As the Hickory Crawdads’ bus headed north toward Lakewood, N.J., in the early morning hours of Aug. 26, it carried a team that hovered on the cusp of elimination from the South Atlantic League playoffs.
With six road games remaining – three against Lakewood and three against Delmarva – the ‘Dads were six games behind the division-leading Hagerstown Suns. A single Crawdad defeat or a single Suns’ victory would seal the deal.
During the team’s final weekend at home, manager Corey Ragsdale reflected on the team’s 2014 season and put into perspective the performances of some of his young players.
With six games to play, Hickory’s record stood at 75-57, good for third place in the Northern Division behind Hagerstown and the Greensboro Grasshoppers, a team that captured the first half championship in June.
In the first half, which culminated with the 2014 Sally League All-Star Game being played at L.P. Frans, Hickory’s record was 41-28, again taking third place behind Greensboro and Hagerstown.
“This team has won a lot of games this year,” said Ragsdale. “Most years, it would have been enough to send us to the playoffs. This year, we happened to be in the same division as a couple of teams that are having really remarkable years.”
Asked what might have been possible had the Texas Rangers’ organization not promoted so many of Hickory’s better players to higher levels during the season, Ragsdale said, “It hurts, but you have to feel good for every guy who gets to move up. That’s what we’re about.”
Ragsdale was quick to name one of the players who moved up – right fielder Nomar Mazara – as the team’s first-half MVP. Mazara batted .264 at Hickory but with 19 home runs and 73 RBIs.
The Rangers were so impressed with Mazara’s power numbers, he was moved to the Double A Frisco franchise, skipping High A Myrtle Beach completely. Since moving up, Mazara has batted .281 for Frisco with a couple of homers and 12 RBIs.
“To think about him doing what he did as a 19-year-old in this league is pretty amazing,” said Ragsdale. “At one point, he had 50 RBIs in a stretch of 50 games. He was just a fun player to watch out on the field.”
Ragsdale was hesitant to name an MVP for the team’s second half, saying a number of players had made great contributions, including Ryan Cordell, Joe Jackson and Evan Van Hoosier.
Cordell, who was promoted to Myrtle Beach in early August, was a particularly potent offensive force, as he batted .321 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs. Jackson, the great-great-great nephew of the legendary Joe Jackson, batted .305 with six home runs and 53 RBIs.
Van Hoosier, who opened the year with the Crawdads and was one of Hickory’s representatives on the All-Star team, was leading the team in at-bats (409), hits (111), doubles (26), and triples (7) as the season-ending road trip began.
Ragsdale also noted that Kellin Deglan, a former Texas first-round draft choice in 2010, made solid offensive strides in his third season at Hickory, batting .251 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs before being promoted to Myrtle Beach in mid-August.
When asked to name a Crawdad who always played hard and showed a respect for the game, Ragsdale answered with a question of his own: “Can I talk about a 17-year-old kid who’s still growing up?’
The “kid” in question is Michael De Leon, who won’t turn 18 until January, a native of Santo Domingo Centro in the Dominican Republic.
Despite his years, De Leon has logged more time at shortstop than any other Crawdad defender. His batting average with the end of the season in sight was .244, with one homer and 26 RBIs.
“He really wants it,” said Ragsdale. “He brings so much energy to the game. He is going to be really, really good.”
As to what his off-season will hold, Ragsdale said he will be working in the fall instructional league in Arizona from mid-September to late October. After that? “There’s a lot of deer in Arkansas just waiting to be hunted.”
Opening Night for the 2015 edition of the Crawdads will be April 9 against the Hagerstown Suns. The Rome Braves, who did not visit Hickory in 2014, will be in town May 28-June 1 and again to close out the year, Sept. 2-7. Hickory’s attendance for 2014 remained virtually static. The club drew a total of 148,414 – an average of 2,151 for each of the 69 home dates. Last year saw the ‘Dads draw 143,157 fans in 66 home dates, an average of 2,169.
Bill Poteat is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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