25 Feb New Look to Miners 2022 Schedule
New Opponents, New Divisions, New “Sudden Death Rule”
There will be a steady stream of new opponents making their first-ever appearances at Skylands Stadium this summer, beginning the opening weekend of the season when last year’s league champs, the Schaumburg Boomers, travel 790 miles from their Chicago suburb to face the Sussex County Miners in a three-game series.
Last year – the Miners’ first in the Frontier League – Covid issues severely limited travel and match-ups.
This year, it’s a whole new ballgame.
In addition to the Boomers, other first-time visitors to Augusta this year will include the Joliet Slammers, Frontier Greys and Evansville Otters.
And, among the Miners’ first-ever road destinations will be the longest trip in team history – a total of 2,225 miles – traveling 1,020 miles to central Illinois to play the Gateway Grizzlies, then 355 miles from there to a Cincinnati suburb in Kentucky to visit the Florence Y’Alls, followed by the 650-mile route from Florence back home to Sussex County.
Another first-time road trip this summer will send the locals 1,550 miles round-trip to play the Lake Erie Crushers (in a beach town 10 miles west of Cleveland) and the Windy City Thunderbolts (25 miles southwest of Chicago).
Until now, the Miners’ longest road trip each year in the old Can-Am League was 513 miles to Quebec.
Of course, in addition to all these new opponents, old rivals will be back in town, too, including a home-and-home Garden State Series against the New Jersey Jackals on the weekend leading up to the Fourth of July. Overall, the Miners and Jackals will face each other 12 times this year and will end the 96-game regular season with a three-game series at Skylands Sept. 2-4.
The schedule looks very different than in past years, but the rosters in both dugouts will, as usual, include some returning players, some players acquired in trades and some young rookies taking their first steps on a professional diamond. And, as always, the league dictates how many rookies, experienced players and “veterans” each team must have under contract.
Most recently, on Feb. 4, the Miners signed 27-year-old infielder Randy Cesar, who reached the Triple-A level with the Minnesota Twins in 2019.
“Sudden Death” Comes to Extra Innings
First, there was the “International Tiebreaker Rule,” designed to shorten the length of games. That innovation placed a runner at second base to start extra innings. Then, last year, there was the addition of a “Home Run Derby,” created to settle a game’s outcome once and for all when the tiebreaker rule failed to produce a final score.
But managers and fans agreed in their dislike for home runs deciding outcomes.
Now, in 2022, forget about the home run derby.
Instead, it’s welcome to “Sudden Death,” formally adopted by the Frontier League on Jan. 24.
After regulation play, teams will again play one inning under the international tiebreaker rule to try to settle the score. But, if the game is still tied after that extra inning, then it’s time to go to sudden death.
The home-team manager will choose to go on offense or defense. Offense will start with a runner on first base (not second base) and if offense scores a run, then offense wins the game; if defense records three outs without any scoring, then defense wins the game. That’s it. End of story. That one half-inning will decide who wins.
New Standings, Playoff Formats
Last year, the Miners played in one of four league divisions. This year, there will be just two divisions – East and West.
Last year, the four division champions qualified for the postseason playoffs. This year, six teams will qualify – the top three in the East and the top three in the West.
In the new format, the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in each division will play a single wild-card game on Sept. 6. Then, beginning on Sept. 8, the wild-card winners will play the division champs in a best-of-3 Division Series.
Finally, the winners of those two division series will advance to play in a best-of-5 League Championship Series to begin on Sept. 13.
One Less Team
This year, the Miners will be the only Miners in the Frontier League. Remember the Southern Illinois Miners? They played last year in Marion, Ill., two hours southeast of St. Louis.
But, the midwesterners have gone out of business.
Owners John and Jayne Simmons have retired after reviving baseball in Marion in 2007 with a Frontier League expansion team at brand-new Rent One Park.
All Southern Illinois players became free agents last October.
Sussex Schedule Nitty-Gritty
— As the Miners enter their seventh season at Skylands Stadium, and manager Bobby Jones begins his sixth year in the Miners dugout, the team will play 51 home games and 45 road games in 2022. Twelve of those home games will come against the Greys, a travelling team (with no home field) created (but not included in the standings) to round out the East Division schedule.
— Last year, the Miners were in the “Northeast Division,” which was won by the Washington Wild Things, who then won a first-round playoff series before losing to the Boomers in the league championship. This year, Sussex County is in the “East Division,” while Washington (PA) plays in the “West Division.”
— Odd twist: The Miners play in one of only three games on the league’s opening night, Thursday, May 12, traveling to Pomona, N.Y., to face the New York Boulders. After that single game, the team is back in Augusta the next night to host those champion Boomers. The Miners return for another single game in New York on the Fourth of July, one of only four league games on the holiday since it falls on a Monday, normally a league-wide day off.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Trentonian.