CLINTON, IA (September 20, 2017) - With a three-game sweep of the Fort Wayne TinCaps by the Quad Cities River Bandits on Saturday night the sun set on another season in the Midwest League. Unable to defend their Western Division title, the LumberKings season had come to an end two weeks earlier after posting a 64-73 record.
The 2017 season in Clinton may best be remembered as the Year of the Manager. Three managers, Pat Shine, David Macias, and Tony Arnerirch set a new franchise record for the most skippers in Clinton for a single season.
Still, the LumberKings witnessed far more than managerial upheaval. As an affiliate in the Seattle Mariners farm system, the team found themselves involved in numerous trades orchestrated by Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto. Three LumberKings from the opening day roster were involved in trades. The first, right-handed pitcher Brandon Miller was traded to the Miami Marlins in a four-player deal.
Miller earned attention as a trade piece as one of four LumberKings selected to this season's Midwest League All-Star Game. Teammates left-handed pitcher Danny Garcia, outfielder, Anthony Jimenez, and right-handed pitcher Robert Dugger joined Miller at Dow Diamond in Midland, Michigan, home of the Great Lake Loons, as the LumberKings Western Division All-Stars.
While Clinton ranked as one of the more well-represented teams at the All-Star Game, their representation grew even greater during the game. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers All-Star and number 22nd ranked Brewers prospect Monte Harrison took home the game's MVP honors while wearing a LumberKings All-Star jersey. Having won the Western Division in 2016, the LumberKings sent their coaching staff to coach the Western Division All-Stars. That meant that the Western Division All-Stars first base coach, Tyler Collins, would wear number three, something that did not sit well with Harrison. Harrison, who wore number three with Wisconsin, immediately sought out Collins before the game and asked for him to switch jerseys with him. Collins refused. But he did say that if he hit a home run he would switch with Harrison. As fate would have it, Harrison would homer, demand a jersey swap, and then hit a second home run to cement his credentials for Midwest League All-Star Game MVP.
When the LumberKings were not being semi-involved in League accolades, they flashed moments of greatness that had not been seen in Clinton in the over 80-year franchise history. On May 31st in Beloit, Nick Thurman slugged a grand slam off Snappers starter Mitchell Jordan at Harry Pohlman Field. Thurman's blast was the first grand slam by a LumberKing since Tyler O'Neil in 2015. After a nearly two-year hiatus from grand slams, the LumberKings needed to wait just two innings for their next. In the top of the third inning, Kristian Brito lined the second of the game for the LumberKings off the foul pole in left. The two grand slam game was the first in Clinton franchise history.
Two weeks earlier, in the most historically symmetrical moment of the season Luis Rengifo tied one of the oldest franchise records. In a night where the Venezuelan native ran free at Ashford University Field against the Burlington Bees, Rengifo stole four bases to tie Alan Wiggins' August 27, 1979 feat which had occurred at the same stadium and against the same team.
By season's end, Rengifo was playing for the Bowling Green Hot Rods following a trade between the Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays. Two weeks later, LumberKings opening day shortstop Rayder Ascanio, who was by then playing with the High-A Modesto Nuts, was moved in a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals that sent right-handed pitcher Mike Leake to the Mariners.
As the summer began to unfold, it became clear that the LumberKings had a player of great social media skill, Nick Zammarelli. Before a game during the first half of the season, the Elon University product made his first of several trending tweets. Zammarelli, a big fan of pop singer Selena Gomez, listed her on the player pass list before the game. While the stunt attracted much attention, including a posting of the tweet on MLB Network, it sadly did not lead to a Selena Gomez appearance at any LumberKings game.
