21 Sep 2022 Season in Review
It was another great summer of baseball in a great little Field of Dreams ballpark next to North Jersey corn fields, a time for little kids with wide eyes to see their first pro games and for grandmas and grandpas to be magically young again thanks to the crack of the bat and the sweet smell of mustard in the air at sunset. But, 2022 was another year, just like the previous year, that the Miners seemed to be headed to the Frontier League playoffs, only to be knocked out of the race again in the final days of the season.
When they took the field on the road in Quebec on Aug. 26, the Miners were all alone in second place in the East Division standings, which would have meant home field advantage in the postseason wild-card game. But, they lost that night, 10-9, on an unearned run in the 10th inning and that was the beginning of the end to their playoff hopes.
They lost another extra-inning one-run game the next night, too, falling 4-3 on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th. They wound up winning the third game of the series, but they followed that up by losing 2-of-3 at Tri-City. Meanwhile, New York was finishing the year with a 12-game winning streak and Ottawa was going 9-1 down the stretch to overtake Sussex County and claim second and third place, respectively, leaving the Miners to finish fourth and out of the playoff race.
They’d been right there in the hunt for the entire season, mostly thanks to pitching that ranged from excellent to spectacular, and it all began with a pair of 24-year-old righthanders born two weeks apart, who formed the league’s most formidable 1-2 punch in a starting rotation. Similar? For sure. Both John Baker and Dwayne Marshall finished the year with identical 2.67 ERAs. Baker went 12-2; Marshall was 11-3. Baker tied for first in the league in wins and also posted this amazing stat: 122 strikeouts with just 19 walks.
Lefty reliever Robert Klinchock was the standout in the pen, making 34 appearances with a 2.85 ERA, while late addition Tyler Thornton helped out late in the season with 15 appearances and a neat 1.74 ERA. It all added up to make the Miners the fourth best staff in the league with a final team ERA of 4.09. They were also second best in the league in limiting walks, handing out 295 compared to Ottawa’s league-low total of 288.
On the opposite ledger, Sussex was No. 2 in the league at drawing walks, gaining 448 free passes, right behind No. 1 Schaumburg, that drew 469. Aside from walks, the Miners’ other outstanding offensive accomplishment was on the basepaths, where they led the league by a large margin with 203 stolen bases – one steal short of the league’s all-time single-season record.
As for actual hitting, that’s where the locals struggled since Opening Day, though some late season roster moves did provide some late season punch. The Miners would finish 12th in the league with a team batting average of .260, and 15th in the league in home runs with 74, beating out only the vagabond Empire State Greys who finished the year with just 48 homers to go with their 6-90 last-place record. Tri-City led the league with 162 home runs, while the Miners’ Garden State rivals, the New Jersey Jackals, were No. 1 in the league with a .295 team batting average.
For the second straight year, Martin Figueroa was both Mr. Reliable and Mr. Productive for Sussex, appearing in 91 games and posting a .305 average while leading the team with 99 hits, 70 runs, 20 doubles 66 walks and 68 RBI. He also stole 24 bases, getting caught stealing just twice.
The Miners lost the services of shortstop Errol Robinson on July 29 when his contract was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time, Robinson was batting .312 and was tied for the team lead with 22 stolen bases.
New faces began appearing in Augusta right after that. Five new players arrived over a 30 day period and all five made immediate positive impacts at the plate, with three of them continuing at a high pace for the rest of the year.
Juan Silverio, a Dominican third baseman who’d played minor-league ball for the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds, wound up batting .347 over the Miners’ final 38 games; Yanio Perez, a Cuban first baseman who’d played on Texas Rangers farm teams, batted .340 over the final 30 games, and 23-year-old Alex Toral, fresh out of Florida State University, batted .284 with 11 home runs in 34 games.
Sussex had opened the season winning three straight series against West Division opponents before being swept on the road by the Windy City ThunderBolts. In mid-June, they put together a six-game winning streak – their longest of the year – then won a series over eventual champion Quebec, then swept playoff-bound Ottawa.
From then on, the Miners would win a series or two, then lose a series or two, never building any true momentum. Still, they won enough to stay in the East Division playoff race until the very end, until that loss in Quebec on Aug. 26 began their fall. The final nail to the season came on the final Friday night of the year: Still clinging to a playoff hope but also needing help from other teams, the Miners suffered a no-hitter loss to the Jackals that would close the books and end any mathematical machinations that would have sent Sussex to the postseason.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.