POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 3, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:26 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011
So far, things have gone quite well for the Winnipeg Goldeyes. At 27-18, we are a game out of first place in the North Division standings, and have the third-best overall record in the 14-team American Association.
Coming into the season, we knew we needed veteran shortstop Wes Long. Wes and I go back to 2007, when we worked together to win a Frontier League championship with the Windy City Thunderbolts. Wes and I formed a quick bond that season and stayed in contact ever since, probably talking to each other a couple of times a week in offseasons over the years.
So when Winnipeg manager Rick Forney called me after I got back to Oahu from my season coaching on Maui last summer, the first call I made after I spoke with my wife about the offer was to Wes.
Wes has played in Winnipeg for the past three seasons, save a stint late last year when he was acquired by the Florida Marlins to finish their season in the South Atlantic League.
As he was at Windy City, Wes is one of the centerpieces of our ballclub this season. When he re-injured his left wrist late in spring training, it was obvious that losing Wes from our lineup would take its toll.
Our talented second-year pro Price Kendall stepped in for Wes and was capable at shortstop with Wes on the mend. But moving Kendall from second required us to make a number of other moves.
Personally, I missed watching Wes play over the years. A consummate pro, Wes possesses a vital combination of skills and traits that is very hard to find in professional baseball. He is a solid and well-rounded offensive player who can hit, can run and knows how to play the game.
But what has always impressed me most about Wes is his ability to zone in and have great at-bats with runners in scoring position. Some players just have a knack for having productive at-bats in those situations, and Wes is surely one of them. In Windy City in 2007, we had Wes hit in front of our slugging first baseman Phil Hawke, and it was no coincidence that Hawke drove in a career-high 78 RBIs that season.
After sitting and rehabbing for the first couple of weeks of the season, Wes finally returned to action for us on May 21.
Early on, the rust showed, but two weeks ago, we finally saw Wes turn the corner. He went 4-for-4 with three RBIs in our 9-2 win over Kansas City here in Winnipeg, and has been an RBI machine for us ever since. Over the past 16 games, Wes has recorded 16 RBIs — including 13 over our past six contests.
In our series finale in Kansas City on Friday, Wes made a highlight-reel play for us to help preserve our win in the bottom of the ninth, going deep into the six hole behind the third baseman on a hard hit ground ball, and picked, jumped and threw in one motion to record the out on a missile of a throw to first base.
Wes was back and I joked with him about it after the game to let him know that he finally showed up. With Wes' success, our team has found consistent wins, and it is no coincidence.
If we are to do anything this season, Wes will certainly have to be a big part of it.
Brendan Sagara, a former Leilehua and Hawaii-Hilo pitcher, is a veteran minor league pitching coach in his first year with the Winnipeg Goldeyes.