What Zammarelli may best be remembered for by fans came on the field, although it not a particularly great feat. On a Sunday afternoon on August 7 against the Peoria Chiefs, he became an internet sensation. In a play that did not find the field of play, Zammarelli fouled a ball back and off to the left side of the grandstand. While Zamamrelli had given up on the ball, it then ricocheted and hit him off the back of his helmet. The play went viral first on twitter and then on major media outlets, SB Nation, ESPN, and MLB Network. As Zammarelli would say of the afternoon, "fell down striking out in my first at-bat and took a foul call off the helmet in my second at-bat. Stay hot, right?"
**NICK ZAMMARELLI HIT IN THE HEAD WITH A FOUL BALL VIEDO**
Another theme of the LumberKings 2017 season was to never give up on foul balls. On the team's second night in Fort Wayne, LumberKings reliever Tyler Watson saw one of his pitches to a TinCap batter fouled off the top of the roof and then bounce into the front row of the stands. Following several more bounces, off seats and railings, the ball finally nestled into a young woman's beer. With a chorus of "chug" from the crowd, she lifted her beer to the sky and drained it with ball still in cup. The moment traveled far and wide and appeared on both local and national media outlets to create yet another LumberKings internet sensation.
** BEER CHUG VIEDO**
As the season moved to its final weeks, the LumberKings awoke for a late playoff charge behind the strength of the walk-off win. Yojhan Quevedo led the way with four walk-off hits the LumberKings, who when the dust had settled, walked off their opponents 10 times. During the final weeks, Gareth Morgan took over the dramatic hits, three times walking off opponents and twice with home runs. The walk-off wins led to one of the LumberKings hottest streaks of the year down the stretch. From August 16 through August 25, Clinton won eight out of ten to move to within two games of a wild card spot. But that would be the closest the LumberKings would get to a playoff spot in 2017.
**GARETH MORGAN WALK-OFF HOMER VIDEO**
Morgan would be responsible for the final win of the season at home on August 31. In the bottom of the 10th he lined a ball into the Lumber Lounge in right for a walk-off home run. As it would turn out, this would be the final hit of the year for the LumberKings at home.
The following night on September 1st, Kane County Cougars 23-year old right-handed pitcher Connor Grey made history with the second perfect game at Ashford University Field in the facility's 80-year history. On a night where Grey could do no wrong, he set down all 27 LumberKings he faced and struck out eight.
Perfection happened just once before in Clinton by LumberKing Scott Dunn on August 3, 2000. When Grey retired Louis Boyd on a pop fly to shallow right, he became the first Kane County Cougar to accomplish the feat and the first Midwest League pitcher since 2004 to go the distance with a perfect game. Pitching coach Doug Mathis appreciated the moment saying after the game, "this is the first perfect game I have ever been a part off. Wow!"
**CONNOR GREY IS PERFECT VIEDO**
Following the perfect game, the LumberKings closed out their 2017 season by taking two of three from the Burlington Bees. The season ended with the quickest game of the year, played in just one hour and 47 minutes, and a 1-0 LumberKings win.
For some baseball fans, the passage of time can be measured in seasons. And while the 2017 campaign ended without another magical playoff run, each season has its own unique twists and turns. There will be much to remember from 2017, the oddity of three managers, the off the field attention from seldom seen foul balls, walk-off winners, a late playoff push, and a perfect night in Clinton by Connor Grey.
The gates to Ashford University field will open again for baseball in 2018 and with it the LumberKings 63rd season in the Midwest League. Another chapter will be written, more memories will be made, and the summer will come with all the highs and lows that make baseball the national pastime. And maybe, just maybe, 2018 will bring a championship to Clinton and a season where the successes are remembered more than the struggles.
About the LumberKings
The LumberKings, the only remaining Charter Member of the Midwest League, are preparing for their 63rd season in the league and their 10th as an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Since the club's inception in 1937, 274 former Clinton players have made it to the Major Leagues. The LumberKings play at historic Ashford University Field located off 6th Avenue North at 537 Ballpark Drive. Advertising and tickets for the 2018 season are available by calling (563) 242-0727 or by visiting lumberkings.com
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.