Martin Figueroa Returns - Sussex County Miners
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Martin Figueroa Returns

Martin Figueroa Returns

Figueroa Returns After Leading the League

     Third baseman Martin Figueroa led the entire Frontier League with a .352 batting average last year, and he’ll be back in the lineup when the Sussex County Miners open the 2022 season on May 12.

     Kaleo Johnson will be back, too, after ranking ninth in the league with a mark of .317 for the team that finished last year No. 2 in the league in hitting at .281. 

     And, don’t forget ironman shortstop Cito Culver, who played in all 95 Miners games last year, posting a .275 batting average and leading the team in walks.

     Those three players could form the heart of the order when preseason training camp opens at Skylands Stadium on May 3. In the meantime, manager Bobby Jones will be looking to reinforce a pitching staff that was 10th out of 14 teams last year with an ERA of 5.03.

     As for Figueroa, the 26-year-old from Elizabeth has had two shots with major league organizations, but received limited opportunities to show what he could do.

     Drafted by the Houston Astros out of the University of Rhode Island in 2017, they sent him to the rookie-level Appalachian League, where he appeared in 21 games and batted a solid .273. But that wasn’t enough for him to stick.

     So, Figueroa came to Skylands in 2018 and played a full season – appearing in 96 games and batting .328.

     That earned him him a second big league look with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019, but again his chances were limited, appearing in just 35 games at the Class-A level Again, he looked good batting .282, but again it was not enough to remain.

     After Covid wiped out the 2020 season, Figueroa returned to the Miners last year to produce his best numbers yet.

Big Time Opening Weekend

     Since they first took the field in 2015, the Miners have enjoyed six opening days at their previously abandoned ballpark in Augusta. And this will be one for the books for several reasons.

     First, after playing in the modest Can-Am League, this one will be in America’s biggest, oldest and most prestigious independent league, the Frontier League. True, the team had joined the league before last year’s start, but Covid forced last year’s schedule to be severely limited.

     This time, it’s full speed ahead, with new visitors coming to town and new travel plans from start to finish.

     The Miners will play in one of only three league games to open the season on May 12, traveling to Pomona, NY, to face the New York Boulders. After that Thursday night game, the team comes home to Skylands for the first weekend of the year and the first-ever visit by the Schaumburg Boomers, last year’s league champs.

     Traveling 790 miles from a Chicago suburb, the Boomers will be without last year’s top hitter, Quincy Nieporte, who signed an offseason contract with the Detroit Tigers and is currently playing with that organization’s Double-A Erie Sea Wolves.

     The season-opening weekend begins Friday night a 7:05, followed by a 6:05 fireworks-night game on Saturday and a series finale Sunday afternoon at 2:05.

Former Miner Moving Up

     The last time that popular infielder Trey Hair was seen in Augusta was last June. After the 15th game of the year, his contract was purchased by the Texas Rangers, who sent him to their High-A Hickory Crawdads in North Carolia.

     He’s was promoted earlier this month to the Rangers’ Double-A Frisco RoughRiders, in Frisco, TX, 30 miles north of Dallas, where he arrived in time to play in five games so far – three at third base and two at second base.

     Turning 27 on April 21, Hair first joined the Miners in 2019, batting .324 in 94 games. He’d been a 34th round draft pick of Tamba Bay in 2017.

By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Trentonian.