While the 2023 Hudson Valley Renegades ultimately fell short of their goal of a South Atlantic League championship, the season was still full of some truly fun, exciting, and special moments both at Heritage Financial Park and on the road. After falling short of the playoffs in the previous two seasons, the Renegades made the playoffs for the first time since 2019, winning the North Division First Half Championship and making a run to the SAL Championship Series.
It was a record-breaking season, with nearly a dozen team records matched or beaten. Among them, Eduardo Torrealba became the team’s all-time hits and games played leader, Spencer Henson set a new career home runs record, and Drew Thorpe set new single-season records for wins (10) and strikeouts (138), and fell one strikeout shy from winning the SAL Pitching Triple Crown. And of course, Spencer Jones electrified the crowd with his incredible athleticism in centerfield and at the bat.
Off the field, the Renegades took the field for the first time as the Cider Donuts, playing as their new alternate identity for four games. Despite a rain out, fans were entertained on Snooki Night in September, as former Renegades part-time employee Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and some of her Jersey Shore castmates came to Heritage Financial Park and were filmed for the series Jersey Shore: Family Reunion.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane and re-visit some of the highlights of the year.
For the first time since 2016, the Renegades opened the season at home hosting the Greensboro Grasshoppers at the newly-christened Heritage Financial Park. Offseason construction of a new outfield wall and batter’s eye were on display for fans, while the players enjoyed a completely renovated clubhouse space.
Before the opening game, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held on the plaza in front of the entrance gate, and several politicians and dignitaries spoke on the field prior to the first pitch. When the game got underway, the Renegades won 8-1 behind strong pitching from Zach Messinger (5.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K), and Spencer Jones ignited the offense with the Renegades’ first hit of the season – a solo home run in the third inning which clanged off the batter’s eye in center.
The Renegades finished off their season-opening nine-game homestand with a 5-4 record, and departed for a two-week road trip to Rome and Greenville. They went 9-3 on the road trip and had some incredible individual performances. Juan Carela earned South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week after throwing 5.2 no-hit innings while striking out eight on April 22, the first of five SAL Pitcher of the Week Awards won by the Renegades in 2023.
The next day, Drew Thorpe struck out 10 batters in 4.2 innings, combining with Danny Watson, Harold Cortijo, and Enrique Santana to strike out a franchise record-tying 19 batters. This was part of an incredible stretch for Watson, where he recorded 20 straight outs on strikeouts. Watson was among a handful of breakout players for the Yankees this year, posting a 1.58 ERA across 45 appearances between the Renegades and Double-A Somerset Patriots.
After a day off to drive to Greenville, South Carolina, Chase Hampton started the series opener and struck out 10 batters across 4.2 innings. He and Thorpe became the first Renegades pitchers to strike out 10 in back-to-back games since Tobias Myers and Jhonleider Salinas on Aug. 12 & 13, 2017 against Brooklyn.
The series with the Drive was notable for the offensive eruption that the Renegades had at Fluor Field. They hit 18 home runs in the six-game series, including seven in a 15-2 rout in the finale on Sunday, April 30. They scored 10-or-more runs three times in the series.
On April 26, Aaron Palensky tied the Renegades single-game record with seven RBIs after he hit two home runs – a grand slam and a three-run homer. Palensky homered in the series finale in Rome and all four games he played in Greenville to become the fourth Renegades player since 2005 to hit a homer in four straight games. In 12 games in the month of April, Palensky hit .404/.500/.957 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs while going a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts.
On the road trip Caleb Durbin stole three bases in a game twice, and swiped a team-leading 14 bases without being caught in April while also drawing 12 walks and striking out only eight times in 76 plate appearances. Ben Rice drew four walks in back-to-back games on April 23 and 25, setting a new team record for most walks in a two-game stretch. At the end of April, Rice was leading the SAL in OBP (.559) and ranked second in MiLB.
The Renegades finished April with a 14-7 record, tied for first place with Greensboro. They first moved into a tie for first on April 25, and would stay there for all but two days for the rest of the first half.
