SPRING VALLEY, WI - "This isn't good bye. It's see you later."
Endings suck, unless you are getting out of a crappy relationship, finishing a terrible movie or book, or listening to TJ Walenski talk about forming his own baseball team where he would be the starting second baseman, ace pitcher, stud closer, and cleanup hitter all at once. However, like they say, all good things come to an end, right?
For the last 4 months, we have been able to play baseball every weekend (well, almost every weekend. If it were up to me, it would be. However, my wife would probably disown me, kick me out of the house, burn all of my stuff, and then divorce me. She is pretty reasonable...anyway). The baseball season seems to take forever to arrive, it finally shows up, and it seems to be over in a flash. The end. The phrase "time flies as you get older" could not be more true, especially as you get older and life takes you in all sorts of different directions. No matter how quickly something may seem to go, you have to cherish those times. A baseball season with your extended family is exactly that something. Maybe it is because here in Wisconsin we have to sit through what seems like a never-ending winter, who knows. I just know it is too long. However, despite going quickly, the last 4 months were once again some of the best times with some of the best people.
The last time I wrote a "Rumblings from the Diamond", it was April 26th. Almost 4 months later, and it is time for another. A lot has happened in those 4 months. Some of it was filled with joy, triumph, and happiness; some filled with frustration, anger, and disappointment. That is the beautiful thing about the game of baseball. A game based mainly on failure. You have heard all the cliches and such, but they really are true. More often than not, those cliches end up holding serve and being reality.
With that said, our season was not a failure. Not at all. Did we accomplish the goals that we had set out back in January? Absolutely not. Truthfully, only one team gets to do that. The team that ultimately ends up hoisting the WBA State Championship trophy. Yes, our season ended prematurely; much sooner than we had all thought. When you are given a chance to participate in a playoff setting, you know that anything can happen; especially one that is set up like the WBA playoffs, where it is single elimination. One loss and your season is over. You play for 4 months, 26 games and it all ends in 1 game. Just like that.
We finished 16-11 overall, 10-6 in the SCVBL. Good enough for 2nd place in the North division. We actually ended with the same record as the River Falls Fighting Fish, but they held the tiebreaker over us because they beat us twice. We had a chance to win the division on the last day of the regular season. Think about that - what an opportunity. We fell short, however. We failed. But we will be better because of it. For the second time in three years, we qualified for the WBA playoffs. In the 6 years that we have been in the SCVBL, we have made the playoffs twice. Not great, but not bad either, especially considering how lean and how bad we used to be. Seriously, we used to suck. Like, Bad News Bears suck. However, you cannot forget those times either. You cannot forget those times when you lost nearly every time you stepped on the field. If you do, it really does not allow you to appreciate success.
Town baseball is a very fickle thing. In the matter of a season, a team that has been around for years can fold and no longer exist. Guys move on, move away, lose interest, decide to stop playing, whatever. That is why you cannot take this opportunity, this gift, for granted. You really can't. I try and remind our guys of this on a regular basis. The grind, the battle, the hurt, the success that you get to experience with guys that you spend nearly every weekend with for a third of the calendar year is something special. It may not always go the way you hope or plan, but such is life. You cannot take it for granted, ever. As I told the guys after the final out was recorded in our playoff loss to the Eau Claire Bears, the opportunity to play is a wonderful thing. A lot of people don't get that opportunity. However, the truly special part is the chance to build relationships, lifelong friendships, and a baseball family with this group. Every team has their own atmosphere and environment, but the Hawks have something that no team will ever be able to replicate. We truly are a family, a special family (I use special because you can use that term in many different ways).
With all of that said, here are the 2018 season awards. I know the anticipation has been getting to a lot of you. The fans have voiced their thoughts and have placed their votes. There will be no recount on this, no fake news or alternative facts. Here we go:
Offensive MVP: Realistically, this award could have gone to a few different guys. As a team, we had the most success as a lineup and offense than we have ever had, and there were a number of guys that played a factor in that. However, when it came down to it, the winner of this award was Casey Ryan. Despite getting a delayed start on his Hawks season due to finishing his college season at Stout, he was the most consistent offensive threat that we had in 2018. Take into affect that he is a pitcher-only at Stout, and doesn't get to take many cuts during their season, it makes it even more impressive. In 94 plate appearances, Ryan led the team in extra base hits, was second in batting average (.351), and tops in OBP and SLG%. He also hit a HR in his very first at bat of the season. Stud.
