13 May Champs in Town to Open
No matter what, this would have been a big weekend at Skylands Stadium.
It’s the start of a new baseball season and, as always, hope springs eternal.
It’s a new season, and even the old are young. There is no history, only a future of timely hits, well-pitched gems, walk-off home runs, pink sunsets over the surrounding corn fields and the sweet smell of mustard in the summer evening air.
But this Opening Weekend is extra large. The league champion Schaumburg Boomers are in town, and it’s the first time they’ve ever been here.
Last year was the first season for the Sussex County Miners to play in the Frontier League. a partner league of Major League Baseball and the oldest, most prestigious independent league in the U.S. But Covid severely limited travel and match-ups.
This year, it’s a whole new ballgame. The calendar is busy with first-time opponents all over the 96-game schedule from May to September. So, here come those Boomers, who went 51-45 in 2021.
They won the Frontier League crown last year and they’ve traveled 800 miles from a Chicago suburb to open the Miners home season at Skylands, where fans will notice an all-new infield at the ballpark.
“I told them I wanted it to be as good as Yankee Stadium,” said team owner Al Dorso. “We had all kinds of outside consultants and other people in to work on it, and that’s all I kept telling them.”
The Boomers arrive in Augusta with less boom than they had last year. Their big bopper from 2021 signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Tigers in March.
This weekend, 27-year-old Quincy Nieporte will be playing first base or designated hitter for the Tigers’ Double-A Erie SeaWolves in a road game against the Akron RubberDucks, representing the Cleveland Indians.
With Schaumburg last season, Nieporte led the team with a .343 batting average and 17 home runs, then batted .344 in the postseason, where the Boomers topped the Florence Y’Alls and the Washington Wild Things to claim the league crown.
A native of Bayville, N.Y., Nieporte was selected out of Florida State University by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 26th round of the 2017 draft. He played in the Phils’ farm system for two years, joining the Boomers in 2019, when he hit .315 in 84 games.
Mikey, Figgy Lead Miners Win in Opener at New York
Maybe the Frontier League just didn’t want to open the entire league season on Friday the Thirteenth.
In any case, there were only three games on the early-opening May 12 schedule last night, and the Miners took advantage of the prime-time premiere with an 8-4 victory over the New York Boulders in front of 4,512 fans at Clover Stadium, in Pomona, N.Y.
Batting leadoff and playing second base, Mikey Reynolds went 4-for-5 with a home run, and left fielder Martin Figueroa was 3-for-4 with four RBI to lead the way.
It was a quick 55-mile trip east across the state border for Sussex County and 26-year-old Michael Mediavilla was on the mound, after making 38 relief appearances with a 3.27 ERA for the team last year. In this one, he sure looked like a starting pitcher, going six innings and leaving the scene with a 7-4 lead.
Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers out of the University of Miami in 2018, the 6-foot-5 left-handed Mediavilla gave way in the top of the seventh to Robert Klinchock, another lefty and a former Detroit Tigers farmhand.
The Miners had been losing, 3-1, in the top of the third inning when Reynolds hit a solo home run to cut New York’s lead to 3-2. And Reynolds would come up big in the top of the fifth, as well, tying the score with a one-out RBI base hit. Right fielder Justin Washington followed that with a beauty of a bunt single, then Figueroa brought them both home with a double to left-center to put Sussex County on top, 5-3.
New York cut it to 5-4, but Miners catcher Isaias Quiroz smacked a solo home run and Errol Robinson’s fielder’s choice plated Reynolds (after his third hit) in the top of the seventh to make it 7-4. Reynolds rapped his fourth hit in the top of the ninth and Figueroa delivered his third hit and fourth RBI for an 8-4 Miners lead.
— Infielder Kaleo Johnson, who hit .317 in 67 games last year, was placed on the Inactive List on May 6. Also placed on the Inactive List that day was Yu Sato, a 23-year-old pitcher from Nihon University, in Japan.
— Outfielder Nilo Rijo was placed on the 14-day Injured List on May 12. After a big start, he was out for most of last season with a compound fracture of his ankle.
— Pitcher Billy Layne Jr. went on the 7-day Injured List on May 8. He was 5-5 in 14 starts last season.
— Pitcher Jalen Miller Sr. was traded to the Lexington Legends, of the Atlantic League, on April 9 for a player to be named later. He was in 40 games last year, going 5-3 with a 3.06 ERA in six starts and 34 relief appearances.
— Outfielder Chuck Taylor was traded to the Cleburne Railroaders, of the American Association, for future considerations on Feb. 9. Last year, he appeared in all 95 Miners games, hitting .340 and leading the team in runs, hits, home runs, RBI and stolen bases.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.