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Friday, April 18, 2014         

LIFE IN THE MINORS


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Acey and Jackson contribute right away

By Brendan Sagara

POSTED:



With a little more than 20 games remaining, the season's home stretch is just about here.

Having won the first half in the Golden Baseball League's South Division, our postseason spot is already secured, but the desire to win the second half title is still strong. It would help us secure home-field advantage for the playoffs.

Entering last night's matchup with a one-game lead in our division over the Orange County Flyers, we still held our fate in our own hands, and we certainly helped ourselves with a 4-1 win over the Yuma Scorpions.

As expected this time of year, all of the teams in our league are looking for players to acquire to help them down the stretch. With only two teams secure with postseason berths, the dogfight among the remaining eight teams for the final two spots has grown fierce.

Just like in the big leagues, teams at our level look for a difference-maker, a middle-of-the-order hitter or a playoff starter to put them over the top in their quest for the championship.

Orange County signed former National League All-Star righty Mark Prior this past week, while the Calgary Vipers picked up former big league arm Mac Suzuki, fresh off leading the Triple-A Mexican League in ERA.

Having a ballclub with playoff security and strong team chemistry, we have been keeping our eyes open in case the right player or players become available. With one of our starting outfielders slumping bad, and a hole at first base due to injury, manager Cory Snyder and I knew we had needs to fill, but also realized it had to be the right kind of guy, both on and off the field.

With winning comes security, and our ballclub has had the most stable roster throughout the season, with 19 of the 22 players we opened spring training with still on our roster.

Needless to say, our chemistry in the clubhouse and on the field has been well established. Adding slugger Jermy Acey and speedy outfieler Travon Jackson were the right moves for our club.

Veteran Acey was an easy choice to bring in to play first for us. A .304 career hitter in his eighth minor league season, Acey was batting .373 in our league for the St. George Roadrunners when we acquired him. But the clincher was the reports on Acey's makeup we received from our left fielder, Mark Okano, who won a GBL title in 2008 with our new slugger.

Jackson was a pretty safe bet, too, as I coached him with the Southern Illinois Miners last season, along with our third baseman Mike Higa and our starting second baseman Gered Mochizuki. In addition to that, Jackson was also a member of the 2008 Flyers, along with Okano and Acey.

Because of those ties, our two newest players jumped right into the mix and have already paid dividends. Acey slugged a three-run homer in our series opener against Yuma on Wednesday night, and added a double and a single to finish with six RBIs for the evening.

The former Toronto Blue Jays farmhand added a formidable veteran bat in the three-hole in our batting order, filling the void created when Keoni Ruth was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies a couple of weeks ago.

Jackson made his debut against the Edmonton Capitals and began his stint with our club by gunning down a runner at home from left field and slashing two base hits, adding a stolen base to boot.

In Jackson, we have a guy who grinds out at-bat after at-bat, runs the bases well, tracks the ball in the outfield as well as anyone and also has a strong throwing arm with accuracy.

Our other recent addition, backup corner infielder Chester Wilson has also been a good fit.

A Saint Louis School alumnus, Wilson is no stranger to the guys in our clubhouse, including nine players from Hawaii who have played with or against him at some point in time.

I don't know what the next month of baseball will hold for us. All I do know is that we will play in the postseason. How far we go will depend on how well we continue to play our brand of baseball -- winning with pitching and defense and a batting order that handles the bat and runs well.

I can't wait to find out.

Brendan Sagara, a Leilehua and Hawaii-Hilo product, is the pitching coach for Na Koa Ikaika, Maui's team in the Golden Baseball League.






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