Cy Young: While our pitching staff as a whole was rock solid in 2018, this award once again goes to Brandon Walczak. This is the third consecutive season that Walczak takes home this award. The model for competitiveness and consistency. A Lebron-esque run with this award. I don't think much more needs to be said.
Defensive Player of the Year: This one was a close one. At times, the team defense lacked consistency. There would be games where errors would be an issue, almost comical in a sense, and there would be other games where the defense was flawless. Truly a lack of consistency, and a high level of inconsistency. However, one player that was consistent and solid was catcher Zach Hunter. A converted infielder who has been our catcher for a few years now, Hunter is a stud behind the dish. There have been numerous people ask "did he play catcher in college?" while and after watching him. You just look at him and he looks like a catcher. Plus, he's a pretty handsome dude. You have to love a guy who works his ass off behind the plate, and Hunter is someone that our pitchers love pitching to. The only downfall is that he is a Minnesota Vikings fan. Regardless, this one is well deserved.
Newcomer of the Year: While newcomers have been less and less over the last few years as we have continued to build a core group of players, there was a specific one this year that had an immediate impact on this team. Kyle Duex wins this award. As a veteran within the SCVBL having played for River Falls, Duex decided to look elsewhere to play baseball this season and we couldn't be more happy with his decision to join the Hawks. Duex immediately slid in to the 2nd spot in the rotation behind Walczak, and was huge in doing so. Without Duex, the reality is that we don't have the success we had this season. On top of his on the field actions, he was a perfect fit for this team off the field. A rock solid person, someone who fit in perfectly with this motley crew. Plus, the dude kills it on Tinder (single ladies reading this, swipe right on the big guy). However, he DID need a wing man to land a certain rocket during River Falls Days.
Most Improved of the Year: This one was another where there were a few realistic candidates. Multiple guys took another step forward in 2018, having improved on their previous season. However, the fans felt that this one deserved to go to Tim Bott. Bott, another collegiate player at Stout who got a delayed start in his Hawks season, was vastly improved from a season ago. In 30 AB's last year, Bott had 4 hits, 1 RBI, and no extra base hits. A season later, he hit .300 in 40 AB's and was significantly improved behind the plate. In fact, he immediately became Duex's personal catcher. On top of all of that, Bott is our designated team chirper, whether it is at his teammates or opposing players. He also experienced his first Hawks Hayward trip this season and left an immediate impact north of highway 8.
Breakout Player of the Year: A guy that literally doubles his batting average from one season to the next has to be the obvious choice, right? Duh. This one goes to Brady Schroeder. The dude nearly hit .500 in about 50 AB's, had an extra base hit in nearly 30% of his at bats, and was a machine in the outfield. Push that out another 50 AB's, and who knows what happens. All we know is that in his appearances with the team in 2018, he was incredible. Let's just hope there is more frequent appearances in 2019.
Teammate of the Year: Another season, and a new recipient of this award. Some people may think of this award as meaningless, or that it goes to someone who isn't very good at playing baseball. For us, that is about as far from the truth as possible. While this individual saw their role reduced in 2018 from a season ago, that did not stop him from showing up to nearly every practice, game, and team event. Taylor Prey gets this award. His commitment wasn't ignored, and he deserves much praise for maintaining a positive attitude, and being ready whenever his number was called. While it wasn't as often as he would have liked, his experience and calm demeanor (except when he walks someone, then the dude wants to crush a bottle over his head) was a much needed attribute for this team.
Lastly, set your calendar. April 20th, 2019 will be the season opener. Assuming mother nature decides to cooperate this coming winter (she should after the crap she put us through earlier this year). Baseball is alive and well in Spring Valley, and we cannot wait to take the field again in 233 days. Until then, Go Packers and we hope to see you at some of our many fundraisers during the off-season!
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