Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 Lancaster Barnstormers Season in Review

I wanted to do a few updates on the special year that we had here in Lancaster.  So for the next couple of days I will do a wrap up of the 2012 Lancaster Barnstormers.  This was a special year for the Barnstormers.  You knew from the first part of the season that this team was going to be good...on and off the field.  Mr. Hobson put together a great team of good character guys.  Tommy Everidge was returning as the 2011 League MVP, Ross Peeples was returning for his 8th season with the team, and they would have a new bunch of guys around him. The Barnstormers clinched the first half, so we knew back in July that there would be playoff baseball in Lancaster.  As a few guys got picked up by affiliated teams, Mr. Hobson would replace them with great talent.  After setting the league record for wins and sweeping the York Revolution in the first playoff series, they went on to lose the championship in a heartbreaking way.  A bunt in the bottom of the 9th of Game 5 won it for the Long Island Ducks.  We were hovered around the computer watching and couldn't believe it.  We really felt bad for these guys.  As the Kid Reporters for the last 2 seasons, Gavin and I have really gotten to know the team and this one hurt.

Despite the loss in the championship, there were some amazing things that happened in Lancaster this season.  Our outfield for game 1 back in April was the same outfield in Game 5 of the Atlantic League Championship.  Blake Gailen, Adam Godwin, and Fehlandt Lentini all had an amazing season and ended the season as the top 3 hitters in Batting Average, Runs Scored, and Hits.  They were also the starting outfield in the All Star Game with Fehlandt Lentini winning the game's MVP. Our pitching staff was AWESOME!  Dwayne Polllok, Alan Johnson, and JD Durbin all won 14 games and John Halama finished with 13.  Tim Hamulack led the league with 33 saves.  No matter what happened in the final series, this team was champions. 

The end of the season is always hard but this won was definitely the hardest.

Here was an article that Burt Wilson of the Lancaster newspapers wrote following the season that summed up what a great team this was.


Barnstormers Manager Butch Hobson


Game Five loss hit Hobson, Barnstormers hard

By BURT WILSON
Sports Writer
Butch Hobson is an exceptional baseball manager. But he is an even better person.

Hobson showed the quality of his character Sunday night in the Lancaster Barnstormers locker room after his team had suffered a heartbreaking, ninth-inning loss in the final game of the Atlantic League Championship Series.

It's easy to be a great guy when everything is going well. But Hobson is not just a fair-weather man and he showed that in the Barnstormers' emotional locker room after the season-ending loss.

Lancaster was supposed to win the championship. The Barnstormers set a regular-season Atlantic League record with 88 victories this year. They crushed division rival York, sweeping a three-game series in the first round of the playoffs.

But then the Long Island Ducks stepped in and stole the title meant for Lancaster. After the Stormers rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth of Game 5 to tie the contest, they lost the game and the series on a two-out, RBI bunt-single in the bottom of the ninth.

In a blink, the game, the series and the season were over. What had started so promising in mid-April came to an abrupt and disappointing end.

After the game, in his locker room office, Hobson was hurting. His eyes and hunched shoulders showed the pain of what had slipped away. What he and his team had worked so hard to accomplish but didn't quite reach.

Putting aside his personal pain, he left his office to talk to his players and it was clear that he was more disappointed for them. That he was more upset that he hadn't delivered for the Barnstormers staff and management. And that he had not delivered on a promise to the people of Lancaster when hired when he told them that the Barnstormers would win a championship.

But most importantly, he put the loss in perspective, telling his team that they should be proud of what they accomplished in the 2012 season. And that baseball is not life.

"I hope that somehow through the game of baseball you learned something playing for me," he said. "And I hope that playing for me you learned a little a little bit about life after baseball."

Many of the players were in tears, which was (and this may sound strange) refreshing. It meant that they cared.
I know they should care. But in this era of the jaded athlete, that's not always the case. They cared about winning and losing and they cared about each other. The 2012 Lancaster Barnstormers took the defeat hard.

Many of the players had experienced tough losses before. Pitcher John Halama was a member of the 2001 Seattle team that won a record 116 games before losing to the Yankees in the playoffs.

Hobson himself was on the 1978 Red Sox team that blew a big lead then lost the AL East Division in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park in the game that included the famous Bucky Dent homer.

But this somehow felt worse.

"I've been on teams before that lost but this was different," said third baseman Travis Denker, who hit a home run in the Barnstormers' rally in the top of the ninth in Game 5 and had a good shot at the series MVP award had the Barnstormers won. "I was only here about a month. But I just wanted to win it so bad for those guys. They were just a great group of guys."

And that was what almost every Barnstormer said. That this was the best team that they had ever played on.

Not just on the field but in the locker room. The team didn't have the cliques like other teams the players had played on in the past. The players cared for and rooted for each other. It truly was a team. And that's a credit to Hobson.

"Butch will ask his players what they think about the guy if he's thinking about signing someone," said pitcher Ross Peeples, the only player still with the Barnstormers since their inaugural 2005 season.

"If you're not a good clubhouse guy and you don't have good character, you're not going to play for the Barnstormers. And what people don't realize is that translates to the field. If you have quality guys in the clubhouse, you're going to win.

"And this year was the best. It was just fun to be around everybody. It was just fun to be at the yard every day. Everybody gets along. Everybody (jokingly) gets on everybody. And all of that comes from Butch getting the right people in there (the locker room)."

And that was the other reason for the tears. Yes, the players were upset with the loss. But this was a family that Hobson had assembled and this was the last time they would be together.

Some of them will return next season (most want to come back if they don't have contracts with affiliated clubs because of the atmosphere that Hobson provides). But some will not. Some will retire. Some will play for other teams. This team as it was comprised this year, will never be the same.

And the players know that. The Barnstormers are not kids. Some of them have played pro ball for more than 10 years. They know what a special season this was and how rare it is and they were mourning that as much as the loss.

But there is no time to be sentimental in baseball. The players are going on with their lives, leaving their baseball family for their actual families.

Adam Godwin is getting married in less than two weeks. Blake Gailen is going to have minor surgery to repair a hip injury. Dwayne Pollok and others are going to play winter ball. Most are just going home to rest and reflect on the year.

"I love you guys," Hobson said. "You're like sons. It was a tough loss. We set out to do something and we almost did it. I know it hurts. But it's baseball and we will get this opportunity again if you want to continue to play for me."

If the team Hobson puts together for next season has half the character that the manager or the players on the 2012 roster had, the Barnstormers will have another great year.

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