The recent Sally League All-Star Game in Greensboro not only gave three Hickory players the opportunity to showcase their talents, it also instilled in the Crawdads a new level of confidence as they approach the season's second half.
The game, played before a crowd of 8,367 in NewBridge Bank Park, saw the Northern Division squad rout the Southern Division in an offensive barrage that resulted in a lopsided 13-4 victory.
“I think this team has a chance to win the second-half pennant,” said first baseman Miles Durham, who, along with third baseman Bobby Spain and shortstop Jose De Los Santos, represented Hickory on the winning Northern Division squad. Durham and De Los Santos have since been promoted to the Lynchburg Hillcats, the Pirates' high A team.
“At points in the first half, we just couldn't click,” said Durham, who as the end of June neared was batting .348 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs. “But the last week to 10 days, we were very competitive, and I think we can keep that up.”
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Durham described the All-Star Game, in which he went 0 for two, as “a whole lot of fun, a good experience, and a wonderful honor,” but said it's now time to focus on the season's second half.
“All of us want to do well as individuals and as a team over the next 21/2 months,” Durham said. “I would love to be an All Star and win a championship ring in the same season.”
Durham's thoughts were echoed by Bobby Spain, who recorded two hits on the gala night in Greensboro. “It was a really fun time,” he said, “and those two hits made it even better.”
Of the Crawdads' prospects for the second half, Spain said, “We haven't done as well as we should in one-run games. We have to turn that around. But I think we can do that, and I think we can be competitive.”
Spain noted that Hickory has played some of its best baseball this season against the Asheville Tourists, who captured the league's Southern Division championship in the first half.
“Asheville's one of the better teams in the entire league, no question,” Spain said. “And if we can play well against them, we can play well against anybody. Now we've just got to go out and do it.”
Like Durham, Spain was batting above .312 after the first week of July, and he had also hit five home runs and knocked in 43 runs.
“There's an old saying in baseball,” Spain said, “that it's not how you start, it's how you finish. And we want to finish well. We've just got to be consistent and work hard every day. That's how you win.”
Equally effusive, both about his all-star experience and the Crawdads' second half prospects, was De Los Santos, who served as the Northern Division's lead-off man and collected a hit in his first at-bat.
“It was the best baseball experience I have ever had,” De Los Santos said through an interpreter. “Just being in there on the all-star team, in front of that large a crowd, was really exciting.”
De Los Santos, who serves as the speedy sparkplug at the top of the Crawdad order, was batting .275 near the end of June, and had stolen 13 bases, best on the squad.
“There is a lot of potential on this club,” De Los Santos said, “a lot of good players. We simply have to go out and do what we're capable of in the second half, and I think we have a good chance to win.”
The schedule certainly looks good for the Crawdads to make a second half run, as they play 18 of their final 30 games in the friendly confines of L.P. Frans Stadium. The team will also be at home for four of the season's final five weekends.
“We're looking forward to a good run at the end,” said Durham, who certainly has a chance to be the South Atlantic League's Most Valuable Player if he continues to put up the numbers he did over the season's first 13 weeks. “We're hoping to have a lot of fun.”