09 Jun Stealing Bases at Record Pace
Over the first three weeks of the season, the Sussex County Miners have made one thing perfectly clear to the rest of the Frontier League: They’re going to be stealing bases like brazen criminals every chance they get.
In fact, if they stay anywhere near their current pace, this year’s Miners would crush the league record for thefts set just last year by the Windy City ThunderBolts.
Those Bolts swiped 204 bases. So far this year, including last night’s 12-0 loss to the New York Boulders, the Miners have stolen 57 bases in 23 games, which puts them on a target for 237 steals over the course of the 96-game season.
The Miners currently lead the league in the category, followed by Washington (42), Windy City (37) and Schaumburg (34). At the opposite end of the scale, Lake Erie has stolen just 11 bases so far this year; Trois-Rivieres 13.
Outfielder Nilo Rijo has sparked Sussex on the basepaths since coming off the injured list on May 26.
After missing the first 12 games, in 11 games since then, Rijo has stolen 10 bases to rank third in the league, while being caught just once. Usually batting ninth in the order, Rijo, who’s played all three outfield positions – and second base last night – has been hot at the plate, as well, batting .323 and giving the team a rocking one-two punch as he’s followed in the batting order by leadoff man Mikey Reynolds, who’s sporting a .338 average with eight steals.
Tied with Rijo with 10 steals is Miners center fielder Jawuan Harris, who’s done it the hard way. While Rijo is batting .323, Harris is batting .172 in 19 games, and with just 12 walks, he’s been on base much less than Rijo.
And, while Rijo, Harris and Reynolds have led the way, left fielder/third baseman Martin Figueroa has complemented his .320 batting average with eight steals, and shortstop Errol Robinson has added seven more.
If Rijo stays at his current pace over the remaining 73 games on the schedule, he could make a run at the league’s individual record for stolen bases – 71 set in 2012 by Darian Sandford.
Different Challenges Coming Up
Today’s Skylands Stadium matinee against New York marks the end of the first quarter of the 2022 regular season, and the three-game series concludes Thursday night. On Friday night, the Miners will take the field 450 miles away in Trois-Rivieres, Canada, to open a weekend series against the Aigles.
After that, it’s right back home to Augusta for an interesting week ahead.
First, the currently winless Empire State Greys come to town for a first-ever visit next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. After last night’s 11-2 loss at Quebec, the Greys fell to 0-22.
With no home field to call their own, the Greys were formed by the league this year to round out the eight-team East Division, playing all of their games on the road and currently ranking last in virtually every statistical category, not to mention in the standings.
The Greys will pose an odd challenge if they’re still winless when they visit Sussex. Then, the Miners will face a totally different challenge when the first-place Quebec Capitales show up for a three-game series sporting the best record in the league. Right now, they’re 18-4 (.818) and winners of nine of their last 10 games.
But, whether they’re facing the league’s best or the league’s worst, the Miners will be trying to improve their own performance at the plate, where they’re currently ranked 14th in the league with a team batting average of .247, leading only the Greys (.196) and Windy City (.239). The Washington Wild Things – in first place in the West Division – lead the league with a .297 team average.
The Miners could also use more pop in the box, currently ranked next to last in the league with12 home runs, leading only the Greys, who’ve hit nine long balls. The New Jersey Jackals are currently first in home runs with 31.
Schedule Turns a Page
Until now, the Miners have played 15 games against West Division opponents and just eight against their own rivals in the East, but that’s about to change in a big way.
In the first weeks of the schedule, the locals have already faced Schaumburg, Washington, Lake Erie, Windy City and Joliet. For the next two months, however, it’ll be nothing but East Division opponents. They’ll get one more taste of West Division competition at the end of July when they face Evansville, Gateway and Florence in three-game series.
— After hosting Quebec next week, Sussex will play the Capitales in two more series this season, another one at Skylands and one in Canada.
— The Miners will face the vagabond Greys a total of 12 times in 2022, all at Skylands.
— As for the Garden State rivalry, the Miners will play the New Jersey Jackals for the first time on July 1. They’ll meet up 12 times overall, six at home and six down in Little Falls.
By Carl Barbati, former sports editor of the New Jersey Herald, Daily Record and The Daily Trentonian.
PHOTO CREDIT : Phil Hoops