Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Fish are out to seize the day
Who knows when they'll get another title shot?
Winnipeg Goldeyes centre-fielder Chris Roberson knows how to take advantage of an opportunity.
Major League Baseball knocked on his door once and he jumped to answer the bell -- and ended up playing 85 games in 2006-07 for the Philadelphia Phillies, treasuring every moment.
Another rare and precious opportunity beckons this week.
Roberson and the Goldeyes have before them a chance to win a championship in the American Association, which would the first for the Goldeyes since their inaugural season in 1994. Beginning tonight at 7 p.m. at Shaw Park, the Goldeyes will host the Wichita Wingnuts in the first game of the best-of-five championship.
In the semifinals, the Central Division champion Wingnuts swept the South Division winner Laredo Lemurs, outscoring them 23-7. The wild-card Goldeyes came from behind in all three games to sweep the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, who had finished 10 games ahead of Winnipeg in the North Division.
"This team is capable of coming up with a no-nonsense spirit, like we did against Fargo, and just run together," said Roberson, named to the league's all-star team. "We pull out a good win in the first game, it kind of rolls from there. Shoot, if we can get on top of these guys early (in the series) just like we did in the Fargo series, just jump on them early, you never know what's going to happen."
Rick Forney, in his seventh season as Goldeyes manager, won his first playoff series as a manager against Fargo-Moorhead and is ready to chase his first pro baseball title.
"I've been at this for 21 years, 1991 was my first year in professional baseball. I think I've missed the playoffs three out of those seasons and I still don't have a ring on my finger," Forney said. "We're excited, those juices will get flowing (today) and we hope the ballpark will be full of crazy fans that are going to make the environment uncomfortable for those Wingnuts."
The Goldeyes, with a regular-season home record of 26-24, expect a battle.
"We haven't been a real good home team this year. We've struggled to hit consistently in this park," Forney said, adding the team will be counting on the first three starters, Ace Walker, Chris Salamida and Matt Rusch to set the tone for the games. "We like the first three guys in our rotation, they're as good as anybody in this league and they pretty much put us in this situation."
The Goldeyes won four of six regular-season meetings with the Wingnuts, but the two games they lost were to Josh Lowey, the league's pitcher of the year and tonight's starter.
"It's a pretty special feeling to be here. It's the first time the Wingnuts have made it to the championship series," said Lowey, a righty who led the AA with 15 wins. Winnipeg's Game 1 starter, Ace Walker, had nine wins and is the Goldeyes' all-time leader in regular-season wins with 46 in five seasons.
Wingnuts' manager Kevin Hooper said both his team and Winnipeg had similar seasons, overcoming mid-season player losses to injury and to other leagues, but both finished strong.
"It (Winnipeg) is a good ball club, top to bottom, they pitch well, they play good defence and they've got a good lineup. Very similar to us," said Hooper. " Maybe it's meant to be that these two teams are in the championship. I'm looking forward to it."
Forney said his team's ability to overcome adverse situations, like injuries or falling behind in games, turned out to be good preparation for the final.
"We seem to do well in those situations," said Forney. "We're not overwhelmed, we don't get down on ourselves. We know we've got a good team and as long as we keep it within striking distance, anything can happen after seven (innings)."
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 11, 2012 C3
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