Now, it feels as if the Goldeyes season sped by in a hurry, just a steady flurry of hits and wins and records as they surged to become North Division champions.
Ninety-six regular-season games down. Four more left to go. And tonight, the Fish will take the field at Shaw Park to close it out at home.
The Goldeyes come into this final homestand fighting mostly for preparation, and for pride. But the visiting Gary SouthShore RailCats are coming in fighting for their lives. As of Thursday afternoon, they were in a dead heat with the Lincoln Saltdogs for the Central Division championship and the attendant playoff berth. Whichever team wins will face the Goldeyes when the first round opens Sept. 3 at Shaw Park.
So while games play out and the regular season roars to its close, we thought we'd take a little look back at just some of 2014's Goldeyes highs and lows.
There are more than a few candidates for this, as manager Rick Forney put together a sure-swinging team. But many fans agree, one of the most memorable moments came on May 30, when the Fish were trailing the visiting Lincoln Saltdogs 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. And though slugger Reggie Abercrombie had started the season slow, he didn't miss a chance to be a hero, slamming a tempting slider up and over the left-field fence for a two-run walk-off win.
The crowd went wild. The Goldeyes swarmed the dish to cheer Abercrombie as he jogged his victory lap home. He tossed his helmet in the air and leaped into their arms. "I knew it was off the bat, I knew it was gone, man," the ecstatic slugger raved on Goldeyes TV after the game, as a passel of fans hollered in the background.
The Goldeyes got plenty of outstanding pitching this season. No doubt, one of the most exquisite performances at home belonged to starter Ethan Hollingsworth, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the New Jersey Jackals on Aug. 19. The visitors finally managed to snag two hits against him, so he settled for a complete nine-inning shutout game, instead. Almost 6,000 fans at Shaw Park stood to honour the performance when the final out was done.
As far as team performances go, the Goldeyes bullpen made history on the road, when five relievers combined to throw a seven-inning no-hitter against the Sioux Falls Canaries. It was the first no-no in Goldeyes franchise history, and was led by just over two innings each from Gabe Aguilar and Kaohi Downing.
IN THE BOOKS
The Fish set a number of franchise records this season. Just this week in St. Paul, catcher Luis Alen popped his 124th and 125th career doubles to smash Fehlandt Lentini's previous record. Way back on July 2, Chris Salamida broke Ace Walker's franchise strikeout record, and has now hurled 435 Ks in five regular seasons. Infielders Tyler Kuhn and Casey Haerther both passed the record for most hits in a season, and as of Thursday the Goldeyes were poised to set a 61-win season record.
ON THE SKIDS
With generally consistent play and what hitting coach Tommy Vaeth called one of the most complete teams the Goldeyes have ever had, there weren't too many lows this season. The one low-water mark that stands out: a five-game losing streak from July 8 to 12, all of them lost at home. That skid ended with another outburst of Abercrombie heroics, this time a two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Gary SouthShore RailCats.
They'd go on to drop a few more, though, before they fully clambered out of this season's trench...
It seems a distant memory now, but the Goldeyes and St. Paul Saints were in a much closer race for the North Division's first place midway through the season, when the Saints came to town. To make up for previous rainouts, the teams packed five games into just three days -- and of the opening doubleheaders on July 15 and 16, the Fish won only one of four. That was a big disappointment, especially coming near the end of a lacklustre home stretch where they won just three of 11.
Of course, the Fish soon caught fire and were stellar down the stretch, while the Saints slid out of the playoff picture through August.
Things got a little feisty at Shaw Park on July 22, while the Fish tamped down on their archrival Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks for two wins in a doubleheader. What really got the crowd roaring, though, was when Fargo manager Doug Simunic got tossed in both of the evening's games -- starting in the third inning of the first match, when he took a complaint right into a base ump's face.
No 2014 retrospective would be complete without celebrating the work of young Gregory McGlenning, a Shaw Park fan services rep whose razzle-dazzle dance moves were almost sinfully entertaining. McGlenning, who once won tacos for his school in a dance competition, has rhythm any pop star would envy. Guy can do the splits, swing his hips, even pirouette. Best of all was watching when he busted moves atop the opposition dugout, while visiting players craned their heads up, gawking.