy to say, but hard to accept. However, when you leave something in the hands of others and do not take care of your own business, such is the result. As they say, you live and learn.
With that said, there was still plenty of positives to take from the 2017 season, both from an individual and team perspective. There were two guys that reached the 100 career hits plateau. The team accomplished a few of their inner circle goals, and there were plenty of other moments that one can appreciate from a baseball perspective. All was not lost, despite not reaching the postseason.
Before getting to the season end awards, I have to say this again; this season was for our fans, our community, our friends & families, and most of all, our players; past, present, and future. You guys are the bloodline of Hawks baseball; and from the bottom of my heart, I cannot say thank you enough. That sounds cliche, and maybe it is, but it has one hundred percent truth behind it.
Moving on, here are the 2017 season awards as voted by the fans of Hawks Nation. A left handed toast to all of you (only because I am right handed and having my drink it my right hand would get me "buffaloed"), here we go:
Offensive MVP: We start off with one of the closest voting races of the season. While there were a few viable candidates for this award, it came down to the overall spectrum of things. If Camden Hirshfeld did not miss a month of the season due to an ankle injury, he probably garners enough votes to earn this award. However, this award goes to Brett Weinfurter, who led the team in batting average, hits, RBI, doubles, and was second on the team in total bases. Weinfurter hit the gates running, and carried the offense at times during the months of May and June. While he would be the first to humbly admit that he did struggle down the stretch, his overall production was the deciding factor.
Cy Young: This was another tough one to decide upon for the fans. At times, the Hawks arguably had two "number ones" in the rotation between Brandon Walczak and Hunter Black, which made things a bit more relaxing for the skipper (who we all know needs to take a chill pill or just breath once in awhile). This award was ultimately given to Walczak, who led the pitching staff in innings pitched, ERA, strike outs, and comprised an overall record of 4-1. On another note, Walczak led the team in wild pitches with 10, and now holds the career record for most wild pitches with 21 in just two seasons. Incredible.
Defensive Player of the Year: Defense can win or lose you a game. Simple, right? But it is truth. We have seen teams win a championship because they did not commit errors. We have also seen teams lose games at the highest level for failing to make the routine play. When fully healthy, which seemed to be never this past season, you would expect the Hawks to field a solid defensive team. A significant part of that is the middle of the diamond, particularly shortstop Joey Helmer. When Helmer was away due to military obligations during the month of June, it was evident (no Scott, this isn't a shot at you. Joey is just a better shortstop). All things considered, when you watch Helmer play shortstop, it makes this choice seem obvious.
Newcomer of the Year: This one did come as a bit of a surprise to some, but Taylor Prey was the deserving winner of this award. Prey was a significant pickup for the Hawks after losing a couple key contributors on the mound from a season ago, and he did so as a two-way player. Prey contributed on the mound and at the plate this year, and found his role with the Hawks quite quickly. When you look at Prey in his everyday life of wearing cutoff shirts and glitter-filled jeans with shit kicking boots, you wouldn't expect it; but the guy has cajones like Vin Diesel in a Fast & Furious movie.
Most Improved Player of the Year: Easy. This one was a runaway with Hunter Black being the recipient of such award. While Black had an important role with the Hawks a season ago, his role increased exponentially in 2017 both on the mound and at the plate. Black also played a steady second and third base for the Hawks. Black was second on the team in innings pitched, led the pitching staff with 5 wins, second on the team in strikeouts, and pitched in numerous big games for the Hawks. Black also slashed an impressive .324/.412/.353 at the plate, including a 4-for-4 game earlier in the year that ultimately was the difference in the Hawks winning.
Breakout Player of the Year: While the 2017 season did not see anyone have a breakout season like Casey Ryan or Michael Wesner did in 2016, the fans felt that there was one individual that took steps forward. That player is Aaron Rodewald. After missing most of the 2016 season due to internship obligations (as if that is more important than baseball), Rodewald established himself as a regular in the Hawks lineup. Rodewald improved his defensive abilities behind the plate, and set a career high in batting average and tied his career high in hits this past season; making him a solid choice for this award.
Teammate of the Year: This award seems to go to a different individual every season, and this season is no different. The fans voiced their opinions, and thought that Scott Sayles was most deserving of this title and award. As the self proclaimed "captain" of the Hawks (just kidding Scott, you are), Sayles has taken over the leadership role for the hometown nine. His display of toughness, both physically and mentally, along with his ability to keep things loose in the dugout and on the field (like telling his fellow pitcher to kindly f-off) are appreciated by his fellow teammates and manager. Now the question is: will he ever show up to a Hawks offseason fundraising event?
Lastly - the countdown is on. Only 206 more days until the 2018 season opener. May your off-season be filled with good health, happiness, and the Green Bay Packers winning the Super Bowl. Thank you Hawks Nation!
Make sure to follow the Spring Valley Hawks on Facebook & Twitter for more off-season news, announcements, fundraising events, 2018 schedule notes, and more!