As the calendar turned to May, the Renegades struggled comparatively to April, finishing the month with a 13-13 record. They took four of six games from the Wilmington Blue Rocks back home to start the month, reaching 10-games over .500 with a 3-1 win on May 6.
On May 3, Aldenis Sanchez hit two triples against the Blue Rocks, tying a club record that Jones had previously tied on the road trip in Greenville. The series also saw the Renegades notch their first of seven walk-off wins on Friday, May 5 when a wild pitch scored Spencer Henson with the winning run in a 3-2 triumph.
After that series, the Renegades saw their first promotion to Double-A, as Durbin was promoted after his hot start, and Eduardo Torrealba was sent to the Renegades to fill his place.
The ‘Gades then took a trip to Aberdeen to battle Jackson Holliday and the IronBirds and dropped the first three games of the series, but then won the last three behind a massive performance by Jones. They came come and lost four of six to the excellent pitching of the Brooklyn Cyclones, then won four of six on the road in Wilmington.
This was part of a larger trend this year, where the Renegades went 29-37 at home, but were 41-25 on the road, one of the best road winning percentages in Minor League Baseball.
May was a breakout month for Chase Hampton, who made four starts and posted a 2.18 ERA and struck out 35 batters in 20.2 innings. He registered his second 10+ strikeout game of the year on May 27 at Wilmington. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2022 MLB Draft out of Texas Tech, Hampton made his pro debut with the Renegades this season and launched himself immediately into the conversation of the Yankees top prospects.
At the end of the month, the Renegades saw more promotions, with Watson and Palensky earning their call ups to Somerset, but they were bolstered by the additions of Mason Vinyard from Tampa, Indigo Diaz from Somerset, and catcher Josh Breaux on a minor league rehab assignment. Sadly, pitcher Harold Cortijo suffered an injury and would not pitch again in 2023.
The Renegades entered the month of June with a 2.0-game lead in the SAL North, trying to clinch a playoff spot. They dropped the first two games of the month despite a 10-strikeout performance from Juan Carela on June 2, but they bounced back with a 3-2 win on June 3 led by 10 strikeouts from Hampton.
June 3 was a landmark game for the Renegades for a different reason, as they debuted the Cider Donuts identity on the field. Over 4,400 people packed Heritage Financial Park on a very autumn-feeling 66-degree night to see the much-talked-about Cider Donuts in action.
The next day was the start of Drew Thorpe’s coming out party. He threw 8.0 shutout innings while allowing only one hit, two walks and striking out seven in a 9-0 victory. Thorpe put together an incredible month in June, going 3-0 in 4 starts and allowing just one run in 28.2 innings while striking out 34 batters en route to being named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Month.
He was the first Renegades pitcher to throw 8.0 shutout innings in a start since Tyree Hayes in August 2008, and just the third Hudson Valley pitcher to complete 8.0 innings since 2005. His next turn out on June 11, he set a new single-game franchise record with 12 strikeouts across 7.0 innings at Jersey Shore.
Thorpe was far from the only pitcher to dazzle for the Renegades in June. Hampton was promoted to Double-A Somerset after continuing to dominate, but Carela stepped up to fill his shoes in a big way. During his starts on June 2, 9 and 16, he struck out 10 batters in each, becoming the first Renegades pitcher since 2005 when game-by-game records are available online to strike out 10 batters in three straight starts. The only other pitcher in MiLB to do that to that point was Andrew Abbott of Louisville who did so in April before being promoted to the Cincinnati Reds.
The Jersey Shore series was also notable for the Renegades and BlueClaws having a game postponed due to poor air quality stemming from smoke from Canadian wildfires that disrupted games and created hazardous conditions across the northeast. That led to a doubleheader on June 8, the last that Hudson Valley would play until September.
After winning back-to-back series with Jersey Shore and Rome, the Renegades had their magic number to clinch a first half championship down to one with three games to play.
