24 May Strong Start, then long Road Trip
If the first 10 games of this 2022 season gave an insight into this year’s Sussex County Miners, their 7-3 record showed a team with a deep and much improved pitching staff, an impressive top of the batting order and a lineup that’s going to be stealing bases at every opportunity.
And that 7-3 mark was just one defensive out away from being 8-2 except for a heartbreaker of a walk-off loss on the road this past Sunday afternoon in the second game of a doubleheader against the Lake Erie Crushers.
The Miners had won the first game of the day behind veteran righty Vin Mazzaro and held a 1-0 lead into the final inning of the nightcap behind the big lefty, Michael Mediavilla, who was making just his third professional start on the mound.
Mediavilla came out to pitch the seventh and final inning and gave up a base hit to the leadoff batter, which ended his day after he’d thrown 92 pitches. Minutes later and with two outs, the Crushers came up with a run-scoring double and a run-scoring single to take a 2-1 victory.
That prevented the Miners from pulling off a sweep at Mercy Health Stadium, their first-ever visit to the beach town of Avon, Ohio, 26 miles west of Cleveland.
From there, the team traveled another 320 miles farther west to another Great Lake suburb of Crestwood, Ill., 22 miles outside of Chicago, for a three-game series against another first-time West Division opponent, the Windy City ThunderBolts.
All three games there, at Ozinga Field, were scheduled for 10:35 a.m., then the locals will conclude the longest trip in team history with a 750-mile return trip to Augusta to face yet another first-time West Division team, the Joliet Slammers, beginning this Thursday night at Skylands Stadium.
All these new opponents and all this new travel is due to the Miners joining the Frontier League last year. The schedule, however, was severely limited by Covid in 2021, delaying most of the new matchups until this season.
So far, over the first 10 games, three Sussex County players have sprinted to the top layer of league hitters: Veteran infielders Mikey Reynolds and Cito Culver are batting .382 and .357, respectively, while outfielder Martin Figueroa, who led the league last year, is off to a .351 start.
Meanwhile, on the basepaths, Justin Washington and Errol Robinson are among the league leaders with six steals apiece; Jawuan Harris has five swipes and Reynolds and Figueroa have four apiece.
Strike One, Strike Two…
With a former Major League pitcher like Bobby Jones as manager, it might be expected that the Miners pitching staff would be effective and efficient, and that’s certainly been the case.
Start with Mediavilla, the former reliever who currently leads the team with three starts.
He pitched the season opener and gave up four earned runs in six innings with seven strikeouts and zero walks, leaving the game with a 5-4 lead and picking up the “W.” He was even better in his second start on May 17, going 6 2/3 with one earned run, another six Ks and, again, no walks. That was 13 Ks and zero walks.
A 26-year-old from Hialeah, Fla., Mediavilla was drafted out of the University of Miami by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 34th round of the 2018 draft. And the 6-foot-5 lefty did exceptionally well with Brewers’ farm teams in 2018 and 2019, but fell victim to a numbers crunch and the Covid shutdown.
With two rookie teams in 2018, he made 22 relief appearances and posted an ERA of 0.59 with 31 strikeouts and five walks. And, in 2019, promoted to Class A, he worked 19 2/3 innings with 20 Ks, two walks and a 0.92 ERA.
Seemingly incredible numbers, but not enough to stick. With 2020 a Covid washout, he joined the Miners in 2021 and made 38 relief appearances, finishing with a 3.27 ERA with 52 Ks and just 13 walks in 44 innings pitched.
In addition to Mediavilla, other hurlers have started strong in 2022:
— Dwayne Marshall is already 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA, with 12 strikeouts and just two walks.
— Conner Dand is 1-0, 2.16 ERA, 11 Ks and three walks.
— John Baker is 1-1 in six relief appearances, 1.29 ERA, eight Ks and zero walks.
League Makes Baseball History
It happened last week when the Windy City ThunderBolts were hosting the Ottawa Titans.
The game was tied 3-3 after nine innings, and still tied after the international tie-breaking rule was used in the 10th.
That set the stage for the first-ever sudden death ending in pro baseball history.
The homestanding Bolts had the choice to play offense or defense and chose defense. The Titans were allowed a baserunner at first base. If the Titans could score a run, they would win. If the Bolts could record three outs without yielding a run, then they would win, and that’s what happened. The Bolts won the game with the official score of 3-3.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.