Springdale, AR - Historic achievements were built-in to the Naturals 2013 All Star Season long before Noel Arguelles took the mound to face the Midland Rockhounds on the sixth Opening Day Arvest Ballpark has hosted. But 140 games, and one nationally-televised grand exhibition later, the season that ensued put an indelible mark on franchise history that no one could have predicted.
The Naturals were grateful hosts and been afforded the opportunity to provide the memories of the 77th Annual Texas League All Star Game, presented by Castrol. The game, and the Tyson Foods Home Run Derby were both broadcasted nationally on Time Warner Cable Sports and featured seven representative of the host city: 1B Matt Fields, SS Orlando Calixte, INF Angel Franco, INF Rey Navarro, OF Roman Hernandez, INF Mitch Canham, RHP Santiago Garrido, and RHP Yordano Ventura. The festivities formally kicked off at the South Indoor Club at Razorback Stadium which featured a discussion with Royals Hall of Famer Willie Wilson. The next day the Texas League All-Star and Club Executives took park in a myriad of events in Northwest Arkansas including 18-holes at the Springdale Country Club and a Fortune-100 tour of the Walmart Home Office and Tyson Foods Headquarters.
Naturals Slugger Matt Fields sat atop the Home Run leaderboard for much of the season, and as a late replacement, clubbed 23 homeruns in two rounds en route to winning the Tyson Foods Homerun Derby. Top Minor League Prospect and eventual League MVP George Springer belted two homeruns for the South Division All-Stars and took home MiLB.com's Top Star Award as the game's MVP.
Individual achievements also highlighted the 2013 campaign. On June 27th at Arvest Ballpark, Right-hander Brooks Pounders tossed the first complete-game No-Hitter in Naturals History. Matt Fields and Relievers Zach Jackson and Jon Keck made Naturals history in three different categories. On August 20th in Springfield, Matt Fields hit his thirtieth homerun of the year breaking Clint Robinson's three-year-old Single Season Homerun Record. He finished with 31. Left-hander Zach Jackson established the Naturals new Single Season Saves record by converting 21 opportunities shattering RHP Chris Hayes' 2008 mark of 15 saves. Left-hander Jon Keck set the new appearances mark by pitching in 45 games this season, two more than LHP Brendan Lafferty's total from a year ago.
The All Star Season also saw the longest game in Naturals history and the most runs the teams has ever scored in a game. On August 20th, the same night Fields broke the Single Season Homerun Record and with the Naturals squarely in the playoff picture, the team scored 21 runs at Hammons Field against the Springfield Cardinals. On May 11th, also in Springfield, the Naturals defeated the Cardinals 5-4 in 20 innings in a game that took 5 hours and 38 minutes to resolve. Both set franchise records.
After enjoying the fruits of Kansas City's top offensive prospects that have reached the majors in recent years, this season the Naturals got a sneak-peak of what's expected from a pitching perspective. Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer did not cross paths in Northwest Arkansas this season, but the Organization's top pitching prospects nearly picked up where the other left off. 22-year-old Yordano Ventura earned the nickname "Ace", by striking out 74 batters in 57⅔ innings going 3-2 with a 2.34 ERA in 11 starts before his early June promotion to AAA. 21-year-old Kyle Zimmer was promoted to Northwest Arkansas three weeks later and mostly dazzled in his four starts going 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 18⅔ innings allowing just 11 hits and five walks.
Battling through a season in which the team had five losing streaks of five or more, including a 2-18 stretch in May, a rough start halted hopes of a 1st Half Division Championship. Brian Poldberg though, in his sixth season as Naturals manager, guided the team to within striking distance of the franchise's fifth 2nd Half Division Championship. Sitting just a game behind the division leading Travelers with a three game set in North Little Rock to finish the season, there was a playoff atmosphere before a sellout crowd on the final home game of the season at Arvest Ballpark. Up a run in the bottom of the 12th inning, the already playoff-bound Tulsa Drillers brought their infield in with the bases loaded and one out and Cole White-a member of the Naturals Opening Day Roster-induced a game-ending 5-2-3 double-play. Paired with the Travelers victory over Springfield, the Naturals were eliminated from Playoff contention. The team went to North Little Rock and dropped all three games to the eventual North Division Champions.
NWANaturals.com will formally countdown the top moments of the season in the forthcoming weeks on the Naturals official website.
The Seventh Season of Naturals Baseball begins Thursday, April 3, 2014 in Frisco, TX. The team opens at Arvest Ballpark on on Thursday April 10, 2014 against the same Frisco Rough Riders.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. The Naturals play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, AR. For more information including statistics, ticket options, and more, please visit nwanaturals.com, and follow us on Twitter @nwanaturals and Facebook.com/Naturals.