On Tuesday, June 20, Tyrone Yulie took the mound at the Brooklyn Cyclones and was magnificent. He threw 7.0 no-hit innings, and the Renegades finally broke through with an RBI single from Torrealba in the top of the seventh to take a 1-0 lead. Taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning with one out, Kevin Parada beat out a controversial infield single against Carlos Gomez to spoil the no-hitter, but Gomez struck out the next two batters to seal the game and send the Renegades to the playoffs for the first time since 2019.
After winning the next game, the Renegades hit the longest slump of their season, dropping seven straight games to close out the month of June. But the goal of reaching the playoffs had become reality, and that was what really mattered.
When the calendar turned to July, the Renegades’ fortunes turned as well. The team reeled off six straight wins and went 8-1 in the final nine games leading into the All-Star Break. The month got off to an incredible start, with Yankees pitcher Carlos Rodon making his final rehab start for the Renegades on July 1 against Wilmington. He struck out eight batters and allowed only one hit in 3.2 innings in an 8-2 Renegades win, with Messinger getting the win in relief after striking out nine. Rodon was the highest-profile MLB rehabber to ever play for the Renegades, and was the team’s third MLB rehabber in three years under the Yankees affiliation.
Catching that game for the Renegades was Augustin Ramirez, who at the time was brand new to the team. He only ended up playing 27 games before being promoted to Double-A, but the slugging backstop hit .384/.430/.714 with nine home runs and 10 doubles in 112 at-bats. He was named South Atlantic League Player of the Month for his July performance, becoming the first Renegades player to ever win that honor.
Also joining the Renegades around this time was Christopher Familia and Brendan Beck. Familia was Florida State League Player of the Month in June after crushing 11 home runs for Tampa, and Beck was finally healthy after missing nearly two years recovering from Tommy John surgery. Both would play huge roles for the team for the rest of the season.
When the Renegades’ six-game winning streak was snapped on July 7 at Jersey Shore, Torrealba went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk to collect his 125th and 126th hits with the Renegades, to become the team’s all-time hits leader.
Out of the All-Star Break, the Renegades lost two out of three games to Bowling Green, and four of six to Brooklyn. One of the wins against the Cyclones was another historic masterpiece from Thorpe, throwing 8.0 shutout innings again while breaking his own single-game team record with 13 strikeouts while picking up his 10th win of the year to set another single-season record. Along the way, Thorpe picked up his 119th strikeout of the season, surpassing Mitch Spence for the Renegades single-season strikeout record. He finished with 138, which ended the year second in the SAL.
Hudson Valley headed south after that homestand and faced the Hickory Crawdads at Frans Stadium for the first time. Despite winning four of six, the Renegades out-score the Crawdads 51-21, and hit an unbelievable 19 home runs during the six-game series, with nine different players going deep.
It was that week that Brock Selvidge started to come into his own, tossing 7.0 shutout innings while allowing one hit and one walk and seven strikeouts on July 28 to pick up his first win and kick off a strong finish to the season for him. However, during the two-week road trip the Renegades starting rotation took some big hits – Tyrone Yulie suffered a season-ending injury, Juan Carela was traded to the White Sox at the trade deadline and Thorpe was finally promoted to Double-A. That meant that August was going to be a month where the Renegades rotation was going to look very different.
A new-look Renegades team made its way north to Wilmington for the second week of a two-week road trip to begin August, and it was a series marked by strong debuts for new players. Baron Stuart tossed 6.0 shutout innings in his High-A debut on August 2, and Leonardo Pestana struck out five across 3.2 no-hit innings on August 5 to begin his Renegades career. Both of those two would be fixtures in the rotation throughout August.
On August 6, Sean Hermann was promoted from Tampa to make a spot start, and struck out five across 5.0 innings, allowing one run on six hits. However, after that series the Renegades team changed dramatically – Jack Neely, the team’s best relief pitcher, Thorpe and Ramirez were all promoted to Somerset, and Jesus Rodriguez, Anthony Hall, Jared Serna, Jared Wegner and Cole Ayers were all promoted from Tampa.
