There have been few baseball days as good as this day for Goldeyes manager Rick Forney.
In his seventh season as the baseball team’s field manager, Forney will tonight guide the Goldeyes to their first challenge for a league title since 2003. He got his first-ever playoff series win as Goldeyes manager last week in the semifinal sweep of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and is about to take the next step.
The Goldeyes host the Central division champion Wichita Wingnuts tonight at 7 at Shaw Park in the first game of the best-of-five American Association championship series.
Starting pitchers include a pair of right-handers in Winnipeg’s Ace Walker, Winnipeg’s all-time leader in wins with 47 in five seasons, and Wichita’s Josh Lowey, who was the AA pitcher of the year with 15 wins in 2012.
Game 2 will be played at Shaw Park on Wednesday at 7 p.m. with the final three games set for Wichita’s Lawrence Dumont Stadium on Friday and, if necessary, Saturday and Sunday.
"We’re pretty lucky. There were 13 teams that started at the beginning of the season and there’s only two of us left that get to put uniforms on today so it’s a good feeling," said Forney prior to the start of Tuesday’s first game.
Though the two teams played 100 regular-season games and each had three playoff games in the first round, Forney said the season feels short at this point.
"Careers are short and guys just don’t get to do this all the time. I’d say we’re a pretty lucky group that we’re getting to play tonight."
The Wingnuts won 59 games in the regular season while the Goldeyes had 55 regular-season wins. The Goldeyes won the season series against the Wingnuts 4-2 but both Goldeyes losses came with Lowey on the mound for Wichita.
Forney said he plans to stay with his regular starting pitching rotation which includes Walker, lefty Chris Salamida for Game 2 and right-hander Matt Rusch for Game 3. Todd Privett, also a left-handed pitcher, would get the call for Game 4 if necessary and then back to Walker if there’s a fifth game. Wichita plans to go with lefty Ryan Hinson for the second game and right-hander Derek Blacksher for the third game. If there’s a game 4 and 5, it would be left-hander Anthony Capra and then back to Lowey.
"The Goldeyes are always built on some strong starting pitching and we have that here," Forney said. "The biggest difference for us over the last five years, knock on wood, the guy (Brian Beuning) we’ve got pitching the last part of our baseball games, throwing the ball and getting more consistent better results than anybody we’ve ever had finishing baseball games."
Reliever/closer Beuning who, joined the Goldeyes on June 19 after a four-year retirement while he is on parental leave from his career as a Minnesota State Patrol trooper, earned three straight saves in the semifinal sweep of Fargo.
Beuning pitched 63.1 innings during the regular season, more than any other Goldeyes reliever, even though he only played half the season. While 23 of his 28 appearances were scoreless, he held opposing batters to a .179.
While the Goldeyes are certainly motivated by the fact that the franchise has only ever won one championship, the 1994 Northern League title in their inaugural season, the group is rallying behind Forney. In 21 years of professional baseball, Forney has not won a championship title.
"He deserves it. He works so hard and he’s done a lot of work this year to get us as good as we are and he’s the best manager I’ve played for. He shows a lot of respect to the guys and to this team and to the fans," said Walker.
"When a guy puts in that much time and effort, he’s got to get one. I think all the guys want to do for that for him too. Knowing him for five years, it’s going to mean a lot. I’m going to give everything I have to make sure we get the best chance."