Even as the Renegades hovered around .500 for the month, one of the pleasant developments was a sharp power increase from Rafael Flores. After hitting just one home run in the first half of the season, Flores crushed three homers in July and three more in August. In his first full professional season, Flores surprised by hitting .259/.346/.366 with eight home runs and was one of the steady offensive forces throughout the year as his game developed.
August also saw another starting pitcher debut with the Renegades, with Justin Lange coming up from Tampa and throwing 5.2 shutout innings with eight strikeouts at Brooklyn on August 16. The month also featured the only walk-off home run of the year for the Renegades, a two-run shot by Alexander Vargas against Aberdeen.
It also saw infielder Ben Cowles break the Renegades record for longest on-base streak, when he reached safely in 41 consecutive games from July 4-Sept. 1. He surpassed the previous franchise record of 35, set by Emeel Salem in 2007, and posted a .409 OBP during the stretch. The Renegades finished their month where it began – in Wilmington – on their final road trip of the regular season. After dropping four of six, they returned home to for the final homestand of the year against Jersey Shore, a team fighting for the second playoff spot in the SAL North.
However, the team would have to do so without the help of Jones, who was promoted to Double-A on August 27 after a stupendous season. He hit .268/.337/.450 with 13 home runs and set a Renegades team records with 110 hits and 28 doubles in the season.
Entering the final week of the season, the BlueClaws and Cyclones were tied for first place in the second half. The Renegades beat the BlueClaws 13-0 in the series opener behind 6.2 shutout innings from Selvidge and a four RBI performance by Flores. However, Jersey Shore bounced back and won the next two games of the series.
Friday, Sept. 8 was Snooki Night at Heritage Financial Park, where former Renegades part-time employee, Marlboro native, and star of MTV’s Jersey Shore Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi was honored with a night in her honor featuring a bobblehead giveaway and specialty jersey. In an unannounced twist, she was joined at the ballpark by some of her TV castmates and cameras who came to film the night for an upcoming season of Jersey Shore: Family Reunion. Even though the game was postponed due to rain, it was one of the most-memorable nights of the year.
In the ensuing doubleheader, the Renegades split with the BlueClaws behind a great performance in game one by Cam Schlittler to keep Jersey Shore one game back with one to play entering the final game of the season. The BlueClaws needed a win and a loss by the Brooklyn Cyclones to get into the playoffs, and got the help they needed first by having the Cyclones fall to the Wilmington Blue Rocks. In a wild contest highlighted by six errors and a pitching performance by reserve catcher Juan Crisp, the BlueClaws won 10-9 in 11 innings to secure their spot in the playoffs.
During the final game of the season Spencer Henson hit his 14th home run of the year, giving him 24 in his Renegades career and making him the team’s all-time home run king.
In the playoffs against the BlueClaws, the Renegades lost Game 1 of the North Division Championship Series 2-1 on the road in Lakewood before returning home for Games 2 and 3. Led by 5.0 innings of one-run ball from Schlittler, solid work out of the bullpen, and a 2-for-4 night from Henson, the Renegades won Game 2, 6-2. Hudson Valley won Game 3 by a 3-2 score thanks to Flores and Cowles offensively, and another gem tossed by Selvidge.
By winning the best-of-three series, the Renegades punched their ticket into the SAL Championship Series, where they would face the Greenville Drive. Game 1 at Heritage Financial Park was won 2-0 by Greenville, with four pitchers combining on a two-hit shutout, despite a strong performance by Jackson Fristoe in the start for Hudson Valley.
The series shifted to Greenville where the Drive took Game 2 7-3 thanks to more strong pitching and a four-run outburst in the bottom of the seventh. The Drive were the champions of the South Atlantic League for 2023, and the Renegades headed off into the offseason falling just short. But the bittersweet end didn’t spoil what was a great and memorable year at Heritage Financial Park.
Tremendous individual moments and performances, previously unknown players establishing themselves at top prospects, and the return of playoff baseball to the Hudson Valley for the first time since 2019 helped create magical memories for fans at Heritage Financial Park.
While the 2023 season has drawn to its conclusion, the 2024 30th anniversary season of Renegades baseball promises to be the best yet.